Summer Rhythms

My first summer as a new mom didn’t really feel like summer. I had been staying home nearly a year and so, as I watched moms with older kids reframe their schedules and lament the loss of alone time that school provided, our routine stayed the same. Some things did change. After attending MOPS for that entire school year, I started getting invitations for playdates. A group of moms met for weekly hikes at trails around town and I started experiencing a new world of exploration.

Now, six years later, I’m one of those moms I looked up to. The one who is restructuring schedule and figuring out how to create space for the quiet and alone time I got used to, even with just two mornings a week to myself while our youngest was at preschool.

I hesitate to give advice or share our summer routine because what works for our family could translate to the most stressful summer for yours. One thing I’ve learned over my almost-seven years of motherhood is to try to take the path that is least stressful. If I’m calm and happy, it’s likely my kids will be calm and happy.

Some of my friends make lists of things to do in the summer months so if the kids are bored, they have a preplanned set of ideas to fill the time. I recently read about a mom coordinating her days into “Movement Mondays” and “Water Wednesdays” so their weeks have a rhythm and structure. I know another mom who lets each of her four kids pick one activity they want to do during the summer. She doesn’t guarantee which day they’ll do it but she does promise to make time for those activities.

In our house, summers are for slow mornings in our pajamas, for playdates and water fun, for Costco-sized boxes of OtterPops, for riding bikes after breakfast and before dinner, for extra screen time and reading in our backyard tree castle. As my girls grow, I’m finding a natural rhythm to our days. My oldest thrives on sticker charts and created one for our fridge. I don’t know what reward she’s working toward, but she’ll tidy, sweep, and read to her sister all for the promise of an extra sticker. It works for now.

I thought I’d share a handful of rhythms we’re creating this summer. They didn’t all work last year and they most likely won’t all work next year but in this moment, they are what give me space and the structure I need in these blissfully unstructured days.

Chores Before Screen Time

Normally, I don’t link screen time to a rewards system because screen time is my time. Making my girls give it up means I’m giving up a quiet space in our day. But this year, my almost seven-year-old really wanted to start a chore chart so I did link screen time to her simple chores. Mondays she tidies the main floor, Tuesdays she sweeps, Wednesdays she cleans her bedroom. You get the idea. The baseline is minimal. If she kind of does these chores, she gets screen time. I figure anything is better than nothing and so far it’s decreased my nagging. For me, the key is trying rather than perfection. Our nearly four-year-old is off the hook for this. If she tries at all, we’re good!

Fun Meal Planning

I try to involve my kids in our weekly meal planning anyway, but summers are for saying yes to more. When my youngest asked for cake for dinner, I googled savory cakes and was amazed at the choices! This simple yes means something new in our meal rotation and it feels like a celebration. The other day we ordered pizza, spread the picnic blanket in our front yard, and had an impromptu dinner. Suddenly our normal Friday fare became an out of the norm experience. I’m trying to remember this philosophy in other areas of our days. We have to eat anyway—what’s a simple way to make a normal meal special? What are other daily tasks that can be made fun? Is there a playground next to the grocery store? Can you stop there for a few minutes before your errands? Is there an ice cream shop on the way to another place? Taking some time to mix up your routine feels incredibly special to kids of all ages.

Relaxed Rhythms

Our family works well when we’re on a rhythm rather than a strict schedule. If possible, I like to spend the first few days of summer establishing a new routine. For us, this looks like busier mornings and quieter afternoons. Even though we’re long out of the napping phase, if we’re home we practice an hour of quiet rest after lunch time. Sometimes this means going to our separate rooms with a book. The other day, my girls took their books to the backyard tree fort for the hour. Whatever we do, it has to be an activity that involves minimal interaction with me so that we can all rest.

None of these rhythms happen perfectly on any given day. But because I’m choosing to practice and model them, on those longer days it’s easier to lean into this modified schedule.

If you’re able, take five or ten minutes to think about what gives you the most energy in your mothering. If you need that hour of quiet and space every day, take the time to train your kids to give you that. It won’t be perfect but it will be better than nothing. If you thrive on activity and unique experiences, make a list with your kids and plan out some summer adventures! Just remember that whatever you choose, it has to give you joy and life.

I’m leaning into the paradox of embracing the spontaneity summer offers while creating a structure and rhythm to our days that will keep us sane and safe. It’s what works for our family in this given season and I’m remembering to listen to that more than anything.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/summer-rhythms/

The Reality of Rest

Our fall break didn’t go as planned. I mean, when does any stretch of time off really go as planned? But this week capped any week I’ve ever had. From an unexpected health emergency landing my husband in ICU for a few days to a drunk driver plowing through our fence at midnight one night, we had a week I hope to never repeat.

On the last Sunday before our first grader had to return to school, we had plans to go to church and then to our local garden center for their Fall Festival. We’ve done this with our neighbors every year and it’s one of my favorite fall traditions.

As we were eating breakfast, I noticed the first sign of a migraine headache move across my vision. I’ve had ocular migraines since I was about 11 years old but with age, they’ve lessened in frequency and intensity. Now, I usually get one or so each year, after a particularly stressful event. So, it was no surprise that this migraine moved in as we were preparing for one last day of a highly stressful and unusual break.

The only way to combat these headaches is Excedrin, a dark room and rest. This was how I found myself on this last day to redeem a decidedly unmagical, unrestful week of break.

I’m going to go out on a generalizing limb here and guess that most of us moms have trouble resting. It isn’t until our bodies completely rebel against us that we take time to rest, and even then I often power through. (I still did two loads of laundry mid-migraine thanks to a potty training regression.) My husband absolutely stepped up, took the girls to church and the pumpkin patch, despite his 30% blood loss from the week before. But even with the best partner on this journey, rest doesn’t come naturally for many of us.

I often blame our current state of affairs for this lack of rest. We are constantly on the go, able to work from anywhere, always plugged in. It’s hard to truly rest. In fact, some of my favorite vacation spots are the places with spotty connections and no Wi-Fi because I’m unable to cheat and must just enjoy the moment.

But then I read the Bible and realize that this whole idea of rest has always been a revolutionary idea. Why else would God have to explicitly put rest as one of the Commandments? If we were able to naturally practice this essential skill, we wouldn’t need a divine reminder.

And clearly, the word of God didn’t change people’s attitudes toward rest. Centuries later, Jesus needed to remind his followers again and again of the importance of rest. He modeled it by going away to quiet places, much to the chagrin and bafflement of his disciples. He reminds us, Come to me, all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

I don’t know about you, but it gives me a lot of comfort knowing that I’m not the first or only person who struggles with rest. It’s human nature to want to get one more thing finished, to not trust that God’s wiring of our need for rest is holy.

In a perfect world, rest would look like a silent retreat away from all responsibilities. Last year, I was able to spend two nights at a convent, just me, some cows and a group of faithful nuns. I was able to hike and wander, to eat meals in silence, and to pray the offices as I wanted. I came home so rejuvenated!

That’s not my reality, though. My reality includes two early-risers who start the day enthusiastically ready to go. It starts with moments squeezed between squabbles and getting teeth brushed and into the cracks of naptime.

I’m learning to live in this tension of raising active and needy humans and longing for rest. Sometimes, rest looks like a walk after bedtime with our dog. Sometimes, rest looks like putting on screen time so I can just read the Bible or get something done. Sometimes, rest looks like setting my alarm a half an hour earlier to write a bit before the house wakes up. Sometimes, rest is acknowledging that I cannot get everything taken care of — and that’s OK.

That week of fall break taught me something important. If we don’t rest (however that looks) then our bodies will rest for us. When I go too long without that act of self-care, my body rebels against my worry and struggle. Maybe I need to start paying better attention to the gift that God has given me: That I depend on rest, for my physical health, emotional health and spiritual health.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/the-reality-of-rest/

Small Actions Take Courage

I had the honor of writing about my experience in our school’s Family Literacy Program for the MOPS Magazine. They’ve republished the piece over at the MOPS Blog today so I thought I’d share an excerpt. I hope you’ll head over to read the rest!

nordwood-themes-179255-unsplashWe sat together, sipping coffee. She asked how I took my coffee and I replied, “Usually black.” She told me she was the same. Back home, they grew and roasted their own coffee, which she would drink black. But here … We smiled and rolled our eyes toward the cream-filled mugs.

We talked about family and I asked her if she had plans to go back to Ethiopia to see her mom. She said, “No.” Last year, her father had been brutally killed, their house burned down, and her mother and siblings went into hiding. Now, they’re able to talk on the phone sometimes, but it’s hard. She doesn’t want to go there; they can’t come here.

When I signed up to be a tutor for the family literacy program at my daughter’s school, I hadn’t anticipated these stories. Stories of leaving children behind; of worrying about policies impacting their families here. Stories of loss and hope and struggle; the reality of living as an immigrant or refugee in America.

My first thought was that I had absolutely nothing to complain about. My life seemed easy, privileged and unreal compared with my fellow moms. Who was I to feel tired or annoyed with my kids? Who was I to question my next steps or identity as a stay-at-home mom? These women were working multiple jobs! They really knew what stress and work-life balance (or imbalance) looks like!

But that’s not fair – not to them or to me. I’m learning to stop and listen, but not to let the stories of others overwhelm my own journey. Maybe I don’t have to decide to move my family to another country, but I do have to make small decisions that will impact our future. Read the rest over at the MOPS Blog!

What are ways you’ve been gusty lately? How do you remember that your own courage matters, without comparing your journey?

Making Space for Joy in the Details

We lit the Joy candle a day late this year. Parties, celebrating, community. This is what gives me joy. In the midst of all the sweet moments, we had our share of meltdowns and overtiredness because that’s part of this season, too. I often need to remember that it’s ok to reset in the mist of everything. I wrote this for the MOPS Blog and I hope it resonates, one week before Christmas.

Annie-Rim_Advent-2017We’ve had five years of practice in celebrating Advent with kids. Last year, I caught a glimpse at the results of our hard work and intention. At the time, my four-year-old was finally starting to “get” the daily readings, the candles, the coloring pages and family discussions. We actually start our preparation in November with a thankful tree so that by the time the first week of Advent arrives, we’re in a ritual as a family.

The thing I grapple with most about creating traditions is keeping the magic and wonder of the season alive. I’ve got the details down: Thankful Tree? Check! Christmas tree and decorations after Thanksgiving? Check! Boots out for St. Nicholas with Christmas jammies? Check! Candles and a wreath on our table? Check! Age-appropriate nightly devotional with optional coloring pages? Check!

Without these details, we wouldn’t observe the slower pace of Advent. It would feel like “one more thing” to do during an already busy month. Knowing which details work for our family has helped Advent run a bit more smoothly and has given space for the magic and joy of this season.

But sometimes I get too caught up in these details. I forget to pause and allow for joy and wonder. I focus on the outcome of the moments rather than the moments themselves. How can I live in the wonder of discovering the point of our Nativity if I’m so busy creating “easy” moments and experiences?

Some of my friends thrive on spontaneity and magical moments come naturally for them. Joy is not something they plan into their lives. Even as I write this, I know that joy is so much deeper than the plans themselves.

But I also am a realist and know that even the best intentions of letting go of holiday expectations can be forgotten in the midst of everything we juggle. I’m remembering that God created me as a detail-oriented planner and I can find joy within my nature.

It’s not too late to pause and recalibrate. I’ll do self-checks throughout this season to make sure I’m truly enjoying all that we’ve planned. If I’m not, I remember it’s not too late to fix it! What can I let go of or reframe so that I’m less focused on the details and more focused on the reason I planned those details?

If you’re like me, and can feel a bit lost in the midst of holiday expectations, can I offer a few ways to keep your joy at the center of all the plans?

Write down what reminds you of the birth of Jesus.

I know this sounds cheesy, but think about which activities you do during this time that bring the focus back to the manger. Is it a personal devotional each morning? Is it playing Christmas hymns in the car or while you make dinner? Is it lighting the Advent candles each night with your family? Whatever keeps that focus at your core, find time to do it every day. Keep it simple!

Decide what you can outsource.

I can’t do it all, nor do I want to. I have a friend who loves crafting with her kids and they sit together cutting out leaves for their Thankful Tree each year. That’s not me. So, I go to our local teacher supply store and buy precut bulletin board leaves. The outcome is the same and it guarantees success for our family. Likewise, my mom has a tradition of baking cutout cookies each year for our annual Christmas party. It’s time consuming and messy and feels like one more thing. But it’s a sweet time of creativity and bonding for her and my girls. Buy something ready-made or find a friend, neighbor or relative who loves doing that. Asking for help is a great way to bring your community together.

Remember that each year is different.

Our first year of Advent as parents looked vastly different from last year, which will look different from this year. I’m learning to gauge what works and doesn’t work and adjust as needed. This may mean that we only read a Bible verse at dinner, rather than a whole devotional. Or maybe this year, we’ll have time to color all the ornaments for a Jesse tree instead of a few selected coloring pages. Remember the practice of this season – we are creating traditions and rituals to help shape our kids’ faith. Keep it about them!

All of these small things helps me remember the joy of the season. As much as I’d love to go back to a time before consumerism and parties and the chaos of December, I am remembering that this is the world I live in. How do I find joy within our cultural norms and expectations? How do I keep Christ at the center of our anticipation? By working to make space in the midst of it all, I am finding joy and Christ in all the details of the season.

How’s Advent going for you this year? What are you learning? How do you make space for resets?

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/advent-2017-making-space-joy-details/.

When Hospitality Becomes Reality

Even though I wrote this for the MOPS blog well over a month ago, we’ve just come off three solid months of houseguests. As we head into the holiday season, I hope you find these words encouraging!

annie_rim_hospitalityWhen we were searching for a house three years ago, one of the pieces of my wish list included a dedicated guest room. In our tiny starter home, our guest room-office-library-catchall room was fine but didn’t exude Martha Stewartesque hospitality.

After looking at many different sizes and ages of homes with our realtor, we popped into a random open house one Saturday – and found our dream home. It was old enough to have character but new enough to be up to code. And it included a dedicated guest room with bright windows looking into our yard filled with mature trees.

My dream had been to offer this space to anyone in need: friends, family, folks from church, and those in need of a short-term place to rest.

For a variety of reasons (mainly consisting of two young kids), our guest room stayed empty, save for the annual visits from family and close friends. I loved walking by the one always-tidy room in our home, but I also felt a tug to fill it somehow.

This year, our guest room has been filled from mid-August to the end of October. Between weekend visits from family to friends visiting from Zimbabwe, to another friend moving to Denver and needing a place to land before finding a job and home of her own, our guest room has felt like a revolving door.

My dream was put into practice. Some of the guests were incredible, helping with housework and entertaining our girls. Some were unexpected and high maintenance. Our long-term guest made our transition to kindergarten easier, as she stayed home with our napping toddler while I did afternoon pickup.

But, two full months of other people in our house also took a toll. Our five-year-old cried one night as she brushed her teeth in our bathroom, wishing she could just have her own bathroom back. My communication with my husband hasn’t been what it usually is, because someone is always around and we can’t talk as freely as we usually do.

Again, there are pros and cons. Maybe our daily communication isn’t the same, but we’ve taken advantage of someone being home after bedtime so we can take our neglected dog out into the neighborhood for an evening walk.

I just bought a book about hospitality being a Christian tradition. I’ve just barely started it, but I knew I needed the reminder that, as Christians, hospitality isn’t just something nice to do. It’s a rooted part of our faith – from Abraham and Sarah providing a meal to angels in disguise, to Mary and Martha hosting Jesus and the disciples, to the early church opening their homes to Paul and the missionaries – hospitality defines Christianity.

This season of hospitality has been rich and exhausting. In so many ways, I am looking forward to walking by an empty guest room again, smiling at the only tidy room in the house. But I am also thankful that we are able to model this open-handedness to our daughters. It’s been a challenge to them, but such an important lesson in sharing what we have, in using our own blessings to bless others.

It’s a reminder that, no matter what words I use to tell my children about the message and life of Jesus, the way they really understand it is when I choose to live it out, in our family’s values, in my own attitude, and in ways that they can see God at work in our family.

How has the practice of hospitality stretched you? As we go into this season of increased guests, how do you balance an open home with quiet space?

Originally posted over at The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/hospitality-becomes-reality.