When Life is Like Processed Cheese

The summer between college and grad school, I worked as the Snack Shack manager at a summer camp. In so many ways, it was not a good fit, but one of the biggest was that I had Very Strong Opinions about snack foods for kids. Even today, we lean more toward the carrots & hummus end of the spectrum rather than sweets. I had also just returned from working in Nepal for three months, where my students didn’t have access to or disposable income for lots of junk food.

During orientation week, as I was familiarizing myself with the system of selling candy to unsupervised tweens, my boss came in with great news: He had just purchased a nacho machine for the snack shack!! Wasn’t that great?!

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Source

While I enjoy homemade nachos, I’ve never been a huge fan of stadium-style ones with the mounds of melted cheese. Since I never ordered them, I had never really thought about the difference between processed cheese sauce and homemade cheese sauce. Over the course of the next ten weeks, I became all too familiar with the ins and outs of the “cheese” mix used in processed nachos.

There are two key elements that made nacho cheese my nemesis that summer. The first is that it came in 6 pound bags that sat in the back room – no refrigeration necessary! The second is that the “cheese” is (somehow) water resistant.

My job quickly unraveled as the weeks went by. I just didn’t care enough about selling candy to kids and I’m sure sales were at a record low for the camp’s history. One particularly hot day, the line seemed unending and the orders for nachos seemed particularly demanding. I usually tried to keep the machine filled before the free time rush, but on this day, we ran out in the middle of the orders.

As kids impatiently waited, I hoisted the 6 pound bag up and aimed the nozzle toward the bottom of the cheese dispenser. As I did, the bag folded in the middle and cheese started pouring out everywhere – all over the machine, the floor, and me.

The tactile mess of plasticy, warm, faux-cheese still makes my skin crawl a little. As I got a bucket to wipe up the mess, I was reminded of the water resistant nature of this cheese. I tried to wipe down the machine but the water beaded away, unable to connect with the inorganic ingredients of this cheese.

I made the executive decision to shut down the Snack Shack for the rest of free time so that I could focus all of my energies on this mutant cheese. I wish I could say it was the only time the Snack Shack closed early that summer, but it wasn’t and I’m sure there was a sigh of relief when we parted ways in August.

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Busy Bea!

This experience came to mind last week. I don’t know if it was the excitement of her first Valentine’s Party or the subsequent sugar rush, but Bea was on an 18 on the energy scale. I wasn’t feeling well and our personalities collided. It felt as though water resistant nacho cheese was all over our house and no matter what I did to clean it up, things just got worse.

Frank was working late, and after a horrible bedtime, I went to bed with Elle at 8:45 feeling discouraged and messy.

Thankfully, we woke up refreshed and I was reminded the positive side of a preschooler’s short-term memory. Bea greeted me as though the day before had never happened. We had a fresh page and a day with no mistakes. That, even though our mess felt water-resistant the night before, forgiveness and grace are able to mop up our emotions and we started new.

We’re still in the early days of tax season and I know that we’ll have these moments again. (Probably a reason some friends have a “therapy fund” for their kids started already…) For now, I’m enjoying our good moments and remembering that our bad moments are never really as bad as they seem – that nothing is as bad as a nacho cheese spill at the height of free time.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? How do you recover from low parenting or relational moments?

 

Listening to All the Questions

We were at the pool the other day and Bea started asking a random woman about a million questions – What are you wearing? Why? What are you doing? Why? Do you want to swim with me? Why? The woman, who was trying to relax, was incredibly patient and answered Bea’s questions with a laugh. Midway through, she asked me if Bea was about three years old.

Why yes – how did you know? The stream of questions fills our day and it can be both amazing to play a part in helping Bea discover her world and equally frustrating when I just want to pack up and get in the car.

Taking notes on her questions
Taking notes on her questions

Some questions I take the time to answer correctly and with reason, even if we’re in a rush. These are the bigger questions – the ones about how our world works, why we as a society do things a certain way, and why we as a family have chosen to do things. (Not that Bea asks in those terms, but I have learned to quickly categorize the nature of her questions.) Other questions, like why we have to wear shoes in the store, are quicker answers. I’ll admit, I’ve even resorted to the Because I said so answer – one I vowed I would never give to my children.

Being part of this process has been amazing. When we explained why a man was holding a sign on the side of the road, we were able to link it to the time we gave our leftover dinner to a hungry man and then link that to the reason daddy goes to work every day. And now, weeks later, Bea is still making those connections. It shows me how worth the time and effort it is to stop and really answer the big questions.

I realize that, even though I attribute constant questioning to preschoolers, I have never really stopped questioning. Perhaps I don’t do it aloud and I find most of my answers through books, articles, blogs, and trusted friends, but I still am always questioning my world.

I credit my parents with this trait. While I’m sure it was exhausting, they always made space for questions well beyond our preschool years. When I would come home from high school Bible study, filled with more questions than when I arrived, my parents would listen. Sometimes they’d offer an answer; sometimes they’d let me grapple with it myself; sometimes they’d process with me. When I would come home from the Sunday sermon, my prayer request form filled with questions and (what I felt to be) discrepancies in the sermon, my parents would listen. Every morning, I’d read the newspaper with my dad (the morning person of my parents) and we’d question the politics, letters to the editor, and local policies covered each day.

What I learned from my parents, now that I’m a parent myself, is the power of listening to questions. Most of my questions were not good questions. They were typical adolescent questions, helping me develop my own opinion apart from my family’s and my church’s. This process was awkward and filled with mediocre questions. But, by allowing me to ask all my questions, my parents helped me weed through the poor ones and hone in on the good ones.

I still ask too many questions. Most of them aren’t world-changing, big important questions. Most are just me processing through the most recent news story or book I’ve read. I’ve learned, though, that asking a lot of questions leads us to asking good questions. As I ask more and more, I pay attention to the good ones – the ones that have the possibility of changing the world, even if just a little bit.

And, as Bea questions more and more, I want to encourage her to keep asking. Many of her questions are unanswerable, but I will do my best to help her discover answers to the ones that can be found. I want her to begin learning to weed out the good questions – the ones that help her change her world.

Are you a questioner? If you’re around littles, how do you answer all the questions?

Linked with the High Calling’s community theme: The Power of Good Questions.

Brave

“The ship is safest when it’s in port. But that’s not what ships were made for.”
Paulo Coelho

I’ve always had an adventurous streak. When I was 15, I saved my money and flew to Estonia to spend three weeks with family friends. In these early days of email, I sent maybe two messages to my parents. (These had to be word processed, saved on a disk, transferred to a work computer, copied into an email, and finally sent.) I had an amazing experience and I know my parents were confident in my safety, even without reliable communication.

A couple years later, they put me on another plane. This one was headed to Paris, where I spent my college years. Email had improved and I was able to keep in daily contact. Even so, an 8-hour time difference taught me to trust my intuition, even as I desperately wanted my parents’ advice and encouragement.

And again, a few years later, a trip to Kathmandu led me to three months of sketchy internet in the midst of a Maoist crisis. By this time I had learned to edit emails, to share details that put my parents at ease and saved the more intense stories for when we were safely face-to-face.

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Rafting in Nepal

Throughout it all, my parents trusted me and taught me to approach life and opportunities with courage and confidence.

Now, as a mom of a two-year-old, I see my daughter’s independence and adventurous spirit already emerging. In fact, one of her favorite questions is, “Should we go on an adventure?”

Backyard Superhero Adventures
Backyard Superhero Adventures

Even though we’re years away from kindergarten… And college… And real adventures, I find myself preparing for those days. I have a feeling my strong daughter will do life Big and it’ll be hard to let her go.

But, staying close, staying safe, isn’t who she’s meant to be. I don’t want to force her into a safe harbor – I want her to go out into this world. So, in the meantime, it’s my job to model and encourage bravery. Maybe it’s not in grand adventures, but in small moments: In letting her walk “by herself” to the park (some 20 feet ahead of me); In opening the back door and letting her explore without me in view; In trying new things myself – from a part time job to opening our home to new friends to taking a class to learn a new skill; In letting her see that courage doesn’t end as a child, but continues throughout life.

How are you living courageously? Any advice for letting kids go?

Beautiful

Being the mom of a two-year-old daughter, I don’t have to worry too much about where Bea gets her perception of femininity and womanhood. I am her main role model, along with family and her friends’ moms. (Who are, at this stage, my friends. So, no worries there – all amazing women!) I do think about the day when TV characters move beyond Super Why and Daniel Tiger’s buddies and we step into the world of tween pop stars and girls finding their way into adulthood under the limelight. Until then, I’m trying to surround my daughter with strong, courageous women to help build a foundation of who she is and who she can become.

Looking around my Mothers of Preschoolers group, I see strong, confident, spirit-filled women. I see women in boots-over-jeans with a fashionable scarf draped carelessly and I see women in yoga pants and sneakers with a ponytail thrown up in hindsight. I see women who build absolutely necessary workout time into their schedules while others are still hoping the baby weight will somehow disappear, years later.

I see moms who put their children in daycare so they can work at getting a degree. I see moms with Master’s degrees, now staying home full-time. I see moms struggling to find a work-life balance and moms who question if they’re now obsolete by stepping out of the workforce.

Mostly, I see moms who care deeply for their children. Moms who laugh quickly and cry easily. (Tissues are never far from reach at our meetings.) I see moms taking risks and speaking Truth into each other’s lives.

I’m realizing more and more as I venture into this mothering journey that I cannot do this alone. I need other mothers to model parenting for me. I need other mothers to love my daughter on the days when it seems hard. I need other mothers to laugh with me in the middle of a meltdown at the museum. And, I need Bea to see these other mothers, working and playing with their own kids. I love that they are apart of my daughter’s life and I get to be part of their kids’ lives.

These women I’ve met (seemingly) randomly through MOPS come each week with successes and failures. As we laugh and cry and do life together, I am grateful for such a diverse support system. And when I think about the kind of woman I wish for my daughter to become, I think of these women. I think of a bit disheveled, beautifully loving, amazingly strong women and I hope they form her definition of femininity and beauty.

Do you have a parenting support system?

Linked with SheLoves Magazine’s monthly theme: Beautiful.

Backyard Camping

About this time, five years ago, Frank and I were driving around, running wedding errands. We were dreaming about our future and all the amazing things we planned to do over the years together. We started talking about things we wanted to do and see in Yellowstone, where we were honeymooning. Suddenly, my eyes filled with tears and I started crying.

I was so worried that, because we were driving to our honeymoon, I would never leave the country again for adventures. Ever since I was in high school, there have only been two or three years I have not taken a vacation outside of the United States. From my first solo trip to Estonia to living in Paris for four years to making international travel a priority once I got a job, I had only missed a couple years.

In the years since that meltdown, we have traveled internationally. Frank’s planned style of travel is so different from my show-up-and-see-what-happens method and we’ve had some amazing adventures, hiking the West Highland Way and going on a safari in southern Africa. Our new goal is to visit all seven continents. (I only have Antarctica left, but Frank won’t go until he’s caught up with Asia and Australia.)

Victoria Falls, Zambia
Victoria Falls, Zambia

For so long vacation only counted if my passport was stamped. And then, two summers ago, Bea was born. Not only did we not leave the country, I barely wanted to leave the city. We ended up babymooning at a fancy hotel in town. Bea was born at the end of July, so even after her birth we just nested at home. Last summer, we went on our first road trip with her to Utah, one of my favorite states. It was fun and filled with hiking, but my passport still lay dormant.

This year, we have no plans of leaving Colorado. For Christmas, we caved and purchased a behemoth 8-person tent. Compared with our two-person backpacking tent, this feels as big as our house. Our goal is to figure out amazing car camping so that Bea falls in love with the outdoors in the same ways we have. We’ll start in the backyard, move up to the Reservoir, and perhaps, by August we’ll make it into the mountains with her.

Trying out the new tent
Trying out the new tent

It’s taken some time, but I’m finally ok with viewing vacation differently. With a toddler, adventures happen in our backyard. I know that one day, my passport will be stamped again and until then, I’ll enjoy all the amazing places I haven’t yet discovered within driving distance of our home.

Where is your favorite vacation spot? Do you like roadtripping or international travel best?

Linked with The High Calling’s Best Vacation Stories linkup.

Sleep

Frank took last week off and we spent the whole time at home, reconnecting and resting after tax season. We gardened, went to the museum, and my parents came up to give Frank and I a date day. After spending the whole week doing normal things as a whole family, Bea has remembered what it’s like to have two parents. Instead of insisting on me reading to her, snuggling with her, and playing with her, she’ll go between the two of us. We needed that reset.

Look, dad's home before dark!
Look, dad’s home before dark!

The part of the week that was less-than-refreshing was our sleep. Bea had been sleeping 12 solid hours and I totally got spoiled waking up, having my coffee and reading before she woke up around 7:15. Suddenly, a few weeks ago, she started getting up at 6:15. That hour difference was a shock! Instead of waking up on my own, I woke up to her calling out. I’m not sure if she’s just naturally readjusting her sleep patterns or the fact that it’s light out earlier is at the root. (I don’t think it helps that she’s transitioning to one nap a day, too…)

This last week, she started waking up in the night, too. Once, I think it was at 3:00 in the morning, which was awful. But, mostly, she’s been waking up around 11:30, just after we’ve fallen into a deep sleep. Sometimes she’ll cry and fall back asleep. Other times, we’ve gotten up to be met with a request to read “just one story” and then she’ll go back to sleep. Even when we don’t go to her, the interrupted sleep has taken its toll.

Frank told me the other day that he has several clients who told him that their wives take on all nighttime duties so they can be fresh for work the next day. We have friends who practice this philosophy, as well. On some level, I understand that a working parent needs to be fresh and awake to bring in money to support the family. On the other hand, I don’t view parenting as a job but a partnership and if I’m tired the next day, I’m not going to be a good parent.

Frank has always split the nighttime duties. Part of it is that he is very involved in all aspects of parenting, so broken sleep was part of parenting. Part of it is that I never offered to give him uninterrupted nights in exchange for getting to stay home with our baby. Part of it is that I am much grumpier with less sleep than he is. A more patient parent is what Bea needs in the middle of the night. I like to remember that, since I use my brain more during the day, I need more sleep.

I don’t know what our solution will be. Maybe getting blackout curtains for her windows; Maybe revisiting our sleep training days and timing her crying; Maybe just hoping this is a phase of teething, sniffles, and growing. I had a friend tell me that sleep doesn’t return to normal until the youngest child is 5 years old. That thought seems a bit impossible, and at this point is my biggest hesitation to having a second baby. The idea of not sleeping well for another 8+ years is awful. For now, I need to remember our 12 hour nights and hope we get back to those…

Did you sleep train your children? How do you divide nighttime duties with your partner?