Monday, March 26, 2018

A better person

If there is one thing that I know for sure about parenthood, it's that being a mother has made me a better person. Unequivocally.

Don't mishear me, I'm no saint. But there are three small children who are with me all my waking hours, hear all the words I say, see the expressions on my face and know how I spend my time. Three children who look to me for guidance, love me fiercely and follow me blindly. For better or for worse, it's my voice they listen to, and my acceptance they strive for. I am acutely aware of my influence on their lives. It's a glorious burden to bear.

And so I'm learning that I have to actually BE the person I SAY I am. I hope it's not an enormous adjustment and that I've always lived some semblance of the principled life I have strived for. Even so, the alignment has become tighter and the details attended to more minute. We spend our time and our energy teaching our kids the values we hold most dear. We talk about what we stand for as a family, and are intentional about establishing overarching values and goals that influence our life on a grand scale and our parenting on a daily one. The conversations are endless, between Adam and I, and between us and our kids, seeking constantly to teach that they are loved, valued, cherished, accepted, safe. We revisit constantly the ways we can instill in them that they are brave, strong, kind, enough. We try to teach them to listen to their inner voice, to use their words to express their hearts, to stand firm in their convictions, to look out for others and themselves. To love big, fully, unconditionally. To be gracious, forgiving, thoughtful, giving. To be bold, courageous, adventurous. To be all the many things God created them to be. We worry, we stress, I may even obsess about how we can best equip these little wonders to be their best selves, to live their best lives, to make their world the best place it can be.

It's so hard.

And we fall SO short.

But in the trying, we are succeeding, and where we fail we rely on God's grace.

And we know that all our words will ring hollow if they stand alone.

They are listening to our words, but they are copying our actions.

I am constantly telling the girls they can do hard things, and so I must do hard things, too. I tell them I am proud of them, so I tell myself I'm proud of me, too. I want them to be unhindered and joyful, and so I sing and dance with abandon. I want them to stand up for themselves, so they hear me stand up for them, and for myself too. I want them to love reading and the world it will open for them, so I make sure they see their mother reading books instead of playing on my phone. I want them to use their beautiful imaginations and so I must engage with mine. I want them to love being outside, testing their limits, listening to their bodies and so I show them I do the same with mine. I want them to be persistent so they need to see my persistence. I want them to care about justice and the well-being of others so they need to see me out there, getting my hands dirty and doing the work I say I care about. I want them to cling fiercely to their beliefs and convictions so they need to see how firm I stand in mine. I want them to listen to the voices deep in their heart so I have to show them that I am listening to mine. I want them to follow their dreams so I have to show them that I am following mine, too.

It's tremendously inconvenient to align my words with my actions, but it's profoundly freeing as well. One great gift of parenting has been learning that I, in fact, can be any type of person I want to be. It's not too late to be the things I hope my girls will be. In fact, it's necessary that I am.

I want the world for them.

I am claiming the world for myself.

Raising our girls to be the best people they can be has forced my hand.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas Card 2017




Merry Christmas!

Since you last heard from us in 2015 (oops!), Thea Bea (Th-ee-ah Bee) joined our family and changed our lives in all the best and most inconvenient ways. If you walked into our house unannounced (please do!) you'd likely find Anna (now 7, Grade 1) jumping on the furniture or practicing a soccer or gymnastics 'move' and telling us in detail everything she did or learned or thought that day. Etta (3.5, preschool), singing a song, wearing a costume, and deep in imagination-land would be bringing out all the just put away choking hazards in the house and hiding Thea's toys where she can't reach. For her part, Thea, (15 mo) would be walking around screaming at the top of her lungs with a pair of Etta's underwear on her head and said choking hazard in her mouth while throwing our most valuable possessions in the trash, never to be seen again. Adam, home from work as a Hospitalist at theVA, would have 3 kids crawling all over him as he tries to tell Sheri about his day over the din of Casper Babypants. Sheri would be putting off making dinner, nodding politely, futilely asking everytone to PLEASE BE QUIET and wondering if she can go to bed yet.

Other days, Adam's off work and we pick Anna up from school and see what local adventure we can fit in, what park we haven't yet explored, what beach we haven't been to recently. We dream about skiing as a family this winter, reminisce about the fun trips we've taken this last year (Panorama, the Cottage, Pilgrim Pines, Mesquite), dream about the ones that lie ahead and scheme about fitting in even more. We do our best to fill our days with wonder and fun, laughter and love, lots of fresh air and so very much joy. We feel without a doubt we're the very luckiest people around and we are so grateful.

May Peace, Goodwill with all abide this Holy Christmastide.

Love, the Johnsons

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Summer

This time tomorrow I will be frantically shoving scrambled eggs in my kids mouths and trying desperately not to be late for the first day of school. So, today I sit here in the quiet while my girls get one last sleep-in, enjoying my coffee and pre-breakfast cookie, waiting for them to emerge from their room sleepy-eyed and snuggly and not in any sort of rush at all.

It's been the summer of water (lakes, sounds, oceans, creeks, pools, spray parks, wading pools, waterparks and sprinklers), of gymnastics and soccer and sports and swimming and biking. It was the summer of lost teeth, skinned knees and sandy feet. The summer of illness, too. It's been the summer of our backyard - parties and sprinklers and trampoline jumping; 'soup making' and flower crowns and tea parties and so many dinners on the deck. We went to war with the wasps and fed flies to the spiders and painted rocks and sold lemonade. We ate 'summer cereal' and too many treats, played board games on the deck and told bedtime stories on the trampoline as Thea crawled all over us. We sang Moana at the top of our lungs and would stay in the same clothes for days on end. It's been a summer of perfect weather and wide open windows. We had a July filled with big, special trips and an August filled with simple, special days. It was the summer Thea stopped being a little baby, Etta finished with diapers and Anna learned to braid her own hair. It was the summer of 'sisters' where an already tight bond grew immeasurably stronger which means, of course, it was the summer of bickering, too. It was the summer where I didn't get a moment to myself, checked nothing off my 'to do' list and didn't mind nearly as much as usual. It was a summer that wasn't as perfect as now it sounds, filled with its own frustrations big and small, and plenty a plaintiff 'what are we going to do today?' but now on this last day this is what I remember.

And I am so grateful.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Jack

Oh my little women,

We had to say goodbye to your cat brother yesterday, a couple days ago as Etta would say. It's been hard. So much harder than I ever imagined. You have been great, done great. You are so strong and resilient. Me, not so much. You miss him, well Anna does. Etta doesn't quite understand and Thea just blows bubbles. But Anna, you were sad, and brave and mostly protective and sorry for me. I'm proud of your resiliency. I hope we can let you process.

I want you girls to know a little about him. He was wonderful. He was terrible, too, but we loved him so much and he loved you. He hated everyone, but he loved you fiercely.

He was a crazy cat and could have been such a danger to you, but somehow he knew you were off limits. There were moments of course, but on the whole he put up with you and gave to you grace that he wouldn't begin to muster for anyone else. You loved him, even though you were scared of him. You were used to his presence and he made you laugh. He filled our house with so much craziness and frustration and love. We all felt it in so many ways.

I'm sorry you had to experience loss this early in life and I'm so proud of how you have been facing it head on. You didn't run away from any of it. You even looked at his lifeless body and buried him in the backyard. You saw me cry and grieve in a way that you've never seen before and can't possibly understand. It scared you, I know and for that I'm sorry.

But we're teaching you that it's OK to feel anything you feel. It's OK to be sad. And so, you must see me be sad and let me be sad. It's a hard lesson.

When we were burying him I told you that being sad was OK because it showed how happy we were. If he hadn't been happy, if he hadn't meant so very much we wouldn't be sad. All emotions are connected and we hope to show you how to accept them, navigate them, embrace them even when it's so very hard.

I'm devastated by this loss. I miss him more than I can ever say. I'm more sad than I thought I could be and I want to thank you for letting me. Thanks for the cards, and words and hugs and kisses and thanks for letting me cry.

Jack loved you. I love you, too.

Forever,

Mama

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Today, I grieve

I wrote this because I need desperately to process and grieve. If you feel differently by all means enjoy your unencumbered heart, but please refrain from dishonoring mine with your words.

Anna's school canceled a lock-down drill today because children were coming to school anxious and scared about the results of last night's election and didn't need to be reminded that someone might come in and shoot them in their classroom.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Last night Anna learned that Hillary Clinton might lose the election. She cried. She asked me if Donald Trump was going to kill her because she heard kids said that he is a 'bad guy' and that's what they do in movies. I comforted her and told her (again) that he's not a 'bad guy' and he wasn't going to kill anyone. I told her it was still early and we wouldn't know until the morning who won. I told her it was going to be OK no matter what happened. I thought about how sad it is that she might grow up scared of the next President regardless of the logic. I thought about how there are many real reasons to fear.

This morning Anna came into our room and asked who won the election. I swallowed hard, looked away and took a deep breath. I struggled to keep my voice steady and stated that Donald Trump did. She saw my tears and she cried, too. She kept saying that she was sorry and she kept asking if it was going to be OK. I kept telling her that she would be OK. I told her nothing would change in our family or our house. I told her it was even more important now that we are kind and love and take care of the people that Donald Trump isn't so nice to. She asked if he would be mean to her and I said of course not and that she would probably never meet him, but that if she did he would probably be really nice to her.

I was going to wake Anna up last night and bring her downstairs to see the first female be elected President of the United States of America. I was going to share that seminal moment with her. A moment that would have been historic and powerful for me, but would have been normal for her. She wasn't going to have to know any better.

But here we are trying to find the words to calm her fears without lying to her and lying to her anyway because we don't know how to tell her that this man who is hateful to so many, who has said things we can't repeat, who wants to turn away the very people Jesus wants us to invite in will be leading this country. I can't look her in the eye and tell her everything is OK when millions of people decided to put him in charge despite all this, or worse, because all this. It is not OK.

I went to bed lying to myself that it was going to be alright and woke up this morning with the realization that I'm not so much scared of what he will do, or try to do, but I am absolutely terrified by what has been done. Hatred, bigotry, sexism, racism and fear has been endorsed by millions upon millions of Americans. Make no mistake, a vote is an endorsement.

And this is where we are raising our daughters.

I was praying in the shower, tears falling down my face. I felt grateful and guilty with the realization that our children will probably remain largely directly unaffected, that in fact some of the unjust systems that will be perpetuated are the systems from which they already benefit. I felt angry and scared that we teach our daughters proper terminology and consent so they can protect themselves from the very thing that the President elect has bragged about doing. I felt helpless that he was elected despite such fervent and vocal opposition and then convicted that in fact for those of us who believe that love truly does trump hate that the work has just now begun.

I believe this - that now is when the real work begins. We fight back. We love bigger, we give more generously, we believe the best in people, we advocate for others. We don't give up. We don't agree with the vitriol coming from the White House so we model grace and compassion and justice in our homes. Our children may not see decency and character or even common courtesy in leadership but they will see it in us. We live with integrity. We live what we believe. We will be the change we want so desperately to see.

Yet...

Her school canceled a lock-down drill today because children were coming to school anxious and scared about the results of last night's election and didn't need to be reminded that someone might come in and shoot them in their classroom. And this morning, in that very classroom where they practice those drills, Anna put her hand over her heart and pledged allegiance to this country.

...

I remain committed to the good work, to sharing the Love and living in hope, but today, today I just need to cry.

Today, I grieve

I wrote this because I need desperately to process and grieve. If you feel differently by all means enjoy your unencumbered heart, but please refrain from dishonoring mine with your words.

Anna's school canceled a lock-down drill today because children were coming to school anxious and scared about the results of last night's election and didn't need to be reminded that someone might come in and shoot them in their classroom.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Last night Anna learned that Hillary Clinton might lose the election. She cried. She asked me if Donald Trump was going to kill her because she heard kids said that he is a 'bad guy' and that's what they do in movies. I comforted her and told her (again) that he's not a 'bad guy' and he wasn't going to kill anyone. I told her it was still early and we wouldn't know until the morning who won. I told her it was going to be OK no matter what happened. I thought about how sad it is that she might grow up scared of the next President regardless of the logic. I thought about how there are many real reasons to fear.

This morning Anna came into our room and asked who won the election. I swallowed hard, looked away and took a deep breath. I struggled to keep my voice steady and stated that Donald Trump did. She saw my tears and she cried, too. She kept saying that she was sorry and she kept asking if it was going to be OK. I kept telling her that she would be OK. I told her nothing would change in our family or our house. I told her it was even more important now that we are kind and love and take care of the people that Donald Trump isn't so nice to. She asked if he would be mean to her and I said of course not and that she would probably never meet him, but that if she did he would probably be really nice to her.

I was going to wake Anna up last night and bring her downstairs to see the first female be elected President of the United States of America. I was going to share that seminal moment with her. A moment that would have been historic and powerful for me, but would have been normal for her. She wasn't going to have to know any better.

But here we are trying to find the words to calm her fears without lying to her and lying to her anyway because we don't know how to tell her that this man who is hateful to so many, who has said things we can't repeat, who wants to turn away the very people Jesus wants us to invite in will be leading this country. I can't look her in the eye and tell her everything is OK when millions of people decided to put him in charge despite all this, or worse, because all this. It is not OK.

I went to bed lying to myself that it was going to be alright and woke up this morning with the realization that I'm not so much scared of what he will do, or try to do, but I am absolutely terrified by what has been done. Hatred, bigotry, sexism, racism and fear has been endorsed by millions upon millions of Americans. Make no mistake, a vote is an endorsement.

And this is where we are raising our daughters.

I was praying in the shower, tears falling down my face. I felt grateful and guilty with the realization that our children will probably remain largely directly unaffected, that in fact some of the unjust systems that will be perpetuated are the systems from which they already benefit. I felt angry and scared that we teach our daughters proper terminology and consent so they can protect themselves from the very thing that the President elect has bragged about doing. I felt helpless that he was elected despite such fervent and vocal opposition and then convicted that in fact for those of us who believe that love truly does trump hate that the work has just now begun.

I believe this - that now is when the real work begins. We fight back. We love bigger, we give more generously, we believe the best in people, we advocate for others. We don't give up. We don't agree with the vitriol coming from the White House so we model grace and compassion and justice in our homes. Our children may not see decency and character or even common courtesy in leadership but they will see it in us. We live with integrity. We live what we believe. We will be the change we want so desperately to see.

Yet...

Her school canceled a lock-down drill today because children were coming to school anxious and scared about the results of last night's election and didn't need to be reminded that someone might come in and shoot them in their classroom. And this morning, in that very classroom where they practice those drills, Anna put her hand over her heart and pledged allegiance to this country.

...

I remain committed to the good work, to sharing the Love and living in hope, but today, today I just need to cry.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What I want her Kindergarten teacher to know



I wrote this a couple weeks ago. Since then we've met with her teacher and she's had her first day. I'm proud to report she enjoyed her first day of school and I was more or less able to reign myself in during our meeting. Her teacher told us that his goals are for each student to feel valued, safe and respected. I didn't have much to add after that.

Next week we meet with Anna's Kindergarten teacher before school starts. These meetings are new this year. They want to provide a time for parents and teachers to meet and talk about the student and what the parents hope for their child in their first year in school.

Anna will be in Mr. Zillig's class and the first thing I want to tell him is that I'm sorry he has to have these meetings. I mean, honestly. He has to sit with 25 odd parents and hear how special their kid is and all the ways in which he should cater to them specifically and I'm pretty sure his job is already hard enough.

I also want to tell him that he IS SO INCREDIBLY LUCKY TO HAVE ANNA IN HIS CLASS BECAUSE SHE IS THE MOST SPECIAL GIRL IN THE WORLD AND HE BETTER TREAT HER RIGHT.

So there's that.

However, I strive to be a semi-rational being (despite post-partum hormones) so I'm going to go for something in between if I can find the words. How do we begin to tell him about our girl? This nuanced, complex, phenomenal human being? How do we put to words the hopes and worries we have for her as she ventures into the rest of her life? How do we remove our neuroses and baggage and focus on her? It's a tall order, and there will always be more I will want to tell him if only I could find the words or had the nerve.

But for now, this is what I want to say:

Our greatest hope for Anna this year has nothing to do with reading and writing. Our biggest wish is simply this: that she will be seen, that she will be known, that she will be safe.

We want her to be seen. Simply to be seen. Not lost in the shuffle or overlooked because she is compliant and well behaved. We want her to be noticed. Please try to see her.

We want her to be known. We want her to be known in the ways that she will reveal herself to you, to us, to the world as she continues to grow and learn. We want her to be validated and encouraged and challenged. We hope she will be known for who she truly is, and not who you think she will be, nor whom we have described her to be, but who she is. Please try to get to know her.

We want her to be safe. I worry for her physical safety and I long for her emotional security. We hope for a safe place to be herself - to feel her big feelings, to share her huge heart, to bear her vulnerable self when she so chooses. We want her to feel safe to learn and question and push her boundaries. Please try to keep her safe.

She's a girl filled with emotions so big and so strong and so powerful. Her compassion, empathy and passion are her guiding light, and they are her achilles heel. She is deeply thoughtful and caring, affectionate and loyal. She is keenly sensitive and empathetic. She is an observer and takes her time, makes up her own mind and commits to something with no less than 100% devotion, persistence and dedication. She is determined to the point of obstinance and frustrated so very easily. So easily. She demands perfection of herself and will either give up in a fit of frustration or work tirelessly till she accomplishes her goal. She is not thick skinned, but will put up with any amount of blood and pain and sweat if, and only if, it's her decision. She's a leader, but not a loud one. She's a team player yet she's fiercely competitive. She cares about everyone and everything and feels the pain of all around her. Chances are she will do well in school. She is social, self-sufficient, craves structure and order and simply LOVES to learn.

She will light up the classroom with that smile of hers and she could set the world on fire with all the love she has inside.

She's a million things all at once. And she's our baby girl.

And so that is our loftiest hope - that you might see her, know her and keep her safe.