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One small thing

One small thing is better than zero things. Do what you can.

I am practicing the spiritual discipline of sorting out the too-small clothes this week. Oh, friends, it’s killer. My babies were small, and now they’re bigger, and the big ones will never be little again—same song, next verse. You know.

We have pants in the closet so tiny that my big kids could not fit their hands through the leg holes. Looking in there, you might think we spend a lot of time dressing up a pet poodle or something, because surely those little things did not ever fit these giant children. “Did you once have a chihuahua?” you might ask, politely.

Those clothes are not relevant to our lives, today. If I try to store every tee shirt and pair of shorts for the next kid, the elastic will dissolve into dust. (Ask me how I know.) A very few favorites, yes. Everything they’ve ever owned, no.

And it’s STILL hard to pack them up and send them away, because doing that means admitting that the past is the past. It means admitting that we all have to live in the present.

It means that no matter how many more chances you have to experience the awe of little-ness, the particular three-year-old who stomped in the mud wearing those shorts is now ten, and time isn’t turning back.

I can tell myself that I’m only remembering the sparkling moments, not the hundred nights of trying to brush clenched baby teeth, or the tears (mine) an hour past bedtime, or the bleary-eyed breakfast-making because someone woke up before the sun rose.

I can tell myself that whatever those clothes once meant for us—the easy thrill of the playground slide, the joy of discovering bubbles and sprinklers and scooters, the way your whole day can be redeemed with a rocking chair and a bedtime story and the smell of toddler hair—those are not in the fibers of the cloth. They’re woven into our hearts and our minds. They’re not going anywhere.

Telling myself this helps less than you would think.

As far as I can see, I have three choices:

1. Keep all the clothes the children ever wear, until I am slowly crushed to death under a mountain of striped cotton;

2. Pretend I am not inappropriately attached and give the clothes away;

3. Don’t pretend. Show up anyway. Give the clothes away. Sob a little.

I want to tell you something else.

I have six children, and they were all born into this family. They’ve been here every minute of their lives. But my siblings, you know, have other stories. Some of my brothers and sisters are related to me by birth, and others are ours by adoption, and foster care continues to play a part in our extended family.

From my tangential view of the process, I’ve learned a couple of things. One is that children in foster care often arrive in their new homes with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing. Maybe a lovey. Not a sweater. Not pajamas. Not a backpack to take to the new school they’ll be enrolled in tomorrow.

They need a few things, is what I am saying.

We have some of those things, you and I.

I can’t make my preteens turn back into preschoolers for just one afternoon, to wear the tiny overalls one more time.

I can’t fix the world that makes foster care a reality.

I can’t fix the system, either. (It’s kind of a mess.)

But I have elastic-waist toddler jeans and teensy little swim trunks.

When packing them up gets hard and I start to think I should just save all the clothes—when I start to think that the tiny clothes keep the memories of tiny people a little closer—I breathe the clothes in deeply, I do. Sometimes I kiss them goodbye. Because I am a goofball.

When I get really grabby, I take a big old breath and I pray: OH GOD, this one—this tiny dress, these floral booties, this little old-man sweater, this beanie that wouldn’t fit over my fist—make sure this one finds its way to just the right child.

And then I will tuck them into a shopping bag and deliver them to our local Foster Family Resource Center.

I can’t sit here holding a pair of tiny swim trunks and waiting until I’m not a goofball anymore. If I don’t show up with my one pair of swim trunks, someone else doesn’t get to have swim trunks, and that’s more important than bolstering my hazy memory.

I’m folding the clothes and MAYBE I WILL CRY but I will also lay them down and offer them up.

I can do this one small thing. One small thing is better than zero things.

Our past can serve someone else’s present. And our right-now needs us all to be present.

If you are a parent whose kids outgrow stuff, would you do something for me?

Would you take just a minute to Google “foster family association” and your city or county’s name? It might be “foster parent association” in your area, or “foster family resource center.”

See if they would like your gently used clothes, backpacks, changing table, rain boots.

If you’re in San Diego county, you can donate here.

Be yourself. (Even if you’re a goofball.) Do what you can. Love your babies along the way—the ones in your house and the ones out in the world who need something today. We’ll do it together, okay?

Carry On, Warrior giveaway — my messy beautiful

Psst! The publisher of Carry On, Warrior sent me a copy to give to one of YOU! Details at the end of this post.

Sometimes when people buy a book, they take photos of themselves with it in exotic locations, like mountains or campsites or the laundromat. Then they post these on Twitter and stuff.

I have six kids, none of whom can yet drive a car. I do not go to mountains and campsites and the laundromat. (I do some other things.)

My messy, beautiful life pretty much always happens at home. BUT I STILL TAKE PHOTOS.

Carry On, Warrior supervises as we fake-clean the fireplace. If you leave all the ashy stuff AND put in fresh wood, that is called "authentic." Authentic is better than clean.

Carry On, Warrior supervises as we fake-clean the fireplace. If you leave all the ashy stuff AND put in fresh wood, that is called “authentic.” Authentic is better than clean.

Here we have Carry On, Warrior enjoying a bowl of cinnamon-sugar popcorn. What.

Here we have Carry On, Warrior enjoying a bowl of cinnamon-sugar popcorn. What.

I am so tempted to lie and say that this is my laundry basket. Wouldn't that be pretty laundry? It's actually a basket full of blankets.

I am so tempted to lie and say that this is my laundry basket. Wouldn’t that be pretty laundry? It’s actually just blankets.

What is up with this lantern-candle-apple situation? Is this the kitchen? Is this Narnia? Who can say, really.

What is up with this lantern-candle-apple situation? Is this the kitchen? Is this Narnia? Who can say, really.

Carry On, Warrior tries not to drown in toys. Hang on! We'll throw you a life preserver! Or maybe just a doughnut?

Carry On, Warrior is drowning in toys. Hang on! We’ll throw you a life preserver! Or maybe just a doughnut.

Carry On, Warrior discovers the joy of board games. This is what board games look like 80% of the time, but they're usually on the floor.

Carry On, Warrior discovers the joy of board games. This is what board games look like 80% of the time, but they’re usually on the floor. They are sometimes called Board Shrapnel of Doom, because that is more accurate.

Do I have any idea what is going on with this table right now? No I do not.

Do I have any idea what is going on with this table right now? No I do not.

Carry On, Warrior is frankly a little surprised that there's no tea in this cup. Am I EVER going to refill it? What am I WAITING FOR?

Carry On, Warrior is frankly a little surprised that there’s no tea in this cup. Are we EVER going to refill it? What are we WAITING FOR?

Carry On, Warrior wants to be freeeeee!

Carry On, Warrior wants to be freeeeee!

Maybe she wants to come live at your house? Maybe YOU will take her to mountains and campsites and laundromats! Or just to the couch. The couch is good, too.

Follow me on Instagram and like this photo to be entered to win. (If you aren’t on Instagram but want to enter, no problem. Just email me at melissacamarawilkins [at] gmail [dot] com with CARRY ON WARRIOR in the subject line.) I’ll choose a winner at random on Monday, April 14. Congrats to @therealsuperk8. Thank you all for entering, by email and Instagram!

messy-beautiful-450b

There’s still time to share your own messy, beautiful story! (Here’s mine.) Learn more about the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project here, or learn more about Carry On, Warrior here.

This is what we do — My messy beautiful

Parents DO a lot of things. Make the breakfast, make the lunch. Brush the hair, wash the clothes. Start the dishwasher. Listen to sounded out words. Shoo the kids outside for fresh air. Call them back in for dinner.

Be yourself. Do what you can. Love your babies along the way.

Sometimes I like to remind myself: Yes. This IS what parents do. You’re on the right track. Yup. This is it. Keep going, one foot in front of the other.

When Sadie spent a recent night throwing up every hour, I may have said it a little more grimly. THIS IS WHAT PARENTS DO, as I hurried down the stairs with the sick bowl, washed it, brought it back up. (I find it helps to be dramatically resigned to one’s fate, at 3:00AM.)

I was doing so well. I was doing everything that needed doing. I was… getting very little sleep. I was rushing down the stairs with that bowl so I could get back upstairs (and back to bed) faster. And faster. And faster, until I was less “rushing” and more “falling backward hard on the stairs, landing flat on my back and sending a bowl of vomit flying through the air.”

It felt like someone walloped me with a two-by-four. Which they kind of did, if by “someone” you mean “gravity” and by “two-by-four” you mean “stairs.” Gravity walloped me in the back of the head with stairs. YES. TRUE STORY.

That is only a thing that parents do if they are uncoordinated, and they’ve been up all night, and it’s now daybreak but not really light enough to see where they’re going.

As I was lying there, the wind knocked out of me, I was not thinking THIS IS WHAT PARENTS anything. I was thinking OW. And THAT PROBABLY WOKE EVERYONE. (It did.) And OW. (Yes.)

Parents don’t often get to say things like, “Mommy has to rest, guys. Remember? Mommy has whiplash.” Not often. But SOMETIMES.

Be yourself. Do what you can. Love your babies along the way.

It didn’t matter that for the rest of that day, I did not make the lunch or brush the hair or read the stories or remind anyone to share or tuck anyone into bed.

All those DOINGS—it turns out they’re not so important, on their own. They’re not the main event. They’re just little pieces of our BEINGS.

Being the ones who love without reservation. Being present when our kids need our presence. Being ready to offer them grace. Being ourselves, and living out what we believe: how to love, how to help, how to be gracious and kind, how to be brave and faithful, how to figure out who you are and what you’re meant to do—and then do it.

That’s it. That’s my list of what parents really do.

It’s deceptively short.

“Vomit duty” isn’t exactly on there, but it kind of is.

Because being a parent is just part of being a person. Being a GOOD parent is the same as being a good person. And being a parent lets you PRACTICE being a BETTER person. It’s a path. It’s a practice. We’re never going to Get There. We’re always going to be working at it, I think.

Sometimes working at it means cleaning up the vomit. And sometimes working at it means really paying attention while someone tells a story that goes on longer than most college commencement speeches. So there is some doing involved. But it’s the BEING that matters in the end.

Being yourself. Doing what you can. Loving your babies along the way. That’s what we’re going to do.

My messy beautiful

Do you know Glennon, from Momastery? You really should. Her (New York Times Bestselling!) memoir, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback. Grab your copy here, and share your own messy, beautiful story right here.

P.S. Would you like to win a copy of your very own? I’m giving one away on Instagram! Go here to enter. (If you aren’t on Instagram but want to enter, no problem. Just email me at melissacamarawilkins [at] gmail [dot] com with CARRY ON WARRIOR in the subject line.) I’ll choose a winner at random on Monday, April 14. Congrats to @therealsuperk8. Thank you all for entering, by email and Instagram!