Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Our Jesse Tree
{incl. Adam & Eve, Jacob, Joseph, & David}

Sophie as the Star of Bethlehem

I really love her pensive, unselfconscious look

Imogen as Mary

A baby!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Well, we have a wakeful baby, two big girls who are ill (but better than yesterday) but happy and look forward to some special family time together. Merry Christmas to everyone who stops by here!

Friday, 17 December 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday* Volume 4

1) Illness has struck! All of us girls (OK, that's everyone EXCEPT my husband) has suffered from temperatures, coughs and runny noses, with some vomiting thrown in. But we're OK. A little tired and moody, but OK. Even the baby. Who slept last night waking only once for a feed. In comparison to recent wakeful nights due to a stuffy nose and teething. Yay!

2) Advent - it's wondeful! Coupled with illness and snow, we've been resting and peacefully preparing, living quite simply and taking things day by day. The children are counting down to Christmas, but taking enjoyment in taking turns to unwrap stories and stick pictures on the cardboard Jesse tree (I really must do a photo!). Things are MUCH less crazy than in recent years. My husband thanked me yesterday for taking care of the preparations allowing him to focus on his work, but it hasn't been a burden. I've purposely not taken on too much.

3) Like Jen, I'm a bit torn over Santa Claus, and gifts in general to be honest. We're hammering home the Saint Nicholas/spirit of Christmas thing, and the children don't expect much in their stockings. We did 4 Samaritans Purse shoeboxes, and the kids aren't hugely focused on what they are getting. But recently I've brought home HUGE bags of gifts from other people, friends and family members, and I literally haven't got anywhere to put them!

4) Hopefully though, like we managed with Advent, I'm going to instigate a whole 12 days of Christmas thing this year, and open presents from different people every day. We have dinner with the inlaws on the 25th, we visit my parents on 26th, and then will be opening things gradually and visiting family friends for lunch on a couple of days in Christmas week before attending that great English tradition, the Pantomime, on New Year's Eve! It's nice for me that I'm not completely focused on Christmas Day itself, but the whole tranche of celebrations.

5) We always have a few people over the Saturday prior to Christmas Day for a preliminary celebration, a mince pie and a slice of Christmas cake, spiced apple juice and mulled wine. This year, it will REALLY be a few - I've pared it back big style, as last year our house got quite trashed with all and sundry - which is making it more special.

6) I tried to do IKEA, Mamas and Papas (for a buggy repair run) AND Starbucks on Tuesday. By the time we got to Starbucks, the baby was grizzly, and there was no way my 4 year old and I would get to sit and chew the fat over gingerbread latte (hold the whipped cream) and a cookie, so we left. To add insult to injury, my husband regaled me with tales of eggnog latte at his business meeting! I'm so glad I already had one gingerbread latte this season, as who knows when I will get another.

7) BUT I did get a haircut! I had an hour and a half without the baby and got my hair cut into a long bob! It was needing it soooo much. And I had a positive experience at the salon this time :-) It feels like several Christmases have come at once, to get a little break and to have my hair treated. I rarely fuss with my appearance, but having a Christmas haircut feels like part of the preparations, readying myself for Christmas day, dinner and visits.

And that's the seven! Next week, we'll be cooking the turkey before going to the Crib Service at church on Christmas Eve, so I think I've crammed everything into today's quick takes. Happy Advent & Merry Christmas!

*with thanks to Jen at Conversion Diary

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Stuck behind the kitchen sink?

Recently, I had my third child. It is understandable that the last few months have been hard work, physically, mentally, even spiritually. In addition to existing commitments with the eldest two girls, we now have to find time to schedule in clinic appointments, make sure we don't run out of nappies, and catch up on sleep while we can.

But, to an extent, #3 has to fit in. She grizzles her way through the wait at ballet class, and comes on the school run without complaint. She is washed enthusiastically by her big sisters in the bath, and sits up in her highchair at the table for meals, even though we haven't begun weaning yet.

And a truly great thing, is that she has fitted in with my work outside the home.

Now don't get me wrong (as the wonderful Pretenders once warbled). As I have recently blogged, I am a devoted servant to my family; it comes easily to me - I love to clean, cook, wipe little bottoms, and have my patience tested on a regular basis ;-) My husband and I enjoy as much quality time as we can together given his self-employed commitments (and my role in our company, from which I am currently on maternity leave). One might speculate that being a wife and mother 'completes me'.

BUT, although my primary role is with my family at the moment, I also know I have others to serve, both now and in the future.

I am a listening ear. I am a member of the Playgroup committee, and the church Women's Group committee. I am studying towards a Certificate in Lay Ministry, the end result of which will hopefully see me serving in a more pastoral role in my Church, while edging towards chaplaincy over time (if I'm discerning correctly...). I serve on the Baptism Preparation team. I regularly read from the Bible in church services. I co-lead the Pram Service for under-5s. I sing with an Ensemble, and bake cakes for their concerts.

Yes, that sounds a lot. Yet I don't strive to be what they term an 'Uber-Mom'. I have many years of practice of learning to say NO, firmly. Certain things have been shelved since Rebecca was born. I am most gutted to be too exhausted as yet to attend singing practice, which spiritually revived me, amongst other things, and church on a Sunday evening without kids in tow. If I can't make my study group on a Monday, I don't. I only committed to one slot selling raffle tickets for Playgroup this year, and sat with my baby and watched the nativity rather than serve coffee. I do miss meeting the families who are getting their babies baptised, but I am not sad to have put Baptism Preparation sessions on hold indefinitely. And I haven't even been to a women's night out since well before the baby.

Yes, some things have been easier to let go than others. I know God is with me on this journey, feeling my resentment at not being able to do everything I want to, and negotiating my acceptance that I simply cannot. But I feel fulfilled when I do a little of other things, as well as being at home. I can't imagine life without dipping my toe into the world of further ministry, being there for people in a wider sense, and finding spiritual renewal in spaces outside those I inhabit with the children.

I know the commitments I have are voluntary, but I believe I manage them well, and don't try to over-commit or over-achieve. One of the things that has sustained me through Rebecca's early months is that I have been able to continue at least one thing - the bi-weekly Pram Service for under 5-s - without missing a beat. OK, so she needs feeding and the other parents and carers are talking about her to me as well as their own issues and there might be children at the craft table trying to eat the glue but - for me it's been do-able. The simple joys of choosing a story which fits with the liturgical season, matching worship songs to the theme, having God throw out-of-the-blue craft ideas at me that I have just had to run with - that's been great. Yet, I know several people who have questioned why I have retained the commitment. Yes, perhaps I am ploughing on with it for selfish reasons - a sense of purpose, a way to be seen as something else than 'just' a mother, who knows? But I also feel it's where I'm meant to be right now.

SO.... how to deal with my total antagonism towards (probably well-meaning) people who are clucking sympathetically towards me at the moment, telling me that "now is the time to be with your children." Well, yes. For the most part. Every breakfast and dinner. Every weekend. Every bedtime, at the moment. Every illness. Every need in the middle of the night. Every homework time. Swimming. Ballet. Play dates. Outings. That's a given, that's the job I love.

But I took that job in agreement with God - I didn't have it foisted upon me, I was blessed with a choice. And although I love it and see it as my primary role right now, as a feminist, I don't believe our talents as women are useful only for nurturing our families. I was also gifted with an intellect, which I don't intend to sit and atrophy, however small my baby is and even if I am (at least) quite tired most of the time. I fully believe God intends me to use every gift He gave me in some capacity, at some time. In the build-up to this Christmas in particular, I have had my own realisation that this time at home is a type of advent, a waiting and preparation for the day my children no longer need me (so much) and I can serve others too. Skilling up as a mother and learning how children see the world, needing to be patient with them and serve their most basic needs takes me back to Jesus, and shows me how to be a disciple (if not an apostle!)

But anyway, to get back to the point of my mutterings - I was praising Advent, and being snowed in, as helping ready our family for Christmas, and how I was happy to cut down my commitments at this time of year. I was mainly meaning dance and swimming lessons, and rushing about to visit friends and family, as well as watching VeggieTales at home rather than getting the kids into Sunday School, and ditching the Baptism prep and not attending the evening services. "Yes," one of our ministers said. "You shouldn't feel bad about it. God will understand you can't do everything. This is your time, with your children, while they are still young."

Feel bad about it? DO I GIVE THAT IMPRESSION?!! I'm just really pleased I've got a balance! I'm not apologising for not being involved in organising Sunday school activities, or attending church meetings, for goodness sake. I'm stating my acceptance that I can't do everything. And people are telling me how right it is that I don't do anything much outside of the home. Do they want me stuck behind the kitchen sink? Do they regret their own time away from their young family? Or are they just saying what they think I want to hear?

Consider this. If I was a surgeon, a lawyer, a teacher, someone who actually used the university education from which she benefitted, someone who really needed to earn money to contribute to the household, or someone who would rather die than look after 3 kids full-time, where would that leave me? Would I be a Bad and Evil Mother for returning to work (even on a part-time basis) when my children were young? Are other church mothers who work outside of the home on a paid basis judged for letting others take care of their children?

Is it because I'm taking my children along on the job with me? Is it because they know how much ministering to others squeezes your own life into a tiny compartment and want to warn me off? Because they think I can't cope? Because they have know idea how challenging I need life to be to embrace it?
Justify Full
There probably are no answers and as I keep saying, only God knows His plans for me. But any insights from the blogosphere would be greatly appreciated. Do other people go through this? If people aren't vocalising their thoughts about our role, do we worry what they are thinking anyway? Do mothers vilify themselves for spreading themselves too thin, and think they should be always doing more to serve the family? I'd like to know!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Preparation and Penance?: Striving for Humility in Advent

A little while back, I posted on how I'm quite happy that I'm following my calling of motherhood and homemaking, fulfilled by not achieving my academic potential. I'm afraid that was only a representation of the truth. I'm a proud, proud fraud.

Although I DO love cleaning, baking, preparing meals, wiping little bottoms and so on (not that I do enough of all this!!), and feel very fulfilled while immersed in it, if this were all there had been in my life, I'm not sure whether it would be enough.

Although I laugh when my children get confused when Daddy says Mummy is quite clever, my University of Oxford education often sustains me. Yes! I was clever enough to go there, my ego tells itself. And I managed to read a lot of books! And pass a lot of exams!

Although I happy to be referred to as Mrs, I am permitted to go by the title Dr due to my acquisition of a PhD eight years ago, and if people don't realise that, or call me Miss, or comment on my being Dr Standen but then continue to call me Mrs, only my husband can tell you how angry I get! Sometimes I use my credit card that says Dr on it because I want to show off my status, in a very different way that I like to tell people I am the mother of three wonderful girls.

Obviously there are issues here. When I was younger, my academic abilities were championed at the expense of other things I could do, but not as well; I never felt that I had to work that hard at being clever, which felt fraudulent in itself. Few of my contemporaries at school saw academic achievement as a good thing. For years I kept my academic successes hidden away because I was ashamed, and because I felt they detracted from how people related to me when they found out I could use my brain well. The fact that I have qualifications but have not gone on to publish confounds some people; conversely, my fellow PhD students can't believe I gave up my career to focus on motherhood.

But really, people generally don't care (and if they do, they have their own issues with status.) And after all God gave me this brain to use well, and I have, and I may keep on doing so. But I really need to practice letting go of the awards this brain of mine has achieved. Yes, slogging for a PhD was really hard work, and it's nice to have the thesis on my shelf (for one thing, it presses dried flowers beautifully.) But it doesn't define me as a person, and if I'd never undertaken it, I wouldn't want to feel regret or bemoan that I was 'only' a mother.

I know I have had opportunities others never get. I don't consider them a waste, but I don't consider them something here and now in my life - they are like the plaque on a wall commemorating my former self. I've evolved into something new, who now studies theology with a passion but loves, despite her feminism, to place herself firmly in the kitchen. Of course I feel God's hand on this whole journey. I feel the gifts he has given me all come together with a synergy that may take me somewhere else he wants me, if he needs me to.

I found out this week that someone whose gifts, talents and self I really respect turned down the opportunity of a similar education to mine, and it just blew me away. The fact that we don't have to do the status thing. We don't have to hide behind labels. We need to do what we discern is right for us. We have to be honest and humble, like the Father sees us. He has His plans for us, and although the human world may place certain attributes higher than others, He just wants us to serve, as we grow into the people he designed us to be. I've been dissing Saint Paul over at Conversion Diary this week, but he was quite right telling us that the way the world perceives wisdom may be foolish God. And of course Jesus too asks us not to seek the praise of humans.

This Advent I've felt myself being stripped bare little by little; feeling overawed by the heritage stemming from Genesis that we view through the Jesse tree. Realising that even if I mind that my minister sees me mainly as a mother, a helper and a volunteer, then my ego needs to re-adjust. Realising that being a mother, or an academic, or managing to turn in my next assignment for my theology course, is not the important thing. Listening, and responding; awaiting the coming of Jesus; letting loose pride and taking on humility, are.

It's not a fundamentalist interpretation, but I surely don't believe there was just Mary and Joseph in that stable. SOMEONE would have helped them out, brought them water, gave help through labour. But that someone has been lost forever in history. Their role in ensuring the Messiah came to us safely doesn't matter to anyone but God. And that's okay.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Wordless Wednesday: October city break

If I had time, it would surely be a wordy Wednesday, even though my fingers are chilled to the bone! But I have much to do: taking delivery of two weeks worth of groceries that got blocked because of the snow, and organising for our Pram Service Christmas party for 25 under-fives this afternoon, so just a few pictures for today, of when it was less cold here in the UK!:

Friday, 3 December 2010

7 Quick Takes Vol 3

1) We're snowed in! Well, technically we can get to the supermarket, but schools are closed and my husband has been working from home. The family, altogether, not having to be anywhere.

2) Being snowed in has its advantages, even though the kids are sick of each other. We're not rushing around. It's Advent, and the highlight of our day is opening the Calendar and sticking the next ornament on the cardboard Jesse tree. We're not doing much - baked some snowflake cookies, made some soup, watched some movies. It ties in with the season.

3) I'm thinking about those it affects adversely. Especially the homeless. My bed was freezing last night when I got in it. But I have a bed. And shelter. And heating. I give thanks.

4) I also have food, even though my grocery delivery was cancelled. (They said they could re-deliver in 6 days time. 6 days time?!!) My husband popped out for nappies (diapers) and essentials. But we are kind of living out the freezer. I defrosted some meatballs in tomato sauce so we could have a hot lunch. It reminds me that we have opportunity to buy the food we want most days if we need to. I'm waiting to see if my fruit and vegetables get through this morning.

5) A week ago we finished reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We're not snowed in for months, getting down to our last potato, in temperatures of -40, enduring blizzard after blizzard. But I can empathise a little with them, and it makes me admire them all the more. How DID they survive that pioneer winter, all in the same house, tired, cold, hungry, without killing each other? OK, even saintly Ma got snappish at one point according to Laura, but honestly - I couldn't do it.

6) The first day it snowed, I manage to engage (well, semi-engage) the big girls in wrapping ALL of the Christmas gifts we have so far purchased. Job well done! I'm trying not to put the tree up until the third Sunday of Advent this year. Usually I'm an early Christmas person (our cake was baked in September) but this year I'm trying to place more emphasis on Advent.

7) Did I mention we're loving the Jesse tree? The kids are enjoying the OT stories - we had Abraham's Veggie Tale yesterday (not the best of the series, but it's something that they know) - and I'm getting a real sense of the waiting, from Eve through Noah and Abraham, for the birth of Jesus. And we're not even at the prophets yet! Hopefully it will rub off on the kids too, and shift the focus from waiting for Santa to waiting for the Son of God. (Mind you, Monday is St Nicholas' day, so Santa Claus will get a look in!) The Conversion Diary tips have helped set apart the season very nicely thanks Jen.

Thanks to Jen at Conversion Diary.