Monday, March 30, 2009
As I watched K at a birthday party yesterday, I puzzled over how this child could be mine. I see nothing of myself in her, apart from her dark brown eyes. She is graceful, rhythmic, attention loving, talkative, silly, funny, extroverted and a performer. These are not traits we share.
Now, I don't want my daughters to be carbon-copies of me. I am thankful that they are all more well-rounded and more secure in themselves than I was at their age. Many from my side of the family talk about how A is so much like me, but I look at her and see a graceful dancer, aware of and living out her gifts and wonder how they can think she is like me. Yes, she loves to read, is serious beyond her years and soaks up the conversations around her, but she is much, much more than I was and I hope she will do many things I've never done.
When B was little, I wondered how on earth she was created by pooling my genes with J's, but over time I've begun to see that perhaps I could have been more like B had I not been the first born child, had J been my father. As I try to truly see the world with my own eyes and not through the filters others have placed over my vision, I think of B's ability to see a new, different way to do most anything.
But K? I just don't know how she is like me and that makes it hard for me to relate to her. I love her and feel like a bad mother that I look at her and wonder, "How is it possible we are related?" How do I find a playing field for us to share when her favorite field is the performance stage and I am set on staying in the wings? (She wouldn't want me on the stage with her anyway because the whole point is to have all of the attention to herself!) How do I find a common vocabulary for us to use to communicate? She is only four, but I wonder whether we'll ever have commonalities. Does she have any traits that were inherited from me? Geneticists would tell you she must, but they must be buried far beneath the surface.... or perhaps only on the surface in those brown eyes.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
B is working on a timeline for school. It's a pretty straightforward project. She is to put a penny from each year since she's been born on a poster and then write one fact from each year on the timeline. But I find myself wondering whether time actually is a straight line. I know logically that it is, but I don't think that's how we experience it. I think time seems to rush onward during some seasons and drag slowly during others. Then it loops back on itself and you wonder whether you've done this before.
One of my favorite books is The Time Traveler's Wife. It captures this sense of time folding over on itself as it tracks the relationship of Henry (the time traveler) and Claire (his wife). It's told in a unique way and I think we remember our relationships much like this book relates. J and I have been married for over 12 years and I don't remember our time together in a linear fashion. My memories leap from one moment to the next, linked not chronologically but emotionally or by some hidden mental trigger. We spent the first year of our marriage in Columbus, OH, so those memories are fixed in a separate place in time, while everything else swirls together, merges and separates.
Even as I help B look back on her seven years of life, it is not linear. I can tell you wonderful qualities she possesses or funny stories or touching moments shared, but none of these will escape my lips or my fingers in the nice, neat way a timeline is laid out.
I think if I were to try to create a timeline of my life, I might have to create a time loop instead. It would be fascinating to see where the overlaps occur. How did a poster I owned in college impact my current view of what it means to be an artist? How do the cumulative experiences J and I have result in a marriage? Where do I want the next curve in the loop to take me?
Friday, March 27, 2009
Dear Inner Saboteur,
It’s a little odd to address you so directly, since I normally try to ignore you, tell you to shut up, or just listen in silent acceptance. It’s especially difficult to address you in a civil, conciliatory tone, but that’s what I’d like to do. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about you and why you talk to me the way you do.
The way I see it, you’re not like Athena. You didn’t spring fully formed from my mind. You’ve evolved over time and are more likely a product of my insecurities, my fears and my failure to recognize lies I have been told as lies and not truths. I imagine the seed of your voice was planted when I was a little girl and I can picture you then, trying to build walls that words would not penetrate. You worked just as hard as you could, but the lies came pummeling through anyway, so you gave up and started hurling words back.
If you were an animal, you would be a porcupine. You prickle at the slightest provocation and are likely to sting any who approach you, including me. But unlike a porcupine, you don’t sting with quills but with words. Of course you sting with words. You are me, after all. And words have always been my greatest strength and worst weakness. Over time, I have curbed my tendency to attack others with words, but you, my saboteur, have not shown me the same courtesy. You continue to berate me with keen insights, cutting observations and subtle lies that I sometimes mistake for the truth.
I’ve tried this lent to ignore your voice and while it works sometimes, it is truly a battle. While I’ve tried to attack head on, you have retreated from frontal attacks and moved over to subtle sabotage. I have decided the best way to silence you is to listen to my Spirit instead of you. When I hear something unkind, it’s not my Spirit, it’s you. And while my Spirit wants the best for me, you do not. You want what is safest, what leaves me alone, what keeps me exactly the way I am.
So I guess you can keep talking and I’ll just stop listening. You see, I don’t need you anymore. I don’t need a porcupine to defend me because I have a Shield. My Shield listens to my Spirit and does a much better job than a porcupine of knowing the truth from a lie and of allowing the former through while blocking the latter. If you’d like to join me here behind my Shield, you’ll find a safer, more loving place than you’ve ever been.Written In Love, WordGirl
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
4: a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling
I have sometimes envied my husband his career. This was especially true when our girls were younger and I stayed at home with them full-time. In those days, my own career was a recent memory. My job - where I was competent and successful. Where I did something once and it was complete. Where I interacted with other adults and had an office with a door I could close when I needed some quiet to think. Those were the days. I actually knew what I was doing.
Then I became a full-time mom and found out just how little I knew, just how incapable I am, just how selfish I am and many other unpleasant truths. So when J would head out in the morning for work, I was a bit wistful. In the workplace, I knew my role and knew I could fulfill it. My job as a mom? Much less clearly delineated and therefore more difficult to measure. Yet I knew I wasn't measuring up. Other moms I knew managed to keep their houses clean, their laundry done and their children fed seemingly without any problem whatsoever. Many of them even found joy in the doing of these things. Me? Not so much.
I loved - and still love - my children. They are amazing human beings that surprise me every day. They have traits I have never seen in other people and use their talents with a confidence I sometimes envy. They are bold, beautiful little girls who are becoming, before my very eyes, bold, beautiful young women.
But I like having pursuits aside from the rearing of these lovely ladies. I like having a part-time job using my administrative and writing skills. I like contributing to society in a way that I can actually see. But I don't really want a career anymore. I truly have no desire to pursue "consecutive progressive achievement." I want to write, I want to cook for my family, I want to help my girls become who they were made to be. I want to be who I was made to be.
J stayed up past midnight working and left for work before 6 this morning. Do the math on that. Not only do I not want a career, I don't think I could do it. I've settled in to the rhythm of my life (even though the rhythm changes frequently) and I like what it has to offer. I like sitting here on a rainy day, writing, even though there is laundry to be folded. There will still be laundry to be folded when I finish writing. In fact, there is almost always laundry waiting to be washed, dried, folded or put away in this house. But I'm OK with that. And I'm thankful that J loves his career. He loves the work he does and is fulfilled by it. He provides for all of our families needs and many of our wants. He is happy to go to work each morning in order to do this for us. And I am content with no career. Only projects, daughters and words. This is enough for me.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
What types of things do you say to yourself during the day? When you're alone with your thoughts, are you kind or unkind? Do you encourage yourself as you attempt something new or do you sabotage your efforts even as you begin?
I've been trying to give up negative self-talk for lent. I gave up chocolate for lent several years ago and, let me tell you, this is much, much harder. When I catch myself saying awful, hateful things in my head, I tell myself to stop. It comes at the expected times (when I lose my temper with my girls) and at unexpected times (while mopping). It's getting a bit easier to identify and quiet the voice. At least I've made myself aware of when and how often I do this to myself.
But today I realized my inner saboteur is getting sneaky. Since I quiet the outright insults, I now hear subtle lies that have the same result - a less confident, more doubtful me. Today I saw an acquaintance. Instead of just talking to her, I was hesitant because I was tired and didn't feel like talking. There wasn't anything inherently wrong with this choice. But my inner voice told me as I observed this acquaintance chatting with some other women, "See, she has plenty of friends already." Instead of coming right out and telling me that this person didn't want to talk to me, my inner voice made a snide observation aimed to hamper potential future friendship. Only later did I realize this was a moment of sabotage.
As a part of my creativity group, we're examining where our creativity has been bruised in the past. It's been incredibly difficult to come up with specific instances because I self-sabotaged any creative efforts for decades. But where did I learn to talk to myself this way? Where do the voices of others merge with my own voice? When did I start telling myself the things I thought other people were thinking? Are my daughters (ages 9, 7 and 4) already telling themselves lies?
Our assignment this week is to write a letter to that inner voice that tell us lies. I think I'll start mine "Dear Saboteur..."
Monday, March 23, 2009
I'll spare you a top 100 run-down. My top 100 books would require too much thought, I'm not sure I've watched 100 movies and I'd have a tough time coming up with 100 songs that I care about.
Instead I'll say that while I've found it challenging over the past week to blog, in general, I very much enjoy it. J has tried to talk me in to writing a blog for approximately 6 years, but it didn't feel right until a few months ago. Having a blog has encouraged me to be disciplined with my writing, given me a way to elaborate on thoughts that might otherwise be fleeting, and lets me keep up with certain friends.
I should also mention that my blogging is all J hoped for and more. He says he feels like he knows me better after reading my blog, which is probably a good thing...
Thanks for reading.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Spring Break was this week. I tried to relax my standards for the girls by letting them read more, watch more TV, play on the Wii more, just do more of what they wanted. On Wednesday, I found myself with a short fuse. The girls were just being girls. They weren't acting horrifically, but you'd never have known that had you observed my reactions. Every little thing set me off. (As evidenced by my post on mopping. Does a normal household activity really need a post dedicated to it?) It was only the next morning that I realized PMS was the source of my uncommonly curt tongue.
So Thursday, I decided to distract myself with a book. After all, it was Spring Break. Wasn't I allowed a "harmless distraction" during a vacation week? I started a book J recommended and it was quick-paced enough to distract me from most everything else. I even heated up left-over sweet potato burrito filling to avoid having to cook a real meal.
I finished my distraction just about an hour ago and to be quite honest, I just want to dive straight into another book without really coming up for air. I think the problem with distractions is that they satisfy the way junk food does - short term. I finish a book and often want to go right on to the next one. But if I keep reading books, when exactly am I going to write one? I will, at some point, have to stop distracting myself from a desire to create.
I don't want to over analyze. It was Spring Break. Books are good food for my soul. I'd choose them any day over the other common forms of anaesthesia in our society - TV, movies, games, e-mail, even blogs. But they are in fact a distraction. They do take my focus away from my family, my work, my passions. And I'm not sure that is truly harmless if I don't pause from the distractions long enough to focus on my life.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
In a deviation from my normal posts of deep thoughts by Word Girl, I'm going to take a moment to tell my thoughts on a mundane activity: mopping. I pretty much hate all things housework, but mopping might just top the list. So here's an Ode to Odious Mopping. It doesn't rhyme, but here you go anyway.
Mopping, mopping, how do I hate thee?
I hate that my black and white kitchen floor shows every speck of dirt and could really stand to be mopped every day (which is not at all related to how often I actually mop).And now, I'm off to read a book that will not feature any character engaged in the act of mopping.
I hate that it's not just one chore, it's two in one because I must sweep immediately before mopping.
I hate that I can't seem to purchase a mop that doesn't deposit huge amounts of water on the floor, thereby making the process even longer because it takes forever for the floor to dry.
I hate that the aforementioned black and white kitchen floor doesn't ever look entirely clean... even after I've just spent precious time mopping it.
I hate that while I want a new kitchen floor, I can't afford to have someone else do it and don't feel knowledgeable enough or experienced enough to do it myself.
I hate that mopping my current kitchen floor reminds me of how much I want a new kitchen floor.
I hate how my back hurts after scrubbing away at the floor.
I hate keeping my daughters out of the kitchen while waiting for the floor to dry. It makes them cranky to wait and I'm already cranky because I just mopped!
I hate that it will have to be done all over again far too soon.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The husband of a friend of mine asked her not too long ago when I had time to write. It's a valid question. I have three children, a husband, work part-time, go out with friends and participate in a weekly Bible Study and bi-weekly art group. So when do I have time to write?
It's been interesting to contemplate that over the last few days because while I try to blog or write daily, that has not been possible over the course of the last week. Not because I haven't had the time available to me that I normally have, but because the time hasn't looked like my time normally does. This is partly attributable to having a house guest but also to the fact that spring break is here and it's hard to find a quiet moment to think. I can write in small snippets of time, but I need a bit of mental quiet before and during to think through what I'm going to say. Quite often, before I sit down to write a post, I've pretty much written the entire thing in my head before I write it with the keyboard.
So when I don't have time to write the posts in my head, I can't write them at all. If I have fifteen minutes or a half hour to be on the computer, it's spent doing mindless things like checking e-mail or facebook (the biggest time hog EVER).
So when do I find time to write? Normally, it's while I empty the dishwasher, while I drive, while I cook. But during all of that time I've been talking, which means I can't be mentally writing.
In a normal week, I find time to write partly through the things I don't do. I don't watch TV other than Lost. I don't watch movies. When I have a free moment, I read or I write. Often, I read in order to write. Not to plagiarize, but to clear my mind enough to write.
I have no idea what my time will look like over the next seven days. We're only on day 3 of 6 of Spring Break and tomorrow is officially pajama day in our home, so the plan is a yummy breakfast from Sweet 16th, some Wii time, and lots of reading for all parties. (Picture books for K, headier fare for A, B and yours truly.)
I guess the best I can do this week is enjoy the time that I have, use it as wisely as possible, and set my expectations very low...
Saturday, March 14, 2009
: something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent
3: something immaterial that impedes or separates : obstacle
I've been thinking a lot lately about the subtle differences between boundaries and barriers in relationships. This line of thought has been prompted both by examining my own needs and observing how others manage setting boundaries (or erecting barriers, as the case may be).
In my own life, this has been prompted by a conversation with J the night after I returned from my retreat. He was sharing what he and the girls did in my absence and how it went. He said that they were all (himself included) in a really good mood and he attributed that partly to the fact that he kept music playing all weekend. It was striking how opposite his experience was from mine because, unbeknown to him, I had blogged that day about silence heightened my enjoyment of my retreat. In my post, I had concluded that maybe a key to experiencing solitude without a retreat was for me to buy earplugs. So when J shared his experience about the music, I blurted out, "That's great! I can buy earplugs and you can play all the music you want!"
While this had seemed like a great idea before it left my mouth, J's face fell the minute I said it. Because if I had let him finish, he would have explained that what he wanted was to share that with me. I certainly didn't mean to hurt him. It was, in fact, the furthest thing from my mind. But the thought of music constantly playing makes me a little ill. When music is playing, I can't let it linger in the background. My mind tunes in to hear the words and I can't think. I end up feeling exhausted if music has been playing for a long time because it's like an unending barrage on my senses. Music is more draining for me than conversation with someone because there is no ebb and flow, no give and take. The music just keeps coming, filtering through my ears, circling in my mind and clouding my inner voice. I know many (most?) people do not experience music this way, but it is the best way I have to describe how it effects me.
So is not wanting to share music a boundary (indicating my own limit) or a barrier (a separation from my family, an obstacle to a shared relationship)?
I've also just started reading a book recommended by a friend called The Introvert Advantage. The subtitle is "How to Thrive in an Extrovert World." I am hopeful that this book will help me understand why I crave some of the things that I do (quiet, for example). I'm also hopeful that it will help me accept the introverted things about me and see their value. But I want to be careful to not use a need for quiet to shut out my husband. I do want to be aware of my limits, but I don't want to separate myself needlessly.
J has been incredibly understanding. He understands that I did not mean to offend and he has taken a real interest in noise canceling headphones, a high tech alternative to my low tech idea of earplugs. More than anyone else, J gets me. So while he doesn't share my need for silence, he respects it.
I'm trying to respect his need for music as well and I've suggested we start by playing music during dinner. That way, we're sharing it as a family and just adding another layer of stimulation to our dinner conversation. We're going to try it and see how it goes. I don't think it's exactly what he had in mind, nor is it exactly what I had in mind. But it's a step towards each other instead of just retreating to our own corners.
I think that may, in fact, be the difference between a boundary and a barrier. A barrier is a way to keep others out, but a boundary is a way to preserve your true self so that you can let others in.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
For many people I know, spring is their favorite time of year. They love the longer days, the blooming flowers, the warmer weather. I like most of these things, too, but spring is not my favorite time of year. This is partly a physical reality. My recent retreat was a wonderful time of solitude, quiet and rest for my soul, but a few hours after returning, the whole family left for B's soccer practice. I could easily have elected to stay home with A & K while J took B, but I had been away for long enough and wanted our whole family to enjoy the nice day together. The best of intentions....
By the time we left soccer practice, where pollen was literally swirling in the air, I had a headache that would take me four hours to alleviate. This was merely a taste of things to come and the warm weather that followed on Monday and Tuesday resulted in alternately dull and sharp headaches. Today the weather is blessedly cold and I feel much better.
But I know warm weather and spring's pain will return. In many ways, I think this is how it should be. Giving birth is hard. And we kid ourselves or protect ourselves to think that nature's cyclical rebirth comes without pain of any kind. Sure, plants, trees and bushes don't experience pain as we do, but it's worth pondering.
Just today, I was talking with an arborist at school while waiting to pick up A & B. He pointed out a limb on a tree in the school yard that is dead and dangerous. He said he's considered putting a sign on the tree that says, "Stand here at your own peril." What are the dead limbs I need to remove from myself before they take people out on the way down?
We do finally have daffodils blooming in our yard, but they were a bit slower to make their appearance than many in our neighborhood. I don't know enough about flowers to know why and I don't care enough to investigate it, but I kind of like having late blooming flowers. I think I've been a bit of a late bloomer. It's taken me more than three decades to really know and accept who I am. So it doesn't bother me for my flowers to be a bit late to the party.
A final note about spring. While A, B and K wait for spring's flowers with excitement each year, I really care very little about flowers. Not long ago, I said to some friends as we talked about gardening, "If you can't eat it, what's the point?" I get much more excited about the vegetable garden that's going up in the back. I think that says something about me and what I want to be. I love beauty in my life, but what I really want to leave is a legacy of bearing life-giving fruit that sustains others.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
The tree stands on a slight rise in the landscape. I see it from my window and watch as its leaves change ever so slowly. One day, I look and realize the green has completely given way to amber, russet, sienna. I’ve been meaning to take a walk anyway and the sudden awareness of fall’s presence lends urgency to my desire. If I wait much longer, the leaves might be gone altogether.
Pulling on a light jacket, I head out the door. My enthusiasm fades a bit as I side step debris, discarded wrappers and trampled plastic along the way. As I reach the tree, my heart sags slightly. It was more beautiful from my window. Up close, I can see young branches being crowded out, no one having cared enough to foster their growth. If someone doesn’t step in soon, the tree will be a tangle of limbs and branches, unattractive and dying a slow death.
As I head back home, I ponder the tree. What do I look like from a distance? Do I seem to have it all together if no one comes too close? Are my clothes, my family, my job flashy leaves that hide the tangle of my soul? At least I am blessed with a gardener whose shears carefully trim only what needs to go. Only he can shape me to be more like him, to be who he made me to be.
As I sit in my favorite chair with a blanket over my lap and a cup of steaming tea beside me, I flip through the TV channels. Looking for something to hold my interest, I stop on a news segment. A bear hibernates onscreen. I put down the remote and settle down to listen. This black bear will be able to go 100 days without eating, drinking or exercising. He prepares for his hibernation months in advance – loading up on carbs, getting his den ready and hidden. When this fascinating story is over, I click the TV off. The weather is cold outside and I think about hibernating myself. I pull the blanket higher up on my arms and sip my tea.
How would I prepare for hibernation? What would I need to sustain me from participating in the everyday activities of life? How would God use a time of rest and quiet to feed my soul? Thinking about the bear that can go 100 days without performing regular daily activities, I ponder whether I can go 100 minutes before busying my mind, my hands and my heart with cooking, cleaning and working.
Closing my eyes, I try to picture curling up in a den, alone with God. What would he teach me? What could I learn from a time of rest to prepare me for the burst of energy and fruitfulness brought on with spring and summer?SPRING
I look out the window and see a late birthday present peeking out of the ground. Tulips planted last fall in honor of my birthday are making their way above ground, waiting to unfurl their bold red petals for all to see. Smiling to myself, I finish washing the dishes and think about how difficult last fall was for me. I wasn’t even able to plant those tulip bulbs myself. While I had purchased them with every intention of putting them in just that spot in the garden, life’s events, my grief and my pain crowded out all thought of beauty or planning for beauty in months to come.
Luckily, I am blessed with a loving and kind neighbor who took it upon herself to do what I couldn’t. I wonder if age has given her a wisdom and insight that told her even though I was stuck in the depths of autumn, spring would come eventually. And these tulips would be there to remind me. To remind me both that spring comes and that some seeds take longer to germinate than others. Five months ago, I would never have believed I would be able to take joy from the simple pleasure of seeing a green stalk force its way to light, bringing a foretaste of the brilliant color to follow. But what, other than spring’s fruitfulness, could make washing the dishes a pleasure?SUMMER
Even in the early morning, the heat is like a physical presence. Hoping to miss the worst of it, I drink just one cup of coffee and head out to water the garden. It’s surprisingly relaxing to stand here listening to the neighborhood wake up and watching the water make patterns in the soil. Who would have thought I would ever have a vegetable garden? I had to give up house plants after getting a cat because I couldn’t keep both alive at the same time. I would remember to feed one, but not the other and ultimately decided the cat’s needs were more pressing. Somehow a vegetable garden feels different than a house plant or flowers: more purposeful, more productive and with tangible, edible results.
Lost in my anticipation of just what those edible results will taste like, I suddenly see something that wasn’t there when I watered yesterday: the season’s first red tomato. I think back to yesterday, certain my spray of water landed on a backdrop of green, unbroken by this bright red splash. Yet there it is. I pause in watering to peer closer and confirm that a plant in my garden has yielded results. I gently pluck this gift from the vine and head inside, more excited than a reasonable person would be.
Perhaps I’m just feeling introspective today, but this tomato feels like more than just a vegetable to adorn my dinner plate tonight. It feels like a gift. Not a gift I’ve worked for, to be sure, but a gift nonetheless. All of my nurturing, weeding and oversight would have produced nothing without the sunlight and rain necessary to take a tiny seed and turn it into food. So I’m thankful for the gift. But while I didn’t create this tomato, it wouldn’t have appeared in my yard without me and that reminds me that God can use me. If he can bless my gardening efforts, inept though I may be, he can surely use me for other purposes he designs.
So... what season are you in?