When you feel led.

I used to think the above was a religious term. I don’t know if that’s the truth or not, but I know the possible antecedents of such discomfort could be many.

I’ve been led to write lately. Pushed, pulled, cajoled. I’ve rejected it, excused it, ignored it, whispered to it, considered it, distanced myself from it, got too busy for it, felt intimidated by, questioned it, “meant to start” it. And then it began popping out at the seams.

I found myself craving texting and messaging–and a well-formed professional email, talking point, or proposal (not quite crazed enough for a grant). I found myself explaining pieces of stories to handfuls of people in bursts. Daydreaming about a sometime-in-this-life sabbatical for writing [TBD]. Adding blogging to my mental weekend to-do list (and rarely getting to it). Tug, tug, tug.

Sometimes I view my life as a story. It’s an old, bad habit, but it allows for plenty of entertainment. It’s also a slow seduction that at least some of it needs to be written down, captured, stuck on a bright white page…in a cloud.

And then I need to write.

So I know the torture of feeling led. Even led toward something you love. Something that tantalizes and terrifies you. Something that your heart comes back to whenever your mind is quiet. Something that threatens you, in embrace and/or avoidance. Something a leap of faith away, a risk, a sacrifice…perhaps a loss.

I think I get why teenagers and young adults seem so flighty. They can be led. Their roots are shallow (if existent). Their hearts soar free.

You never know where a lead will go. You never know what your mind will say, or the politics at play within your soul. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Courage is about as random as that. So, you never know.

It could be the beginning of a thing…

Or, the accepting sigh of a dead end.

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Thoughts on Both Sides (those Mommy wars)

stay at home mom working mother mothers moms SAHMWhen my first daughter was born, I pretty firmly identified as a stay-at-home mom. It was somewhat lucky I could reproduce my way into an occupation, because I was a full-on twenty-two year old mess before that.
For the first two years of my girl’s life I was with her basically day-in and day-out. You know, as SAHMs do. She began part-time daycare when I started a college program and thus began a “best of both sides” split where three days a week I was a “student mom” and the others I was home with my kid.
That separation stage is odd and exhilarating. Your child forms a social circle that not only doesn’t include you but that you lose the power to facilitate. (spoiler alert: turns out this trends continues and amplifies for those school age years). Other people play paramount roles in your child’s day, in their growth and development. At best is a blessed extension of community. At worst it’s a source of guilt and/or undeserved mommy judgement or scorn.

In the past 2-3 years I have transitioned to full-on working mom status. I stepped in slowly, first as a student, then as an intern, then as a part-time employee. When my Little Lou was born I was home with her the first nine months. Then was six months of pieced together extended family care while I attended school and interned, followed by a brief stint as a local YMCA before she was old enough to join her older sister’s childcare. I wrote a lot in this blog about that period and the constant transitions.
The years have passed and my kiddos have grown (newly four and a second grader) and there are numerous things I’ve noticed are different about being on the “working mom” side of things:

There is no time to kill. Time is of the essence–always. The days are not long and/or unspoken for. Bedtime comes seemingly as soon as we’ve all returned home from our respective places, eaten a bite or two, and spaced out on the couch for a show or two. Non-work time is an artful balance of all the must-dos, with the much needed relaxation and rejuvenation and equally important reconnection with children and family. These priorities are all interconnected and feed into each other as often as they conflict. And the weekdays are basically a dead zone for anything remotely productive. We live weekend to weekend and survive in between.

I have barely half a clue what is going on. Some of this is because I have an amazing partner who does more than his fair share of parenting. More and more though, I think that is a requirement for families with working moms or two working parents. Something has to give and the hope is that’s not mom’s sanity or joy. I realized the other day I can’t figure out which milk brand my kids like and which one they begrudgingly drink or dumped into the sink. I don’t spend enough consistent meals with them to have the ebb and flow of that stick out; I am not facilitating the majority of their daily nutrition; I don’t have the space in my head to really focus on the milk situation from one day to the next. And yet, as a SAHM, I would have inevitably known who ate what after I’d shopped at which store.

Fostering other relationships. This is a big ‘duh’ for any working parent. While you cannot tend to your child, you want a loving, supportive, trusting other adult(s) in your place and you want them to have their own special and fulfilling relationship. Of course you want that, even when that might be hard or (yeah I’m saying it) threatening. As Ali grows, she has a social network that now includes her school friends and their parents. One day a week she goes to a friend’s house after school. Another classmates mom takes her there. I could not pick this person out of a crowd and every time my husband mentions her name I need clarification of who he is talking about. It blows my mind to find myself so disconnected (in some ways) to these little beings I see so much and have raised/am raising so heartily. (To be fair, their dad knows all these people much better and interacts with them often. But this is about me)

Expanding social groups. Forgive me if I am mistaking developmental stages with this SAHM-WM transition. Some if it is probably just my girls getting older. Because all four of us now spend a large part of the day in our separate spaces, we have four social environments to participate in. This expands our community, but also our obligations. The birthday parties are endless and as Tony and I settle into work environments we’ve found that social events can soon follow there as well. As it’s currently the Holiday season I have two work Secret Santa exchanges, one preschool adopt-a-family, one school book exchange, one food drive event and countless familial parties, exchanges and obligations. And, to be honest, there might be other things the kids have that I haven’t even realized yet. It can be overwhelming and sometimes exhausting and yet it is vital to nurture each little ecosystem where one of us spends so many hours each week.

Not harder or easier–just different. As much as things are different, I really enjoy the current set-up. I do better when I have a sense of my own identity and some personal space. This apparently is not a possibility (at least for me) if I’m by my kids’ side each day. And while I almost want to let a small sigh of longing escape while I think of that (being with them all day, every day) I know and have lived through the point where that doesn’t make sense anyway. Unless homeschooling is on the table for your family, children go and they go off to school and it is normal and natural (and I would say needed) for that space to develop. It’s also hard and complex and anything but linear. Kind of like life.

So I know that even my SAHM experiences and fantasies had an end date (if not a change date). As a working mom, I get to be relatively in charge of my destiny 7:30am-5:30pm four days a week. Save my employer. Now I definitely need to always rush home and feel perpetually late, perpetually like I am not pulling enough weight, perpetually as if I have one foot in 4-5 worlds and everyone knows dancing is not my thing.

But I get a break from the kids, something that is often not on the table for SAHMs. I get a chance to pursue my dreams and model that for them. I carry a hope that someday they will understand and appreciate this and forgive me for never baking things for school parties, or going overboard with their homework projects, or remembering their dress-up days. It may come earlier for working moms and their kiddos, but it’s that navigation of separation. It’s not good or bad (or it’s both)–it’s just different.

I always felt so bad for working families. When did they ever see their kids? How could they possibly get anything done? Or stop and relax? How could moms stand missing their kids’ life? But I’m on the flip side now and it actually doesn’t feel like that. Sometimes it feels like some of that but there is not quantifiable scale measuring one lifestyle against the other. Each has it’s perks and drawbacks. And both contain caring parents, growing and loving families, daily struggles and stresses, and people just doing their very best. And, honestly, the extra money helps a lot too.

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Like Wildflowers…

quote like wildflowers growth

I don’t think I need many words beyond those above tonight. I’ve had the amazing fortune or sharing my feelings over recent days with a variety of people in amazingly various forms: in person, via text, online message/email, facebook post and/or comments, phone calls or emailed screen shot.

I’m in completely dualistic places in this exact moment. Both catapulting ahead with life (as always, always!) and paused, knees bent, in a leap of faith. Swirling with certainty and doubt. Excruciating as these drawn out moments in life are, they are what keeps it exciting, what marks one year from another. They break up the monotony and tantalize the imagination.

As each month passes lately, I further appreciate the complexity of us, as human beings. Our physiological reactions and limits, our emotional responses and protections, our relational needs, our innate drive for community. Our individual complexities. Our widespread and deep running tendency to follow our peers, believe what we’re told (sold), live in denial or fear or conformity. We all carry so much, in various levels of awareness.

I find myself carrying my own fear and hope and exhaustion and motivation and scars and strength. And this newfound exploration of how amazing and functional this can be in the context of community. I think I’ll probably always run as deep–and tend toward as pensive–as I always have. I’m as much a dichotomy of optimist and pessimist as I’ve always been. And yet I’m surrounded by support through both these views, all the pieces of myself.  It’s like some synergy happens and impossible things fall within reach, doubt takes flight.

And growth.

The more heart-wrenching, mind-twisting, soul-searching whirlwinds I emerge from, the more insight I have on myself–and the better prepared I am for the next life storm. It’s so easy in this life to get comfortable–and stay there. But growing predictably, in the appropriate season, within a well-tended garden plot is only one type of life. Admirable. Beautiful even. Sustainable.

Hard to even compare to the life of the wildflower, forcing it’s success, sustenance, and mere existence into every available crack and cranny. Relentless. Brave. Independent. Stunning. May we all have a piece of wildflower in us. That seed that wants to break free. That bloom that calls to be seen. That flower that takes all it can from everything around it and gives back all it has in it’s mere existence.

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What’s your narrative?

definition noun stories we tellI’ve been thinking a lot lately about narratives. Narratives are the stories we tell, about ourselves, our loved ones, sometimes our not-so-loved ones. I had this realization the other day, that often narratives are all that is left of someone after they pass, as they grow into old age, or if they disappear for any other reason.

How often do we just take as fact “Aunt Bev was a feisty thing, but you wouldn’t want to cross her” or “Grandpa worked every day in his life because….(enter reason here)”. These characterizations are accounts completely colored by the perspective of the narrator. And these impressions are so often passed through families–and then down through generations–that then become accepted as fact. They are also very likely to become one of a few (if not the only) tidbit left of what once was–and may still be–a living, breathing, three dimensional person with feelings, thoughts, contradictions and infinite complexity.

Isn’t it amazing how we so often boil this all down to, say, the perspective of the lone living daughter and pass that on as fact and full representation. In this way, the very history of our families and origins are so altered by perspective (as is all history). Think about that next time you hear about someone you didn’t know, haven’t seen in ages, or hardly remember. Think about that next time you pass along a narrative: do you share only the good in someone? Do you overemphasize their weakest or most obnoxious qualities? Can your narrative include a more holistic version of this person and their life?

And perhaps most importantly–what is your own narrative? What piece of your personality, story, or behavior will be passed on to future generations? And are you happy with that? It may be a beloved grandchild or niece/nephew telling the story of you; it may be someone you never took much time with or never let see your whole self or who only heard one-sided version of stories from their tunnel-visioned parents.

History is revisionist. Take some time today to think about yours and the role you play in others.

comic

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Twenty-five things I didn’t figure out in my twenties.

ralph waldo emerson quoteIt was validating and somewhat therapeutic to write my previous post, describing some remarkable experiences in my last decade. If you haven’t read it, please take the time as it provides context for this subsequent list. I’m damn proud of my accomplishments and weird and wonderful things my life has included. And I have so much left to do, and infinite things to continue working on. So without further ado…

Twenty-five things I DIDN’T figure out in my twenties.

  1. if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you therePresence. I am okay at this occasionally, but it does not come natural to me and if anything I get worse at it when life gets crazy (in a good or bad way) or when I overwhelmed, irritated or tired. I struggle with this with my kids, with my spouse and with myself. I worry, project, stress and distract.
  2. Shaking off negativity. I get caught up in bad moods and pissy perspectives and holding grudges. I sometimes get stuck there–in a way that is detrimental not only to the situation at hand but ultimately to myself, my health, mental clarity and possibly longevity. 
  3. Travel. I have been to a few amazing and inspiring places in recent years. But there are so many places I haven’t been! Hawaii, Vegas, Europe, Florida, to name a few I’d like to get to in the near future.
  4. Combat sedentary lifestyle. In the last three years I have transitioned from at SAHM/student to full-time office life. I know that those hours spent sitting, and many more spent driving, are extremely detrimental to my overall health and well-being. I workout 3-4 mornings a week, but I only get occasional short walks in aside from that and often spend whole work days sitting at my desk, in meetings or in my car only to come home exhausted and sit at the kitchen table and in the recliner. I need a better balance between these worlds and to find a way to infuse more activity into my 10-hour work days.
  5. Consumerism. I like stuff. I especially like new stuff. And the process of acquiring it. I like thinking about stuff I want and looking for new things to get that maybe I didn’t even know I needed (ahem, clothes/shoes/etc). I don’t like occupying precious head space and spending limited time, energy and money on things that don’t really matter (except they do). And I don’t like buying into (pun intended) the capitalistic, hamster-cage, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, infrastructure of the modern day social stratosphere. I expect in future years and decades to tease out multiple factors, benefits and consequences to this particular tendency or priority.
  6. Technological boundaries. I hope that I am one with practically the rest of the world here when I say I have no freaking clue how to proceed through life with all these tools–and the vastness with which they provide access to–literally at our fingertips. What you do and don’t say, when you do and don’t use, how you use, how often or intently. I need my phone something fierce, usually in a way that can’t be great. I love it for what it can do, but not for the dependance it cultivates. I worry about how it affects my brain–literally wiring and functioning being changed in a way that has yet to be fully determined. And I worry for the future of our society and our future generations. Yet, how do we stop?
  7. Giving. I’m always that person who meant to get a birthday card but forgot or didn’t ever get a chance to (or didn’t make it a priority). Or so badly wants to buy a great and thoughtful gift but can’t think of anything right. I especially want to be giving to those near and dear in my life, but also to infuse generosity into my daily experience. I now have more than enough and it’s time to loosen my grip. I need to make time and head space for thoughtfulness.
  8. Professionalism. I want to know how to combine professionalism with authenticity. I do not want to leave my self at the door when I enter the office. Receiving my MSW outlines ethical and professional expectations–some that I might not completely agree with or feel comfortable striving towards. I will forever be pushing to bring my whole story and past experiences as a client/patient/consumer into the social service world, and finding that line of appropriateness. And my current experiences/reality. I struggle with assimilation in a world I don’t fully agree with. I want to be there, and succeed there, and yet continue to grow there–and ultimately change it there.
  9. meyers-briggs personalityLife as an INTJ. One of the great blessings of my twenties was learning about my personality type. I’ve already written about being an introvert, but I am more than that and am still learning how my innate tendencies affect my daily life and how to best work within this–and fight and grow myself outside it if/when necessary. I am also increasingly able to recognize things that are unique to me for my personality/perspective and while there are many pros to “being me”, I’m seeing now some re-occurring challenges. For example, I have incredibly high expectations. I hold a grudge. I tend toward the critical. I like to analyze. This serves me well in some contexts and can/will bite my in the ass other times.
  10. Spontaneity. I am such a planner it’s kind of gross. Spontaneous things can be stretch for me, but I strive to not limit my world and options down as a result of how I tend to be. I’m okay with knowing and acting as a planner, but I’d like to do a better job of leaving space for other things.
  11. grow in all the places growthStrengthen weaknesses. In my life thus far, I think I’ve put ample time into understanding (and sometimes exploiting) my strength s and weaknesses. That is a destination to arrive at but not the end of the journey. It is the work of a lifetime to strengthen ones weaknesses, explore their origin and existence, and ponder their place and possible options to alter. I believe our weakness makes us human and our vulnerabilities are as integral to our whole selves as the areas in which we excel. And yet, how easy would it be to go through the next sixty years wearing my weakness on my sleeve, or holding it up as a shield, or meandering through life with a predetermined crutch. My weak spots need to be worked on.
  12. Satisfaction. I am eternally unsatisfied. This allows me to be motivated with internal drive to spare, but it also undermines happiness and contentment.
  13. Marriage. Yes, I’ve been married five years. No, I have no idea how to do it “right” or what does/doesn’t “work”. I know only that I am incredibly blessed with an attentive and loving spouse and we each have flaws and it seems like this partnership thing has both ups and downs and things get both easier and harder as the years pass. It is so easy for this relationship to take a backseat to kids, work, extended family, friends, etc. Another potential peril of our current season, that I know will ebb and flow as we grow and years pass. How to be independent and in partnership? How to expect and appreciate? How to be a product only of what I know and yet make and take a different road?
  14. Mothering.  I fully expect to never figure mothering out. Maybe if I’d had more children I’d feel confident in handling ages 0-5 at some point (though I greatly doubt it). As it is, kiddos grow and change as fast and you can find your footing amidst the chaos. Such is life, but parenting somehow highlights this reality. I will likely not know how my parenting pans out for another 15-20 years–which is sometimes a tough pill to swallow.
  15. Health. The many facets of health (food, movement, sleep, stress, mood, connectedness, spirituality, etc.) are daunting at best. Talk about a delicate balance if one ever even arrives. I actually don’t believe optimal health is possible within our current society. So much of it is all about mitigating the damage. For me, this process can be occasionally lonesome at best, or theologically divisive at worse. Community and connection is inherent to health, so how to find that within the confines of bucking some general aspects and expectation of the modern day world is a challenge I have yet to overcome.
  16. Body acceptance. I am so happy and relieved to find myself in a place where I hold something beyond disdain and disgust toward my body. So, so happy…and somewhat amazed. I’m far from perfect and general “kumbaya”. I no longer feel consumed with a desire to see changes, but I know I’m still pushing, sometimes searching, focusing on the next thing or another hurdle to jump. This might not be bad, this might feed my desire to be fit and dedicated, but it’s not acceptance and (if that’s a real thing) it takes much more mental energy than I imagine acceptance would. I also fully recognize this may actually get harder with age, as the culturally anointed female body becomes less attainable, as age is more of a factor alongside size and shape.
  17. thankfulnessGratitude. Always, always, always can work on gratitude and strive for thankfulness. I know it, and appreciate it as a life truth, and still struggle to entirely integrate it. More gratitude!
  18. Recovery. I could write about the things I have so not figured out around “recovery” for weeks or months. I don’t know if I’m doing it right or wrong. I don’t know what the measurements of each would even be. I don;t know if behavior trumps thought/feeling or is it’s the other way around, or some combination of the two. I don’t know how to sit with the 12-step model and it’s choke-hold on the addiction industry. I don’t know how not to internalize those messages that I do not believe to be best nor beneficial. I don’t know how to judge the consequences and potentiality of “now” for “a year/decade/lifetime from now”. I don’t know if I believe in thinking too much about that. Because I grew up without any touch point for “normal” substance use behavior, and have no set point for myself in that regard, and question if there is even such thing in this society, I am not confidant assessing my motivations for a drink, my decisions to imbibe or abstain, or stopping after two or five. I have no compass for the consequences either. It’s an interesting world– and again I refuse to accept any shame or ideas of failure. I seek only to keep talking about it, thinking about it, being engaged and aware, because the worst possible thing is hiding and festering judgement.
  19. The importance of relationship. I tend naturally toward the driven, productive, orderly, efficient “side” of things. Relationship doesn’t work like that. It happens more naturally–yet somehow often intentionally in the grown-up world. I easily make friends (after a warm up time) in situations like school, work, extracurriculars where you see the same people regularly. Building and maintaining relationships are much harder. I suppose some of that is crazy life-with-little-kids time/energy constraints, but prioritizing relationship and understanding the importance of time and experiences with people even if it doesn’t help me check something off my list is vital.
  20. Power and Privilege. The last decade brought me some pretty serious socially sanctioned success. I am a heterosexual, (upper?) middle class, white, able-bodied female in a nuclear family in suburban America. I work for the government; I oversee the funding on multiple different organizations. I likely don’t truly understand the power that comes with being me, the doors that have and continue to open based on my status in this world. I won’t accept guilt or shame for this space, but I do accept responsibility to leverage my privilege, power and access and utilize it for better. And that is absolutely and day-to-day, year-to-year thing as it is so easy to spin around the latest crisis, get protective of personal gain and/or revel in fear of risk.
  21. Balance. I generally profess to be good at this, or maybe I am saying that I strive for it, prioritize it, understand the immeasurable importance of it? But dear god, I don’t have it. At least not all the time. I want it desperately, but I don’t know if it’s actually possible. Perhaps it more about managing imbalance than actually achieving balance. I’ve figured out I need and want it and a number of things I can’t have it with (i.e. late nights, over-scheduling, addiction, bitterness, laziness) but I am still seeking the nirvana itself. Also: I’m a Libra. So that may be my astrologically-inclined lifelong thing.
  22. Life phases. I totally get that I may look like a know-it-all idiot who doesn’t have a clue what the next 5-10 years hold. I feel like that with the girls growing up. I sometimes think that about new parents–all those worries seem so quaint and cute. But that is such a necessary stage, and likely so is any I am currently inundated in. The thing I am just understanding about life phases is that they change. The present is so definitely not the always, and must be appreciated and savored for all about it that is great and joyous and beautiful, but also for the hard and the sad. Looking forward to is great, but living for later does a great disservice.
  23. Priorities. How does one go about prioritizing their life? I do not know the answer, though I strive for a balance between immediate and long-term rewards/outcomes. The sweet spot is when they can come together: working out benefits me immediately in mood and for life is health and vitality; spending time with the kiddos benefits our present and (theoretically) their/our future. The tough thing is when priorities conflict and that inevitably happens. I don’t know how priorities “should” work or “should” ebb over days or decades. I do know that priorities are truly the foundation this life is built upon.
  24. retraining your mindPeace. I so desire peace in my life–and I’m not sure it’s an attainable thing. I know meditation is something that does wondrous things in this regard. And I need to get there. I want a piece of that pie. I want to walk down that path and see where it leads. I think this particular area also plays into spirituality and the “afterlife”. I truly don’t know what I do/will believe in that regard. I know I have been so blessed to not have had death touch me too closely up until this point. I am terrified of facing it, yet I am also eager to face that fear and be stronger and more certain (maybe? maybe only more certain of the boundaries of my own control?) for it. I desperately hope that with time and age and experience comes some sense of peace to replace my at times frenetic attempts to fill this life, value this life, LIVE this life, and count the days, minutes and years until it ends in some finite way.
  25. Write. I’m not so melodramatic as to say that writing makes me whole, or is my reason to rise in the morning or something. But it is important for me. I believe it is a strength that I have, and in that way it is something of me and mine that I can share with others. It has played a role in my life up to this point and will continue to be a part through the totality of my life–exactly what role remains to be seen.
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