Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Defining Parenting Success

 My kids, on occasion will let me know those areas of parenting where I have failed them. Usually along these lines:
"Hannah is angry that you never...."
"Abby thinks you should have..."
"Rachel says you didn't..."

I'll be honest those little zingers from my kids can have an impact. It hurts to be criticized, especially from creatures that you worked so hard to keep alive.

The other day, such an incident occurred and the item discussed revealed a particular time period in my life as a parent. I thought, "Man, if they only knew what I was dealing with at that time."

And then I thought about that. Without realizing it, they were revealing to me my greatest success as a parent: they didn't know. They had no idea the depth of what I had been going through.

They didn't know about my depression, how I fought most mornings to get out of bed. How, sometimes it was hour by hour that I struggled to not crawl back in once I was up. They didn't know that making pancakes for breakfast was an accomplishment. That all my "busy-ness" was because I feared that if I stopped, I would cease to exist.

They didn't know the true extent of our financial disaster. I turned not buying groceries into a game: let's see what we can make with what we already have in the house. Not buying oil for the furnace became lets use the woodstove for heat and hot water like it's Laura Ingalls' time. TV free week stretched into TV free year when there was no money for cable.

They never knew the brink at which my marriage sat precariously for so long, as two very flawed sinners tried to reconcile deep hurts.

I look at my girls, all of them so grown up. Yeah, I messed things up. I didn't do everything I should have, and sometimes I was selfish, or lazy, or exhausted, or sick, or just lost my way. My job as a parent was to protect and shield them from the nastiest parts of life in the grown-up world, and I apparently had done that, because they didn't know. 

My girls are strong. They each have a fearlessness that is unique to their own view of the world. They can tell you what they believe and why they believe it. They know they are loved and they know how to love others fiercely. They will rally together when the chips are down and nothing stands in their way when they are united and the goal is taking care of someone.

My wish for them as they move out, get married, and have children of their own, is that someday their children will tell them all the ways they screwed up. Not for some diabolical reason of revenge, but that maybe, just maybe, they would realize that they too did the best they could, with what they had, at that moment. And that is successful parenting.


Friday, October 5, 2018

Planned Spontaneity??

Sam and I went for a weekend visit to Long Island for my birthday. We rented a house near the ocean and took the ferry over on Friday morning. It was around lunch time when we drove off the ferry so we started discussing food. And that was when I began to notice something about how Sam and I approach vacations.

This was our first time ever taking a trip for just the sole purpose of taking a trip. It was also one of the very few times we were traveling without any kids. Our previous trips involved making sure we were in a particular place for a specific time: visit family, check out/pick up/drop off livestock, visit colleges, or some other planned reason for being where we were. We were either on a schedule or travelling with the kids which made strategically planned stops a necessity and I was the one who did the planning. I mapped out sightseeing stops, stretching-legs stops, and hotels. 

This trip was different: no kids and no plan. I had scouted a few places of interest on the internet and our B&B hostess had recommended a restaurant for us to try. That was it. For lunch I did a quick search on my phone which lead us to a town not too far from the ferry. The restaurant we wanted was crowded so we drove a bit up the road and stumbled onto another restaurant where we ate a lovely lunch on their front porch. I suggested we stroll through the cute little town that was busy preparing for a festival the next day which was how we happened upon a Fireboat Museum and took a tour.

The next morning we went to the Nature Preserve that we had driven past the sign for on our way to our rental. And that's where I really discovered how different Sam and I are! I started down the hiking path and quickly realized Sam had stopped at the kiosk and was perusing the large map of the preserve. So I backtracked and watched as he established where we were on the map. Then after scanning the brochures he picked up the paper version of the trail guide and asked me which way we wanted to go. I shrugged and suggested we just wander the trails and see what we find. 

We started off and after a bit Sam pointed to the spot on the trail map to show where we were. He also then planned the next turn we should take. Sam continued to point out our location on the map, how far we had walked, and how far we had left to go. Meanwhile I was wandering all over the place; walking down side trails and spurs that weren't on the map. 


When we got back after our hike Sam planned out lunch, a hike at a lighthouse, and dinner. While at the lighthouse we signed up for an moonlight lantern tour and scrapped our dinner plans. The next day we knew we had to be at the ferry dock for 1:00 so I suggested we just drive towards the ferry and see what we could see. Sam made a plan for what route we would take.

So there it is. At least when it comes to vacations, I am an adventurer, by the seat of my pants, deal with what comes kind of person, while Sam is a get the map, mark the route, have a plan person. Our next trip is to Iowa. I have decided to forgo my "let's drive and see what we can see" plan in favor of one that is slightly more structured. Sam has agreed to be a little more spontaneous (is there such a thing as planned spontaneity??) We have a destination and a route, but Sam agrees to take a side trail if there is something I want to check out along the way.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Letting Go

For the last 20 years our family has had a hobby farm: goats, chickens, dogs, cats, calves, bees, and even yak. We produced maple syrup, collected honey, grew vegetables, had blackberry and blueberry bushes and two crab apple trees that came from my grandfather. My in-laws had a good-sized farm where they raised chickens, goats, donkeys, and made hay. My husband was 8th generation to live on the farm he grew up on! To say we identified as "farmers" would be a true statement.

Last March as we struggled to have enough hours in the day to produce the maple syrup, we began to question just how we were going to keep up. We were down to just Samantha living at home and she was in full time public high school. Abby was doing the best she could, but her nanny job and her own daughter made boiling sap difficult. Sam was working crazy hours with his two jobs and I was also now working off the farm part-time. We dumped a lot of sap that turned sour before we could get to it, despite boiling from 4am until 10pm most days. This was also about the time that Sam and I had started praying about our bucket lists and what direction God wanted our family to go in.

In late April there was a knock on my door early in the morning. Abby was out back taking care of the livestock while I fed Ava breakfast. A woman with a business card showing she was from the State of Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, explained that there had been a complaint made against our farm. The claim was that we were making and selling Maple syrup without the proper equipment and in violation of state regulations.

Honestly, at first I thought it was a joke. When we converted our barn into the sugar shack and farm store, we had spent considerable time and money making sure we were in compliance with all federal and state laws. In fact, our facility exceeded most of the requirements. But she wasn't joking and I called Abby to the front steps.

After much discussion and several calls to her supervisor, it was decided that in fact we were completely in compliance with the laws for Maple syrup. BUT according to them, the way we made our infused Maple syrups had no regulations or rules. They decided that this meant they could dictate what they believed those rules should be and enforce them. They advised us that we needed to use a commercial kitchen to make and bottle our syrup. That they could inspect our farm store, unannounced, at any time, including during the off season. They would require us to have our water tested. The woman filed her report, deemed our case closed as "unsubstantiated," warned us that to continue to operate could bring more complaints being filed, and left.

Abby said, "I think God just gave us our answer." We went to the back yard and discussed what needed to be done to close the farm. Many people have asked why we didn't just stop producing infused maple syrup. And the easy answer is that the profits we made from the infused maple syrup sales were what financed the rest of the farm: hay, grain, vet care, etc. Without those sales, the farm could not stay in the black. The not so easy answer was complicated, nuanced, and hard to articulate other than to say, we knew God was speaking.

Letting go of farming in some ways has been easy. It's nice to have the option to sleep past the crack of dawn. We have been able to take and plan trips without rousing an army to care for the animals. I  have gone three or more days without checking the weather forecast. In other ways it has not been easy. I miss the comradery we had with others when talking about the weather, haying, and showing livestock at fairs. I miss the smell of fresh cut hay stacked in the barn, the breath of goats in my ear, the squawk of a rooster as the sun comes up, and the grunt of a yak as she spies you walking across the yard.

Farming is in our blood: Sam's family can trace their farming heritage back to 1620 and the Plymouth colony, and the family has farmed the same piece of property in Connecticut since 1869. Abby aspires to own a farm one day and raise her kids like she was raised. Nathalie works for Tractor Supply. Hannah will soon be a camp director's wife. Rachel works for a dog kennel and training facility. Samantha plans to get a degree in Agricultural missions after she graduates from high school. They are all using the skills they learned from being farmers.

Letting go is easier when you know what you have learned and experienced will never be gone; they will live on in our kids and our memories.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Lessons Learned

These last two years have been filled with lessons learned. Not the least of which have been taught through great losses.

Two years ago, Sam's mom was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and passed away. Our family witnessed another sad event just fourteen months later, when Sam's dad suddenly took ill and died. In between these two events, Sam's brother Doug was diagnosed with cancer. His passing occurred a few months after his dad's.

In those events, our family got a raw and up close view of what is important at the end of our days. Grandma and Grandpa Smith needed reassurance that they were loved; that their kids, grandkids, and great grandkids, were near. Sam's mom had no regrets. She knew she had done her best, knew God was with her, and knew she was going to be with Jesus. It is hard to say with Sam's dad because his illness was so quick and effected his brain, but he was "Swamp Yankee" stubborn to the end. He left a lot of unfinished business behind with his kids.

Doug, also, just wanted those he loved nearby. He wanted them to know that he loved them. He said "I love you" to Sam more times in his last six months than in all of his 64 years prior. Doug loved his farm, his horses, the people, but he admitted that it kept him from doing the other things he wanted to do. He had a bucket list of about fifteen items that he had never done because farming is a 365/24/7 kind of life.

Sam and I did a lot of soul-searching. We came to realize that we loved what we had done with our kids: dairy goats, chickens, yak, maple syrup, cows, dogs, cats, horses, 4-H. It was all good! Our kids were better for it; our family was better for it. We have zero regrets! (Lesson from Sam's mom) But... our kids were growing up. Only Samantha was living at home and getting the "farming" done took longer and was harder with fewer hands. We were doing it, but we were leaving a lot of unfinished business in the process. (Lesson from Sam's dad)

In March, Sam and I wrote out our own individual bucket lists and made a date to go over them (busy people need to make appointments). It wasn't surprising how many similar items we had on our lists. It was surprising how many identical items we had! We talked about making plans to start doing some of the items (Lesson from Sam's brother) and what it would take to be able to do them: money, time, coverage for farm, etc. We agreed to spend the next 30 days in prayer about it all.

And here's the thing about prayer: God listens. Through a series of events that only God could orchestrate (a post for another day), our farm was closed in June and sold in July. We now have the time, money, and freedom from chores to work on our list.

With all that going on, I spent a lot of time at the ocean. It's my go-to place when my life feels stormy. Something about standing in salty, wild waves, soothes my soul. I reason that if God can deal with an ocean, He can deal with me. 
And He does.
 Lesson learned.

Monday, September 3, 2018

TWO Years!

Wow!
So, two years since I last submitted an entry to my blog!?

LOTS has happened. Things are very different now.

No more farm: Animals are sold or given away. Land and home are sold. Through a series of events that only God could orchestrate, our farm was closed in June of 2018, sold in July, and our new home purchased in August. We went from 2,600 square feet of house, 2 bay garage, 3 barns, over 4 acres, and practically no neighbors... to 1,000 square feet home, 0 garage, 0 barns, just 1 acre of land, and a number of neighbors. It's been a big adjustment (and we are only 9 days since move-in date!).

Grandkids! Abby and Justin had a baby girl in March 2017. Ava Rachel arrived and has been pure joy! Another grandchild is now due next March! Abby is still a nanny for two little girls and Justin is still a mechanic. Some things have stayed the same!

Nathalie moved to rent a room from my parents when her job changed in January. She is loving working for a local farm supply store and doing farm sitting on the side. She has settled into a church she loves and has developed a confidence and maturity that surpasses her 22 years. She still loves to bake and cook and my parents are thrilled to have her do it!

Wedding! Hannah and Trey will be getting married in January 2019. One of our prayers for all of our children is that they would find contentment. Hannah and Trey seem to have hit their stride in that department. While it seems they will eventually be living quite some distance from us (New York), it's not as far as Kansas!! (Hannah currently resides in Kansas as a live-in nanny to a family with four children and Trey works at a Christian youth camp in New York)

Rachel was "Promoted to Life" in January 2018 when she moved to Kansas for an intensive course in "Hard Knocks" and "The Real World" to finish her high school career. She worked as a babysitter and barn helper on my sister's farm until August. She currently lives with my parents (and Nathalie) and works at a local dog kennel. Rachel at 18 years old, has taken great steps in finding her own way.

Samantha: the last kid living at home. Single child status is a double edged sword, she has discovered. She gets the benefit of mom and dad having more time and money, but mom and dad also have more time to keep tabs on her! Entering eleventh grade this fall, she has already chosen her college (Dordt College in Iowa) and her back-up college (Huntington University's Haupert Institute for Agricultural Studies in Indiana), because you should always have a "Plan B". Public school suits her and God has used it to grow her faith.

Sam still works for tractor Supply part-time and full-time at the firehouse. Both of Sam's parents and his older brother passed away in the last two years. So much loss has taught us to "seize the day," so we have created a bucket list and already started to check items off!

I now work for a local graphic design/imaging company, sewing fabric and vinyl banners. It's part-time and the hours are perfect for me. The extra money funds our adventures/bucket list. I love working there (what's not to love: sewing and getting paid for it!). Once we get the house unpacked, I'll start sewing and selling clothing again, just on a smaller scale.

One of my goals is get back into writing again. So today is the start. :)


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Could You Be a Firefighter?

    The other day someone made a joke about Sam and his job at the firehouse. They commented that he gets paid big bucks to sleep, watch TV all day, and make chili. I just let the comment pass, but it has been bugging me ever since. So now that I have had time to think it over, here is my response:

    Last week Sam worked his regular 24 hour shift and then another 24 hour overtime shift. In that time span he dealt with a women whose husband had discovered her affair. He beat her unconscious, and then some. He savagely killed her lover and then killed himself. His next call was for a sixteen year old girl who was six months pregnant and needed to be extricated from her car after hitting another car. He managed to eat most of his lunch before being sent out to a person "hearing voices". A small structure fire and then a fourteen year old girl whose father had beaten her senseless because she stole his cigarettes. Next was a heroin overdose victim who had been found by her seven year old son. The last call was for an elderly woman who had called 911 three times in the last week. She was not poor enough for social services and not sick enough to be in a facility. She was lonely and just frail enough that she needed help. In between these calls were the ones for unconscious drug addicts who needed to be revived and minor car accidents. Towards the early morning hours were the calls for the drunks who couldn't walk or, even worse, tried to drive.

     Sam deals not just with injuries, fires, and illnesses. Every shift he comes face to face with the brutality of humans. He witnesses the worst that people do to each other and themselves. He doesn't really sleep knowing that the lights and tones could go at anytime. For 48 hours his mind and body are on high alert. His goal is to get everyone out alive, including himself. 

   Sam has said, "I wish I could forget the things I have seen and heard." He's been a first responder for nearly his entire life, and he remembers the first patient he lost. He remembers those that were gone before he got there and the ones he couldn't get to. 

   So, yes, he can make an amazing pot of chili and he does sometimes catch up on his TV watching, but could you do what he does, face what he faces, and do it well? Could you go for the fourth time to that old woman's home and take her blood pressure, reassuring her that she is okay, and then a few minutes later remain calm while doing CPR on a six year old, fully knowing that the child is not coming back, as the mother wails behind you? Would you for less than $19 an hour? 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My Kids Aren't Perfect (Shocking, I know!)

My kids. I love 'em, but they aren't perfect.


My kids are pretty good kids (if I do say so myself), but I'll be the first to tell you that they are not always good. They lie, cheat, steal, get angry, hit, are lazy, etc. etc. You get the idea. Usually my kids keep their bad behavior at home, out of public viewing. Then there are times when they make some pretty poor choices in a really public way.

This past year one of my kids went off the charts public, with facebook posts and blog posts regarding her decisions to disobey our rules and boundaries. She also shared some of the consequences of those choices and her feelings/opinions about them. Everyone who knew our family knew that one of the kids had done something wrong.


And then yesterday, another of my kids, in a very public way, was openly defiant. She flat out refused to comply, to the point of setting herself up ahead of time to be unable to comply. She fussed. She fumed. She glared. She cried. She muttered under her breath. Everyone who was watching knew that something was going on.


God has taken both those times and taught me something: Sometimes when your kid publicly misbehaves, makes a bad choice, gets caught in sin; sometimes it is the best thing to happen.  


Let me explain by way of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;  Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.


Outsiders viewed my kids' bad behavior in a variety of different ways. Some had concern for the child, some had concern for me, some sided with the child and others with me. Some quietly gloated from a distance while others were not so quiet. And some even felt the need to inform me of how bad my kid was behaving (as if I were unaware of the situation). 


And then there were those who came beside me. Encouraging me. Offering support, prayers, and kind words with a heavy dose of love and grace. Those friends are a gift of God and I do not take their friendship lightly. I am forever indebted to them.


There were others who were going through similar trials, who quietly pulled me aside and shared their situation with me. While I wish I didn't have the knowledge I now have in various ways to block cell phones and ipads, how to search computer histories, and which padlock is the best to prevent television access, I am thankful that through my experiences others can find what they need. 


I am counting it all joy that God is using our situations to help others and that other moms feel comfortable asking me how I handled a particular situation. That would not have been the case if I had perpetuated the idea that our family doesn't have issues and that our kids are never in big trouble. 


I am thankful for those who were brave to seek me out, to risk being bare-faced and vulnerable. God is using your situations to encourage me that this parenthood struggle is not all for naught! And someday, someone else may need your knowledge.


So, I want to encourage you! If your kids are out there and making bad decisions for all the world to see, take heart. God can use it for good! We don't always see how, but sometimes we get a glimpse. Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
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