20 Things My Toddler Taught Me

20 Things My Toddler Taught Me1. People are more important than possessions.

He was digging through the cupboard of pots and pans and I hadn’t heard any alarming crashes. But when I went to put the pans away, I saw my crimson-glazed 9 by 9 baking dish in three pieces on the floor. After a few minutes of feeling sorry for myself, I realized I’d rather have my son than an intact dish.

2. Laughter is not something to ration out. (Or other expressions of joy, for that matter)

If Isaiah is pleased, he is usually laughing. If his older cousins are laughing, he joins right in. A sliced open watermelon elicits a “Wow!” Being chased or pursued brings squeals of delight, especially if it involves his daddy pretending to eat him in the end.

Maybe if I laughed that much, I’d feel better about my day, too.

3. Life is richer when lived in the present.

I’m amazed at what Isaiah notices when we are out and about. He watches a semi barrel down the road, points to birds flying in the air, hears crop dusters fly by, and notices each child in the grocery store. So often my thoughts are wrapped up my to-do list or if I said the right thing during a conversation the night before.

Maybe if I observed the world a little closer, I’d appreciate it more.

20 Things My Toddler Taught Me4. Social media can lure me in like a fly to a spiderweb (and mess up my priorities).

Sometimes when Isaiah starts to fuss, my thought is, “How many more emails or messages can I go through before he gets really loud?” The bursts of interruption when I’m in cyberworld help me to remember that making supper is important and so is reading books, teaching Isaiah the difference between a yak and a giraffe.

5. Surrendering to the unexpected can be healthy.

Whether a diaper soaks through or he just wants me to read him “Do Cows Meow?” again, Isaiah has taught me to let go of my plans and enjoy moments of beauty, like a butterfly looping in the air instead of trying to save it for later and crushing it in the process. He loves it when I invite people over or my sister-in-law stops by. It may be just what I needed.

6. I can’t do this parenting thing on my own, (or this life thing, really).

Through crying, tantrums, and confusion (on both our parts), every day I am reminded that I need Jesus. Without His help, I can’t help but react in frustration and anger. I can’t show my son the patience he needs.

20 Things My Toddler Taught Me7. Asking intentional questions can be scary and wonderful (because life is short).

Having a conversation with another mother of a toddler is like being a trapeze performer talking to a lion tamer during a three ring circus. Your mind is always partially occupied with something else. Since it’s hard enough for us to get in close proximity enough to hear each other, each moment is precious. I don’t want to miss a chance to find out how she is doing. Does it matter whether my child is potty-trained or not yet?

8. Plans can be changed.

I used to think if I figured out a schedule to live by and kept to it like a military private, I would feel satisfied and productive. Instead, it felt a bit like a noose in the year before Isaiah was born. If I didn’t take that morning walk, I’d be failing in doing what’s best.

Some days Isaiah prefers more attention, sometimes he needs to just get outside, and when that nose starts to run, he needs a little more TLC and quarantine.

If I surrender my days to an unchanging God, who always knows what is best, I can trust Him to lead me in the rhythms of life.

9. It doesn’t always feel more blessed to give than to receive.

I don’t like sharing my last bite of cupcake with Isaiah. I certainly didn’t feel like getting up to feed him during the night when he was a baby.

But each time I struggle with my own selfishness, it gives me the chance to run to Jesus. He is always there to sympathize with our weaknesses and forgive us when we ask (Hebrews 4).

20 Things My Toddler Taught Me10. My son is not a reflection of me.

When he sends cars flying off the coffee table, when he makes burping sounds and laughs, when he dives onto the couch cushions, I know he’s not me.

But when people are watching, when he rips a truck out of the hands of another toddler, when he cries because he can’t push the buttons on the grocery store card reader, it’s easy to think I’m at fault.

If I let myself worry so much about how I’m perceived, I might forget the shepherding and training I’m supposed to be focusing on.

11. It’s important for me to stay healthy.

When I take time to practice creativity through writing or take some time in the evening to get lost in a novel, I often feel more energy to embrace the cooking, laundry, and moments of teaching and discipline.

If I’m determinedly checking off a too-long list of tasks, requests for help or a listening ear can be met with anger or self-pity. Even toddlers can catch these vibes.

12. I’m not in control. (Was I really able to live under that illusion before?)

When Isaiah’s skin felt like it had been baked in an oven, we couldn’t heal him from his fever.

When he gets older and is pelted by hurtful words, I won’t be able to stop it.

But I can keep giving my son up to our loving Father who’s got the whole redemption story worked out and wins in the end.

13. It’s okay to not always feel understood.

Isaiah is learning to talk, and about half the time I have no idea if he’s trying to recite the preamble or tell me about his time at Grandma’s. Even when he’s repeating a word over and over, in increasingly panicky tones, sometimes I just don’t get it.

There are times when I feel I’m doing the same thing, trying to put into words how I feel or what I wish would happen. Sometimes, people won’t understand no matter how hard I try. That’s okay, because the Spirit totally understands and intercedes for us when we can’t even find the words to pray (Romans 8).

Sometimes it’s better to just split a banana smoothie with Isaiah and sip it in silence, anyway.

14. Sometimes efficiency is unloving.

I have often thought my husband would be happy if I got the house cleaned up before he got home, but usually I’d run out of time and try to listen to him and follow a recipe at the same time. When I’d try to get the dishes cleaned up quickly, I’d feel tense and ungrateful for Husband unloading the dish drainer.

Sometimes I don’t want to take the time to kiss boo-boos or talk to Isaiah’s stuffed bear.

Sometimes I absolutely have to get something done—but usually it can wait a few minutes.

15. Daddies like it when we take an interest in what they’re doing.

Whether it’s watching fighter jets on youtube or punching out the pieces to a new board game, Isaiah is almost always right by his Daddy’s side. When I join in on hearing Christopher’s passions, we can enjoy our time together as a family.

20 Things My Toddler Taught Me16. Trying new things and looking silly is worth it.

All day long, Isaiah tries to imitate what we are doing—yoga stretches, cooking, putting on deodorant. He usually misses a few numbers when counting to ten or singing his do re mi’s. But he tries. He’s not afraid of messing up.

What if I allowed myself the same freedom?

17. God loves me just as I am.

Isaiah doesn’t contribute too tangibly to society yet (unless you count dirty diapers and food art). He doesn’t help too many old ladies cross the street or wash the dishes.

And we love him like crazy.

If we don’t expect Isaiah to earn our pleasure by his performance, why do I let myself feel that way about God?

18. It’s okay to cry when something hurts.

Isaiah probably cries three or four times a day from trips, stubs, and pinched fingers. Sometimes letting it all out can get us back to zooming our tractors around again.

20 Things My Toddler Taught Me19. Being messy can be liberating.

Isaiah doesn’t mind when his hands and neck are sticky with watermelon juice. He doesn’t care if the toys are picked up. He still drops his spoon.

Sometimes grimy hugs are more important than keeping my clothes clean.

Sometimes risking messy relationships is better than not having them at all.

20. There isn’t always a right way of doing something.

Why eat your strawberry slices with a fork, when you can stick your fingers through them? Why tear your lettuce into a salad when you can dip the stalk itself into ranch dressing?

When I spend too much energy making sure my family does things the right way, it stays in the air like a stinky diaper, distracting from more meaningful conversation.

Thanks, Isaiah, for putting up with this mama of yours.

Thank you, Father, for loving me as I am, but also loving me too much to let me stay that way.

What’s one thing your kids have taught you? I’d love to hear.

Evaluating Priorities (Part 2)

Why focusing on yourself helps you to focus on others
I lay in bed that night, listening to the slow rhythm of my husband’s breathing, wishing that falling asleep was something I could will myself to do. The past few days, I’d finally felt like I was easing out of survival mode and into a new kind of normal now that Isaiah was a few weeks old.

I’d started meeting with my counselor again. When she’d suggested the idea, I’d tried to smile and nod. Now all my protests were swirling through my mind like a cloud of gnats.

PrioritiesShe really thinks I should find a creative outlet? I don’t have time for that. I have a new baby! My brain has a hard enough time trying to figure out what to cook for dinner and when I last nursed my son. How could she think I would want to add something else to my plate?

I flipped over, trying to relax myself into sleep, but my mind wasn’t ready yet. What exactly was I passionate about? Not coffee, or sports, or posting craft ideas on pinterest. I didn’t even know if I had enough energy to be passionate about something.

Then a tiny idea wormed its way up from the back of my brain.

What about fiction writing?

Old flames
My husband had gotten me a few books about fiction writing one year for Christmas. I’d spent a couple summers in highschool and college writing stories, some of which I’d never finished.

Could I really do this? What if, rather than letting story ideas sit on the wrinkles of my brain, I actually wrote them into a novel? (Enter “Go big or go home” personality)

I spent the next weeks working through a book on Plot and Structure and brainstorming ideas for my novel. I found podcasts to listen to and articles to read. I started reading novels again, snatching moments in the evenings when my husband was busy and my son had gone to sleep.

Giving myself the gift of intentionality
Isaiah’s nap time became my writing time. All my other responsibilities had to fit around that precious alone time. Sometimes vacuuming didn’t get done on the day I’d planned to do it. Sometimes laundry wouldn’t get folded for a couple days. It was like the world could keep turning without me.

Priorities 2Crawling out of the ditch of responsibility for that time each day made me excited about hopping back in to dig through those dishes, laundry, and cleaning tasks as quickly as I could. By not allowing the other tasks to drag out, I was able to have more time focusing on the needs of my son–not to mention more emotional stamina to deal with his crying.

I took a couple Saturday afternoons away to work on my novel, and came home practically giddy to be with my husband and son.

When we were out with people, I started letting a little of my passion spill out in my conversations between talking about our children and how we both were doing.

I entered my novel in a contest. . . and lost. But through the eight months of working on it and studying the craft of writing, I had gained so much more. Every snippet of advice I tried to tuck away, realizing that I’d only scratched off the first layer of complexity and possibilities in my writing.

Being creative was like taking off sunglasses that had been keeping me from seeing the true vibrancy of life.

But as I delighted in this new creativity, some fears wriggled their way into my mind.

Was it really honoring to God to have time for me?

Shouldn’t I be using that time to help others instead?

Worshiping God through creativity
One of the books Christopher had given me was called, “The Christian Imagination,” a collection of articles on the practice of faith in literature and writing. It sent waves of excitement through me to be reminded that creativity is a reflection of our Creator.

Abraham Kuyper said it better than I ever could. “As image-bearer of God, man possesses the possibility both to create something beautiful, and to delight in it.”

Another article quoted Dorthy L. Sayers, who wrote about artistic creation in trinitarian terms. “In every act of creation, there is a controlling idea (the Father), the energy which incarnates that idea through craftsmanship in some medium (the Son), and the power to create a response in the reader (the Spirit).”

By delighting in this new-found creativity, I was able to worship God for His wisdom, power, strength, and beauty.

Creativity also gave me new perceptions of reality. C.S. Lewis said that, “literature enlarges our world of experience to include both more of the physical world and things not yet imagined, giving the “actual world” a “new dimension of depth.”

Skin-tingling sensations
When Isaiah was born, his senses exploded with new feelings–light, sounds, textures, and scents. Flannery O’Connor said, “The beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, and the fiction writer begins where human perception begins.”

I think that idea applies to every creative activity out there.

dsc00256God didn’t make us unfeeling robots. He wants to connect with us on a skin-tingling level as we experience his creation. And when we see the creative endeavors of others (like my mom-in-law’s masterpiece quilts), we have yet another chance to praise the Father like crazy for how He’s using people to share His beauty.

So I believe there are two parts that make up our “me time.”
1. Time to be creative.
2. Time to enjoy the creativity of others.

My husband has experienced my B.C. state (before creativity) and has told me he much prefers the A.C. (after creativity) me. In fact, I like me better that way, too.

20150129_145153_resizedWhat is it that you’ve been wanting to work on but felt like there were too many other responsibilities? Why not give it a try and then tell someone about it?

Here’s a list of 150 ideas to get you started.