As the mom of ten, I get one question a lot: What is your secret?
My daughters tell me sometimes of babysitting jobs or their friends' moms who say, "I would like to know how your mom stays organized," or "I want to follow your mom around the house just for one day and watch her."
It is no secret that organizing is a struggle, not a strength for me. During my homeschooling years, for instance, it took me 15 minutes to find a sharpened pencil. Daily.
I am not a great cook, nor does any woman envy my decorating skills. And the only time my whole house is clean is when I'm selling it (which I am, but that's a blog for another day).
As for academia, forget it. My recent re-read through my high school and college journals was a harsh reminder. From January, 1983 (my senior year in high school) until I had my first baby, I journaled nearly every day. I wrote down almost every conversation, in detail, that Captain Fun and I ever had from the first time I saw him til the day we got married- again, another blog, another day.
In college, I also recorded my grades--somewhat regrettably.
Dear Journal, I made a 62 on my Geography test, but at least I passed.
Dear Journal, I failed my math exam. The only solution to that is ice cream, so I am in the cafeteria eating a sundae.
Dear Journal, I failed my math class. My dad said if it weren't for the failures the successes wouldn't mean anything. That made me feel a little better.
I kept all my elementary and middle school report cards, too: 2 D's in health in 7th grade (How do you make two D's in health? my children asked me). And I never got past consumer math in high school.
You get it: I am not an intellectual.
I came down with a high fever over the winter. Not sure what it was, but I was in bed for three days. On the morning of the fourth day, I finally recovered. As is my usual practice, I crept downstairs at 5:15 a.m., turned on my coffee and said my morning prayers.
As I settled in my chair with my Bible after getting my coffee, I heard Emma padding into the dark kitchen. "Mom?"
"Yeah?" I answered.
"You're back!" she exclaimed. "For three days I have been saying, 'Mom?' and nothing. No answer. But there you are!"
Soon I made my way to the kitchen to start on breakfast and pack a few lunches. Cory came down. "Mom, you're back!" he said.
Dorothy was next to appear. "Mom, you're here! Oh, I'm so glad to see you!"
An hour later, Silas brought it home. "You're up!" he exclaimed. "While you were sick, I forgot my lunch and didn't get my homework done and everything was all wrong. Nothing was right."
Contrary to latest parenting trend, kids cannot raise themselves. They need our guidance, our love and more than ever, our presence.
But lest you moms think I do presence perfectly, let me confess: I don't. My kids will call me on my "fake laugh" when they think I am not truly listening. And I battle distraction--most recently, of course, the ever pinging iPhone.
But real presence, even if never completely perfected, is simple, yet powerful. It holds more influence than money, talent, intellect or youthful vigor. I was down for three days and my children noticed.
I am half way through this parenting journey--about to launch my sixth child (a third blog for another day), so I have been reflecting, asking myself, what is the secret sauce in raising kids?
If I have to narrow it down to just one thing? Presence. That's it. Just being around, available, awake.
Nothing can compare to it. Nothing can replace it.