Don’t should on yourself. 

I should take my Christmas lights down. I mean, for crying out loud, Valentine’s Day is on Tuesday. Yet there they are – twinkling proudly in front of the whole neighborhood. And, if I am going to be brutally honest in this confession, I should probably also admit to the multiple strands of colored lights that are strung along my back deck. From Christmas twentyfifteen. That haven’t been plugged in since. Strung merrily on the deck that should also be pressure washed and repainted. I should feel guilty about this. I should put this near the top of a honey do list. But…. meh. 

I have a feeling that most of us have a long list of shoulds that confront us from the moment we pull our heads off of the pillow each morning. I should have gotten up an hour earlier to exercise. I should make the bed. I should drink less caffeine. I should take a shower. I should buy stock in dry shampoo. I should have a wholesome family moment including scripture reading and some sort of commissioning prayer each morning with my kids over a hot cooked breakfast. I should not be putting on mascara while driving my children to daycare. I should listen to that voicemail blinking on the work phone. 

All those shoulds and it’s not even 9 AM.

And even more insidious than those are all the shiny happy social media shoulds. I should take my kids to the children’s museum. I should read more. I should make my own soap. I should have friends to be drinking wine with on a Tuesday night. I should go on vacation to Mexico and take pictures of my polished toenails in a hammock. I should learn to knit. I should join the PTA or PETA or the PLC. I should be doing the 21 day fix or eating paleo or crossfitting. (Confession- I am not entirely sure what any of the last three things are). 

We spend so much of our lives shoulding all over ourselves. And, my friends, should is a dirty word. Should is a sibling to shame. Kin to guilt and insecurity and depression. When has a should in your life ever brought you a feeling of freedom? Ever come with a sense of joy? Shoulds never do. They are heavy and muddy brown. A burden, not a gift. 

And this too – most shoulds are not actual shoulds. They are not necessary to sustain life – I would posit that one could live a full happy life without bowing to many shoulds at all. 

In fact, here is a thought experiment: what if you turned all of your shoulds into coulds? Instead of I should read that book: I could read that book. All of a sudden an obligation has turned into an invitation. One that you were free to either except or decline. You could learn how to can vegetables, or you could not. By changing one tiny letter, you sweep the desk clean from stacks of imaginary burdens, and create room for possibility. 

If should is connected to shame, could is akin to whimsy. To opportunity and, dare I say it, joy. Could invites the imagination to engage. It automatically puts you in a mindset where you can decide if this is something you actually want to do… something you actually have time for. Should forces its way in, while could simply knocks and waits. 

So. Next time you discover that you are shoulding all over yourself, stop. Ask your self if this is truly something you want to do. And even if you want to do it, ask yourself if it is something that you ever actually will accomplish. I will give you a hint – if you are anything like me, starting your own garden and/or learning to quilt automatically goes in the “I’m never going to do that” category. 

Let your should turn into what it actually was all along… A could. And see if that invitation sparks joy, or anxiety.

So yes, I should take down my Christmas lights. But darn it, I like them. So shine on you gorgeous twinkly stars. Life’s too short to should your pants. 

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say YES!

IMG_6545As a working mother of a toddler, I live in a world of no.  No.  You can’t eat Ritz crackers for dinner.  No, you can’t play with the sidewalk chalk when it is 8 degrees and dark outside.  No.  You can’t watch ANOTHER hour of Thomas the Train on Netflix.  No, no, no, no, no.

The other day, I picked up Colton from school, and he raced to his cubby.  He pulled out a neon blue lollipop and told me he had earned it at school today, and that he wanted to give it to ME.   Could I open it now?  No, Colton, we can’t open it now.  We are going to get your sister and we can’t be all sticky.  Once the kids were settled in the car, Colton asked again if I wanted to eat my lollipop. No Colton, we are headed to church supper.  We shouldn’t eat a lollipop right before dinner.  Then, heading home from church… No Colton, it’s almost bedtime. This isn’t time for candy.  The next morning at breakfast, Colton asked me if I wanted my lollipop, and tears sprang to my eyes.  My precious son was trying to give me the lollipop he earned as his prize at school.  Why was I rejecting it over and over?  So right then and there I unwrapped it.  I had candy for breakfast, and a bright blue tongue to remind me of the little boy who wanted to give me a the one thing he had to give.

I think I have started saying no so much that it is now my automatic reaction.  I call it the ‘knee jerk no’.  But I don’t want my relationship with my child to be centered around the things he can’t do.  I want to take the time to really celebrate the everyday magic in life.  So I am going to focus on learning when to say YES!

Yes.  We can read another story before bedtime.

Yes.  You can bake cookies without your shirt on.
and yes.  you can eat the dough.  That’s the whole point of making cookies!

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Yes.  You can choose your outfit today.

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Yes.  Your mother loves you, and yes, she is available and present with you.

With each yes, I see a bit more of the magic of childhood.  I remember what it was like to feel the cold breeze of winter as a novelty and not an imposition.  I remember that it is fun to take a long bubble bath with lots of toys, to wear mismatched pajamas, and that the world will not end if bedtime is 15 minutes late.  I remember that I only have this moment with my little boy one time and that it is a gift to be reveled in, not endured, or scheduled to the teeth.

Saying yes to Colton entails more than just spontaneity.  I must also learn to say NO to other things.  Extra work projects.  My mental to do list.  Even good things, like time with friends or fun events.

And there are still many no’s to be said… I am still trying to raise a God-loving, responsible, unselfish human being.  But I want to remember that part of my role as a parent is to show the joy in life as well as the rules…

And then there’s this…

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 7:9-12

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