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Susan Wanderer has worked with families in kids ministry for 20 years, with the last ten years serving as Kids Minister at Mount Ararat Church in Stafford. Susan and her husband Ed reside in Fredericksburg and have three amazing kids who joined their family in 2011 and who fill their days with adventure. Come join the conversation over at www.susanwanderer.com 



My Stomping Grounds

Chronicle Of A Hot-Mess-Mama with Exhausted Kids At Bedtime

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Let's talk about bedtime.

That little hour of the day, that falls in our family between 7:00-8:00.

Every night.

One hour.  That's all.  But it's one hour that can turn our glorious dancing into disaster. 

Some nights are awesome and I want to squeal "Bless the Lord, Oh my soul!"

However, other nights... other nights I am convinced I am the only mother alive who is in great need of a white jacket and an institution.

One hour earlier I was B.E.G.G.I.N.G. my sweet little cherubs to drink their milk at dinner.  Sixty minutes later, they are camels.

"Mom, can I puh-lease have my 13th sip of water? I'm going to die! Do you NOT CARE THAT MY THROAT HURTS?"

No. Truly, NO. I just do not care. I care that I have been awake since 5:00AM and once I hear that little snore come from your lungs, I am going to sit down, pour a warm cup of tea and go to my happy Hulu-Land. 

And two books a night is clearly a case for calling CPS on me because "My friend Jane's mom reads her THREE books a night.  THREE, MOM."

Well, good for Jane's Mom.

My youngest daughter’s current delay-tactic: theology questions. Um, no. You do not get to pull "Church-Staff-Kid" card and ask me an ecclesiology question in hopes that it will earn you 20 more minutes of awake-time.  I finally catch on to this array of questioning and I just proclaim (as any sane woman does) "NO MORE! No more Jesus questions... No more God questions... No more Bible questions... JUST. GO. TO. SLEEP."

Then, every ache and ailment comes to life:

My tummy hurts

My legs are itchy

My throat is dry

My arm is falling asleep

I forgot to put my hair in a ponytail! I'll get knots!

It gets so intense that I wonder if my girls pediatrician needs to be changed to a geriatric doctor. 

Don't send me hate-mail... I absolutely positively adore my children more than my next breath.  I totally am aware that this time is flying by and I will completely miss these nights.  But I also know, I miss my sanity! I lose all rational mama-thinking between 7-8 and become like a robot:

Brush your teeth.

Go to the bathroom.

Drink a sip of water.

Get in bed.

Get under the covers.

Close your eyes.

Stop talking. 

Kiss. Kiss. Hug. Hug. Snuggle. Snuggle.

 

Then... just as the crazy is finally wearing off and my girls give-way to much needed sleep...

I stand in their dark bedroom, stare at their beautiful sleeping faces, do a quiet Whip-and-Nae-Nae and think:

We did it, girls.

We survived one more night.

You are the greatest kids on this planet.

Your sleep is restoring and reenergizing your little bodies so we can embrace a great day of life all over again tomorrow.

 

And I am reminded: I absolutely, postively adore and love being their mom.

 

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Parents, We Are Dipping Our Toes in Uncharted Territory

Parenting can be complex. Who knew a pint-sized child or an acne-prone teenager could induce such a wide range of emotions from parental units?

Not to mention… we are the first generation of adults to dip our toes into several parenting arenas:

  • Smart Phones
  • Social Media
  • Online Safety
  • Constant Connectedness
  • Online Pornography
  • Online Predators
  • Sexting

As a Kids Minister, my door has families enter often who are desperate to know how to navigate this digital, highly sexualized, constantly connected generation. I sometimes am able only to offer a listening ear as we seek to navigate this virtual world together, creating a plan as we journey along. 

The above list doesn’t even mention all of the “normal” parenting challenges or victories: friendships, extracurricular activities, puberty, education, cultural challenges, etc…

But here is my top recommendation: Don’t Do This Alone!

Parenting is hard and we need a village: A group of people that will sit knee to knee with us and help us pour wisdom and support into one another and into these tender topics and issues.

My husband and I have a small group of folks from ourcChurch who we do life with each week.  We meet on Tuesday nights. The kids load up in the basement of someone’s home and play until sweat is dripping from their faces. The adults are cozied upstairs sipping coffee, munching on desserts, and chatting about life.

When someone has a heartache, another family who has Been-There-Done-That is able to swoop in and offer advice or at least a listening ear. It is helpful to know we aren’t on an island trying to solve this parenting puzzle alone.

A circled-up-group-of-adults helps to lessen the anxiety, provide (sometimes comic) relief to hear other similar parenting stories and give much needed support in this crazy-busy-life.

Our small group also offers our kids two very important essentials:

  1. A group of kids to play and interact with each week, who grow and change together as their seasons of life grow and change.
  2. A group of adults that will pour into the life of our kids. A greater impact is leveraged when other adults that we trust invest in the life of our child.

Win. Win.

I encourage you… especially if you are in a hard season of parenting, to find a village. We are all better together. Go find your people… and circle up! 

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Silver Bullet for Tough Talks

America, we are a hot mess of emotions, opinions and status updates. And how do I dialogue with my kids through these tough topics?

Presidential Debates. Refugees. Confederate Flags. Gay Marriage. Charleston. Baltimore. San Bernadino.

 

Take down that flag!

The flag is my heritage, keep it flying!

Don't sell cakes for gay weddings!

Don’t accept those refugees, they are dangerous!

The refugees need acceptance, they are human!

Baltimore got what it deserved!

You have no idea what it's like to grow up in the inner-city!

 

Let's take a calm step back and inhale a big deep full-to-the-top breath.

I want to try and make sense of this smorgasbord of opinions and emotions without cramping my fingers in a tweet-status-insta frenzy.

Here are my initial thoughts as I sit down and try to gather my wits:

1. I don't want to post angry-all-cap-emotions to social media. Seriously, let’s stop it. If there is a hot-topic out there that boils my blood, I want to try my hardest to think through it before I take my stand in ALL CAPS. I've learned my quick-mouthed lesson on this too many times.

2. When did our perceived rights take precedent over compassion for our fellow humans? When I dig my Dansko wedges (I have plantar fasciitis, whatever man) into the sand, I need to err on the side of compassion, grace and mercy instead of anger and vengeance. 

3. I ordered (thanks to Etsy) a large piece of wood to hang in my home with these words on it: “Love each other deeply. Honor others more than yourselves.”

I want my clan to read this Every. Single. Day. Of. Our. Lives. 

 

Mom, how should I treat my sister, when she's driving me nutso?

Honor her more than yourself. Love her deeply.

 

Mom, there's a kid at school who is just odd. Everyone makes fun of them because they are different.

Honor them more than yourself. Love them deeply. Sit by them. Talk with them. Get to know them. Even if i'ts awkward.

 

Mom, how do we feel about the Confederate flag?

Honor others more than ourselves. Love them deeply. Therefore, no.

 

Mom, how do we feel about Baltimore and Ferguson (to name only two)?

Honor others more than ourselves. Love them deeply.

 

When did having compassion for someone and giving grace, mercy and honor mean we have to agree with them on every blasted subject?

Seriously, y’all... when did kindness and compassion get misunderstood as complete agreement and acceptance? 

Yes, I am FULLY aware that each of these topics goes deeper, has more tentacles and more debate points than I can count.  Don't send me angry-emails saying that I clearly don't understand the deeper issues. I understand.

 

But I would hope that honoring others and loving them deeply is at least a jumping off point where the conversation can begin.  I want my kids to learn to dig their heels in the soil of honor, love, kindness and compassion.

For the sake of the generations behind us, where self seems to reign, I want to embrace leading our kids towards honor, love and putting others first. 

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Christmas Kindness Day

A few weeks ago I asked one of my daughters what she wanted for Christmas. In an effort to jog her memory, I asked about her favorite gift from the previous year.  She stared at me blankly.

Ummmmm, well… uhhhhhh… let’s see….

I assumed because all the gifts were just-so-incredibly-fabulous that she was having a hard time deciding.

Nope.

Well, what DO you remember about last Christmas?

All of her memories of our holiday centered around events and people. And it was beautiful to hear her recollections. However, she also insisted with wide-eyes that she still wanted and needed a few toys. 

I mean of course, who doesn’t?

I sat on that little exchange with my daughter for a couple of days.

I kinda celebrated inside that she can’t remember a gift. It proves to my Mama-heart that the focus needs to be elsewhere.

I want my kids to know the importance of loving and serving others. In our church and home, we honor this truth: We give because God gave.

Susan Christmas

This year, in an effort to live this out, my kids and I created Christmas Kindness Day.

A few days before Christmas, we will gather with some of our girlfriends and their daughters and have a day of spreading Christmas Kindness around Fredericksburg and Stafford.

Our goals:

  1. Serve People in our Community
  2. Show Christmas Kindness
  3. Celebrate Christmas Together

I was having a hard time coming up with some ideas to execute this day… and then I remembered my BFF, Google.

Here are a few ideas of we will be doing:

  1. Assemble kits to give out to the homeless in Fredericksburg. Contents: warm socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, cereal bars, Kleenex packs, gloves, hat, etc…
  2. Create cards for the hospital residents in Mary Washington, Spotsylvania Medical Center, Stafford Hospital or any assisted livingcCenter.  These folks are unable to get out and truly enjoy the holidays right now, so we will bring some Christmas Kindness to them!
  3. Take Christmas goodies and cards to our first responder units in Fredericksburg and Stafford. 

There are so many more ideas on Pinterest!  Search till your heart is content!

At the conclusion of our evening we will gather for a dinner to share our experience and talk through the importance of serving others, not just at Christmas, but all year long. A big meal makes everything an event to remember! It doesn’t have to be an expensive moment AT ALL.  Go pot-luck at a friend’s house or many restaurants have private dining areas where they would give you the space for free… or smores around a fire pit is super festive too!  The meal creates an atmosphere for moms and kids to enjoy this season together after a full day of serving others.

Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your kiddos this Christmas is a day of kindness with their friends. Grab a few of your girlfriends and their kiddos and go create memories of service.

This reason for this season is so worthy of the excitement we put around it. Go enjoy every moment with your families!

If you do decide to have Christmas Kindness Day... post it on Faceboook, Twitter or Instagram with #ChristmasKindnessDay.  We would love to celebrate with you!

Merry Christmas, Parents!

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An Adoptee's Point Of View

November is National Adoption Month. All three of our kids became our family through this textured and tender journey called adoption.

Instead of me rambling about my own appreciation of adoption, I asked my son if I could interview him for an Adoptee-Point-Of-View.  He agreed and his words are so very sincere and authentic.

First, a bit about my son.  Joshua joined our family at fourteen years of age. He is the most courageous young man I know. His heart is kind and his love for people soars past the challenging moments of this life.  I am so humbled that he calls me Mom. The complexity of adoption is not lost on me. Moments of tragedy mixed with moments of surprising joy.

Joshua is a gift beyond a gift. He loves playing soccer, running cross country, playing guitar in our worship band at Mount Ararat Baptist Church, leading kids in worship and in small groups, watching movies and filling our house with incredible guitar and drum sounds. He is hilarious and witty. Joshua is epic at being a teenager in today’s world. 

Too much? Can you tell I am proud of my boy?

He’s been mine for only four years but I hold all 1580 of those days so dear. This boy of mine is going to continue to impact this world in great ways. 

A brief interview with Joshua Wanderer:

Susan and Joshua

Q: What are some memories you have of Ethiopia that you enjoy thinking about?

A: When I was little, I loved playing outside with my friends.  We played soccer and hide and seek. I loved that. I also enjoyed the holidays: we would buy an animal, like a sheep or a hen, and cook it up and have a nice party.  We would eat our meals off of one large plate together. Those are good memories together.

Q: How was your adjustment to America?

A: I had to get used to the language.  As a teenager, I also had to figure out the cultural differences between America and Ethiopia. American kids do things differently than Ethiopian kids. I had to watch and learn. Also, the food… it’s a very different style in America.

Q: Talk a bit about your view of your adoption. 

A: The hardest part in my adoption was leaving my birth dad.  But the really good thing though, was getting a new start in my life.  And that brought me peace.

Q: What would you say to a family that is thinking of starting the adoption journey?

A: I would say to them it’s not easy. But, you should adopt because you are giving that child another home and another family. When you adopt it gives you a chance to impact that child’s life and then the child will also impact the life of their new family too.

Q: Name something unique about your personal adoption story.

A: While I was in the Transition Home in Ethiopia, I hoped that God would put my best friend and I in families near each other in America. We were hoping we would be a few states near each other. I then found out that my best friend would only be 20 minutes from my new family. That is amazing. God answered me. I will never forget that He did that for me.

Q: What is your definition of adoption?

A: Adoption is a new beginning.

Adoption is indeed just as my son described: A New Beginning. Adoption is the complex joining of two cultures, two families and two communities into one unique blend. It is sorrowful, joyful, exhilarating, sad, exciting, chaotic and peaceful.  It is beautiful and hard. It is every emotion turned into every other emotion.

And in the complexity of it all, a family does uniquely and beautifully form. 

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