Friday, April 29, 2011

I'm A Mess! Or Am I?

My friend, Kristin, has it all together. She's a great mom and her daughter is very developmentally advanced. She's incredibly dedicated to a healthy lifestyle, works out several times a week, and eats a very healthy diet. She always looks awesome and her home is clean and organized. She recylces, takes piano lessons, teaches fitness classes, and is a personal trainer. (Yeah, I know. I want to kick her too sometimes). I am constantly comparing myself to her and my kid to her kid, especially on particularly frazzled days when I feel like my hair and my house and my life are a mess. Sometimes I just look around and wonder how moms like Kristin are doing it all!

Then one day, Reese and I went over to Kristin's house to play, and I wish I could remember exactly what prompted the following comment, but she either forgot about something or misplaced something or needed to borrow something. And would you believe that she said, "ugh! You always have it all together. You must think I'm such a mess." Well, imagine my surprise! Here I was thinking she has it all together, and then she says the very same thing about me! I thought about that for a long time wondering how it was even possible for me to give anyone the impression that I have anything figured out.

Well, here's what I learned from that conversation. I didn't learn that I really do have it all together or that maybe she should be the one comparing herself to me. What I did learn is that you can't compare the entire iceberg of your life to the tip of someone else's. When Kristin and I first became friends, I only saw her in the moments when she seemed to have it all together, so I assumed that's how she always is. And it was the same when she would see me. We all tend to put our best (or at least our better) foot forward when we're around other people. I've only known Kristin for 2 years and the more I get to know her, the more I learn that we're not really that different. We both struggle to get it all done. We both have unproductive days. We both drop the ball once in a while (probably more often than either of us would admit). We both think everyone else has a better handle on life than we do. And we both look much more "together" on the outside than we feel on the inside.

So if you think someone else has it all figured out, trust me, she doesn't. If you think she is getting everything done, trust me, she isn't. If you think she couldn't possibly compare herself to you, trust me, she does. And if you think she has it all together... well, I bet she thinks you do too.   

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Frazzled Mom Syndrome

Recently I was talking to a friend who told me a story about how she went to the store and parked her car next to a minivan. When she got out she noticed the sliding door of the minivan was open but there was no one around it. She peeked inside and she saw three car seats buckled side by side. Then she said, "Once I saw the car seats I knew it was just some frazzled mom who forgot to shut the door." Now, when she told me this I was laughing, but in my head I was thinking, "Oh good. I'm not the only one with a serious case of Frazzled Mom Syndrome."  

My problem started one day during my pregnancy when I came out of the shower and Matt was standing there looking very confused. "Did you just take a shower?" He asked me. "Uh, yeah," I said, now looking equally confused. He said, "Are you aware that the kitchen sink is running?" Apparently, he heard the water running for over 10 minutes and came into the kitchen to see what I was doing. Right at that moment I was coming out of the bathroom in my robe. Hence, the confusion. At the time, I couldn't figure out why I would just leave the sink running and get in the shower. I didn't know then, but I do know now. I did it because Frazzled Mom Syndrome sets in even before the first kid is born.

If you have children, you also have Frazzled Mom Syndrome. Don't even try to hide it. It begins with the first pregnancy and gets exponentially worse with each kid (or so I hear). Sometimes it causes us to laugh at ourselves like the time when I set Reese down in the Pack N Play and went upstairs to look for the Pack N Play. I couldn't find it anywhere. I won't tell you how long it took me to realize that Reese was sitting in it at the bottom of the steps! Sometimes it makes us feel like bad moms like the time I set her in the car seat and put the groceries in the car and then drove about 2 miles before I remembered that I never buckled her in! Sometimes it's even a little embarrassing like the time I took her to see all of my old co-workers and lost my car keys. I had to go back to every person's office to look for them. I finally went to the front desk and the attendant handed them to me saying, "Grey Honda? Yeah, you left them sticking out of the lock on your trunk." Frazzled. Mom. Syndrome. 

On this day, Reese was crying in the car. It was a really short drive and I was in a hurry so I didn't stop. Then she fell asleep and when we got out of the car I realized that her hat was covering her eyes. I felt pretty terrible.
I'm talking about it today because there have been too many times when I felt bad about myself or my organizational skills or my parenting in my frazzled moments. As moms, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect because we have such a huge responsibility to take good care of our children. But we shouldn't feel bad. We should embrace our frazzled days. Let the funny incidents make you smile and lighten your mood. Let the serious incidents remind you to slow down and remember that things just won't go as quickly or as smoothly as they did when you were only responsible for yourself. Most of all, remember to give yourself a break and know that you're not the only one out there leaving car doors open and faucets running. We're all making mistakes, but we're all doing our best. And we're all still great moms, even despite the occasional flare up of Frazzled Mom Syndrome.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Unconditional Love

This Sunday we will take Reese to church for her first Easter. She will sit in the pew and play with her toys and make faces at the people around us, growing more and more restless as the minutes pass. She won't comprehend the readings or the message. She won't understand why this is such an important day, and she won't understand the reason for such a celebration. Actually, she reminds me of how I have approached all of my past Easters. Maybe I don't make faces at people or wave a stuffed animal in the air, but I know I haven't always understood Easter the way I do now. In a way, it feels like a first Easter for me too, because this is the first year that I am approaching the Easter weekend with a greater understanding of God's love for me.

I always thought I understood unconditional love, but now that I have a child I realize that my view of it was incredibly superficial. Here's an example: Matt and I are Catholic so before our wedding we had to participate in a marriage preparation program. For one of the requirements we completed a survey and went over the answers with our priest. One of the questions said something like, "if my spouse was unfaithful, I would stay married." We both marked "no," making it clear to each other that infidelity is a deal breaker for both of us. However, even knowing that, we have said on multiple occasions that our love for each other is unconditional. We clearly didn't fully understand what it means to give someone unconditional love. But once Reese was born, we both felt a love for her that we had never experienced before, even with each other. There are no deal breakers for Reese. No matter what she does, no matter how she strays, we will welcome her home with open arms. We want her to live her life knowing that she will not be loved more or less as a result of how she behaves, what career she chooses, or who she marries. I finally started to understand what people mean when they say that God's love for us is completely unconditional.

Matt and I recently had a conversation about the conditions of our love and we both retracted the limits we once set on each other. After that talk, I felt refreshed and at peace knowing that his love for me is not dependent upon my actions. It makes me want to be a better spouse in every way because I am so thankful for such a special love. That's how I feel now when I think about God's love - that He loved me enough to send His son to die for my sins, and that no matter what I do, no matter how I stray, my return to Him will always be met with open arms. It's hard to imagine that my love for Matt and his love for me and our love for Reese represent only a tiny fraction of God's love for us. Now that I understand that more fully, I will sit in church on Sunday and feel more thankful for Jesus' sacrifice and more joyful for His resurrection than ever before. Even though I will be celebrating Easter for the 29th time, it is the first time that I am truly celebrating with a deeper appreciation for God's gift of unconditional love.

Happy Easter!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Therapy for the Heart

Once in a while I'll hear someone describe an activity like exercising or cooking or even cleaning as "therapeutic," but I rarely stop to think about what that actually means. Most of the dictionary definitions of "therapeutic" pertain to medical or physical health, but I did come across one that said, "having healing powers." If you think about it, that's all therapy really is. Physical therapy heals your body. Mental health therapy heals your mind. Many people need one or the other (or both) at some point in their lives to heal an injury or treat a disease or overcome a loss. But the kind of healing that easily gets overlooked is that which heals our hearts and strengthens our souls. That's what people are talking about when they describe something as therapeutic. I didn't fully understand that - until I found mine.

I have never found anything quite as therapeutic as writing. I started this blog because I wanted to have a part of myself that existed outside the walls of my home. Originally, I thought I would be writing about changing diapers and clipping coupons and paying bills. But it has become more about getting back to being the person I forget about when my life gets taken over by diapers and coupons and bills (oh my)! I finally found something that is helping me get back to the heart and soul of who I am; helping me strengthen my faith; helping me preserve my individuality; helping me to remember that I can be a good wife and a good mom without forgetting to also be good at just being me.

There are lots of things I like to do - like cooking, scrapbooking, exercising, taking walks, watching movies, being with family and friends... the list goes on and on. But I've found that not everything I like to do provides the same kind of healing for me that writing does. A truly therapeutic activity recharges your internal battery. It takes away all of your frustration, impatience, and worry - even if only for the moment. It takes your mind and heart to a place where you feel truly happy, truly peaceful, truly you. Everyone's therapy is different. For some people, it changes with their mood. For others, it's always the same thing. If you know what yours is, I would challenge you to try to work it into your schedule at least once or twice each week. Take some time for yourself, recharge your battery, and experience the healing powers of therapy for the heart.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Redefining Beauty

A couple weeks ago I went shopping with my mom and made the mistake of trying on swimsuits for the first time in 2 years. (Reese was born last year at the very beginning of summer, so I was still hiding under t-shirts and basketball shorts for the entire swimsuit season). "Disappointed" is a huge understatement in describing how I felt in that dressing room mirror. There were things sagging and bulging in places that never sagged or bulged before. I tried on one suit after another, each one covering more skin than the one before it. I left the store empty handed and sad. Later that day, I made the 90 mile drive home and spent most of the way thinking about my self-image.

It would be impossible for me to fully express my feelings without admitting that I struggle with vanity. Before I got pregnant with Reese, I thought I was hot stuff. (This is a picture of me 3 summers ago on our honeymoon). At the time, being pretty was the most important thing to me. I'm ashamed to say that at one time I truly believed that I would rather be pretty than smart; that I would give up my degrees before I would give up my looks. Now that I'm on this soul-searching journey, it pains me to think about how much of a struggle this has been for me. How is it possible that I can value my shell so much more than my core?

I think pregnancy was the humbling experience I desperately needed. It has forced me to redefine what it means to be beautiful; to look at beauty in a deeper, more mature way. It has forced me to be proud of my body for different reasons. I grew a human being inside me, gave birth to her, and nursed her for nine months. I am proud of that and I am proud of myself as a mother, a wife, a friend, and a person. Motherhood hasn't made me less beautiful. It has made me more beautiful. (This is me last summer in Missouri, sporting my maternity pants and holding the little person who made every wardrobe adjustment well worth the change).

That day at Kohl's I wasn't looking for the right kind of beauty. I was looking for shallow-hearted, narrow-minded, society-driven beauty. And in doing that, I forgot about all of the other things that make me a beautiful person - all of the beautiful things about my core that I would never trade for a perfect shell. I needed to stop trying to look beautiful and start trying to be beautiful. And I'm slowly learning that changing that one tiny word is what redefining beauty is all about.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wear It Proudly

A couple weeks ago, I was playing on the floor with Reese when she started poking her finger into my back. At first, I couldn't figure out what she was doing, and then I suddenly realized exactly what she was doing. She had noticed my tattoo.

Yes, I have a tattoo. It's a little purple flower on the right side of my lower back. I got it in college with my best friend who has a similar one. (You know how it is, a good friend goes with you to get a tattoo, but a great friend gets into the chair next to you. Well, that was me. I went there planning to be a good friend and came out as a permanent great friend). Lots of people - mostly older people - told me I would regret it someday, but I never thought I would. Then something changed in the last few years. I started feeling self-conscious if I thought it was showing. I had a different reaction when people asked about it. And then I had a daughter, and I kept thinking about how I would have to explain it to her someday. (And by someday, I meant years from now. Little did I know she would already be poking it at ten months old). The more I thought about it, the more I got down on myself for not respecting the body God gave me and for not thinking about the long-term consequences of my decisions.

Well, I recently had a miniature epiphany, and my whole attitude changed. I don't really know what brought it on. I've been doing a lot of religious reading and self-reflecting lately (hence the blog) and it's helped me begin to understand a lot of personal issues - even little things like how I feel about having a tattoo. Anyway, I started thinking about why I made this into such a big deal in my head. I think it's partly because I sometimes feel judged for it. Well, shame on anyone who judges someone for such a dumb reason, and shame on me for letting other people make me feel bad about my body or my past. Every mark I have (visible and not visible) represents a part of my life that makes me who I am today, and I like that person. My tattoo represents a carefree time in my life. It represents the close relationship I have with my friend (who was my maid of honor and is now the Godmother of my baby girl). Every time I see it I think of her and the fun we had in college and the road that led me to Matt and back to God. So I'm done feeling bad about it. I'm done thinking about removing it. I'm done feeling judged over it. I have a tattoo and I like my tattoo. And from now on, I'm wearing it proudly.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Best Memories

Not long ago, I was cleaning upstairs and I came across a storage box of all my old pictures. There were pictures from high school cheerleading, college parties, spring break trips (like this one of my and 3 friends on spring break in the Bahamas), family photos, and pictures of Matt and me. As I dug through them I noticed that some memories came back to me more vividly than others.

In some of the pictures, I remembered details that pictures can't capture; what the weather was like, how I felt in that moment, or how uncomfortable those shoes were. In other pictures, I couldn't even remember where we were or when we went there. I couldn't help but wonder why I remember certain moments better than others. Some people might say that we remember the things that are most important or the moments that have the biggest impact. I think it's deeper than that.

The difference for me is that I most remember the moments in which I was truly present. The reason we think we remember big events better than little details, is because we're more likely to be fully present for the big things in our lives. Once I realized that the moments I remember the best are the moments (big and small) in which my heart connected with my mind and said, "don't ever forget this," I started trying to be more present in everyday things. When I play with Reese I turn off the TV and the computer, silence my phone and just focus on her - how she laughs, how she smiles, how excited I am to see her learning the moves to "itsy-bitsy spider." And when I decide to grab the camera to capture this moment, I'm that much more likely to remember how much fun we had that day or the exact game we were playing when she made this face:

We live in a world where everyone is constantly somewhere else. Phones in hand, laptops open, we're afraid to disconnect because of what we might miss. How ironic is it that we don't seem to fear missing what's right in front of us? It's hard for our hearts to connect with our minds when our minds are connected elsewhere. Pictures are a great thing to have, but if we're not fully present in the moment those shots are taken, the memories won't mean as much. Try it today. Get rid of all of your distractions and clear your mind. Then pick up your child, smell her hair, feel her little arms around your neck, and tell your heart and your mind, "don't ever forget this." I'll bet that moment gives you a sweeter memory than any picture ever could.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Love Notes

I am married to the greatest man alive and let me tell you why. He makes me laugh. He makes me feel safe. He respects me. He works hard. He forgives me when I make mistakes. He holds me when I'm sad. He makes me happy. He makes me a better person. He loves his family. He tells me I'm beautiful. I can talk to him about anything. He cares about my opinion. He's a great dad. He's honest with me. He's faithful to me. He would do anything for me. He stands up for me. He prays with me. He's my best friend. And he's everything I've ever wanted in a man.

That was 20 of the 101 reasons I love my husband. I made a list of 101 things I love about Matt not only to prove that I really do think I'm married to the greatest man alive, but also as a reminder to myself on days when I forget. After we got married I couldn't believe how quickly our relationship hit a level of comfort that easily gets taken for granted. I am shocked at how often I have forgotten how lucky I am and how often I have chosen words fueled by anger over words fueled by love and respect. I understand now why so many new marriages fail. When you're young and in love you think your relationship is immune to fights and disrespecful words and thoughts of divorce. Every couple needs to take the time and effort to safeguard their relationships against these things because if it hasn't happened to you yet, it will. I have found that my approach to our relationship is much different on the days when I take a moment to think back to when we first met; back to the reasons I first fell in love with him; back to the day I stood in front of God and promised to love, honor, and cherish him for better or worse for the rest of my life.

I encourage every woman to do this. Seriously, I want you to take some time to write something nice about your husband (and your husband should do it for you too). Write about what attracted you to him, why you fell in love, what you felt on your wedding day, or why you miss him when you're apart. Make a list, write a poem, draw a diagram. It doesn't matter. Just put something on paper. Then take your little love note and tuck it in a safe place. Read it to yourself when you are mad at him or when he makes a mistake. Before you get upset about one thing he did wrong, think first about the many things he does right. Before you react to how he made you mad today, think first about how he makes you happy every other day. Before you get carried away in a moment of anger, first get carried away in a moment of love. Instead of thinking, "He's so aggravating. He does X, Y, and Z, and he never does this and he always does that," just get out your love note and start with, "I am married to the greatest man alive..." and then see if anything else matters.