End of Summer Blues or Celebration?

8.7.16

I’ve recently identified two camps of “mom friends.” The first camp is eagerly counting down the days/hours/minutes until the school doors swing open for the 2016-17 school year. The second camp is mourning the end of summer, commenting on how quickly it’s passed and how they wish it would last until Labor Day…at the very least!

I have mixed feelings about the end of summer. On one hand, I agree that it’s zipped by. The days were long, jam-packed with activities and quite exhausting. But, the weeks flew by. We all got older. The kids grew a little taller (and I grew a little wider). But, I think we maxed out summer. I think we packed as much fun into each day as possible. Now, I’m preparing for the next season.

I say preparing because I’m not quite prepared. This year, the first day of school for my kids will be my last official day as a full-time mom. For nearly twelve years, I’ve had at least one child with me during most of my waking hours. When my oldest was getting ready to start kindergarten, I began dreading this day and convinced my husband that we needed one more baby to keep me company… just to put off the inevitable a little while longer.

As my caboose’s first day of kindergarten approaches, I’m finally ready to begin my next chapter: one with time to take deep breaths and to refocus. To stop measuring all of my success in terms of my children’s behavior/academics/achievements… To start defining a few goals for myself as I enter my second half of life… Six years ago I wasn’t prepared to address these scary questions; now, I’m older, wiser and ready. (I think. I hope!)

Until September 23, my school hours will be consumed with planning a fundraiser for a local non-profit. I agreed to take on this role a year ago, thinking that it would be a welcome distraction from the sadness of sending my baby off to kindergarten. I reasoned that the flurry of phone calls, e-mails and meetings that go along with benefit planning will fill the new stillness of my days as I adjust to my new normal. Although all of the planning has made this summer more chaotic, I think it was the right choice. In the beginning, I will need to be busy.

My friends with school-aged kids tell me how quickly the school day flies by. They laugh when I tell them that I’m sad and worried about it… I realize that my standard “to do” list will not disappear and that it will be easier to knock it out without my little buddy in tow. But, I’m going to miss him. And I’m going to miss his preschool, his playgroup and our trips to the park, zoo and children’s museum… I also know that when the clock strikes 3:20, I will have to hit the ground running. There will be homework, activities and dinner: a lot to pack into those precious hours before bedtime.

While my heart is authentically blue about sending my baby off to kindergarten and having another summer behind us, I must choose to celebrate everything that’s ahead. This is going to be a big year. My baby is going to learn how to be a successful student, make new friends and important skills like reading and writing. He is probably going to lose the cute way he pronounces certain words. (I love the way he says “guls” instead of girls.) For my other two, I felt like kindergarten was the biggest year of change in their elementary school lives. That makes me excited for him…but part of me wants to keep him just the way he is. I do love my son at five and a half.

My middle daughter is going to start middle school. It will be a big year for her, too. But, I’m excited for her and know that she’ll rise to the occasion. She’s ready to decorate her locker and will enjoy mixing up teachers and managing a more challenging schedule. My oldest son began middle school last year and will help guide his little sister along. It’s going to be a year of change for all of us…a year of big, positive changes. I just need to keep focusing on all that we are gaining (not losing).

xo Kara

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Waking the Labyrinth of Life

July 3, 2016

I recently visited my dear friend, who lives in Denver. Our 17-year friendship is very yin and yang. She is extremely extroverted, optimistic and laid-back; I am the opposite. She is also one of the most spiritual people that I know. Her life has been a series of unplanned blessings, while I rarely make a move without listing the pros and cons and weighing them obsessively…

Lately, she’s begun walking a local labyrinth on a regular basis; it provides a path for moving meditation and focused prayer. My friend can be quite persuasive and talked me into trying it after happy hour one evening. She explained that the winding path would untangle my mind and make my own way clear… She handed me a brochure, which provided these simple instructions:

Prepare. Before beginning your labyrinth journey, pause at the entrance and take a few deep breaths; close your eyes and focus on any aspect of your current life. It could be something that is troubling you or a goal that you are working towards; walking the labyrinth is a time for spiritual growth and personal realization. This short walk may yield fruitful outcomes and exciting prospects simply through an ancient form of directing your mind’s eye at your life’s path without the complication of personal doubt and resistance.

Release. As you enter the labyrinth, focus only on the rhythm of your breath and path set before you. Let go of the meticulous details of your life and focus on the bigger picture through silence of mind and strength of heart. 

Receive. Once you reach the center, take time to reflect, meditate or pray; open your mind to enlightenment. You may ask a question and listen for answer(s) on your way out.

Return. When you are ready, follow the same path back to the entrance.

Exit. Exit and reflect.

As I walked the labyrinth, it seemed to illustrate my own life’s path in a tangible way. As I felt myself getting closer to my goal of reaching the center, my path was pulled in the opposite direction to the farthest possible point. This pattern was repeated again and again until I found myself standing in its center and contemplating all of the twists and turns that it took for me to get there. It illustrated the importance of putting one foot in front of the other and trusting your path even when you cannot see how it’s going to get you to where you want to be.

Lately, my path forward has not been clear. At times, it feels like I’m moving in the right direction, only to be whisked in the opposite way. I often find myself wishing that I could skip ahead and skim the last chapter of my life, just to make sure that everything will end up okay for me and my little family. This short experience made me realize that life is like a labyrinth. I must choose to trust my path and to have faith that my steps will lead me to where I’m meant to be. The journey requires faith and hope… and lots of love (always).

Curious? Visit http://labyrinthlocator.com to find a labyrinth near you.

 

 

 

My Frenemies: Diet Coke and Facebook

 

5.23.16

Ever since high school, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Diet Coke. Despite its truly terrible taste, I’ve craved this cold, sweet and carbonated source of caffeine for more than two decades. When I was in college at KU, I loved taking study breaks and driving to Kwik in my roommate’s convertible for a 32-ounce fountain drink. I’d bring my refillable plastic cup, plop down 49 cents and leave with a genuine sense of happiness. Over the years, I’ve cut back on my Diet Coke consumption and at times eliminated it completely. But, there are moments of weakness when I miss my old “frenemy.”

If I’m honest with myself, I know that anything with that many artificial ingredients cannot be good for me. I know that although it has zero calories, it increases my hunger and makes me feel bloated. I know that I’m healthier without it as a daily habit…

I recently realized that I have a similar relationship with Facebook. I love it because it makes me feel connected to friends that live across the country. I’ve enjoyed watching the kids from our old playgroups in North Carolina grow from preschoolers into fifth and sixth graders. I feel closer to my Facebook friends who live in different parts of the country than to those who I only connect with via Christmas cards each year.

On the other hand, I know that Facebook can be a little fake; some friends portray a perfect life rather than an authentic one. It can also be hurtful; I’ve had my own feelings genuinely bruised by seemingly innocent photographs depicting  birthday parties and get together that excluded one of my kids or even me. And, although I celebrate my friends’ achievements, it can make me feel inadequate…like I’m just not quite measuring up to my accomplished friends with incredibly talented offspring…

For all of these reasons, I decided to give up Facebook and to “go dark” last January. It was a little bit like giving up Diet Coke; at first, I really missed it and felt out of the loop…I didn’t know what to do with my iPhone when I was caught up on e-mail and still waiting in one of my many carpool lines… But, over time I stopped missing it and realized that my life was richer because I had more time to write and to focus on actual connections with close friends.

I recently set up a Facebook page for GratefulandAuthentic.com, so I found myself back on Facebook. The experience has felt a lot like pulling away from Kwik with a 32 ounce cup of Diet Coke: I feel happy to reconnect and follow the highlights of my friends’ lives and to read the inspirational articles that they share. But, I also feel a little bit conflicted because I know that it may not always be good for my heart.

I am an “all or nothing” kind of person. But the farther I travel along my life’s path, the more I understand that not everything needs to be consumed in extremes or eliminated completely. It’s okay to allow yourself an occasional treat (in the form of a Diet Coke or Facebook session), but too much of anything can turn a positive into a negative – it’s all about moderation.

Can you relate?  What are your frenemies?

 

Treasure or Trash?

5.16.16

I spent my childhood chasing golden trophies, wooden plaques and blue ribbons. The bookcase in my old bedroom was lined with gleaming statuettes of poised swimmers and golfers; my bulletin board displayed ribbons and medals, each one representing countless hours of hard work and determination. As a young girl, I considered these awards to be my most prized possessions.

My parents are in the process of downsizing, so I spent this past weekend trying to pack all of the remnants of my childhood into a single tote that will go into my own basement (where it will likely collect dust for the next 30 years). I approached the project with the attitude that I would simply put all of my old stuff into the dumpster and move on with my day; my own storage room is a disorganized mess and the thought of adding anything else to this massive project is overwhelming.

However, as I started to sort through the boxes labeled “Kara,” I found it difficult to separate the memories from the things. I found myself saving essays written by my fourth grade self about what my life would look like when I grew up. (It included long-forgotten dreams of living in New York City with my handsome husband and adopted twins; I did not want to have kids.) I lost track of time as I went through my elementary school class photos, looking at all of the young, familiar faces of old friends and beloved teachers. And, I felt joy as I discovered my long-lost, complete set of Garbage Pail Kids! The idea of consolidating my childhood into a single box suddenly seemed draining.

So, I started with my big, bulky trophies and tossed them into the trash bin. Next, my plaques and a large zip lock bag filled with ribbons from my old swim team. It made me a little sad to see them go, but I realized that they had served their purpose and that I really don’t have space for them in my life.

As I prioritized what would stay and what would go, I found myself placing more value on my childhood journey than my accomplishments. I couldn’t part with the Garbage Pail Kids that I spent countless recesses trading with my best friend Kelly, my reflective essays with thoughtful comments by Mr. Hall (my favorite English teacher), or a single photograph. I know that there is value in setting goals and working towards them, but the real treasures of my childhood don’t include any awards for “Best Sportsmanship” or “Hardest Worker.” The real treasures of my childhood are simply childhood itself: The friends I made, the time I spent with family and the love that was given and received…all things that cannot fit in a box.

I hope that I can keep this perspective as I coach my kids through their young lives. Yes, it’s important to work hard and to maximize your potential…to set goals and to go after them. But, it’s equally important to enjoy the journey: To develop close friendships and to foster relationships with family. Because in a blink, they’ll be sorting through their own dusty boxes from my basement and wondering if their childhood treasures are trash or antiques?!?

 

5 Lessons My Mom Unintentionally Taught Me

5.8.16

When my oldest was in the throes of the “terrible twos,” I went to his pediatrician seeking advice and perhaps a self-help book recommendation or two. His response? “Don’t worry, he will be fine. Great parents are positive role models. They teach kindness, good manners and healthy habits by example. He will watch and learn. It really is that simple.”

I left his office feeling both relieved and intimidated. I had just been handed a prescription for a lifetime of good behavior (no pressure).

On Mother’s Day, I find myself reflecting on his advice and considering all of the things that I learned from my own mom, just by observing the way she lives her life.  Here are five life lessons she taught me (in no particular order):

Be Generous.  I was raised by a mom who always fought her friends for the bill; I never saw her offer to split anything. As a kid, I thought this was how it was done. As an adult, I can see that she’s exceptional. I love that she taught me that it’s more important to give than to receive.

My mom is also generous with her time.  As a young girl, I loved having her volunteer at my school; she was a regular room mother and served as the Community Club President.  I grew up watching her volunteer in our community, supporting local non-profits that were important to her.  She taught me that you can make the world a better place; you just have to go out and do it.

Be Proud.  I remember watching my mom carefully print “homemaker” as her occupation, when filling out paperwork for school or the doctor. At the time, I wondered why she didn’t write “stay-at-home mom” or leave it blank? Now that I stay home with my own kids and struggle to do everything well, I appreciate the pride that she took in her title. She was the one who made our house a home that was welcoming, tidy, organized and always stocked with nutritious food and fresh laundry. Without her love and devotion, it really would just be a house.

Pray.  I think one of the most challenging things about being a mom is that as much as you want your kids to succeed, you can’t do it for them. I was the child that constantly put myself out there. I wanted to be president of my elementary school’s student council. I wanted to be the lead in the school musical, despite my complete lack of talent. I wanted to win the district speech contest year after year… I think my mom would have been more comfortable with me avoiding risk and any chance of disappointment, but she supported and encouraged me…and she prayed for me A LOT. She taught me that I should work hard and pray hard.

Shop Sales.  My mom made shopping a game. The goal: to achieve the greatest value while spending as little as possible. She taught me to shop sales and to clip coupons. To this day, I rarely purchase anything that is not on sale or the best price available. My dad, who is an avid golfer, explained it this way: “For your mom, finding a really good deal is like getting a birdie or eagle; it generates the same amount of excitement. Bargain hunting is like a sport for the women in our family.”

Collect Friends. When my husband first met my mom, he commented: “Your mom has incredible social graces.” He’s correct. Rather than collecting trophies, my mom collects friends. She treasures old friendships, while expanding her circle to include new ones. She keeps their social calendar full, which makes her heart happy. For her, relationships are life’s most important treasure.

I think that my son’s pediatrician was right: children learn by what they observe. This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my mom and all of the lessons she taught me when she didn’t know I was watching. I am truly blessed to have been raised by the mom I aspire to be.

Happy Mother’s Day! xo Kara

 

 

 

 

Life is all about collecting new experiences.

4.28.16

Sometimes an off-handed remark can challenge your way of thinking.

I recently traveled to Kansas City with my daughter’s dance group, so she could participate in workshops at various studios and perform at different venues around the city. While our daughters were dancing, the mothers made small talk.

As the weekend went on, we moved past our daughters’ dance resumes and started to have more real conversations. As I was talking with an intelligent attorney and mother-of-three, she mentioned that her family was in the process of narrowing down where they’d like to live next. She explained that her company was relocating to another city and that her position would be ending within the year. I told her that it seemed exciting to plan a “second act” for her family. I asked her how the kids felt about moving and she said, “Life is all about collecting new experiences.” I nodded in agreement.

As I consider her philosophy on life, I realize that I’ve approached life from the opposite direction. Thinking back, most of my new life experiences have been unintentional. It’s not that I deliberately avoid them; I just feel more comfortable going with the tried and true.

I remember when my husband was in medical school and was interviewing for residencies around the country. On a whim, he applied to do his internal medicine year in Hawaii. We did a quick analysis of what the residency would cost us, factoring in my loss of income, the high cost of living and the incredible moving expenses. The value of collecting a new life experience was pushed aside for practical reasons. Our decision to stay put for his internal medicine year enabled us to save for a house and to get our feet on steadier financial ground, but it cost us the experience of living in Hawaii for a year. All of these years later, I find myself wondering if the money saved was worth the experience lost?

When it came time to interview for medical residencies around the country. I was supportive, but firmly in the “stay in the Midwest” camp. I reasoned that we’d be starting a family soon and that I wanted to be close to family. When my husband matched in North Carolina, it was a complete shock. I had never been to the state. I didn’t know anyone who lived there. It was 900 miles away from Kansas City. And, it was the best thing that ever happened to us. This life experience was the ultimate, unexpected gift.

When we decided to move back to Omaha, I wanted my children to grow up near my childhood home and to attend the same elementary school. I hoped they’d enjoy swimming on my old swim team and develop a mild interest in tennis, so they could play with their dad. Eight years later, I am shooting zero for three: My elementary school was not the right fit. None of my kids embraced competitive swimming. And, the simple question, “Anyone up for tennis?” is consistently met with unanimous groans and eye rolls. In other words, despite my intentions, my children have forced new experiences on me; I’m grateful for them.

I’ve learned that as much as I’d like for my children to enjoy everything that I loved about my childhood and to embrace the interests that my husband and I share, you can’t force a square peg in a round hole; they will follow their own hearts. I need to meet them where they are, not where I want them to be. My son will choose books and robotics over organized sports every time. Given the opportunity, my daughter would spend all of her free time dancing. My youngest loves Legos, sports and learning right now; I look forward to following his journey as he discovers “his thing(s).” By following my children’s lead (not my own plans), our family will collect new experiences, friends and pieces of wisdom along the way.

Looking back, I can see that my accidental collection of new experiences has exponentially increased my own happiness throughout the course of my life. In the future, I will try to be more intentional about collecting new life experiences and supporting of my husband and children when they don’t choose the tried and true route through life. Collecting new life experiences requires a little leap of faith, but the risk is worth the reward.

Do you deliberately collect new life experiences or do you tend to choose things that are familiar? Why? Thanks for sharing your thoughts; your feedback is the fun part.  🙂  Kara

Love or Approval?

4.5.16

This weekend, I had dinner with a dear friend; she mentioned that she felt like the Universe had a very specific message for her: It was time for her to stop pleasing others and to start pleasing herself. She said that she’d heard the same theme over and over throughout the day… My husband chuckled and said, “I think that message is for Kara, too.”

I confess that I am a pleaser. I’ve always thought that this trait made me thoughtful and unselfish. But, now I’m wondering what makes pleasing others so important to me?

I’ve spent my entire life believing that love is conditional. In order to be loved (or even liked), I must please those who are closest to me. I don’t think that this was a lesson that I was ever taught, just a core belief that I’ve held as long as I can remember…

In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen writes: “Of course love is never earned. It is a grace we give one another. Anything we need to earn is only approval.”

I love this quote. I am embarrassed to admit that I have never conscientiously separated love and approval before. But, they are definitely two very different things.

It is critical that my children know that they are loved by me without conditions. Of course, I want them to try to maximize the gifts that they’ve been given. Of course, I want them to make choices that will set them on a path leading to a happy, healthy life. Of course, I want them to do what I want, but these are not conditions that must be met in order to receive my love. I will love them even if I don’t approve of all of their choices. It is critical that they understand that love and approval are two different things.

The truth is that as much as I believe that I know what’s best for each of my kids, I may not. I want to raise strong, independent children who consider others’ feelings, but are capable of pleasing themselves, too – without guilt.

Ultimately, I want my kiddos to live authentic lives that bring them happiness and success. In order for them to achieve these things, it is entirely possible that my husband and I may need to get out of their way as they grow into independent young adults.

 

 

More is Not More

 

3.30.16

It’s easy to believe that more is more…bigger is better… I spent my 20s and early 30s in a perpetual state of delayed gratification, focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel.

If I could travel back in time about 15 years, I’d tell myself to stop looking ahead and to enjoy the abundance of today. Enjoy the challenge of clipping coupons, shopping at consignment sales and the thrill of keeping your checkbook out of the red each month. Enjoy your cozy house, with your sweet little family snuggled up on your old, broken-in couch. Treasure your friends who share your struggles and make you laugh (sometimes through your tears). Daydream about the future, but know that you are living your dream.

I spent last week on Spring Break, skiing with my family in Steamboat, Colorado; this is my husband’s and oldest son’s “happy place.” It made me consider if our lives would be happier if we lived there year-round? Would the laid-back, Colorado lifestyle benefit my type-a, hard-charging husband? Would my son be happier if he could ski all winter, rather than a few days a year? Would my husband be happier if he could fly fish and hike on his days off rather than once a year? Would more be more?

To date, my life experiences have taught me that more is not more:

Stuff. I’ve just finished hauling loads of my kids’ outgrown clothes and toys to our school’s annual garage sale. While collecting our donation, I stood in my own closet and realized that I have worn the same five tops and two pairs of jeans over and over, while my closet is full of dusty clothes that date back to college. I rounded up boxes of holiday decorations that my mom gave me because she no longer wanted them; I’ve moved them from our apartment in Kansas to our house in North Carolina to our house in Nebraska and never displayed them… There is something incredibly liberating about defining what is essential and eliminating everything else.

Attention. When I decided to stay home with my kids, I approached motherhood as a full-time job. I worked everyday to provide enrichment activities for my first two children (19 months apart), taking them to book babies at the library and the local children’s museum regularly, playing with them on the floor and reading to them for hours on end. Consequently, my kids always looked to me to be their entertainer. When my youngest son was born 4 ½ years later, our family’s full schedule did not allow me to give him the same level of focus. And guess what? He learned to entertain himself. He has an incredible imagination and an easy-going personality. You can argue about nature vs. nurture, but I believe that he’s thrived under my non-intentional “less attention is more” approach to motherhood the third time around.

Kids’ activities. With three kids, it’s easy to let you family’s calendar get totally out of control with various lessons, practices and games. Initially, it takes time to expose your kids to all of the extracurricular activities out there. Eleven years into this parenting thing, I firmly believe that you can’t do everything and do it all well. Now, I challenge my kids to follow their interests and to make choices. It’s so easy to overschedule; it really benefits no one.

Volunteer commitments. I am a “yes” person and always up for a new challenge. These traits have made me a target for lots of opportunities requiring free labor. My volunteer work has served as a positive outlet in my life; it’s allowed me to get outside of the house and to use my professional skills to raise money for non-profits that enrich my community. It can be stressful and time-consuming in the days and weeks leading up to a big event, which can be annoying to my family. Experience has taught me to limit my “yeses.” Defining my focus keeps me from spreading myself too thin and allows me to better balance my needs with those of my family.

I guess that my conclusion is simple: life is a balancing act. More of one thing can mean less of another. Moving to your “happy place” seems like it would make your life happier. But, it would also mean moving away from all of the things that currently bring you joy: family, friends, teachers, coaches, neighbors and church (to name a few). Happiness is about focusing on your abundant blessings, which if you stop to count often multiply.

 

Rattlesnake Tails & Other Gifts From My Grandma

3.17.16

When I was a kindergartener, I brought a little baggie full of dried rattlesnake tails to “show and tell” at school. Thirty-five years later, I can still remember the shocked expression on sweet Mrs. Blackwell’s face as I stood in front of my class (with my big bow and perfectly curled hair, wearing a little dress with white knee-high socks and black mary janes) and explained that my grandma had killed all of these rattlesnakes with an ax on her ranch in Montana. I told my classmates that she had a large glass jar full of rattlesnake tails on the shelf in her basement, but I only took a few. I explained that she taught me that you can tell the age of a rattlesnake by counting its rattles; a rattlesnake grows 2-3 rattles each year of its life.   It was a “show and tell” first for Swanson Elementary.

My grandma, Mildred Spencer Monson, passed away more than 14 years ago. But, she’s been on my mind a lot this week. At times when I’ve felt like my life is hard, I’ve encouraged myself to summon my inner Mildred. When I compare my life to hers, I have it pretty easy.

Mildred was a strong woman. She killed rattlesnakes with an ax. She grew up in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana. She received a formal education as a young girl, attended boarding school, college and went on to become a teacher. She married Melvin Monson (a handsome rancher), had three children and settled on a cattle ranch near Chinook, Montana. A regular day for her included waking up at the crack of dawn to milk cows, gather eggs, make three meals from scratch (no convenience items or microwave), tend the family garden (where she ran into many rattlers), sew her children’s clothes, wash all of the family’s clothes and dishes by hand . . . Oh, and teach grades first through eighth in the rural, one-room schoolhouse. She ran a small home without indoor plumbing for years. My dad remembers playing marbles with his siblings and listening to the radio at night for entertainment. The nearest town was about 25 minutes away (no Amazon.com). She was an expert at stretching the dollar. I fondly remember her cutting paper towels into fourths because that was cheaper than purchasing Kleenex (she’d done the math). She also stretched her coffee grounds by reusing them multiple times…

It really is amazing how quickly life has evolved in just a couple of generations in this country. I was trying to explain to my kids that cell phones did not exist when I was little and that I didn’t have an e-mail address until I was in college. In order to do a research paper for school, I used to have to go to the library and use a card catalog, microfiche film and encyclopedias (all foreign words to them); we did not have the Internet or a computer when I was in elementary school. They could not comprehend that my television only had three channels or that cartoons were only played on Saturday!

Modern conveniences have allowed us to save time, but somehow we’ve still managed to fill our calendars with more “stuff.” I wonder what Mildred would say as she scrolled through my family’s iCal for the week? Would she approve or would she scoff?

I think she’d question the value of spending so much time and money on extracurricular activities. I think she’d wonder why my children don’t help out more around the house and why I’m so exhausted at the end of the day. But, I think she would be incredibly proud of my oldest son, who inherited her love of learning. I think she’d smile as she took in all of the messy stacks of books around his room, noting many familiar ones that I inherited from her own book shelves; that image makes my heart happy.

When I was a little girl, I was told that I inherited my grandma’s eyes. As an adult, I catch myself thinking Mildred-like thoughts and doing Mildred-like things. I am thankful that I grew up with a strong grandma who taught me that you don’t need to be afraid of rattlesnakes or hard work.

Focus on What’s Right

3.10.16

Growing up, I remember my mom saying: “You are only as happy as your saddest child.” This past week, her words have echoed through my thoughts as I’ve driven carpool, jogged around my neighborhood and tried to fall asleep at night.

When I was pregnant, I constantly prayed for happy, healthy children. I felt like it would be greedy to add anything else to the list (smart, athletic, attractive, driven, artistic, musical or socially gifted…). When you boil it all down, these are the two greatest blessings.

One of the most difficult facts about motherhood is that I can’t actually control my children’s happiness or their health. I can make sure that all of their basic needs are met. I can teach by my example. I can preach (by far my most used and least effective tactic). I can provide constant love and support.  But, I can’t do it for them. I can’t make them make healthy choices or follow my advice.

I can’t control what cruelties life hurls at me or my family. But, I can control how I react. Do I get depressed? Angry? Even? Or, do I choose to count my blessings? Happiness is a choice.

A wise man once told me not to build a shrine to my sadness or anger. He encouraged me to make our home a happy retreat, separate from the unkind world. He told me to have faith and to trust that there are lessons to be learned; in the future, we will be able to look back and laugh at the memories that are painful realities today.

When my mind starts to go toward the sadness, I must force myself to focus on the joy. I must choose to find the beauty in the ugly. I must choose to celebrate the simplest blessings, which are plentiful. Honestly, even on my darkest days – the good still outweighs the bad.  I just have to make the choice to focus on what’s right…again and again and again.

Focusing on what’s right in my life takes away the power of what isn’t. It also allows me to be a better mother, wife, sister, daughter and friend…a better all-around person.