Swimming Lessons

Now that summer has wound down for all intents and purposes, I've been reflecting a bit about what we did and learned. One of the more harrowing summer events for both me and my oldest son was swimming lessons.

 There's a great indoor pool within walking distance of our house that offered swimming lessons all summer long for $30 a session. The price could not be beat! So I signed poor Owen up since he was the only one of our children who fit within the age requirements.

 I knew it would be bad, we had him in lessons this winter and he cried and complained the whole time. I braced myself for the worst, but even I didn't realize just how bad it would be this time around.

The thing is, our son just wasn't comfortable going all the way under water. In the classes he took a few months ago they were more gradual with the whole process. They blew bubbles in the water, kicked, started to learn some basic floating; then the very last skill they practiced was jumping in the water. When they jumped in, the teacher would let them go under for a brief second before catching them.

Because of our travel schedule this summer, I was only able to sign him up for the final session of lessons: so maybe they were a bit more gradual in the first weeks. His teachers started every class off by making each child bob under water 3 times. This sent my boy into hysterics! He screamed his head off and refused to do it--so his teacher did it with him. Afterwards he continued to scream, cry, and refuse to do anything his teacher asked of him.

Owen became very skilled in the art of stalling. Once we got to the pool he would immediately request to go to the bathroom (which confused me because he always went before we left the house). One morning, I decided to be all tough love on him, and I told him "NO". He then promptly proceeded to poop in his pants.

I was humiliated. I considered just giving up on the lessons, but what kind of lesson would that teach my child. "Son, when things get hard, when you feel like you're in over your head, and you feel out of control, just give up." I knew this experience wouldn't kill him (maybe just scar him a little), so I decided we'd soldier on.

The first person I had to deal with was myself. Of course I wanted my boy to succeed in swimming, but mostly I just wanted him to stop screaming, crying, and causing a general ruckus in the middle of the aquatic center. I was embarrassed. I was annoyed. I was angry. How had I failed in my mothering and nurturing of him to such an extent that he was afraid of the water?

Whoa now Renee! This whole thing is not about you and your real or imagined failures. Stop thinking about what all the other moms with the adventurous and fearless little tykes think of your parenting chops, and start actually helping your son.

Well, telling him to stop crying over and over again was NOT helping. I tried assuring him that he wouldn't drown since mommy and his teacher were both watching him like a hawk. We talked about being brave at home and prayed on our walk to the pool every morning, but fear still had him  paralyzed.

Then one morning my neighborhood mom friend randomly came over and talked to Owen while he was having one of his mini panic attacks. Instead of telling him to calm down and assuring him that everything was going to be ok, she asked him to tell her the names of his classmates. Then she showed him how to cheer for them and encourage them while he was waiting to get in the water. Genius I tell you!

Immediately he calmed way down. He watched his classmates, and he got to know a few of them. It was like a giant light bulb went off in his head--there are other people in my class besides me and they are going through the same thing I am. That realization was enough to break through his shell of self-pity and fear.

I'm not going to say that everyday after that was rainbows and roses, but it was a start. Finally I knew where to start. Helping him to get his eyes off of himself, and onto others was the first step in overcoming his fear. By the end of his sessions, he hadn't mastered every skill, but he had been able to attempt to do everything his teachers asked of him calmly; that was HUGE! 

Motherhood is a Team Sport

Mother's Day was a couple of months ago, and while everyone was praising the incredible feats of all the moms they know, I was thinking about how if I've learned anything in my four years of motherhood, I've learned that I can't be everything for my children.

I am the mother of three little ones with a  fourth on the way. I am by no means an expert on parenting, motherhood, or discipline. I just love them as best I can, apologize a whole lot and pray that I'm covering the right bases. One of the of the biggest things I see on a daily basis is my own limitations.

I think I've felt this weird pressure as a stay-at-home mom to wear every hat under the sun, and to give my kids every experience and viewpoint. In this age of do it yourself everything, I'm realizing just how essential a strong community is to child-rearing.

So many of us have become lone-ranger moms, but Hillary Clinton was right when she quoted that old African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child."

 We recently moved several hours away from family, and it would be all too easy for me to simply get through my days without interacting with anyone outside of my immediate family (and trust me I have days like that). But, making and meeting up with other friends in my stage of life is not only good for my sanity, it's good for my children.

I want to be a constant in my children's lives--a source of unconditional love and support--,but I cannot be EVERYTHING to and for them. Raising them within a vibrant and rich community will teach them how much they need the love and support of other people.

It also discourages autonomy: the belief that they live outside the authority of others. In order to be truly productive members of society, our children must learn to submit to the authority of teachers, policemen, future bosses as well as civil and governmental authorities.

 I'll admit it, trusting other people with my children is scary. Hiring a babysitter for the first time was a HUGE deal for me. We're talking background check, references, the works. But, I'm talking less about dropping your kids off at someone else's house and more about just making and maintaining friendships with good people that your kids can learn from organically.

When I think back on my own childhood, I can remember so many of the wonderful things I learned from adults that weren't my parents. My mom actually met my best friend's mom when they were teaching our toddlers Sunday school class at church. They hit it off and ended up encouraging our friendship outside the walls and halls of the church building.  I spent a lot of time at my best friend's house growing up. Without knowing it and without really trying, her mom became a second mother to me.

My mom is an incredible, well-educated, eloquent, and quick witted woman. She passed down her love of reading and thinking to me. Watching Mrs. Leonard taught me about beauty, presentation, and hospitality. Walking into the Leonard's home was like walking into the pages of Country Living magazine. Spending time in their home taught me to love so many truly southern things like sweet tea and tasteful antiques.

We cannot do this thing called motherhood alone!

I'll admit it, striking up genuine adult friendships is no easy task. I've found that limited time and lack of shared history often derail potential friendships and keep conversation shallow. Even if I do strike gold and hit it off with another actual adult, its often more comfortable for me to sit back and wait for them to initiate a deeper friendship than to be proactive.

 I don't have the whole community thing figured out, but I know that I need it and my family needs it. All I can tell you is that half of the time I'm resolved to initiate, text, call, and invite people into our home. I'm resolved to pray and put in the effort to make friendships work. The other half of the time I'm laying on the couch eating ice-cream and watching movies.

There's this Abundant Mama Mantra floating around Pinterest saying simply, "I am enough."

Well I'll tell you that I am simply not enough.

Thank God for fathers, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, influential adults, teachers, pastors, neighbors, babysitters and friends. And thank God for their many and varied gifts, abilities, and weaknesses because each will make a deep and enriching impression on the minds and hearts of my little ones.

The weight of responsibility for the lives of my babies weighs heavily upon me every day, and I am held up, in part, by the strength of my team. Keep building your team ladies, and I'll try to keep building mine.

Summer Centers: The Beans Edition

All I can say is that its HOT here in Charleston! I have some little boys who love to play outside, but during the heat of the day even they don't want to venture out. I was just letting them run around the house and play after lunch time, but the screaming, the gigantic mess, and general chaos started getting to me.

I'm not super crafty or anything, but I thought maybe I could come up with something to keep them occupied and learning something constructive. So, with the help of Pinterest, I've been coming up with four learning centers we can work on everyday for a week before I change them out.  I try to gather all necessary materials on Sunday night. During the week, I get my boys to clean them up before nap time everyday so that the whole thing isn't too labor intensive for me. 

They love it! This week our theme was beans (kinda weird I know). Our first center was a bean sorting station. I filled a jar halfway full with beans of different colors. I got out a muffin tin and let the boys sort the beans together. By the end of the week they knew the names of all our beans-- kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, and white beans.

Our second center was a craft where they spelled one letter of their names each day with cardboard, glue, and beans. We do a good deal of our grocery shopping at Costco, so I cut up some boxes we had hanging around to make a good sturdy base for the letters. We're planning to hang those on the wall in their bedroom when they are finished.

 Our third center was a sensory bucket filled with beans. I added some measuring cups and spoons and let them go to town. I was surprised by how much the boys loved this station. They loved running their fingers through the beans and pretending to cook meals for one another.

Our fourth and final center was buttoning and zipping station. I let them dress up in some of Daddy's clothes while they learn to zip and button. I figure if we can learn these little practical lessons soon enough Mama won't have to help them get dressed!

 Getting through all the centers takes about 30 minutes to an hour each day depending on how 'into it' they are. I thought maybe by the end of the week, I could let them rotate independently while I did laundry or cleaned house but that never worked out. My four year old could probably work through them independently, but my two year old definitely needs me there to keep him on task. They also just enjoy spending the time doing an activity with me. Even if both my older boys are engaged in their activities, my baby boy is crawling around on the floor trying to eat fallen beans. I was constantly scooping him up to prevent death by choking. 

The challenge for me is to find activities that both of my boys can enjoy while also being able to modify them for their different skill levels. Do you have any fun ideas for Summer Centers? I'd love to hear about them!! 


One Sunday afternoon a month or two ago, we had some friends over for lunch. They began asking us about life lately which, inevitably for me, ended at children and motherhood. Our friends are married but don't have any kids.

The wife admitted to me that the way she had heard mothers complain about their kids didn't exactly make her want to go out and get pregnant. Her comment got my wheels turning.

Then a few weeks ago I saw

this video

circulating on Facebook. While it is humorous, it encourages couples to consider not having children in order to avoid anxiety and stress in their lives.

I'll be the first to tell you that caring for children can sometimes entail quite a bit of anxiety and stress. Motherhood is not for the squeamish.

I deal with body fluids, tantrums, midnight demands, and sickness on a very regular basis. It's just not glamorous. Motherhood is a discipline.

But somewhere in the midst of all the things you force yourself to do as a parent, this beautiful trust and camaraderie forms between you and your child. They come to realize that there is no storm you will not weather with them

. Your arms and your shoulders become their place of safety and rest. The end of the discipline is delight. I wouldn't trade a lifetime of amazing sleep for that.

All of these things have been making me think quite a bit about the aim of adulthood in our society. It seems like the current anthem of our culture is, "follow your heart," "do what you love", and "follow your arrow".

I think there's something wonderful and liberating about doing what you love, but only an affluent and relatively peaceful people have that kind of luxury.

 Being an adult is not about finally being able to do exactly what you want to do all the time.  Sometimes you've got to get over yourself and do the things that you need to do but don't want to do.

Your heart will not lead you to clean puke off of your child's carpet and sheets. Your arrow won't point you in the direction of toddler's out of control temper tantrum.

Living a life that avoids all discomfort will make you a shallow and immature human being.

I think part of maturity is knowing when to put aside personal ambition, pride, and even your own likes and dislikes because someone needs you. I've experienced this a great deal in motherhood because my babies are always here and always making their needs known.

I'm not saying parenthood equals maturity.  Plenty of immature people ignore their children and choose to focus the bulk of their energy and passion on their careers, or their looks, or in pursuit of power or status of some kind. And I know plenty of childless folk who are very mature.

I would argue that the pinnacle of adult maturity does not lie in achieving our dreams. Our dreams, motives, and ambitions need to be critically examined because most of our deepest desires concern only ourselves.

We're good at networking: at using other people to get what we want. We're good at controlling the perceptions of those around us. We end up using each other as twisted mirrors to examine and measure ourselves.

"To the immature, other people are not real"- Harry Overstreet

 We are terrible at just being interested and open to other people without giving a thought about what they are thinking about us.

Friendship is an arena where I definitely struggle to love this way. It's easier to keep people at an arms length, to share only the good, or at least just the minor and already resolved struggles (the ones that don't make me look completely insane).

I think this is one reason why I experience loneliness. Needy people are awkward and they make other people uncomfortable.

They can be seen and experienced as a burden: except by those who truly love them.  This is why I find myself so often fighting to appear capable and strong, but I'm learning that keeping up appearances is what keeps me isolated.

Maybe maturity is more than just meeting needs but also being willing to identify myself as one in need: to be a comrade and a brother to all who walk the earth, standing in solidarity as a humanity riddled with weakness.

Lessons from my Husband: A Reflection on our First 5 Years

How can I sum up our first five years of marriage? It feels like 5 minutes ago and 500 years ago all at once.  4 houses, 2 states, 3 children... I've changed; we've changed.

 When we got married, we were madly in love. Don't get me wrong, we're still in love, but much of the madness has faded. Now we are able to see each other and our life together through more realistic spectacles. 

In the early days we were much more focused on adoring one another. These days, we're more focused on laughing about our babies, remembering what God has done in our lives, and enjoying good food, wine, conversation, and experiences.

We are painfully normal. We go through ups and downs. Like any other couple, there are times when we disagree, we take each other for granted, we don't feel connected, and we miss out on opportunities to spend time together.

But, being a front row participant in my husband's life has taught me so much. Listening to his struggles, following his (sometimes complicated) thought processes, and experiencing life's joys and pain with him has been an education.

In honor of our fifth anniversary, I'll share five things I've learned while living with and loving Jonathan Henson.

1. Be reasonable

My husband loves to talk, and he can talk to anyone. He especially loves to talk to people who hold beliefs that differ from his. He doesn't engage these people because he believes that he can crush their arguments. He enjoys these conversations because he believes that he has as much to learn as he has to share.

 On more occasions than I can count I've sat listening to him talk to people in our dining room, in local bars and restaurants, and wherever he happens to strike up conversation. People always leave him feeling challenged but loved.

 It's easy to demonize people who are different: to laugh at their "ignorance", to assume their simple stupidity.  We forget that every person is made in the image of God and therefore reflects that image in some way. There is much that we can learn, see the good, challenge the evil.

2. Fire and Motion

It's a catchphrase around our house that was inspired by this article written by Joel Spolsky-- who is one of my husband's software engineering heroes. It means: don't expect to be wildly productive everyday, but keep moving forward. Fire at your enemy and keep moving. Gain a little ground everyday and one day the battle will be won.

3. Never stop learning

When we first got married Jonathan was focused on going to seminary.  Then he landed a job in software development and the rest is history. He fell in love. So with the same vigor he used to plumb the depths of weighty theological issues, he threw himself into C, C++, Java, MySQL, and plenty of other things I still don't understand.

The man solves math problems and writes programs for fun in his free time. He loves to learn and expand his mental capacities, and I love to eat chips and watch movies. He has inspired me to read more, think more, and stop squandering my gifts.

4. His name is Jonathan not Jesus

This is a lesson I seem to learn over and over again. In my mind our relationship should always feel deeply connected and wildly passionate. I want to stay up till 3am every night having amazing conversations. I want to know every detail of his day. I want him to text me funny stories about his co-workers all day and pictures of what he ate for lunch.

 The reality is that we are two deeply flawed people who work hard all day and have three young children. We work beside each other and don't always have time or energy. I cannot look to my husband to fill every need I have for love, validation, or even companionship. If I do this I will suck him dry.

Jonathan sent me a sweet letter with this Bob Dylan quote enclosed while we were dating. It was after our first fight about my not feeling connected. I wish I could say this conflict doesn't come up anymore, but it does. The last line he added himself.

 Go ’way from my window

Leave at your own chosen speed

I’m not the one you want, babe

I’m not the one you need

You say you’re lookin’ for someone

Never weak but always strong

To protect you an’ defend you

Whether you are right or wrong

Someone to open each and every door

But it ain’t me, babe

No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe

It ain’t me you’re lookin’ for, babe

....It's Jesus

5. Embrace your limitations

This is a lesson we've been learning together over the past 5 years. We're learning that God honors our faithfulness more than our ambition. We want to do so much, change so much, and we think we have good ideas.

But we're finding that we only have time to do our jobs, care for our children, love our neighbors, pray to our God, and fall into bed so we have the strength to do it again the next day. This is my husband's favorite quote from The Hobbit and it just about sums it up:

 Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? I don't know. Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage. -- Gandalf, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

In Life There Are No Static Characters

I had a good Thanksgiving! It took us six hours to arrive at the family feast. Normally I don't mind a road trip, but now that we have three baby boys I can't help but cringe at the thought of extended car rides.

Surprisingly, it was by far the most pleasant car trip we've taken in a while-- thanks in part to the steady stream of cartoons my hubbs kept rolling on his laptop. Who says technology doesn't have its advantages?

I love my family, but family gatherings can be a source of anxiety for me. My goal for this trip was to be as pleasant as possible. I didn't want to be overly sensitive to the remarks of others or knowingly pick any fights. Honestly, I didn't completely succeed, but that's another story for another day.

After a great conversation with a family member that I don't always see eye to eye with, I realized something. When I think about my life, I am the dynamic character: always changing, growing and learning. But aside from those in my inner circle, I unconsciously think of everyone else as a static character. They're all destined to be defined in my mind by some past behavior, impression, or attitude.

Thinking this way, especially about family members, creates an odd sense of stability. I know where everyone stands, and no matter what they do I can mentally keep them in their assigned categories. It makes loved ones one dimensional and easy to define and stereotype.

It makes it easy to give up on family relationships and think, "That's just the way they are." It makes it easy to stop praying and believing that change is possible. This mindset leaves no room for empathy or understanding another person's unfolding story.

Thankfully real life is far more complex, intricate, and nuanced than the novels I love so much. Everyone is living out this rich tapestry of thought, experience, work and worship. Together, side by side, we are changing and growing day upon day upon day.

When changes take longer than I think they ought, I'm quick to give up hope and pronounce the tree dead. Instead, I'm learning that sometimes the roots grow deep before a bud pops out onto the surface.

The Hair

I started chemically straightening my hair in 5th grade. I can remember begging my mom to do it. I grew up in the white suburbs outside of Atlanta, and I really wanted to my hair to hang like everyone else.

I wanted that pony tail that blew in the wind.

Up until that point, I wore my hair in braids everyday except for special occasions when my mom would flat iron my hair.

It took me years to get my hair to look just the way I wanted. Many women who relax their hair complain that the chemicals give them paper thin hair. My mane is super thick so the thinning actually took out just the right amount of volume.

During college, I toyed with the idea of cutting my hair off and wearing it curly several times. But the problem was that I wasn't sure what to do with it after I cut it, so it just didn't seem like a feasible option for me. One night during my senior year, I mentioned wanting to cut my hair off while I was out on a date. My date told me that I needed to do it and that I had till the end of the week to make it happen. I couldn't do it so I never returned any of his phone calls.

My sister actually ended up telling me about the Kinky Curl product line a few months after I gave birth to our oldest son. She was using them, and her hair looked nice so I decided to give it a go (neither of us actually use those hair products anymore). So from that point on I stopped relaxing my hair.

 About a year later, when I was seriously pregnant with our second son, I decided to chop off all my straightened ends. In the natural hair community, we call this a big chop-- and it was a HUGE chop. Let me just give you a little piece of advice. NEVER cut your hair super short when you're pregnant.

It was not cute. I don't have the kind of face you need to rock a short style and being 6 months pregnant did not help matters. Plus, I wasn't quite sure how to style it, so it took me a long while to figure out how to make it look decent.

Going natural for me wasn't about making a statement about my heritage or cultural identity. I didn't do it to feel more empowered as a black woman. I did it because it seemed more practical and less expensive than continuing to relax my hair every few months.

I was also just plain curious.

It had been years since I'd seen my curls, and I'd always been under the impression that my hair was going to be crazy and unmanageable if I kept it curly. That wasn't the case.

For some reason, I felt particularly inspired one night and with my husband's encouragement, I cut it all off. I'm a cautious person, so cutting my hair was a big deal. Of all the nights I could've chosen to do it, I cut it the night before we were going to Mississippi for my husband's cousin's wedding. 

Not only would I be the only black girl at the wedding, I was rockin' a little 80's she-mullet fro and a ginormous baby belly -- gotta love awkward social situations.

 No one wanted to be rude, so no one mentioned it.

Little did I know that there was a huge natural hair movement taking place within the black community. Youtube is filled with curly haired girls who happily told me how to take care of my newly acquired curls. My very favorite vlogger is 


. Check out her youtube channels for hair, fashion, beauty and lifestyle tips. I also frequented

Curly Nikki's website

for hair inspiration and tips. These women kept me going when I wanted to throw in the towel.

Though it was a bit dramatic, I don't regret my decision to big chop at all. I will admit that in the beginning I felt pretty unattractive.

My new look took a lot of getting used to, but as my hair grew out I learned to do more with it.

 Straight hair made me look more traditionally feminine and put together. For me, the curly hair is more wild, untamed, and edgy.

I've already stated I didn't set out on this journey with the expectation of being empowered in any way, but I was in the sense that I became more comfortable in my own skin. I was born with this hair, and learning how to take care of it feels like learning to be more of who I was created to be.

It has been a blast and with three boys three years old and under, I honestly don't spend as much time as I'd like to on my hair. I'm still learning how to take care of it. Just like everyone else, some days I'm in love with it, and some days I could do without it.


Book Review: Lessons from Madame Chic

If you're wondering what I was doing this weekend besides --of course-- cooking, cleaning, going to a birthday party, the beach, and our favorite burger joint...I was reading. This book was THAT good. I made time during an extra busy weekend to blow through it and I enjoyed every... single... moment. This book was fun!! I randomly picked it up at the library on Thursday morning during the 5 minutes I have to peruse the non-children's books before my two year old's gleeful screams get us thrown out of there. The name caught my attention Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris. Admittedly, I'm a bit of a Francophile. My family is from New Orleans: a city with a strong French influence. Also, I took French language classes from the sixth grade all the way through my junior year of college. Needless to say, I'm pretty intrigued by French culture. As a stay at home mother of three, I could seriously use some style secrets.

What I loved the most about this book was its emphasis on simplicity and finding the beauty in everyday, ordinary occurrences. I was kind of expecting it to encourage a sort of lifestyle that would not be practical for me to attain, but the advice shared in this little gem could be practiced by any woman at any stage of life with any income.The book is broken up into three parts. Part one covers diet and exercise; part two covers style and beauty, and part 3 covers how to live well. The chapters are small and easy to digest. The brand of femininity that the author proposes is refreshing and inspiring. I left the book with a deeper resolve to find and bring beauty into every area of my home and life.

To give you just a glimpse of what you'll find in Lessons from Madame Chic, I'll share two of the chapters that inspired me the most. First let's talk about Chapter 4, "Liberate Yourself with the Ten-Item Wardrobe." While the author, Jennifer L. Scott, was living in France, she noticed that most of the French rely on a ten-item wardrobe and wear, " the same clothes in heavy rotation -- unapologetically and with great panache." They concentrate not on quantity but on quality, and not on trendy items but on classic pieces that will last more than one season. They aim to not have just a bunch of clothes they like but a few items that they love. After I finished the book, I headed over to the author's blog, and I found that she had posted a video of her ten-item fall/winter wardrobe. It's seriously inspiring. Her clothes are stylish, classic, and modest in the best way. Right now I'm in a bit of an awkward stage. I'm somewhere in between my pregnancy and pre-pregnancy weight so only half of my clothes fit. After looking critically at some of my clothing, I'm realizing that in some ways I still dress like a college student (all those post-college years I spent working in college ministry probably have something to do with it), and I could use a more mature look. After all, I am 31 years old. I can't wait to try out the ten-item wardrobe.

Another chapter that I found particularly interesting was chapter 15: "Practice the Art of Entertaining." In this chapter, Ms. Scott notes that, "France is truly a dinner party culture." The families she spent time with threw elaborate dinner parties at least once a week. My husband and I have found that really the only way to make friends as adults is to invite people into our home. The French start their dinner parties and even just their everyday meals with family with appetizers and drinks. This aperitif is usually served in the living room and used to break the ice and whet the appetite. This is something I hope to incorporate into our family's dinner party ritual. I'm usually the kind of hostess that has dinner ready to go when the guests arrive and I'm bustling around making sure everything is just right instead of relaxing and putting my guests at ease. I think the apertif could help calm me down and enjoy my guests.

There's so much more that I could say about this book. I enjoyed every chapter and will be incorporating so much of what I learned into my everyday life. Check it out!