FISH

We have a new pet fish.  

It all started 6 years and 6 weeks ago.  I know exactly because this was the first time I took my 20 month old and 3 week old babies out in public, alone.  I decided to brave the 9 minute drive for the 22 minute story time at the local library.  I had showered. I had dressed. I had timed Josiah’s feedings such that he shouldn’t have needed to eat or poop.  I gave myself a nice 9 minute long pep talk on the way.  ‘If Nolan strips or acts like it’s a big deal to have to wear shoes in public, I’ll just grab the kids and leave and never return.’ I had planned for this monumental event.  

I wish I could tell you it was to stimulate my children with the world of literacy.  But that would be a lie.  First of all, my kids are not the kind of kids who need a whole lot of extra stimulation created for them.  (They chased each other with pool noodles for a solid hour today.  We don’t have a pool, just the noodles.)  And secondly, if I have done anything on a regular basis it is read to my children.  I have missed baths, blown the schedule, skipped tooth brushing, forgotten checkups, fed them processed food, and didn’t teach them baby sign language.  But I wore the daylights out my rocking chair reading to my kids.  The coils actually busted through the bottom.  

 They didn’t need story time.  I needed story time. 

Story time was cancelled that day.

I was so heartbroken.

I had showered.  I had planned! Though I had every blessing imaginable with 2 healthy children, I was so lonely. I was really missing my Indiana friends.  We had recently moved to the area, and although my entire family was here, none of them had small children (yet).  Since I didn’t work outside the home, I had little opportunity to communicate with adults.  Well, to communicate with anyone.  Nolan was only saying 2 words at a time and Josiah and Facebook were both infants. Pinterest wasn’t even born.  My days were long.  Long.  

Which is why I was so determined to get to story time.  I needed friends.

By the abundant and amazing grace of our Living God, another mother walked in that day.  She (of course) knew that story time had been cancelled and she was just stopping in to return her library books (on time).  And at second glance, I realized I knew her.  She was good friends with my cousin in high school and I had met her then.  And she had two boys.  And the thought that entered my mind was as sophisticated as a 6 year-old grade schooler,

‘I wonder if she could be my friend?’

The next several years were full of play-dates, field trips, story-times, and all-the-free-stuff-for-toddlers in the triad (and sometimes beyond).  Josiah crawled for the first time on her living room floor.  We’ve had family slumber parties just for fun.  We’ve roasted marshmallows, milked pretend cows, and been kicked out of the library for ‘being a little loud’ with our (then) five boys (she’s got a little girl in the mix now too).  Her children were the first friends my children knew.  There aren’t words for those memories. There are tears.  But there are no words.  I can’t articulate how she has shaped my mothering and how God used that particular friendship to fill such a void in my life.

Which is the only reason I took home a fish from her son’s “county fair” themed birthday party last weekend.

I spotted those 3 little fish immediately, and immediately I asked, “what are those for?”

“They’re prizes!” she exclaimed.

“You’re giving pets? As prizes?”

“Yes, and if your kid wins one, you’ll take it home!”

“I’m not taking home a fish! I can’t feed or keep alive one more….”

And off she was.  Onto organizing the games.  For which the kids won tickets.  And then the tickets had numbers.  And my kids had done usually well (cheated) because they had like…100 tickets or something.  

Well, I thought, there is no way in this world Michael Coats would allow another pet in our house, so if by chance they call a number on our kids’ tickets, I’ll just defer to him.  He will not bring home a fish.

“NUMBER 18! WHO’S NUMBER 18?”

“ME!” shouted someone else’s kid.  

Ha ha. Sucker.

“NUMBER 27! WHO’S NUMBER 27?” 

“ME!” shouted my kid.

“You NOLAN??  IS that YOUR number?!?!?  YOU GET YOUR VERY OWN GOLDFISH!!!!”

NOOOOOOOOOOO………..I screamed in my head.

And my husband turned to me with his giant blue puppy dog eyes and a smile that begged, “Aren’t we going to let our kid have a pet goldfish?”

And it was in his hand, with a smile that stretched from here to Australia and eyes as big as saucers he said, “Mom!! Meet Michelangelo! He’s my new fish!”

For crying out loud, he’d named it.  I can’t refuse something with a name.

And so that is how Michelangelo/Mikey/Leo (so, apparently we haven’t exactly landed on a name) came to be the 7th member of the Coats family. And how it was that I spent the entire morning preparing his new habitat with appropriately temperatured well water that I brought gallon by gallon from my mother’s house.  And why I have spent an embarrassing amount of time reading blogs like “how to keep your 38 cent gold fish from dying the first week”.  I’m considering it a win if he makes it to Christmas.

And I’m dropping off a kitten on my friend’s porch next week, as a thank-you card.

I’m that thankful for her. 

 

P.S.

Love you, friend.  You have blessed me more than you know.  Image

 

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HIGHLIGHTS

Yesterday I posted the sweetest picture of my kids reading their library books together when they got home from school.

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Aren’t they adorable?  Don’t they look precious? Like they get along? Like they’re clean?  Like my house is clean?

What you don’t see in this picture is the clutter that surrounded them.  (You would not believe how I had to crop that photo). You don’t see the fight that ensued immediately after the picture was taken.  You don’t see Zachary crying in the background or the barking dogs or the junk.  So let me put your mind at ease.

What you see of my family on social media are the highlights.  

You sure don’t see the post car-rider-pick-up-line-3:27 p.m. me, I can tell you that.  The one who needs a cup of coffee and an attitude adjustment.  The one that has sweated through her clothes because the air has been broken in the van and I have not been able to hand over the keys long enough to my auto mechanic husband so that he can fix it.  When I pick up the boys these past few hot, dry-and-sunny-for-the-first-time-all-summer 88-degree afternoons, the boys are asking questions like:

Why are you wearing your swim suit in public?

Why is Zachary sweating so bad?

Is this the sun?

You aren’t going to see me post that stuff.  You won’t see me post the dust bunnies, the unopened mail, the dirty bathtub, the arguing, the complaining, the looks of unrequited friendship in their forlorn faces, the purple boats, (ugh. purple boats are bad.  So is being on the rainbow.  So is being in the fish tank.  The parental-anxiety-producing-school behavior charts are about do me in), the foam sword fight gone wrong. You won’t see that stuff.

And that doesn’t make me fake.

The highlights I post are honest-to-goodness real life highlights.  They happened.  My ornery guys do love to read. That was the moment I clung to yesterday.  Those are the moments I capture and remember and tear up over.  The worth-it moments.  The we-made-it moments. The I-can-mother moments.

Because you know they fight. You know they complain. You know they don’t get 5 smiley faces in a row (but if they do, by golly, I will post the mess out of that). You know about the dust, and the syrup-topped breakfast table, and the laundry, and the mail.  I don’t share that because we all know it’s there.

So please don’t ever use social media to size yourself up to anyone.  Or feel like a failure because your Pinterest project looks like trash glued together and stuck to your wall.  Or that you’re doing something wrong because your kid doesn’t have a trophy. Or zero cavities. Or a pony. Or any good vacation photos. Or all. the. things.  Those Facebook posts and Instagrams, and Pinterests, and Sunday-besters, are highlights.  And those families have real life stuff too.

There is a difference between seeing my photos in a photo book online and a photo book on my coffee table. The pictures  are the same.  We still only put the highlights in the albums and the baby books and the picture frames.  But pre-social media,  when you looked at my photos, you were sitting on my couch in my home.  You were interrupted 16 times while you looked through the album.  You found out my kids are streakers.  And that not only are they wildly hilarious, they are also wildly mischievous. You saw my dust.  You saw my dishes.  You saw my mail.  You saw the  the highlights and the lowlights.  All of it.  All of us.

Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together….

Post your highlights.  See their highlights.  That’s fine.  It’s not a horrible way to stay connected.  But also sit in each others’ homes.  Sip coffee together.  Brace yourself for the lowlights and enjoy the highlights together.  We were created for community.  Real community that experiences life together.

My couch is comfortable.  The coffee’s ready.  Come and sit a spell.

 

HARD

I sat at the intersection in front of the school, with the 8:33 a.m. sun glaring in my window, head throbbing, tears streaming, trying to think which way to turn. Why can’t I think which way to turn? I need to get Zachary.  Why is this so hard?

I suddenly remembered sitting in the floor of my van, in a Wal-Mart parking lot, nursing Zachary.  Josiah was needing to go potty, Nolan was wanting to be unstrapped, my head was head throbbing, and I was dreading having to go into the monstrosity of a superstore with all three boys, ages 3 and under, and purchase a week’s worth of groceries. That was a hard day.

But not as hard as this day.  Today, I dropped an uneasy 6-year-old Josiah off at his kindergarten classroom.

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Are you dying with me right now about how uneasy he looks?

He didn’t want to go.  He said all morning long that he wasn’t going to go and I made him anyway.  I calmly and simply told him that it would be exciting, and he would enjoy his friends, and he would get to learn to read and how if he did that, he could do anything in the whole wide world that he wanted.  I smiled all morning long and fixed him his favorite breakfast and talked up school like it was as awesome as the Lego shirt he was wearing.

I’m now going to confess to you that my telling Josiah I liked his Lego shirt was a bold-faced lie.  I’ve already confessed to Jesus.  And you should read this next line as dramatically as you possibly can.

I let my children pick out their school clothes this year.

I’m embarrassed to tell you the strength that it took for me to do that.  I like to choose my kids’ clothes.  So, I make school shopping a big deal.  I take each child individually and we make a day of it.  But finally, last year, they really got tired of my making them wear sweater vests.

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How cute are they?

In an effort to make morning easier, this year I told them they were going to get to pick out their own clothes. By the second clothing item I tried to persuade them otherwise.  I almost had convinced Nolan to get the shoes I liked, but Michael’s wise little voice kept popping in my head saying, ‘Let the boy pick out his shoes’.  I argued with the voice, ‘they have gold on them, Michael.  Gold!’  

Ultimately, I let him choose.  My friend (and now the mother of teenagers), Mendy, once allowed her 5 year-old-daughter to get one of those dog collar necklaces with spikes, and she turned out just fine.  I’m holding onto that.

Nolan has jumped out of bed to get dressed every day, thrilled about wearing his new clothes.  But Josiah’s shirt could have been laced with suckers and he wouldn’t have been ready to go to school today.  Which is why I couldn’t process how I felt about it until the intersection in front of the school.

After I figured out which way to go, I turned to head down the road and I could not. stop. the. crying.  Why can’t I stop this?  This is ridiculous.  He will be fine.  It’s kindergarten.  This is classic Josiah.  He says he doesn’t want to do something unfamiliar, and then loves it so much he doesn’t want to leave. Camp, preschool, Vacation Bible School – same story every time.

I was grateful when the phone rang, jolting me out of memory lane.  After a needed conversation with Mendy (whose 15 year-old-daughter looked adorable for school today), I had composed myself.  When I got to Michael’s workplace to pick up Zachary (who was relishing in the fact that he got to ‘help’ daddy at work), his co-worker looked at me with a knowing voice and said, “how’s mama doing this morning?”

And I flat out lost it again.

And that big burly mechanic, with tears in his eyes said, “I’m right there with you.  My baby drove herself to school today.”

And I thought how much harder his day was than mine.  I scooped up Zachary and buckled him in his seat (even though he can do it by himself) and took him to that same stupid Wal-Mart and got groceries.  Which is why when the 9-month-old baby in the buggy in the checkout line smiled at me, I cried again.  His poor mother stood decidedly between us after that, since I had turned into a weepy mess and was unable to explain myself.

Zachary unloaded all the groceries for me, and when we got home, he packed his bag for preschool.  He looked at me with that sweet precious little 4-year-old smile and said, “I go to school next.  Right, mom?”

And I looked at him with all the seriousness and determination I could muster and said,

“Over my dead body.” 

This is so much harder than getting up every two hours to feed them in the night.  This is so much harder than potty training.  This is so much harder than grocery shopping by myself with three boys, ages 3 and under.  This is so much harder than I thought it was going to be.  But it is not as hard as it will be when they drive themselves to school.  Or make a choice that I know they will later regret.  Or stray.

Motherhood is stretching my ability to trust in God to the absolute limits.  And it is so bloody hard.  The harder it gets, the more I learn to trust Him.  Appropriately, school’s in session, because I learned a whole stinking lot today.

**UPDATE**:

Coats Quotes:
Me: Josiah, tell me about your day.
Josiah: It was the opposite.
Me: What do you mean?
Josiah: Remember how I said I hated that place and I never wanted to go back?
Me: Yes.
Josiah: It was the opposite of that.

#cryingagain

MAGICAL

40 days ago, Michael told our kids that we were going to Legoland and Disney World:

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He read the boys a letter of appreciation for their sacrifice while he was in seminary.  And to honor that, we wanted to do something really special.  They were beyond excited.

So after a rigorous count down (like every 5 minutes for the past month, we counted the days, minutes, seconds), we embarked on our journey at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday night.  And I must have planned the trip when I was still in my twenties, because when I saw the arrival time on the GPS:

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I thought, ‘what in the world was I thinking?? We can’t drive all night, spend all day tomorrow with our friends, then wake up, go to Legoland from open to close (to get our money’s worth), check in our hotel, go on a timeshare tour at 7:30 the next morning, then do every single thing the resort has to offer (to get our money’s worth), then wake up and be in the Magic Kingdom from open ’til close (to get our money’s worth), then wake up, collect ourselves, and drive all the way home…’

I must be crazy.

But the adrenaline kept me going.  I was excited.  Too excited to sleep.

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I put on Josiah’s batman headphones and rocked out while everyone else slept and I took the 1:30-4:30 a.m. driving shift. We arrived at our destination at 4:30 a.m. and realized that no one else in Florida was awake.  So we pulled over in a CVS parking lot and slept for an hour.  Except Josiah.  He stayed awake during that final hour.  When he saw a palm tree at 4:40 a.m., there was no convincing him to go back to sleep.  His vacation had begun…

So, with the help of Yelp, I found a little breakfast place and called them.  They opened at 6:00.  Perfect.  We pulled in and with an extremely cheerful waiter, we had a fabulous breakfast.  Of course, Zachary spilled his chocolate milk (even after a warning about the shoddy lid from our waiter) all over the table.  And we had to brush our teeth in the parking lot.

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But when I walked out of the restaurant, reenergized from good coffee and an excellent eggs benedict, this is what I saw.

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That’s just not a bad way to start the day.  We live in the woods, and I rarely get to see the sun rise or set.  There is such comfort in that daily occurrence.  I stopped and praised Him for His beautiful handiwork.

‘From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.’

I really hesitated planning a ‘theme park’ vacation because I was afraid the kids would be too enamored  by man-made cement, brick and mortar, plastic, steel concoctions and forget to appreciate God’s great handiwork.  As if a theme park or fancy hotel could cover it up…  We saw God’s creations the entire trip.

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Whoops, how’d that last one get in there?  Oh,that’s right…because God made coffee.  And that’s just true.

And there was also this:

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This is just a few of the 500 little creatures with whom we shared our hotel room.  And before I killed them with my flip flop (sorry, but I did. They were trying to get my honey and peanut butter) I snapped this photo.  Even though they are pests, it is really something to see how hard they work.  They made a perfect line all the way from the entrance of the condo to the kitchen, neatly lining the edge of the floor. I admire their tenacity and work ethic.  Then they died. The end.

Our first day was with my best friend since 2nd grade, Erin.  We have been friends for 25 years, and because of distance and life demands, we have only been able to see each other twice in the past 10 years.  We are both moms now and we have the added obstacle of a 3 hour time difference which makes it extremely difficult to chat on the phone.  If she can talk, I’m doing dinner, if I can talk she’s trying to get kids out the door.  But there is an understanding and a deep friendship love that we share, which makes seeing each other just….easy.  We can pick up right where we left off, and it’s hard to explain what a comfort the familiarity of her voice is to me.  We, amazingly, (thanks to our very understanding husbands) were able to talk without interruption for almost 2 solid hours in the ocean.  Our hands and feet were pruny.  Our hearts were full.

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And then we just relaxed and watched our five children run around and play together like they’ve grown up together since birth.


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Because in a sense they have.  They already know each other because Erin helped shape me, and I her.  We experienced childhood together.  Elementary. Jr. High. High school. Youth group. Camp. Family strife.  Brothers. Prom. Driving. Boyfriends. Mistakes. Graduation.  Life.  She’s one of my dearest and I’ll treasure that day so close to my heart until we can see each other again…hopefully sooner than later.

That evening Erin and Billy treated us to dinner and we shared a wonderful meal and great laughter together. Love them.

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Have you ever seen a child look more like her mother???

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We got back to their condo and piled the kids up on the floor and fell fast to sleep.  My cup truly running over.

The next day was Legoland.

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(You should read Nolan’s face as extremely excited….but that’s his new ‘cool’ pose).

It was super, duper hot.  We were sweating within 30 seconds of getting out of the car.

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See the glisten in that photo? Yeah, that’s sweat. The humidity was 1,000,000%.

So imagine my anticipation of the water park, which I scheduled right after lunch (and paid extra for). You know, during the hottest part of the day?  Well, let me give you a little tip for when you visit FL.  God likes to throw the smack-down between 1-4 p.m. every single day in and around Orlando.  The water park closed.  The driving school closed.  The boat ride closed.  And Zachary, Josiah and I were stuck under a shelter waiting for the storm to pass, while Michael and Nolan were in another location doing the same.

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Here we are being thunderstruck.

Finally we stumbled upon the build-a-car-and-race-it-down-the-track activity that was inside and out of the storm/humidity/heat.  Zachary had long since removed his shirt (because we were supposed to head to the waterpark), and they made us dress him.

‘Why?’ Michael asked.

‘Um, we just like for everyone to be dressed.’

‘Oh.’

This was also the time that we discovered 2 huge blisters on Zachary’s poor feet from his new flip flops.  Thankfully, I had read about the dangers of flip flops and packed tennis shoes.  So we switched them, and the kids went to work.

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See the cute guy in the green shirt?  He outwardly loved this activity so much.  Cars/engineering?  Are you kidding me? He was in his element.  At one point he came over to me and said, ‘Some bratty kid keeps stealing my wheels.’  He was really really into it.

After spending a really really really loooooooooong time trying to help the kids choose a lego set that was within their budget, we came upon a 12 minute 4-D Lego movie that wrapped up our final 15 minutes at the park.  It was perfect. It almost redeemed the not-getting-to-do-the-water park fiasco.

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(Note: Nolan’s ‘cool’ face)

After we left Legoland, we went to 1. Get coffee and 2. Check into our hotel.  Ok, here is one thing.  It is hard to drink coffee at a theme park.  It’s hard to find it.  It’s hard to drink it. (They’re pretty serious about not letting them on the rides.) And it’s hard to enjoy it slowly over conversation, the way coffee should be experienced. So we were feeling pretty pitiful by 7:30 p.m., when we finally got our lattes.

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Next was check-in.  Now, keep in mind that we had lost a night of sleep, spent from 7a-11p enjoying Erin’s family, and a full full day of Legomania at this point.  So by 8 p.m. that evening, we were so ready to put our kids to bed so we could have 1 minute to talk to each other settle in and relax in our hotel room.

Check-in took 2 hours.  From 8p-10p.  Our kids are 7, 5, and 4 years old.  You know how that went.  So we got to bed at close to 11 that night, and then had to be at our timeshare tour by 7:30 a.m.  They had a ‘complimentary’ breakfast and a 90 minute (read: 4 HOUR) presentation.  We brought all of our children and refused to put them in the convenient child-care area.  Hey, 2 can play at this game.  Our poor sales lady offered our kids crayons and coloring sheets ‘so we could talk.’  Ha.  By the end our kids were playing ninja tag between all of the sales reps.  (Coloring sheets neatly stacked and untouched.)  Here’s how we ended the conversation.

‘Look, it took my husband 8 months to pick out my engagement ring after he had decided to propose to me.  So, if you think you can convince him to commit to you for the rest of his life, you’re insane.’

Michael nodded and we gave them a blank stare until the harassment sales pitch ended.  I will say that we walked away actually considering it.  But no way in the world would we buy something like that on the spot. No. Way.

The rest of that day we spent enjoying the resort.  The facilities were really nice.  It was packed, but really beautiful.

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Not too bad for the city in Florida which is the furthest from the ocean.

That evening, our kids were cranky.  It had been a lot of days with a little sleep.  And by dinner time, they were starting to show signs of overindulgence.  We had a serious talk with them about gratitude and decided to postpone the arcade, which we had promised they could do after dinner.  Instead, they went straight to bed.  As a mom in a country with so much, I vacillate between wanting my kids to experience all the fun things and teaching them an accurate perspective of the world.  Most kids just don’t live like we do.  It is never lost on me that 25,000 people die of starvation every single day, while I enjoy eggs benedict, gourmet coffee, and mouthwatering brick-oven pizza.  And I don’t have this figured out.  I love vacation.  And I love the little children of the world.  We sponsor our daughter, Reina, from Bolivia through World Vision.  Her picture is in our home and we pray for her often.  But sending a check and saying a prayer just doesn’t seem like much, when we live the way we do.  I want my kids to understand. And I see the importance of family vacation.  And I don’t have this figured out.  I just don’t.

Anyway…

The next day was the Magic Kingdom.  And in a wave of sheer brilliance and intense fear, I made these shirts the day we left.  2/3 of our kids are flight risks, and I was completely sure that they would wander away and get lost.

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They didn’t.

I had planned to be there from the secret 8 a.m. opening until the 11 p.m. Electric Lights Parade.  We had one day, people.  And I was going to squeeze every single possible magical moment from it.  We were prepared.  We had a plan.  We had water, snacks, lunch, energy, and anticipation in our backpacks.  And a few surprises up our sleeves.

By 8:05 a.m., we were running into trouble. Zachary kept complaining about his feet hurting, and I felt so bad about his blisters.  But he had tennis shoes on.  He just kept saying ‘it’s too tight!’  Upon examination, we discovered that we had put his shoes on with an extra pair of socks in the toes.

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We rode the uncrowded (no really, it wasn’t bad) ferry over to the entrance.  We entered the park and then something called ‘Disney’ came over us that allowed us to execute our plan with seamless precision for the next 16 hours. It. Was. MAGICAL.  I can’t explain it.  There were down pours.  We happened to be sheltered. There were tons of people. We didn’t feel crowded. It was hot. We were cool (thanks to our clever mister bottles).  I planned, Michael navigated. Our kids walked that entire park.  By hour 10, they began to take turns in the stroller.  And we took turns carrying them. Which wasn’t hard.  I don’t know why.  I carried Josiah 10 steps to our front door when we got home and thought I was going to die he was so heavy. If a ride was down, we stopped to enjoy fireworks.  If a line was too long, we enjoyed overpriced lollipops.  Our day was so efficient and enjoyable, we were able to ride Splash Mountain twice.  And I think we would all agree that Splash Mountain is, hands down, the best ride in the Magic Kingdom.  There were no catastrophes, no disappointments, no complaining, and in 16 hours, only one argument. No kidding.

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The castmembers (Disney employees) kept telling us to have a magical day.   We did.  But it wasn’t magical because we were at the Magic Kingdom.  It was magical because it was intentional together time.  It could have happened anywhere.   At a campfire.  At the park. Around the dinner table. At a church picnic.  This just had the added flare of Splash Mountain.

When Michael and I got the kids loaded in the van at midnight, gave each other ‘ring pound’ (when we fist pump our wedding rings together after accomplishing something only the 2 of us could accomplish), and smiled, we claimed a parenting victory.

One thing is for sure.  Our family’s future includes more intentional together time.  Whether that is on a bike ride at the local park, serving together at church, or another theme park trip.  The destination isn’t so much the point as the value of being together.  Thanks Walt Disney, for taking a risk and understanding the value of family time.  The Coats family sincerely appreciates your dream realized.

PLAY

So…I don’t want to put Shaun T or Jane Fonda out of a job, but I think I’ve found the most effective workout routine.

Play with your kids.

Michael has deemed this summer a summer focused on our family.  We need it.  Our kids have sacrificed a LOT of time with us because of seminary and our crazy schedule.  We’re saying ‘no’ to things that don’t fall in line with our summer theme.  We’re dating our kids.  We’re dating each other.  We’re loving one another extravagantly and specifically.  Our focus is each other.  Fall will come and bring demands and pull us away to things that are important and urgent and worthy of our time, no doubt. But for now, we are focused on our family.

Last week at the pool I was sitting with a friend who had let her children bring those squirter toys.  You know the ones…that shoot water 47 feet across the pool.  Parents hate them. Kids love them. Anyway, her kids and their friends were playing with them and they were getting a bit rambunctious.  She called her son over and said, in a conspiratory kind of way, “Hey….fill it up with this ice water from the cooler!  You’ll really freeze him out!!”  Then she giggled like she was 8.  My jaw dropped.  I thought she was going to scold him.  I would have scolded mine.  But why?   They were just having fun…and the kids thought it was hilarious.

I love her.

She’s always doing things like that.  She lets her kids jump in puddles in their good clothes.  She makes movie night a big deal, projecting the movie super big so it feels like a theater in her home.  She plays with her kids.

So, the beginning of this week came and I really didn’t have too many things scheduled.  I do a summer program at church, so that was Wednesday.  But other than that I just had the kids at home.  Michael had a few extra shifts, so it was going to be long days for me.  And in keeping with our summer theme,

I decided to play with my kids.

It was an actual decision.  Playing with my kids doesn’t come naturally.  I like being a grown up.   I always have, even when I was a kid.  I’m not very good at playing.  Michael is good at this.  He does things like this:

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And I sit and fold laundry and laugh happily from the sideline.  I like the view from there.  It’s safe.

So I think I took my kids a bit by surprise when I did a cannonball into the pool this week.  Actually, Nolan said, “Are you trying to be dad?”  Geesh.  Harsh.  “No, I can play too!” I squawked like a kid left out at recess.

I chased them.  I played in every one of those jumpy houses on our Wild Wednesday to Safari Nation.  I did the maze.  I did the obstacle course and the slide.  I did the zipline. Twice. I played ball tag.  I shot balls from air guns. I ran.  I swam.  I jumped off the diving board.  I tickled them.  I boosted them.  (I don’t know if you know what that is. In our family it means that we pick the kids up over our heads and throw them as hard as we can in the water.) I boosted them 148 times.  I told a story in the hammock, the crisis of which was resolved with a ‘fart pack’ which catapulted the character to safety.  They laughed with such delight.  They laughed all week long.

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And truth be told…I had fun doing it.  As I swam underwater (hair and all Mamas…you know that is a big deal), I remembered what it felt like as a kid to go to that imaginary place where nothing bad could happen.  I squealed with excitement during ball tag, anticipating from which direction my chaser would come.  I laughed with abandon at the fart jokes, disgusting as they were.  And I enjoyed my kids.

And I am the sorest I have ever been.

I have done the insanity work outs, and I am not kidding, I’ve never hurt this bad.  Last night Michael took me out on a date and I could barely lift my arms to curl my hair.  I had to rest and take tylenol by 4 p.m.  I felt like jello.  One day this week I told the kids we were going to play ‘survivor’.  They were in charge of the food all day.  Hey, I can either feed them or play with them.  Turns out, I can’t do both.

So, FREE, not 3 easy payments of $59.95, here’s how to get in shape.

Want great arms? Boost your kids.

Want great abs? Laugh with your kids.

Want great legs? Chase your kids.

I guarantee it will be the most rewarding exercise you ever do.

Go PLAY!!!

SEED

Last week I was afraid I had been ripped off because it was too busy a week to be a summer week.  I took the kids to a VBS at a friend’s church, prepared for my first-ever sermon (no biggie), and I had to get Nolan to camp which turned out to be drama.  I had written a sappy reflection about letting him fly, and when he woke up the next morning he hugged me tightly and told me it had to last me four days.  Awwwww.  Everyone was in such a good mood.  Nolan was all eager and brotherly and in a super old voice was like ‘you guys can play with my toys while I’m gone.’  Zachary was funny and easy.  Josiah was pensive and obedient. We drove the 30 minute drive to the camp and as I pulled up I thought ‘I don’t remember specifically what time registration begins.’

‘Hi Logan’ I call to a counselor I know, who is spraying out a bucket. Not sure how she is managing that with the swarm of kids that should be rushing the front door. ‘What time does registration begin?’

‘Oh, Hi Christi Anna. It’s in 6 hours.’

Seriously?

How did I miss that?  I know how.

PAPERS.

There are too many papers in my life.  There are reports cards, end of year projects, mail, bills, cards, crafts, permission slips, flyers, registration forms….UGH.  Registration forms.  Should have looked at those.  I did fill out the behavior policy form, the I-will-not-sue-you-no matter-what-happens-to-my-child form, and even retrieved from the doctor the my-child-has-had-all-his-shots form, but somehow tucked between the sample daily schedule and the adventure awaits section, I missed the registration information….

Deep breath in.  Irritation with self out.  No problem.  We will resume with our day.  Grocery. Pick up more kids. Unload groceries. Pool for 3 hours.  Return extra kids to rightful owner.  Back to camp.

Enter > worst time of day for my kids. 4pm.

Zachary walked through the camp screaming “I HATE this home!!!! I want MY HOME!!!!  I’m so TIRED!!!”  Josiah was frustrated with Nolan because he had agreed to allow Nolan to borrow a multi-colored pen, which he was now regretting.  He let me know this by standing in front of me while I took each step. He was standing and I was walking, all the way to Nolan’s cabin.  Nolan was pushing his luck with asserting his independence and dropping things everywhere.  He had packed 23 books, and his suitcase was at least 87 pounds.  And it was 7 million degrees inside that cabin.  I couldn’t wait to leave.  I had no problem dropping him off.

Love you. Bye.

When we picked him up on Saturday morning, his voice was hoarse from exhaustion.  He told me that he was only exhausted the last 3 days…(of a 4 day camp).  That camp has accomplished what no one else in the history of Nolan has accomplished.  They wore him slap out.  And I think they accomplished something else.

“WE STAYED UP TIL 11:30 IN THE NIGHT WORSHIPPING GOD!!!!” was one of the first things he squeaked out.  He really was hoarse.  “We went deep in the woods and talked about God and made a cross out of candles!!”

Try not to cry in front of his friends.  Try not to laugh at how precious that is.  Try not to worry about the fact that he could have started a forest fire and Smokey the bear would be mortified if he knew this was happening on a regular basis.

‘That’s awesome buddy!’ I cooly reply.  Secretly exhilarated with the seed that I know has been planted.  Secretly believing that this experience has enriched him in a way that I could not.  Secretly knowing the value of him spending time with those counselors, who might as well be wearing capes for spending their summers the way they are.  

On the way home I sat beside him in the back of the van, and we talked all the way home.

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As he napped that afternoon, yes he napped….he was so tired, I thought about my role in cultivating that seed which has been planted.  I thought about how I needed to be sure to tend to the soil.  I thought about how I should nurture it and water it and fertilize it.  And I thought about how much I love the body of Christ.  Because I know I can’t plant every single seed of his faith.  I know to raise up my boys it takes a whole entire body of believers.

I know God is faithful.  I am just so deeply grateful for those camp workers who dedicate their hot Carolina summers to doing their part.  May the seeds they plant be ever fruitful.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown….

Let it be so.

FLY

Today I am going to take my baby to camp.  For four days and three nights.  It seems like such a long time.  Isn’t that how long the Israelites wandered in the desert?

I think I’m going to feel a bit lost without him here.  He’s such a part of our day.  The constant ideas, arguing, laughter, banter, questions, romping, energy….wholly exhaust and energize me.  He is life and beauty and he represents to me the unexplored wilderness of parenting.  We are trailblazing together, being that he is our first born.  He was first to walk, first to pee on me, first to speak, ask about where heaven is, start school, and get his feelings hurt by a friend.  He was the first on whose behalf we had to endure the gut-wrenching anxiety of the parent-teacher conference, only to find out his teachers love him and understand him almost as much as we do.  And now, he will be the first to stay away for an extended amount of time….

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Last night as he was packing and reviewing his checklist, again, I began to remember back to my camp days.  I remember that it was there that I had an encounter with God when I was an adolescent that I count as a distinct marker in my faith journey.  I started to get excited about what God might have in store for Nolan while he is away.  I’m starting to expect something on his behalf.  He is anticipating the fun he will have, but my heart is stirred in anticipation of what God may do while he’s there!

I just have to let him go….

As I said, I spent time at church camp when I was a child.  Those were wonderful experiences for me.  I was an anxious child and I needed the opportunity to grow in that area.  My mom and my aunt used to trade kids back and forth in the summers.  We lived in Indiana and my cousins lived in North Carolina, so swapping kids must have been quite a chore.  When I was 2, my mom put me on an airplane with her sister and let me spend 2 weeks with my grandparents.

I spent time away from my mom.

I survived.

I remember one time when I was probably 5 or 6 laying on my grandmother’s couch, head in her lap, and she was twirling my hair in her fingers.  I was homesick.  I told her ‘I miss my mommy.’ She replied to me so tenderly,

‘but I’m your mommy’s mommy.’

What a comfort.

Nolan has already given me some advice about how to not be childsick the next few days.  ‘Mom, if you miss me you can just look at this picture of me..or that one…or you can just think about me.’

My mom was so good at allowing us to spread our wings.  She encouraged us to venture out.  Even when she couldn’t be with us, and maybe especially when she couldn’t be with us, she allowed us space to stretch out our wings.  To take trial lift offs.  To glide briefly through the air and land safely and gently back to her loving arms.

She expected on God for great things for us as well.  When we were yet wayward, in our late teen/early twenties, she began to pray over our family the prayer of Jabez.

‘Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked.’ I Chronicles 4:10

Now, when my mother prayed this prayer, it was not to be given more land or financial relief.  It was a much deeper request than that.  She prayed that God would extend the territory of ministry for our family.  As a mother, she wanted only for God to be glorified through our lives.

It was within a matter of a few years that we all surrendered our hearts fully back to God. The summer that Jonathan was teaching in Australia, Jeremy was preaching in Africa, and I was living in Indiana (and she in North Carolina) she wondered if she should have prayed that prayer at all!  Talk about enlarging the territory!  And although my brothers are still further away geographically, we’ve never been closer than now, as we embrace our holy heritage.

Parenting is about releasing.  It’s about allowing space to test what he’s been taught.  To trust the One who entrusted him to you in the first place.  I don’t know where you are in your parenting.  Maybe you’ve released him to school.  Or her to childcare.  Or him to the agony of middle school. Or her to college.  Or maybe you’ve had to endure the unparalleled grief of releasing your child to the arms of our Heavenly Father long before his time…

Nolan’s camp is only 30 minutes away.  I count the camp director a personal friend. I have her cell number stored in my phone.  I’ll try not to call.  I’ll try not to happen by the camp on the ‘way’ to the grocery store. I’ll try to believe that he’ll remember sunscreen and brushing his teeth and changing his underwear.  I’ll try to just pray when I have the inkling to check on him.

I’ll try to give him space to fly.

Because only if I allow him the space to fly, will he ever be able to soar.  My greatest hope for my children is that they come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and they trust Him daily as their guide, and glorify Him with their lives….

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Isaiah 40:30-31

Here goes nothin’.

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