5 Stars: Clinging to the only reviews that truly matter

5 stars

I'm an Achiever.

I didn't need an Enneagram test to tell me this, or possibly to tell you this either.  But since I'm an Achiever, I took the test anyway.

Ambitious.

Competent.

Driven.

Status-conscious.

Overly concerned with their image and what others think of them.

I have been this way ever since I can remember.  I drive myself into the ground to prove to myself, but mostly to others, that I am capable.  Worthy.  Accomplished.  5 stars.

This perfectionism plays itself out in virtually every area of my life.  I've convinced myself that I need to earn a 4.0, to qualify for the Boston Marathon, to wear a certain size of clothes, and to have those 5 yellow stars next to my name on the dogsitting website, on our AirBnB listing, and in my Etsy shop.

Reviews make or break me.

I didn't realize this until recently, when I mused aloud to my husband, "It would absolutely crush me if I got one bad rating on Rover (the dogsitting app)."

The words didn't sound so flat and absurd when they were just swirling around in my head.

"Really?" he asked.  "You let the opinions of others hold that much power over you?"

Yeah, I guess I do.  Or at least, I have.  I'm trying to turn a new leaf.

The thing is, I love caring for people's pets and humans and hosting travelers in our home.  I love hand lettering, writing, and crafting.  I want to excel at those things.  But admittedly, I often crave excellence so that people will notice and so that those 5 little stars remain perfectly filled.  Rarely ever do I work hard for the sole purpose of doing a good job.

More often than not, the most important jobs are unrated.  Nobody is handing out stars for being a great mom, wife, or friend.  Unfortunately for me, this can mean that these most important roles are shoved to the back burner to make room for less important but more visible ones.

On the rare occasions when my priorities are properly aligned, I still seek positive reviews and perfect ratings in places where they don't always exist.  

This is especially true in my role as a mom.  I take my kids to do fun activities, but it's more for my sake than for theirs.  I tend to care about my appearance (on social media and otherwise) at the expense of their little hearts.

When we were going through the application and home study process to become certified as a foster family, the case worker interviewed our five-year-old.  One of the questions presented was, "What do you like to do with your family?"

"I just like to be together with them," she answered simply. 

She always gives some variation of this answer when asked a similar question.  She never names "the Instagram moments," such as the zoo, the splash pad, or even our vacations.  "I just like to snuggle with Mommy on the couch," she says.

present over perfefct

My husband doesn't care if I'm a 4.0 student.  My friends don't care if I'm an AirBnB Superhost.  My daughters don't care if I'm the perfect Etsy shop owner or marathoner.  In fact, they don't even care if I'm the perfect mom.  They only care that I'm their mom.  

It's time to start letting those closest to me tell me who I am instead of striving for admiration that is fickle and fading.

My favorite book is East of Eden (John Steinbeck) when I have to name an adult book and You Are Special (Max Lucado) when it is permissible to name a kids' book.  

In You Are Special, the wooden Wemmick people walk around all day, giving each other ugly gray dot stickers or beautiful star stickers.  They make judgments about each other and hand out stickers accordingly.  Everyone wants to have tons of stars.  (This sounds familiar.)  One Wemmick, Lucia, has neither stars nor dots because "the stickers only stick if you let them".  Since Lucia cares only what her Maker thinks of her, she is able to let go of perfection and competition and discover true freedom.  

In the words of John Steinbeck, "Now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good."

Good. 

That's a perfect goal for me.

SAHM Status

I did it.

Last Friday, I officially handed in my notice and will be joining the ranks of stay-at-home moms (with the exception of night classes) when our oldest starts school in August.  

Photo by  Kate Bernard

Photo by Kate Bernard

I'm equal parts thrilled and terrified.

I left the teaching profession at the end of last school year so that I could spend more time with our family, but our finances still necessitated at least part-time work on my end.  My ultimate goal was to spend the kids' "little years" at home, and my husband's recent job promotion will allow me to do just that.  

Obviously, I won't arrive at the end of my life and wish that I had spent more time working.  However, the "terrified" part of me wonders if I will miss having an outlet for a few hours every day.  I worry about money.  I'm intimidated by other SAHMs, who appear to do all the things with all the kids and stay perfectly put-together in the meantime.   Will I fit in?  Will I be fun?  Will I share the "right" opinions with other mommas?  (Lord knows moms are never short on opinions.)

The "thrilled" part of me has been reminding the terrified part that I can do hard things, that I am bigger than my fears.  God gave my girls to me, and I have the unique opportunity to shape their hearts and minds like no one else can.

Above the other feelings, I am free.  For the first time in years, I'm free to say "yes" to all kinds of opportunities that a job outside the home never allowed.  At least for one year before I start my dental hygiene program, I get to live this dream that I've had since I was my daughter's age.

I've been wanting to say this for a long time: I am one of the lucky few.  I am a stay-at-home mom.

Stay tuned for our next adventure(s).  Big things ahead for Team Fenrick. :)    

A Tribute to Single Parents

I saw you walking your kids into my Pre-K classroom every morning.  They appeared to be well-rested, but you looked exhausted already ... and it was only 8 a.m.

I see you in the grocery store, pushing your cart through crowded aisles and trying to get your son to just sit down without smashing the bananas.

I see you at your job.  You're often the first one there and the last one to leave.  It's killing you that your baby has been with someone else all day, but the bills don't pay themselves.

I see you at soccer games, at parent-teacher conferences, at church, and at other activities that are important to your little ones.

I don't often see you at concerts, at the nail salon, at sporting events, or at adult parties.  I don't see you at activities "for you".

I love my daughters so much that I think my heart will burst at times, so I understand why you do what you do.  It's because you have to.  Because you wouldn't have it another way.  Because their happiness matters more than your own.

I flew solo with my youngest on potty training this past weekend.  It was mostly a disaster, and I couldn't wait for my husband to come home at the end of The Longest Day in the History of Caroline.  When he walked in the door, I could finally have a moment to breathe and I came to the realization, for perhaps the ten thousandth time, that I couldn't do all of this without him.  But, single parent, "without him" or "without her" is your life - every day, every moment.  

I need to apologize.  I used to look at your kids and blame you when they misbehaved in my class.  "Their mom doesn't spend enough time with them," I thought.  Not long ago, I would see your daughter with boogers in her nose and wonder why you didn't grab a tissue on your way out the door.  I noticed your children falling apart in Wal-Mart but failed to see the helpless look on your face because sometimes, kids will just be kids.  {Also, doesn't everyone fall apart in Walmart?)  I had no sympathy for you because I didn't take time to listen to your story or care about your circumstances.  Then I had a baby of my own.  I get it now, and I'm sorry.

I'm alone with my girls for about six hours each day before their daddy comes home.  There are days when those hours are pure joy, and there are days when they scream and live in their little worlds of seemingly perpetual disobedience.  On the tough days, I can't wait for my husband to walk in the door.  He lets me go for a run, grab a cup of coffee with a friend, or get a pedicure.  I know that those aren't usually options for single parents, bless you.  I'm run ragged half the time, and I'm not in this alone.

Your infant is never going to thank you for changing his diaper.  Your daughter probably forgot to give you a hug after you took her to dance practice.  Your son didn't show his appreciation that you took off work early to be at his football game.  Your child's teacher didn't realize how much you had to sacrifice to be at that meeting.  Your boss didn't care that you stayed late ... again.

So to the military wife, the single mom working two jobs, the husband whose wife travels for business more than she's home, and the widower who wakes up at 4:30 to get it all done, I hope someone looked you in the eyes today to say, "Thank you."  And I hope you listened.  
 

About Having Kids and Having Plans

In a life I lived many moons ago, I was productive.  I made lists and got stuff done.  Always.  Nothing stood in my way.    

After Piper was born, I loved her more than I thought a heart was capable of loving, and I also was so. very. tired.  Infants are incredibly demanding. Thus began the days of Never Getting Anything Done Anymore.  

My husband and I decided to wait until Piper was in Pre-K, when childcare would be free and she would be more self-sufficient, to start the adoption process again (now!).  God had another idea, and Caroline was born shortly after Piper turned two.  Then, I discovered the true meanings of "busy" and "distracted".  When people say that the adjustment of going from one child to two is far greater than the adjustment of going from no children to one, they aren't lying.  There is never a single moment during "life with littles" (except sometimes in the middle of the night, and even that isn't guaranteed) when someone doesn't need something. 

I've learned a thing or two about multi-tasking.

I've learned a thing or two about multi-tasking.

Having kids is challenging in the best way possible.   Sometimes I long for a morning to sleep in past 6:00, a date with my husband, the privilege of crossing just one completed item out of my planner, something tangible to show for the work that I do as their mom, or, my goodness, a single quiet moment(!), but I don't ever wish for my old life back.  My children force me to be less selfish, better with my time, more patient, and less tight-fisted with my money.  At the end of my life, I know I won't look back and say, "I spent too much time paying attention to them."  

One of the biggest lessons that my girls have taught me in the last four years is that children are not interruptions but opportunities.  I can choose to see them as plan-destroyers and remain in a constant state of annoyance when they sabotage my schedule, which happens about every three minutes.  Or, I can choose to see them as future productive citizens, friends, moms, wives, and disciples.  I get the primary privilege of raising them to be such.  Which item on my day's agenda could be more pressing than that?

Today, I got basically nothing done on my "to-do list."  But hey, my kids ate three solid meals, the house hasn't been burned down or flooded with tears, everyone is still alive, and we are all (hopefully) a little more kind and a little less narcissistic than we were yesterday.  I'm redefining "productivity," and I guess that makes today a pretty productive day.  

And We Made It: Success Stories from a Parent with Imperfect Parents

I originally posted the essay below on Blogger in 2013, immediately following the birth of my oldest.  After reading back through it four years later, all I can say is that it's still completely true.  In fact, it's probably even more true with the addition of another child.  These years are tough and good and exhausting and beautiful, and the tendency toward feelings of inadequacy is ever-present.  But I made it through imperfect parenting, and my kids will, too.  There is grace for today.

*** 

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I'm only about twelve weeks into this parenting thing, and I already feel like a failure.

Sometimes I look at the piles of laundry sitting in our bedroom and think about how they never existed just a few months ago.  Before baby, I could get all of our laundry washed, folded, and put away in a day.  Now it takes me that same amount of time to deal with one load.  Never mind that I haven't made dinner in weeks (I'm not counting Stouffer's lasagna).  I blame it on the fact that the little one doesn't take naps for more than 20-30 minutes at a time.  (Did I mention that I also failed at BabyWise?)


I look at the other babies being dropped off at daycare and admire the tiny Ralph Lauren logos printed on their onesies.  I think about how we can't afford designer clothes, and I try to forgive myself for letting her run out of diapers last week.  
Every now and then, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and wonder when I started wearing messy buns every other day instead of fixing my hair.  Then I feel sorry for my husband, who didn't think he was marrying a slob four years ago.

Right now, she's just a baby, but soon the time will come when Piper is off to her first day of kindergarten.  And I won't be the mom who makes her a cute themed breakfast or cuts her sandwiches into dinosaurs.  There will be moments when I wish I was.  But for one, I'm not a crafty food person.  For two, I'm struggling to get both of us out the door on time now, and all I have to do is buckle an infant into a car seat.

I'm not SuperMom like I had hoped.  Mostly, I'm just super tired.  The house isn't as clean as a museum every minute anymore, I'm a hot mess 90 percent of the time, and we can't give our baby the absolute best of everything that the world has to offer.  On the days when defeat and inadequacy lurk around every corner, I remember how I grew up.  I am reminded of the way that my parents raised my brother and me, and I know that everything will turn out fine.

I wore hand-me-downs through at least elementary school, maybe longer...

...and I made it.

Sometimes, we ate amazing home-cooked meals.  But sometimes, when we asked Mom what we were having for dinner, she would tell us to go look in the refrigerator...

...and we made it.

We didn't eat gluten-free, sugar-free, or any other kind of "free" that otherwise restricted our diets (although eating for free was always good)...

...and we made it.

Occasionally, Mom was running behind (probably because she was doing something for us), so I would be late to gymnastics practice.  I would have to do extra push-ups or crunches...

...but I made it.

There were days when a friend of mine would come over while the laundry was still sitting on the couch in piles.  My friend and I would joke about "whitie-tighties" and "granny panties" and then we would move on with our teenage lives...

...so obviously we made it.

I drove a mini-van in high school and didn't get a cell phone until I was sixteen.  100 percent not cool all the way around...

...but I made it.  

We lived in a smaller, one-story house for our whole lives, and my brother and I always shared a bathroom.  I hated that he left water spots on the mirror, and he hated that my hair got stuck in the shower drain...

...but we made it.  

My parents couldn't afford to send us to the most expensive private schools where we would get the very best education.  Regardless, my brother was a National Merit Scholar...

...so you can see that he made it.

The thing is, I'm probably going to keep feeling like a failure, but only as often as I let myself.  My mom and dad weren't perfect, but they did a darn good job.  So, at the end of the day, there will always be parents who are doing all of this better than me, parents who can provide more for their children.  I can't do it all and I can't be everything I want to be.  But I know the One who can.  And I know that because her life is in His hands...

...she is going to make it.
 

Breakfast on paper plates with bedheads ... because that's how we roll.

Breakfast on paper plates with bedheads ... because that's how we roll.