Quality Time

When your first baby is actually a set of twins, you figure out pretty quickly that it’s going to be difficult to create one-on-one time with them. At least that was the case for us. We had our twin daughters first, followed by our older son three years later. Then our youngest son came to us nearly 11 years after big brother was born.


I was able to have those moments with my boys—grocery shopping trips, bike rides, ordinary weekdays—while their older siblings were in school, but it was different with my daughters. Early on, my husband carved out little outings with them so that they could have solo time with dad. Sometimes he would take them to get ice cream or to look at puppies at the pet store, just an hour basking in his undivided attention. Now that they are all older, and our schedules are color-coded and overlapping and busy, it’s a lot harder. And since our daughters are fully into their senior year of high school, time feels extra precious.


That’s part of what made this last weekend so great. My husband and I took one of our daughters on a college visit out of state. It was only a 48-hour trip with about 12 of those hours spent on the road, but it was just the three of us so that made it special. (For those of you who are keeping score and wanting to call us out on preferential treatment of one twin over another, we made a similar trip with our other daughter last year, only it wasn’t as far away so we didn’t have to make overnight accommodations. Sometimes it’s impossible to be fair in all things, but we try. When my kids ask me which of them is my favorite, I always say it’s the one who is emptying the dishwasher.)


We took a tour of the campus and filled out paperwork. Even though we didn’t attend this particular university, my husband and I were prompted by familiar sights and sounds to impart some wisdom from the other side of the college experience. We advised our daughter on things like dorm life, class loads, post-high school dating and cafeteria meals. We told her stories from our college days so many years ago and yet still mostly relevant.


It took a lot of coordinating with our other kids and help from a friend to get away from all of the commitments back at home, but it was what we needed to do for this daughter at this time, and it filled up this mom’s tank with some good memories to shore me up for next year when she’ll be six hours away.


Whether you have kids or not, there is no replacement for good quality time with those precious souls who are most important to you. If you’ve been wavering on going away on a trip with your people—be it best girlfriends or out-of-town cousins or your spouse—let this be your wake-up call. Jump in the car and go, then generously spend your most valuable currency: your time.

Just another day on Venus

As I was listening to the radio recently, I heard some interesting facts about the planet Venus. I already knew a few things, like that it’s the second planet from the sun, which I remember using that old mnemonic device from elementary school: My Very Educated MotherJust Served Us Nine Pizzas (Now that they’ve removed Pluto from the lineup, Mother serves Nachos, by the way). It’s the hottest planet, with a really muggy atmosphere…so pretty much just like Tennessee in August.


I didn’t know that it rotates backwards from the direction of most other planets. Hot and spinning backwards is never a great combination for me, think Tea Cups ride at Disney World. But Venus makes it work, lighting up the night as the brightest thing we can see in the sky apart from the moon.


The most surprising fact I learned was how slowly Venus rotates. It takes 243 “Earth days” for Venus to rotate once on its axis, making one Venus day. But the planet orbits around the sun in 225 “Earth days”, making one Venus year. Hence, a year on Venus (225 Earth days) is shorter than a day on Venus (243 Earth days). Just let that sink in a minute.


In the last few weeks, many of my friends have sent their children off to college, some for the first time. They packed them up and drove them miles from home so their sons and daughters can begin a new and exciting chapter. I still have two more years before this will be a chapter in my daughters’ stories (Chapter titles might include: “Twin Daughters Study Twice as Hard” or “The Library is Her Favorite”).


When it comes to evaluating moments like the first day of kindergarten or the first day of college, studying for spelling tests or preparing for driving tests, it’s hard not to say things like: “Where has the time gone? Weren’t they just in diapers yesterday? They can’t be this old!” We say these things because we humans are complicated creatures. Why else would something as measurable and concrete as time have a feeling? We say a Monday feels like a Tuesday. We say that 8:00 pm feels like midnight. We joke that “time flies when you’re having fun.”


There are times when we are metaphorically dropped onto the hot, clammy surface of Venus, and we think that the calendar mustbe wrong. We want time to spin backwards or at least stop for a bit so we can catch our breath. It’s easy to feel like we’re waking up from a coma, seeing our kids as if for the first time in years. He used to come up to my elbow, his hair just the right height for me to run my hand across it to wrestle with that cowlick. Now I have to reach up to pat down his unruly tufts of hair, and we’re eye-to-eye. Good grief! How long was I out?


But there was no coma, only the day-to-day moments that make up their childhood. The hectic mornings out the door and grabbing supper on the way to ball practice. The busy schedules and the good night hugs. The sweet memories and the discouraging frustrations. That feeling that we only get one chance to do this right because, in the end, it seems so fleeting.


So pretend that for today, you are a Venusian—a hot-natured inhabitant of the planet Venus. Make a “New DayResolution,” giving the next 24 hours your attention as if this day were as consequentially important to fully live as a whole year. Treasure the blessings and value what’s really important.

Welcome to Venus!

Summer Time (and why it shouldn’t be wasted)

Yesterday my 15-year old daughter approached me in the hallway of our home and asked me a question. With utmost sincerity and concern, she said, “Mom, are we having money problems?”


“Money problems? No. We’re not having money problems,” I answered. “Why are you asking me that?”


“Because I noticed that this week you keep turning off all of the lights in the house.”


“Like in the rooms that no one is in…in the middle of the day?” I asked with utmost sarcasm and cynicism. “Of course I’m turning them off. IT’S WASTING ELECTRICITY!”


I couldn’t believe she had asked me that! I mean, she’s lived with me for 15 years so even if I had only said, “Don’t leave the lights on. That’s wasting electricity!” once a week for the entirety of her lifetime that’s 780 times! And I know I say it more than once a week. (It’s from my Mom Playlist which is on constant rotation. Others hits include: “For the love of air conditioning, close the door!” and “Why are there so many shoes in the living room?” and “This is my drink. Get your own.” and for our youngest family member: “Are you wearing underwear?”)


There’s just something hardwired in me that can’t stand to waste things—electricity, water, food. It feels so extravagant (not in a good way) to dump half of a casserole in the trashcan because you forgot it was there and now there’s a gray fur growing on it. So much time and effort and cream of chicken soup to be discarded as if there aren’t starving people all over the world! It bothers me to no end.


Even Jesus saw the value in leftovers after He fed the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. He told the Apostles to wander all over their mountainside picnic area and collect what wasn’t eaten. I’d like to think every bit of the contents of those 12 baskets were eventually eaten and savored for the delicious, miraculous leftovers they were.


Now that I’m in the slow, sweet days of summer break—a place that really only feels different from the rest of the year if you’re a teacher, a student, or a parent of a student—I feel extra motivated not to be wasteful, and I don’t want my kids to waste this time either.


I want them to play in the rain.

I want them to catch lightning bugs.

I want them to lose track of time while they read good books.

I want our family to do things after 8:00 pm on weeknights: start a movie, go get ice cream, play Frisbee or freeze tag or some game we invent on the spot in the backyard and commit to it until it’s too dark to see each other’s faces.


We are so often warned to be good stewards of all the blessings we’ve been so graciously given. Perhaps the most abundant yet most wasted gift is time. I will try—starting with the months of June and July—to make the most of what I have.

Ready or not

Before a recent soccer game, I overheard a conversation between two of my 6-year old son’s teammates.


“Where have you been?” a little boy asked his tardy teammate as she walked up to the group. “The game is starting.”


“I was eating some hard candy so I would be ready,” she answered.


Though I had a difficult time connecting the hard candy to any pregame regimen, her response was apparently satisfying for her friends so the game began.


I feel like the two words I say most frequently around my house (other than GOOD NIGHT and LOVE YOU and GREAT JOB, of course…I’m not a monster) are GET READY. There may be some nuances to the phrase like: “Why aren’t you ready?” and “Not until you’re all the way ready.” and “Is that enough time for you to get ready?”


So what am I getting them ready for, anyway?


As in any job, it’s helpful to take a moment and evaluate how I’m doing as a parent, and this end-of-the-schoolyear time seems like a perfect opportunity. As a part of my self-assessment, I’ll ask the question: Are they ready for what’s next?


My twin daughters just finished their freshman year in high school (which is weird because I pretty much just graduated from high school myself, right?). When I see what’s just around the corner—dating, college, jobs—I’m excited for them but also anxious to walk through it with them and tell them every step of the way where to set their feet next. I want to hold their hands like I did that first day of kindergarten, a daughter on either side, Barbie backpacks and monogrammed lunchboxes and new back-to-school clothes.


But I know that’s not reasonable or healthy or appropriate (or allowed by high school administrators). I know that at some point I have to let go and hope that they are prepared to make the right choices to be safe and sound. And I have to be okay with the fact that I can’t protect them from everything. (Yuck.) I pray that they are ready.


My nearly 7th grade son is teetering at the edge of his teen years. He’s been marching uphill to this next chapter where there’s more freedom and more responsibility. Less hovering by me and more expected of him. I worry about what he’s exposed to and who he spends time with. I pray that the values we have underlined over and over in our family play book will stand out to him when the time is right. I pray that he is ready.


My youngest, our baby from Congo, will go to kindergarten in August. He hasn’t been away from one of us, someone who lives in his house, for more than a few hours at a time, and I wonder if he’s ready to fly the coop. Is he ready to go to school 5 days a week for 10 months?


He still struggles with his English—his color words, letters, numbers. We’re trying to remind him how to ask for what he needs. He’s holding on to a handful of words from his birth language: bango means them, mingi means lots, biso means us. We tell him to pick another word. We tell him this will help others understand him. I pray that he is ready.


As parents we make so many deposits in our kid’s integrity account, hoping it will add up to an exceptional character with strong convictions and valuable common sense. But, regardless, we eventually have to let go. We have to adapt to the idea that there’s never enough time for preparation.


So after I’ve prayed that they are ready, my next prayer is for myself. I pray that I am ready to change my 2 most frequently used words from GET READY to GO TIME.

A day is like a thousand years

How often do you say the following: “It seems like just yesterday” or “This is the longest week ever”? A minute will always last 60 seconds and an hour will always last 60 minutes but it doesn’t always feel like it. Time should be a concrete concept but it seems so fluid.


I have a friend who recently told me about an out-of-body experience she had while holding a new mom’s infant daughter. A precious 4-month old sat in her lap and my friend was instantly transported more than 17 years in the past to the nursery of her own now-teenaged daughter. The years disappeared in a mist. Suddenly she was the new mom with the tiny daughter. The sweet, baby smell, the touch of soft baby skin—it felt like it was just yesterday. Tearful, my friend felt that time had passed too quickly.


When you’re anxiously waiting for something to happen, time seems to slow to a crawl. It was true when you were a kid, waiting for summer vacation or Christmas morning, and it can still be true for adults. Time stretches out in front of you like an endless horizon. It’s January, bleak and cloudy, and you look at your covered swimming pool, thinking, “We’ll never get through with winter. Summer seems so far away.”


Then there are periods of time and phases of life that seem to go quickly and last forever simultaneously. The anniversary of something tragic like the death of a loved one or a long illness or the day a spouse moves out and moves on, can create a desire for introspection. Upon examination, you might realize that while you’re living through it, your heightened feelings make time tick slowly. Your anger and frustration burn so brightly that little else enters your mind. This concentration slows everything down. But when the phase is over, you look back at the towering mountains you climbed and the raging rivers you crossed, and you wonder how you got through it in the amount of time that has passed.


Intellectually, we know that time is a fixed thing. We check clocks and watches and cell phones often throughout the day to gauge what we should be doing and where we should be going, and we rarely question what we see. But emotionally, time is not fixed. And our perception, however unreliable, can become our reality.


It’s okay if time feels fluid. In the Book of James, we read that “To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.” He measures time differently, too. So maybe, in the end, it’s not the quantity of time we’re given—the number of seconds and minutes and hours that pass in a lifetime, but how we spend those minutes that really matters.