Wednesday, January 11, 2017

a breath of peace.

Today, I had a lot of people in my house.

It was fun. I like having parties, as long as they have an expiration time, and this one did. I've been feeling isolated lately (one of the negatives of living in a colder climate instead of a warm one, as well as living in a house instead of an apartment complex). So when our church was out of commission for the weekly playdate, I volunteered my house. We have the space, we have a ridiculous amount of toys, and I am always happy to give Cal opportunities to socialize. (He spent the entire playdate looking at books in his room. But I can't really fault him for that, as that is my preferred activity, too).

A couple of kids stayed over a little longer because their mom had a meeting. I felt very proud of myself as I whipped up four lunches and mediated toy disputes (in a house full of toys, everyone wants the stupid plastic thing from the McDonald's Happy Meal). Nolan had refused his morning nap, probably because of the excitement of so many friends, so as soon as he'd eaten a respectable amount, I whisked him upstairs to bed. He continued to resist, so I instructed the kids to be nice to each other (they were), and I spent ten minutes rocking him to sleep.

I don't usually rock Nolan to sleep in the daytime. (Nighttime is another matter -- typically he wakes up between the hours of midnight and two, I stumble into his room, pick him up, and wake up 45 minutes later with a crick in my neck and Nolan's drool on my arm). But as I sat with him, watching his eyelids drop lower and lower, feeling his breathing slow and steady, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for that space to be slow and present.

I complain a lot about the inconvenient parts of motherhood. It's hard. It's hard to make meals that nobody eats, to clean up messes that simply reappear when my back is turned, to try every moment to do what's right for my children only to have them hit me and scream at me. It's not always like that. It's not even mostly like that. But sometimes those loud moments overpower the sweeter, quieter ones.

I returned downstairs to see three little kids, ages 3, 4, and 5, sitting on our little bench, singing songs together. I wanted to squeeze them all, even the ones that aren't mine. It was a hectic day, but I was given the gift of seeing the beauty in the cracks. It's all I can ask for.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Last Chance to Lose Your Keys

If you got that reference, you get a cookie and a hug.

I locked myself out of the house twice in a seven day span recently. This happened fairly frequently when we lived in University Village, because all I had to do was walk five minutes to the office and grab a spare key. Now, with my husband on base twenty-five minutes away, it's a little trickier to get inside.

The first time, I was trying to go to Winco. We'd just returned home from our Christmas travels to California, and we had no milk and hardly any food in the house. We'd driven for twelve hours the day before, and we were all pretty sleep deprived. I made sure the front door was locked, that I had everyone's coat and the reusable grocery bags -- and then, when I checked my purse, I had no keys. I'd been so focused on getting everything else that we needed, that I left the most important component of our trip to the store -- the keys to get there.

Fortunately, for whatever reason the car was left unlocked, so I buckled the kids in, tried to remove the screen off the window, called my mom crying, and texted my friend that lived nearby. Also fortunately, we were close enough to get a WiFi signal and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was on YouTube, so we hunkered down in the car with coats on (it was 30 degrees outside) and watched the show. By the time the show was over, my friend had texted me back, and we went and hung out at her house for a couple of hours until Scott returned home from work. It wasn't ideal, and it threw me off a bit. But we'd survived.

The second time, though, left me feeling like the universe was out to get me. I'd been feeling stressed out after all our traveling, and Nolan had been waking up quite a bit at night, so when Scott and his sister's family went to Seattle for a day trip, I stayed home, with strict orders to take a nap. I decided I would, after I went for a run. I tucked my house key into an inner pocket of my jacket, had a great run, and went home... only to find that my key had somehow fallen out. I spent the next two hours combing the trail, asking others if they'd seen a key, and getting colder and colder. I didn't know when Scott would be back from Seattle, and I was embarrassed to tell him I'd been locked out again. Only when it became dark (at 4:30...) did I return home, keyless, freezing, and starting to panic.

Fortunately, when I called Scott, he was only 15 minutes away. I took a hot bath, and went to Lowe's the next day to make several copies of my house key (as well as grab a wristband to keep it with me when I run). Everything turned out well, but in the moment, I was so furious and stressed.

It had me wondering, what am I supposed to learn from this?

Obviously, to always have my keys in hand before I leave the house. But also, I think, it was meant to show me that sometimes things happen out of my control, and flipping out doesn't make it any better. I live under the illusion that I can plan out my days. You'd think I'd have learned after having two children and working in pediatrics that the unexpected can descend at any moment, and that it's important to think on your feet. Most important of all, I realized that crying and panicking just impedes my ability to come up with a new plan. It stagnates me instead of helping me to move forward.

Hopefully I've learned my lesson and won't have to get locked out again. But I'm definitely never locking the door again unless my key is in my hand!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Small-scale gratitude.

This morning, I found myself standing stark naked in the bathroom, fixing a Lego fire truck. How did I get here?

I'm frazzled these days. My kids seem to need more than usual -- Cal shouts for me if I'm not in the room, and Nolan is either clamoring to be held or systematically destroying everything in his path. I keep hearing the message to "fill my bucket," but there are only so many things that I can do while the kids are asleep, and so few that seem to be working while they are awake. And then I while away the time by checking Facebook incessantly and obsessing about the Presidential election, which further frazzles me and accomplishes nothing.

This is meant to be the month of gratitude, and I am grateful on the large scale. I'm grateful to have a husband who works so I can stay home with my kids, to have healthy kids, to be able to have kids at all. I'm grateful to live in a nice house in a nice town in a country that, despite its flaws, is pretty safe and offers much more freedom than most. I'm grateful that I can go to the grocery store and buy food without counting every penny I spend, that my body is essentially healthy. I'm grateful to have faith in God and a belief that everything will be okay in the end.

But I'm struggling with gratitude on the small scale. I struggle to remind myself of these great, grand blessings when I'm standing dripping wet, trying to get impossibly small Lego bricks to go in the right spot. I struggle when I tell Cal no and it turns into the third all out scream fest of the day. I struggle with this niggling cold that has been peripherally taking up residence in my veins for the last few weeks, never developing into something that could excuse me from daily life for a few hours, but never going away, either.

I've been studying gratitude in the mornings, and I'm hoping it comes. I want to be a stay at home mom and have these moments with my kids. Yesterday, I was listening to the Coffee + Crumbs podcast, where they interviewed Christian writer Ann Voskamp (who I've never read but intend to some day). She said that she thinks of these drudging tasks of cleaning and changing diapers and preparing meals only to wipe them off the floor as her way of loving her family, and says she tries to have gratitude for being able to love her family that way.

I would like to feel that way, but right now I'm faking it til I make it.

I think my auto-pilot answer when my bucket is empty is to fill it. Go to bed early, read a book, take a bubble bath, exercise. Makes sense, right? But sometimes my bucket is draining faster than I can refill, and doing all of those self-care activities just feels like another chore, a Sisyphean task of trying to do everything I have to do in a day and be enlightened and self-actualized on top of it.

I think my task today, right now, is to just try and be happy in those moments. To laugh at the spectacle of trying to get ready while two babies literally pull my skin (Did I mention that while I was fixing the Lego, Nolan pinched my inner thigh with his little razor talons!?). To be grateful I have a big house to clean instead of bemoaning the fact that there's alway something else to do. To remember my friends who have hoped and prayed and cried for babies when I would rather hide from mine.

It's cliche to say that I will miss this some day, and it's also cliche to say that I hate when people say I will miss this some day. But I know I will. I look at the way my mom craves holding my babies and misses her kids scattered across the United States. Even though the newborn stage is usually horrible for me at the time, riddled with postpartum depression and unsuccessful breastfeeding and the kind of exhaustion that will truly make you insane, when I see someone cuddling a velvety newborn into their chest, or watch those sweet, new mouths moving in their sleep, I want to be there again.

So I am going to try again to recognize the small blessings in the madness. I will try again, and again, and again.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

NaNoWriMo Dropout

You guys, I have a confession.

I can't finish my novel by the end of November.

It's so easy to get caught up in the fun of NaNoWriMo, to vow to myself that I will finish a novel in just thirty days, that my house and my children and my sanity can wait.

But guess what? They can't.

I am not happy in a messy house. I'm not happy when I don't sleep or exercise. My children are not happy when I tell them, "Just a few more words!" And I am SO not happy when I'm not reading for fun.

Not to mention, I have a birthday party to plan, a trip out of state for Thanksgiving, and tons of other responsibilities that I don't want to ignore .

But here's the thing. I am going to finish my novel. It's just going to take longer than thirty days.

The whole principle of NaNoWriMo is that you need a deadline to really get into something. And I don't deny that. I have never finished a novel, and writing is always what gets pushed to the back of the line for me. I mean, hello, it's been two months since I've written on this blog.

But I am going to finish this rough draft. I have my own deadline imposed -- at least 500 words a day on the novel. That gives me time to work on other writing projects, read a book, exercise, pay attention to my family, and not live in a dirt heap.

Those of you continuing on, I am so impressed! I am sure you are doing great things! I'm okay with not being just like you.

It's going to take me a little longer, but one of these days I am going to have a novel under my belt.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Goodnight Gorilla Simply Learning Curriculum Recap

This fall, I have been following the (free!) Simply Learning Tiny Tot and Preschool curriculums. I originally heard about Simply Learning from my friend Lorna, who was following yet another free curriculum (Tot School) last year. Basically, this mother of two came up with some great homeschool early learning curriculums for her kids. She first came up with Tot School, which is geared toward 18 months-3 years or so, and has weekly themes with various learning activities. This year, she is premiering her Preschool curriculum, which is made up of two week units based on books. Alongside the preschool curriculum, she has a "tiny tot school" curriculum for 1-2 year olds because she now has a younger daughter. This lined up perfectly for my kids' ages. Cal does go to preschool twice a week for a couple of hours, but I have been wanting to do some more structured activities at home, especially since (I hear) it's going to be raining a lot for the next six months.

We haven't done every activity on her list and are still finding our rhythm, but the first unit, based on Goodnight Gorilla, was a success! Cal looked forward to his "home preschool" activities, and I spent less time breaking up fights in the toy room. Nolan is still a bit young to appreciate the Tiny Tot activities (still only 11 months) but I figure it's a start-- and Cal seems to really enjoy them, too.

Favorite activities this unit:
:: Animal tracks -- we put toy animals' feet in paint and had them make tracks, and then gave them a bubble bath the next day.
:: We put Cal's handprint over a gorilla's handprint and measured the sizes
:: Stamp it, poke it, write it -- The creator of this curriculum provides printable learning activities (also for free! can't get over it!) and Cal really loved one where you stamp the letter of focus (G this week), poke it with a thumbtack, and then trace it.

We also did some additional activities. We went to the zoo to see some of the animals. We also incorporated some other books about zoo animals. Cal read A Sick Day for Amos McGee, The Mixed Up Chameleon, and My Heart is Like a Zoo, and I read Nolan Peek-a-Zoo, Dear Zoo, and an Eric Carle noise-making book called Animal Babies that he is obsessed with.

Today we are starting The Very Hungry Caterpillar and I am looking forward to it!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Favorite quotes from Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist.

This book resonated with me so deeply. I have long had the monkey of perfectionism on my back, and it is a daily struggle to cope with it. There were so many quotes in Present over Perfect, Shauna Niequist's new book, that I wanted to group all the ones I loved best here.

:: "Years ago, a wise friend told me that no one ever changes until the pain level gets high enough." p. 24

:: "Part of the magic of the lake is that it isn't home-- it's away, and away allows us to see the rhythms and dimensions of our lives more clearly." p. 57

:: "And so I began to peer into the darkness, that plunging sense of deep inadequacy. It's always been there. Frankly, I didn't know other people didn't have it. I thought that at the center of all of us was black liquid self-loathing, and that's why we did everything we did-- that's why some people become workaholics and some people eat and some people drink and some people have sex with strangers. To avoid that dark sludge of self-loathing at the center of all of us." - p. 71

:: "He has all the time in the world to sit with me and sift through my fears and feelings and failings. That's what prayer is. That's what love is." - p. 76

:: "In more fundamentalist strains of the faith, there's great value on happiness, constant kindness, selflessness above all else. These are wonderful things... that, over time, make it really hard to say things like, "I need help." Or, "I can't do this anymore." Many Christians, women especially, were raised to be obedient and easy, to swallow feelings, to choke down tears. This has not served us well. This has made it far too easy to injure our bodies and our souls in the name of good causes-- there are enough good causes to go around." - p. 85

:: "My crazy brain has always been my gift and my challenge, and I've tried everything to lower the volume in my head, because things really do get a little loud in there." - p. 94

:: "Brave these days is a lot quieter, at least for me. Brave is staying put when I'm addicted to rushing, forgiving myself when I want that familiar frisson of shame that I've become so used to using as a motivator. Brave is listening instead of talking. Brave is articulating my feelings, especially when the feelings are sad or scared or fragile instead of confident or happy or light.
"Brave is walking away from the 'strike while the iron is hot' mentality that pervades our culture. Brave is being intentional about taking your marriage from 'fine' to 'can't live without you.' Because fine is not fine at all. Fine is like a mesh sieve, enough space for all the important things to slip through, and all you're left with is to-do lists and resentments.
"It's easier to be impressive to strangers than it is to be consistently kind behind the scenes. It's easier to show up and be a hit for an hour than it is to get down on the floor with your kids when you're so tired your eyes are screaming and bone-dry. It's easier to be charming on a conference call than it is to traverse the distance between you and your spouse, the distance you created.
"Sometimes being brave is being quiet. Being brave is getting off the drug of performance. For me, being brave is trusting that what my God is asking of me, what my family and community is asking of me, is totally different than what our culture says I should do.
"Sometimes, brave looks boring, and that's totally, absolutely, okay." - p. 126

:: (John Steinbeck quoted in the book) "And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." - p. 127 (I should note that this principle is applied to the character Cal in East of Eden, who, you know, my Cal is named after, so you'd think that I would have figured that out by now).

:: "I'm drawn to music that's more earnest than tidy, art that's more ragged than orderly, people who are just a touch more honest than is strictly appropriate for the situation. I'm finished hustling for perfect. It didn't deliver what they told me it would.
"And so instead: present. If perfect is plastic, present is rich, loamy soil. It's fresh bread, lumpy and warm. It's real and tactile and something you can hold with both hands, something rich and warm. Present is a face bare of makeup, a sweater you've loved for a decade, a mug that reminds you of who you used to be. It's the Bible with the battered cover, the journal filled with scribbled, secret dreams. It isn't pretty, necessarily-- it isn't supposed to be." pp. 129-30

:: "Writing is such good training for the rest of life, if you allow it to be, because it forces you to get comfortable with failure, with the wide range of impossible-to-meet expectations and standards." - p. 171

:: "There are lots of conversations right now about how to do everything better/faster/smarter, how to streamline, multitask, layer, balance, flow, juggle. How to monetize, strategize, and on and on. This is good stuff. Necessary stuff.
"But my jam these days is wasting time, playing, becoming aware of that internal engine that always wants to go faster, faster, faster. That engine is not the best part of me. My heart is the best part of me.
"And I'm finding that my heart loves to play. My heart loves to color and draw, loves to dance in the kitchen, loves to shoot baskets, loves to do cartwheels with my nieces in the front yard.
"What would our lives be like if our days were studded by tiny, completely unproductive, silly, nonstrategic, wild and beautiful five-minute breaks ,reminders that our days are for loving and learning and laughing, not for pushing and planning, reminders that it's all about the heart, not about the hustle?" - p. 175

:: "I remind myself what is true: that God loves me, and that there's nothing I can do in this new day to earn more love-- nothing. And also that there's nothing I can do in this new day to ruin or break that love-- nothing." - p. 205

:: "I have the energy to live well, to dedicate myself to the things that matter to me, and that God has called me to. I have the security to truly rest, to truly enjoy this extraordinary world and all its offerings-- books and art and meals and people and conversations and cities and beaches and night skies. And while I am deeply appreciative of the charms of this glittering world, I feel a sense of patience where I used to feel slight anxiety about the beauty of it: will I see it all? What if I miss something?" - p. 227


Saturday, August 20, 2016

That's the way this wheel keeps working

When I was fifteen or so, I fell in love with this song by John Mayer. We all love to hate on John Mayer these days, with his string of relationships and a Taylor Swift ballad devoted to him, but if his lyrics are any indication, the guy gets me. I found the song "Wheel" at a season in my life when I was saying goodbye and desperately hoping that it wasn't forever. John's refrain that "you can't love too much one part of it" comforted me -- the idea that good things come to an end, and there will be hard, painful experiences, but that like a wheel, life will cycle back to happier days. 

I thought of "Wheel" again yesterday as I was walking on the trail behind my house. For four years, I've lived in Los Angeles, where the change of the seasons is subtle at best. Despite the 97-degree weather this week, I can tell that autumn is coming soon, and the change means more now than it did. For one thing, the weather will change enough that I actually will need to wear warm clothes and may not be able to walk outside or take my kids to the park whenever I feel like it. But on a deeper level, my heart is also clinging to the fact that this is the only time. I've really fallen in love with the Pacific Northwest, and I hope we come back after our nomad days in the Army are over. But of course, there is no telling if we will. The fact that I only have one year here makes me want to savor and cling to every moment, to soak every beautiful moment into my bones. I don't know where I will be next year -- if I will be in a foreign country, or another seasonless climate, or somewhere I love even more. I just know that I love where I am now, and that I only have one chance to experience the slow fade to fall in the Pacific Northwest. 

Of course, the beauty of the wheel is that it comes back around. The beauty of the seasons is that they return. Mayer says, "If you never stop when you wave goodbye, you just might find if you give it time you might wave hello again." I've repeated that phrase throughout my life like a talisman against loneliness. Our impulse is self-preservation -- why fall in love, whether with a person or a city, if you know for sure that you will say goodbye soon? It's easier to hang back, keep to yourself, stay safe. But I believe if we have faith in the seasonal nature of life, everything we miss will come back to us someday. "I believe that my life's gonna see the love I give returned to me." 

People have the right to fly
And will when it gets compromised
Their hearts say "Move along"
Their minds say "Gotcha heart"
Let's move it along
Let's move it along


And airports
See it all the time
Where someone's last goodbye
Blends in with someone's sigh
Cause someone's coming home
In hand a single rose

And that's the way this wheel keeps working now
That's the way this wheel keeps working now
And I won't be the last
No I won't be the last,
To love her

And you can't build a house of leaves
And live like it's an evergreen
It's just a season thing
It's just this thing that seasons do

And that's the way this wheel keeps working now
That's the way this wheel keeps working now
And you won't be the first
No you won't be the first
To love me

You can find me, if you ever want again
I'll be around the bend
I'll be around the bend
I'll be around,
I'll be around
And if you never stop when you wave goodbye
You just might find if you give it time
You will wave hello again
You just might wave hello again

And that's the way this wheel keeps working now
That's the way this wheel keeps working now

You can't love too much, one part of it 

I believe that my life's gonna see
The love I give
Return to me
I believe that my life's gonna see
The love I give
Return to me
I believe that my life's gonna see
The love I give
Return to me
 
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