We Mix the Play Dough.

I will admit. I was not the mixing of the play dough colors kind of girl. I like things just so. Order, proper places, and keeping things neat and tidy. I like to know that when I go looking for something in it’s rightful place, it will be there. Then I had kids.

Keeping up the house, having dinner on time, kids in line, making all my own “homemade” everything, keeping all the crayons sorted and NOT mixing the play dough colors. That is how my parenting style looked, before I had actual real, brilliant, wild, breathing, crying, incredibly full of life children. I could leave a list here of all the things my imaginary kids were NOT going to do, then give the perfect counter as to how my real life children have done or are currently doing all those things.

Rigidity in motherhood for me was a fallacy. It took a while to learn that being flexible, honest with my emotions and not ‘keeping everything together always,’ was what would be best. Early on as a mom to one, I was one of the few in my group of friends and family to have children. My son was adored by my siblings, grandparents, parents, and friends; he was so loved. He grew up enjoying one on one with his father and I, and excelled in language skills holding conversations with adults by the time he was 4. He was amazing, and he is still a rock star at 11, in my honest and totally unbiased opinion but I digress. Then we had our daughter. Life changed, for the better but not in ease.

Overnight, our daughter was born and I went from a full-time working mom of one to a stay at home mom of two. Talk about learning a new way of life, I am not afraid to admit that I was wholly unprepared for the challenges as a stay at home mom but we survived. In the midst of recovery and getting settled with a new little person, we moved states. A move that took me away from my family, friends, and village; then opened wounds and showed vulnerabilities I did not know I had. Relocating is not easy, reestablishing and making a home somewhere other than the only home I knew was a bit traumatic. It was tear-filled, fear-filled and over all a learning experience. Did I mention that I like things to be just so?

Then there were three. Three years of getting settled into a new state, we were a family of five. I always heard how three changes everything, and much to my chagrin it proved to be true. Our loveable, strong, honest, loud, happy, snuggly, kind-hearted Wreck-it-Ralph came barreling into our lives. Our family dynamic changed. Breakables were placed high, but when climbing began most were eventually stored for safety. Church service is exhausting as I chase, play, distract and feed our busy little man. He is so full of life it literally bursts over everyone we come into contact with. He mixes the play dough, he mixes all the colors; then he mixes it with sand, water, food, or anything else that brings playful joy to his big old heart. Toys are dumped and thoroughly played with; passion roars from him like a lion and love comes out gentle as a bunny. He is the wild to my quiet, the chaos to my perfection, the love and life that my heart never knew it needed.

After three kids, homeschooling, a pandemic and the change to rules/opinions daily we find refuge in our home. Here it is safe, here we have order among the wild things, and we are learning to love deeper, respect more and most of all, learning to become the people God has designed us to be. When I started out in motherhood I would cry in frustration when things were not just so, when my plans would get muddled and mixed and I felt like things were out of control. Now, the phrase I often heard “blessed are the flexible for they shall not break” rings true every single day. Here, we mix the play dough colors; which is still hard for my first born as he was raised with more of a rigid mom who taught him we had to keep things the ‘right’ way, a mom who was quick to react and slow to listen. Now he has a more flexible, albeit less stressed (well sort of) mom and we are learning the power bending and not breaking together in life. In the flexibility we have found happiness, we have found resilience and now we are growing together. It is not always easy and there are fractures from past rigid moments that can make things stressful, but slowly the as we stretch old wounds they begin to flex and not hurt so much.

“When the milk is splattered all over the floor, and those little eyes are looking at your for your reaction, remember what really matters. It takes 5 minutes to clean up spilled milk. It takes much longer to clean up a broken spirit.”

Rebecca Eanes, The Gift of a Happy Mother.

I saw this truth just this week. My children love balloons, and I love to have them for fun occasions. Recently we surprised them with 22 inch balloons for a homeschool celebration. I made the rules clear, the balloons are for floating and leaving alone today and tomorrow they could have at them. Half way through the day, my youngest wild one who is 4, was sprawled out facedown on the floor crying, I sat down next to him and said “It sounds like you are feeling upset. Did something happen you want to share?” As he sobbed he cried out “I popped one of the balloons!” Immediately my heart broke, I thought ‘Oh no, is he crying because he is afraid of getting in trouble?’ So I responded, “Ok, the balloon broke. Can you tell me why you are crying?” He responded “I broke the rules and I am so sorry. Do you forgive me?” Could I have disciplined him? Sure, he did not listen and the balloon broke, but I realized his heart was already sore because he chose to break the rules and he knew it was wrong. Lesson learned.

Talk about unpacking some personal trauma – I decided to be the adult I needed when I was too scared to tell my parents my mistakes, and I often hid from them. I asked him for a hug, and as we sat on the floor, cheek to cheek, heart to heart I thanked him for his honesty, and even though he knew it was wrong he chose truth, and told him that I forgave him. I reminded him (even though he is only 4) that I am always here for him and no matter what I love him. This child who has ran naked through the middle aisle of the church, who mixes all the play dough colors has caused a great work to come upon my heart.

I am not perfect, no way do I get this parenting thing right every time but moments like that remind me how far I have grown. A decade ago, when I preferred things ‘just so’ I subconsciously placed unfair expectations on my children. I judged my mothering success by their behaviors, but slowly as we have mixed the crayons, spilled the milk, been too loud, ran too hard and broke the mold that I was placing us in – I have taken that unfair pressure off of all of us and started enjoying the ‘new’ that we create when we mix the play dough. To this day, I organize the kids books in my living room according to color. Yep. I place them in order ROYGBIV and when I sit down to relax after a stay at home/homeschool day, that sight relaxes me. No one sees it but me, and a few days later I am left to sort them again – the way I like it because I like the way it feels. In this small way, my ‘just so’ attitude gets satiated. I was not one to mix the playdough colors but I love how motherhood is molding me into something new, different and dare I say…better.

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