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Rachel

friendship PARENTING

Sometimes I don’t want to be your friend

True confessions: Facebook rants fascinate me. Like, I definitely get why they are problematic, but sometimes I just want to pull out the popcorn and read some comments. Kardashians step aside, my friends have your drama BEAT!

So a few months ago I was joyfully scrolling when I landed on a rant from one of my FB friends. I’m not close enough with him that I knew the context of his frustrations, only that he was annoyed with his friends for exclusionary behavior.

Here was his comment:

ross

And ever since, I’ve had a hard time getting his words out of my head. “You should never make anyone work hard to be your friend.”

Being a parent is a pretty great free pass. A get out of jail card I’ve used endlessly. For example, I haven’t been on time to anything in the past two years. When I give you an ETA, it’s really more of a window, a casual suggestion.

It also works really well as an excuse why I can’t participate in activities and events. For good or bad, a sick kid is the perfect answer to how to avoid the social event I’ve been dreading.

In addition, since I have been sick over the last year, I have had an even better excuse. I am a sick mom of a toddler boy (and I work full time). Sometimes I want to just tattoo that sentence to my forehead by way of explanation.

tattoo on forehead

And it gets really easy to operate out of this sense of scarcity. Because I truly don’t have a lot of free time. And saying yes to one thing usually means saying no to something else and if I’m not careful I can over commit and the whole assembly line shuts down completely.

Not to mention that right now it is tax season and my husband is a tax accountant, so we’re busy.

Which is why when my husband and I got an email recently from the pastor at our church, asking if anyone in the church would be willing to make treats for the time between our two church services, I deleted it.

But over dinner that night my husband said he was thinking we should sign up to bring brownies. So I said, “Why, we already do a lot for church. Let someone who isn’t doing anything sign up.”

My husband baked brownies anyway, and I was grumpy about it all weekend.

brownies

(Though maybe a little less grumpy once I actually got to eat the brownies.)

But it gives me pause. Because I think there are seasons of scarcity. But I can’t help but look around, at the incredible life I have full of friends and community, and see not scarcity, but abundance.

And I wonder if maybe, just maybe, there are times when I keep everyone around me at the fringe and margin of my life because, well, it’s just easier. I wonder if there are times when I hold all that abundance closely to myself, hoping that none of it gets away.

I wonder if there are times when I make it hard for people to be my friend.

So I’ve been reflecting on what it looks like to say yes. To live with a little less fear. To trust there is going to be enough for me, even if I share a little with my neighbor. To take a moment to stop dwelling on my own forehead tattoo, and glance up to read the tattoos of the people around me.

To bake a few extra brownies, just in case.

A few weeks ago I met a woman at the library. She was there with her husband and two sons. While watching our boys play together at the train table, with occasional commiseration about the typical mom challenges, she asked if I knew of anyone who was a good babysitter. I asked if she knew about the local mom group in the area. I found out that she didn’t, that in fact, she just moved to the United States six months ago and is still learning the ins and outs of our shared neighborhood.

And I almost left it right there.

But before scooting out of the room to chase my son, we exchanged numbers.

When I got home later that night, I sent a text:

text for blog

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure if the playdate is going to happen. And there’s still a part of me that worries I don’t have time for another friend, or that saying yes to her would mean saying no to someone else.

And I think that’s probably true.

But then again, why not? It would be a good excuse to bake some more brownies.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

PARENTING

My wishy-washy goals for 2016

I made it into the new year, fingernails torn from clawing my way out of 2015. To quote Dickens, “It was the worst of times.”

But two days before the end of the year, after a visit to the ER for my son, shelling out several thousand dollars for a new transmission, and another damn death in the family, I went to the doctor and got a clean bill of health.

I cried most of the way home from the doctor, it seemed such an incredible, desperate relief.

I had a plan to make formal resolutions for this new year. I love ritual, and New Years is full of it. I had a plan to write a liturgy to share with my friends, complete with lighting a fire to burn away the past and welcome in the future.

candles lasalle(photo credit: Mary Rodriguez)

But I haven’t made my resolutions yet. Not in any formalized way. I’ve read enough soft psychology and business books to know that goals and resolutions should be actionable, quantifiable, audacious, yet achievable.

And what I have been thinking about is how to heal.

Healing from the absolute typhoon that was the past year.

Because the clean bill of health seems to be the first, not the last, step toward healing. And it has left me carrying a lot of baggage.

I was at Target several weeks ago, to grab just a few things, and slowly I found my arms filling up with more and more items. I had foolishly walked past the carts and the little red plastic baskets, thinking it would be only a quick trip, and surely I could grab everything and be on my way.

At the point when my third item hit the floor, I circled back to the entrance of the Super Target, getting in the lion’s share of my 5,000 steps for the day, and sighed with relief while dumping the contents of my arms into the shopping cart.

target shopping cart

I think I do that in life, too. I grab on to items as I walk past. Clean eating? Yep, I’ll take some of that. New solution for a perfectly tidy home? Make mine a double. Look sexy in less than 30 minutes a day? If I shift this around, I can squeeze that here. Take on another project for work? Well, I can’t say no to that. Squeeze in some time for friends? Check. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget the strategies for becoming a perfect mother.

None of those things are bad. They’re just, well, heavy.

My typical response is to throw up my hands, dropping the items, and exclaiming that I never really wanted this shopping trip anyway.

But that’s not true, and more often than not leaves me sheepishly scrambling for those items later, when people have stopped staring at the scene I’ve created. Because the truth is, I do want all those items.

So anyway, I’ve been thinking about what it might look like to put the items in the cart this year. To acknowledge that there are so many things that I want to be and to do, but they don’t all have to be held frantically right now. To give myself a little grace and celebrate getting to the gym even though it means eating takeout for dinner. To acknowledge that I can either do my hair or do my make-up, but not both. To go on walks and get some sleep. To ask if I really want to eat that second half of the chocolate cake, and if I do, to eat it, and if I don’t, to save it for another day.

To live with a little less panic and worry. To live with a little more kindness and grace. To let go of some of the baggage.

Because I’m healing, but I imagine I will always be healing.

So maybe my resolution this year is to always get a shopping cart at the front of the store. It’s seems like a good idea to let grace carry some of the load.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

fathering mothering PARENTING Teaching

Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation Week: The Most Unsexy Jobs of All

You can smell Jakari from eight feet away. The combination of unwashed clothes and hair, shoes that have seen an extra winter of wet and dry feet. As if that didn’t already put her in the shallow end of the popularity pool, she weighs in at least forty pounds above the average fifth grader.

There is something so incredibly unsexy about any profession that gets an appreciation week. Teacher appreciation week shows up at the same time each year as nurses week, and quite honestly, both professions boil down to dealing with other people’s feces, literally and physically. Is it any wonder that Mother’s Day is only five days away? The role of mother falls solidly in the “dealing with feces” category.

This week is full of small gestures of thanks. Cups filled with chocolate, vases filled with flowers, boxes filled with jewelry. My cynical self can start to wonder if these appreciation weeks and days are lip service, a compulsory nod, the thank you we throw over our shoulder at the cashier as we take our receipt. As if that could possibly match the contributions our mothers and teachers have made to our lives.

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This past two weeks my sweet little toddler has learned that he can have an opinion, and that it is most exciting when that opinion goes in direct opposition to mine. I can’t blame him. That’s his job, to figure out the boundary lines of mommy and baby, to test the limits of my patience, to experiment with the rules until he learns them all, and then to experiment some more to make sure I wasn’t kidding.

But last Sunday morning was tough. It started with screaming and didn’t stop for almost three hours until he collapsed asleep in a pile, just in time for us to pack him in a car to head to church. He woke up, of course, right when we walked into church fifteen minutes late (also of course). The sermon had started and I knew his dazed cuddling was a ticking clock, no way it would last. Sure enough, the angry fish flopping started as soon as I told him he couldn’t run around in the pew.

I took the elevator up to our church’s nursery, my son upset, again, because he didn’t get to push the “up” button. I pushed into that deep inner resolve, the one I channel when I need to stay calm in trying situations. And maybe there was a little bit of self-pity. You know, the “I deserve a break” or the “somebody should be helping me right now” feelings. The “I deserve a holiday to celebrate my massive contributions to my son and society” feelings.

And at that moment, right as the elevator doors chimed and opened, my son turned to me, put his tiny, perfect, chubby hands on my cheeks, grinned with his lovely twelve teeth and his tiny dimple, and said, “Mama.”

He spoke the words with the awe and wonder that I so often feel for him. This incredible realization that we are part of one another, that our lives are forever entwined with cords stronger than DNA; that we are sewn together with love.

I had surgery recently, and I was desperate for help during the recovery that the doctor had misled me to believe would only last a few days and has instead continued for six weeks. Within a few days of the surgery my mom caught wind that I was struggling, rearranged her schedule and drove down to spend a week caring for me, cleaning my house, cooking my meals, and most notably: waking up with my son to spend the mornings with him. (Is there any greater gift than this?)

I often turn to my husband, when my mom is at our house and caring for our every need, or when his parents have extended some truly incredible gift of generosity, and ask how we could ever repay our parents for all they have done for us. We are disgustingly fortunate to have such loving and supportive parents. And he often will say, “We can never repay them. We can only pay it forward.”

And that’s what I keep thinking as I watch Jakari’s teacher sit down next to her and teach her to read, inviting her after school, allowing her to keep her siblings in the room during homework help, since Jakari is their primary caretaker. Jakari is still so often ornery in class, still bullies other students, still talks back. And yet her teacher comes back each day with a deeper resolve to help Jakari learn to read and write. Could Jakari ever pay her back for this?

That’s what I think when my mom works tirelessly to make sure that I am healthy, being willing to exhaust herself so that I can rest. That’s what I think when she insists I go to bed instead of helping her do the dishes or wash stains from our clothing. Is the card we send her, with someone else’s words printed inside a joke?

Maybe Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day (and Nurse’s Week) help us to remember that there is no way that we can ever repay the people who have loved us, who have parented us, who have shown grace to us. No chocolates or flowers, stuffed animals or crayon-scribbled cards could ever repay the mothers, biological or otherwise, who have nurtured us.

But maybe those sentiments are a statement, a reminder that there is enough grace to go around, that we are all better when someone loves us more than we deserve, more than we could ever repay.

And maybe these appreciation weeks and days are a chance for us to turn around with awe in our eyes and acknowledge those people who have loved us well. Not because we can pay them back, but because their love has allowed us to pay it forward.

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261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING READING

My Screen-Free Bedroom (And the 4 Best Ways It Has Changed My Life)

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About a year ago I was reading an article in the Atlantic that quoted Arianna Huffington recommending that the bedroom to be a device-free zone. It was one of those moments in life when you’re brought up short. A time when you watch your excuses for why you live your life the way you do turn to colanders, no longer holding any water. Because if Arianna Huffington, creator of Huffington Post and Forbe’s Most Influential Woman in media can unplug before going to bed, what’s my excuse?

It was a little like the moment when I was talking to my dad and off-handedly mentioned that it has been hard to find time in the mornings or evenings to pray like I would like to, especially now that I have a kid. I said it fishing for some commiseration and empathy. Instead, my dad said, “What do you mean? Susanna Wesley had ten children and a ne’er do well husband, and everyday she would sit in the corner, throw her apron over her head, and pray. And she’s the mother of John and Charles Wesley, the mother of Methodists.”

In other words, “What’s your excuse?”

Anecdote noted. (And, while I may act kind of crusty about it, I have been finding more time for prayer since that conversation.)

In any case, life is full of solicited and unsolicited advice and interjections, and yet I’ve found that it behooves me not to be overly fast in dismissing these little (or big) nudges.

So it’s been percolating, this idea of giving up screens in the bedroom. We don’t own a TV, preferring instead to ingest our media via laptop computer and Netflix, and therefore we have reason to be quite smug in the comparison contest about media intake. But it turns out that you can consume just as much media on your computer as you can on your TV.

Anyway, I off-handedly wrote in a previous blog that maybe one of my New Year’s Resolutions would be to have a screen-free bedroom. It had been on my mind for a year, so I decided it might be time to put the guilt into action. But I decided in a, “I’m gonna write about this on my blog” kind of way, not a, “I’m gonna make a lifestyle change” kind of way.

And then a commenter went ahead and told me that it was essential, nay imperative that I make this one simple change. This change= the answer to all my problems.

OK, that might be an exaggeration.

But she did speak about it with an enthusiasm only the truly converted, born again evangelists can muster, and I was intrigued.

I broached the subject with my husband and he was immediately on board. I didn’t even have to tell him about the blog comment, or her guarantee that this would mean more snuggle time in the bedroom. (If you know what I mean and I am pretty sure you do.)

The first couple weeks were a little tricky since our cell phones were also our alarm clocks. It had me yearning for my High School CD alarm clock that I had begged my parents to get for my birthday. (They did, and I set it to blast Contemporary Christian Music every morning. Those were the days.)

We worked around it, leaving cell phones in the next room over, set to top volume. While snooze isn’t nearly as effective when you have to walk fifty feet to press the button, it does help start the morning earlier.

So here’s that moment in the blog when I tell you how it has dramatically changed my life, my marriage, my family, and me. (AKA, here is where the list starts, you can stop scrolling past the frivolous opening paragraphs.)

The 4 Ways My Life Is Better Because I Have A Screen-Free Bedroom

1. Better sleep

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Since starting this, I have found that I go to bed earlier than I otherwise would have, and probably more importantly, I don’t pick up my phone and check Facebook when my son wakes me up in the middle of the night. Yeah. I was doing that. Also, I don’t scroll through Facebook, promising myself I will only read one more article, and then go to bed. I just go to bed. Imagine that.

2. More reading

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With no Candy Crush Saga level to beat and no Lorelai Gilmore quote to listen to, I pick up the nearest book to read in the moments before bed. And not surprisingly, reading has this incredible calming effect on me, making it easier to fall asleep. (See above: better sleep)

3. Easier waking

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This one has come as a surprise, not only because it coincides with our eighteen month old’s most recent sleep strike, but also because I didn’t think it was possible for waking up to be considered anything in the family of easy. But miracles do exist.

Not having the phone next to me in the morning means that I can wake up, wander around my room, cuddle with my son, start making breakfast, pack a nutritious lunch, take a shower, blow dry my hair, brush my teeth, etc, etc, etc, and NOT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT WORK! I had no idea how quickly the hounds of the day nip at my feet.

And while it may disappoint a few people to not get an email response from me at one in the morning, somehow I think we will all survive.

4. More cuddling

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I’m not going to go into a lot of details here, but when I say this I’m not just talking about sex. I’m talking about how this has forced my husband and me to be intentional about having time together, not just deciding that binge watching “How I Met Your Mother” counts as a date night. Suddenly we have started to talk about if we want to watch a show, or if we want to talk about our days. And often if the choice is to watch a show while sitting on the couch, or talk to each other while lying snuggly under covers… it isn’t hard to choose snuggles.

There you have it. World peace has not yet been achieved, but I have a lot more inner peace. I gotta agree with my blog commenting friend, I don’t regret it. This is one resolution I think we’ll keep.

(And maybe not looking at my phone or laptop at night is a little like Susanna Wesley throwing an apron over her head. Sometimes you just have to unplug.)

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

 

fathering mothering PARENTING

How’s that New Year’s Resolution Going?

I got a head-start on my New Year’s resolutions. In November I joined a gym four blocks from our house. It’s a functional, affordable, women-only gym. It isn’t fancy and they keep the temperature slightly higher than I might choose, but the price was right, and I was immediately appreciative that the sounds of weights slamming together, loud grunts, and congratulatory slaps on the back was completely absent from the space. It’s actually kind of eerie how quiet it is.

It seems as safe a space as any to let my baby belly hang out.

Like most gyms, there are motivational posters all around, reminding you why you’re there, preventing you from leaving before you’ve changed into your gym clothes. (Maybe it’s just me, but some days that feels like a work out in and of itself.)

One phrase particularly caught my eye:

stop giving up

 

(If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up.)

For some reason, that struck me as incredibly profound, and I kept thinking about it during my work out. It got me thinking about how often I give up and give in, how many times I make a plan, and how few of the times I can keep it going long enough to see the results I want to see.

Then the self-talk started. “Stop giving up!” “Don’t be a quitter!” “Stop giving in to what is easy!”

I don’t know if you’re hearing the trend here, but I did. Shame is such a sneaky, sneaky thing, and there it was again, rearing it’s ugly head. Despite the success of joining a gym again after a year and a half break, my first self-talk wasn’t one of celebration or success, but one of shouting and failure.

This is not how I want to feel going to the gym. Actually, this is not how I want to feel. Period.

Like many people, I find myself excited to make New Year’s resolutions. It’s such a great starting-over point. It’s so wonderful to make plans and dreams, to wish for better.

But I think it can be a dangerous time, too. Because if I’m not careful, it turns into dissatisfaction with myself, my accomplishments, my surroundings, and my choices. It’s not that there isn’t a time and place for change, it’s just so easy to forget about the other stuff. The good stuff.

new year's eve quote

It’s so easy to make plans and dreams for the year to come without fully appreciating the year that has passed.

Over break my in-laws watched our son so my husband and I could go to dinner. Between bites of sushi and sips of champagne I asked my husband, “What are some of the things this year that you’re really proud of accomplishing? What are some of the things that you have stuck with and even got better at doing?”

sagano

For the next hour we went back and forth, sharing stories and examples of ways that we have changed and grown. We talked about how we’ve learned to be more gracious with one another’s needs even while attending to the needs of our son.

We talked about how we’ve made time for one another: having date nights, shared Netlix shows, reading together, and having an overnight without our baby. (A huge thanks to my in-laws for that one!) And how we’ve made times for our son, sitting on the floor and playing with him side by side.

I shared how this year has been about letting go. As I have changed jobs I have had to learn how to leave graciously, how to walk out the door without resentment, desiring the best not only for my future, but for the future of the people and places I leave behind. I talked about how I have had to let myself grieve, and it has taken longer than I expected, and yet I feel like I’ve managed to find peace.

There are other things, too. Like reading 65 books, logged on goodreads. Or not eating sugar or white carbs for the first four months of the year. Or mostly keeping up with my blog.

I even mentioned the gym. Going one to two times a week. Not as many as I might want, but more than this time last year.

I’d go on, but it’s already starting to feel a little braggy.

It was a moment of lovingkindness, a moment of gratitude for what has been. It was grace.

I have some ideas of goals for this coming year. We’re starting to eat a more plant-based diet. We’re going back to cutting out white carbs and sugars. We have goals of going to the gym. We’re even talking about making our bedroom a screen-free space. (She says, as she types in bed.)

But somehow, the goals don’t feel like badges of my failure from 2014. They feel more like continued successes, like picking up some of the strands that were dropped, and carrying on.

And I suppose that’s my wish for this year: a little more grace, a little more love, and a lot more kindness, day in and day out on this journey.

Somehow that feels more important than another diet.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Boogers, and Board Books: An Honest Inside Look at the Life of a Working Mom

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Let me paint you the scene. It’s midnight. I just finished baking Nutella stuffed chocolate chip cookies. I’m in charge of our “connecting activity” for work tomorrow and I have carefully planned five “Minute to Win It” games. I’ve somehow also managed to sign up to bring food for the breakfast tomorrow, so along with the white elephant gift exchange present, the props for Minute to Win It, and the 9 X 13 pan of cookies, I am picking up bagels and cream cheese early tomorrow morning.

For a minute this afternoon I contemplated trying to make it to the 6:15am group work out class at the women’s gym I joined last month. Don’t worry, I’ve eaten enough chocolate this evening to tamp down that idea.

Tis the season, right? The season of way, way, way too much to do. I have always felt this way, but somehow having a son and wanting to squeeze every moment of time with him out of each day leaves very thin margins on the book-ends of my day to accomplish, well, everything.

And I do mean… everything.

This week we had a professional development for work. And she was there. You don’t know her, and yet, I’m pretty sure you do. She’s adorable, she got a work ethic to make Ben Franklin proud, she’s a step higher on the career ladder. She’s so nice that it’s annoying and yet, you realize that you can’t not like her because, ugh, she is so nice. She doesn’t have a kid yet, but I can guarantee that when she does, her days will have extra hours and she will not be awake at 1am writing a blog about how much she envies someone else. She will instead be busy being the President of the United States. Or something like that.

I’m exaggerating. Obviously. But there’s nothing like showing up to a work event having barely brushed your hair and wearing a Coldwater Creek shirt you bought from Goodwill that may or may not have gone out of style ten years ago that can send you into the spiral of down, down, down into the comparison game. Or maybe it’s just me.

I do not need anyone to remind me about how this is NOT what Christmas is all about. For that matter, I don’t need anyone to remind me that this is NOT what mothering, being a woman, being a person is all about.

And yet, here we are.

For some reason, what keeps coming into my mind over and over, and I do like to pay attention to such things, is this moment of conversation I had with a coworker this week. Not “her”. A different one. Her name is Katie. She’s the kind of person that asks how you’re doing and really wants to hear the answer. So I told her.

“Last night my son screamed for three blocks through the middle of downtown Oak Park, bucking his body wildly against me because I wouldn’t let him play with a knife at the restaurant where we’d ordered dinner.”

She had true compassion in her eyes, probably because her son is only a few months older than mine, so she gets it. And then she went into a several minute long story about, and I am not making this up, sucking boogers out of her son’s nose with the Nose Frida.

nose frida

It might have been the best conversation I had all week.

What in the world do boogers have to do with Christmas, the comparison game, and being up way too late?

I guess nothing. And everything. Because she offered me such a gift. Katie offered me the honest, real look at her day to day life. And right now, in a tale that is very familiar, her day to day life consists of… boogers.

Right now my days consist of speculation on and about the rhyming patterns of Sandra Boynton books. I can explain in incredible detail how and why Barnyard Dance is superior in every way to Birthday Monsters. My husband can chime in on the conversation because (and this is a little embarrassing) we talk about it. Kinda a lot.

boynton

I was an over-committer long before my son came along. I can’t blame him for that. But having a son has spread the icing on the cake thin enough that it’s embarrassing to serve it. Things have slipped, and there are glaring holes in the facade I like to believe I used to be able to pull off. (For those who know me well, just go with me here. No need to burst my bubble.)

Yet, here I am. Blogging in the middle of the night after a marathon day of “doin’ too much.” Adding a few more things onto my plate so that maybe I can fool everyone else into thinking that I haven’t slowed down at all since becoming a mom. I really can do it all.

But the truth, as I’ve already laid out, I can’t. These days I get really nervous just trying to make small talk. I hate the moment in conversations when it lulls and I am expected to fill it with some thoughtful remark. I scan the Rolodex and more often than not land on… boogers. Or Sandra Boynton. Or my son’s screaming through Oak Park. Not exactly cocktail conversation.

Maybe the best I can do is this. Writing this. Telling my own version of the booger story and letting it all hang out for you to see. Would it probably have been even more meaningful, a larger step away from the comparison game, if I had bought cookies from the store? Maybe. Does it help make my point to know that I ate way more than my fair share of chocolate chips today? Maybe.

But know that despite what my chocolate chip cookies and sunny Christmas card may imply, I’m just winging it. Like everybody else.

Probably even “her”.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

PARENTING

Winter is Coming

My maternal ancestors were homesteaders. They traveled across oceans and prairies, mountains and rivers, and settled in Canada, Northern Wisconsin, and ultimately North Dakota. Growing up, one of my favorite books was My Prairie Year, a picture book with pencil sketches that tells the true story of one year in the life of a girl growing up in the prairie: canning foods, hanging out the wash to dry, tying string from the house to the barn during a blizzard so the path wouldn’t be lost in the mountains of snow. You know, the usual.

my prairie year

To be totally honest, there is little to connect me to the life of a homesteader. I got excited last night because I managed to make a crockpot dinner, which I believe was delicious, with only five minutes of prep. I literally dumped items into the top, put in some thawed chicken thighs, and then picked up my screaming son, who was of the opinion that five minutes not in my arms was five minutes too long.

But I think about my homesteading great great grandparents, especially as the weather turns from crisp to frigid. I remember visiting my grandmother one Thanksgiving a decade ago. We had eaten too much, so I decided to go for a walk. My mom had talked about being young in North Dakota, the wind cutting through you like a knife, and a Minnesota native, I believed I knew what she meant. I didn’t. Bent at a forty five degree angle, pushing with all my power, I managed to walk to the edge of town, probably only due to the houses breaking up the wind. Once I hit the farm land, game over. I nearly had to crawl on hands and knees to get back to my grandma’s home.

I wonder what it was like to fear the coming of this intense cold, no houses to break up the wind? What was it like to watch the dying of all vegetation, hoping and praying you had planted enough tomatoes and onions to get through the whole of winter? Did we harvest enough? Did we preserve enough? Will we last until February? Will we see the first bud of the next spring?

I wonder, and I know. Because I ask the same questions myself this year. I have a Costco a mile from my house, and my survival needs are met, but it is this time of year that I wonder if I have stored enough to get me through the cold. It’s this time of year when the stark, bare trees and snow turned crusty and charcoal from car exhaust turns me thinking inward, wondering whether I’ve planted enough sunshine, goodness, and love to endure not weeks, but months of gray, gray, gray.

I could move. I suppose the homesteaders could have, too. There are places the sun never leaves, the plants always grow. But despite the fear of the shortening days, and the quieting of colors, I’ve also grown to anticipate this emptying. I’ve learned to prepare for it, maybe in the way of my great, great, great grandmothers, spending autumn soaking up the rich red and gold of the trees, eating freshly picked apples and tomatoes still warm from the sun, taking long walks in perfect sweatshirt weather with the desperation that only comes from knowing that the days are numbered and few.

And then, to quote Alice Walker, comes the time to live frugally on surprise.

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It’s that time of year for me now. Today is gray, and I can’t remember the last time the sun peeked out. And as much as I’ve anticipated the emptying, when it happens all I want to do is spend my days curled in bed, hibernating for winter’s end. It’s the time of year when it seems certifiably insane that anyone ever stopped a covered wagon in this place and thought to themselves, “Here. This is far enough.”

And then, like discovering a shelf of forgotten canned produce, comes a surprise.

A kiss from my husband after a long day at work, the outstretched arms and sleepy grin from my son when I wake up in the morning. A compliment from a colleague, a phone call from a dear friend, the right song at the right time, a warm bath, a beautiful poem.

One such poem was sent to me by my father several months ago, and I pulled it out today, a jar of preserved tomatoes, and savored it’s words again, knowing that I needed the sustenance more today than I did in the summer when it was first sent.

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One Good Thing

It’s been a dead parade
of hours since 5 AM
a march of the bland
with the meaningless and
I can think of nothing
I have done to merit
mentioning or
remembering.

But now, at 8 pm,
I am bathing my son
in a tub filled with bubbles
and blue battleships,
the soapy water over
his Irish white skin
makes him glisten
like a glazed doughnut

and I should tell him
to stop splashing
but this is the first time
all day I have felt like living
so how can I scold
my boy who’s found joy
in something ordinary
as water? And when

I wash his hair
with Buzz Lightyear
shampoo, Liam
closes his eyes and
smiles like a puppy
being petted as I massage
the sweet lotion into
his red curls and I know

this is one good thing
I have done with my life
this day that has waited
for this moment
of water on my sleeve
and soap on my nose
to turn emptiness
into ecstasy.

…Edwin Romond

And that poem may not be enough to get me through all of winter. But it’s enough for today.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

My Mental Breakdown in the Middle of A Target Store

I am losing my mind. Little by little.

This past month my son has been sick. It hasn’t been a major sick, it’s been a cough that wakes him up three to four times a night sick. Roughly translated, that is a “wake your parents up three to four times a night” kind of sick.

For a month.

Add to this fact that the weekends have been filled with mandatory professional developments on Saturdays.

I’m feeling a little panicky even talking about it.

My husband said recently that a baby’s REM cycle is 45 minutes. On nights when I am too exhausted to sit in a chair and rock my baby back to sleep and place him in his crib, opting instead to bring him into the bed with my husband and me, I imagine I’m waking up about every 45 minutes.

I am showering a lot less than I used to. Back to the sloppy ponytail. My brain feels like someone has replaced the gray matter with Styrofoam. As a friend of mine said, her own children grown and this stage of mothering far behind her, “This level of sleep deprivation is outlawed by the Geneva convention.”

And yet here I am.

But this happens, right? Those days when the most basic needs seem to be too much work, so they are stripped to only the most basic of the basic needs.

It became clear that my sore throat on Monday, coupled with the delirium, mandated a day away from work, a day for rest. Except, after tossing and turning for over an hour, sleep was not available to me. So I did what every other person losing his or her sanity does.

I went shopping at Target.

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I had no illusions about my intentions at the Target. I was there to SHOP. I grabbed the cart, not the basket, and started making my way methodically though the entire store, letting my cart push me more than the other way around.

To be fair, this was a trip that had been needed for some time, but because I could not be bothered to write down the many items needed in our home, like outlet covers to keep our toddler son from electrocuting himself, it became necessary to walk through every single aisle just to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything.

Or that’s what I told myself.

Among my purchased items: a loofah, cream of mushroom soup, a sippy cup, a suspension shower rack, 2 picture frames, outlet covers, 2 bins to fit inside our IKEA bookshelf, and gum. I also scheduled an eye appointment, since apparently Targets are now small countries with infrastructure and eye clinics. I almost scheduled to get a strep culture to see about my sore throat, but I have an HMO and wasn’t willing to pay $90 out of pocket.

Oh, and I bought a candle.

It was actually the purchase of this candle that put me over the edge.

There I was, standing in the candle aisle at Target. You know the one. It makes you remember all the yoga and meditation that you should be doing to live a more mindful and healthy life. It’s the one that makes you feel like maybe if you just lit a few more of these beautiful candles in your home, a fung shei fairy would appear and magically transform your house from what it is into a Zen garden with straight lines and empty space.

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The candle I picked up had a big red label that said, “BE JOYFUL!” in tall font. I smelled it. The combination of peppermint and sage transported me to the moments of sitting in our living room in Minnesota, unwrapping the Christmas decorations one by one. It reminded me of my dad’s collection of nativity scenes, many with candles whose heat causes the whole scene to spin and spin. It reminded me of Christmases when money was too tight for a tree, and then the doorbell rang and a tree was sitting, like magic, on our front porch.

The tears came immediately. Because I desperately wanted to hug my dad. And because those precious moments, like the ones with my family at Christmas, are so perfect and beautiful, tight with love and light. I cried because I wanted that candle to transport me to my family, to Christmas, to sleep. I cried because I knew that it may take a few months, but Christmas will come again.

I cried because sometimes just the thought that Christmas will come again can make the sleep deprived moments when I am a lunatic crying in a Target seem a little less lonely, a little less frantic, a little, well, less.

And, I cried because I was tired.

My mom promises me that one day I will wake up and I won’t feel tired anymore. I’m holding onto that promise for dear life. That promise, like Christmas, helps me keep getting up, keep doing the basics of basic, even after the days when the tears flow in the middle of a suburban Target store.

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I took the “Be Joyful” candle home. It has not transformed my living room. But smelling it is a good reminder that this moment is fleeting, and there can be pockets of joy even in the midst of losing my mind.

henri nouwen

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Uncategorized

My Church Gave Me $500 and It Has Brought Me Nothing But Angst

A few weeks ago my pastor announced from the pulpit that each congregant in our church would be receiving a check for five hundred dollars. There were a lot of emotions in the room, but the general sentiment was surprise, and perhaps, amazement. After all, it’s a pretty incredible gift to be given. Five hundred dollars can make a big difference in a person’s life, in several people’s lives. Five hundred dollars is an incredible opportunity.

That was how I knew I was supposed to feel. And it wasn’t how I felt.

Backing up a little, let me explain that the money came from the sale of property the church had invested in thirty years ago. I had heard that the church had received a large sum (1.6 million, to be exact) of money, and in conversations with my husband had come to the conclusion that regardless of how the church decided to use the money, we would stay out of the decision making process. We haven’t been involved in how the church chooses to spend its annual budget thus far, and a significant increase in the amount of money wouldn’t and shouldn’t change that.

And then we found out that we were going to be very closely involved in how that decision was made. Each of us was given $500, part of the first ten percent of the 1.6 million dollars, to spend as we see fit.

So my first reaction was more along the lines of, “Isn’t it someone else’s job to make these decisions?”

Frankly, I’m having a hard enough time figuring out how to find time to do the dishes and the laundry. (How many times can you wear work pants before dry cleaning them?) I don’t want to be responsible for the thoughtful discernment of how to spend five hundred dollars.

Also, I don’t really want to think about money at all. I much prefer to leave that to my accountant husband. I’d rather not have to take a look at the total sum of how much money my husband and I spend eating at restaurants each month. I don’t want to know the total amount of money I spend in a year on my daily ice tea from Dunkin Donuts.

My life is pretty much working for me, and for the most part I’m pretty generous. My husband and I support different charities and give money to our church. We get involved in the occasional volunteer project. Add to that the fact that I am working in an urban school district, helping children receive a quality education, and I’d like to think that I’m doing pretty well for myself with my talents and my skills and my contributions to the world. (And for the record, I get my daily iced tea in a reusable mug.)

In the past three weeks hardly a day has gone by without me saying to my husband, “And maybe we could give some of the money to this.” Whether the “this” be to a friend who is struggling to meet rent, to a former student who is paying for college tuition, to another friend who is providing weekly meals to people in Chicago, or to a charity working to stop the spread of Ebola in Western Africa. The need is all around.

In other words, getting this five hundred dollars has been forcing me to engage with the world in a new and uncomfortable way.

It would be one thing if it stopped there. But it doesn’t. Because the other truth of my first thought when I got this money was, “Wow, that’s not very much money.”

Because in the greater scheme of things, it isn’t. And because in the greater scheme of our family budget… it isn’t.

scrooge

It’s not that my husband and I are Scrooge McDuck, swimming in a sea of gold. We still have student loans and a mortgage, we were recently hit with a large auto repair, and re-doing the roof of our house cleared out our savings.

But generally speaking, if we want something we have the means to get it. Like my daily Dunkin Donuts iced tea. Or a recent dinner out to Alinea. Yeah. So while we may not have $500 to give away every day, we could probably give away more than we do.

I remember once talking to my mom and hearing her say that she rarely goes to Caribou Coffee because she knows that at five dollars a drink, going there five times is the equivalent of sponsoring a child through World Vision for a month. By the way, she will hate that I wrote that, because she doesn’t say these things to be showy. She told me this in the most matter of fact kind of way possible. Most likely while doing my laundry. Because my mother is lovely and loving and wonderful. And because I hate doing laundry.

I, on the other hand, do not think about the child I could be sponsoring if I gave up my Dunkin Donuts tea addiction. In fact, I get pretty surly when my husband asks if I would ever be interested in brewing my own iced tea at home. Because seriously, where does that line of thinking stop? Should we sell our house and live in a tent? And so what that I paid two hundred dollars to get my hair cut and colored? That’s how much it costs, and I need to look professional for my job. The job, I would like to remind you, where I help change the lives of children. Fueled by the caffeine in my REUSABLE mug.

And on and on and on.

So no, the five hundred dollar check, still sitting in the trunk of my car where I left it the Sunday I received it, has not brought unlimited happiness and celebration. It’s brought a lot of tough reflection.

My husband and I are in a small group with three other couples that go to our church and we have been talking about pooling our money and creating a fund of $4,000 that could be used in a variety of mutually agreed upon ways. While discussing how this might work, I said, “A big part of me wants to write a five hundred dollar check to the charity of the moment, because that’s so much easier than having to pay attention to all the needs all around me.” And I stand by that. The check is a hot potato I’m more than ready to pass to the next person.

But despite my whining and complaining, I also recognize that this discomfort and frustration, this magnifying glass to my own financial choices, well that might very well be the point. (And yes, I am whining and complaining about being given five hundred dollars and if that is too much entitlement for you to get over, I can’t really blame you.)

We haven’t decided how to use our money. We’re talking about pooling the money and then contributing more money to the pot on a monthly basis, and making it a part of our biweekly meeting time to talk about how to spend different chunks of the money. We’re talking about using the money to match contributions we make to various people and organizations we see.

We’re talking about how we can make it more than just writing a $500 check and being done with it, how we can keep the conversation going, how we can continue to give, even when this $500 is gone.

And so it is that this $500 is the beginning, albeit an uncomfortable one, of a new engagement with the world around me. Because maybe small things like brewing my own ice tea (note, I am not committing to this) can add up to make a big difference, and maybe if I actually believed that, and other people did, too, then giving each congregant in a church $500 wouldn’t be such a big deal. Maybe that kind of giving would be normal.

Maybe it should be. And maybe that starts with me.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

My Dog Has Serious Bathroom Issues and I’m The Center of My Universe

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My dog has been peeing and pooping all over our house. Literally, all over. Every room. I have stepped in poop three times this past week alone. It’s been maddening to continually bend over and clean up her messes. The baby gates we purchased to keep her out of the areas of the house upon which we’d like to traverse without stepping into feces, well it turns out that those baby gates have slats on the side just large enough for her to squeeze her tiny, six-pound Chihuahua body through, though she feigns captivity when we are watching. None-the-less, eight hours later, returning home after work, poop is waiting in the kitchen. Or the front room. Or our bedroom.

Thankfully, the gates do keep our toddler son sectioned off into manageable, poop-free zones while either my husband or I attend to the remaining toxic rooms of the house to deep clean.

OK, that’s dramatic. We don’t really ever deep clean.

Also, my son has been sick. I don’t think it is related to the aforementioned lack of cleanliness in our home, but I can’t say it isn’t. In any case, he has been waking up throughout the night, and my heart just breaks as his body shakes with coughs fit for a pack-a-day, lifetime smoker. He’s ended up sleeping next to me for the last few nights. A part of me can hardly resist having his little body asleep next to mine, and another part of me recognizes that the sleep deprivation is starting to catch up to me.

There’s been other stuff, too, like getting a flat tire and taking it into the shop, casually mentioning that I would also like to get the driver’s side headlight replaced (I apologize for ruining your games of pediddle) and maybe an oil change. Three hundred dollars later I left with my car, and with more descriptions than I wanted to know about the melting of wires in the headlight, and the need to reconstruct the whole thing-a-ma-bob, and an, “oh, by the way, we don’t actually have the capability to repair tires or order you new ones, but hey, here’s a recommendation for another place that will charge you three hundred dollars to replace your tires.”

Which I went to. And they did.

By now you might have inferred that I’ve been feeling a little sorry for myself. Licking my wounds. Consoling myself with Caramel Apple Milkyway candy bars (this really is the best time of year) and lots of episodes of Scandal on Netflix.

A few days ago I had a rare moment at home alone and I took my dog for a walk. It’s hard to explain her jubilee when I picked up her leash, and I’m ashamed to admit the weeks it had been since our last walk, and more ashamed to admit my general pet owning negligence, having grown even larger since having a child.

While on the walk, I kept thinking about one of my favorite moments in public speaking: David Foster Wallace giving his commencement speech called, “This is Water.” I first read the transcript while up one night nursing my son, and I have since watched the youtube video of his speech more times than I can count.

One part in particular started percolating into my mind.

“…the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.”

Seriously, this talk is well worth the twenty minutes of your time. If he had spoken these words at my commencement, I like to believe I would still remember them today. As it is, I don’t remember the name of my commencement speaker.

But the idea, that part about me being at the center of the universe, that all of life is happening TO me, well, it strikes pretty close to home. Or rather, it strikes home. Because it sure feels like my dog has been purposefully leaving spiteful packages for me to clean up, and that meetings are scheduled on the end of the day on Friday just to make my life difficult, and the world is conspiring to steal my sleep and my money.

And also, that walk was the first really kind thing I have done for my dog, Lily, in a week. Truly. When I picked her up she licked my face and jumped up and down on the ground as if I had just pledged her a lifetime of chicken scraps and string cheese. (Which for the most part, I have.)

Not totally connected and yet maybe kinda a little connected, I also started to spend intentional time with my baby boy this week. He’s at this incredible joyful age, full of wonder and amazement and glee. Thirteen months is my favorite age yet.

I’ve been feeling a little haphazard as a mother lately. I am relieved and excited to finally see my son after being apart from him all day, and I am also feeling the pull of the forty things I really want to do, like read a book or watch Scandal.

That was really embarrassing to admit, by the way.

While on the floor with him on Monday I started to play a game with him. OK, mostly we were just putting the empty LaCroix cans in and out of a paper bag, but that is probably his favorite game in the world right now, and has the added benefit of teaching him the life skill of helping clean up the recycling.

I sat there with him and coached him through how to put the can in and out of the bag, and celebrated how he dropped each can into the bag, and how he often did so while standing on his own. My phone was off and my computer was put away, and the world was just him and me.

The next day we played with blocks, and the day after that we went to the park as a family. Yesterday we went on a boat ride.

And this week I’ve been thinking about what the world is like for him. At the center of his universe is his father and me, and I’ve been thinking about the joy we bring to his world with such a small amount of intentionality. And I wonder why it often seems so much easier to watch a forty minute TV show than it is to spend forty minutes of uninterrupted playtime with my child.

This is really embarrassing to admit, by the way.

So it’s been making me think about whether this week has been any different than any other week in the monotony and sacredness of the everyday ebb and flow. It’s been making me think about the connection between times of generous kindness and times of, if for only a small moment, being able to step outside of my default mindset that I am the center of the universe, the victim of the events around me.

It’s late and my son has been asleep for the past few hours. My dog is sleeping next to me on the couch, barely having left my side since I got home from work. With such adoration it is no wonder I so easily slip into thinking I’m the center of the universe. With such adoration it’s even possible to forgive some ridiculous bathroom issues.

After all, she’s forgiven me for the missed walks.

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261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

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