July Photo Dump

I have really been at an utter loss for words lately.  Strange.  Anyway, here are some photos I’ve been meaning to post.

Frozen Blueberries

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Crochet new baby gifts (washcloths)

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I love how this photo came out.  My lens was really foggy because it was so hot outside.  

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Independence Day

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Little Miss Hannigan

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Because we always need to pose…

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My little Bugs

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Should is a Shovel

I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with the word, “should.”  As for me, should and I walk hand in hand.  Seemingly every corner I turn, there she is, rearing her innocent seeming head.

The word “should,” seems like a helpful word.  It keeps us on track.  It tells us what the next best move is.  It tells us what we ought to expect from others.  It notifies us of our errors so we don’t make them again.

It’s so ingrained in our vocabulary and in our psychological make up that it can be hard to even notice when it’s there.  It’s like your toe.  You don’t know it’s there until you try to walk on it and suddenly everything feels different.

It’s a good word.  It keeps us on the straight and narrow.  It helps us live up to our own and others’ expectations of us.

Or is it?

Recently I have been reading a book about acceptance.  In my mind, it was always a dirty word.  Right up there with lazy and complacent.  Nope.  You would never find me practicing acceptance, and you can sure bet that I would have been proud of that.  Until I started reading this book.

Because does acceptance really stop us from moving forward?  Do shoulds really stop of from erring?

For me, should has a few manifestations.

Things shouldn’t be this way.  That leads me to psychologically fight against whatever truth is out there.  It convinces me to fight in my mind against what is rather than find a solution.

She shouldn’t have done that.  This one just leads me to anger.  I’m not an angry person by nature, but even I get caught up in this at times.  If I’m fighting against what he or she should have done, then I can never get on my way to accepting what they did and learn to forgive.

I should do xyz today.  This one sounds innocuous enough.  It just gives me a game plan for the day.  But when the word “should,” is there, my motivation slips away.  The pressure mounds.  I feel a moral imperative to accomplish something.  The weight of that suffocates me.

You should have done xyz.  Folks, this is it for me.  This is the “should” that lives in the back of my brain, whispering to me incessantly.  This is the “should” that I hold most dearly to because it convinces me that if I let her go, then I will have failed to pay the consequences for my sin and I will be let off the hook too easily.  This is the one that convinces me that grand punishments must accompany any error.  This is the one that leaves me so stuck in the failures (perceived or real) of my past that I cannot move forward and find a solution to the present.  This is the one that owns me.  This is my shovel.  It digs my hole and then it pours the dirt on top of my head, leaving me to suffocate in a world of what should have been.

I’ve known this off an on briefly for a period of years, but these shoulds really get stuck in our psyche.  They can seem impossible to get out from under.  And that’s where this acceptance book comes in.  The books talks about simply accepting what is.  Wholeheartedly embrace it.  This is what is.  No amount of psychological trickery is going to change that.

It is.

The past happened.

Yesterday happened.

An hour ago happened.

He did that.

She will do that.

I want to do this.

I feel like that.

No one in the history of the world has been able to change this one simple fact — what was cannot be changed.

And I’ve noticed a change in myself.  Whenever I accept things as they are, I actually feel as if I might float up to the clouds.  My mind is free; my chest feels light; tears come to my eyes.

Because it hasn’t been until recently that I realized just how anxious I really still am.  I’ve gotten control over the obsessive thoughts.  They come back every now and again, but we are no longer best buds.  And so I thought I was anxiety free.  But then I started to notice the other anxiety.  The constant tension.  The constant gritting of my teeth.  The tight shoulders.  The brief, shallow breathing.  And I realized that I still do carry a fairly significant amount of anxiety within me.  It just doesn’t feel like it because years of extreme tension threw my internal barometer all off track.

But when I remind myself to simply accept, all of that fades away.  It is very brief.  After all I am just learning.  But still, it is significant.

If I accept whatever it is that comes into my pretty little brain, I feel free for this first time in my remembrance.  I feel okay to be myself in all of my different moods and whimsies and manifestations.

If I’m angry.  If I’m tense.  If I’m fearful.  If I’m sad.  If I’m irritated.  If I’m jealous.  If I’m apprehensive.  If I’m grieving.  All of those feelings that I feared and that I believed were unacceptable…

I learned that if I accepted they were there, then I could be free from them and I could be free to be me.

And when we are free to accept, we are finally free to change.

And that’s the paradox.  It’s not until we accept that something is that we can finally change it.

So I go into my kitchen and I see dirty dishes.  Instantly my mind goes to, “You are such a lazy home maker.  You should be ashamed of your house.  You should have done those dishes an hour ago.  This is a disgrace.  You are a failure.  You are failing your husband, your children, yourself.”  And on and on.  Really, that is fairly mild.  Usually in my mind I go to places where I believe I should be locked up and my kids taken away from me all because of a sink full of dishes.  But I’ll shield you from the really dysfunctional parts of my brain.

And so when I think all of those thoughts, and the shoulds are digging me my hole, I can’t do the dishes.  I can’t fix anything.  Because I’m so busy trying to get out from under the weight of my thinking that my body is paralyzed.  The present isn’t my own.  The future isn’t my own.  I am chained and tethered to the past alone.

But if instead I say, “I want the dishes done.”  All of a sudden there is no guilt.  There is no shame.  I can say, “The dishes are dirty.  I don’t like this.”  That’s okay.  It’s fine.  That’s how it is.

The trick is in the okay.

And as I write this, I realize that I might be writing to tons of you out there who have no idea what I’m talking about.  Maybe to you dishes are dishes and laundry is laundry and uncut lawn is an uncut lawn.  But maybe there’s one or two out there who do know what I mean.  And that’s why I write.

Sometimes it feels silly to sit here and share my struggles with all of you, stranger and acquaintance and friend.  Why would someone possibly share all of their thoughts and send them out in the world to receive judgment?

And my answer is because before me other people did.  And I read those stories.  And I heard myself in those stories.  And they made me feel less alone in a world that can seem very, very lonely at times.

So I’ll sit here and share my dirty laundry (literal and figurative) because somewhere out there, some one has the same struggle.  I have to believe that.  And I do believe that.  Because you have told me.

God bless you all.

And please.  Please put away your shovels.

Big Feelings

I’ve always gotten the feeling that people believe I’m too sensitive.  That I get upset too easily.  That my emotions are perhaps a bit too strong.

I don’t know whether this is true or not.  I don’t know if I’m more sensitive than most people because I don’t know what it’s like to be most people.  I only know what it’s like to be myself.

I know sometimes the world seems to be a bit too loud.  Sometimes it’s actual auditory loudness — too much screaming, too many sirens, too much media.  I can’t have that.  I need some quiet.  But more what I’m talking about is that emotionally the world is too loud.  Out there there is too much pain and there is too much suffering and sometimes it even feels like there’s too much joy.  It’s just too much sometimes to take in.  Sometimes I wish I could turn off that part of me that feels all of those things that are out there.  But then I wonder if that wouldn’t be an overwhelming sadness in itself.

But then there are also all of the feelings that aren’t out there — the ones that are here, inside of me.  And those are the loudest of the all.  Sometimes they are so loud, they almost seem to leave me deaf to everything that is going on around me.  They lock me up into a prison inside of myself, and I am left utterly unable to see or hear or experience anything that is going on around me.

Today we were sitting in the back of church.  We weren’t late, but we got there just as mass was starting, so we ended up in the back.  That turned out to be a good thing because my little two were very much today.  Mae kept talking.  Loudly.  And laughing and wiggling and occasionally crying.  And Goosie was trying to be good.  She didn’t “talk” once.  Instead she whispered.  Very loudly and very frequently.  And she kept dropping quarters very loudly.  And saying she needed to go to the bathroom.  And whether or not the people behind us were annoyed with this display or weren’t even aware it was going on I felt their eyes drilling into me.

I kept hearing all of the judgments.

You can’t keep your kids under control.

You shouldn’t bring them if they can’t behave.

You are incompetent as a mother.

And then there were the accusations that I had been heaping on myself.  I worked hard to get the kids dressed and looking cute.  TJ has plenty of work clothes that he can just sift through to find something to wear.  And I look disheveled as always.  I spend all my time making everyone else look presentable, and I look like I had just woken up.

And that’s the loudness that comes crashing down and rings all around me pretty much constantly — the overwhelming, deafening sound of invisibility.  Of having these feelings that no one hears.  Of having these needs that go unmet.  Of constantly being the answer to other people’s questions without having the opportunity to ask my own of myself.

And there, in that back pew in the middle of church, I started to crumble.  The tears started to flow.  I started shaking.  My head was spinning in a million different directions, and my eyes stopped perceiving everything that was around me.  Suddenly, I felt just how acutely invisible I was and yet how so strongly my feelings wanted to be let out.  How I wanted to scream, “Here I am.  I am a person too.  I am real.”

And this happens over and over again and I sink further and further into invisibility.  I look around, and I see that I do no more than anybody else.  I probably do less than other people.  I see all of my weaknesses.  I see every time I choose ease over difficulty.  I see every mistake.  Every thing I have ever let slide just to have a moment of peace.  And I tell myself that I don’t have a right to these feelings.  I don’t have a right to feel invisible.  Because I haven’t made myself invisible enough.

I guess that’s the loudest of all of the sounds.  The one coming from my own brain that says if I could just fade away enough, if I could just hide my needs enough, if I could just stop feeling enough, then perhaps one day I will be enough.

And that’s the battle.  That’s the battle when you devote your life to care taking.  How much is enough, how much is too little, and how much is too much?  How do you know where you stop and another begins?  How do you make space for the spirit that is you while still making space for all the very real needs of all of the others?  How do you know when you are taking too much?  Because everyone else will always tell you that you are taking too much.

Sometimes it just feels like taking time for myself feels like an act of theft.  I feel like so much of me is owed to so many people that there’s not enough to go around.  So in order to maintain any piece of myself for myself requires me to steal it from others.

TJ lets me sleep in a lot on the weekends.  I’ll wake up when the baby wakes up, and he takes her and brings her downstairs so I can sleep a bit more.  I always feel guilty.  It’s not the sleep I need.  It’s the quiet.  It’s the reprieve from responsibilities.  I’ll lay there in bed, and I will try not to move a single muscle in my body because I feel a peace that I feel at no other time during the week.  In my mind, I know that I am stealing.  I know that I am stealing myself away from the girls, and I know that I’m stealing time away from TJ.  And I try desperately to ignore it.  I try to take that time just for myself.  And I do.

But then eventually I must awake.  And I go downstairs.  And I see all that was needed while I was away.  And I spend the day making amends for the time I had taken.

And I really don’t think any of this probably makes much sense to anyone.  It doesn’t make much sense to me.

But that feeling of invisibility can knock me down.  And sometimes writing is the only way I know how to scream.

Land of the Free

I used to like to share my humble political opinions…

Who am I kidding?  My political beliefs have never been humble.   Ever.  I have extraordinarily strong political beliefs, and for the longest time I enjoyed sharing them.  This stems from the humble belief that my beliefs are correct, and if every one just took a step back and looked at reason, they would all believe the same thing that I do.  The problem isn’t with different viewpoints.  I always thought that the problem was that other people just chose the wrong viewpoint.

Perhaps that opinion has changed, but I doubt it.  I still pretty much always think I’m right.  That’s humility at its finest folks.

But in all seriousness, I absolutely loved debating people on political issues.  If there was some big decision or election, you could bet that I was right there stating my opinion loudly and strongly.  And I loved it when people argued back.  It gave me a chance to show them the error of their ways.  I thrived on it.  Occasionally it would really annoy me, but over all, those debates made my day.

And then it stopped being fun.  Arguments were taken out of the political arena and were made personal.  People didn’t abide by the rules of civility.  People didn’t assume honest motives in the other side.  They attacked character.  At one point, someone actually leaped up from a table and started calling me horrible names before storming off.

Once the character attacks came (from people on both sides,) I stopped engaging in the arguments.  It was hard to take people seriously when they were flinging vitriol.  See, perhaps I’m silly, but if you start questioning the moral character of my opponents, I will start to question you.  After all, there’s something weak about an argument that requires mudslinging.

And so it has been probably a couple of years since I have stated my political opinions publicly.  It was a peaceful couple of years.  But then this whole Hobby Lobby situation happened, and I once again believed that if only I stated my (true) opinions clearly enough, the whole situation would be cleared up.  Everyone would read my ideas, agree that I’m right, and we would all sit around holding hands and singing songs.  Really, it would have been beautiful.

But the more I engaged in these debates, the more it became clear to me that as a society, we really have no desire to see the value in the other side.  We don’t see a need or a benefit to compromise.  We all believe we are right and the other is wrong, and I am so caught up in that mindset that it would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

The thing is that we live with other people.  And I don’t think very many people like that.

We all know our Bill of Rights (or at least the rights that matter to us.)  We know what we deserve.  We know what we want to tell Uncle Sam to bug off about.

But what about the other side?

What happens when our rights infringe on the rights of others?  What happens when their rights infringe on us?  Because that’s going to happen.  It has to happen when you live in a community.  If we all did whatever we thought we had the right to, we essentially would be living in chaos.  Centuries before we were born, people made the decision that they didn’t want to live as a bunch of solitary nomads. They saw a benefit to community.  They decided that putting aside some of their own freedoms in order to join up with other people and form something greater was worth the sacrifice.  They learned that they might not be able to take whatever they want, but it was worth it to have someone else on their side.

And they disagreed.  At one point it led to a civil war.  But more than that, there have been political debates for as long as politics has existed.  What I fear is different today is that we all see ourselves as a nation of individuals and we desperately want to protect the rights of our own individual person at the singular expense of other people and of the community as a whole.

I’m a liberal.  A very passionate liberal.  I’m not a Democrat and I don’t vote Democrat because of a couple of issues that I can’t morally support.  However I supported Hobby Lobby in the recent debacle, so perhaps it’s from that state of victory that I am writing this.  But I would like to think it’s more than that.   I would like to think that I would be willing to make sacrifices for the greater good.  That I would lay down some of my rights so that the rights of others could be heard.

Who knows.

But what I do know is that sometime about a decade ago, we stopped being a nation of people and we started to be a nation of “with us or against us.”  We separated.  Red and blue, right and left.  Us versus them.  Good versus bad.  We lost that sense of the common good, and at least as of thus far, we haven’t gotten it back yet.

I find that sad, but more than that, I find it dangerous.  A people cannot stand when they are divided at every turn.  And we can’t help but be divided when we focus more on what separates us than on what unites us.

We are a broken people.  A fractured people.  My hope is that we can find our way back and that we can find our way back on our own.  That a million different people can direct their hearts and their hopes towards a common good.  That we learn to accept personal disappointment and that we learn to sacrifice some of what we feel is important so that we can move forward together.

Right now things don’t work.  They don’t work at the national level or the local or the interpersonal level.  I think that much is pretty apparent.  Perhaps none of us can change the world or change our country, but perhaps we can change the tone of our own dialogue.  Perhaps we can try to understand before we try to defend.  Perhaps we can temper our language.  And perhaps we can seek the commonality before the differences.  And if enough people do that, perhaps we will spark some change, like a pebble hitting the ocean waves.  Perhaps it won’t do any good.  But perhaps it will.

This country was built on the premise that people have the right to govern themselves.  Let’s live up to that premise and start to lead from the bottom up.  It would be pretty remarkable if we made a difference.

Being Okay

What if deep down inside we are all really okay?

What if those insecurities we feel are bigger to us than to everyone else?  What if those faults that keep knocking us down day after day after day really aren’t what define us?

What if a bigger house or more money or thinner thighs or a new town or more education or a better job really wouldn’t make us better because we are already as good as we need to be?

I’ve spent a lot of my life around young adults — 18-23 year olds.  Before I had the kids, I spent most of my time with these bigger kids teaching them to write.  Most of them came from less than advantaged backgrounds but were trying to make the best of their situations.  I loved my job, and I loved these kids.  I loved the grit and the determination and the vulnerability.  I loved seeing the joy in their eyes when they succeeded, and even more, I loved helping wipe the doubt from their eyes as they began to realize that they could really do what they never thought they could.

These were my kids, and I was fiercely defensive of them and their abilities.

Every now and again, a special kid would come around.  A kid who didn’t seem so scattered.  A kid who didn’t look to others.  A kid who seemed centered around his or her life rather than looking towards others.  A kid who you knew would make it.  Regardless of the odds, regardless of their situation, they were going to come out just fine.

For years, I would look at these kids and wonder what their secrets were.  How were they able to maintain a center in this crazy world while all the kids around them were falling into alcohol and drugs and teenage pregnancy?

Back then, I was never able to find an answer.  But these days, slowly, I’m starting to understand.  These kids were going to be okay because they knew they were okay.  At some deep, visceral level, they believed in their worth.  They weren’t seeking release or acceptance or reassurance because they already owned it within themselves.

These kids have always been important to me because now I have my own girls, and one day they will be young adults, and they will veer towards one direction or the other, and I would like to help them towards the light.

And the more I think about this, the more I think about how I can instill that sense of being enough in my girls, I realize that most of us adults don’t have it.  We hide it better than teens; I think we have come to terms with much of it, but how many of us still struggle with being enough?

If we stripped away all we hide behind — alcohol or drugs or food or cigarettes or sex or clothes or fancy cars or perfect houses or control or perfectionism — if we stripped all of that away, what would we find?  Would we find a core that was okay or would we find a wounded soul looking for validation and hiding behind all of this crap when we cannot find it within ourselves?

What if we are all okay?  What if you are okay and I am okay?  What if our weaknesses and faults are a part of who we are?  What if they are areas for improvement but not for shame?  What if our strengths, magnificent though they may be, really can’t make us any more worthy because that worth is something we were born with, independent of absolutely anything that may occur to us or because of us in this life?

What if all of this other stuff isn’t necessary?  The living up to and the overcoming and the excelling and the hiding and the squelching and the burying?

What if you are totally and completely and perfectly okay?

I once saw a therapist who kept saying that.  ”You are okay.”

I would always look away.  It felt wrong.  It felt like words that were too big for me.  He said one day he hoped I would believe it.

What if that day could be today?

You are okay.  Say it to yourself.  Try it on.  See how it fits.  It’s truth.

You are okay.  Learn to accept it.

This Old House

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I am in love with my house.

I love my husband.  I love my children.  But I am totally and completely infatuated with my house.

Our house was built in 1880.  This brings my brain no small bit of giddiness.  When I was reading a couple of days ago about the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of World War I, I got all excited thinking that at one point, someone in this house was reading the news and learning that a world war had started.  When Magoo visited an old school house and she learned about outhouses and everything that goes with an old building, I was excited to think that our house was even older than that.  

Some nights I lie in bed wondering who else has slept in this room.  What were their dreams?  What were their disappointments?  What had they seen?  What has this house seen?

I look at the indiosyncracies and I wonder why they are there.  Why are our windows absurdly low to the ground upstairs?  Why the two attics?  Why do you have to walk through the one bedroom to get to the other?  Who decided upon the crown molding?  Was it always there?  What did the original owners do with all of the bedrooms?  Our house is anything but large, but four bedrooms is a very decent amount.

I like making things on my own.  It’s a pride thing, but it’s also a quality thing.  I don’t think I can really make anything better than a machinated process, but the act of making, the act of caring, the act of dreaming something up and then putting it together seems to me to be infinitely superior to something a machine constructed in some dirty factory where people are under paid.

But I can’t build houses.  I can almost nail a hole in the wall to hang up a picture without hurting myself.  I dug up one shovel full of dirt as TJ was tilling the ground for our veggie garden.  But that’s about the extent of my handiness in such manners.  Unless a house is to be knitted, I am the last person you would want to build it.

So since I can’t actually build my own house, the next best thing is to live in a house that somebody else did.  Now I know all houses are built by people, but these days, most houses are mass produced by corporations by people who will never live in them.  So to have my house that was built and designed by the first people who lived in it is remarkable to me.

For six months, I have walked into this house and felt giddy.  It’s probably silly to some because it is far from grand and the outside siding is really quite ugly, but to me, it is my little piece of peace.  It’s my reprieve after having years of mighty troubles in our old place.  It has been six months, and when people who I haven’t seen in awhile ask me how the new house is, I quite literally get tears in my eyes, and I don’t know how to answer because any words that come out of my mouth would be gushing.

But then Thursday happened.

TJ and I were sitting in the living room watching Hoarders when the cat walked out.  She looked a little odd, so I took a closer look, and sure enough — she had a mouse in her mouth.  Anyone who has read this blog for awhile or who has spent more than 1/8 of 1/15th of a second with me knows that I am absolutely and totally terrified of mice.  It’s a pathological phobia.  It goes far beyond human reason.

So I panicked.

TJ and the cat and the dog did their little dance that they learned oh so well at our old house and caught the little bastard, but I felt shaken to my core.  There was a mouse.  In my house.  In my new house.  In my peaceful place.  In my home.

I didn’t know what to do, so I went to bed.  And as I laid in bed, something came to me.

I can’t give up this house to those little assholes.  I pray this is the only one we have, and I do have sufficient reason to expect that.  But still.  Mice are scary.  But what is even more scary is not having a home.

I gave up my last place to them.  I let them scare me out of most of my house.  I was terrified to pick up anything off of the ground.  I wouldn’t go in my garage.  I would hide upstairs as long as I could with the girls in the morning, and when one morning as I was peacefully nursing Mae in the rocker and one came running out of TJ’s closet, I ran with my girls to a hotel.

It’s horrible feeling homeless.  We spent the majority of every day trying to find a place to waste time.  I would drop Magoo off at school and take them to a store or to the library or really anywhere other than home.  This was fine for them.  They had fun.  But I knew the truth.  I wasn’t there to give them new experiences.  I was there because I had no home base.  Nowhere to feel comfortable with.

And I absolutely will not do that again.

I’ve locked the cat up during TJ and my two hours of peace at night, and I might lock her up during the day tomorrow.  That makes me feel better.  I know she can’t bring me a treat then.

But besides that, I can’t surrender.  I can’t get afraid of my laundry room (where she found it.)  I can’t get afraid of my kitchen (which is attached to it.)  I can’t fear my basement (where I presume they would love to be if they had to be somewhere.)

Because the thing about fear is that it creeps in.  You give up one thing and then the next doesn’t seem so bad.  And the next after that seems like the natural progression.  Until your life is so absolutely tiny that you can’t even breathe in it any more.

If we find more mice, I’m sure I’ll have setbacks.  Even if we don’t, I’m sure I’ll still have some fear creep up here and there. But I owe it to myself and I owe it to the girls to stand up to those rat bastards.  (Really they are tiny field mice but to me they seem like that big rat guy in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.)

And then this evening, we were all out back.  TJ was digging in the veggie garden, and I was helping him in between running down children trying to escape into the street.  My neighbor came out and we were talking about the gardens in our yard.  She was giving me the low down on what everything was and whatnot.  Then we came to the poppy plants in our backyard.  All of a sudden her husband came over and told us the story of those poppies.

He said they had been brought over to the US from a solider in World War II.  He kept them in a sack and brought them all the way here and planted them.  Apparently some had been dug up when our house and yard were renovated before we moved in, but we still have a few.

Imagine.  Poppies brought all the way over from Germany.  During the war.  And planted here in my backyard.

That’s why I love this house.  That’s why I sit here and just daydream about everything it has seen.

It’s a quirky little house.  It’s not the White House.  It has a lot of spiders.  In order to get the AC to really cool the upstairs, we have to have it so cold down here that multiple blankets are required in the evenings.

But it’s my home.  And I love it.  And I want to do whatever it takes to hold on to that and not hand it over to an irrational phobia.

It seems impossible at times.  Most fears usually do seem impossible to get over.  But I love this home.  And I love that my daughters have a safe home as their nest.  And the greatest weapon against fear is love.

So maybe I’ll focus on that.  I’ll remember that love needs to win.  And the only way love will win is if it has me as its soldier.

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I’m also a bit in love with this stump garden in our back yard! 

That Person

Magoo has had day camp all week.  It’s at a local forest preserve, and she has been having a blast.

About half an hour before she was due to be done today, I heard a huge clap of thunder.  I instantly went into the babies’ rooms and woke them up so we could go get their sister.  Magoo has always been afraid of storms.  TJ has been working with her, and she’s getting better, but still… I knew I should be there.

Of course it took forever to get the babies going, and of course there was traffic on the way there, so it took us almost twenty minutes to get to the forest preserve.  As soon as we got there, I jumped out of the car and went to go sign her out.  I was relieved when I got up there and she looked fine.  And then we started walking to the car, and about ten steps in, I looked down to see tears rolling from underneath her baseball hat, and my heart broke a little bit.

We had to keep rushing to the car because of the rain, but as soon as we got in, she started telling me how she was so scared because of the thunder.  Luckily then she was distracted by the rag doll she had made and things were good again.

But all the way home, I kept thinking about those tears.

This isn’t the first time she seemed totally okay and then started crying when she saw me.  At the beginning of the school year, we had forgotten to return one of her school library books, so she wasn’t allowed to check out a new one.  All in school, she was able to compose herself, but when she came running towards me, she broke down, her little broken heart spilling out as tears through her eyes.

Any time this happens, my heart breaks a little bit.  After all, no one wants to see their baby upset.  But at the same time, my heart fills up as well.  Because I realize that I am that person for her.  The person who represents safety and trust and protection.  She doesn’t feel safe letting those tears flow around others.  But with me she does.  Those tears are a gift to me, nonverbal communication that shows me that I am inside the boundaries.  That I am a part of her heart.

Sometimes it gets frustrating talking to little kids all day, every day.  People always joke about how teenagers think they know everything, but one hour with a 6 year old will show you that the know-it-all phase starts way earlier than thirteen.  Dozens upon dozens of times a day, I hear the phrase, “Actually Mom…” as she sets off to point out the error of my ways. I try to explain to people how this is frustrating, but no one else sees it.  Even TJ doesn’t get the “Actually…” line as much as I do.

But I realize that it’s two ends to the same coin.  The same relationship that allows her the space to share her tears with me, allows her the space to share her anger or frustration with me.  It’s a letting down of barriers; a relaxation of boundaries.

I’ve mentioned on here before Momastery’s notion of chronos and kairos time with regards to motherhood.  Chronos time is the every day time, the mundane in and out and in and out that takes up most of our days.  But kairos time is God’s time.  It’s in those transcendent moments when the world sort of stops as our hearts speed up, and we are brought heart to heart with another soul and we reside in this place that’s just a bit too holy for this world.

These moments with my girls are my kairos moments.  They are the moments that remind me that motherhood requires a lot of laundry and dishes and late nights and tears.  But more than that, it’s about the joining of souls in a dance as old as time.  It’s about being able to come into communion with the innocence of childhood and it’s being let into the secret that this innocence is where truth resides.

About eight years ago, TJ and I got some devastating news.  We had been trying to get pregnant for a couple of years, and we thought that perhaps finally we were going to get that positive pregnancy test.  All the signs were pointing in the right direction.  I woke up and I took a test, and it was negative, but I didn’t let that deter my hope.  I knew this was the time.  I knew it.

And then a few hours later the phone rang with results for a test we had forgotten about.  And the results weren’t good.  We learned at that point that it might be impossible for us to get pregnant using only fertility methods that we were morally comfortable with.

We were devastated, and I didn’t know what to do.

We lived in a high rise at the time.  I took the phone and I went out on the balcony.  My eyes were clear, my voice was strong.  And then I dialed my parents’ phone number, and when my mom answered, I couldn’t speak.  My mouth was moving and sound was coming out, but the words were in no way coherent.  I could hear my mom start to panic as she heard the desperation in my voice.  She was probably afraid someone had died.  It took a few moments, but finally I was able to explain what had happened.  It took a while for me to gain my full composure.

I think back on that night sometimes when I think about my girls.  It reminds me that the bond between mother and child changes, but it doesn’t go away.  I might not need my mom to take care of my every physical need or hold my hand when I cross the street.  But when it comes to that place where we need trust and we need home, Mom and Dad are always the places we go.  Because it’s what we knew first.  It’s where we learn trust and love and acceptance.  And as such, it’s where we often go to seek it.

So as my girls progress through life, I know they won’t always come running to me after a tough day at camp.  They might not need me to console their every disappointment.  But I trust that when they really need a soul to connect with that they will find their way back to me.  And in those moments, I will remember that kairos can exist at any time in any place when two souls seek connection.

And it’s in those moments, that I will be most grateful for this gift of motherhood.  Because of all of the joys and blessings of this vocation, perhaps the greatest is the privilege of being that person for another soul for the whole of a life.  God’s time indeed.

God’s Children… And Stuff

I always feel a little bit awkward when I talk about God and Jesus and holiness and spirituality.  It’s not that I don’t believe in those things.  I do.  It’s just that I don’t really think I’m the holiest of people.  We go to Mass, and we pray, and we talk about God.  But when I pray, I tend to day dream; when we talk about God, it sometimes feels more academic than it ought to, and when we go to church, I spend the whole time corralling toddlers, and if for a brief moment, they are both calm, I might accidentally sometimes kind of tickle one of them or in some other way engage them rather than directing my attention to where it is supposed to be.

But I try.

I’m just not a loud preacher type.  I admire people who are.  But it’s just not me.

But I have this blog, and I tend to write whatever random thoughts pop into my head (for better or for worse,) and so when topics of holiness pop into my head, it feels weird not to write about them.  Even though it feels weird TO write about them.

But I just had a brief thought today, and I thought I would share it.

What if we viewed all people as children of God?

It sounds simple enough.  Magoo has only had two years of Catholic school, but I don’t think it took her even two days to learn that we are all children of God.  It’s pretty much the underlying premise of Christianity.  I think it’s a way in to Christianity for many.  For many who have fallen away and fallen into lives and lifestyles and situations that don’t feel right and don’t leave them feeling right for themselves, it can be what draws them back — the idea that God loves them and forgives them and died for them.  We love the idea of God’s children when it pertains to us.  And we should.  It’s a great thing.

But what if we started focusing on looking at others as children of God?  Sure we volunteer in order to help God’s children, and we dutifully donate money to help other of his children.  But what if we used that knowledge in ways that really, really matter?  In ways that can change the world because they change our very souls?

What if we keep that knowledge in mind with the lady who cuts in front of us at the deli line?

With the irritating gentleman at work who is always looking over our shoulder?

With the spouse who keeps leaving his dirty socks all around the house?

With the jerk gentleman who cuts us off on the way to pick our kids up from school and nearly hits us?

When it comes to others, particularly those we don’t know all that well, we tend to judge them by their actions.  By their effects on us.  And if those effects aren’t good, if they inconvenienced us or if they put us out, well then we don’t judge them all too well. And for those who are very close to us, we often are able to see the good, but again, we focus on the interactions, on what we expect from them, on what we need from them, on what they can do for us.

And we all know that’s egocentric.  We know it ignores the whole person.  But it’s hard to help it because It’s part of our nature.

But what if we tried, for even one hour, to get out of that?  What if for every person we looked in the eye, we tried to really feel how deeply they are cherished by God.  What if we remember that they are dear enough to the Lord for Him to die for them?

They are His children.  And what if we treated them as such?  What if we saw it as our duty to be the love for others that God wants them to feel?  What if we really attempted to hold all of God’s children tenderly because that is how He wants them held?  What if we took a moment and stepped out of our own lives and our own dramas and our own challenges and instead we focused on being the hands and feet for Christ in this world?

I don’t have the answers.  I don’t know what life would look like if we lived it through that lens because at least up through this time in my life, I have never been able to maintain it.  I suspect it would never be something that would come easy.  But of course, path that are easy often aren’t worth traveling down.

I guess it’s just a small whisper that I hear occasionally.  A challenge left in my heart.

And so I thought I would share it with you all.

But that’s about it.  That’s my lesson in spirituality for the evening.  And now I’m done talking about holiness and I will go back to watching reality television and catching up on Facebook.  You know — the things that usually occupy my mental space.

Have a great night!

Making Space

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How do you know when to accept your feelings and when to try to change them?

That’s a real question I have that I really don’t have an answer to.  To say I struggle with it would be an understatement.

I’ve mentioned about a gazillion times on here that I struggle with anxiety and I pretty much always have.  One thing this struggle has taught me is that when anxiety comes, I can’t let it take root.  I have to evaluate it, make sure it’s bogus, and then get rid of it.  If that process takes more than about 45 seconds, sometimes it will take root and I could be lost in it for days, sometimes years.

So it has become clear to me.  Bad feeling = fight it and banish it.

For the longest time, this was exhausting.  I had to constantly be on guard and constantly in defense mode.  But over the years, it has gotten easier, and I have found I can let up a bit.  The anxious feelings come less often, perhaps because of medication perhaps because of coping skills.  But still, when it comes, I am ready.  I have no choice.  If I succumb to it, I fail not only myself but my children.

But then the issue comes up of other uncomfortable feelings.  What about when I’m disappointed or sad or angry or stressed?  Just like with anxiety, my defenses go up, and I try desperately to defuse the pain.  I jump on it and I attack it and I fight with it and I gnaw at it, and I do every single thing I can think of to get rid of it, but sometimes I can’t.

And I think that’s because some of those feelings aren’t like obsessive anxiety.  They aren’t skewed.  They aren’t distorted. Sometimes there are reasons to be sad and angry and stressed out.

I don’t deal well with that.  In fact, sometimes I feel like a fifteen year old girl trapped in a 36 year old woman’s body because I simply feel like I don’t have the coping skills to deal with negative emotions.  And so I hide them.  I bury them.

But we all know how that turns out.  It’s never a good option.

So tonight I sit here confused.  Wondering how I should feel and what I should do, and I simply don’t have the answers.

On the one hand, I am filled with gratitude.  We spent some time this afternoon with a family that has grown to mean a tremendous amount to me over the past couple of years.  I don’t get to see them often, but that just doesn’t seem to really matter.  To me, they are proof that social media can be awesome because if it wasn’t for Facebook, they would have been lost to my past.  I was so happy that my daughters got to go there and play with the other kids.  Plus, it was in the city, and it turns out my little girls love the city as much as I always have.

But then we came home today and there was just way too much to do in way to little time, and I realized just how little control I have over absolutely everything.  No matter how much work I do, and no matter how much I try to keep everyone and everything organized and under control, I am outnumbered.  It’s not a fair fight.

And I try to fight these feelings.  I try to convince myself to focus on gratitude and to accept that things are chaotic and that children create disaster zones everywhere they go.  I try to focus on how cute it is when Magoo tries to help me and how proud both she and Goosie get when they do help.  I try to focus on the progress rather than a perfect outcome.  I try to remind myself that this is just a season and that it will pass and that when it does, I won’t remember the messy floors.  I will remember the hugs and the kisses and the snuggles.

I try so hard to remind myself of all of that, but it just turns my brain into a tempest with positive thoughts and negative emotions swirling around, fighting against each other, trying to assert dominance over my feeble mind.

But maybe I shouldn’t be having these battles?  Maybe some nights just suck.  Maybe it’s just really stressful to have everything I try to do get undone by the time I’m even out of the room.  Maybe some days it’s just really hard to go to bed with the same to do list as I have every single day and really nothing concrete to show for it.

And maybe it’s okay to come on the internet and whine about it.  And maybe I don’t have to tidy it up and come up with some great happy peaceful evolved ending to this.

Maybe it’s okay to just be overwhelmed sometimes.  Maybe I just need to accept it.  Allow space for that feeling in my life. Recognize that life is a mix of good and bad, dark and light, and that the bad has just as much of a right to exist as the good?  Perhaps there’s power in accepting the negative feelings in our lives and not being ashamed to express them out loud?

I think that’s called “making space.”  Allowing all parts of ourselves to exist.  Respecting all those parts.  Honoring them.  Refusing to give in to shame.  Refusing to block of half of ourselves because it doesn’t fit into our vision of how we should be.

What do you think world?  Perhaps one day I’ll have the emotional intelligence of a grown up, and then I can share my answers with you.  Some day…  For now I just share the journey and hope to come out on top more often than I falter.

Dads

TJ and I got lost on our honeymoon.  We were heading from Nashville to Gatlinburg and I figured we would use a map rather than specific directions.  This was in the post-Mapquest, pre-GPS stage of technological advancement.  So we were driving and driving, following the squiggly lines on the map, and all of a sudden we had no clue where we were and there was no one anywhere near to ask.  I think it took us about three times as long to get there as it was supposed to, but we were newlyweds and were enjoying the quiet time together.  Plus, we had just gotten lost in Nashville for about four hours the day before, so this wasn’t new territory for us.

Sometime during that trip, we started talking about our first impressions of each other.  TJ thought I was sophisticated and intimidating when I first met him which I find funny every time he reminds me because if there are two things I’m not, they are sophisticated and intimidating.  I thought he was an innocent.  And that is and always will be the greatest compliment I can give to a person.

Then he told me about the different things he considered when he was thinking about moving our relationship from courtship to marriage.  That brought the conversation to a halt, and I stared at him in shock, awed at the fact that he had considered anything.  ”You didn’t just know?”  I asked.  And he said that of course he did, but he also thought long term and thought about our compatibility and how our visions for the future meshed with each other.

Now obviously if there are any young people out there considering marriage, I should say that this is the best way to go.  It’s a life long commitment.  Think it out.  Test out different futures for yourself.  Think long term.  Think logically.

But of course this is not what I did.  My heart told me he was the right one, so why would my brain even need to get involved?  (I’m not really any more logical than I was back then, by the way.)

And so I like thinking that it was just a cosmic connection between him and I.  The magic had sparked something in my soul, and I instantly knew that our lives should be connected.

But then I look at my girls, and I wonder, actually, if it was as mindless as I had thought.

I see TJ putting our girls before absolutely everything.  I see him thinking about their well being.  I see him thinking about my own well being.  I see that he is a good man.  He’s not perfect, but his intentions are always there, as pure as anyone could hope.  He helps people.  If he can be of any assistance in any way, he will be the first to step in.  But he’s not all that loud.  He likes keeping to himself, and his world revolves around his family.  In other words, his priorities are in line.

I think about all of this, and then I think back to my wedding day, and I realize that as I was walking down the aisle with my dad, I was walking from my dad to the dad of my future children, the journey was more of a going home than a moving away.  Because I was going back to those very same values that I grew up with.  Giving and selflessness and compassion and honor.  They were values I had grown up with, and they are values that I am now very grateful that my girls get to grow up with as well.

As moms, there’s a ton that we give to our children.  But the gift of a great father is one of the most important.  Because we can do everything and be everything that we possibly can, but we can’t be the main man in their lives.  For daughters, we can show them how we expect to be treated, but we can’t show them the way a woman should be treated by a man.  Only dads can do that.

As a family, we don’t go camping much.  Like really ever.  We like air conditioning and bug free environments and plumbing and all that good stuff.  But once every couple of years, we will take the plunge and break out the tent to camp for the night.

I remember the first time I went camping with TJ.  We had been married about a year, and my parents had given us a really nice tent for our first anniversary.  We were all set with the camping gear and the hiking gear, and our little metal sticks for toasting marshmallows.

We had a pretty good day, and as evening passed, we spent time around the campfire.  Then it was time to go to bed.  Camping was nothing new to me.  We had camped almost every summer growing up, so this shouldn’t have been anything odd.  But I found myself lying in my tent, listening to the owls, and I felt so weird… so insecure, so vulnerable out there in that tent.  And it was then that I realized that while it had been a couple dozen times I had gone camping, it was the first time I had gone without my dad there.  And it felt really weird because he was the one who was there to protect us.  I could sleep, even in bear infested national parks, because I always knew my dad was there keeping everyone safe.

TJ and I have been married over eleven years now.  I am definitely comfortable now sleeping in a tent with him, and I would follow him anywhere.  I know that no matter what, I am always safe with him.  And I believe that part of the reason for that, part of the reason that I sought and found someone safe and secure was because it was what I had learned growing up.

And the best news of that is that my girls will hopefully follow suit one day as well — they will spend the next two decades learning the man who is their father, and then when they go out and find a mate and a future father for their children, they will have that idea of what a man is imprinted on their soul.

So to my dad and to TJ and to all the dads out there, thank you for what you do.  Thank you for being who you are.  And I pray you had a very blessed and happy Father’s Day.

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And look how happy he looks to be helping me roll my yarn into a ball.  I do believe it’s his favorite part of me buying overpriced yarn to make into little butterflies and doilies.

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