Category Archives: mothering

Hiking and Heart Connection

It was a good day of hiking and heart connection.

Mamas, it’s hard. Mothering is just hard. Maybe not all of the time, and maybe never for you, but it was really hard for me. And in my story, something being difficult to do was not a reason to pause and question it. There was no room for exploring other options or making changes, only soldiering on with the choice that had already been made.

Nineteen years ago I was 27 and had just birthed a 10lb 4oz boy. He was welcomed by his three older siblings, ages 5,4, and 3. Steve and I had been married six years. That is a lot of living and people to fit into a short period of time.

Child number four was not at all like the others. He did not fit any sort of mold, and contrary to what people always said to me, I hear it gets easier after three, nothing could have been further from the truth. Please refrain from offering things that you have heard about situations that you have not experienced to the one struggling in the midst of them. It is truly not helpful.

It did not get easier for me.

There were a lot of hard things to push through and four more babies to follow. I wondered if I would make it. I wondered how something so excruciatingly difficult for me could ever be worth it.

Today happened.

I made it.

It was worth it.

My son and I hiked High Knob together to celebrate his 19th birthday.

He has been there often. Today was my first time. We parked and entered the trail and walked and talked. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue. The leaves were beginning to change. We had the trail to ourselves.

We climbed to the top of the lookout and sat, enjoying the gentle breeze and the stunning view. We shared conversation.

We hiked back to the car, mindfully aware of our surroundings, noticing little things like this wooly bear on the path.

Somewhere along the way, my phone received a wave of service, and several texts dropped into it. One was from my mom, inviting us for coffee to celebrate Kieran and Grammy who share a birthday. We stopped there on our way back to town and captured this picture of the birthday buddies born 75 years apart.

Please don’t give up hope in your hard, whatever that hard may be. I know that it seems easy for me to say, because I am not in your situation. All I know is that today was a glimpse of such sweet goodness and such great reward as my son and I took time together to extract ourselves from the couches and get out into nature together.

It was so worth it. I am grateful for the gift I received on this day nineteen years ago and for the gift I received today.

Don’t miss yours!

Holding and Trusting

In the midst of all that feels overwhelming these days, I have been gifted with grace upon grace. From messages from and conversations with heart friends to stumbling upon an old photo album that brought much-needed tears, I feel loved and seen.

Yesterday morning my heart was clenched by a fist of fear. It happens when I carry too much on my shoulders. When the over-responsibility beast rears its ugly head. 

I was fearfully checking into something parental, fully expecting a negative outcome. Instead I was surprised by the positive. I know this sounds incredibly vague, but you have to trust me here. 

The bottom line is that the discovery felt like a huge hug for my heart. It reminded me that even though the days are long and full, there is goodness happening all around, much of which I don’t even see (or hear!). 

I am holding this as a reminder to the catestrophic thinker in me to continue trusting that God is always at work completing the goodness begun in us all. There is much goodness. 

I can hold onto and trust in that. I can practice seeing the positive. I can release the over-responsibility and wait to see what will happen. 

Midweek Musings

It is day three of my new normal. The kids are in school for a few more hours. The house is silent. I am shifting and settling into something that might eventually resemble a routine, just not yet.

When I was teaching, I would give myself three weeks to a month before making a judgment on whether the year was working or not. It always ended up working just the way it was supposed to. Adjusting takes time.

I am adjusting.

Rising early to get the day started with the family, without the added pressure of getting myself somewhere on time has been a pleasant adjustment. Learning the new kitchen dance of school mornings, without the demand of getting everyone out the door like a well-oiled machine, has made things more calm and less chaotic.

This year we are in three different schools, down from our record of five. We drop off and pick up this batch of kids, the ones who were babies when their elder siblings were riding buses. While you cannot do over, you can choose to do differently. You can also have conversations about how others were affected by the choices you made.

Lots of those hard conversations are happening now that I have more unstructured time. No two, or eight, children grow up in the same family. I am adjusting to hearing truth and experiences shared with me from all of the perspectives, as the next generation steps up into the shoes of the first, and the first navigates adulthood. It looks a lot different this go around, especially as there are no infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in the equation.

The first two hours of my day focus on getting people fed and where they belong. When I arrive home after the final drop-off, Dewey eagerly runs to his leash, ready for a morning walk. This has become the beginning of a routine for us, as I walk him and think about the day. Sometimes a sister calls, or I call a sister (or daughter).

I am working out the time at home between drop-off and pick-up. I still have a brain racing to think of all of the things, when it really needs to slow down. I am practicing slow. I am not getting to all of the things. I get to some. I am learning things about myself that cannot be learned at breakneck speed.

This is where I am. I am grateful for the space to figure out what is next and the gift of learning to be more present in what is now.

How about you, Dear Readers? Where does this start of the new school season find you?

Easy Tears

We were in the kitchen, adult son and I.

I was fixing lunch, quesadillas. Easy.

We were talking about the day and about feelings and life. I told him about an upcoming trip that had me feeling nostalgic. He told me about an incident he had witnessed over the weekend that turned on my tears.

Instantly.

He began to apologize. There was no need. He had done nothing wrong. I was feeling my reality. The tears were inviting me into more of it.

Last week we were on vacation. We had a beach day. Every year we take the same lunch in the cooler.

  • Ritz crackers
  • Polska kielbasa cut into slices
  • Easy cheese in cheddar and American styles
  • sodas and water
  • some kind of fruit

When I am well-prepared there are also paper plates and napkins. This year was a not-well-prepared year. We had to live dangerously, risking dropping the can of cheese in the sand or the cracker in the sand, or the meat into the sand.

All to be coated in sand.

There is always a lot of sand. Some people like the added texture. It is a lunch not for the faint of heart. It is the beach.

This year I noticed a can of Cheese Wow! mixed in with the name brand cheeses. My husband had offered to do the grocery run when we arrived in town to start our vacation. For a good $3 less, it was quite comparable.

But you have to say Cheese Wow!

So in the kitchen today, as my tears began to squeeze out of my eyes, I couldn’t hold them back. No matter how hard I tried to keep them in, they came squirting out.

Easy Tears just like the Easy Cheese at the beach. Just as salty, too.

Tears Wow!

I have a lot of them inside, crashing like the ocean’s waves.

That is all.

Double Portion

Goodnight! Happy Mother’s Day Eve.

A smiling face wished me well at the very end of a particularly long day. It had been a particularly long week that led to a moment where I felt tired and not too fond of mothering. I received both the smile and the words in the spirit offered, though I struggle with Mother’s Day every year.

I’m never having kids! They’re brats, and they don’t listen to you!

My teenage self made this vow that obviously did not stick. Of course kids didn’t listen to their eldest sister, even when she is supposed to be in charge. Especially then. My adult self gave birth to eight children, four of whom have reached adulthood, and four who are still on their way.

I remember being 27, having just birthed my fourth child. It was a ten-pound, four-ounce boy who shocked and surprised us all. Where were you hiding him? asked the midwife. I was not unusually large and had not gained excess weight. I was in love once I regained consciousness and energy.

Baby number four rounded out the bunch, giving us two boys and two girls. I thought it was the perfect number of children and remember thinking I would be content to be finished. People wouldn’t ask if I was trying for a particular sex or if I was disappointed to not have a particular gender or any number of the rude things they feel entitled to chime in about when you have a family of a certain size.

There was one technical difficulty. I didn’t have a voice to express this, nor did my husband have the ears to hear me even if I could. So there was a bind that is still being processed and sorted. We are still finding words for the story of us.

In my 30’s more children came. Four more, to be exact. When all was said and done, eight children were grown in and birthed from my body, one at a time. People ask. That is a lot of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, diapering, hormones, mothering. A lot.

Eight children is a lot and my hard thing.

Four children was my perfect family size, and I would tell you if you asked. I would even joke that it was so perfect that I did it twice, including baby bunching when I had four kids under the age of five. Twice. It brought goodness, and it brought grief.

I have struggled with my story of mothering. I have cringed at the assumptions made about me by people who have no idea. I have grieved my departure from the lives of my bigs when caring for the littles was all-consuming. I have wept over what I have tried to, but could ultimately not, control.

Then God, in incredible, generous kindness, brought healing to this place in my heart during the final weekend of my certificate training in Seattle.

Rachel Clinton was teaching from Isaiah 61. As she read the passage, I heard these words

Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; Instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy. Isaiah 61:7 (ESV)

My heart was touched in the deepest of places, as I felt a shift from duty to delight, from obligation to honor, from fear to freedom. In that moment I heard God say, I have given you a double portion.

What a terrifying gift! What truth.

Yes, I have a good inheritance. Psalm 16:6 (ESV)

I am blessed.

McClay Family Electronic Limitations ~ Guest Blogger Chloe

In our family, electronics are specifically limited to very strict rules. These are some of the original rules with pros and cons.

Rule one: “You are not allowed to possess any electronics under the age of ten”. It doesn’t sound so bad, and sometimes it isn’t. But as times change, and more electronics are made, this rule gets harder to deal with. By this year, most children have electronics by the age of eight or nine, and those who don’t begin to want one by nine. One pro of this rule is kids spend more time doing other things, though this isn’t always true. A con is that with music, young kids have more ways to deal with problems. One idea I suggest for those of you who are considering adding this rule to your own family list is to let your kids have music devices, as well as simple electronics like a gameboy or tablet for trips or special use.

Rule two: “You are not allowed to possess a phone until the age of sixteen”. This is possibly the hardest rule for kids. By sixth and seventh grade, the last few children who don’t have phones begin to get them, leaving the families with stricter parents with not many ways to contact family or communicate with friends. This gets harder as kids get older, their friends begin getting phones, and more phones are made, as well as more uses for phones. Doesn’t a tear come to your eye just thinking about the poor children, sitting alone, set apart from society from lack of a phone? Plus, quite a few children live in neighborhoods with not many to even no children their age, as I do. They don’t have friends their age to hang out with, and no phone to contact the friends that live elsewhere. Having a phone also helps contact people for important reasons, and there are many more needs for a phone today then there were when my parents first made this rule. Let me put it this way: what would you do if Abe Lincoln came back from the past, grabbed your stove, microwave, lights, computer, salt lamp, and ran away? Exactly. I see you moms crying, thinking about someone stealing your precious salt lamps. I know, nothing can truly convey the misery of a phoneless middle-high schooler, because though many parents these days know what it was like to not have something everyone else had back in school, only about nine percent of parents today knew what a phone was back then. And even then, not everyone would have had one.

Rule three: “Children below the age sixteen have a strictly set amount of media per day”. This is possibly the second worst rule, right below the phone rule. It started with the token system, of course. You had tokens, each equivalent to fifteen minutes of computer or game console. However, when one of my sibling got smart and used them all at once for two hours of media, and other siblings found new ways to make it seem like they were following the rule, this system evaporated. And for you kids reading, here’s a way to cheat the system: One way is to rattle the token box to make it seem like you put tokens in. Another is to buy your own set of poker tokens. Thank me later. After this, the situation was fifteen minutes of media a day. Can you hear the 22nd century crying? But as attitudes changed about this rule, it was fifteen minutes only on weekends. Wow, this is worse than a horror movie. And now it’s an hour and fifteen minutes on weekends. This rule is okay, unless it’s your own electronic. For more about this, see the next rule.

Rule four: “Hmm, you spent how much money to buy your own electronic? Well, too bad, ‘cause it’s mine now”. The new 0.5 worst rule in the world. After age ten, you have an option to buy electronics if you use your own money. But no sir, that doesn’t mean you can use them! One example of this was my laptop. Now, like phones, laptops aren’t allowed until the age sixteen, but this was an exception. That is, until someone cracked it and mom and dad decided not to let me get a new one. Well, back when I had it, I was almost never allowed to use it. Mom and Dad hid it in their room, never let me have it on weekdays, never let me use it in my room, often made me sit at the dining room table, and only gave me about half an hour a day. Once I forgot my password, and when I asked Dad he wouldn’t tell me, so I couldn’t even unlock it. Dad was taking full advantage of me forgetting. In my opinion, you should let your kids have laptops, know the password, and use them whenever. I didn’t pay over a hundred dollars I made cleaning buildings to never get to use the laptop I bought. Oh wait, I did.

Rule five: “No privacy”. I hate this rule, as did many other siblings. Dad and Mom used to let us close the computer cabinet so we wouldn’t have people looking at what we were doing over our shoulder. But for a while, Dad has forced us to keep the door open. I wouldn’t suggest a family computer in the dining room, by the way, either, if privacy is even a bit important to you.

Rule six: “You aren’t allowed to listen to anything even slightly bad on the radio”. This rule was worst when Shannon was a kid. She had her own taste in music, but often couldn’t listen to what she wanted. Now, though there aren’t as many limitations, we still can’t listen to anything.

If possible, I might add onto this list later, but I have one suggestion for parents considering these rules: You don’t understand your kid as much as you think you do. You need to listen to them, and consider trusting them. Don’t try to make up their minds for them, or guess about what will happen if you get them something. You’re not them.

Not Behind

I am not behind, though it feels that way.

I am right where I am supposed to be right now.

This is what I am supposed to be doing.

Today that looks like still being in lounge wear at 3:17. No condemnation. The voices try, but I choose to refuse to listen. At least in this moment.

Day two of Christmas break has been a full one. Somehow I passed enough kitchen skills along to an eleven-year-old that she was able to mix up the gingerbread cut-out cookie dough by herself while I drove her brother to practice saxophone with Grandpa.

When I returned, she was ready for her little sisters to join her in rolling and cutting out Christmas cookies. I mixed up another batch for the inevitable, Can we make more?, but I did not have to be involved with any rolling out or cutting. I only had to slide pans in and out of the oven.

I did have to listen to conflict which just about did me in. I let them resolve it, though, and things were fine.

Not behind.

I messaged with a friend who is in a similar-yet-different season of hard, because the hard doesn’t have to look the same to struggle through it together. Just like our cookies didn’t all look alike coming out of the cutters or out of the oven.

Christmas cookie theology? Don’t worry. I’m not going there.

But wait. The crumbly broken deliciousness. . .nevermind.

So I am writing this mainly for myself and the ambivalent struggle I am currently having with my words. Feeling paralyzed about writing anything, because I feel so behind in life, I choose to combat that you’ll never catch up lie (or actually truth, because I won’t) and just jump in.

Hence, being right where I am supposed to be.

And the real thing about that is I am here now.

Sun comes up and we start again. ~ Mason Jennings

Shannon’s Mom

Would Shannon’s mom report to the mall office, please? Shannon’s mom to the mall office.

My heart is in my throat as I step from the carpeted floor of Centerpointe, the Christian bookstore in the mall next to JC Penney, to the sleek tiled floor of the mall’s common ground. Already, time has passed too slowly and too quickly in my search for a preschooler entrusted to my care, not for a few hours a day, but for LIFE.

I am failing at it. I can’t even keep track of ONE small child. How can parents continue to trust me to care for their children day after day? In that moment, all I feel in my brain is the relief that Shannon is found and only gave her first name. What if someone heard that Mrs. McClay had lost a child? I would never be trusted again.

How did this happen?

It was supposed to be a quick, after-work trip to the mall, bringing my youngest child along for some quality time together. We entered through the Walmart anchor end, making the long trek past all of the stores towards our destination at polar opposite.

She noticed the coin-operated merry-go-round and asked to ride it. Not now was my response, because I had no change, and we had places to go. Let’s be honest, my response was usually not now, because, well, just because.

Today we are pressed for time, because I have just gotten off of work, and there are things that I need to look for before heading home to fix supper and get on with the evening. There are always things to get to. Always that next thing.

We enter Centerpointe, precursor to Family Christian Store, and I begin to look in earnest for whatever it is that I need. I enjoy it here, because there is a play area for kids in the back where VeggieTales videos loop and books and toys are accessible, while moms like me peruse the latest CDs and Christian books and tchotchkes.

Shannon is into VeggieTales, these days, so much so that her birthday party was a VeggieTale theme, so I am more than happy to oblige when she asks if she can go to play with the toys.

I scan the CD display, searching for something new, that I know will lift my spirits, though I won’t be able to buy it. I remain lost in thought for a few minutes before returning to reality and heading to the back of the store for my girl.

I find emptiness.

The play area is empty.

Bob and Larry sing silly songs to an empty chair. There is no little girl in sight.

Panic rises in my chest as I run to the front of the store where a cheerful, curly-haired cashier is ringing up a purchase.

Did you see a little girl walk out of the store?

Looking at me with concerned eyes, she shakes her head. She has not seen a child, but she has been busy ringing up purchases. I feel her care and concern as shame washes over me. She is doing her job. I am clearly not doing mine.

It is at that moment, in the front of the store, that I hear the mall loudspeaker calling for me, and I rush out to the mall office.

Scooping Shannon into my arms, I have never been so happy to see a little face.

What happened?

Well, you SAID I could play with the toys, so I went out to try to find them, but I went the wrong way.

The toys. The TOYS. The merry-go-round. She was asking to go play on the merry-go-round.

We talk it over and realize where she made a wrong turn, and where I made a wrong assumption, and I tell her I am glad that she was able to say her name so that I could come and find her. We leave the mall together with a memory and the huge relief of being reunited.

I have been Shannon’s mom for 21 years, now. I love her and how she has helped me to grow and become a better mother and person. I am realizing that there will always be wrong turns and wrong assumptions, but if we remember our name and ask for help, the reuniting is sweet and the memories are rich.

Shani first birthday

This is from Shani’s first birthday. Her face captures her essence even at a year old. Those big eyes and that furrowed brow speak volumes. I just want to scoop her up and hold her close again. Love those babies, Mamas!!! Time really does fly. Happy 21st, Little Angel!

Friendship Friday ~ Cousin Day

Yesterday was a special day. It had been written on a calendar block, cleared of all else. We spent all day with the Boston little boy cousins and their amazing parents.

My anxiety about having little people around for the day was alleviated quickly when this little one walked in, grabbed a recorder, and began playing while his brother accompanied him on the piano.

recorder

Uncle B patiently listened to Little Mae tell all about King’s Dominion adventures using her map of the park.

Mae and Uncle B

My baby and my sister’s baby smiled at each other a lot, which was a huge milestone for anyone who knows my baby and her thoughts about babies.

Baby B

Baby B won her over.

Mae and baby

Meanwhile, lots of creating happened. The cry of Guys, Guys! Look over here! caught my attention. I looked to see this little one with his airplane.

airplane

My much younger sister was caught wearing my perpetual mothering face in this picture. I so know the feeling.

mothering face

With everything happening at once, there were problems to solve, like the one of figuring out how to find all of the pieces and get this track to stick to the green board. Daddy to the rescue on that one! Problem solved.

track

It was sweet for my littles to get an opportunity to experience the life of their big siblings. Here Coco gets to feel like her big sisters when the littles were being born, holding a babe in arms.

Coco and baby

And these eyes and little chewing mouth. I could not get enough of them.

chewdalee chew

And this snuggly sleeper. I might have cried a little.

sleepy baby

Of course, a day with littles (or bigs for that matter) is not complete without some down time with a screen and a cuddly blanket.

screen time

This day was so full, pictures don’t do it justice. I finally had to put down the phone and just be in it, because everything was so much to take in.

I want to remember the moments of sweetness like a two-and-a-half-year-old cousin wandering into the TV room with his bowl of shredded cheese and climbing up next to Kirk and asking questions about Minecraft. My thirteen-year-old’s patient response and offer of letting him play reminded me of how Caleb treated his little brother, and my heart swelled.

I want to remember the conversations with my brother and sister that felt natural and relaxed and made us forget that we live hundreds of miles apart and that this doesn’t happen every day. Moments of falling asleep on the couch or walking out into the yard or playing UNO Attack (thanks, B!!!!) felt like they happen every day.

And dinner time. Oh, the dinner table.

I want to remember shopping with my sister and planning our meal like it’s the most normal thing in the world, all while talking about everything. I want to remember cooking and being together and living life.

I want to remember what it was like to have a full dinner table and the littles getting to be the bigs and experiencing the noise and cries and trauma of food touching other food or too much ketchup coming out of the bottle or corn on the cob rolling onto the wrong place on the plate. Our table was full and loud and fun.

Our day was full and loud and fun.

My body, mind, and soul felt full and tired and happy and sad and grateful, so very grateful.

sister selfie

At the end of the day when, Sister Selfie! was called, here is what we got. Sister selfie, plus one. I am old enough to be this girl’s mom, so I could technically be a grandma. Technically. Not yet.

For now I relish being auntie to this precious little one and his brothers and will hold so many special memories close to my heart.

It was a very good day.

Out of Order

How do you spell order?

This question, posed by eight-year-old Little Mae is not unusual. Having just finished second grade and loving to write stories in her journal, she often asks how to spell words.

My mind tries filling in the blanks of what she might be writing about. Has she thought of a new story? Are she and her sister playing an imaginative game involving a restaurant and creating order pads? Is she drawing up a form where people could order items they are creating together?

Stepping into the dining room, I ask, What are you writing? On the table is a single sheet of white copy paper with the words Out and of printed largely and well-spaced down the page. Her question makes sense now, as the pieces fall into place.

What is out of order?

Without saying a word, she solemnly and silently points the eraser end of her pencil at the downstairs bathroom, already one of my least favorite places in the house these days, for various reasons.

The toilet is clogged.

My freak-out meter ramps up a bit, though I know she is just trying to help. Don’t we want our children to feel safe asking for help when they have a problem? Don’t we want them to try to problem solve, also? Logically, my brain says, Just calm down and create a safe space for her.

But that space is a clogged toilet with a roll of paper towels on the back of it!

Child eight does not know that her dad bought a new case of toilet paper at Costco on the way home from work yesterday. She only knows that she is bathroom chore this week, and that yesterday there was not a roll of extra toilet paper to be found in the house.

Even though I have been going to one store or another daily, it seems!!!! My organization skills are sorely lacking as of late. Remind me that I need butter if I go out today.

As I survey the scene and realize the damage is not great, I use the moment to practice mindful breathing and explain that if a toilet is clogged the best thing to do is to find a grown-up to help use the plunger to unclog it. This I do as she looks on, and we both watch the water swirl down as I push the handle.

If you go out to the kitchen set, you will see that there is toilet paper now. Go ahead and grab a roll for this bathroom.

She does just that, and I once again affirm her desire to help and to problem solve. I remind her that I am always here for times just like this. When the poop piles up.

I don’t use those exact words, but I think them, as I save this memory to reference later when the phone rings or the text comes, and someone else needs help with order.