the mom I want to be

At a staff meeting a while back, we did an exercise where we had to think about and talk about what we would like written on our epitaph when we die. Mine was something like this:

Jessica Rae Ludwig, fierce in her celebration of life and her love for others.

This exercise got me thinking about how others, particularly my kids, experience me on a day-to-day basis. I feel they know me as a structure and rule-keeper who takes care of them when they need something and puts food on the table, but I’m not sure they often get much else from me (is there even time for anything else on most days?). Do they know me as someone who celebrates life and loves others extravagantly? Do they feel loved and celebrated by me, or do they just watch me do that for others? Do I allow room for adventure and beauty and unknown in our regular day-to-day relationship?

My epitaph didn’t say anything about leaving the kitchen really clean every time I leave the house, or having kids who do their homework really thoroughly, which is funny because these are things that I often use as measures of my daily “success” and things that are the result of my present strivings and intentions.

I’m working to shift my perspective, and their experience. I want to pass along to my kids more than just a love for order and the ability to make good choices. I want them to see life as a beautiful adventure and to live in a way that invites others to join the adventure, to uncover beauty, and to love well. So, we are making some changes around here.

I resolve to:

  • Celebrate the small things. This means every day, specific, individual, celebrations with and for my kids (the fact that its Monday, Owen putting away something that was not his, an act of kindness to a friend, etc.). This also means that we celebrate random, small, “holidays” in ways that are meaningful and fun.
  • Involve my kids in the celebration of others. I put a lot of intentionality into celebrating the people I love, but I rarely give my kids the chance to participate in the brainstorm, creation, and execution of these celebrations. I also sometimes have celebrations begin when the kids are in bed so that I can be more focused on the celebration. I’m trying now to involve my kids and to allow them to think about ideas to show appreciation and to help plan celebrations. I’m also trying to be more strategic to allow them to participate in at least part of the celebration for people who are important in their lives, even if it means staying up past bedtime and potentially consuming more sugar than I’d like (ha, but, really).
  • Eliminate the word “late” or “hurry” from my regular vocabulary (especially in the mornings). This is my quest: make mornings meaningful instead of maddening. Instead of rushing around and shooing my kids out the door and into the car so we won’t be late, I choose moving slower (even if it means setting my alarm a little earlier so I can get a head start, ugh). I choose to smile, to speak softly, to hear the requests of my kids (but likely not to accommodate them all), to look them in the eye, and to send them on their way feeling good about themselves and about the day. There’s no need for us to leave the house feeling stressed and frazzled, and it has occurred to me that it is up to me, by my language and my actions, to set the tone for the day. A few intentional choices here (like actually not using the words “late” or “hurry” even if we are or if we need to), and I notice the tone in our household and the disposition of our kids is drastically different. If this means we are a few minutes late to school, I think it’s worth it (though, for the record, I do value timeliness and want to teach my kids that too).

Sometimes, I get too caught up in the every day monotony of checking all my “boxes” to keep things going and in good order that I get a little short sighted and I don’t think about whether or not the things I am doing now are going to produce the results I am hoping they do in the future. In these times I also tend to forget that the formation of my self and my family are more important than the other items on my to do list.

beach play

superheroes, chocolate, and riding horseback

The main agenda of the day today: celebrate! It was Owen’s 5th birthday and we wanted to make sure he felt extra loved and special. His requests: hot chocolate, swimming, a family horseback ride (yup, even mom and dad had to get on a horse), and dinner (pizza of course) at the Speke Resort. We decorated the house, cooked a tasty breakfast, opened presents, ordered a special cake (one that Owen had been eyeing) from Prunes (it can be hard to find authentic birthday cake here but Prunes is legit), invited some friends to join us for dinner, and completed the other items on Owen’s wish list. He also had a special video from some of our family and friends from back home, and a special playlist- all dedicated to his birthday. He felt so special and so loved. While watching the video he turned to me and said, through the biggest grin you can imagine, “I like this so much.” All throughout the day, he kept thanking me for making the day special, for his gifts, for his cake, and for celebrating. He is one thankful kid, and I am a proud, proud mom.

To be almost 5 years old and to spend 6 weeks in Africa, missing all your buddies, the start of Jr Kindergarten and your birthday, and to joyfully welcome in two additional siblings as if they’d been there all along, is no small deal. Owen is a kid who daily “fights for what is right” and who loves others well. Just ask Elias and Cora… one day I know they will tell stories about their brother and how he embraced them from day 1, making them feel like a beloved gift (Macy is exceptional at this, too… it’s just not her birthday today, ha). He lives with a lightness and an ease that puts others at rest as well, and he is darn funny. His imagination is vivid, his reasoning and intellect incredibly sharp, and his knack for all things sports related is impressive.

To all of you who love Owen, teach him cool stuff, encourage him as he grows, and especailly to those of you who are just your amazing, passionate, talented selves in front of him- thank you. My children’s birthdays always make me feel so thankful for the community of people we are surrounded by and today is no exception.


The morning festivities.


Add this to our growing collection of awkward family photos from this trip.

A little chocolate cake/happy birthday magic to close out the day.