what we learned Spring of 2018

Emily Freeman (possibly my favorite internet writer for the last decade) has made a practice of rounding up what she’s learned each quarter. I’ve been doing “what I learned” posts yearly for a while, but I need to make time to remember more often, so I am, and I’ll get to link up with a bunch of others who are doing the same.

 

Dry shampoo.

I know. I’m so far behind on this one. And yes, it has aluminum starch in aerosol form, which is terrifying (and who even knew that aluminum had starch?) but y’all, my hair takes for-friggin-ever to wash and condition. I don’t bother drying it- I just sleep with it wet and it’s at least almost dry by morning. If I can do that whole thing as infrequently as possible, it’s a win.

 

Rest

I told Andrew when I was pregnant with Brian that when I was done having and nursing babies, I was going to need to go somewhere and sleep for a while.

Four years later, I made it. And it was glorious. I got cheap mileage tickets to California (with a layover to see some of my people in Seattle) and rented a car and found an Airbnb in Santa Barbara. I visited a dear friend and mostly… I rested.

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I don’t say this to brag about my rad life (although it was pretty awesome). I just want to throw out there that it’s worth it. It was costly and the logistics were a pain, but it’s worth celebrating eight years of childbearing with a week of sleep, and now that I’ve been home awhile, I can say that the benefits are real and lasting. I was afraid that the rest would actually make everything worse: the shock of my regular life afterward would just push me over the edge. It did not. Reentry is no joke, but I had enough downtime to sort of evaluate what is essential in my regular life and pare down a bit so my regular life can be more restful.

Press n Seal.

For reals. I heard this mentioned in passing in an early episode of The Lazy Genius podcast, and I froze where I was standing. I was in my kitchen with orange counters overflowing with dishes and detritus and 40-year-old orange-and-gold linoleum that perpetually needs a broom, and I just stood stock still for a second or two with the realization that this was about to change. my. life. FOREVER.

It’s not just press n seal. It’s press n seal in the FRIDGE. Cover the fridge shelves in the film and when it’s time to clean the refrigerator, just pull it off and put new film down. Pro tip: if your fridge has removable shelves, it’s much easer to seal the plastic to shelves that are room temp and dry than cold and collecting condensation.

YouVersion Bible App

This, like press n seal, is old news. I’ve had this app since I had a smartphone. The new part is the audio. That’s not really new, either. Just new to me. I started listening to it in the morning before I got out of bed, but I was really prone to falling back asleep, both missing my reading and wrecking my morning.

What I’ve learned to do instead is listen at night before I sleep. I almost never zonk in the middle and it fixes my heart on Jesus as I fall asleep. The bulk of my reading currently is some crazy crap going on in 1 Samuel between Saul and David, but I find myself drifting off to sleep talking to Jesus about what is going on. (Even though I know how it ends.) I love reading, but I’ve read the Bible a lot, and I have a tendency to skim now. Listening to it (at normal speed, not 1.8x) is an unexpected way to allow the words to actually sink into my heart.

Also? I’ve spent most of the years of my life trying to have a morning “quiet time.” You know, “start your day in God’s word.” Like 90’s Christian subculture said we should. But the Hebrew day starts at sundown, and I’m learning there’s value to framing the day this way. I don’t know why it matters, but when I look at the evening as the start of tomorrow rather than the dregs of today, I feel calmer and less frantic about everything. Including my timing for scripture reading.


If you enjoy reading what I learned this spring, head over to Emily’s post– there’s links at the bottom to a whole community sharing their lessons.

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easy like Sunday morning

blah, blah, blah, eeeeeeasy. Easy like Sunday moooooorning….

These are literally the only four words I know of this song and I get them stuck in my head every week. It feels like it was written strictly to spite me. (I’m so vain, I definitely think this song is about me.) This person CLEARLY does not understand my life. My friend Kat told me there were probably plenty of drugs involved in the writing, so I guess it makes sense that his Sunday morning felt easy enough.

The truth of my Sunday mornings is this:

We all turn into absolutely horrible humans between 8:30 and 11:10am every. single. week.

I’ve tried various strategies to fix this over the years—different morning routines, different schedules, different services, different preparations the night before—but to no avail. Sunday morning between waking and church is the worst. I keep doing it because assembling together is part of obedience and it is good and right and necessary, but it is, almost without exception, utter chaos and the most trying time of my week.

It always shines a huge spotlight on my inability to live and parent righteously, despite repeated cries for help. It’s like a rhythm. A weekly liturgy. Saturday is family day, but it ends in dread with the knowledge that Sunday’s coming and with it an unavoidable close-up of my own sin nature and insufficient character.

Andrew gets up and leaves before anyone else is up. The kids and I wake and mayhem ensues. Breakfast is spilled and fights break out and kids get hurt. This week, I stepped on a generous glop of cold strawberry jam on the carpet. At some point they’re all either screaming or crying at once. There are constant random prayers: “Jesus… what the hell is wrong with my people? I need help!” followed by lots and lots of trying really hard and ultimately some degree of losing my ever-loving mind all over my kids. There are bad words muttered under my breath and bite marks on my tongue to keep them from being shouted. (At no point are bad words more likely to simply be the right ones than Sunday mornings.) 

Eventually, we make it to church almost on time. Kids are deposited in appropriate rooms for childcare learning about Jesus, and I drag my broken and insufficient soul to the coffee bar where, if I’m lucky, there is still some caffeine available.

I meet so many friends on my way through with kind smiles asking “how are you today?” and all I can manage is a weary grimace and “I’m here.” I look around at these lovely souls—smiles, reasonably well-put-together outfits—and look down at me. I adjust my pants again. My abundant muffin top is attractively showing itself between my jeans that were flattering (four days of wear ago) and the shirt that was cute before breakfast happened.  I shrug. It’s 11:05am and I am simply out of energy to even care… I don’t need to hide from these folks. (Well, except that one… oh well.) It’s fine. They don’t notice or care what my jeans are doing. I grab a bulletin (“communicator” at our place) from yet another sweet friend at the sanctuary door and lumber into the sanctuary around the end of the first song, feeling entirely used up.

And then I hear the music. We’re singing of a God who is good, a Son who rescues, a Spirit who indwells, a love that pursues. My voice cracks (from disuse in this range, not tears) and I sink into the worship, fixing my eyes on Jesus. He knows I’m only dust and he doesn’t shy away from my brokenness. I remember that my lack of merit is precisely what makes the Gospel good news to me to begin with. If I deserved it, it’d hardly be news at all, let alone good news. A pastor opens the Word and I remember again the truth of who God is and how much hope I have.

So here I am every freaking Sunday, brokenness on display for a few hours leading up to church. I walk in a hot mess of “not enough” and “I hate everything” just to collide with the truth:

He is enough and He loves me still.

One of the things I often pray for my babies at bedtime is that they will see their need for Jesus and His love for them. Sunday morning accomplishes both in my heart. It also regularly gives me an opportunity to apologize to them for sins committed in the gap between my need and my recollection of His love. It’s space for the gospel to come into my house, and it’s built into every psychotic Sunday morning. I won’t say this liturgy is pleasant—these are the hardest hours of my week, every single week—but I’m thankful for it in spite of this.

Katherine turns 6

Hey, spunky girl.

I love you to bits. You know that, right? The sprinkle of freckles on your nose that you got from me and I got from your Grandpa. The resentful, huffy way you put your glasses on your face. The songs you make up when your baby sister goes to bed.

Baby Lilly, I love you so much
Sometimes you hurt me
and sometimes you cry
and sometimes you’re just ANNOYING,
But you’re my family, so I still love you
more than anybody else
who’s not in my family…

And then there’s the one that you made up a few months ago that you sing almost every night, without pesky hindrances like, say, words that make sense or a fixed key:

The mountains are quiet
The hills are bright
The sun beats powerfully on its little light
So sleep, sleep, little one
Sleep, sleep, little one
Sleep, sleep, little one, sleeeeeeeeep.

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Photo: Sarah Lewis Photography

Seriously, kid. Where do you come up with these? But you sing them with every ounce of earnestness you have which, believe me, is a lot. Every time I try write down the things you say, I have to use caps lock for about half of your words. Because you JUST have SO MUCH to SAY and it’s ALL so VERY IMPORTANT. There’s NOT A THING that comes out of your mouth that you don’t COMPLETELY OWN. You are ALL IN.

All in.

That basically sums you up, Katherine. And I adore you. This year, we’ll keep working to make that enthusiastic will of iron work to your advantage, okay? I see benefits already.

A couple weeks ago, it was Mother’s Day. I opted out of church because I’m a big ball of neuroses about this particular holiday and we went to a playground instead. I heard a boy say something truly awful to you:

“Your mom doesn’t even want you. Not really.” 

At first, I thought I misheard. Surely he said watch and he was commenting on my parenting (happy Mother’s Day to me), but we talked later and I learned that this isn’t the first time he’s tried to convince you that I don’t care about you.*

You are unfazed. Bless your oppositional little heart. I love this about you. You’re so sure of your place in your mama’s heart that there’s NO WAY this insecure child is going to get into your head or under your skin.  I don’t want him saying it to you, and we talked about it for a bit, but I’m floored by how legitimately fine you are. You remind me of your daddy. He knows who he is and he’s not especially bothered by people who don’t. (It’s not like this is the first time I’ve seen the similarities between you and him.)

I wish I were more like you.

Katherine, you are strong and you are brave and you are generous. (You keep giving your favorite buddies away to your siblings, certain that they’ll be as blessed as you are by your stuffed cheetah. You give gifts that cost you, and I love seeing your heart in this.) You are growing in self-control and wisdom and truth.

You’re a force, little girl. You’re going to change the world.

I know this already and you are only six. (Shoot, I’ve known it since you turned three.)

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Use your powers for good, not evil, okay? I know you can. I know you will. And I love you always. You’re growing up just right.


*side note for those following along at home: please don’t get too bent out of shape about this. It’s an awful thing to say, but I know just enough of this kid’s story to believe that he’s just transmitting his own stuff. We choose grace (with boundaries) and I look for a chance to speak life to this boy.

letting go of loving motherhood

Hey, friends! I’m over at Kindred Mom again! Today, I’m sharing about a burden I’ve recently set down: loving my job as a whole. Here’s the essay in its entirety. Or just read to the end and click on the link if you want the rest.


I sit on the cracking 70’s orange and gold linoleum in our kitchen, phone in hand. The trauma of the day hasn’t been anything catastrophic. My littles have been noisy and destructive and disobedient; basically, it’s Tuesday. But today I’m undone. Between the noise and defiance and the need to do something about whatever just got broken, I’m sobbing. I should clarify: I am not a crier. Unless I’m pregnant, crying is a thing that happens perhaps a handful of times a year. Anyhow, I’m crying hard enough that I can’t call a friend. I have to text:

“I hate my job. Hate it. I love my kids, but this job sucks.”

It kills me to say it. Typing it makes me a little shaky. I carry a load of expectations about what a “good mom” looks like. Among them: a good mom does not hate her job. Right?  

***

When I was seven—the same age as my oldest daughter now—I knew I wanted to be a mom. I just knew I’d love it. I loved holding tiny babies, playing with bigger toddlers, giggling with them all the way. I figured the work involved with raising kids (all the things to do with keeping a house full of people running: dishes, cooking, laundry) would be worthwhile for the joy of it. I saw my own mother doing this—enjoying the tinies and handling the tasks— so I assumed what I saw as a seven-year-old was the totality of motherhood.

I was gonna love momming. Because a good mom loves her job. [Read more…]

notes from inside fatigue

Lilly weaned unexpectedly in February.

Part of me was really excited about this—I’ve been waiting to have my very own body to my very own self for eight years. But my body had other ideas. That week, my family practice doctor mentioned the likelihood of adrenal fatigue and pointed me to some resources. (Side note- if you google “adrenal fatigue,” about half the hits will tell you why this isn’t a real diagnosis. Many of the remaining sites will explain to you why everyone has adrenal fatigue. The few that are left have been helpful, but there’s a lot to wade through. Let me reiterate: this came from a legitimate doctor.) Anyhow, I started looking into it, and before the recommended book even arrived, my body CRASHED.

It was like my body said, “You’re not sustaining the life of a little person? Awesome. You’ve been exhausted since 2010, and you haven’t rested well. We’re going to fix that now.”

I lost all of March.

I went to bed early, dragged myself out of bed late, fell asleep by accident in the middle of the morning with mischief happening all around me, and again on purpose in the afternoon while the littles were down and the bigs watched TV. When I wasn’t asleep, I was counting up the ridiculous number of hours I’d slept and counting down to when I’d get another chance. At one point, it seemed like a particularly good idea to find a way to sleep forever. (Before you freak out on this point, please know I am not, was not suicidal. Ideation is apparently a thing that can happen when you get that tired. I handled the incident responsibly with people who care about me.)

My emotional responses range from resignation to relief, with the occasional spike of rage just for variety. If this sounds like depression to you, I agree. Except I’m pretty fully medicated for that, and the SSRI is taking care of the anxiety symptoms, so I assume it should be covering any chemical depression as well. I’m just. so. tired.

This last six weeks have been bananas. I haven’t lost them to some adrenal fatigue blackout like I did March, but there’s been a lot of travel and a lot of trying to find pockets for rest and saying “no” to good things in favor of naps. Saying “no” to things like keeping my house in a state of good enough and keeping my children and their clothing relatively clean. I’m in survival mode here, and two and a half months in, I’m learning to be okay with it, to figure out which pieces are truly necessary. It’s educational! Yay, learning!


Why am I sharing this here? Why have I spent hours over the last weeks squeezing out these words? I don’t need sympathy and I don’t need help. (I have lots of that.) I want to warn you. I feel like somebody probably warned me and I didn’t listen, because I thought I didn’t have the option to rest because little people. But on the off chance you need to hear it and are in a space to listen, I had to tell you what my life is like right now, in hopes that you don’t repeat my mistakes.

Take care of your body.

Even when it feels selfish. Because you know what sucks your ability to live your life for your people? This. Ain’t nobody got time for THIS. I spent YEARS doing the things for all the people and then working my tail off after the babies went to bed to keep on top of the house. Now I spend sizable chunks of time leaving the children unsupervised because I cannot stay awake.

Don’t be like me.

Get rest. Feed your body good things. Exercise, but not like you hate yourself. Self-neglect is not worth it. I know taking care of you is hard. Really. Because here I am with four kids ages one to seven, trying to figure out how to fit 13 hours of sleep into every 24. It would’ve been better if I’d just made the recommended eight or nine happen the last eight years. Is that an option while nursing babies? I’ll never know. But I wish I’d spent a little less time doing chores late at night.

speaking shame to survive it: I’m sorry I’m fat.

I did something frivolous and utterly lovely this past Thursday.

My friend booked us both appointments at a spa, and I didn’t stop her. We had brunch at this gorgeous restaurant overlooking a waterfall, then I got a massage. It felt decadent and totally outside my regular life.

I’ve had massages before on occasion, but usually when I have been pregnant or, once, immediately postpartum. (Newborn Lilly spent the appointment sleeping between my shins, which sounds awkward, but worked out nicely.)

This time, the, Jana (“Yana”) the massage therapist gave me instructions and stepped out of the room while I stripped out of my fluffy spa bathrobe, put my hair in the highest possible messy bun (per her instructions), and laid on the heated table under the blanket. She reentered and I relaxed facedown, silently talking to Jesus and trying not to drool or fall asleep.

Something switched. I went from, “Thank you SO MUCH for this chance to rest and BE” to an irrepressible self-consciousness. I don’t know why. Somewhere between lying down and the massage of my left arm, I was overcome by shame. All I could think was, “I’m so sorry I’m fat. I’m sorry. I’m fat.”

I tried to talk myself down. I’ve worked so hard to be okay—grateful, even—in my body. To be strong and healthy and feed myself healthy food and let that be enough. This is important to me for my own sake and for my girls’ sakes as well. Yes, I’d like to set down the weight, just so I can spend less of my energy carting it around. But I feel almost comfortable with my body, and I’m happy with the work I’ve done, so to hear the inside of my head become a swirly vortex of “Ohmygosh, I’m so sorry I’m fat” was disheartening. Actually, to be honest, I felt shame about my shame. I don’t need to apologize for the space I take up. I’m paying actual dollars for this stranger to touch my naked self, and I don’t need to apologize for anything. Besides, she’s a massage therapist. She’s seen everything. It’s fine, Robin. Get a friggin’ grip. 

The inner dialogue suddenly switched again to a compassionate, self-parenting tone: “Oh, hon. I’m so sorry you’re still here. It’s okay. You don’t need to apologize for your size and you don’t need to apologize for your shame, either. The work you’ve done is real. You’re not “back where you started.” I’m sad that it’s cropping up for you again now. Speak it aloud. Shame can’t survive when it’s spoken aloud.”

(Can I pause a moment here to celebrate the progress toward self-compassion? This is new for me.)

Jana had me roll over (no easy task when I had only two or three inches on either side of my body) and I blurted it out. “I can’t shut off this thought that I need to apologize for being fat. And I know it’s stupid—you’ve seen it all—but I just needed to say it.”

It was fine.

Of course it was.

Jana and I talked for much of the remainder of the appointment about nutrition and adrenal fatigue and insulin resistance and research (she’s going to school to be a nutritionist) and how it’s legitimately possible that a person might be trying really hard to be healthy but the body might not respond in the ways we hope.

You guys, it was terrifying to speak it aloud because I am, in the deepest part of me, still trying to be okay with my shape. Also, because I didn’t want to sound like an idiot. Because being fat is one thing, but being fat and stupid is too far. But Brené Brown is right. Shame can’t survive vulnerability or connection. I was vulnerable; she allowed connection; the shame dissipated.

This is what I want to remember: speaking shame aloud gives me a chance of stepping away from it.

Yes, being vulnerable to a stranger is a risk and requires some discernment. I can imagine people I know who would be poor choices to share shame with because of their own insecurities. Strangers can be wildcards, but they can also be kind.

It was worth the risk: my memory of that massage is now characterized by relaxation, bravery, and connection where there would have been shame and insecurity.

 

screen time seasons

Hey, guys! Posting at Kindred Mom again today! (Also, this was written when it was -12. Grateful to say it is no longer.) 

Today, like most days, my kids have been tugging at my clothes and talking nonstop over each other and me. When I’m trying to write out what needs to be done in my planner, my oldest comes to get my attention by bumping my right elbow, sending an errant swoop of ink across the page. When I get on my laptop to type, my toddler boy thinks it’s super fun to push whatever buttons he can reach. We muscle through the day: meals, school, play, clean-up, and there’s constant noise, bickering, touching. It’s mom-life, and I love it, but my brain needs a break in the worst way.

Blessedly, for a few hours each day, my youngest two still sleep. I‘ve gone through various seasons, trying to decide what to do with the bigger two girls during those precious hours. We’ve tried doing schoolwork—it’s a quiet time to teach them. I’d love for it to be reading time, but the big two aren’t quite ready to read independently. The older one is close, but it’s still laborious. I send them outside for a while, but it’s cold—twelve degrees below zero today—and, though my babies are Alaskans, outside time doesn’t last long at these temps.

I know the official American Association of Pediatrics recommendation for maximum screen time. I’ve heard arguments about how bad it is for development, and I’ve seen the effects in my kids’ attitudes. When my first and second were small, I dreamed they wouldn’t see any screens until the age of five, except for high-quality entertainment on family movie nights where we’d make memories over homemade kettle corn. In reality… [read more.]