I visited my sister today at her school for a birthday lunch. I guess when you’re turning 30, a quick salad eaten while standing and corralling squirrelly kiddos is a sign of a full and meaningful life. It was fun to see her in her every day environment and Nathan enjoyed running around, looking at the chickens, and trying to tell all the kids to “Stop and go back to class!”

It is a wonderful school. Really a best case scenario for any kid with special needs who cannot be at home with their primary caregiver. Plenty of out door space to run and play, a small school where everyone will know your name, vibrant classrooms, and individualized school plans. A cheerful, upbeat, hopeful place.

A little girl introduced herself and her classmates to me, a social skill she’s been working on. A little boy ran to gently kneel before Nathan and help him up when he tripped and fell. He wanted to hold Elijah’s hand and exclaimed about how small it is and how he used to be small in his mommy’s tummy. I nodded and said, “Yes you used to be small in your Mommy’s tummy.”

I had a good time.

But I looked around and felt oppressed with sadness.

Knowing what I know on this side of my extraordinary journey through parenthood, all I could think of was all the hurt and sadness represented by these wonderful children. All the Mamas who stay up late worrying about how to care for their precious one in a world that doesn’t want to make space for their extraordinary gifts and needs. All the rejection that led these kids to this place. The tears wept for children who cannot connect in the expected relationships, carry on the expected conversations, engage in the expected activities. What will happen to each of them when they grow too big for this safe school?

I know my emotions don’t have that much to do with each of those kids and everything to do with where I am as I view this part of their life. I am Overwhelmed. Sad. Tired. Scared.

I am up late worrying about how care for my precious one in this world that won’t make space for him and his extraordinary gifts and needs. I am scared of the rejection he receives and where it will lead him. I weep over the loss of connection, conversation, and activities. What will happen to him when he grows too big for our safe little home?

There are no easy answers lately.

Today a perfect storm of hormones, cold grey weather, several major issues I don’t know how to solve, and the normal overwhelm of raising little children (puke! poop! again! and again!) came over me and I was awash with a sense that all is not right, everything is wrong and I’m probably about to smash and burn on some unforeseen obstacle that everyone else knows is there. I can be melodramatic.

On Sunday our pastor preached about idol worship. The modern-day American variety. I worship an array of idols – Hindus aren’t the only ones with 300 million gods. But my primary – wouldn’t – want – to – live – without – them idols are self-righteousness, intellect, and praise. I like to be right. It makes me feel safe. And as our pastor pointed out, that is the point. We worship idols because we think they can save us.

Inside, though, I feel fragile and broken. The self-righteousness and intellect can only reach so far.  I used to think I was the only one that felt like they were often walking on a precipice and just over the edge was failure, doom, and a public unmasking that would show me to be the fraud I know I am. Now I know I’m not alone. We all just cover up the feeling in different ways.

For me, it’s making sure to be right, throwing some brain power and good dose of wisdom at it. I bolster my courage by reminding me of my skills, my personality, what I know, and that I can do well and people will tell me I did well. The difficult part is that I really do a fairly decent job at being “right” and I have a not insignificant amount of brain power to help me along. But there are good things and then there is too much of a good thing.

I’m not the only one like this.

Other people cover it by deciding in clear terms what defines success and making sure the success is something they can attain, but that hopefully will be out of reach of others so they can feel even better about themselves. It’s this money. This lifestyle. This belief system.

Some people cover with work. Or busy schedules. Some people entertain and listen to music and watch TV and never allow their brains enough down time to think about it. Some people believe order and organization is everything.

I know people who hide their frailty behind “I prayed about it and God told me to.”

I know people who hide their broken behind “I don’t even think God exists so none of this matters.”

I know people who hide how small they feel behind an ideal body, and clothes, and shoes, and house, and car, and neighborhood.

I know people who hide behind a firm belief that there’s no need for any of the fancy and shiny clothes, shoes, homes, or cars.

I know people who hide by making their life very small, contained, knowable.

I know people who hide by insisting that life is fun and we should all be enjoying ourselves.

The point is, we’re all searching for safety. We choose a variety of beliefs and pursuits to deal with it depending on our life experiences and personalities. But let’s call it what it is.

I worship self-righteousness because it makes me feel safe.

I worship intellect because it makes me feel safe.

I worship the praise of others because it makes me feel safe.

What do you worship?

 

I don’t always have big goals for the year. But sometimes I do. I’m variable like that.

And I dislike the concept of cheesy resolutions about as much as I love the opportunity to start fresh with some new goals in the New Year. I’m, well, hypocritical like that.

As I sit here with my heating pad warming my back that I’ve now “thrown out” three times in about as many months, I can help but think about what I’m yearning to add (or subtract to my year). I might as well jot them down as a “mark time” in my life so I can remember.

1. Celebrate holidays deeply. e.g. Love on my people on Valentine’s Day, observe Lent and then celebrate and rejoice on Easter. Focus birthdays to honor the actual person as they actually are and not how I wish they were or other people expect me to celebrate.

2. Write things down. I bought a paper calendar again to help with this. I’m working on a Household Binder. Nathan and I plan to start a gratitude journal together. I’d like to write down more of what happens in our day-to-day, my thoughts on the boys development, our marriage, etc. I’m a writer and I need to write things down.

3. Manage stress. 2014 was stress incarnate. Unremitting, hourly, constant, physical, emotional, mental stress. I worked to fit in self-care, but it’s no surprise that I wasn’t coming first (or third) in our schedule. I need off the caffeine-sugar-alcohol roller coaster. I need to fit in regular quiet alone time. I need to move stress out physically for the sake of mental health alone.

4. Regain some spark. It wasn’t too long ago I was known for a quirky sense of style both in my clothing and home. Now I barely recognize either. I go out wearing the most atrocious clothes, our home has languished barely decorated for months. Two kids, pregnancy, and our  move have done a number on me and my outward expressions of creativity and self. I’ve made a few inroads in both my home and clothing, and that needs to continue or I’ll lose my mind.

5. Kindness. This should be first, but this list was stream of conscious. I really want my interactions with my husband and children to be about kindness first, details later. This is easier with the kids, Jason not so much. In the pressure cooker of raising young kids, tight budgets, and profound and extensive sleep deprivation, details loom as emergencies and kindness gets pushed to the back burner. I hate this and I want this to change.

So there, that’s what’s on my mind as I contemplate a fresh start. You? Any goals?

As I was cleaning up toys (again!) in order to make space for my yoga mat I got to thinking about how Nathan creates worlds with his blocks and train tracks and farm animals. Every day he gets down on the floor with the basic items and after a few minutes there are new pieces of colorful architecture, a pastoral railroad, or a fairground with 4-H animals.

Every night the buildings come down, the tracks go back in the box and the animals go back to their plastic barn. And Nathan doesn’t care. He can build again tomorrow. He trusts, without even knowing, that his imagination will be there and he can create something using it and whatever he finds.

How wonderful is the wisdom of a young one who hasn’t yet learned to fear the finite. In my “wisdom” I know that I may not finish what I envision so I talk myself out of ever starting. In doing so I miss the opportunity to practice, to learn, and to play.

I spent the entire month of September off Facebook. It was lovely.

For months, years maybe, I’ve considered pulling the plug on it entirely. My feelings about Facebook are up, down, and all around and frequently negative. But it’s addictive! And sometimes it’s fantastic. There are parts that it is difficult to live without nowadays. But it can be destructive, a massive time-waster, and I often left it with a vague anxious feeling.

This summer was one of the most difficult seasons of my life and I could see how facebook was exacerbating my anxiety and loneliness. The format enables connections that would otherwise be impossible, but it keeps friends from real life at arms length. It gives everyone an equal footing to learn about your life and give an opinion, even if said opinion is ignorant, hurtful, or trite.

When I felt a tug in late summer that maybe I should take some time away from it I decided to announce it so I’d have accountability and then move the app to the back screen of my iPhone so I couldn’t see it regularly.

Hours into September 1st I noticed I had 13 notifications and growing. I got a daily email letting me know I was missing out on this and that. My fingers got a little twitchy and more than once I typed in the URL automatically when I sat down at the computer. It got easier each day. I started to notice that I was using my time more efficiently without the constant over/under-connection.

The loveliest thing, and something I don’t want to forget, is how peaceful I felt.

No longer did I feel the tug of notifications popping up, the urge to check for comments, the need to pithily and wittily sum up the moment for a status update, preferably with a well-composed picture of my kids.

I didn’t have to deal with the unsolicited advice (grrr!), misunderstandings, unwanted news updates, pushy partisan political posts, and the annoyance of scrolling through updates letting me know the all important news that my friend liked an image of puppies in sunglasses.

To my shame I found myself thinking narcissistic things like, “I wonder if I should post just one picture of the boys. I bet people are missing them.” After 2 weeks? Seriously, Anna. Get over yourself.

But I missed some things too, or really one main thing – my friends. There are several people who I stay in contact with solely through facebook and I was sorry to miss a whole month of their life.

Within minutes of logging back in on October 1st I was able to pin-point a major reason why it leaves me anxious – it’s too much to read. I am a voracious reader, a hoarder of information, and the never-ending newsfeed is basically purgatory for people like me.

And the inflammatory political posts and alarmist news stories? I still hate them. Just say no, people.

Also, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool reference librarian. When people ask questions, I always want to answer. This sucks so much of my time.

After my break, I feel like I have a better perspective on facebook as a tool and how I can use it well and what I no longer want to do with it.

I don’t want to use it as a passive aggressive tool for letting people know what I really think.

I don’t want to use it to lazily faux-connect, when what I need is to heart-connect with a flesh and blood friend.

I don’t want to use it to passively learn about friends when I should be contacting them directly.

I don’t want to let the minor relationships in my life take more of my time than the important ones.

On the other hand…

I do want to use it to post pictures of my kids for friends and family who don’t see them regularly.

I do want to use it to connect with people who live far away.

I do want to use it as my “support group” for adoptive and special needs issues not well-supported by my real life friends.

I do want to use it to post pithy and witty thoughts about my daily life, because it amuses me.

I do want to use it to share the parts of life that can be shared there and to remember that there is much about life that cannot be shared in that venue, and that’s OK.

I’m working to ignore the pushy political junk, the silly cat memes, the unsolicited advice. I’m working to see the people behind the posts, but to see the people I know in real life even more. I’m working to keep it all in perspective.

And I try to remember to log the heck out and not keep the tab open all the time.

Sunday was a doozy. After waking up at 1:50am with a cranky baby, I went on to soothe children, help pack up the car and then ride in the backseat with Elijah for 15 hours.

Fifteen. Hours.

And he napped about 45 minutes total. And cried for about 2 hours.

In the scheme of road trip parenting it wasn’t bad, but by the end of that trip, I was done. Elijah was done. Jason was done. And Nathan, who rode with my parents, was done. Fully cooked, well done, verging on burned.

It was after dark, way past bedtime, by the time we rolled into Dallas ahead of major thunderstorms and we needed to get everyone settled and in bed for a few hours sleep before regular life started up full speed Monday morning.

To say I was stressed would be, well, an understatement.

As I got the crying Elijah out and carried him in to our home, he calmed down, looking around with his red-rimmed, wet eyes. He has an uncanny ability to let a single tear sit picturesquely on his cheek as if reminding all who see him that he was recently very unhappy, and reserves the right to be so again with no notice.

We entered through the door and I set my bags down. His eyes darted around with interest and he started to smile his little half-smile. Then, I’ll never forget, he took a deep breath, and let out a deep sigh of contentedness. Everything about his body relaxed. He was home.

A few minutes later, my parents dropped Nathan off. We’d been about 30 minutes apart on the road all day and we hadn’t seen him since we’d said good night in the starry pre-dawn on the mountain. The first thing he did was run over to where Elijah and I were sitting, grab Elijah’s head in both his hands and give him a huge smooch on the cheek. He was home.

Those two moments combined to fill up my Mama heart and bless me more than anyone can understand, but I’ll try to explain.

We live in a small space. 1000 square feet including the patio we don’t use. While many living near us have much less, there are also a lot of people that live around us with much more. A whole lot more. Our neighborhood is strangely situated on the border of a large subsidized housing area and literal mansions. There is a Maserati dealership around one corner, a Porsche dealership around another and can’t-afford-a-car poverty around yet another.

We’ve made intentional choices to live small, and even when we are able to buy a home we plan to live small. It suits us and our values. But it is still hard sometimes to live the way we do while mixing with people who have so much more. And so much less. I can’t not notice, but I don’t want to be so self-conscious.

I worry about not providing my boys with the everything and beyond of the many kids they will play with, but I worry about providing so much they cannot relate to the majority of the people in the world.

I work hard to make our home a life-giving space filled with books, art, music, creativity, yummy smells, soft beds, and nutritious yet delicious food. But, in 1000 square feet and on a limited budget I cannot hide all the nuts and bolts of life that end up on display, like dirty laundry, receipts, and toys.

I worry about not providing them with all the comforts of the many kids they will play with, but I worry about providing so much they do not understand how the majority of the world lives.

To combat this, I spend a lot of time in the spiritual practice of actively focusing on what my priorities are. It boils down to two things. I want my boys to grow up feeling safe so they feel free to dare everything for God’s call on their life. And I want my boys to grow up knowing intimate authentic love so they can lavishly love their God and the people in their life.

The rest truly is extra. Even the really really good stuff – the stuff I value and believe in and want for them – it’s gravy.

So that’s why, at the end of a tender exhausted day, when we’re all just showing our truest heart of hearts, to see evidence of my boys felt safety in their home and love for one another? That was a gift without price.

And I will ponder these things in my heart for a long time.

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day. I’ve felt extra bruised all day ever since my Instagram feed reminded me first thing this morning.

We’ve lost many pregnancies. Two or three a year almost every year of our marriage. Except 2012. I guess I was too stressed out and sick that year to get pregnant. Some I remember vividly, some I’ve forgotten.

I feel like a bad mom for not remembering all of these precious ones, but forgetting was the way I kept living. And my God is big enough to fill in where I am not enough and he knows every one and can carry that knowledge for me.

The first was January 2007. We’d been married just a few months. I was devastated. Then another in March. Another in June.

I stopped talking about it to anyone besides Jason because I was so hurt by people’s reactions. I heard loud and clear that others did not want to bear this sorrow with us, and that they thought there was a strong possibility it was all in my head. Someone close to me actually told me they’d be happy for me when I was actually pregnant, but they wouldn’t hope with me that one of these pregnancies would stick. I’ve heard just about every insensitive thing someone could say to a woman experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss.

At times I thought I was crazy and making it up because surely it wouldn’t happen this many times. For a long time I blamed myself, then when doctors clarified that it wasn’t my fault and helped me understand why it happens again and again I found knowledge doesn’t make it any easier.

The official statistics say 25% of pregnancies end in loss, but if you add in all the pregnancies that never make it to even a positive test, the number goes up significantly. I’ve read that it’s more in the neighborhood of 80%. Can you believe that?! I’m one of the lucky women who have strong, early pregnancy symptoms so I’ve had early warning each time. There’s always the fear, the hope, the days of no bleeding, take a test or not. Wait. One week late, maybe closer to two. Then the pain and the bleeding begin. Again.

I knew I was pregnant with Elijah almost three weeks before I tested positive for pregnancy. It was all the same symptoms I’d had each time. My last miscarriage was in January 2013 and I assumed it was about time for another one. But, he hung on, my precious strong boy. I’d given up on tests, but I decided to get one because, well, I guess I hadn’t run out of hope yet.

I’ve written before about my journey to accept this path and I think it’s obvious to anyone who knows me that I’ve found happiness and joy abundant. I love my boys and this journey is what brought them to me. But the memories feel like bruises and I will bear those always. And I will remember.

There are so many Twitterature link-ups I’ve intended to join over the past months. Alas, pregnancy and the early postpartum months managed to get in the way of my best intentions. Finally I’ve remembered it in time to hammer out a post. This isn’t exhaustive, but I thought I’d cover some of the highlights of my recent reading.

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The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

I stumbled upon this on a serendipitous library trip at a different branch and snatched it up (Sidenote: one of our frugal ways is to skip the bookstore and go to the library branch in the nicest part of town, the one by where the Bushes live. It’s maintained well and we can bring home as many books as we want and when we’re done just drop them off at our local branch.) This book fulfilled two of my goals – reading more international, non-British literature and reading more Korean literature specifically (my oldest son is Korean). It’s a short story with delightful pictures, but it’s not children’s literature by any means. It’s melancholy and so dear. It made me cry. And I felt like my heart would burst with sympathy for this poor hen’s motherheart. I shamelessly personify everything so finding myself breathlessly interested in the life of this hen was normal for me.

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Dad is Fat

Oh how I laughed while I read this book. And I made my poor husband listen to whole passages. He kept asking why I was cackling away and I finally just shortened my explanations to “this book.” Jim Gaffigan is my favorite comedian and this book did not disappoint. If you like his stand-up, you will like the book.

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Delancey

It’s almost criminal for a gluten-free/dairy-free girl to have to read this book. I wanted to devour all the pizzas while reading it. If I wasn’t nursing a dairy-free baby I probably would have hightailed it to the nicest pizza joint in town to devour me some, consequences be damned. I enjoyed the voyeuristic look into opening their restaurant, although the recipe selection was odd. I think I liked A Homemade Life better, but I haven’t slept enough recently to discern why exactly.

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Counting One’s Blessings

This has been my bathtub read for several months. While looking for solutions to my postpartum anxiety I learned that magnesium helps a lot so I regularly draw up a bath of hot water with epsom salts and lavender and grab this tome (600+ pages) and settle in for an hour or so. The first part is more interesting than the last part. The editor’s explanation is that she stopped writing about personal details due to the risk of stolen letters being published. However, what is interesting is very interesting, at least to this historian and lover of women’s biographies! I especially liked to contrast her letters about important events to the various people in her life. The tone and word choices were strikingly different sometimes.

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What Alice Forgot

As others have said, this book reads fast, but sticks with you. We’re approaching our 8th anniversary next month and are fully in the trench crossroads of marriage and parenting littles. It’s hard and it’s good and this book was the perfect accompaniment to this season of life.

For a full list of what I’ve read lately you can check out my Book List page where I’m documenting every book I read since beginning my book challenge in 2009. You can also friend me on Goodreads.

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I threw my back out.

One minute I was attempting to clean up the bedroom while wearing Elijah and the next I was gasping for breath through the pain, stumbling to the living room so I could sit down and call for help.

There really is no better way for my body to say, “Fine. If you won’t take a proper break, we’ll make sure you rest!”

I spent about 4 hours on my back on the floor of the living room and still the muscles wouldn’t relax so I crawled to the bathroom and sunk down in hot hot water. I stayed well past prune-stage and let nature’s pain reliever give me a break.

I wish the first full night I’ve slept alone in my room for years was more relaxing, but I can’t deny that I got more sleep than I have in months. Elijah slept better too in his little crib next to Jason on the couch. Maybe we need to end our co-sleeping relationship. There’s no denying that it contributed to my back problems.

When my back went out I was angrily cleaning while reluctantly carrying him in the Moby, ranting in my head about what an attachment parenting failure I am. My back was already hurting from yet another bad night’s sleep bedsharing with him and having to wear him to keep him somewhat happy was not what I wanted for either my mind or my body.

I know that attachment parenting is not really about cosleeping and babywearing, but it’s easy to let those tools feel like the entire thing. And neither comes as easily to me as I would like. The idea of snuggling next to your baby sounds dreamy, and it is in small doses. But the wonder wears off when you have to stay in one position until your back is aching and you can’t turn over and it keeps you awake so you’re exhausted the next day. The concept of wearing a baby on your body so your hands are free sounds great until you put the baby in the carrier and simultaneously feel a fog overtake your brain making the fact that your hands are free completely beside the point because you can’t remember any of the things you wanted to do anyways. And then the child starts to cry.

Attachment parenting is so much more than this. It’s an approach to parenting that covers every aspect of the parent-child relationship and does not require cosleeping and parenting. I’m victorious in my attachment goals every time I choose relationship over behavior, every time I snuggle in close so I can understand instead of putting a comfortable distance between us, every time I tune in to the emotional undercurrents in my boys and choose to be educated by them instead of the reverse. I can’t help but parent by attachment. I would do it even if it didn’t have a name.

The primary personal battle I fought after Nathan came home was maintaining my core mother identity in the face of other’s criticisms. My primary mothering battle this time is being content with the mother I am in the face of my own criticism. I struggle to let my ideals guide me, but not become gods.

There is no way to worship the god of being the ideal mother when you are crying in agony on the floor of the living room unable to pick up your children.

So I’m thankful for the gift of this pain. I’ll soak up some rest, quiet, and alone time. And I’ll take note of all the ways I’m able to love my boys and maintain attachment even from my bed. I’m grateful for them and the gift of these relationships.

And I hope I’m back on my feet soon.

 

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I recently read this little book called The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly. It’s about a chicken named Sprout and in the first few pages you learn that she named herself. When I read that she’d given herself her name I had to pause and think about it.

It is so rare in our culture to find people who are comfortable with naming themselves. I don’t mean literally naming themselves, of course. But figuratively, people have a hard time saying, “I am _______” without having some sort of outside justification or verification or authentication.

If someone says they are a teacher, we assume they have an education degree. When someone says they are an artist, we expect they have training in art. When someone says they are a mother, we expect they have a child that makes them so.

This outside naming serves a purpose for us as a community of people. Nobody wants to go to a doctor who is not licensed by a medical board. Nobody wants a lawyer who hasn’t passed the bar exam. Although if we stop and think we have to acknowledge that there are people with the skills to heal who did not go to medical school. And it’s possible to get good legal advice from non-lawyers.

Expecting outside verification of our inner selves has its downsides. It can limit us from owning the truth about ourselves and even from discovering who we really are.

I tell people that I am a writer. Now I do have some training, an English minor, and a couple degrees that sort of rely on me being a decent writer, but I did not go to school for writing. People have said I’m a good writer, and that’s nice. But the reason I self-identify as a writer is because I know that in my heart of hearts that is who God made me to be. I love to write. I need to write. I’m a writer. I don’t need a degree, an exam, or really anyone else to agree with me.

I wish that more people owned their right to self-examine and then self-proclaim who they are. How many more artists, writers, healers, and pastors would we have if we didn’t have such hang ups about needing proof? How many more people would be excelling at their work because they are doing something they know they are good at that they chose for themselves? How amazing would it be to raise up children who feel free to decide what they like and pursue it instead of feeling compelled to take the outlined classes so they can get a piece of paper that allows them to be something that will hopefully help them earn a living. Ugh. Doesn’t it sound terrible when you think of it that way? I’ve been a historian since I was in 4th grade. I didn’t need a History degree to make me one.

Think about it, who are you? What are you? What are your strengths? What are you naturally good at? How could naming yourself help free you?

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