A Time for Everything (Leave of Absence)

I’m guessing you’ve noticed that it’s  been pretty quiet around here lately.

I meant to say something about it back when I first knew I’d be taking a break.  First, I thought I would write some pithy statement about how I was taking a blog vacation, but not to fear, I’d be back soon (!).

Then, I thought I would write something about how I needed some time to attend to some life things and big decisions, but not to worry, I’d be back soon (!!).

Then, I thought I would write something both more cryptic and more revealing, about how I wasn’t doing well, and I needed to take a step back for the forseeable future.  But not to worry, I’d be back someday (!!!).

But the words wouldn’t come.  They still won’t come.  (These words don’t count)

It is my intention to write again, and it is my intention to share my writing with others.  But I haven’t been able to do that for the last few months, and I need to give myself permission to weather this season as long as it lasts.

There is a time for everything.  And right now, it is time to be silent.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

 


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Bitter Ends and Fresh Starts

There is nothing so lonesome as feeling like you are the only one.

Perhaps that is too obvious to state.  I mean, feeling like you are the only one is practically the definition of lonesome, but bear with me here.  Because this year, all I could think as we approached Christmas was:  I can’t wait for this to be over.  And the weight of the distance between what I should have been feeling – the joy, the anticipation, the desire to carve family-focused-fun out of every minute – and how I actually felt – um, the opposite of all of that – was distressing.  But the deep-seated belief that I was the only one feeling that way made the weeks leading up to Christmas almost unbearable.

December was a whirlwind of good: parties, and visits with friends, and parties, and service projects, and parties, and parties.  And it was a whirlwind of bad: illness, and fussy children, and illness, and a (second) trip to the ER, and isolation, and illness, and illness.  And all of it – the good and the bad – served to further strain a mother and a marriage, neither of which, frankly, could handle any more, thankyouverymuch.  December was a month of things aren’t bad… they’re just tough right now.  Of miscommunication and hurt feelings, of silent expectations not often met.  There just wasn’t time to figure it all out, and sometimes, the confidence that things will work out eventually can hurt you in the short term, because it becomes too easy to put off what you really, really need: the kind word, the schedule coordination, the vulnerable question, the “not this year” response to the invitation, the sleep.  Because you can get to it later.  When there isn’t so much to do.

The strain of important things undone, of toomuch done instead, manifested itself at every turn.  I didn’t want to decorate cookies, and when we finally did on December 24th, I was nearly buzzing with the stress of it.  When we finished, I ran, and I ran, and I ran.  I didn’t feel like making Christmas breakfast, or Christmas dinner for that matter, and didn’t really think about the fact that I needed to until I was driving home Christmas Eve after singing at church, annoyed to find out that the grocery store was only open for 15 more minutes and they didn’t have half of what I needed, according to the recipes hastily pulled up on my phone.  I didn’t feel like wrapping presents, though of course we did later that night, amazed that I had managed to collect something for each child in the blur of the past month.  And I didn’t feel like decorating the tree – not anymore, anyway – so we didn’t.  It stood over our hastily-wrapped presents, half-decorated, the way it had been since the decorating was started with only half of our family (unlike most years, where decorating the tree is a sacred, family-and-friend ritual), a big green reminder that we just didn’t get things right this year.

I’d like to say that I woke up Christmas morning with a renewed zest for life, happy, just so happy, for these precious moments with my dear husband and children.  I tried, I really did, and I think that I made a good-ish showing.  But my favorite part of the day was when it was over.  And I went to bed guilty.  Guilty and lonesome.

 *  *  *

So it’s not hard to describe what I felt when I got to the gym the day after Christmas, and heard one common thread woven through the chit chat in the locker room: relief.  With every “I’m so happy it’s over!” and “I just had to get out of there!!” I felt a little less… wrong, I guess.  I don’t know what it is about December; I suppose it has something to do with all of the expectations that everything will be so good.  Better than so good.  Great!  Spectacular!!  MAGICAL!!!  It’s enough to drive even the most die-hard-holiday-loving-lady to her knees (and trust, many of the women begging for mercy in the locker room were die-hard-holiday-loving-ladies).

But it’s not just that those expectations – and the additional time and effort we spend to try and meet them – can drive a woman crazy.  Sometimes, it’s that life – real life, the one that’s not driven by the date on the calendar – doesn’t always sync up.  It doesn’t matter why.  You could lose a baby, gain a baby, lose a job, get a new job, cross wires with a family member, worry about a friend, move (OH, the MOVING), anticipate something really big (or small) that’s heavy (or light) and stressful, so stressful.  And December rolls around and it’s time to make magic and it’s just not happening.

Three days after Christmas, we were hit with the nastiest of winter storms.  From the ungodly hour I woke up (sub 5am, for spin class, to work off my lingering stress) until we went to bed, the ominous sky spat hail and the wind absolutely howled.  The world outside my window was desolate and foreboding, a meteorological manifestation of hopelessness; yet for the first time in weeks, I felt right.  And when Ben turned to me a few days later, the sun reflecting bright off of inches of ice, and said “I was thinking about taking the tree down…” I was ready.  More than ready.  And I wondered if we might get on the same page sometime soon, after all.

It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell my myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass.     – Counting Crows

Blog - Bitter Ends and Fresh Starts

Original picture by Joel Müeller via flickr creative commons.

 *  *  *

December has no claim on me.  But New Years Day… that is another story.  There is no year – from the most wildly successful to the downright disasterous – that cannot be improved upon, in my mind, when January 1st brings a new start.

This year, I’m trying to do a few important things.  I’m working on letting go of all of the “shoulds” that I hold so tightly.  I should do this better; I should be this way; I should (or shouldn’t) feel like this.  Ugh.  Enough.  There is so little in life that is truly good or bad, simply right or wrong, purely success or failure, that it deserves to be saddled with an extra helping of disappointment or, God forbid it, guilt.

And along the same lines, I’m trying to be kinder to myself.  And if you’re like WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!?!?!  GIVE ME SOMETHING I CAN WORK WITH!!:  For me, right now, it is working harder to figure out what feeds my mind, body, and spirit and and allowing myself the time and space to do those things.  And, in a small but important distinction, I’m working on doing these things in order to be the best version of myself; on giving these things to myself instead of requiring these things from myself.  (Thanks to the reliably inspiring Melisa Joulwan for that reminder).

After our Long December, I need the basics, so I’m doing Yoga with Adriene’s Yoga Camp (30 days of yoga to connect my mind, body, and spirit) starting now (or whenever you want), and Jacqueline Smith’s Go Sugar Free (by FAR the best thing I’ve ever done for my physical and mental health, and it comes with lifetime membership for those of us who need a  a couple of a few fresh starts #thankyoucomeagain) starting January 6, 2016.

I’d love for you to join me.

*  *  *

Anyone else breathing a sigh of relief now that the holidays are over?  

What does the best version of yourself look like?


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What You Don’t See When You Look At My Perfect Family Christmas Card

If I was given just a few words to describe Ben, I would say he is the embodiment of Look on the Bright Side.  He is intrinsically positive, rarely bothered, always productive, and completely even-keeled.  When we assign Winnie the Pooh characters to each member of our family (who doesn’t?), he is usually Rabbit, though sometimes he’s Owl.  I, by contrast, am Eeyore.

Oh bother.

I say all of this to add credibility to the following statement, uttered through clenched teeth, one warm Sunday morning in October:

“I always forget how completely miserable this is,” said the positive, unshakable, productive, even-keeled one, as we struggled through the annual trial that is family pictures.

 *  *  *

I suppose my first mistake was scheduling family pictures the night after our block party.  Fueled by their open access to the food table and driven by sugar in its many forms (Cookies!  Ice Cream Bars!  Candy!  Rice Krispie Treats!), Grant and Mack whirled around like dervishes until they individually FLAMED OUT and had to be carted off to bed, way past their bedtimes.  Grant woke up sullen and asking for candy; Mack woke up puffy and dead-eyed from processed foods.

And my second mistake was not explicitly coordinating with Ben to get the menagerie on the road.  As often happens, I made (a too-elaborate) breakfast and started dressing the children, calm in the belief that I’d found a wormhole in the space-time continuum and “time didn’t apply to me,” until I finally realized that I had just a few minutes to shower and get ready.  What I should have done was said “Cereal for everyone!” and spent an extra hour molding my hair into unmovable perfection; instead, I ran to the car (where everyone else was already buckled in and waiting), only-mostly-dry hair blowing behind me, makeup bag in hand.  I was still curling my eyelashes when our photographer walked over to meet us at our car.  Can professional photographers capture potential and good intentions?  I sure hoped so.

Still, I had high hopes.  It was a beautiful, if slightly humid, early October day, trees just beginning to show their glory without yet making a leafy mess on the ground.  And sure, our usually happy, ready-to-pose children had historically become surly and uncooperative as soon as we actually paid someone to capture their likeness, but with an extra year of maturity under their belts, they simply must be ready to just enjoy life and smile, right?

Wrong.

We found a spot by the lake and asked the boys to sit near each other on a rock.  They started to fight and nearly fell in, and then disappeared into the reeds until I crawled in after them.

We decided to re-claim the spot for our family picture, trying to release the tension that was causing our shoulders to creep up.  One boy looked here.  One boy looked there.  One Mom was caught snarling “STOP TOUCHING EACH OTHER!  Now, move closer, like you like each other.”  One Dad held one squirming, grouchy baby, closed his eyes and tried to transport himself to anywhere other than right here, right now.

We sat on rock formations.  Hugged trees.  Jumped off of logs.  Leaned against bridges.  Threw rocks into the water.  Sat together.  Sat separately.  But no matter what we did, at least one child flat-out refused to smile, or look at the camera, or follow any direction whatsoever.  I mean, technically, this wasn’t so different from what happens every day in our home but… this wasn’t every day in our home.  This was Picture Day.

Photo by www.proflowers.com via flickr.

Photo by http://www.proflowers.com via flickr.

When we left the park barely an hour later, we were sweaty, exasperated, and defeated.  There was NO WAY we had a decent picture of even one member of our family, and frankly, the effort of trying to appear happy and healthy left us spent.  Ben and I side-eyed each other on the three-minute ride home, trying to figure out how to manipulate the other into wrangling the children so that we could decompress.  Grant still cried for candy, Mack cried because someone “hurt his feelings,” and Macey cried just because.  And as we pulled into the garage, I had to ask myself:  Why exactly do we do this, again?

 *  *  *

The answer, of course, came a few weeks later when we got an email from our photographer that our pictures were ready.  There were bad ones, lots of them: blurry pictures as Grant made a last minute wiggle; almost-but-not-quite perfect family pictures with Mack making a poo-face or picking a nose (not necessarily his own);  shots that caught the light in such a way as to make it painfully clear that I had put my makeup on in a moving car.

But there were good ones, too: pictures that captured each of us exactly as we were in that season.  Grant’s burgeoning confidence, the silent confirmation of our decision to give him “the gift of a year” in Pre-K.  The Jekyll and Hyde of Mack at three: heart-breakingly sweet and brain-explodingly naughty – often in the same minute.  Macey’s transition from baby to toddler: for so long, just so painfully slow (she barely took a step before 17-months), and then, all of a sudden, every day it seemed that the child I picked up each morning was different from the one I put down the night before.  And in the midst of it all, Ben and I side by side, spent, but smiling.

 *  *  *

Parenting small children is like this, I think.  At least it is for me.  There is time – so much time – that is frustrating, maddening, exhausting.  Virtually every moment of my day is spent feeding, cleaning, dressing, “NO”-ing, wiping noses, wiping butts, buckling and unbuckling, and wondering at how the same ears are incapable of hearing “Don’t hit your brother!” but never miss an utterance of “Let’s watch a movie.”

But then there are those moments – and they are there, every day, in the midst of the mess – that are so beautiful.  When Grant helps Mack put on his shoes so they can run outside to play with our neighbors.  When Mack says “You’re the best Mom in the WHOLE WIDE WOR-RLD,” and it has nothing to do with a trip to Chick-Fil-A.  When Macey toddles to the end of the driveway, only to lose confidence and do a 10-point pivot so she can toddle back to me.  New words and new skills, a growing empathy and concern for others, big questions and small, and the declaration “THIS IS MY FAVORITE SONG!” when both songs about Jesus and songs by Adam Lambert come on the radio.

It’s time outs (and time outs and time outs and time outs) and impromptu Thursday afternoon fire pit s’mores with friends.  It’s days so lonely (but not alone) that you could scream, and unexpected friendships (new and rekindled) that breathe life back into the big and small moments.  It’s the impossibility of taking three kids to the grocery store and the reality of driving 2,000 miles with the same three on a weeks-long road trip.  It’s the hair-falling-out frustration of not being able to claim a moment as my own; and it’s the triumph of cobbling together enough time to finally finish a story, and knowing it is good, and knowing it is mine.  It’s working hard to get it all right, and it’s realizing – again – how very little I know, and being better for it.  And it’s poop.  Just so much poop.

But in the end, looking back, it is the beautiful moments that remain.  Memory is the printed Christmas Card – the best and brightest pictures preserved, the not-so-nice ones discarded and forgotten.

 *  *  *

For the past few years, a trip to the mailbox in December has had me practically giddy with excitement, because if there is one thing I know, it is this:  my people do Christmas cards, and they do them well.  I greedily rescue my treasures from the mounds of bills and ads and catalogues, and sneak away so I can open the beautiful cards by myself.

There was a time that the pictures would have caused a twinge of insecurity in my heart – the coordinated (but not matching) outfits, the smiling (and not at all nose-picking) kids, the parents who just seem to have it all together (and the Moms with the hair!  Such.  Good.  Hair!)… It would be easy to imagine that every day looked just like that, and easier still to wonder why my every day didn’t.

But not this year.

This year, I know exactly what you don’t see when you look at my perfect Christmas Card.  And so, I can enjoy each family’s best and brightest, knowing all of the frustrating and exhausting and exciting and lonely and triumphant and tiring and hilarious and mundane moments that made up the other 525,559 minutes of the year.

 *  *  *

Hey, want to know something funny?  I still haven’t sent out my perfect family Christmas Cards.  I knew I should have made them New Years Cards this year…

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


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The Best Laid Plans

I spent Tuesday night in the hospital with Macey.

She was fine – totally fine – on Tuesday afternoon.  Well, except for a little runny nose.  And a little upset stomach.  But it didn’t seem like anything to write home about, especially after the eerily familiar onslaught of illness we’ve had in our house for nearly two weeks now.  In fact, she seemed downright healthy as she toddled unsteady circles on the driveway at 4:00 pm, downright healthy as she convinced the big kids to give her a ride in the red wagon built for two at 4:30 pm.

She was so healthy, when I got a text message asking if we’d be at Bible Study on Wednesday, I mentally replied a confident YES, with plans to physically reply once I had a free hand.  She was so healthy, I told the neighbors we’d host a Toast to Indian Summer on our back deck the following day, at least until 5:00 pm when it would become completely and totally dark.

But at 6:00 pm, I texted my husband “She sounds croupy.”  I filled her humidifier, anointed her chest with essential oils, and assumed we’d be in for a long but manageable night.

At 7:00 pm, her barking cough set my teeth on edge.  I apologized to the contractor Ben and I had over, a lovely man named Dwight who was walking us through the ins and outs of our HVAC system.  “The baby has croup,” I said, “It’s nothing to worry about.”

At 7:30 pm, the noise that came through her monitor – like an animal being disemboweled – sent me flying from my chair without so much as a word, straight to her room.  Sorry, Dwight.  The noise got worse as I got closer to her; it was shocking, both in pitch and volume, the urgency of her need cutting through the space between us.  I threw open the door to her room, scooped her up in my arms, and cursed the stupid Indian Summer which robbed me of the cold air I needed to open her airway.  

DAMN YOU, otherwise blissfully warm weather.  DAMN YOU El Niño.

I ran to our bathroom, whipped open our shower curtain, turned the water all the way to HOT, and jumped in, all while murmuring “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok,” hoping my words were both reassuring and true.  Murmuring “Don’t cry, don’t cry, you can’t cry, crying just makes it worse,” wondering if she was old enough to internalize that and, if so, how many years of therapy I’d have to send her to to reverse the damage I’d just done.  I mean, I could have said “Of course, I’m speaking specifically about this circumstance, because it’s further constricting your airways.  You can cry anytime you want to, otherwise.  Your emotions – both positive and negative – are healthy, and acceptable, and real,” but it just didn’t seem like the time for caveats.

DAMN.

The shower filled with steam almost instantly, thanks to the fact that I had turned our hot water heater to Hotter Than Hell just a few weeks before; the steam eased the swelling in her vocal cords, as planned, but it didn’t stop there.  It engulfed us both, causing fleece footie pajamas to cling uncomfortably to her skin, making a mockery of my blown-straight hair.  The shower head was pointed just a tad too far towards the back of the shower, and the hot water scalded my feet, but I wasn’t about to move.  She lifted her head and looked up into my eyes.  What happened?, she asked wordlessly.  I wasn’t sure if she was wondering about the coughing or my hair.  I didn’t have an answer for her, either way.

We emerged from our steam box about 10-minutes later, overheated and sticky and breathing and therefore relieved.  “Well,” I thought, “that was scary.  Thank God it’s over.”  

I walked slowly back to her room, rocked and rocked and rocked my baby girl, and laid her gently in her crib.

20-minutes later, we were back in the shower.

And so we spent Tuesday  night in the hospital.

 *  *  *

Besides the health crisis, arguably the worst thing about spending the night in the hospital is “waking up” the next morning.  Dry throat, pounding head, gunky eyes and double gunky teeth… and that was just me.  I can only imagine how Macey felt.

To make matters worse, I had decided on Monday that it was time to focus on my physical and mental health, for about the 29th time since Macey was born.  For real this time.  Seriously.  So I had completed two days of Yoga with Adriene’s RISE program, was focused on getting enough rest, and eating Sugar Free and Refined Grain Free.  I promised myself I wouldn’t focus too hard on The Results, but I would track my behaviors using the checklist discipline I learned from Jacqueline.  Done.  Easy.  No bigs.

Original Image from Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine via Flickr.

Original Image from Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine via Flickr.

But when I woke up in that hospital room, yoga was out of the question.  And the only thing we had available to eat after being up for the past 24-hours was a bag of pretzels, at least until we could order a delicious breakfast from our hospital’s room service menu.

How refined are pretzels?, my addled mind wondered.

Not refined enough to keep me from chomping a few when I could wrestle the bag out of Macey’s grabby little hands.

I made it through breakfast according to plan, but that yucky fail-y failure feeling had already taken root.  And by the time I got home around lunch time, the idea of stopping to make a salad was akin to the idea of pouring honey over my head and walking into a forest in search of bears.

I was paralyzed.  I was hungry.  I was stressed.  I ate a fun size bag of chips.  It was so fun, I ate another one.  And a sandwich on yummy whole grain (but definitely not whole-grain-enough) bread.  And a cookie.

Oh, for the love, worse things have happend, I thought.

Um, not really… have you seen your @ss recently?, I thought.

That made me sad, because I had seen my @ss recently.  As had anyone and everyone within a 10-mile radius.  There’s nothing wrong with a big @ss, but I’m not a Kardashian, kwim?  There are limits to the size of an acceptable @ss, at least in suburbia.

I was paralyzed.  I was (still) hungry.  I was stressed.  I ate a(nother) cookie.

I had to turn the tide of the day; no time for a nap, so I hopped back into the shower I had been standing in, what seemed like an eternity before, and washed off the fear and exhaustion and stress and sadness and carbs of the past 24-hours.  I dried my hair; I put on makeup; but things got complicated when I had to pick out clothes.  It was easy to grab a top – a new t-shirt, billed as a little bit of woven perfection (it was).  But pants… especially considering the @ss situation?  Sweatpants were a no, and jeans just weren’t going to do, so I pulled on a favorite pair of leggings and checked my backside.

Hmmmmmm…. said the voice.  You know leggings aren’t pants, right?  Especially considering…

Oh, F- it.  Said the other voice.  If anyone has earned the right to wear leggings as pants, it’s you.

I hesitantly agreed and headed for the door.  And then I turned around and grabbed a boyfriend cardigan for good measure.  And a scarf for distraction.  And I walked out into the world.

 *  *  *

Here’s the thing: that voice inside my head, the mean one who made fun of my @ss?  It used to be so effective.  When I was in middle school and I decided I was fat, I convinced myself that cheese made me fat and fat-me was deplorable and I would never eat cheese again.  And I swear on all that is holy, I didn’t eat cheese for years.  YEARS.  And I didn’t eat much else, either.  All it took to go from a slightly-chubby kid to a seriously-anorexic, slightly-older-kid was a little bit of self-loathing.

Maybe it’s because I’m older now, and I know better.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Mom now, and I spend all day reminding little people to be kind with their words.  Maybe it’s because I’m a better friend now, an encouraging and uplifting friend, and they always say you should talk to yourself the way that you talk to a good friend.  Maybe it’s because I’m lazy and unaccomplished (HEY, that’s enough!).  But that negative approach, it just isn’t working for me anymore.

Plus… life?  It’s just so much more complicated now.  When I was younger and I wanted to get in shape, I just made a plan and plowed ahead.  I didn’t have anyone else to worry about; there were no surprise visits to the hospital on the third day of my new life.  I could afford to go to sleep early if I was hangry and depleted.  I never missed a workout; there were no kids to keep me from the gym with their germs-that-don’t-allow-us-to-use-childcare.

It’s not an excuse.  It’s just the truth.

I know what it will take for me to change my physique in my thirties: a tremendous amount of self-care, an overwhelming portion of self-love.  The unerring belief that what I need – for the time being – is more important than what everyone else needs, and more important than all of the things that need to get done.  A narrowed focus: on sleep, on yoga, on food, on soul.  A willingness to say no to everything else.

But it will also take letting go of perfectionism, of the belief that something has to be done exactly right or my efforts aren’t worth anything.  Because if I can’t do the hard work of letting that go, if I can’t allow space for life to interrupt my plans, I fear that I’ll face a lifetime of From this Day Forward, that I’ll never get anywhere because I’m always returning to the starting line.

 *  *  *

Ben and I are running a Half Marathon tomorrow, a milestone which should have me mentally high-fiving myself, but right now I’m worried about the pasta dinner beforehand.

So many carbs!

Yes, but I need the carbs… isn’t that how I prepared for races in high school?

That’s true… but you don’t exactly have the same body you had in high school. Or the same stomach.  Can you even tolerate gluten?

<Le sigh>

Oh well.  Monday’s always good for a fresh start, right?

 *  *  *

In these all-encompassing little years, I’m finding it so hard to set and accomplish a goal when I’m the only / primary one who will benefit from it.  My best laid plans are interrupted, someone else always needs something, I’m friggin’ tired, and so many of the strategies and patterns that worked for me in the past just don’t work in this season.

How do you do it, friends?  Tell me what you’re doing for yourself (or what you’d like to do for yourself), how you’re making that happen, and what stands in your way.

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