Let’s Make a Difference

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I once knew a man.  I will call him Alex.  He lived about 15-20 minutes away from where I do now, but it’s in the direction I detour around if I have my children in the car with me.  Instead of tree lined streets and quality schools, his neighborhood was riddled with gangs and shootings and hunger and homelessness.

Alex was a kind man.  A very, very kind man.  And he was smart.  He had to have been.  He managed to make his way in the world with a reading level lower than that of my six year old.

I met Alex when I was a literacy volunteer through a local ProLiteracy chapter.  I had never really volunteered before.  Of course I had done the service excursions that were presented to me in high school and in college, but really volunteering, going out and seeking a way I could make a difference, was something I had never ventured into.  And it had really started weighing on me.

I was a college English teacher at the time, and so it made sense that any volunteering I would do would be somewhere in the realm of education.  At the time I was teaching underprepared college students, and as I worked with them over the years, I had learned just how much of our situation in life relies on the manner in which we are able to communicate.

I would walk into a classroom, and I would see my students.  I would hear them discuss difficulties they were having, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if they walked into a room or wrote a letter of complaint to get their issues taken care of that they would be glossed right over.  Their dialects weren’t those prized in our society.  Their writing didn’t bespeak high levels of education or influence.  And as such, the amount of influence they had was very little.

It’s a sad fact of our society that those who have the most comfortable situations are those who are perceived to have the most power.  While we convey power in many ways, the way we speak, write, and nonverbally communicate is one of the most obvious.

I worked with these students every day for years.  Each semester would bring in a new batch of students with the same situations and the same difficulties.  During those years of my life, that is where my heart resided.

And so when it came time to volunteer, I decided I wanted to take it one step further.  These kids could read.  They could write.  They just didn’t do either with high levels of proficiency.  But what about those who couldn’t even do that?  What about those who couldn’t write a simple letter or fill out an application or read through a document?  Those were the people I wanted to help.

And that led me to Alex.

He was a minority, and he had come from the South.  He had a tough situation growing up, and it left him with very little formal education.  This was through no fault of his own.  In fact, he had such a low level of education because at a young age he had decided to devote his time and his life to taking care of those who needed it.

And now he was in his sixties, and he finally decided that it was time to take care of himself.

We worked together weekly, and he devoted himself to learning.  But learning to read when you are 65 is much different than learning to read when you are 6.  The brain just doesn’t acquire language in the same way.  Each word was a struggle.  And when he was finally able read a sentence of four or five words, he would beam at me with pride.  He had absolutely no idea what he was reading, but he was so proud to be able to do it nonetheless.  (This is when I learned that decoding and comprehension are very, very different things.)

We worked for awhile and then unfortunately he got very ill, and our relationship changed.  Instead of working with him on reading, I was working with him on understanding his chemo protocols.  I would go with him on doctor’s appointments because the doctors did not believe he was able to comprehend the decisions that were being placed before him.  I visited him at the hospital the day after he had is colectomy.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after the surgery that we stopped meeting regularly.  The treatments were making him too sick and too tired and he had to be really careful about going out in public with his compromised immune system.

I tried multiple times over the years to get into contact with him, but I haven’t had any luck.  In my mind, he had given it his best shot, and he probably felt it was best to focus on other areas of his life.  I constantly pray that he remembers those successes and that they allow him to have some confidence in his ability.  Constantly I would remind him that education was different than intelligence.  Just because he didn’t have the former didn’t mean he didn’t have the latter.

I share this story with you because I am working with Grammarly to help spread awareness about the importance of literacy in both individual lives and in society as a whole.

For Alex, literacy was a dream that he had held since childhood.  To him, being able to read was a sign of success and intelligence and promise.  In our culture, literacy is the doorway through which we must enter in order to fully benefit from the rights and privileges afforded to us as American citizens.

And yet we know that not all people have equal access to the development of literacy.  Some children come from word rich environments.  They are read to from the moment they are conceived and they go to good schools with ample resources.  They then go home to parents who will encourage them and prompt them and believe in them.

And then there are children who go into kindergarten classrooms having never owned a book or possibly even held one.  The scant books they have in their classrooms are older than their teachers.  And their teachers are deeply passionate, but there is only so much they can do to overcome the hurdles presented to them — the violent neighborhoods, the culture of apathy, and possibly the illiterate parents.

These children are born into the same country, oftentimes the same city, and yet their lives will be so different.  If disadvantaged children fail to gain adequate levels of literacy, it will define their lives.

According to Grammarly,

  • “Low literacy affects more people that you think. About 22 percent of American adults have minimal literacy skills, which prevents them from effectively communicating. (National Center for Educational Statistics)
  • Low literacy is correlated with chronic unemployment. 50 percent of the chronically unemployed are not functionally literate, which prevents them from maintaining jobs. (Ohio Literary Resource Center)
  • Low literacy is correlated with imprisonment. 65 percent of prison inmates (or one million Americans) have low literacy. (Literacy Partners)
  • Low literacy is correlated with poverty.  43 percent of Americans with low literacy are impoverished, lacking basic reading and writing skills to help them overcome their situations. (Literacy Partners)
  • Low literacy affects the American economy. Experts estimate that low literacy costs the American economy $225 billion a year in lost productivity. Improved workplace literacy can increase employees’ efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity on the job. (Reach Higher, America)”

I read the newspaper, and I watch the news, and I look out my window, and so often things can seem so dismal.  There is war and violence and poverty and crime, and there is very little, if nothing, I can do about most of it.  But with literacy, there is something we can do.

There are many organizations out there that are looking for both volunteers and financial contributions.  Some of them like ProLiteracy work with adults and families and others like Reading is Fundamental and Reach Out and Read work on getting books and literacy information into the hands of the most vulnerable of children and their caretakers. 

Not all children have access to high quality education or libraries.  Not all children have books.  And not all children have access to adults who can or will or even know why they should read to them.  And more often than not, these children will grow up to be the adults who need our help gaining those skills so that they can live the privileges that so many of us take for granted.

I know you are all busy, but if you have some time, take a look at some of these organizations and see if there is a way that you can help them.  We invest so much in our own children.  Hopefully every now and then we can help invest in the children that most of the world has forgotten.

Disclaimer: All opinions and ideas are entirely my own.  In compensation for writing this post, Grammarly will donate money in my name to ProLiteracy.  That’s pretty awesome of them, if you ask me.  If you haven’t already, go check out the Grammarly Facebook page — it’s the perfect page for grammar nerds like yours truly.

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Good Grief

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The lights were very dim.  It was almost 3:00 in the morning, and the bright overhead lights were (thankfully) broken, so all we were left with was a small, portable lamp.  You could see shadows dancing across the walls.  It was warm in there, but I was shaking to my core, part because of the cold I felt and part out of fear.  They told me to push.  I did.  And out she came.  All 19.5 inches of her.  They held her up.  Then they put her on my chest. I started consoling her tears, so they whisked her away to the warmer saying that she needed to cry to clear her lungs.

I knew at that moment my world had changed.  What I didn’t know was that out of all of the moments that I will ever live, that one along with my first moment with my younger girls, would be the ones I would replay most frequently.

I didn’t realize that this moment when my world became suddenly larger would confuse me.  I didn’t realize that it would be the day I would gauge all others from.  As in, “how could she be walking?  That late May day seems like just yesterday.”  Or “how could she be starting first grade?  It was just moments ago that they gave her to me, her cheeks so soft that I could barely feel them?”

And yet, that is the day that changed it all.  The day that propelled me into motherhood and sent me on this journey that is more big and more real and more heartbreaking than I ever could have imagined.

They tell you that you need to grieve.  They say that there are many situations in life where grief is appropriate and that we must give ourselves space to feel it.  And honestly, I find that motherhood gives me more options for grief than any other role I have taken on.

And it’s a bittersweet grief.  It’s not the all-encompassing grief of the end of a relationship.  Instead, it’s a grieving of each step taken, never to be taken again.  Of each new leg of the journey that has passed us by.  Of each new place it has taken us and then let us off.

And it’s a grieving of ourselves as mothers too.  For each new step they take, our role changes ever so slightly.  Their needs are different, their desires are different, and so our lives are different.

And so that’s why I have felt this pain in my chest over the last few days.  First grade is hard.  It’s the first time in six years, she won’t be eating lunch with me every day.  I’m losing my nap time buddy.  For the first time ever, she will be spending more waking time away from me than with me during the week.

But it’s also a happy time.  It’s a time of new discoveries and new paths and new adventures.  Because just as each door closed changes motherhood so slightly, so does each door being opened.

And I can’t really make sense of that.  I can’t wrap my little head around all of these very big emotions that these girls bring me.  And tonight I don’t have to.  It has been a long (albeit great) day, and I am just going to wrap myself up in a blanket and watch mindless television while I let my heart and my brain take a little breather.

Because on Wednesday she starts first grade.  And not too long after that, Goose starts preschool.  And there are a million tears to be shed and a million ways they will make me proud to be their mama.  But tonight, the wounds are raw.  And I won’t fight them.  I will just let them be.

They are just a few more in the long line of a mama’s battle wounds.

Stuck in a Rut

I liked college for many reasons, really.  But one thing that I really liked about it was that you got to live with a bunch of other females of the same age and situation.  I went to a Catholic college, so the dorms were co-ed, but the floors were not.  So for each of my first two years, I lived with hundreds of other women.

One of the nice things about this is that we got to see how other people lived.  We learned how much other people study and how they organize their stuff and how they spend their days.  There was diversity and variety, and in that, there was a lot to learn.  And there was a lot to validate our choices.

Have you ever heard of that show Sister Wives?  It’s a reality show about a polygamist family.  There are four wives, one husband, and whole bunch of kids.  I try not to watch the show because a) it’s not very interesting, and b) polygamy isn’t really my cup of tea.  I actually find the whole show a bit depressing because every character on the show seems to have been run through some kind of numbing machine, and I find that demoralizing.

BUT, one thing that I can’t help but consider as I occasionally watch the show is that it would be nice to see how other women do it.  I think it would be nice to live in that close of a community with other people.  It would be nice to really see how other people do it.  To understand their inner workings.  To pit my standards against theirs and see how it all adds up.

Because there are two things I really struggle with even in the best of times, and those are inertia and standards.  Arguably two very unrelated things.

On the one hand, I have absolutely no idea what kind of standards I should have for myself.  How clean is clean enough?  Where does it become an obsession?  Where does it become a lapse or a failure?  How structured should our time be?  When do I know if I’m giving enough of myself, or too little, or too much?

And perhaps because of all of that uncertainty, I find myself seriously lacking inertia.

I’ve mentioned over the last month that I’ve been working on acceptance.  On learning to accept when I feel sad or overwhelmed or angry or frustrated.  I’m trying to learn to sit with it and learn from it rather than manically trying to punch it into the ground.  And with this inertia, it’s one area I really struggle with.

After all, the inertia obviously comes as a symptom of the anxiety and the depression.  Day after day after day, I beat myself up for the depression and the effects it has on my life.  Here, I think, is a chance to just accept it.  Accept that for now I have no motivation.

But then on the other hand, there’s the really valid argument that inertia leads to inertia, and if I could just find it within myself to do something I very well may notice that the inertia starts to drift away.  But so far, that’s not a battle I’ve been winning as of late.

And so here I sit.  Writing it out.  Considering whether or not I should actually hit the “publish” button.  After all, this isn’t really the type of depression post people usually make.  It’s not often, you read the nitty-gritty of the day to day battle with dysthymic feelings.

We people like to think that we control our behavior.  That if we know that doing the dishes will make us feel better that we will go and do the dishes.  It’s logical.  It makes sense.  But sometimes, the signals get broken and things aren’t quite that simple.  Sometimes we act in ways that are counterproductive.  And perhaps that’s what we all have in common, mood disordered or not.

Sometimes our greatest enemies aren’t out there in the world.  Sometimes they are inside.  And perhaps sometimes that’s why they are so hard to defeat.

And sometimes it would be nice to be able to see the inner workings of other people’s homes.  I don’t have a job.  I don’t have that outward validation.  I can’t see how other people spend their days.

And I know the standards I create need to be my own.  But sometimes just a little glimpse would be nice.  You know?

Weird Mom

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About six years ago, probably almost to the day, I was having the hardest time getting Magoo to nap.  I wasn’t okay with letting her cry, but I couldn’t think of anything else that would work.  I spent years (okay it was probably only days, but it felt like years) rocking her all day, just to lay her down and have her wake up.  TJ would come home from work, and I would sometimes be shaking after spending the entire day trying to get one decent nap.  At one point, I was so frustrated that I came down the stairs and threw the monitor half way across the room.  (I made sure it landed on the couch because those things are expensive.)  I was so frustrated.

And then one day she napped.  And we never looked back.  She has been a champion sleeper ever since.

She starts first grade next week, and we have been practicing not napping now all summer.  Some days she would nap, and others she wouldn’t.

We were talking over lunch today, and she said, “Too bad I still have to nap when I get home from school during the school year.”  And then I told her that no, she didn’t need to nap because school gets out much too late.  She cheered even though I know about halfway through next week, she’ll be in tears because of exhaustion.

And then it hit me.  This was the closing of a circle.  What started in her nursery in our old house all those summers ago is coming to a close next week.  A part of our experience together has come to a close.

And then I almost cried.  Because I’m a weird mommy.  Because that one little milestone just reminded me of all of the other little milestones.  And it reminded me that starting next week, I will be losing a little more of her.  She won’t be here for lunch every day.  For the first time, she will be spending more awake hours somewhere else than she will at home.

And I’m reminded that mothering can sometimes be so sad.  We spend the first weeks of their lives getting used to having someone be so thoroughly dependent upon us, and then we spend the next twenty years mourning each step they take away from us.

What Not To Say To a Depressed Person

Okay, first two disclaimers.

A) This post is about depression.  If you are suffering or have suffered from depression and you believe reading this article will make it worse, please do not read this.  Trust me, nothing I ever write is worth messing with your recovery.

B) I am not currently either moderately or severely depressed, so if you know me personally, please do not worry that I’m currently depressed.  I’m not.

There is one thing all people seem to think they know a lot about.  And that is depression.  I think, perhaps, it’s because as a culture, we tend to throw around the word carelessly.  ”I am so depressed that my favorite show was cancelled.”  And I also think it’s because depression is fairly common.  On one spectrum, there is mild or situational depression, and on the other there is severe, chronic, recurring depression.  Sometimes people are unable to understand the canyon between the two extremes in terms of symptoms, treatments, and perspectives.

Of course, depression is in the headlines because of Robin Williams’ recent tragedy, and as such, there are plenty of opinions in the comment sections of popular publications with people extolling their favorite depression salve as if depression is an easy thing to overcome.  The problem isn’t that these comments are out there.  The problem is that depressed people will read them.  And they can do serious, overwhelming harm.

So here it is, my list of things not to say to a depressed person and by extension, not to post in the comment section of any online publication.

1.  Seek God.  Pray.  If you just ask for healing, God will provide it.  Seek God.  That is awesome advice.  In any situation.  Of course, we should always be seeking God.  But to tell a depressed person to seek God implies that they are not currently doing that.  It implies their faith is lacking.  It implies their faith is faulty.   And this leads to just another reason for the depressed person to blame themselves.

The thing is that God can help.  In any situation.  But it’s often by leading us to solutions rather than by extreme Divine intervention.  We wouldn’t tell a cancer patient to just seek God and they will be healed.  We might suggest they pray for healing while continuing chemotherapy.

Go ahead and recommend prayer, but please don’t assume that this advice is enough.  If a person is seriously depressed, God often works best through the help of people trained to help in these situations.

And then go ahead and pray yourself.  Pray fervently for the relief of your loved one.

2.  Just go for a walk once a day.  Okay.  In general, this is an awesome idea.  Sunlight and exercise help as does accomplishment.  The problem with this one is that the severely depressed person cannot do this.  At all.  To suggest they just go for a walk is like telling someone else to just go climb a mountain.  The depressed person often can barely get off their couch.  A walk is monumental.  And to the depressed ears, this sounds like “You are depressed because you are lazy.  If only you weren’t lazy, you wouldn’t be depressed.”

3.  Medications are an easy way out.  People are too unwilling to put in the hard work to get better, so they rely on medications.  Ummmm no.  The thing is that there is no easy way out of depression.  It requires strength and work.  And oftentimes, it absolutely requires medication.  Some people tend to associate antidepressants with weakness, assuming that people who depend on them are too weak and complacent to try anything else.

Depression has multiple causes.  It’s a complex disorder.  There is absolutely a chemical component in many instances.  Are antidepressants for everyone?  Nope.  Is it weak to need them?  It’s not any weaker than someone with cancer needing treatment.

When you negatively comment on medications, you are dissuading people from trying sometimes the one thing that will help them.  For many people, medication is what is needed to get people to a place where that other stuff would help.  Someone could theoretically run a marathon with 100 pounds strapped on their back.  But why would they?  Remove the barrier with medication, and oftentimes people are able to crawl out.

And by the way, antidepressants aren’t “happy pills.”  I hate that phrase.  No antidepressant has made me happy.  Antidepressants level the playing field, take away our disadvantages, and give us the opportunity to be who we really are.  They don’t change our personality.  They take away all that is blocking our personality.

4.  Just focus on the positive.  Be grateful.  Focus on joy.  This is the equivalent of telling a cancer patient to get rid of the cancer cells.  Depression is an inability to focus on the positive, to be grateful, and to experience joy.  To insist that someone just do these things while they are depressed is the equivalent of telling them to will their disorder away.

Getting out of my depression a few years back was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  In many ways, it was more difficult than tampering the anxiety that I have experienced for decades longer than the depression.  It takes courage every single day to get out of bed when you know what it is you have to face all day.

And it’s not always visible.  When I was my most depressed, people would tell me how I was always such a happy, positive presence.  For most of my life, people have been telling me how laid back I seem to be.  Depression is inside.  It doesn’t always alter the outside.

Depression is complex and icky and difficult and frustrating and sometimes invisible.  The number one thing a person can do is respond with compassion.  Listen.  Don’t try to fix things.  Let the person be who they are.  Love all of them.  Even the dark parts.  And pray desperately for healing and peace.  They are out there.

The Battles We Hide

I’ve been a bit annoyed with myself over the last twenty-four hours.  After all, we don’t know celebrities.  We might think we do because of what we see of them in the press or in their work, but we don’t know them personally.  They aren’t our friends.  So why should it physically hurt when one of them passes away?

But that’s where I found myself last night.  In actual, physical pain because of the passing of Robin Williams.

I have a love/hate relationship with his work.  A love relationship in that I love it.  What better film could there be out there than Dead Poet’s Society?  It helped mold, in my own mind, the glorification of a field that I would eventually pursue, and adore, because of that glorification.

But a hate relationship in the way it made me feel things that I didn’t always necessarily want to feel.

I remember I was watching a movie with TJ, and I told him that it was painful to watch a Williams’ character get hurt. It was like watching a dog be kicked or a child’s heart be broken.  The pain bled out of his eyes and puddled onto the floor, a reflection of the frailty of the human race.

Whenever I would watch one of his movies, I would have to consciously remind myself that it was acting — it was a movie — it was fake.  To allow myself to fully live in the moment was too much.  Art was too close to life.  So I kept it at a distance.

But then when you learn of his battles and his wounds, you realize that sometimes art isn’t fake.  Sometimes it’s the only way we have to show what is real.

To me, Robin Williams represented the innocence of humanity.  The part of us that is raw and open and incredibly vulnerable.  And that vulnerability is a great gift bought at an even greater price.

And it makes me wonder — perhaps we do know celebrities more than we think we do.  Perhaps in their art, even when playing a character, we are seeing into their depths and we are feeling their pain.  Perhaps each character is just a representation of one tiny part of the soul.  A small glimpse into the magnanimity that makes up a person.

The innocence we saw cracking in the eyes of his characters taught us that innocence exists.  And I pray gives us courage to live it in our lives.  Even though it hurts.  Even though it’s painful.  Even though it’s crushing.

Surely he wasn’t perfect.  With his demons, I would surmise that he wasn’t always easy to love.  But he perfectly held up a mirror to our world and showed us what comes when the heart breaks.  Our culture will be lesser because of the loss of that mirror, but I hope its lasting reflection can teach us all to listen to the pain beneath the surface, to search out the battles that are hidden, and to protect that innocence when we find it within ourselves and within others around us.

Perhaps being a mirror was too much for one person to handle.  Perhaps the cracks from our shattered world were too much to withstand.  Perhaps empathy can sometimes crush.

Depression is a real disease.  Suicide is a real threat.  There is help.  Out of all of the lies depression feeds us, the greatest lie is that it is truth and it is real.  You don’t need to feel the hope.  You just need to convince yourself that it is possible.  Reach out and seek help.  Suicide doesn’t end pain.  It just passes it along.

National Suicide Hotline

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” Dead Poets Society

“You don’t know about true loss because it only occurs when you love something more than yourself.  I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody so much.” Good Will Hunting

” You’re only given one little spark of madness.  You mustn’t lose it.” Robin Williams

Genetics?

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I adore words.  Sometimes I’ll read the same line in a book over and over again because the way the words blend together make even an ugly truth absolutely beautiful.  I hear people complain about eloquence a lot, particularly in regards to public speech, as if using words well undermines the legitimacy of a message.  But you’ll never hear me complain about eloquence.

Between two people, words are our vehicles and our cargo.  We can’t live within another person, but with words, we can get close.  And when those words are beautiful, it just makes us enjoy the ride that much more.

Because of this, I’ve always loved song lyrics.  Songs make words and messages accessible during our waking hours.  When we can’t get lost in a book, we may be able to get lost in a song.  And when you put words to music, it allows the words to sink more deeply into us.

One of the first songs I ever fell in love with was “The Glory of Love.”  This was before I had a tape recorder (I’m dating myself here!) but whenever it would come on the radio, I would just melt.  I was a romantic from the beginning, and I loved the tale of a man defending the honor of his love.

“I am a man who will fight for your honor.  I’ll be the hero you’ve been dreaming of.  We’ll live together, knowing forever that we did it all for the glory of love.”

You can bet that as soon as I got my tape recorder, that was one of the first songs I dubbed off of the radio, and then I recorded it multiple times on the same tape so that I wouldn’t have to bother rewinding to hear it over and over again.

While I still love that song, I’ve pretty much left Peter Cetera in my past.  These days the lyrics that melt me are by James Taylor and Garth Brooks and Willie Nelson.  I no longer have a tape recorder, but you can bet that 99% of my iTunes collection goes unplayed as I repeat the same few songs ad nauseum.  After knowing me for almost fifteen years, TJ has heard the phrase, “listen to the words” probably no fewer than three thousand times.

So this is all background to the moment I experienced a couple of weeks ago.  We had spent the day swimming, and we were driving home.  We had the radio on when “All of Me” by John Legend came on.  All of a sudden, I hear Magoo, scream from the back, “Mom!  Did you hear those words?!”

And as I looked back, I saw her close her eyes as she sang out, “I love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections.”  Every time that lyric would come on, you could almost feel her melting into the lyric.  ”It’s just so beautiful,” she said.

And finally, I thought, I had found another person who truly understands the beauty in a lyric.  I had looked for thirty some years for such a person.  Little did I know that all I had to do was make her.

Please Remember

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Hi girls,

Sometimes I must say I’m sorry.  Today is one of those days.  I want to take you aside and explain things to you and assure you I can do better and promise to do better.  But while you can understand a simple “I’m sorry” at this age, the explanations will soar thankfully over your head.  Because at this age, you don’t have to concern yourself with grown up things.

But one day you will understand, and as such here it is.

I am sorry that some days Mommy gets lost.

Some days the lack of a set schedule makes me feel out of control.

Some days the lack of adult conversation makes me feel like I’m invisible.

And some days the patience required to take proper care of the hearts of three little girls is beyond my reach.

I consider it the privilege of my life to get to spend these years with you.  To know that day in and day out, I will be here with you, the constant in your little lives.  There is not a single thing I would trade my life for.  Watching you grow and change and discover brings me more joy than you could fathom.  And being the one to always be here to wipe the tears and calm the fears is an honor and a privilege and a blessing and a gift.

But despite all of the blessings and the joys, the thing I struggle with the most as a stay at home mom is the big empty room.  To me, each day feels like a big empty, open, structure-less room.  And my job each day is to fill it up.  My job is to help you find your way through the room, to fill it with stimulating activities, to help you find ways to grow, to help you find meaning, and to help you find comfort within the walls.  In the room, there are no clocks.  There are no “must do” lists.  There is no structure and no plan and no starting or finish line.  The room just is.  It’s empty.  And the only thing that can fill it is what we create.

And sometimes that room is thrilling.  It’s liberating to be free from the clocks and expectations of the world.  I love the little life we have created within the room.  It’s my home.

But sometimes those large white walls can suffocate me.  The task of being the structure for you all when I, myself, feel like I’m spinning can seem monumental and impossible.  And sometimes the only way I know to cope can seem like withdrawal.

Some days, the endless hugs might feel a bit limited.  Sometimes the deep conversations can be lacking on my part.  Some days I leave you to fill up the room and to determine the structure and the depth.  Because quite honestly, some days I just don’t have it in me.

One day you will grow up, and you will realize that all people are fallible in very real ways.  And you will learn that one of my struggles is with this — this feeling that the world spins around me way too fast and that when my world is spinning, it gets overwhelming to correctly manage all the spinning worlds that reside within your hearts.

It doesn’t usually last long.  I fight desperately against it.  But every now and then, I fall.  And I pray you retain the patience to wait it out until I stand back up.

So in the barrage of all the memories you will surely have from your childhood, I don’t ask that you forget these moments when I fall down, when I get tired, when my patience seems to have run away.  Those are your memories, and you are entitled to them.  But I ask that please also remember the standing up.  Please remember that though I fell frequently, I kept my eyes set on you three and as such, I was always willing to fight the fight necessary to stand back up.  That’s all any of us can do.

The Good Times

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Before I had kids, the one thing I always looked forward to doing with them was reading.  In those days, I was teaching English to underprepared college kids, and the one thing they all had in common was that they absolutely detested reading.  They hated books and newspapers and magazines and usually even the web.  They wanted absolutely nothing to do with reading, and I vowed then and there that if there was one thing I was going to try to pass on to my kids, it was a love of reading.

The good news is that kids are naturally drawn to books, so my kids, like most, adore reading.  But I think I love reading with them even more.  We have finally gotten our summer reading routine down (two weeks before summer ends,) and I look forward all day to cozying up with the two big girls one by one and reading with them.  (I read with Mae throughout the day as one twenty minute session isn’t quite doable with an 18 month old whose one desire is to be free.)

Right now, Magoo and I are reading one of the Nancy Drew Clue Crew books which are the Nancy Drew books for littler kids.  Normally, Magoo is a fast reader and we can get through a chapter book in two or three days.  This book, however, will probably take us until October because after every.single.sentence she cracks up laughing, falls off the bed, and has to tell a story about whatever happened in that line.  Tonight we read for almost half an hour and got through about four pages.  That’s fine with me though.  Her laughter and our conversation is many times more priceless than the plot line of the story.  Usually she insists on reading to me, and that’s nice.  After a long day, I can lay back, close my eyes, and listen to her sweet voice.

But it’s Goosie who is actually completely impressing me these days.  Magoo started reading about a month younger than Goosie is now, and I just always assumed Goose would read later because her personality is so much different.  Magoo used to always ask me what sounds the letters make.  If I ask Goosie what the letter P says, she’ll say “P!  Magoo, Mommy said pee.  Ewwww.  Mommy pee!”  Yea, I wasn’t expected an early reader there.

But then I introduced her to the Leapfrog letter song a couple of weeks ago, and now she knows most of her consonant and some vowel sounds.  On a whim, I grabbed one of our BOB books (those awesome plot driven books that go along the lines of “Matt sat.  Sam sat.  Matt sat on Sam.) and with some help, she has been able to read them.

This is by far one of my biggest joys.  Magoo learned to read in secret.  I would try to get her to read to me, but she would only do a word or two with me.  I think she was too afraid of getting stuff wrong.  She taught herself with a chapter book that she would just read over and over, and all of a sudden, a month later, she knew how to read.  I still don’t know how she did it.

But with Goose, every sounded out word is cause for a HUGE celebration.  We’ll sound out the word, “Sam,” and then we spend the next five minutes cheering and high fiving and screaming.  Right as she’s about to sound out the word, she looks at me out of the corner of her eye, and through dancing eyes, she’ll scream out the word.  She needs a lot of help, but now that she has started, I don’t think there’s any going back.  She insists on “reading” all of the books to me now.  Which hey — once again, it lets me sit back and listen, and I get to hear her little three year old interpretations of the pictures.

I always feel guilty about the amount I read with my kids.  If I had it my way, I would read with each of them alone for a minimum of thirty minutes a day.  But that’s an hour and a half, and a lot of times, I just can’t find that much time.  I figure it’s okay because they all read (at varying levels) for hours a day.  But still… I always wish I had more to give.

But then nights like tonight happen.  It had been a long day and we had to go grocery shopping after picking TJ up from the train which meant it was a really late dinner.  But then I had these gems.  And I want to wrap all three of them up and keep them this way forever.

Even though Goosie screams at the top of her lungs the entire time we are in the car because there is a fly we can’t get out.

Even though Magoo’s “why”s are no longer requests for information and are now arguments against my decisions.

Even though Mae spends the entire day trying to climb up on my kitchen table to eat our shamrock plant.

Even though it’s exhausting and all-consuming and sometimes lonely,

Even through all of that, there is glory.

Blessed, holy, gentle glory.

Extraordinary Ordinary

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I took a class on Vietnam War lit during one of my last semesters of grad school.  It was a special topics class that I don’t believe was offered all that frequently.  It was taught by an incredibly kind man who had spent time enlisted in Vietnam.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed up for the class, but I surely got more out of it than I ever expected.  Actually, I would say out of 6.5 years of higher education, it was the class that changed my view of the world most dramatically.  It reintroduced me to my ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust.  It made me questions concepts in new ways.  I still find myself mulling over those questions every time I watch the news or read about world events.

What possibly struck me most was a single phrase often repeated throughout the course, first penned by Tim O’Brien.  ”You don’t have to have been in Nam to be in Nam.”

At the time I wasn’t sure what to make of the phrase.  I was young and innocent, and I had spent my entire life in academia surrounded by people who were pretty much just like me.  I wasn’t without my issues, but I had yet to face any of them.  They were still buried deep.  I didn’t quite know they were there.

But that phrase came back to me when I read this article today by Glennon Melton of Momastery.  You probably remember me mentioning her blog about half a million times.  She is who I want to be when I grow up… even though I believe she’s one or two years younger than me.

Melton writes about a lot on her blog — her faith, her children, her struggles, her past history of bulimia and addiction and alcoholism.  She writes about her abortion.

I’ve never been an alcoholic.  I’ve never been a drug addict.  I’ve never had an unwanted pregnancy or had an abortion.  And yet what she writes speaks directly to my heart.  It validates every struggle I find myself wading through day after day.

And it’s all because you don’t have to have been in Nam to be in Nam.

We all have our struggles.  We all have our demons.  We all have the wales that have swallowed us whole, and we are all screaming to get out of them.  Each of us is different.  We have different histories and circumstances and trials, but what unites us is the battle.

Perhaps we all find happiness is different ways.  We relax differently; we celebrate for different reasons; we soldier on for our own private victories.  And yet our pain hurts the same.  Our struggles all confine us in ways that can unite us.

The hardest posts for me to write are the ones where I speak of struggles.  Actually, the writing is easy.  Those words flow out of me because they aren’t art to me — they are just the inner dialogue of my consciousness.  It’s the sharing that’s hard.  It makes me feel self-obsessed and self-centered.  It makes me feel frivolous for sending my struggles out into the world.  It makes me incredibly self-conscious, and I almost nearly always wish I could immediately unpublish them, but I know that would do no good because they have already been sent out into the world.

But almost without exception, I will get emails back from people who share their struggles with me.  Sometimes the struggles will sound the same and sometimes they will sound different, but they always feel the same.  And it’s because it’s our ordinary, our everyday struggles that become extraordinary when we share them with people.  It’s in the sharing of the stories that connection is made.  It’s where holiness resides.

I still keep a lot to myself.  We all do.  Whether it’s from fear of judgment or condemnation.  Or whether it’s that we fear we are making more of our struggles than we should, we all guard parts of ourselves.  It’s human nature.

But it’s when we are willing to share those stories that they can become something so much more.

I don’t write because I’m good at it.  I don’t particularly believe that I’m good at it.  I write because it’s the only way I know how to make sense of my struggles.  I struggle daily with my issues.  The depression waxes and wanes.  The anxiety doesn’t like to wane so much.  The obsessiveness is always right there whispering in my ear.  Those are my demons.  My cross.  And when I sit here fighting them so incredibly hard, and I feel like I’m losing the battle, I ask God, “why?  why me?”  And the only answer I can come up with is because I can share them.  I can reach out into the world and I can say, “This is me.  These are my struggles.  This is my pain.”  And I can hit send.  And then I can pray that someone out there will hear my words and will feel slightly less alone in this big old world of ours.

And it makes me wonder what your stories are.  What is your Nam?  What is the war you are fighting today?  You have every right to keep it locked safe inside your heart.  But amazing things happen when you share it.  It becomes holy.

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