Tag Archives: kids

Sometimes Blooming is a Bunch of Dooky (and some Fabulous Friday GF cookies)

Since Laura’s last post, I’ve been thinking about what success means to me. And my inspirational gem is:

Sometimes “bloom where you are planted” is a bunch of dooky (yes, I said dooky).

Back in 2006, Nick bought a vanilla orchid cutting. For those of you not as nerdily awesome as my husband, a vanilla orchid is a vine on which vanilla beans grow. They need hot, humid, tropical climates. You know, just like Iowa. The vines typically grow to be 10 feet long before they are ready to flower, and then the flowers last only one day (and are usually hand pollinated). And – voila – you have an expensive vanilla bean!

With Nick’s plant magic, the vine actually grew and we started dreaming of financing graduate school with our mini vanilla farm. Nine years and 20 feet of vine later, still no flower. Because (gasp), we don’t live in the jungle and don’t own a tropical greenhouse.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

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It has taken me three decades, but I finally have a grasp on my gifts and talents. I am creative, spontaneous, laidback, and compassionate. I can reroute a derailed plan with ease. I am a global thinker who can uncover the most unlikely connections to build my case. I love creating and unconventional projects and letting the girls skate on a thin layer of flour sprinkled on our kitchen floor.

But.

My brain cannot grasp organization. Setting and maintaining a routine is about as easy for me as running a marathon (or a 10K). I am not a natural cook. I get overwhelmed by too many choices, so trying to plan meals takes me hours and hours. I can handle detail, but in small doses. Planning ahead and sticking to the plan feels like walking through a giant vat of rubber cement. Keeping my schedule straight, without even adding in the schedules of four other people, is exhausting.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

So, if you can’t already see where this is going, I am that vanilla orchid. In this particular setting of my life, which demands way more organizational acumen than I possess, I will never bloom without constructing a completely artificial environment around me.

Over the years, I have tried hard to bloom. I vacillated between making minute-by-minute schedules for every single day and throwing my hands up in surrender. I tried every organizational tactic, method, and fad. The not-so-subtle message drenching womanhood is that you can (and should!) be organized if you just learn how. If I could just get the time to finally get everything organized, I thought, my problems would be solved. I wasted so much time and energy trying to become organized like the rest of my non-ADHD friends with Pottery Barn-like houses that I lost myself. My unique gifts were suffocating inside all my disorganized organizational bins.

But this past fall, I hit a low (for the third time in seven years). I let everything go. Clutter filled every horizontal surface and we ate lots of painfully expensive gluten-free mac-n-cheese.

As I crawled out of the gutter, I realized it wasn’t that I lacked the time to do everything, I lacked the brain capacity. I finally acknowledged my limitations and embraced my strengths.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

In the last few months, I have found a (mostly) happy medium. I recognize that we have an uncontrollable, demanding schedule where Nick is largely unavailable and all three girls need to see medical specialists on a regular basis. I stopped consulting to seek work with consistent weekly hours. I clean less than I would like, but everything has a place (even if it’s a teetering pile in the corner of the kitchen). We enforce consistent dinner and bed times, but everything else fluctuates daily. The girls have weekly chores and are not allowed to keep something unless they can find a place to put it (even if it’s a teetering pile in the corner of their closet). We only eat mac-n-cheese once a week.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

I am a happier, more creative person, but there are still days where I lose it. On my bad days, I worry that my chaotic way of doing things is stressful for my routine-needing girls, and that they will leave home not knowing how to be functional adults. On my good days, I trust that by respecting my gifts and limitations (and not screaming at them on an hourly basis), I will be able to help them become confident and creative enough women to fill the gaps.

I may not be able to bloom right now, but I can grow. Perhaps not as quickly as those orchids in the jungle, but the growth is there. And, I can even offer a completely different kind of beauty – evergreen beauty during the gray Iowa winter.

So here’s my measure of success instead:

Grow where you are planted and recognize that sometimes, blooming is just pure dooky.

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Property of Kristin Giuliani

 

Aside from the first snow of the season (for which the girls have been waiting since MID-JUNE), my Fabulous Friday this week is my proud creation:

Property of Kristin Giuliani

Kristin’s Awesomely Soft and Chewy Grain-free, Gluten-free Totally Unhealthy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter (at room temp)
  • 3/8 cup each of brown and white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¾ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 2 1/3 cups of blanched almond flour (Honeyville brand works the best – Bob’s Red Mill can be too grainy)
  • ½ to ¾ cup of chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk almond flour, baking soda and salt together. In a separate bowl, cream butter, sugars, and vanilla together. Add eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture and beat until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoonful onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake 9 – 12 minutes, until just starting to turn golden on top. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. Let cool on the sheet for 3 – 5 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack. Enjoy! Do NOT store them in an airtight container – they will get soggy.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

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When the Worst is the Best

I have this habit of trying to do it all and be it all, seeking frantically to find the way to exist in that magical, elusive state called The Best.

But this year, I have discovered that while this mythical-seeming state actually does exist, it is nestled in the more hostile country of The Worst. As much as I’d like to pretend The Best is a sovereign nation, the two are inextricably entwined. And, for the first time ever, I am realizing that this is okay. As I alluded to last week, I see how the common and the fabulous coexist in my life, nearly always in the same thing, and this juxtaposition is part of what makes life real and, sometimes, what makes it beautiful.

The reality has sunk in, as it usually does, while muddling through this parenting thing. As the girls mature, we have started to include them in decisions other than what to wear and how to do their hair. You know, things that have more permanent, influential and visibile consequences than being cold, mismatched or uncomfortable for a day. While we will have the final say at this phase in their life, we have found (through lots of trial and error) that on many decision, it is important to ask for their input and acutally seriously consider what they say.

Iowa has this fantastic dual enrollment option, which allows kids to attend between 2 and 5 hours of public school per day and be homeschooled for the rest. This year, after much deliberation and for a variety of reasons, we (Nick and Nora and I) decided to dually enroll Nora in 2nd grade. She goes to school with everyone in the morning and leaves two hours early.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

We all (mostly) love it. Nora loves having extra time at home. But, because she misses the end of the day, that means she often misses the fun stuff, too – birthday celebrations, class parties, costume parades, fun projects.

Nora was dually enrolled in kindergarten, for a different set of reasons. And we would always let her stay till the end of the day when there were special events.

This year was different. Nick and I decided at the beginning of the year that we wouldn’t be making exceptions. We wanted to teach her that there are consequences to all choices, even the best ones. We told her that the privilege of having extra time at home meant that she would be missing things at school. She agreed.

The first time there was something special, I braced myself for a torrent of whining. But to my surprise, she said, “Mom, I’m feeling disappointed that I am missing it. But, I know that I get to go home and have tea outside and do fun things with you guys. So I’m okay.”

What??!?

Maybe it’s just me, but I hear this unspoken message everywhere to find the best, and be the best, and to never settle for anything less. And so I embark on the noble quest for the best, discarding anything that is less. I confuse trying my best with being the best and consequently never learn the important lessons that come through working hard at something for which you may never be the best.

I can see how this mindset has permeated my parenting. Much like I have a deep desire to protect the girls from all pain, I want them to experience the best. All the time. In everything.

But not the worst.

And really, I’m finding it’s pretty easy to do that while they are young like this, and I can control so much. I can manipulate circumstances to enhance the best and minimize or even eliminate the worst. And I am realizing that I am walking a fine line between responsible parenting that strives to create a safe environment for kids to grow and mature, and dangerous parenting that strives to create the perfect environment. When we talk about choices and decisions, I find myself discussing all the benefits of each possibility. Rarely (unless I’m trying to sway a decision), do I talk honestly and openly about both the best and the worst.

Recently, I was chatting with my sister about the popular critique of her millennial generation, namely, their collective repulsion at taking a good job (or any job, really) instead of the best job. And it made me wonder. In our nobly intentioned desire to have our kids find their passion and become the best that they can be, have we set them up for a never-ending quest for the mythical, sovereign country of The Best? Have we actually succeeded in creating people who won’t settle for less? Ever?

Property of Kristin Giuliani

So much like I’m feeling challenged to prepare my children for the reality of suffering, I’m realizing I need to do a better job of discussing The Worst as a inevitable and necessary part of life. I am a naturally (and usually, unrealistically) optimistic person, so this is not easy for me. But, I’m working to train myself to see the worst parts as evidence of the best parts.

The tricky part is trying to teach them to recognize the (often subtle) difference between The Worst that is simply a byproduct of a particular option and The Worst that is destructive, damaging and divisive. I don’t want to raise apathetic kids. I want to raise kids who can and want to recognize and address problems.

I am hoping that the experience with Nora will extend to the rest of life – that by giving them a realistic view of what life is they will have

The serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

The Dance of Teaching Pain

I vividly remember stomping up the stairs, irate tears streaming down my face. “Aaaarrgh! Mom! Why won’t you just let me make my own mistakes?!?! I want to experience my own pain!” I screamed out my irrational teenage angst before slamming the door so hard that the windowpanes shook.

Yup, this was a pretty common scene for teenage Kristin. I had an internal fire to do and experience everything myself, even make my own mistakes and deal with the pain that ensued. In my adolescent wisdom from a life relatively empty of pain, I was so frustrated that my parents were so overprotective. Of course, I see now that they actually gave me quite a bit of freedom. And, of course, now that I have my own children,  I do, in fact, feel the same way they did.

And, of course, my mom is once again correct – the most painful part of parenting is…well, pain. Not mine, but the pain of my children.

DISCLAIMER: It is that time of year where I write deep, dark posts. Because, it is always at this time of year that I am reminded how little ability I actually have to protect my girls from pain. You see, exactly 5 years ago today, I was holding a 6-week old Madeline in the doctor’s office for a checkup to rule out pink eye when the first year resident said, “Well, the good news is, her eye is fine! But, we think there may be something wrong with her heart.”

Property of Kristin Giuliani

I am too aware of all the incomprehensible horrors in the world that threaten my precious, innocent and sensitive girls. In particular since we’ve been raising money for and volunteering with Preemptive Love Coalition, I see the faces of my girls in the faces of the children fleeing from ISIS.

Lately, I find myself almost desperately wondering, How do I give my girls the strength to survive something like that? To not be destroyed by it? To be able to fully live in the midst of it and after? 

Happy topic, I know.

But, I’m realizing now more than ever that my focus should be less on protecting them and more on preparing them. Because while we will hopefully never have to face that kind of cruelty and unspeakable pain, suffering has and will continue to come. They will make their own mistakes. I will continue to make mistakes. Others will harm them. The unthinkable may happen. It is an inevitable part of life, and I don’t want them to spend their lives hiding away from the possibility of pain. But how do I do that without paralyzing them, giving them nightmares or saddling them with needless anxiety?! Frustratingly, I can see that it is not a science. Because each child and each circumstance is unique, it is a crushingly daunting dance. A dance where the music changes daily and I must constantly listen for my cue to leap forward to protect or to take a bow, step back and let go.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

Next on my list of books to read is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. A trained psychiatrist, Frankl used his experiences as a Holocaust survivor of four different Nazi camps (including Auschwitz) to found Logotherapy.

Logotherapy purports that man’s primary motivation is meaning and that life has meaning regardless of circumstance. He believes that life does not owe us happiness, but offers us meaning. That we all have the ability to choose to turn suffering into achievement.  Even as a victim of horrendous suffering, he would conduct therapy sessions in the barracks of the concentration camps to help others. He found that those of his fellow prisoners who not only survived but lived, were those who had a hope, a purpose, a meaning beyond themselves. I first took notice of the book because of this Frankl quote:

Life in a concentration camp exposes your soul’s foundation. Only a few of the prisoners were able to keep their inner liberty and inner strength. Life only has meaning in any circumstances if we have a hope that neither suffering, circumstances, nor death itself can destroy.

While I haven’t suffered as much as most, I have felt the suffocating fear of handing your baby over to a stranger, not knowing if you will ever see her smile again. I have watched tubes being pulled from holes in her tiny little chest, her face twisted in pain and her throat too hoarse from being intubated to cry. I have lain awake night after night, listening, searching anxiety-inducing Google, praying, never sure if she’s really all okay.

meggie picu

And I know my little girls, who are so, so very sensitive, will also have to face crushing pain of their own. And it is our job to help them find that meaning, that purpose, that hope. A hope that is not an abstract theology on a thin piece of Bible paper, but stronger and more vivid and tangible than whatever may threaten them. So when they face suffering, it will not destroy them, but make them more fully into who they are.

Like most things in parenting, I feel like I’m mostly making everything up as I go and don’t have much to go on. But I know I have to start somewhere.  So, I fumble through and try to introduce them to the One that has been my unshakable (though utterly frustrating at times) hope through the devastating moments in my life. The One who promises to turn my crap into fertilizer if I let Him. The One whose promise I believe because I’ve seen Him do just that.

But that’s the happy, easy part – beauty can come out of any pain. I also know that sometimes that beauty is not visible for years, or decades, or maybe even ever. Most of the time, it is not the beauty I want. Many times, the beauty does not seem to be glorious enough to make up for the pain. Most of the time, the pain never goes completely away. Much like Madeline’s scar, which has now started aching during growth spurts, the marks of suffering impact us forever.

But I want them to know that because they have a purpose in life, a meaning to pursue, and a hope for something so incomparably greater, that they can redefine that scar, and turn it into something they survived, something that made them better.

And, like most things deep and meaningful, Madeline is way ahead of me on this one.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

Since her surgery, Nick and I have worried that Madeline would hate and resent her scar, worried that she would feel different from everyone else. A few months ago, Madeline asked me, “Will I still have my scar in heaven?” Not having any idea where she wanted the answer to go and, like most theological questions they ask, I answered, “Well, that’s a good question. I have no idea.” Without even a pause, she said, “I hope I do. I don’t want to be in heaven without my scar. It’s me. It makes me unique.”

And that lesson is for me. A message from teenage Kristin to adult Kristin. Sometimes the pain we want so desperately to protect them from, is actually the very thing that turns them into the person they are meant to be. It’s the theme of every enduring story throughout time. We just don’t like to have to experience it.

Jeremy Courtney, one of the founders of Preemptive Love, lives in Iraq with his wife and two young kids, risking their lives to save children like Madeline and help victims of ISIS. Ever since I read the words from his fantastic book, Preemptive Love, his prayer for his children has become my prayer for the girls.

…I’ve been asking God to shape them into people of peace – at peace with God and at peace with the world around them…

May that Peace be the Hope that guides them through the pain and into the beauty.