Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Where Have I Been?

Well, our official moving date is less than 2 weeks away, and considering my last post was November 8th, I guess I'm on an official blogging break. For those who are wondering where I've been, don't worry. I didn't fall off the Earth or anything. I'm just lost in a sea of bubble wrap and packing tape. Top that off with my insatiable need to over-organize every last box and a toddler whose's nap seems to get shorter every week, and it's no wonder why I've been MIA for the past month.

Truthfully, though, there is a little more to it than that. For one, when it comes to all of the events of the past few weeks, I am still quite speechless. Every day I wake up expecting to see the pictures back on the walls, wine glasses back in the cupboard, and Matt's blank stare as he asks, "What house?" I keep waiting for all of this to feel more real, but it just doesn't. In fact, given the situation, I won't be surprised if I wake up every day for the next 10 years thinking, "I can't believe I live here."

As a result of all this, I find myself thinking about little else these days. I devote all of my free time to packing, organizing, thumbing through decorating books, and thinking about all that we will be able to do with 5 times as much living space. I also spend a lot of time tweaking our budget and adjusting our spending limits to be sure that our new living arrangement doesn't affect my ability to stay home. At the end of the day, after packing a few boxes, responding to emails from our lending company and real estate agent, and putting yet another check in the mail for who-knows-what-fees, I barely have the mental energy to learn any lessons from dead bugs and post-it notes (much less write about them).

My other issue is that writing has become incredibly difficult since Matt went back to work in August. As a writer who needs extended periods of complete silence to produce anything worth posting, Reese's shortened nap schedule has been a major issue. When I first started writing, it was something I wanted to do for fun. Once it became harder to make time for it, the fun dwindled away and it started to feel like a chore. Last March (when I started this blog), I had a crawling infant who slept over 4 hours a day. Today, I have a running, jumping, climbing toddler who sleeps less than 2 hours a day (and some days not at all).

That doesn't mean I'm putting this aside forever, but it does mean that you won't be hearing from me every 3 days anymore. As much as I love writing, I can't allow it to take me away from the other important things in my life - like time for family, exercise, and prayer. I'll never understand how women with multiple children make time for daily blogs. If any of you are out there and have any advice for me, I will gladly take it. For now, I need a few more weeks to get moved and settled in the new house. Wish us luck and I'll be back in January!

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

P.S. At the top, right-hand side of this page, you can enter your email address and new posts will automatically get emailed to you so you don't have to keep checking back.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Blessing of a Lifetime

We made a lot of sacrifices when we became a single income family, but the hardest one was not being able to buy our own house. We have been renting a small farmhouse from Matt's parents for the past three and a half years and we often wondered if we would ever be in a position to own. Even when I was working, we passed up several opportunities to buy because we knew it would jeopardize my ability to stay home. When Matt got hired at his new job, we thought maybe we could finally afford a house. We knew it would still be a bit of a stretch and I might have to work part-time to make ends meet, but we decided to start looking.

That was six months ago. We started the process by saying a lot of prayers. We asked God to keep us open-minded, level-headed, and patient. We asked Him not to let us get carried away with unrealistic expectations and to steer us away from anything above our means. We asked Him to keep us hopeful when deals fell through and humble if we ever did succeed. And if all that wasn't too much to ask, we jokingly threw in a request for a nice ranch-style home out in the country with lots of trees and a big master bathroom - the vision of the dream house Matt and I created when we first got married, but knew we could probably never afford.
Next, we had to decide on a price range and we came up with three possibilities: (1) what we could afford if I didn't work at all; (2) what we could afford if I worked part-time; and (3) what we couldn't afford. We always checked the price of new listings before we looked at anything else. We figured there was no point in falling in love with anything in range number three. Finally, we had to pick a location. We knew we wanted to move closer to Matt's work and we love the small towns and the schools in that area. Unfortunately, there aren't many houses for sale at any given time in a school district full of such small towns. We didn't find much at all in our price range. Over six months, we saw only 4 houses.

We never got discouraged, though. We put all our faith in God and we both believed with 100% certainty that He would provide for us, just as He always has. We even fell in love with one house, but we encountered obstacles with the seller (it was a FSBO listing) and we were very uncertain about the price because it would have been a stretch even if I did work part-time. Since we had agreed not to push past any uncertain feelings, we walked away. We took the obstacles as a sign that it wasn't meant for us. Still, we were disappointed and wondered how it might be possible that anything better could come along.

Then last week, we got a listing for a log cabin. Neither of us has ever been interested in living in a log cabin, and it was almost out of our price range. Still, we felt an urge to go see it, but we didn't know why. Our realtor set up a showing. We hated it. What a waste of time... or so we thought.

The next day, I got an email from our realtor saying that he had driven past a home for sale on his way back from the log cabin. It had only been on the market for a few days. I looked at the price, and it was in price range number one (which meant that I could still stay home full-time). Most of the houses we found in price range number one needed so much work that we couldn't afford the repairs, so I wasn't very hopeful, but I opened the listing anyway and looked at the details. It was brand new (built in 2009) and was easily enough space for us to raise a few kids without ever needing to move again. I was sure this was some kind of mistake. Without skipping a beat (or consulting Matt) I immediately told our realtor to get us in there.

We fell in love the minute we pulled in the driveway. Before we got too excited, I asked our realtor about the price. He's a successful builder in town and a trusted family friend, so we knew he would give us a straight answer. It's a long story, but it turns out that the house is very well built and the price has nothing to do with its condition. The people had to move for personal reasons, and they needed it sold fast. We made an offer last Thursday. An hour later, the house was ours. If all of the inspections go well, we'll be living there by Christmas.

For the past four days we've been walking around in complete disbelief. We feel like we won the lottery. I break down in tears several times a day - tears of joy for this dream come true, tears of gratitude for the Lord who gave us this incredible gift, and tears of confusion as I wonder how we could possibly deserve such an amazing blessing.  By the way, it's a ranch in the country with lots of trees. Oh, and the master bathroom is awesome.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lessons from a Haircut

For the past few months, Reese’s hair has been hanging in her face. She has a cowlick at the back of her head that causes all of her hair to come forward instead of falling to the side. I can’t keep it to the side without a clip, but that’s a major problem for Reese. Every time I put a bow or clip in her hair, she pulls it off. If I stop her from grabbing it, she starts to cry and says, “off, off, off…” until I give in and take it out (which usually takes all of about 10 seconds). Over the past 6 months, I’ve made fewer and fewer attempts to do anything more than brush her hair once or twice a day. 

Once her hair grew long enough to hang in her eyes, I started trying to clip it back again. She wasn’t having any of it and usually just ran around all day with the ends of her bangs blocking part of her vision. She makes rare exceptions for headbands and a ponytail is always preceded by a wrestling match, which I refuse to subject her to every day. I didn’t want to cut her hair because I wanted it to grow long and I didn’t want her bangs to start all the way at the back of her head. But my kid couldn’t see and she hates having stuff clipped in her hair and maybe, just maybe, this isn't about what I want.

In fact, I’m not even sure why I wanted this in the first place. Anyone who knows me would probably agree that I'm not girly at all. I don't own a lot of pink stuff; I don't wear a lot of jewelry; and I'd probably cry and say "off, off, off" if someone put a big sunflower clip in my hair. So why am I always pushing it on Reese? Well, probably because I got caught up in that invisible societal pressure that pushes femininity on our daughters and masculinity on our sons. 

The scary thing is that I’ve always said I would encourage her independence and not force her into anything. Yet, there I was going against my belief because I wanted her to wear ribbons and bows in her long hair like all the other little girls. I guess it’s easy to say that you’ll do something until you’re actually challenged to do it. And if I can’t do it with her haircut, how will I do it when it’s something that really matters to me? 

Over the next 17 years, there will be lots of times where my interests clash with Reese’s interests, needs, or desires. As a parent, I owe it to her to put my agenda aside and to refrain from pushing anything on her just because I think she should look a certain way or have certain interests. So I decided to give Reese the hairstyle she needed instead of the one I wanted her to have. It bothers me that it took me so long to give up on the clips, and that I almost put my interest above hers, even if it was about something as silly as a haircut. I finally ended up putting her in the chair and saying, “just make it so she can see without needing a clip in it.” And, ya know what? She still just as cute.  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Internal Mommy Gear

Reese had her first time out yesterday for hitting another kid at Bible study. She and one other little girl are always fighting over the same toys, and I guess Reese had enough because she waited until G turned her back, and then grabbed a different toy and clubbed her over the head with it. Some moms might be inclined to think it was an accident - “Oh, she was just trying to hand it to her.” But I’m not that na├»ve. She clocked this kid. On purpose.
Immediately after it happened, I set her on my lap and said, “Reese Margaret, no no. We do not hit.” I held her there for about a minute, and she cried the whole time. After I let her down, I took her over to G and told her to say “sorry” not thinking she would actually say it. “Sigh-eee,” she said to her, which instantly melted my heart. As I rejoined the adult conversation, all I could think about was how terrified I am to have to add discipline to my growing list of parenting responsibilities.

From the day Reese was born, I’ve always said that I dread the disciplinary part of parenting. I believe in responsibility, accountability, and consequences, and it’s important to me that I find an effective way of passing those values to my kids. So it’s certainly not that I don’t want to discipline Reese. It’s that I feel completely clueless about how to find the strategy that works for me and for her. It doesn’t help me to ask other parents what they do because kids are so different and what works for them might not work for us. And it doesn’t help me to read books because the “experts” always try to make black and white instruction manuals out of topics with too many gray areas. It seems that whenever I seek advice, I always come out more confused (if that’s even possible).

Well, if my friends can’t help me, and the experts can’t help me, what’s left? I guess all that’s left is what I have in my heart, but now I'm wondering if maybe those are the only tools I need: 

·                   * Trust in my maternal instincts
·                   * Faith in my values
·                   * Unconditional love and respect
·                   * Forgiveness
·                   *Patience with my own mistakes in the process

Before today, I never sat down and thought about a discipline plan. I never said, “when Reese hits another kid, I’m going to do X, Y, and Z.” It just happened, and I responded from my heart. About an hour later, I carried her out of the car, and she said again, “sigh-eee.” Then we parked in the drive way and I carried her to her crib for her nap. “Sigh-eee, Mommy.” Okay, so maybe she doesn’t understand what sorry means… or maybe she really does feel bad. Maybe I'm showing a little bit of the "mommy bias" here, but I choose to believe the latter. “It’s ok, baby. Mommy loves you very much,” I said as I put her in bed. I left the room and silently wished for every future incident to go so smoothly.  

I know there’s plenty more discipline coming in the years ahead and many situations that don’t have a clear answer or ones where I end up choosing the wrong answer (and that’s where the patience with myself comes in), but yesterday I realized that maybe discipline isn’t a process to fear or a topic to research or an invitation for advice. Maybe it’s just like our ability to decode cries and grunts and mumbles, or the immeasurable love and patience we have for our children or our willingness to sacrifice so much of ourselves for them. Maybe it’s just another part of parenting that we all fear until we realize it's included in our internal mommy gear.

Monday, October 24, 2011

If You Jump, I Will Catch You

I hear a lot of moms talk about how badly they wish they could stay home, but the fear of losing their income prevents them from taking the leap. For all the moms who want to stay home as badly as I did, all I can say is I know that fear. I know that doubt. But I did it anyway, and I have no regrets. This is my story….

When I was pregnant with Reese, Matt and I wavered quite often in our feelings about me staying home full-time. Although it was the lifestyle we both always wanted, neither of us was convinced that we could meet our needs with half of our income. With the help of an online tutorial, I created an elaborate spreadsheet detailing our expenses and the upcoming change in our income. I quickly developed an unhealthy addiction to tinkering with the numbers… maybe if we downgrade our cell phone plans, or if we cancel our cable TV, or if we give up this or stop buying that, maybe then the number at the bottom of the screen will rise above zero. It was not uncommon for Matt to find me staring at the screen in tears saying, “It’s just not going to work. I can’t stay home.”

Halfway through my pregnancy, I gave up on my dream and started researching daycare options. I started by calling a few women in town who provided daycare in their homes. No one had any openings. I was running out of references, so I chose a different route and went to a local day care center. As I looked through the window to the main play area, I could already feel the heat rising in my body, the tears pooling under my eyes. I thought about the life I pictured for my children, and this was not it. The woman behind the counter said, “Hi, can I help you?” At least, I think that’s what she said. I was already out the door.

After that, Matt suggested that we take a break from the daycare search until after the baby was born. We decided to spend less time worrying about doing it our way and more time praying for guidance toward the right decision. It took over six months, but we finally decided to leave it to God. Once we did that, we realized that He was already trying to give us the answer. The uneasy feeling I had in the daycare center and my inability to find any openings with an in-home provider were two of the obvious signs. Then there were other things like the unexpected partial tuition waivers we received from Matt’s work or the last-minute financial aid award notices that helped pay for his graduate classes or our decisions to skip out on a bigger house and newer cars just because we “had a feeling” that it wasn’t the right time. We had too many instances where money just happened to line up just as we needed it, as if God was saying, “If you jump, I will catch you.”

A few months later, I watched my brand new baby sleeping peacefully in my arms, tears coming and going with each new surge of emotion: pride, joy, pain, exhaustion, love, fear. After watching the look in my eyes all day, Matt finally asked the question we both already knew the answer to, “You’re not going back to work, are you?” My answer was simple: “I can’t.”

We still had three months to make a definite decision, and we talked about it almost every day. After actually having the baby, we were more determined than ever to make it work. With just a couple weeks left of my maternity leave, I sat down at the computer and wrote my resignation letter. As I walked it into the office, the negative number on my spreadsheet flashed in my mind like a strobe light. I handed the letter in anyway. I quit my job anyway. I walked out the door and went home to my baby.

Since that day, it hasn’t been easy. We’ve turned down invitations to go on trips and passed up homes we wanted to buy. We drive cars barely large enough for a car seat, and we hardly ever eat at restaurants. But we didn’t cancel our cable TV; we didn’t give up our cell phones. We still do fun things, and we have a great life. We pay all of our bills and we still have a lot of money in savings. And that negative number on the spreadsheet? Well, I don’t know where it went, but when I go on line to check our bank statement, even on the months where I feel we went a little overboard, there’s always enough. There’s always more than enough.

I've been home for almost 17 months, and I never regret my decision. I never miss my paycheck, and somehow it all works out. Living with less really is easier than it seems. Of course, I can’t say that it will work that way for everyone, but it worked that way for us. All we did was turn it over to God. We prayed and we listened. We took a leap of faith and we followed our hearts. We jumped and He caught us.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Thinking for Two

I was in the shower this morning when I grabbed the shampoo, popped the top open, and turned the bottle upside down. As a stream of orange gel flowed into my palm, I had a sudden thought, "Wait. Did I already wash my hair?" I seriously couldn't remember. I decided better twice than not at all and I proceeded to lather up anyway. "How does that even happen?" I wondered as I shook my head at my own forgetfulness. I answered my own question in my mind, "Don't even act surprised. You do stuff like this all the time." 

I can only imagine where she gets it.
Ok, I'll be honest. I do stuff like that all the time. I drive away with my coffee cup on top of my car. I spend 10 minutes looking for my sunglasses and then realize they're on top of my head. I open the microwave and find the lunch that I heated up 3 hours ago and forgot to eat. I'm prone to those kinds of mental mishaps partly because I'm always rushing around anyway and because of the ever-so-common Frazzled Mom Syndrome, but I think there's also another reason. It's because I'm constantly thinking for two.

Thinking for two. It's like eating for two except that (1) thinking for two lasts much longer than nine months and (2) eating for two is fun and thinking for two is exhausting. When I got pregnant, I was prepared to eat for two. I was even kind of excited about it. "This one's for the baby," I would say as I grabbed a second cookie (and often a third). It's fun because it only lasts nine months and then you go back to eating for yourself and your baby eats for herself. Yeah, not so much with the thinking. It's by far the most exhausting part of motherhood (including midnight feedings), and I can only imagine how it's possible that there are so many mothers out there thinking for three or five or seven.

With two bodies to bathe and dress, two sets of teeth to brush, two mouths to feed, and two lives to manage, it seems like I never get a break from thinking about, planning for, and doing everything... twice. I keep track of her meals, naps, baths, and every other daily routine. When I say I need a break from Reese, that's the part I need to get away from most. Unfortunately, it's the part I rarely escape. "Hey, can you feed her some lunch?" I ask Matt sometimes on the weekends. "Sure," he answers, "What's she having?"

Okay, so I sometimes get a break from sitting there while she eats, but I almost never get a break from thinking about her lunch, knowing what time she should eat it, and deciding what she'll have. I also never get a break from remembering to keep the house clear of all possible hazards or from worrying about her when I'm not there or from hoping that I'm making the right choices for her. When I really think about how mentally demanding it is to be a mom, it's no wonder why I sometimes end up washing my hair twice.

Thinking for two is the same as being pregnant and reaching for an extra snack or ordering a larger portion. You give yourself a break because you're eating for two, right? So the next time you're looking for the car keys that are in your pocket or you accidentally leave the refrigerator door open or you're standing in the shower trying to remember if you already washed your hair, just remember that you're not dumb or crazy. Just laugh it off and give yourself a break and say, "Hey, what do you expect? I'm thinking for two."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How Great Thou Art

Lately I’ve been bothered by a subtle, nagging anxiety. It isn’t the kind of anxiety that causes me to hang Matt’s dress shirts by style and color or the kind that urges me to perfectly arrange all of Reese’s toys at the end of every day. It doesn’t affect my ability to enjoy my days with Reese or trust my decisions or keep my home in order. Instead, it’s the kind of anxiety that always has me wondering what I’ve forgotten, the kind that leaves me feeling a bit uneasy for no apparent reason. Something seems to be missing. I’m not completely calm; not entirely comfortable; not totally at peace. 

I floated along this way for weeks, maybe even a few months. It grew so gradually that it became difficult to pinpoint a beginning. I started to wonder if I needed counseling or medication or maybe I was just slowly going crazy. It feels like I’m walking on a platform high above the ground, and although I know it’s wide enough and sturdy enough, I still can’t shake the fear that I might go tumbling over the edge at any moment. As I watched my platform slowly rising higher, I wondered how long it would take before others noticed how unbalanced I felt. The whole time, I had no idea that my saving grace was so easily within reach.

Six weeks ago, I started teaching 5th grade CCD on Wednesday evenings. It’s a great reason to get out of the house every week and I’m gaining teaching experience and deepening my faith. Talk about a win-win situation! I switch off leading the lesson every other week with Kristin, my co-teacher and close friend. Last night I parked my car and trudged to the classroom, glad it wasn’t my week to lead and hoping the hour would pass quickly. We started class with our usual prayer circle and then Kristin turned off the lights and played the video of Carrie Underwood singing "How Great ThouArt" at the ACM "Girls Night Out" concert. 

I knew she was planning to show that video, and although I had seen it before, I was completely unprepared for my reaction. Just a few seconds into it, my eyes brimmed with tears. I casually wiped them away, pretending to scratch an itch, but new ones came in their place. I reached for a Kleenex to stifle a fourth sniffle, and I wondered if the kids could see my red face across the dark room. Suddenly, as I listened to the refrain - “Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee…” - I felt so deeply connected to the present moment. My mind and my heart soared with comfort and peace; the unnecessary worries and irrational fears melted away; and a complete calm settled over the storm. And there it was, plain as day - the “something” I was missing. I had become disconnected from the Holy Spirit, and in that moment, I felt God calling me back.     

When the lights came on again, no one mentioned the emotion on my face. Maybe they didn’t notice, but I couldn’t imagine how that was possible. I pulled myself together as Kristin started her lesson. Afterwards, I walked to my car in a completely different mood from when I arrived just one hour earlier, and I realized that I did get my wish – the hour passed very quickly. 

As I drove home, I thought about how infrequently I have those moments where I feel fully connected to God. It’s a connection that reaches deeper than daily prayer and weekly Mass, which are uplifting and inspiring, but often become such a matter of routine that I don’t fully experience them as I should. These moments, rather, come in the form of triumphant stories, magnificent sunsets, uncanny coincidences, answered prayers, and beautifully sung hymns of worship and praise. They often catch me off guard during times when I don’t even know I’m looking for God, and that’s probably because He only lets me stray so far and then He comes looking for me.

If you saw me going about my day today, I would have seemed just like I always do on the outside. On the inside, however, I have a renewed sense of peace. Although all of my little fears and anxieties have not been entirely wiped away, I feel better equipped to handle them with the grace of God surrounding me. It’s a grace that can be found in the simplest of moments, out of which flow the most powerful reminders of God’s unending, unconditional, all-consuming love. And all we have to do to fully experience them is quiet our minds, open our hearts, and let our souls sing.... "my Savior God, to Thee. How great Thou art. How great Thou art!"

Sunday, October 9, 2011

No Brats Allowed

“Effective [this date], we will only be seating children over the age of six. We appreciate your cooperation. Thank you, The Management.” 

I paraphrased the above statement, but a sign sending the same message was recently placed on the front door of a restaurant in Pennsylvania. This restaurant is one of many businesses putting a ban on young children. The brat ban has become a parenting hot topic as parents in increasing numbers are being asked to remove themselves and their unruly children from public venues.

As talk shows and news reports continue to highlight this debate, I see little mention of the real problem. It is unfortunate that the focus has shifted to the children who are simply victims of circumstance. In my attempt to look at this debate for what it really is, I created a few alternative signs for the windows of businesses that would prefer not to serve young children: 

1. “Effective [this date], we will only be seating children with attentive parents.”

I’ll never forget a segment I saw a few months ago on the Today Show about bullying. Matt Lauer interviewed an expert on the topic who, as usual, pointed every bit of fault toward school officials and teachers for not being more attentive to the problem. Lauer asked how much of the responsibility should fall on parents to educate their own children on the issue. Finally, the question that never gets asked! I eagerly awaited her reply, which was quite matter-of-fact: “Parents these days are too busy and simply don’t have the time. Therefore, they need to be able to rely on schools to equip their kids with necessary life skills.” You can imagine my shock. That’s the moment I realized that we live in a society that places responsibilities to work and self above responsibilities to home and family. No doubt such a mentality has given rise to the spread of inattentive parenting habits. If they’re not teaching their kids to be responsible and respectful citizens, they’re certainly not going to stop them from banging their plate on the table at Chili’s. 

2. “Please enlist common sense before entering with children.”

If Reese was suddenly banned from places like McDonald’s or TGI Friday’s, of course I would be offended. But if she was banned from restaurants with white linen tablecloths and businesspeople in formal attire, I think I’d get over it. Some places are just not appropriate for children and most sensible parents understand. Even when the kind of place isn’t the issue though, parents still need to consider the child’s general temperament and current mood before deciding if his presence is appropriate to the venue. Reese is in a screaming phase right now, which means that I rarely take her to restaurants or other quiet places. If the sound is annoying to my ears at times, I can only imagine the opinion of the elderly couple at the next table.

Of course, I am aware that parents can’t predict their children’s behavior with 100% accuracy, but most of us know our kids well enough to determine the type of public setting they can handle on a given day.  (If you aren’t able to do this, please refer to sign #1). It isn’t fair to expect everyone to adopt a “kids will be kids” mentality in the presence of children, especially when someone’s toddler starts launching spaghetti across the room. If parents know their kids can’t handle a certain setting, there are lots of alternatives: hire a sitter, stay home, or go to a place that is always kid-friendly, like McDonald’s.

3. “Due to the inability of our staff and customers to recognize and accept the normal cognitive skills and behavioral patterns of young children, we are only able to serve those over the age of six. We apologize for our ignorance.”

This is where I fall on the opposite side of the debate. Even the greatest, most attentive parents have children who occasionally make a scene in public. I’m amazed that anyone would expect a toddler (or sometimes even an infant!) to have good manners and appropriate social skills. Most people who get upset with children in public do so because they believe the children should “know better.” Most of the time, though, children don’t know better and it’s simply because they’re at a place in their development where they can’t know better. Fortunately, these people are easy to spot, as their lack of knowledge about normal child development is obvious (like the hostess who hands your eight-month-old a kids’ menu and crayons, or the lady at the next table who asks if your tantrum-throwing one-year-old would like a Tootsie-Pop).  

Just as parents with unruly children can stay home to avoid bothering others, people without any patience for the occasional screaming toddler can stay home to avoid being bothered. Parents aren’t the only ones who should have to enlist common sense before entering a public place.

Seriously, though, all jokes and rude signs aside, it saddens me that such a debate is even in question during a time when we have so many other major issues to attend to – like our failing economy and the fact that children in this country are literally getting bullied to death. What really needs to happen is a revival of the long-dead cultural expectations of common sense, common courtesies, and unconditional respect for others. If we do those things, I guarantee we can consider this problem (and many others) to be as good as solved.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Mother's Journey

This is me: 6 months old
I have a calendar on my nightstand that displays an inspirational quote about motherhood for each day of the year. It was a gift from my sister-in-law on my first Mother's Day and I still enjoy turning the page every day to read the new quote. I agree with many of them and disagree with many others, but all of them are equally thought-provoking. One of the recent ones said, "A mother is not a person to lean on, but rather a person to make leaning unnecessary." While I adamantly disagree with the former phrase of that sentence, the latter prompted me to write one of my favorite pieces of poetry to date. 

High School Senior Pictures 2001
On a brief side note... it may (or may not) surprise you to hear that I dabble in poetry a bit. It started as a cathartic release of teenage angst, a phase during which I realized that a well-written poem can be the most beautiful way to relay a story, evoke emotion, and deepen a message. I rarely share my poetry (the one I wrote on Mother's Day is the only other poem that appears here thus far). It's mostly because of an intense fear of rejection, but I guess six months of opening myself and my life on the internet is hardening me a bit and boosting my courage. 

My Wedding Day 2008
Ok, back to today's message... after the above quote came up on my calendar, I realized that I had not yet fully considered the true level of the sacrifice that mothers make for their children - a sacrifice that goes beyond labor pains and midnight feedings. It's a lifelong sacrifice of ourselves for children who are actually not ours at all - children who will someday tie their own shoes, make their own meals, and live their own lives; children who will lean on us less and less as they grow in confidence and independence. It begins with the literal cutting of the cord and as our children venture further into the world - from the first day of kindergarten to the last day of college and from high school dances to wedding day - each milestone cuts the metaphorical cord away just that much more. Without speaking from direct experience, I can only imagine the mixture of pride and joy and sadness and loss that dwells in our hearts on those momentous days. 

I wrote this poem in an attempt to put a beautifully bittersweet journey into words and to remind all of the moms with grown up children that even though you may succeed at making certain kinds of "leaning" unnecessary, you will always have an irreplaceable role in the lives of your children. Once a mommy, always a mommy!  

A Mother’s Journey
My mother’s journey starts today
In this tiny room where we both lay.
My mom is just so very proud
As she picks out the perfect gown
To take me home on my first day,
And show the world the life she made.
She lifts her chin and smiles wide
As we head toward the world outside.
She'll pause and bow her head to pray
For God to guide us on our way.

Those 18 years will fly so fast.
Her little girl will grow at last,
And she will be so very proud
As she fits my graduation gown
And matching cap for my big day.
She’ll be sad but she won’t say.
Instead she’ll give a happy smile
As I make my journey down the aisle.
And she will bow her head to pray
As life leads her baby girl away.

Someday a man will come around
Who sweeps my feet up off the ground.
And she will be so very proud
As she fits me for the perfect gown
And matching shoes for my big day.
She’ll be sad but she won’t say.
Instead she’ll give a happy smile
As I make my journey down the aisle.
And she will bow her head to pray
As she gives her baby girl away.

And someday when we both are gone,
And our daughters still are living on,
I know she will be so proud
As she fits me for my final gown
And matching wings for my big day.
Her baby girl is Home to stay.
On the other side she’ll stand and wait
As I make my journey through the gate.
As we bow down at Jesus’ feet,
My mother’s journey is complete.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Lessons from a Dead Beetle

There is a dead beetle outside our front door. This is not something I would normally be aware of or pay any attention to if it weren't for Reese running to the door multiple times a day saying, "bug! bug!" She actually wants to go out and see this dead bug. She crouches down next to it and points and says "shhh" and I let her believe that it's just sleeping. This has been a part of our routine for almost a week now and you would think I would just get rid of the bug, but I can't because it seems like such a highlight in her day.

Discovering grass
Well, this afternoon we were out on the patio looking at the bug (again), and I started to think about how incredibly fascinating life must be for Reese. I look at the bug and think, "Seriously? It's a dead bug. It's gross." But to a toddler who's never seen a beetle? What an important discovery! Whenever she's fascinated by something new, she always looks up at me and says a few words in her baby jibberish, which I interpret as, "Mommy, don't you see this wonderful thing I found? Come look at it!" So I come and look at it, and we both see something equally amazing. She's amazed by the bug. I'm amazed by her amazement. And then suddenly I start to remember what it means to be fascinated with simple things in life. 

Investigating my cell phone
Sometimes I wonder why I stopped finding life so fascinating. As I sit here now and ponder the reasons, neither one is really surprising. One, I'm busy. I'm too busy for this, too busy for that. And certainly too busy to marvel at a sunset (and even if I do, it's a fleeting second of, "oh, that's pretty" and then I continue on to the next task). Two, it's part of my routine. There is so much beauty around me every day like the view from our patio or the clear night sky, but I never notice them anymore because I take for granted that they will always be there.

Examining Flowers
It's hard to believe that there was a point in time when I was a toddler and I was amazed by dead bugs. Somewhere along the way I forgot how wonderful it is to be in awe of the world. Having a child has re-opened that fascination in my life. I am in complete awe of everything Reese does from brushing her hair to saying a new word. From the first moment I held her all the way to watching a dead bug be dead, I've never stopped being amazed by her existence. I could stare at her toes, the curls in her hair, or the dimple in her cheek for hours without ever getting bored. I could spend all day marveling at God's ability to so perfectly mesh two sets of DNA into the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, or how His guidance brought me through so many choices, changes, and obstacles to land me in the middle of this wonderful life with this wonderful family. 

Despite her limited vocabulary and lack of any significant life experience, I can't believe how much I learn about life, love, and myself from my kid. Reese's fascination with life reminds me to never just walk by something fantastically beautiful without taking a minute to stop and get lost in a moment of total amazement; to never take simple things in life for granted; and to cherish every moment I get to spend in complete awe of her every move... even if all we're doing is watching a dead bug sleep.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Our Daily Tug-of-War: The Moments that Drive Us Nuts and the Love That Brings Us Back for More

I'm finding that having a toddler in the house has caused me to experience a lot of "those" kinds of moments. You know, those fishing-your-wallet-out-of-the-garbage, meltdown-in-the-store, diaper-change-turned-wrestling-match moments where you roll your eyes, look up toward the sky, and silently ask God to remind you what you were thinking the day you and your spouse looked at each other and said, "Hey, let's have children."

Now, as much as I am kidding when I say that, I'd still like to answer my own question. This is a story I call "The Same Thing Happens Every Day." Not that I experience this exact sequence of events every single day, but I definitely experience a daily tug-of-war between total aggravation and utter bliss in my role as a stay-at-home mom. It's a constant cycle that begins again every morning and looks something like this:

Reese and I sit down for breakfast. I hand her a bowl of oatmeal and a spoon and pour myself some cereal. She takes about 3 bites and then dumps the oatmeal onto the tray of her high chair where she proceeds to swirl it around, alternating the use of her spoon and her fingers. She manages to eat quite a bit of it, but not without purposely dropping a few globs onto the floor. I finish my cereal, grab a napkin, and begin wiping up the spilled oatmeal. Big mistake! She drops her sticky spoon on my head, leaving chunky tan highlights in my freshly washed hair. Cue the eye roll.

I finish cleaning up breakfast and then lean over the kitchen sink to rinse my hair. Reese tugs on my leg and says, "Up!" I stop what I'm doing, pick her up, and ask her what she wants. She doesn't say anything. She just wraps her arms around my neck and lays her head on my shoulder. I kiss her little head and suddenly I forget about the oatmeal.

I throw my sticky hair under a hat and we leave for the store. We're just a few aisles into our shopping trip when I remind Reese for the third time to please sit down in the shopping cart. She says no for the third time so I pick her up to carry her. In her whiniest voice, she yells, "Down!" She wiggles from my grasp and then runs in the opposite direction. I catch up to her and make her sit in the front of the cart. She starts crying, and I look over the list and wonder if we really need the rest of the stuff on it. Still crying, Reese grabs the list and throws it on the floor. Well, I guess that answers my question. Cue the eye roll.

When we get home, she's asleep in the back seat. I lift her out of the car seat and carry her inside. She is half-asleep and her body is limp in my arms. We sit in the recliner and I rock her back and forth, remembering how I rocked her as a newborn and at 4 months and 6 months and 9 months and all the time in between. I think about what a blessing she is to me, and I forget about the grocery store incident.

When she wakes up from her nap, I'm not quite done with dinner, so she plays with her toys while I cook. Although I try to peek in on her every couple minutes, she somehow still manages to remove all of the clothes from the bottom two drawers of her dresser. I eventually discover the mess and as I put the clothes away, she starts emptying a box of kleenex. So I pick up the kleenex and as I throw it in garbage, I look in the can and see my car keys sitting in a glob of ketchup. Cue the eye roll. 

Just as I finish making dinner, I turn around and she's standing there holding up her Chicken Dance skirt (yes, it is a skirt that plays "The Chicken Dance"). I help her into it and press the button. She laughs and laughs as we twirl around the living room holding hands. I'm reminded how lucky I am to be home during the day to share these moments with her. Suddenly, I forget about the clothes on the floor... and the shredded box of kleenex... and the keys in the garbage.

At the end of the day, she picks out a book and Matt and I take turns reading to her. Then we both give her a kiss and a hug and tell her how wonderful she is and how much we love her. I take her in her room and lay her in bed. I say her prayers and she folds her tiny hands and says, "Amen." Then she brings her little finger to her lips and says, "Shhh." I whisper back, "Shhh. There's a baby sleeping in here" and slowly back out of the room. And suddenly, I've forgotten about everything else in the world except for how much I love that kid.

And there it is. That's why we do what we do. Because for each and every moment of extreme aggravation, there is an equal and opposite moment of unrelenting love - a love so strong that just the thought of its intensity can bring you to tears. It's that love that has the mysterious ability to erase every frustrating incident, every difficult sacrifice, every painful contraction. It's that love that carries you through the exhaustion and the changes and the challenges. And it's that love that makes you and your spouse look at each other one day and say, "Hey, let's have more children."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I'll Take What I Can Get

I pulled into the parking lot of "Sneeze, Wheeze, and Itch Associates" just as Reese was falling asleep for her nap at my friend's house across town. Knowing she was in good hands, I let my worries drift away as I sat in the waiting room, opened my borrowed copy of The Help, and picked up where I left off. I almost always forget to bring a book to the doctor's office (unless of course you count Bear Snores On or Bunny on the Beach), but today wasn't just any doctor's visit. When I called to make my appointment for the allergy testing recommended by my primary doctor, the receptionist told me to plan to be there for up to four hours. Two years ago, I would never have been excited for a four-hour trip to the doctor. But now? All I could think about was how much quiet reading time I could enjoy in four hours. I could only hope it would take that long.

After completing my in-take paperwork, I read 15 pages in the waiting room before the nurse called me back. She took my vitals and left me alone to change into a gown and wait for the doctor. Ten minutes passed. Fifteen. Twenty. I didn't care. I read another 20 pages. Finally, the doctor came in to talk to me about my symptoms and prep me for the test. If you've never had allergy testing done, it's probably the least fun thing you can do with a couple hours of spare time. You lay on the exam table with your back exposed and the nurse pokes you over 50 times with little needles, each one containing a different common allergen: molds, grasses, dust mites, pollen, ragweed, animals - you name it, they stick you with it. It's actually more of a nuisance than real pain. Either way, I didn't care. I read another 10 pages while they poked at my back.

They told me it takes 20 minutes for the test to work, and they both left the room. By the time I heard the door close behind them, I could already feel the itchy welts rising up on my skin. You're not supposed to scratch them, so I laid there on my stomach and wiggled back and forth as if I could somehow claw at them with my imagination. I did my best to remove my thoughts from the itching, from the fact that I was lying half-naked on a table in a doctor's office, from the laundry and dishes waiting for me at home, from my child sleeping across town. I immersed myself completely in my book and, despite my discomfort, I read another 20 pages.

The nurse came back in to read the test. She took measurements of the welts, rattling off the ones that came up positive (ragweed, grass, trees, cats, dogs... no wonder I'm such an itchy mess). She applied a hydro-cortisone cream to what she called "the big ones." It relieved some of the itching, but definitely not all of it.  Then she proceeded to tell me that she had to repeat the test on my arms for the allergens that were "questionable." She poked each of my forearms four times and left the room for another twenty minutes. Now, not only could I feel the welts rising on my skin but I could see them too, and those were even harder not to scratch because they were so easily within reach. I returned my mind to the blissful enjoyment of reading in complete silence and took in another 20 pages.

After over 3 hours and 20 minutes at "Sneeze, Wheeze, and Itch Associates," I walked out the front door with a packet of information on allergy shots (which are going to cost me who-knows-how-much), my back and arms covered in itchy welts, and a long list of things I'm allergic to but probably can't avoid coming in contact with. But despite all those things, I just spent over 3 hours with no responsibilities other than lying still and reading a book. As I pulled out of the parking lot and began the drive to pick up Reese, I turned the radio up a little higher, sang a little louder, and smiled a little bigger. I read almost 100 pages in one sitting and it was awesome.

Over the past 15 months, I've had to lower my standards of what constitutes "rest and relaxation" and find some creative ways to recharge my "mommy" battery. Sometimes it's a dinner date with Matt or a girls' night with friends. Sometimes it's a slow walk to the mailbox or a late-night glass of wine. And sometimes it's three very itchy hours in a doctor's office with my nose in a very good book. So what if I was lying on a table covered in tissue paper instead of in a hammock on the beach? So what if I was getting poked with needles instead of getting massaged with oils. So what if I was itching with awful discomfort instead of relaxing with blissful joy? All that mattered to me was that I was reading. Alone. In silence. And these days, I'll take whatever I can get.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Proud to be a Nothing

“Mom, when I grow up I want to be a nothing… like you.” That is one of my mom’s favorite quotes from my childhood. An innocent five-year-old’s attempt at the greatest compliment a kid can give her mom, “I want to be just like you.” Even though I didn’t have the right words at five years old, I always knew in my heart that someday I would sacrifice my career to serve my family. I held onto that desire through high school, college, and even graduate school. When other students were talking about wanting to be counselors and professors, I just wanted to cook and clean and raise my children. It’s the path I was called to; my dream job; and the life I always wanted.

But just because it’s the life I always wanted, doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of days where I really do feel like a nothing. The hardest parts are the repetitive, mundane tasks like folding laundry that’s just going to get worn, cooking food that’s just going to get eaten, and cleaning toilets that are just going to get… well, you know. Just yesterday I was mopping the kitchen floor and thinking, “I have a master’s degree and I’m scraping up crusty applesauce.” Or how about the days when Matt comes home and tells me all about his day at work, and then asks me how my day was? Well, let’s see… We ate breakfast. Played inside. Ate lunch. Played outside. She napped. I cleaned. Same as yesterday. Same as the day before. Same as tomorrow….  

In the moments when I feel like a nothing, all I have to do is wait for Reese to wake up from her nap and watch her run into the kitchen, point to the back door, and yell, “outside!”  As soon as I get her shoes on and open the door, she runs across the patio to the blue plastic swing hanging in the tree. "Wing," she says over and over as I help her into it. I give her a big push, ducking underneath her as she soars up toward the leaves. She giggles with joy and says, "again, again." I push her again and then hide behind the trunk of of the tree, popping out as she flies by. Every time she sees me, she points and says, "Ma-meeee." And every time I hear that word, it reminds me that I am the whole world to this tiny person.

Then we come inside to get ready for dinner, and I see Matt pulling into the driveway. He comes inside and comments about how great the house looks, or how good dinner smells, or how pretty I am. Later, we sit down for dinner and hold hands to pray. Matt always starts by saying, “Lord, I just want to thank you for Lisa and all that she does for our family.” And when I hear that, I remember that I am the whole world to this big, grown up man.

And then at the end of the day, I climb in bed. I am tired, but I am happy because even though I may be a nothing to the rest of the world, to my family I am far from a nothing. I am an everything.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A 9/11 Tribute: United We Stand

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I sat on my bed in my pajamas barely able to eat my Cheerios as I watched the twin towers crumble on the TV screen in my dorm room. I was one month into my freshman year at Illinois State University and I will never forget that moment and the overwhelming feelings of fear and uncertainty. I will also never forget the days following 9/11 when people across the nation let go of their differences and stood together as one community to honor the fallen and promise those who attempted to destroy us that we would rise from these ashes.

ROTC 2001 (that's me in the middle)
But what I will really never forget is how quickly life returned to business as usual, especially for people like me who didn't lose a parent, a sibling, a son, or a daughter on that day and didn't send a family member off to war in the months and years that followed it. Many of our personal bubbles were never directly impacted, and being that far removed from the scene of the crime and its aftermath makes it that much easier to forget that we still owe something to all those whose lives were changed forever on 9/11/01 and those who have put their lives on the line every day since.

Over 2500 people died that day, and that doesn't even include the additional men and women who have died while serving our country over the past 10 years. Sure, we can express our condolences and show our support with bumper stickers on our cars, American flags outside our homes, and ribbons in our trees, but we owe them more than that. For the people who lost their lives, the children who lost a parent, the spouses who lost their partners, the soldiers who went to war, and all the men and women in uniform who continue to risk their lives to ensure the safety of our nation and it's people, we owe them more than "thank you for your service" or "sorry for your loss."

We owe them the knowledge that our freedoms are not taken for granted and that no one's death was in vain. We owe it to them to stop complaining about trivial things like the length of a red light or the line at the bank; to reject the cultural shift toward attitudes of entitlement; to promote equality so every American can enjoy the same freedoms; to maintain our unity with simple gestures and common courtesies; to be kind to one another and help those in need; and to choose love, compassion, and forgiveness over hate, anger, and revenge. Most of all, we owe it to them to say the Pledge of Allegiance; to remove our hats, cover our hearts, and sing our nation's anthem; and to keep patriotism alive.

Proud of you, Mike!
To all those who lost a loved one in the 9/11 attacks or the war that followed, we remember you. To all those who continue to protect and serve our nation (including my little brother who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2010), we thank you. And to every American, may we honor those who have died and those who proudly serve with hearts of compassion, words of kindness, and actions that send a constant reminder to the rest of the world that we are America and "united we stand" indeed.

God Bless the USA, today and always.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Five Things Every New Mom Should Know

I am at an age where all  of my friends are becoming moms. If they don't have kids already, then they're pregnant or trying to get pregnant. With my friends who do have children, we talk a lot about all the things no one tells you before you have a baby (like how awful the recovery process can be, how much it hurts to start nursing, or how guilty you feel for enjoying your alone time). Everyone talks about the love and the joys and the fun, and of course those things are amazing, but there are a lot of struggles and challenges and tears, and those things are normal too. Of course, there are a lot of things you can only appreciate by experiencing them, so it won't help anyone to hear about how painful contractions are or what sleep deprivation feels like. So when I say, "There's so much no one tells you," I'm mostly referring to the things that would have actually made a difference in the way I started this journey. My actual list is quite extensive, but here are the top five:  

5. Maternal instinct is real. I was so nervous about knowing what to do when Reese was born. I had never breastfed, bathed, or changed a newborn baby. Will I even know what to do?  How will I know if something’s wrong with her? How will I handle extended bought of unexplained screaming? Looking back, I wish I would have spent a little more time enjoying the anticipation of becoming a mom and a little less time worrying about it and preparing myself for every aspect of it. So much of motherhood really is instinctual, and I am still amazed by how much I “just know” about Reese. So go ahead – put the books down. You already have all the skills you need to be a great mom.   

4. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to do everything right. When I first had Reese, there were so many things I tried to research – like the best toys, when to start solid food, how to discipline, and the list goes on. But the more research I did, the more confused I was. Every book, website, doctor, and parent will tell you something completely different. Not that you should disregard every piece of advice, but just listen to it knowing that nobody knows your baby and your family better than you. So try not to worry about giving your kid attachment, digestive, or social issues because you let her sleep in your bed or started solid food too late or waited too long to start preschool. There’s conflicting evidence about everything. Just do your best to do what you know is right for your unique baby, and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Listen to those maternal instincts and, again, put down the books.
3. It’s okay to have moments of misery. After Reese was born, there were days (lots of days) where I was absolutely miserable. The aftermath of childbirth, the first few weeks of breastfeeding, and the sleepless nights were some of greatest physical challenges I’ve ever experienced. I remember standing in the kitchen with my head on the counter promising myself that I will never do this again. There were days in the early stages of breastfeeding where I would cry just thinking about her next feeding. In those challenging moments, I remember wondering if there was something wrong with me. I thought I was supposed to be overcome with unwavering happiness, which only added emotional guilt to the physical misery. I never understood why we’re not supposed to talk about this part of motherhood. I don’t say it to be negative or to scare unsuspecting moms-to-be. I say it so you know that you’re not alone in those dark moments.

2. Life doesn't go "back to normal." When Reese was about 6 months old, I went through a small period of minor depression. I thought, “It’s been 6 months. Why don’t I feel back to normal? Shouldn’t I be adjusted to this role by now?” I waited for my body and my marriage and my daily routine to get back to what I had always defined as my “normal” life. When they didn’t, I thought something was wrong with my ability to cope with motherhood. I knew that babies turned your world upside down, but I always thought that eventually the dust settles, your body heals, you make the necessary adjustments and then everything feels normal again. Clearly, I was wrong. It’s not about waiting for the dust to settle. It’s about learning to stand on your head and accept your upside down world as your new “normal life.” 

1. The greatest self-improvement tool in the world is growing inside you. After I had Reese, I realized that I have both an amazing opportunity and challenging mission ahead of me. There are so many values I want to instill in her so she can become the best possible version of herself, but I can’t give her what I don’t have, which means that I owe it to her to become the best possible version of myself first. I decided to work on really get in touch with who I am and address the parts of my life and my personality that need improvement. I’ve learned more about myself and my purpose in the past 15 months than I did in every other stage of my life combined. One of the many things I’ve learned is that personal growth doesn’t happen automatically. Self-improvement is a choice. We all have room for it and we owe it to our children to capitalize on the opportunity to seek it.

That’s it. Those are the 5 things I wish I knew before I became a mom. I hope all of you who are expecting moms, new moms, and future moms are reminded that everything you feel is normal; that you’re never alone in your struggles; that no one has all the right answers but we’re all doing our best; and that every day is an opportunity to celebrate the good times, learn from the bad times, and grow into our best selves so we can provide our children with the skills, support, and encouragement to do the same.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Welcome to My World

After over 3 years of renting a small house on the family farm, we have finally decided to hire a realtor and start house hunting. Although we aren't in a huge hurry to pack our bags and we plan to take our time with the process, it is possible that this was our last summer in this house. And as excited as we are to finally have a place to call our own, we're sad to leave the house where we started our lives together. So in honor of our little town and our tiny farmhouse, here is a snapshot of life on the farm....

If you travel toward the southern end of Interstate 39 in central Illinois, you will pass a small town with no stop lights, no restaurants, and no buildings over 2 stories tall. If you venture down the off ramp, you'll see the bank with one drive-up window and the Casey's General Store where the local farmers get their morning coffee. If you make your way out of town, you'll see miles upon miles of corn and soybean fields. Somewhere among those fields is a little yellow farmhouse with chickens roaming in the yard and a barefoot toddler pushing a stuffed bunny in a miniature stroller. Welcome to my world.

I say that we are farmers, but really it's my in-laws who farm full-time, although Matt does work in the field part-time during the busy times of planting and harvesting.  His parents live in the next house down from us (about a half mile down the road), and his grandma lives in the next house after them. Now, I'm sure you're probably feeling sorry for me for having to live so close to my in-laws, but there are some definite perks - like when Reese was a newborn and Matt's mom would come down just so I could take a shower and start dinner or when having an evening alone is as easy as running the baby next door.

On most mornings, Reese and I head out to play in the yard and I see my father-in-law working out by the machine shed. We wander over to say hi and Reese pretends to drive the tractor. Then we continue up the gravel path toward the chicken house. As soon as the chickens see us they all come running and Reese feeds them our produce and bread scraps from the day before. Then we head back toward the house where I push her in the swing or take her for a ride in the wagon around the edge of the property (which makes up for the days when I skip my workout).  

In the 6 years since I've been with Matt, I've participated in a lot of activities that only happen when you live in a place like this. In the spring we raise a new batch of chickens to butcher, and yes I have participated in the "annual chicken slaughter" where we kill, bag, and freeze about 60 chickens, which means I never buy chicken (or eggs) at the store. It's a big family assembly line (or I should say dis-assembly line), and I love knowing that our meat isn't pumped with hormones or poorly treated (which is well worth a couple days of chicken guts on my hands).

In late summer we harvest the sweet corn at its peak of freshness and we shuck, blanch, and freeze enough corn to last all 3 of our families (us, Matt's parents, and his sister's family) until the next sweet corn season. In the fall, I pick apples from the trees in the yard and I freeze a year's supply of apple sauce and pie filling. The harvest season is usually finished just in time for Matt to get all of his friends together to hunt on his family's property. We usually count on Matt killing at least one deer to supply us with ground meat for the year (deer is incredibly lean and much healthier than beef).   
By far though, my favorite thing about living in the country is the separation from the rest of the world. Time just seems to slow down out here (even for someone like me). We don't hear sirens or horns or trains at our house. We hear birds and crickets and motorcycles on leisurely rides. When I stare off into the distance and see only the blue sky and green fields, I find it easier to forget my troubles, quiet my mind, and spend a few minutes with God. Although it can be tough to drive 20 minutes to the next decent-sized town (you don't make a "quick run to the store" out here) and I don't have a lot of neighbors to keep me company during the day, it's well worth the trade-off to be able to roast marshmallows and hot dogs over a bonfire or to sit on the patio with no other houses in sight or to look up at a clear night sky and see every single star. Some people call it the boring-middle-of-nowhere-boondocks. I call it home.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Little Miss Perfect

Not long ago, parenting.com conducted a survey of over 26,000 moms and the results were revealed both on a Today Show segment and on the internet. Of all the "mom confessions," the one that was least surprising but most bothersome was the number of moms who admitted to passing judgement on other moms. Of course, we're all occasionally guilty of thinking that a kid is too old for a pacifier or that a mom spends too much time at work. But just because we all do it, doesn't mean it's okay. In fact, it's never okay because all we're doing is reinforcing the pressure women face to be perfect at everything.

I know I'm not the only woman who feels like I am expected to be a superhuman combination of Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker, and Carol Brady. Whether the pressure comes from societal, social, or familial sources, it seems there is always a reason to feel inadequate. Do I spend enough time with my kids? Am I providing my family with the right nutrition? Is my house clean enough? Am I taking care of myself? Even if we could do all those things right, there are plenty of other things that no one can balance perfectly. If you work too much, then you're not spending enough time with your kids. If you spend too much time with your kids, then you're "letting yourself go." We just can't win.

It's about time we acknowledge that we're all doing our best even if we're not the best - which no one is and anyone who seems to be is just overly committed to never letting anyone else know about it. So if you're one of those moms who does the flight-of-the-bumblebee-cleanup when a car pulls into her driveway; who can't go anywhere without her makeup; whose kid always wears matching ribbons and bows; and who would never admit that she sometimes feels overworked, overwhelmed, and overtired; well, your secret is out.

The truth is that there is no such thing as a perfect mom, perfect wife, or perfect woman. But there are lots of great ones, and if you're doing your best to be yourself, love your family, and manage the juggling act that is life, then you're one of them. So don't let those "perfect" moms fool you into thinking that anyone else out there has a better handle on life than you do. And don't let the fear of judgement stop you from being proud of who you are and celebrating all that you do right.

That's why people who stop by my house on any given day shouldn't be surprised to find my living room in complete disarray, bed unmade, and dishes piled in the sink; or my kid running around with stains on her shirt, hair not combed, and remnants of lunch stuck on her face; or me with no makeup and a poorly constructed ponytail. If you catch me on a day like that, you'll see no sign of embarrassment over the condition of my house or the appearance of myself or my child. Instead, I'll be proud that I'm confident enough to allow people into the imperfect parts of my life. The same goes for my discipline practices, parenting choices, and marriage dynamics. So go ahead, judge away. At least I know I'm doing my part to break the cycle of perfect images. Of all the judgmental labels people might put on me, I can rest easy knowing that "Little Miss Perfect" will never be one of them.