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My plate is full of great things: Super-sized portions of field trips, a side of piano lessons, and heaps of delicious art classes, during which, Mama goes for coffee (and sometimes ice cream) with her friends.

Still, it’s a lot more than I’m used to. And to top it off, my skinny jeans are getting uncomfortable to wear (must be all that ice cream during art lessons) making it apparent I need to increase my weekly mileage. Oh yes, and I’m teaching writing seminars for the homeschool kids. And I’m going to write a novel this month. Plus there’s that little thing called homeschooling, where I’m SUPPOSED to be the teacher.

I love my life and the opportunities the kids and I have, but I wonder how I’ll get everything done.

The real problem is that for the past couple of months, most of our activities are an hour away. There’s no real solution or way around it, so I find myself spending 8 to 10 hours driving a week, and if you look closely at my kitchen floor and bathroom toilets, you’ll see the cost of the commute.

But here’s the thing: I can stay home and have a perfectly clean house, or I can provide valuable learning opportunities (and fun socialization) for my kids. There’s really no choice to be made–our lives are richer because of the activities and because of the people we get to be with while we’re doing cool things.

All of this means that in the next month, I have to be extremely dedicated to using my time wisely.

So, if you don’t see many funny quips on my Facebook page, don’t be alarmed. If I don’t answer emails right away, don’t call the Red Cross–I’m still here!

And though I will be driving way too much, I’ll also be running (before sunrise), writing (any chance I can get), living, laughing, drinking too much coffee, and loving my family.

All it takes is dedication.

But my house probably won’t pass a white glove test any time soon.

Having four kids isn’t really that hard.

Sure, the first six years are a blur of keeping little people clean, fed and safe, but by the time the oldest is eight and the youngest is out of diapers, things start becoming much easier. And that’s why I’m always caught off guard when well-meaning people give me sympathy about my motherhood status–as if by having four children, my life is somehow four times more difficult than the average woman. Yes, having four little ones IS difficult, but now that my oldest can legally babysit and everyone cleans the house, my job feels downright easy.

The challenges I face now, as a mother, are much different and more subtle. While I do have time to shower and get dressed every day (a luxury in those early years), I have to carve out time with each of my kids, to make sure we’re not growing apart. As they become more independent, it’s more important than ever that our hearts remain close.

A while ago, a friend of mine posted a question on her blog regarding the number of children a Christian family should have (biblically speaking, that is). There were many different answers to that question, and I remember feeling somewhat defensive–that a matter so personal was between the husband & wife & God only. And maybe it is, to a certain extent. I mean, certainly, we weren’t all meant to have 20 kids. Were we?

God did not design each family in exactly the same way, though as Christians, we use the same Operations Manual.

Some women are much better mothers because they work outside the home. And when I spend 30 hours or more a week marathon training, those hours out of the home help me to be more patient, kind and level-headed.

When I was a young mom, I thought my life was so full, I couldn’t add more to it without something breaking (like my sanity). But now that I will soon be the mom of two teenagers, life seems too easy. I look at my children and wish there were more of them, tearing through the house, making silly jokes, painting masterpieces.

Why did we stop with only four?

People used to tell me that the years when my children were little were the best years of my life. And I used to wonder at that, feeling acutely the exhaustion from never having a good night’s sleep, and the demoralization of rarely eating a hot meal.

A child’s first steps and first words are incredible, but I can’t honestly say those early years are the best. Each stage of life has rich rewards. Yes, the chubby little hands around your neck and sticky kisses are priceless moments, but what about the late-night laughter with your teen? Or discussing dreams and wishes as you make dinner together? And what about that magical moment when you realize you count your child as one of your best friends?

Each year is the best year of your life. Recognize it. Live it. And share it with your kids.

It’s not that hard to do.

I didn’t know I was stressed until my husband tactfully encouraged me to go for a run.

The day was sunny, and the countryside was relatively quiet, but running wasn’t on the LIST for the day.

The dreaded LIST.

Dirty windows, dirty laundry, dirty floors…most things on the LIST needed soap and water, in one form or another. I HAD to get it done.

Why?

Because I thought it should all be done.

In reality, nobody else cared about the LIST. Sure windows are supposed to be clear, and not tinted with farm dust and kid-smudges.

But the children had clean clothes to wear, and as for the floor, well, nobody is crawling around on it anymore except for the dog, and he LIKES it dirty.

The stress of the LIST must’ve crept out over coffee somehow. Maybe it was the way I helpfully advised my husband as he made omelets for the six of us.

“Don’t use that pan.”

“You have the heat too high.”

“Can you use real eggs?”

“The heat is too high!”

“They’re not as fluffy as I make them.”

“You need more patience.”

“I told you the heat was too high.”

I don’t think I said “Thank you,” even once.

No wonder he suggested I go for a run.

Okay, so maybe he was just trying to get rid of me, but then he said something really nice.

He told the kids that when their mother goes for a run, all her stress bubbles just float away.

And I could just picture it: me running through the lovely Franconian countryside, a trail of muddy stress bubbles rising up from my head, or my heart, or wherever they hide, and dissipating far above in the atmosphere, where they couldn’t hurt anybody.

As for the LIST, it still has three items on it, but those things will be crossed off, one at a time, just after I go for a run.

I wonder how many of you have lost someone to cancer.

I used to hear the word and think abstractly of the tragedy of it, but real feelings and emotions never surfaced from the deep.

That changed with the loss of my Aunt Kathy, who was one of my best friends.

Now, when I hear the word, my heart is pained in a way it never was before. It aches for the families who have a vacancy at the dinner table; a birthday to honor but no more candles to light; or a Christmas stocking, hanging empty from the mantle.

My heart breaks for the friend who can never again pick up the phone and hear the voice of that one person who can lift her spirits, or just allow her to vent until they laugh or cry or both. Emails float unanswered into cyberspace, and Facebook turns into a memorial wall. Deep conversations become soliloquies and long walks solo events.

Behind every pink (or blue or teal or white…) ribbon is a wounded heart. Every 5k or race for awareness is filled not with participants, but with battle-scarred people, doing what they can to bring about a cure.

The worst adjectives in the English language cannot begin to describe cancer. And words cannot do justice to my hatred for it, nor can they scratch the surface of my sorrow over it.

Even in this world, where absolutes are frowned upon, I think I can safely say that cancer is an evil thing.

And until war is waged upon that most virulent, most capricious killer, there will continue to be too many empty places at our tables and in our hearts.

**For Francie…

and Kathy…

and Richard Wellman…

and…


What exactly does a Supermom look like?

Does she get up at 5:30 to run every day, keep her house tidy, drive various kids to their various activities, and always have a home-cooked dinner waiting for Superdad when he gets home from thwarting evil-doers? Does she keep the house running like clockwork with chore charts and schedules and happy-face stickers?

Does Supermom ever have a runny nose or groan at the current state of the household toilets? Can a Supermom have big feet or gray hair? Does she ever lose her patience?

I thought about Supermom a lot as I was lying on the couch this weekend.

Normally, I’d rather pluck out my eyelashes than passively watch the kids play video games. But in this instance, I was sick—so sick I couldn’t even follow the weak plot. Who was Mario trying to save? And why did he keep turning into Bowser, when they were mortal enemies?

I drifted in and out of my catatonic state, feeling very much like I’d been run over by a truck.

Where was Supermom? Last week, she was here, running with the stars and cooking pot roasts. And now, she was lethargic, on the couch, and letting the kids zombify their brains via Nintendo.

I did no laundry, accomplished no chores, laughed at the thought of washing windows, failed to tick a single box on my ‘to-do’ list. All I managed to do was sleep and self-medicate.

I drifted off as Mario was trying not to get impaled on a spiked floor. When I woke up, two stuffed animals were cuddling next to me.

Out of their tender, loving hearts, two different children had each left something for my comfort.

It occurred to me that maybe being a Supermom has nothing to do with my valiant actions, but everything to do with my day-to-day, humdrum interactions.

I hate being sick. But because of it, I witnessed such an outpouring of affection from my kids, it was almost worth it. Katie made me pudding; Noah drew a picture; William gave me concerned, sympathetic hugs; and Libby scampered about with her doctor kit, periodically taking my temperature (after I sterilized the thermometer, recalling it had been in multiple armpits).

So, where was Supermom this weekend?

She wasn’t scrubbing floors or organizing closets or even playing in the sunshine with the kids.

She was lying on the couch, being loved.

And sometimes, that’s exactly where a Supermom can truly find herself.