Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Testing

If you've heard more than 5 sermons in your life, you've probably heard the orange analogy.  When you squeeze and orange, of course orange juice comes out.  When you squeeze a Christian, Christ should come out.  There are many areas in my life that, when pressed, produce beautiful things like trust and faith and love.  But being a mother has put pressure on me in a different way, and and when I'm pressed I wish that patience and kindness and gentleness and self-control is what came out.  More often than not I see the exact opposite flow forth.

I am an emotional person, and I know that's how God made me.  The wonderful benefit is that I empathize without trying, love deeply, and have a unique understanding of my heavenly father's big soft heart.  The downside is that I tend to view everything through the lens of how I'm feeling at any given moment and lead with my emotions.  My head is full of drama.

So many times I've had to put Isabella down and walk out of the room feeling completely overcome with emotion, adrenaline pumping through my system.  That fight or flight thing is no joke.  Every parent has had this kind of moment, I just feel like I have an inordinate amount of them, and I just don't know how to step back and settle.  I have lots of good ideas now, but they all disappear when I'm caught in the moment, baby screaming uncontrollably in the back of the car while I'm stuck in traffic and can do nothing else but yell and cry and beat my dashboard.  Not that I've ever done that.

A dear friend was telling me today that sometimes God continues to give us circumstances that push us until we are able to overcome them.  We encounter the same challenge again and again precisely because it's such a issue for us.  For her, it's money and the ability to trust in God's provision.  For me, it's a hot temper and the ability to find my peace in Him.  Here's the thing- God is merciful to us.  He never gives us an "F" on a test... He simply allows us to retake it.  Again and again and again.  As many times as it takes to truly understand the material.

I feel like I've been taking the same test every day for the last 10 months.  How do I pass it?  Next time I feel the wave of adrenaline rushing towards me, how do I get on top of it instead of sucked under it?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

On Shaving My Head

About 4 months ago, I shaved my head.  I had long curly hair at the time, and shaved it clean off, to about an eighth of an inch long.  A friend who had recently done the same thing told me, "if it's really in your heart to do this, you won't regret it for a second."  And I haven't.  I give the same advice to everyone who asks me about it, or says wistfully, "It looks great on you, but I could never pull that off."
long red hair- shortly before I cut it off 
When people asked me why I did it, I had a standard answer.  Isabella is always pulling my hair, I don't have time to shower every day so it looks nice, this is easier and faster, I haven't seen my natural color in 10 years.  Which is all true, but I was motivated by something much deeper.

When Izzy was tiny, I would read to her while she nursed.  One book I chose (because it was the only book I could reach on my sister's bookcase from where I was sitting): Captivating- Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul by Stasi Eldredge (the partner book to Wild At Heart).  I had avoided this book for years because everyone and their mom has done a bible study on it but, for lack of any other options, cracked the spine and started reading.  I was hooked after the first chapter.

As I read, God did a massive work in my heart.  He began to show me that, because of my history of sexual abuse, my view of femininity was incredibly distorted.  I've always equated sexuality with femininity.  I've thought of beauty as something dangerous.  Thus, I've spent most of my life alternately giving the middle finger to anything stereotypically feminine and secretly desiring being objectified.  I've written diatribes on this blog about being catcalled at while at the same feeling in my heart of hearts validated by the behavior.

My hair has always been an expression of this confusion over my femininity.  Most people who know me would say that I don't care what anyone thinks of me, that I'm a nonconformist and that I do whatever I want, societal expectations be damned.  But everything I've done with my hair has been in hopes that I would be perceived a certain way- it's been every color under the sun, long and short and straight and curly and everything in between.  I was desperate for someone to tell me who I was.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with expressing yourself with your hair- it's fun- but I did it to make myself into a certain person.  I've been goth and emo and punk and hippie and pin-up and flapper and although it often does change the way people perceive me, it hasn't helped me accept myself.

Stephen cutting my hair before
we taking clippers to it
So when I shaved my head, I started fresh.  I cut off all of my striving, all of my needing other people to tell me who to be.  And I'll never forget the way I felt when I looked at myself in the mirror for the first time, curly locks laying around my feet.  I felt beautiful- really beautiful- for the first time in my entire life.  I felt settled, comfortable in my own skin, imperfections and all.  Suddenly the things I dreamed of doing seemed possible.  Suddenly I felt comfortable in any situation, sure of myself, and not desiring validation from anyone.

It seems counterintuitive to get rid of one of the things society tells women they need in order to realize your worth and power and beauty as a woman, but isn't that just how God works?

Me with 9 month old Isabella

Saturday, October 29, 2011

On Double Standards

I don't like to talk politics for two reasons.  First, it's just not something I'm super passionate about.  There are many other things I'd prefer to discuss.  Secondly, most of my friends are conservative republicans, and while I describe myself as unaffiliated, I tend to lean to the left.  Sharing my political views has often made me the recipient of scorn, anger, and rejection.  And there are many other things I'd prefer to do than get yelled at because I buy into the whole global warming scam, or whatever.

Today I saw this car parked in a parking lot.

Bumper stickers from left to right read:
"fuck your tea party"
"Your prejudice is your own.  Don't blame God."
"GOD is NOT a republican"
"Focus on your own family"
"When do I get to vote on YOUR marriage?"

My point here isn't to talk about each individual issue.  What stood out to me was the overarching theme and the hypocrisy that's regarded as acceptable so long as it's directed at a certain group.

I couldn't help but put myself in this person's position and wonder why they feel this way, wonder what he or she might be thinking.   "How dare you tell me how to live my life or try to force your values on my family.  How dare you tell me that your way is better, that it's the only way.  How dare you tell me how lost I am."  I get it.  But at the same time they seem to be saying some of the same things.  "Your way is wrong.  My way is right."  Offering up the reminder, "judge not lest ye be judged" while in the same breath saying "fuck anyone who challenges my point of view," as our Hyundai Sonata puts it.

What a double standard.  And I'm not just talking about the left or the non-religious, I hear this attitude from conservatives and religious people all the time.  It's easy to talk about love and tolerance and an open discussion until you're confronted by the people that you feel hated by, and then it's ok to retaliate in kind.  But that just doesn't work.

I'm not saying people shouldn't stand up for their rights and values and what they believe in.  I'm not saying they don't have every right to voice their opinions.  But there's a big difference between respectful political discourse (even when only one party is respectful) and retaliating against those who challenge you.  Look at how Martin Luther King, Jr. did it.  Look at how Ghandi did it.  Look at how Jesus did it.  And then explain why fighting hate with more hate is a better way.

Remember Westboro Baptist Church?  God, I look forward to the day that no one remembers who they are.  I won't post any pictures of their signs, you can google them if you have to.  Anyway, I remember seeing a news spot about a gay and lesbian rights group that set up a booth across the street from where Westboro was picketing, and they were taking donations to support their cause.  I'll never forget the guy they interviewed- not just his words but the tone of his voice, the look on his face.  It wasn't hatred, or anger, neither was it submission or shame.  He didn't have an unkind word to say about the people who were shouting in the background, he just explained that he was trying to make good out of an ugly situation.  He decided to fight hate with peace, and his organization raised an absurd amount of money that day.

No matter what you believe in, you won't get anywhere with mere words.  It's time to start backing them up with actions.  Don't want to be judged?  Believe everyone has a right to their opinion?  Think everyone has equal value?  Then live it yourself, even- no, especially- when it's not easy.  As I stated in my last post, the times it's hardest to stick to your values are the times it's most important.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

On My Worst Moments

I love being a mom.  I really do, but I didn't at first.  I really struggled for the first 6 months to find an inner peace, a steady place every day, and I often felt overwhelmed and unhappy.  I watched other moms cope with the challenges of a new baby, watched them adapt beautifully (or at least appear to) and wondered, "why is this so hard for me?"  I've always felt somehow lacking as a woman and for months, motherhood was another confirmation of my feminine inferiority.  I felt guilty every time someone said to me, "Isn't it fun?" or "Don't you love it?" and answered a meek "oh, yeah" but inside felt a resounding "NO!"  I finally decided to drop my pride, ask for help, and be authentic with the people who love me.  I received in return many listening ears, much understanding, and plenty of support.

The last few months have been vastly more enjoyable, ever better and better.  I'm finally feeling that I'm a competent mother, able to handle the many and varied challenges, able to adapt.

I practice what I've been calling "intentional parenting."  It's the same way I treat Stephen.  We've always believed in being intentional with one another, never doing or saying anything casually or thoughtlessly or out of routine, quick to repent when we do, talking about everything, and I'm happy to say it's given us a rock solid marriage.  I suppose I could call it "intentional relating" just as easily; it simply means I approach every day and every interaction with purpose.

I wake up every morning with the higher calling of not only meeting Isabella's basic needs- feeding her, clothing her, keeping her safe- but sowing into her heart and spirit the messages and values that Stephen and I have determined are most important.

That she is abundantly loved, of exceptional worth, and highly honored.

That we deeply value her heart, needs, desires, thoughts, and emotions.

That she is strong, beautiful, tender, intelligent, powerful, bold, and capable of doing absolutely anything she sets her mind to.

That Stephen and I are a safe place for her to run to when she's unsure.

That we deeply value our relationship with her.

I try to give my daughter more than the minimum.  I try to pour everything I have into her, and I truly love doing it.  The things I set aside for her benefit are not even worth mentioning, because she's worth my time and energy.

I work for this every day, and I'm covered by grace when I fail.  But at nighttime, everything that I value so much during the daylight hours seems to go out the window.  Lack of sleep is like a mental illness for me.  I'm not kidding.  I feel like I turn into a totally different person.

I don't know (nor do I particularly want to know) if this is normal, but Isabella often wakes up to nurse 3 or 4 times a night.  Even at 9 months old it's rare for her to make it longer than 5 hours at a time.  I'll usually get up and nurse her and she'll fall right back to sleep, no big deal.  But sometimes she just can't get settled back down, and no matter how many times I bounce her to sleep and set her gently in her crib and pat her back for what feels like an eternity, she just wakes back up and I lose my temper so hard I think I'll never find it again.  I would never, ever hurt my daughter but I definitely know what it feels like to kind of want to a little tiny bit, in some deep dark corner of my heart.  Instead, I slam doors and stomp around and curse like mad and get so worked up that even when Stephen finally gets her back to sleep I'm too full of adrenaline to get back to sleep.

Then as I lay awake in bed with my heart pounding feeling like a werewolf slowly returning to human form, God speaks to me in a firm but gentle voice.  He reminds me who I am, what He made me for, that I'm better than this.  He reminds me of the commitments I've made as a parent, and that I'll look back at this challenging season as a moment in time, a mere heartbeat in the journey of my child's life.  And then I remember that every nighttime waking where I respond to Isabella and don't leave her alone to cry in a dark room, I've taken another brick and cemented it into the foundation of her heart, building the knowledge that her needs are important and that Mommy and Daddy are people to be trusted.

And in the morning I apologize to Isabella and ask her forgiveness for losing my temper, for not being gentle and loving and patient with her.  I thank her for being patient with me and giving me grace.  I tell her I'm going to work on this issue in my heart and I tell her how much she means to me.  I know, she's only 9 months old... that's why it's so important I start humbling myself now, while it's still relatively easy.  We want to cultivate a culture of honor in our home, and it happens day in and day out, over time.  With humility.  With intention.

I'm slowly realizing that the moments it's hardest to honor and love are the moments it's most important to do so.  This is how character is built.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Under Pressure

I don’t know what’s gotten into Isabella over the last few days.  She’s barely napped during the day, is difficult to get to sleep in the evening, and is waking up a lot during the night.  Classic teething symptoms aside from there being no sign of teeth emerging.  Anyway, I was trying to put her down for a nap today, she was fighting it and I was getting really frustrated.

We absolutely don’t believe in letting our daughter “cry it out” but sometimes I need to take a couple minutes to regain my composure when she’s having a hard time.  So I put her down in her crib, said “I love you,” and left the room.  I sat down at the dining room table for a minute or two to take a break and tried to breathe deeply.

Isabella’s cries were getting really insistent and I decided not to push it.  If she’s really not ready for a nap, I’m not going to try to force her.  One of the things I’ve learned during the last nine months is that I can’t control my child- or anyone else- no matter how much I want to.

I went in, picked her up, and carried her out of her bedroom and into the living room.  Her room was dark so I couldn’t really see her when I picked her up, but when I got her into the light and looked at her face, I was completely horrified.

Isabella’s cheeks, chin, mouth, hands, and shirt were covered in blood.  The expression on her face was undeniable fear.  I was an absolute disaster… thankfully Stephen was home, he held her while I cleaned her off with a rag and finally managed to pry her mouth open.  The blood was coming from a cut on the inside of her upper lip- probably from her own teeth.  When I went back into her room I found that her comforter was bloody, too.

I feel wretched,  My little girl hurt herself and needed me.  She was crying for me and I couldn’t tell the difference between “I’m frustrated and tired” crying and “I’m hurt and bleeding alone in a dark room please help me” crying.  She didn’t have to wait more than 90 seconds for me… but that’s still a long time for a baby in pain.

I’m thankful she wasn’t seriously hurt, I just hate that she was scared and I didn’t come for her right away.  I hate that when I realized she was bleeding I couldn’t stop freaking out and get my head on straight and do something about it, all I saw was bright red blood all over my baby's sweet little cheeks.  I just kept saying “oh my god oh my god my little girl, I’m so sorry oh my god,” while Stephen tried to reassure me  (reassure me) that everything was ok.  And it is now... minor injury, minor incident.

But seriously... is this me as a mom under pressure?  I’m terrible at it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Taking a New Direction

I actually wrote this post on Saturday but didn't publish it till today (Monday) and of course, the sermon on Sunday was about dreaming, using Abraham as the example.  When God gave Abraham His promise, everything that Abraham did from that point on was intentional toward this dream.  God has given me a dream during the last few months so I'm going to take a cue from Abe and turn my sights in a new direction.

Dreaming can be scary.  It can be a risk.  What if my dreams don't come true?  What if I fail?  What if I get my hopes up and end up getting disappointed?  But I'm in a season of risk taking and big dreams, where God has invited me to dream with Him- not just to dream His dreams for me, but to dream my own dreams for myself.

If allowing yourself to dream is risky, then certainly sharing your dreams with others is the most dangerous thing you can do.  Then, if I fail, I fail publicly.  By sharing my dreams, I am acknowledging them.  By sharing my dreams, I'm making myself accountable for them.  By sharing my dreams, I'm making myself vulnerable.  By sharing my dreams, I'm making them more real.

But I've decided it's time to share one of my dreams... a dream that's so close to my heart that I was barely able to whisper it to myself for months, that I've only just begun to have the courage to speak about to my most trusted friends.

I've decided I want to be a midwife.  Not just I want to... I have to.  I need to.  I know this is a calling on my life and nothing will stand in my way to get there.

I'm still surprised by this dream.  I remember, a few years ago, having a conversation with my sister-in-law Kelli.  She told me she wished she could have another baby because she thought childbirth was so magical and amazing and powerful and she loved it so much.  She told me all about the birthing suite she'd wanted that had a tub and a birth ball and all kinds of weird birthing equipment in it.  I remember thinking, "Good Lord... this woman is crazypants."  I maintained that when (if ever) I had a baby, I wanted them to knock me out so I could just wake up and have a baby in my arms.  Because childbirth is hard and it's gross and I'm not going to do it.

Nearly 4 years later, I was blessed to have a drug free waterbirth with Isabella (joyfully attended by Kelli)... how far I've come.  It's amazing how much your perspective can change through a little education.  I've always been the kind of person that hates being to be told what to do, hates doing what everyone else is doing, and if you try to say I can't do something I'm damn straight going to do exactly that, so when I became pregnant and learned that the way you're "supposed" to have a baby is strapped to a bed in a hospital, hooked up to drugs, with nurses and doctors telling you what to do, and a 30% chance of a cesarean, I said hell no, there's got to be another way, and immediately began researching.

I discovered a whole world where pregnancy and labor aren't viewed as conditions to be treated, but a normal and healthy part of a woman's life; where the woman has control over her care; where parents are educated about labor and delivery.  The midwives I met with took all the time I needed at every appointment, they made sure I fully understood all of my options and everything that was happening in my body and soul.  I felt personally invested in.  By my last postnatal checkup I was ready to have another baby just because I didn't want to say goodbye to the amazing nurses and nurse-widwives who had cared for me for nearly a year.

My passion for the midwifery model of care has only grown.  When I'm around pregnant women, I have to restrain myself from drowning them with information, and when I have an open door to share about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding... I leap through it.  Right now, writing this article, I'm holding back... I could write and write and write.  I just love this world.  I had an incredible experience and I deeply desire to bring other women into the same understanding and joy that my midwives were able to lead me to.

The thing is... I want to be a certified nurse-midwife. That's a Bachelor's Degree in nursing (4 years) and a Master's in Midwifery (2 years).  We're talking 6 years minimum of schooling... and I have a child.  I'll definitely have more.  Obviously I'm not going to school full-time, at least not right away, and I would be surprised if I finish in 10 years.  The idea of ten years of schooling is profoundly intimidating to me.  By that time I'll be 36.

My dear friend Annie put it in perspective for me: "The fact is, you're going to be 36 one way or another.  Would you rather be 36 and done -or almost done- with your degree, or 36 and wishing you had started?"  It's not like 36 is old... it just feels like a long time from now.  It sounds like a lot of work, being a wife and a mom and a student.  But I've set my mind on it.  I'm sharing it you-with whoever felt like reading this post- and I'm going to do it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Defining Moments

I vividly remember my last birthday party.  I was in 4th or 5th grade.

I had excitedly prepared for the day... invited all my friends, received RSVPs, planned games, picked out favors and decorations and snacks.  I even hand-made little place tags for each friend we were expecting.  And then, no one came.  Well, I think 1 or 2 people came, out of 10 or more that said they would be there.  I have this very clear memory of sitting at the table on our back porch surrounded by empty place settings and streamers, looking at the names I had written and decorated on each of those stupid place tags.  I vowed to never have another birthday party.  It was 15 years ago, but every time I think about it, it still burns the way it did that day.  It was a defining moment in my life.

Since then I've had many more situations that seemed to confirm what I felt the day of the failed birthday party: people don't actually like me.  In junior high I had another defining moment.  My best friend told me she needed to take a week-long break from our friendship.  Our group of friends were informed of the break and everyone decided to hang with her, so for a week I sat alone on the bus, alone at lunch, alone in class.  If you knew me in junior high you know I was already a weird kid, but my friends were weird too, so it was ok.  Now I was weird and alone.

In high school I embraced my new identity and purposefully isolated myself... but that's a subject worthy of several independent posts.  The point is, since the birthday party, I've had this crippling lack of self-esteem.  I've always seen myself as this awkward, unlikable person.  Even now, as an adult, I have an idea in the back of my mind that while I may exchange pleasantries and small talk with my peers, people mostly tolerate me.  They talk to me when I'm around but no one really cares.  It makes me terrified to reach out to people.  It's exactly why I've always been so guarded, so eager to show everyone that I don't need them, and, consequently, how I learned to be such a good listener (by turning conversations away from myself).

Last week, Thursday, was my 26th birthday.  Early in the week I was on facebook looking at pictures from a friend's recent surprise birthday party.  I thought to myself, "No one has ever thrown me a surprise party.  Of course, no one ever will."

Stephen told me to get dressed up for a fancy birthday dinner Friday night.  We were to swing by a friend's house because they were giving us a gift certificate to a nice restaurant.  The door opened, and standing in the living room were a large group of people... whose faces I recognized... even my sister was there.  For a second I honestly wondered whose party we had accidentally crashed.  Even after they all yelled "Surprise!" it took me 15 or 20 seconds to process the situation.  This is for me?  What?  Why?

It was a wine and cheese party, so everyone was dressed up.  I found out later that Stephen didn't remember to put the party together until the last minute, so these people had less than a week's notice and STILL came.  Because, as it turns out, I am NOT a giant inconvenience.  In a moment years and years of rejection and abandonment, both real and perceived, just broke off of me.  Literally.  Gone.

My little girl's heart was broken on a birthday, a day that is supposed to be a celebration of who I am.  And that little girl's heart was healed on a birthday.  God took this traumatic event and fully redeemed it.

I was telling Stephen all this after I'd had time to process everything, and tearfully asked him, "Did you have any idea this party would be so powerful and significant for me?"  He nodded back, started to tear up himself.  I just can't get over how amazing my husband is for doing this for me; because of him I will look back on my 26th birthday party as one of the defining moments of my life.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pride and Parenting

I was so blessed by the response to my last blog post.  It felt like a big risk hitting the "publish" button, but it was liberating and I haven't regretted it.

Several people told me that they didn't realize I was having a hard time making the many adjustments to motherhood, and although my post wasn't strictly about those adjustments but more about my own insecurities, it made me think about how these adjustments would have been so much easier if I weren't so self-concious.  Of course no one knew what a hard time I was (and sometimes still am) having.  I don't tell anyone.  Of course, I share things like, "I'm tired," or "You know, it's a big change," or the slightly less vague, "It's amazing how frustrated you can be with a baby in the middle of the night."

I think everyone has an unhealthy way they get validated by people that stems from their secret self-doubts.  Two of my biggest insecurities are that I'm stupid and that I'm weak, so it's incredibly important to me that people think I'm intelligent and capable of taking care of everything on my own.  Most people who know me would describe me as intelligent and strong... but being smart doesn't mean you have to know everything, and being strong doesn't mean you never need help.

The times I feel most vulnerable are when I'm admitting, "I don't know," or "I can't do it on my own."  And anyone who has ever spent any time with a baby knows you spend a lot of time saying these exact things.

It's funny how being pregnant and having a baby somehow make you public property.  People touch your pregnant belly and offer up their pregnancy and birth stories.  I finally learned to stop people and ask, "Am I going to feel encouraged by this story?  No?  Then sorry, I don't want to hear it."  Carrying around a baby is no different.  I've never gone anywhere with Isabella without having multiple strangers stop me to ask about her.  Normally it's nice stuff like, "Wow, all that hair!" and "What bright eyes!"  Sometimes, though, my response to an inane question (is she sleeping through the night?  Is she eating solid food yet?  etc.) opens a door for me to receive unsolicited parenting advice.

A few weeks ago a Home Depot employee actually followed me around the store, suggesting that I give Isabella rice cereal before bed because she'll sleep all night.  The other day an older lady that goes to my church told me that if Izzy bites while nursing, to flick her foot.  ("It just shocks them!")  And I can't tell you how many people have suggested some form of "sleep training" to cause my little girl to nap on my schedule and sleep through the night.  Well-meaning interluders, the lot of them, but we have informed and specific reasons not to take much of the traditional parenting advice to heart.

I'm realizing though that my problem isn't that people are giving me advice... it's that I feel like it's necessary to tell them why I don't agree with them... essentially, how right I am, how put together I am.  It's pride, and that's all there is to it.  I could just say, "That's an interesting suggestion, thanks."  Or the more direct but still polite, "Thanks, but I'm not sure that method is for me."  People really are just trying to be helpful.  But instead I shoot people down in order to affirm that I do in fact have my shit together, and I don't need or want your advice.

Motherhood makes you the target of a constant barrage of unsolicited advice... it's not just me.  It's like this for everyone.  And I need to realize that A) it's no reflection on me personally or my capabilities as a parent, and B) listening politely to someone's suggestions doesn't mean I have to take their advice.  Maybe they can go home feeling purposeful because they were a huge help to a new mom, and I can go home and do whatever I intended to do in the first place.  And... here's the really scary one: C) Maybe... just maybe... someone out there knows more than I do about this whole baby thing, and I could learn something new if I would just listen once in a while.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bored with Base Camp

The great Mitch Hedberg (may he rest in peace) had a joke about mountain climbing.  "I want to climb a mountain- not so I can get to the top- cause I want to hang out at base camp.  That seems fun as shit.    You sleep in a colorful tent, you grow a beard, you drink hot chocolate, you walk around.  People ask you, 'Hey, you goin to the top?'  'Soon.'"  (I couldn't find audio of this joke... oh well, enjoy this compilation instead and consider this your warning that while the material is clean Mitch seasons his comedy with plenty of f-bombs.)

I feel like this is how I live my life.  Waiting for something to happen.  Wasting my time.  Making excuses.  Missing out.  Truthfully, I rarely live in the present moment.  I often find myself thinking, "Tomorrow I'll make that change, achieve that goal, deepen that friendship, pursue that dream."

I'm not sure why I'm sitting out on the fringes watching other people live.  I think it's because I'm scared.  The mountain of life can be a dangerous place.  There are real risks involved, like relationships and rejection and failure.  Being open, authentic, present, and vulnerable with people... it's just not safe.  What if they don't like me?  What if I don't fit in?  What if people see my weaknesses?  What will they think of me?  What if I share my heart and they don't care?

In order to preserve myself, I've alienated myself.  I don't reach out to people.  I don't cultivate relationships very well.  I don't share myself unless I'm asked, and even then I give little.  I don't ask for help when I need it.  As long as I live in this little bubble, I can't get hurt.  I watch people who are truly living, who are willing to share their heart and passion, people who are taking risks.  I hate watching the real mountaineers setting off up the trail because I'm intimidated by their courage and jealous of their adventure.

Since Isabella was born, I've felt especially isolated and desperately in need of a real support network... of friends who know me deeply and love me, who will celebrate the joys of life with me and help me through the tough times.  Friends that I can support and encourage in return.

Normally I would journal all of this and not tell anyone about my life changing resolutions to stop hiding, and then lose my motivation and be disappointed because I failed again.  So I guess I'm sharing all of this as a way to say, I'm picking up my pack and taking those first steps up the trail, and I could use a little companionship along the way.  Hope to see you on the mountain...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I haven't posted anything on here for quite a while.  That's because I'm very busy these days taking care of 6 month old Isabella.  And when I'm not taking care of her, I'm trying to maintain the business I've worked so hard to build.  And if there isn't writing to be done, there are the endless piles of laundry which seem to be reproducing.  And while I'm parenting, working, and cleaning, I'm finding a little bit of time here and there to take care of myself.

Much to our joy, Stephen recently got a job after 15 months of searching and waiting.  And while he still works from home and it's more flexible than most jobs, he works hard and is usually in his office all day, so I'm sort of on my own on weekdays.  It also means that a lot of the work for my business that he had been taking care of is now falling to me, and I'm feeling the added pressure.  It's been a sore spot for us lately... I feel like I work more than he does.  I'm certainly balancing more things at once than he is.  But then I realize that Stephen gets far less time with our daughter than I do, and even less time to take care of himself.

Recently Time magazine published a story about how working dads and stay at home moms work pretty equal amounts, albeit in often different ways.  But just yesterday, I read an excerpt from Think: Straight Talk For Women To Stay Smart In A Dumbed-Down World by Lisa Bloom suggesting that women should be hiring someone else to do our housework, and women who do it themselves are stuck in the 50s, and that we have "no excuse" for this ignorance.  (You can read it here.)

The suggestion that I'm an unenlightened and powerless domestic slave, or worse, oppressed by my overbearing misogynistic husband because I'm not spending our hard earned money paying someone else to do a job I could easily do myself, is simply infuriating.

Do you know why I do housework?  Because saying "I love you" in Stephen's love language means acts of service.  Popularized by author Gary Chapman, there are 5 love languages: physical touch, quality time, gifts, words of affirmation, and acts of service.  Most people find that they naturally communicate and receive love using mainly one or two of these languages.  When Stephen sees dishes in the sink and just cleans them, or brings me a cup of coffee without me asking, or voluntarily cleans up a mess that someone else made, he's showing love.  Just like when I give a giant hug or launch into a long winded soliloquy praising all your minutest qualities, I'm showing love.  Because my thing is touch and words (lots of words).

Even though our languages are a little different, we try to speak each other's language regularly.  So, although cleaning doesn't come naturally to me, and in fact goes totally against my nature, I do it because I love when Stephen emerges from his office and sees that I've vacuumed up the astonishing amount of ever accumulating dog fur, and his appreciation is obvious on his face.

I enjoy making my husband happy because I love him, and that doesn't mean that I think we should go back to the good ol' days when women couldn't vote.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

After reading a wretched blog post about motherhood, I felt totally discouraged and bummed out.  The author insists that she loves her life, though she just wants it to be "more about her."  She says she's made a living from pointing out our culture's double standards (which I agree do exist), but my guess is that writing these diatribes are mostly her way of dealing with the craziness of her life.  And I'm sure she congratulates herself on being "brutally but refreshingly honest" or some BS like that.  But who am I to talk?  My blog basically exists for the purpose of complaining as a coping mechanism.

Then I read this truly lovely post shared via a friend on facebook, and it was a breath of fresh air.  And it made me examine my own heart.

I don't love every second of motherhood.  Admittedly, there have been a lot of seconds so far that I haven't loved.  If I'm honest, I had a handful of moments (mostly during the first 6 weeks when everything blended into a hazy, sleepless fog) that I wondered, "Is there an undo button?!?"  I've had a series of identity crises as the fabric of my daily experience is transformed into something utterly unfamiliar.

But my incredible daughter is almost 5 months old now, and we've had millions of brilliant, glorious, wonderful seconds, and those far outweigh the bad ones.  I have a tendency to focus on the negative, so I have to be intentional about cherishing and remembering every beautiful moment with Isabella.

Every smile, every grin.  Every tiny sigh, every big old yawn.  Every time her eyes light up when I walk in.  Every morning that she wakes up and scoots across the bed towards me.  Every time she makes that sad little pouty face that would be funny if she wasn't being so completely serious about it.  Every time her little pudgy hands reach up to touch my face or grab my hair.  Every sweet sound she makes.  These are the things that make motherhood worth all the sacrifice- so worth it that complaining about what I'm giving up almost seems trivial.

What an honor, what a privilege it is to be a parent.  What a massive responsibility it is to care for, guide, and lead another human being into healthy adulthood.  I sometimes feel that I'm spending an inordinate amount of time managing Izzy's mood, changing diapers, and being fussed at, rather than simply enjoying her.  But she's not here simply for my enjoyment.  What I'm doing is not solving a temporary problem or trying to satiate her so I can go back to bed.

It's far more meaningful and enduring than that.  She's learning that when she has a need, it's met; her parents are trustworthy, and she is deeply valued and unconditionally loved.  Through Stephen and I, Isabella should experience the Father's abiding love, indefatigable patience, and prevailing grace.  I get to love her every day, and in return, she's teaching me how to do it better.  How dare I complain about that?

Monday, January 03, 2011

I've been pregnant for 39 weeks now.  Over the last few days I've had a handful of people pay me truly lovely compliments, and continued comments from my friends, family, and fabulous husband have helped me maintain emotional balance throughout the process.

Unfortunately, I've also gotten my share of insensitive (or just plain rude) comments along the way, as pretty much every pregnant woman has.  Here are a few things people have actually said to me, and my suggestions for how to make them sound more like the compliments I trust they were originally intended to be:

Actual Comment: "That's quite a bulge."
No.  It's really not.  A bulge is excess fat that hangs over your too-tight pants because you're trying to pretend you're still a size 8 even though you're a 12.  A belly is a sweet, gently rounded abdomen that is accommodating the miracle of life within.  A bulge is gross.  A belly is cute.  We want to have a baby belly.
Suggested Alternative: "Looks like baby is growing wonderfully!"

Actual Comment: "WOW! You must be having twins!"
Why, because I'm enormous?  Really.  Thanks.  Would you like to comment on my crazy-hormone-acne, as well?  Or how about the arm flab I just noticed the other day?  I could show you my new stretch mark, if you wanted.  I mean, as long as you're reassuring me about all my insecurities.
Suggested Alternative:  Shut up.  If your only comment on her pregnancy and upcoming bundle of joy is related to her overwhelming size, I promise, she doesn't want to hear about it.

Actual Comment: "How do you feel?"
Ok, there's nothing inherently wrong with this question.  My problem is with people who ask "How do you feel?" in the tone of voice you would use when addressing someone who just fractured their leg in six places or found out they have terminal cancer.  The woman you are speaking to is pregnant, not critically injured or ill.  Whether she's feeling great or not, she doesn't need your pity.  She could probably benefit from your encouragement, though.
Suggested Alternative: Same phrasing, but try it without projecting your bummer expectations about pregnancy on the recipient.

Actual Comment: "You'd better hurry up and have that baby!"
This was a month before my due date.  Turns out, she had me confused with another pregnant lady and thought I had passed my due date already.  An honest mistake.  However, had I been approaching 42 weeks as she'd thought, the comment probably would only have served to make me feel more pressured and anxious about the fact that I still hadn't had a baby.
Suggested Alternative: "I bet you're excited to meet your baby!"

Actual comment: "You look so big/huge/tired/fat/ready to pop!"
A growing belly is the sign of a healthy pregnancy.  We want to get bigger, and most of the preggers ladies I've met are delighted with the process.  But consider- just for a moment- how your phrasing will sound to the woman you're talking to.  As I continue to be the recipient of these kinds of comments, I'm increasingly tempted to respond with things like, "Aww, so are you!" and "You barely fit into that top!"  But I keep them to myself, and then write blog posts about them later.
Suggested Alternative: "You look so beautiful/healthy/amazing/incredible/glowing!"  (This one, using any of the suggested words or any derivation of them, is always safe.  ALWAYS.)

Actual Comment: "You're still pregnant."
Trust me on this one.  If it feels to you like she's been carrying a baby for a long time, it doesn't feel like it's been any less time to her.
Suggested Alternative: "So, when are you due?"  (Again, another one that's always safe.)

Actual Comment: "That shirt's workin hard."
Alright, this one doesn't bother me, but only because my husband says it to me.  It's a line from Juno.  We think it's funny.
Suggested Alternative: I do not recommend trying this on anyone but your best friend who has also seen Juno and liked it and would definitely remember the line.

In any conversation with a pregnant woman, carefully consider your relationship with her and your level of intimacy before saying something you can't take back.  My close friends and family can make comments and ask questions that acquaintances would never get away with.  And if you are so socially awkward that you don't know the difference between preggers small talk and asking if her nipples are weird now, maybe you shouldn't be talking to her at all.

What about you, moms and mothers-to-be?  What unbelievable or humorous-now-but-not-so-much-at-the-time comments did you receive during pregnancy?