Watch Me Ruin Everything

DSCN1890Today is Monday.

Tomorrow is Tuesday.

Constantly – CONSTANTLY – there is a list of things I need to do, have done, should be doing, running on a loop inside my head. I did history lessons with the kids, time to do reading with Ola, now I have to change the baby, and then I have to unload the dishwasher, and I have to wipe down the table from breakfast so I can get ready for lunch – BUT WAIT! – I have to nurse the baby who doesn’t want to nurse but does want to nurse and screams at my chest while Will refuses to use the potty and Romulus (the cat, not a kid) just barfed on the floor and where on Earth did I put that math folder????!?!?

I can get three or four chores done each day, tops. I could do more, but that means leaving the baby to cry for an extra ten minutes while I scrub the toilet, and I’d rather not have that for my poop-scouring soundtrack. And then I took the kids to the park this afternoon because I simply didn’t want to fold laundry or read through a social studies lesson or scrub the kitchen floor.

Today is Monday.

Tomorrow is Tuesday.

I seriously have to remind myself of this because I can and will lose track of days. And so I add that to the plethora of thoughts running through my head.

I chose to be a wife and mother. I chose to homeschool. I chose to work part-time. I chose to write and be a published author. I chose to do all of these things, and so when I’m clinging to the edge of everything, when I’m Jack, struggling and freezing and slowly dying in the ocean I can’t help but wonder why Rose won’t just shove over and give me some room on that massive door before she has to pry my cold, dead fingers off the wood.

Most of the time, I think I am ruining everything. I am ruining my kids’ education, I am not keeping up with anything in the house, I am throwing words at a page and wondering why none of them sound good, I am going to be swallowed up by laundry and dishes and panic that I have done everything wrong and there is no reset button because these are LIVES, tiny little lives that I am in charge of.

Not to mention my own life. That, too.

And there is this constant humming in the background, so many different voices that tell you how you CAN DO THE THING, and YOU CAN PICK YOURSELF UP and ORGANIZE and SAVE THE WORLD and STUFF SO MUCH STUFF.

But, no. No, I can’t.

I have this little world I’m overseeing. I have my kids, who love me, who want to help me and cuddle and watch movies and read library books to them. And then they fight and I want to tear out my hair and I go into the bedroom to eat chocolate they can’t see. But they love me. Even when I screw up. Even when I snap at them, when I’m impatient, when I’m a mess because I’ve lost a baby or a parent. They walk over and they want to hold me. Tiny things that they are, and yet they have something I don’t. Or perhaps it’s something I had once but it’s been drowned out by the lists and the chores and the stress and the budgets and the news and the world.

It’s that ability to see what is right in front of them, to focus on that, to put everything away for a moment and simply live in the present, and not lose themselves in all the stuff in their head. My daughter finds out that there are people who are hungry, who have less than she does, so she wants to help them. Not in a grand way, but just to give them food. Right now, when they need it. Not to begin a project that will eat up time and waste resources and fail to help anyone, but just to give what we have at that moment, whatever we may have. My brain doesn’t work like that. I go, “Isn’t that a shame?” and move on. Because there are too many other things I have to worry about.

Today is Monday.

Tomorrow is Tuesday.

We now have a cardboard box that I am slowly filling up with food to take to the local food bank at the end of the month. It seems like nothing, and then so goes the hum of voices, that this isn’t enough, that I should do something that will go viral and then lots of people will be helped and once I get those socks sorted and the errands run I’ll get on top of that and do something that will really make a difference.

But, no. That box, that will change things. It’s nothing epic. It will not cure the world of all its ills. But it is something. Because somehow, my kids understand that everything you do is something. All of the little tasks and chores that I want to hate and mutter about are something, that I am caring for them, that each small job is my way of doing what I can for them. Like every can and packet of food in that box, each thing counts.

I may feel like I’m screwing things up on some massive scale because I’m not accomplishing things on an equally massive scale. But life is not made up of leaps and bounds. Just like God isn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. It’s the still, small voice. The box of food. The change in your pocket. The sighs and the hugs of my children.

Today is Monday.

Tomorrow is Tuesday.

And thank God for that.

 

 

 

Real Women Have… Shapes. All Kinds of Shapes.

**This was originally written on July 10th, 2014**

I was probably doomed from the start.

My parents were both slender. My father was 6′ 3″ and almost too skinny to join the Navy. My mom was 5′ 6″ and not even 100 pounds. So once the baby fat wore off, I was a bit of a twig.

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But honestly, I didn’t even realize it. I was homeschooled, so I didn’t have to endure any taunting about my gangly limbs from that quarter, and the kids at church had known me since I was a baby, so there really wasn’t anything to comment on.

And then I started taking dance lessons when I was nine years old. Dance lessons meant being in a leotard and tights for every class. Leotard and tights that were actually baggy on me. Every costume had to be taken in. EVERY SINGLE COSTUME. And all through this, I kept growing taller and taller, my arms and legs and back getting longer, so I was obviously gaining weight, but the weight kept going straight into more and more height and it was just a whole lot of awkwardness all around.

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And then… I became a teenager.

Until then, no one had really pointed out my resemblance to a toothpick in a negative light. But, of course, when you’re a teenager, and you’re surrounded by other teenagers, then suddenly everyone becomes SO WONDERFUL about pointing out your flaws and just being generally catty and awful to one another. As hormonally-charged, insecurity-ridden teenagers often do. All of a sudden, I couldn’t be skinny just because I was a naturally skinny person. No, I must be anorexic. I must be bulimic. I needed to eat more. And more. And more. And more. And while surrounded by other girls who were constantly stressing about wanting to LOSE weight, I wondered why I was different, and what on earth was wrong with me.

And so I started to notice my body. I saw the bones of my rib cage sticking out. I saw my spine, my shoulder blades, my twiggy little thighs and the bony arms and wrists that people just loved to come up and wrap their fingers around in order to better illustrate how small and abnormal I was.

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I stopped wearing shorts, first. And then skirts and dresses that showed off anything above the knee. (Funny enough, my mother is probably one of the few mothers who encouraged her teenage daughter to wear short skirts and cute dresses while stressing that I had “great legs”. I, being fifteen years old and wallowing in low self-esteem, did not believe her.) I layered my clothes. I wore bulky, heavy outfits – even in warm weather – to hide my body.

I also started to keep track of everything I ate. I became obsessed with counting calories. NOT to keep myself from eating too many, but because I had to make sure that I was consuming enough. I filled notebooks with daily lists of everything I’d eaten and how many calories were in each serving (I also made sure to round the numbers down in order to keep the totals low and thereby make myself eat more). If I hit my daily goal (usually around 3000 calories) I put a little foil star sticker next to the total. If I didn’t hit the goal? It went into a deficit account that I had to make up by the end of the week.

Into my early twenties I continued to keep the notebooks and the lists and the numbers. (Seriously, you know you have a problem when you voluntarily introduce MATH into your daily life.) I kept layering clothes, putting on leggings under jeans and tank tops under shirts to make me look “thicker”. I would hear the saying “Real Women Have Curves”, and I would get angry at my hip bones, at the sharp angles that made up my body.

Then, when I was twenty-eight, I met my husband. (CORRECTION: I started dating my husband a second time. But this is the time that stuck so it’s the one that goes in the books.) I still – STILL – felt bad about my body. I didn’t want him to see me. I wanted him to think I was curvy, that I had a bosom, that I looked like the other women that he most definitely-obviously-no-doubt thought were better looking than me. But he always made me feel beautiful. He always made me feel like I had the most perfect figure imaginable. He made me feel confident and gorgeous.

I stopped stressing about my weight… a little bit. Gone were the notebooks, the constantly checking out the Nutritional Information on every package to see if it something was fatty enough to even be worth my time to eat. And then, I found out I was pregnant.

Morning sickness was evil. I hardly ate anything for about six weeks, and having started out at 125 pounds, losing ten pounds was a bit scary. But I knew my body, and I knew I would bounce back as the constant illness began to wane. I remember going in for my first prenatal appointment. I remember the ultrasound and hearing my baby’s heartbeat for the first time. And then, the doctor sat down to ask me a few questions.

The first question? Did I have a problem with gaining weight?

My first thought was that she meant did I have difficulty gaining weight? Which I do. I’ve always been skinny. And I started to point this out to her, and then something in my head… clicked. She didn’t mean would it be physically difficult for me to gain weight, but would it be mentally difficult for me to gain weight. And at that moment, as tears pricked my eyes, I felt all of my teenage insecurities rush back at me, hitting me with the force of a flash flood.

So there I sat, pregnant for the first time, knowing that my life was about to change in so many wonderful and amazing and frightening ways, and I had to defend myself. No, I was not anorexic. No, I had never had an eating disorder. Yes, I was just naturally skinny. No, I didn’t need to speak to a counselor. Yes, I was sure my baby would be fine without any sort of an intervention. I don’t know if she believed me. Frankly, I didn’t care. But I wanted to be out of there so much, because just a little bit of my pregnancy happiness was suddenly sucked away from me.

Over the next six months, I gained forty pounds. I loved those forty pounds. I gloried in them. My arms, my legs, my belly, my CURVES were gorgeous and spectacular and I wanted to bottle them up and keep them on a shelf so I could bring them out again whenever I was feeling down. I had the pregnancy glow in spades, and I didn’t even mind when someone got a glance at my legs or my upper arms.

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And so here I am, nearly five years after the birth of my first child (and with two more children tagging along behind her), and I have to ask myself: Why am I writing this?

Well, I have daughters. Two daughters. Two daughters born to tall, skinny parents (I’m 5′ 11″ and holding steady at about 130 pounds, while my husband is 6′ 2″ and averaging around 170 pounds) so I won’t be surprised if they end up tall and slender, too. But my hope – my fervent, fervent hope – is that after going through what I went through, after hating my body for so many years, after feeling myself pull further and further inward every time someone would tell me I needed to eat something, or would ask if I was TRYING to lose weight (in that oh-so-concerned tone that still sets my teeth on edge), that I will be able to tell them that they’re not alone. They’re not abnormal. They’re not ugly.

Will their ribs be visible during the worst of their growing years? Probably. Will they have the “coveted” thigh gap (that I loathed with every fiber of my being)? More than likely. But I want them to know that they are beautiful, that they don’t have to worry about how others look at them, what others say about them, what others accuse them of when it comes to health and nutrition, AND that they absolutely, positively do not need to eat a sandwich just because their upper arm is not as wide as their elbow.

Oh, and shorts. I definitely hope they wear lots and lots of shorts.

May I Throat-Punch You Now?*

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I have four kids. I’m saying that now to get it out of the way, because it will come up throughout this post. I have four kids, ages 6 (almost 7), 5, 3, and 3 months.

Of course, when you have children, that means that anyone and everyone can come up to you and deliver all manner of unsolicited parenting advice. That’s right, because once you stumble upon the sight of someone else herding their children about, you have now earned the badge of Designated Parental Advice Giver, whether or not you even have children of your own.

Also, if you are planning on having children, or adopting children, or standing somewhere in the vicinity of children, know that things like “conversational etiquette” no longer exist. No question is too personal! “Are you going to have more children?” “Did you breastfeed?” “What color are your child’s stools?” “Do you and your husband ever get any alone time anymore?” Because what happens in my home, my bedroom, and/or my child’s diaper is TOTALLY your business. We could go ahead and blame social media for this disintegration of private barriers, because we all know that nosy people didn’t exist until Al Gore invented the Internet, right? Thanks, Al Gore.

But the comments I hear the most when I’m out with my kids always tend to prick on the matter of how many children I have. The first one is, “Are you done having kids?” My response to this is to go into a lengthy discourse about the current state of my reproductive organs, my family’s monetary budget, the size of our house, our vehicles, and other things that I don’t need to discuss first with my husband and family, because this helpful stranger or borderline acquaintance is much more suited to help me come to a decision about whether or not I should thrust more life upon the world!

The other comment is not a question, but a statement. And hearing it makes me immediately ragey and eager to kick someone or something in its approximate hoo-ha or ding-dong area.

“Boy, you must have your hands full!”

I have four kids. OF COURSE I have my hands full. But thank YOU, kind sir or madam, for stating the obvious. I shall now go over to this person who owns multiple motor vehicles and state, “Boy, you must drive places!”

It also is often a comment I receive when I’m busy making certain that none of my children are climbing the walls or about to somersault down the frozen food aisle of the grocery store. “Boy, you must have your hands full!” then becomes code for, “Boy, what a bunch of ill-behaved children! You horrible, horrible parent, you.” Now, this might not be what it translates to, really. But when I am exhausted (which is always) or hungry (I’m nursing a baby, so again… always) it is what my protein-deprived mind IMMEDIATELY hears it as.

I understand that there will never not be a time when people no longer go up to other people and tell them things those other people will find annoying. I am not going to tell you not to speak to me when you see me in case my fist accidentally** flies out and makes contact with your proboscis. I have probably said many (MANY) things to other people that they have found irritating. I am socially awkward like that. It is my gift to mankind.

But I also know families that have twice as many children as I have. Even three times as many. And I hope that I will never walk up to them and say, “Well, are you done now?” or, “Man, when was the last time you made it through the day without finding peanut butter on yourself?” (For the record, I did not have to produce children in order to always reply to that last question with a resounding “NEVER.”)

So what is the point of this post? I’m not sure it’s a post as much as just brain diarrhea trickling out of my fingers and into your eyes. (I’m sorry for that analogy. I didn’t realize how gross it sounded until I typed it.) But maybe the next time you see a large family somewhere, or a frazzled mom trying to corral multiple children (or even just one child having a bad day) maybe just smile, tell yourself they’re doing their best, and just walk away.***

*No, I will not throat-punch anyone, nor have I ever. I imagine my ability to inflict pain with my fists is about as great as my ability to come off as the successful, cool one at some sort of reunion or get-together with my peers.

**ACCIDENTALLY. I am repeating this here for lawyerly-type reasons, despite the fact that we have already established I have the upper-body strength of a lazy T-Rex.

*** Maurice Moss says it best.  JUST WALK AWAY.

 

 

 

Practicing Patience… Patiently.

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In Sunday School, my kids have been learning about the Fruits of the Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (KJV)

There’s even a mighty ear worm of a song to go with it, but I won’t get into that or else risk having it stuck in my head at two o’clock in the morning. Again.

But “longsuffering” is the key word up there. Also listed in some translations as “patience.”

Of which I have very little, I’ve learned over the last few weeks.

Especially this week, to tell the truth. Because everyone has had this pesky little stomach bug, one of those that only lasts for a day or two and brings on a mild fever, upset tummy, and that general malaise and whining that only the more mild bugs and illnesses can bring to life. And, of course, it went through all four kids (and my husband) one at a time, so that quick, one-day bug managed to transform itself into a week-long event.

So I had reached the end of my maternal tether. “Just…” became a very popular way for me to begin a sentence to my children. “Just eat your food.” “Just go and use the potty.” “Just put your shoes on.” But always spoken in that tone of voice, the one that translates to: “JUST do this one thing before I hide in the bathroom to scream between snarfing down Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups you didn’t know we had.”

And all the while, I kept trying to push that lesson of “patience” towards them, of being longsuffering, of being able to take a deep breath and wait. And there I was, trying to teach that lesson and wonder why they were taking so long to learn how to be patient. I was the one losing my temper, biting my tongue to keep from yelling at them, to keep from doling out punishments like someone throwing out bread crusts to ducks in a pond.

“WHY CAN’T THEY UNDERSTAND THIS WHOLE PATIENCE DEAL?” I would internally scream, impatiently.

Because I’m supposed to lead by example. Which is one of those things they don’t tell you when you start having kids, or to go even further back, when you start adulting all over the place.

And it applies to everything. Not only parenting. It’s easy to find myself looking at my writing career, wondering why I’m not J.K Rowling yet with my own Scottish castle. Probably because I’m too often inundated by all of those blog posts and podcasts and lectures and so on that blast the message of HOW YOU CAN SELL 47 BAJILLION COPIES OF YOUR BOOK JUST CLICK THIS LINK AND BUY MY BOOK AND… oh, I see what they did there.

So… patience. Which is all just a waiting game, when you think about it. Well, a doing and waiting game. Demonstrate to my children how to be patient, not to turn everything up to eleven at the first encounter with difficulty. Take my time to write books and stories I can be proud of, and not berate myself with thoughts of inadequacy because they’re not selling now, now, NOW!

What’s the saying? Good things come to those who wait? If I wait, if I am patient, if I am longsuffering, and put such behavior into practice, hopefully my children will learn from example. And if I am careful, if I take my time to work on my craft, to produce good work, the readers and the sales will come. There is no literary bandwagon I should be jumping on, or lamenting should I think I’ve missed it.

Just do, create, practice patience, and the rest is all so much noise.