Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beautiful Innocence

My favorite part of every evening is when Reese and I sit down together to read books before bed. It is one of few rituals that has remained constant since her birth, and I cherish the rush of memories from past months when we would sit in this very chair doing this very thing. Last night as we read through her selections, I laughed out loud as she interrupted me to finish the sentences. I thought about how much has changed since the days when my request for an “oink” or a “moo” was met only with a blank stare. I marveled at what a beautiful blessing she has been to our lives and how wonderfully perfect she is. At that very moment, almost as if on cue, she turned toward me, raised her little hand, and smacked me right in the face.

The incident led to an immediate time out and, thus, and abrupt end to story time. Afterwards I finished helping her get ready for bed and as I tip-toed away from her dark room, a single tear fell onto my shirt. All parents (and many non-parents) are aware that the toddler years are a stereotypically tough time. Reese turned two exactly one month ago, and defiance and destruction occur with increasing frequency around our house. The challenges of motherhood have reduced me to tears before, but last night was different. I wasn’t crying because I was exhausted or frustrated or because she hurt my feelings (ok, that was part of it), or because I was worried that I was doing something wrong as a mom. Last night was about confronting the realization that my relationship with Reese has entered a big transition.

Until recently, my primary role with her has been purely nurturing. My main responsibilities were to provide her with constant love and help her build a sense of trust and security. Even in her second year when I started guiding her behavior and telling her no, it was always more of a gentle reminder than a firm demand. As her investigative nature and destructive curiosity progress, the need for more and more guidance has altered the nature of many of our interactions.

It saddens me to think that we have entered a realm where the ebb and flow of conflict and harmony is now a permanent fixture. I experienced similar feelings the last time I felt her kick me from inside, the last time I nursed her, the last time she fit into each clothing size – each transition serving as another reminder that every part of our lives exist in the present only for a brief moment in time.

That realization, although sad at times, motivates me to cherish even seemingly negative moments. Someday “the time Reese smacked me during story time” will be a fond memory of the beautiful innocence I will someday miss very much. It is the same innocence that causes the six-month-old to eat a dust bunny, the twelve-month-old to overturn a bowl of applesauce, the eighteen-month-old to dip her watermelon in ketchup, and the two-year-old to test mom’s reaction to a sudden smack.

As we venture deeper into the age of the “terrible two’s” over the next few years, I hope I remember all the other phases of life I swore I would never miss until the day I realized they were over. I hope I don’t fall into the common mindset of thinking of this as a terrible time, but as a time of tremendous growth for Reese and for us as parents – growth in self-control, patience, understanding, compassion, and grace. Even on the difficult days - when the walls are covered in crayon or the floor is covered with applesauce or you’ve been jolted from a peaceful moment by a swift slap in the face, remember that it will make for a funny story and a fond memory of a time of undeniably beautiful innocence.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Searching for Serenity: Peel the Onion

It has been over a year since I first came to the full realization that something in my life has been completely amiss. It all began when I started this blog, which kick-started an introspective journey involving intense self-reflection, analysis, and discovery. That journey is now resulting in a slow shift of consciousness and re-examination of purpose that are beginning to change the way I perceive life and its events, alter my perspective on religious and political matters, and raise my awareness of the binding thought patterns that clutter our human minds. I believe these seemingly uncontrollable thought patterns of worry, doubt, and judgment sit at the very core of many of our fears, addictions, personality flaws, internal conflicts, troubled relationships, and life challenges. The answer to combating those patterns lies in the ability to recognize, challenge, and ultimately control them. Here is the process through which I came to this realization...

In early 2011, I finally admitted to myself that have a problem with being in control. I am uncomfortable in unfamiliar settings, especially when I consider a situation to be chaotic or poorly managed. My life is highly structured and overly organized. I like to be right; I like to be in charge; I can even be a bit of a brat when it comes to getting my way. I have been aware of those things for years, but I always did what most people with personality flaws do – I justified it, made light of it, created excuses to defend it, and accepted it as an unchangeable part of who I am. I lived in complete denial of its true impact on my ability to have a fully harmonious marriage and a truly peaceful life. Never before had I been honest enough with myself to look in the mirror and say, “This is a problem.”

Once I did that, I expected overnight success. I thought the increased awareness of my problem was enough to enact a change. Not so fast. It was more like the “diet starts Monday” mentality. Every day I resolved to go with the flow, to trust the natural order of the world, to worry about myself and let everyone else be and do as they wish. Every day I failed miserably. I started trying less and less and I fell back into my old mentality, “This is who I am.” Along the way, various incidents would refuel my efforts to change, but it was always temporary. This went on until I discovered the next layer.

It turns out that I had been addressing the wrong problem. Instead of trying to stop controlling life, I needed to go a step further and ask myself, “What compels me to be in control of the world around me?” The answer (which did not come to me as immediately as it seems here) was anxiety caused by constant worry and fear. Subconsciously, I had come to believe that if I can make life predictable, then I’ll never get hurt or blindsided, and I’ll be prepared if my worries ever do come to fruition. This resulted in a lifestyle marked by rigidity, inflexibility, an unwillingness to trust others, constant suspicion of the possible danger lurking in the future, and (not surprisingly) an inability to relax, enjoy simple moments, and truly believe that “life is good.”

I quickly abandoned my efforts to magically stop controlling the circumstances of my life, and I started focusing on addressing my anxiety. Since I had already discovered an underlying cause for my compulsion to be in control, I assumed there must also be a deeper cause for my anxiety. I started with what I could already admit: I am distracted and preoccupied all the time. But why? My inability to answer that question led me to prayer, and my prayers guided me toward various resources through which I discovered a completely foreign but very intriguing concept. Spiritual writers describe it in various ways, but it basically boils down to developing the ability to live in the present moment without the distraction of any unnecessary or irrelevant thoughts.

There it is, I thought. That is the core; the center of the onion. I am constantly preoccupied because my head is cluttered with thoughts – second-guessing the past, worrying about the future, and entertaining a host of other irrelevant why’s and what-if’s that swim through my mind disrupting my stream of consciousness and affecting my ability to fully enjoy life. My disruptive thoughts fuel my anxiety and my anxiety compels me to control the world around me. The answer lies in learning how to live in the moment, surrender to the present, block negative and irrelevant thoughts, and trust the natural order of the world. Given that this is still a new concept in my life, my ability to do those things is certainly in its infancy, but I believe the achievement of those skills is a real possibility for everyone willing to try.

This is where my real journey begins and your journey can begin here too. I believe that any of life challenges – and we all have them – can be inserted in place of my compulsion to control and can be understood and processed on a deeper level by confronting the thought patterns that fuel them and learning what it means to be truly present in each moment of this beautiful life. I hope you continue to follow along and share your comments as we continue the search for serenity.

Related Posts:
Searching for Serenity: The Beginning

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Daddy's Little Girl

Most people who know Matt would agree that he is definitely a man’s man – a deer hunting, Harley riding, sports watching, no whining, man’s man. In the nearly seven years we’ve been together, I’ve seen very little of his sensitive side (but I swear, it really does exist). His straightforward personality and rugged nature work for me (most of the time, anyway), but I sometimes wondered how that would work for us when we had children. I wasn’t sure if he would be interested in diaper changes, baby talk, and pretend tea parties. There were times when he wasn’t sure either, but that was before we had a daughter.

Nothing softens a man’s heart like the birth of his baby girl. The moment the doctor handed Reese over to Matt in the delivery room, a new kind of tenderness surfaced in him. Her little body looked even smaller in his big hands, and it was an amazing sight to watch him hold her, change her, and dress her in those first few months. It didn’t take long for her to recognize his voice, his face, and his touch; and she quickly became his biggest fan. Some of my favorite parenting moments are watching the two of them together as she chases him around the kitchen, bounces down the hall on his shoulders, or runs for a hug when he comes home from work.

In my heart I always knew Matt would be a great dad, and my instinct is confirmed every time he changes the channel from ESPN to Disney, every time I see him wearing a pink headband and holding a yellow tea cup, and every time I see the look on his face when Reese says, “Good night, Daddy. Me love you.” It’s moments like these that inspired me to write this poem for all of the little girls whose hero will always be named “Daddy.” Happy Father’s Day!!

Daddy’s Little Girl

The very first man to take my hand
The first to kiss my cheek.
The first to hold me in his arms;
A bundle wrapped in pink.
The first to say, “I love you”
And promise me the world.
I feel safe and loved because
I’m Daddy’s Little Girl.

I’ve become his everything.
There’s nothing he won’t do.
He’ll wear pink bows and paint my toes
If I just ask him to.
He’ll dress up like a princess
And pour a cup of tea
Just because he always knows
How much it means to me.

He teaches me my manners
And reminds me to behave.
He tells me I should give and share.
He makes me strong and brave.
He shows me how to say my prayers
And walk proud in my faith.
He makes sure I always know
The path a good man takes.

And each night when he tucks me in,
He knows someday I’ll go.
But as I make my way into the world,
I hope he always knows
That no matter where life takes me,
There’s no man in the world
Who could ever take his place because
I’m Daddy’s Little Girl.

Friday, June 8, 2012

This One's for the Girls

On Tuesday night I went out to dinner with my Bible study girls. My girls nights these days are too far and definitely too few between, and the settings in which I find myself on such occasions have changed dramatically over the past few years. Loud bars have become quiet corner booths and an extra round of shots has become an extra round of garlic bread. My personal dress code changed from “show it off” to “cover it up,” and 9:30pm went from "time to head out" to "time to head home." I’m not even sure I remember what there was to talk about before I had children. Some of Tuesday’s conversation topics included toddler vomit, diaper blowouts, rashes, fevers, and a very creative use for disposable nursing pads. (Don’t worry, Holly. I won’t tell the story). By the way, only a table full of moms can talk about toddler vomit and diaper blowouts during dinner without anyone wincing in disgust.

Ok, so it’s undeniable that motherhood brought some drastic changes to my social life, and possibly the biggest one is that I actually have to put in some real effort to maintain it. I quickly realized how easy it is to give up on that part of life after having children. I find it so much easier to stay home every night. After a long day of cooking, cleaning, and chasing a toddler, a hot shower, a good book, and an early bedtime are often my only interests. I seem to have much less time for my girlfriends these days, and I’ve seen many of my old friendships fade over the past two years. Luckily, last year I got connected with a few other moms like me and I’ve rediscovered the important role friends play in personal growth and sanity maintenance. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a group of girl friends in the same stage of life to share fears, triumphs, struggles, and laughs. Words cannot express how blessed I feel to have these ladies in my life.

Possibly the best part of our little circle is that each of us is so wonderfully imperfect. We share our weaknesses with candor and humor and we welcome the comfort that comes along with someone else jumping in to say, “I do that too!” We also share our strengths with a passion that inspires each of us to be proud of who we are and at the same time encourages us to be more like each other. Each of these women fuels my constant desire to become the best wife and mother I can be. Sometimes I wonder if they are even aware of their individual contributions to my life...

Everyone needs a friend like Kristin, whose commitment to a healthy lifestyle inspires me to exercise more, take better care of myself, and treat my body like a temple of God. I read food labels more carefully and Reese eats a more balanced diet because Kristin is my friend. Everyone needs a friend like Holly, whose passion for serving others inspires me to reach out to those in need. I volunteer my time more freely and donate more generously because Holly is my friend. Everyone needs a friend like Sarah, whose sense of humor inspires me to see that every situation is an opportunity for fun. I laugh at myself more frequently and find enjoyment in difficult moments because Sarah is my friend.

My journey through motherhood would be infinitely tougher without a circle of friends with whom I could share all of the ups and downs. If you have friends like these, I hope you fully realize what an enormous blessing it is. If you need friends like these, I hope you take steps to make those connections. Join a play group or Bible study; hang out at the park; reconnect with a forgotten friend. Most importantly, if you have never told your friends how they inspire you, take a minute to thank them for the very important roles they play in your life.

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” - Ecclesiastes 4:9-10