Boom.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

We're all flying by the seat of our pants here
I have several friends right now expecting children.  Some are pregnant and some are in the process of adoption.  Either way, new parents are new parents - giddy with anticipation, anxious with worry, and all in all completely idealistic in the giant "unknown" that's in store for them.

Ah, I remember those days.  I remember my perception of what parenthood would be like.  Having years of nannying experience and being an aunt to 7 nephews and nieces before having my own, I thought I was about as seasoned as they come when it came to knowing what raising a child would be like.  I was ripe with earnest enthusiasm when it came to predicting the schedule shift, lack of sleep, and complete interruption my new bundle of joy was about to bestow upon my nest.

And then, I actually became a parent, and my dreamy bubble burst like a poorly fastened diaper on a full belly.  Kapow!  And I found myself shrugging my shoulders in disbelief and exhaustion that I, too, had fallen victim to the notion that I thought I knew what I was doing.  I didn't.  I don't.

Now, only a few years of parenting under my belt, I find myself in the seat of the bestower of said-advice instead of the bestowee.  (I know that's not a real word.)  But, it's true.  With so many friends becoming first-time parents after myself, they tend to turn to me as one source of information they can rely on for "telling them like it is" and so forth.  And, I love it.  I mean, I love everything that has to do with pregnancy and birth and raising kids, I could talk about it for-just-about-ever and still find new things to question or examine.  It's kind of one of those inexhaustible topics that is ever-changing and so, it's easy to keep re-examining how it all works!

While I love to talk about it though, I laugh at the idea that I might necessarily have a clue what I'm talking about!  Indeed, one of the first bubbles to burst in parenthood is the fact that we're all kind of flying by the seat of our pants when it comes to raising a kid.  Nevertheless, as the questions come, I can't help but give my take on whatever-child-rearing-subject arises and do my best to leave them feeling excited and validated.  However, I rarely predict that's the case.

Current parents can't help but sound condescending to a parent-to-be.

I remember this well.  I hated it when I was expecting.  I mean, there's only so many times you can hear "go see more movies now" or "get sleep while you can" or "you have no idea how hard it is" or "you know you'll have to watch her all the time" before you just want to punch someone in the face!  I completely remember feeling like I wanted to wear a sign saying "I'm pregnant, not stupid" just so people would shut-up already and stop trying to tell me how much I didn't know.

She can totally tell I have no clue what I'm doing
And yet, here I am...the giant condescender of information, belittling my expectant friends with my bubble-bursting anecdotes of truth (out of love!)  Yikes.  How can this be helped?  Have I earned this right or should I shut up and let them enjoy the idea of never letting their kid watch TV and always having the laundry folded and put away neatly?

Just the other day, one of these expectant mothers texted me saying, "I don't want my child to eat anything that's not truly organic."  My response?  That's cool.  Just don't feel bad when you eventually lose it and find yourself throwing chicken McNuggets at her.  It will happen.  You will both survive.

Becoming a parent isn't about becoming perfect.  It can't be.  It won't be.  We each have our bubbles and our unique process that bursts them somehow in someway along the journey of growing into the individual our new child shapes us up to be.  That involves growing pains on both our parts, parent and child.

Don't get me wrong - ideals are WONDERFUL.  Establish them, strive for them, even cling to them for inspiration!  But, don't be controlled by them.  The biggest piece of advice I can give to parents-to-be now is this:

When you disappoint yourself (because you will), don't buy into the lie that you're not what your child needs.  Chances are, you have just crossed a new boundary stepping into the person you are supposed to become.

If that takes a few chicken McNuggets to get there...I'm cool with that. This isn't to say that your mistakes are "good".  (Probably far from it.)  But, when I allow myself the freedom to let go of the control, let go of what I consider the perfect picture of parenthood to look like, then I'm one step away from retreating to what I really need:  Jesus.  If I'm being really honest with myself, that's all I really want to model for my children...not someone who has it all together and is always right and always looks great (especially since that is impossible), but someone who turns to Jesus when I get reminded again and again that I'm not.

And for all those loving parents who tried to warn me ahead of time, let me say Thanks for trying.  I may not have received everything that you said at the time, but I certainly heard it.  The fog has lifted and I can clearly see now that I have no idea how to do this parenting thing.  Ha!  The great news is...we're not in it alone.

Welcome aboard, new parents.  Get ready to burst that bubble.


Amen!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times...I'm raising zombies.  It's true, my girls are terrrrible sleepers.  Most nights, it is a battle of the wills to corral them into their room, lasso them with jammies, and wrestle them into bed before they melt down into a hot mess of tears and wailing.  While it hasn't made a huge difference to the unpredictability of their sleeping habits, we are extremely protective that their bedtime routine remain the same night-after-night so that they can seemingly adhere to a rhythm that will set off some magical sleep pattern for them.  It sounds good anyway, right?

It makes sense, so we do it, though I'll admit it doesn't always seem worth the effort (an hour to get them into bed and an hour of listening to them laugh, cry, scream, sing, what-have-you can really make one question the sacred "routine").  Nevertheless, sometimes it does seem to work, so we stick to it like Winnie the Pooh in a honey pot.

The routine is simple enough: brush teeth, jammies, stories, prayer, sing, hugs & kisses, Bonsoir my darlings!  (That is, goodnight!)  And this has become our sacred, family routine night after night.  Every night, I find myself exhausted and wondering how in the world I will do it all again tomorrow...and then...we pray.  I hear Daphne throw her arms up and mumble the intonation of "a-MEN" and I hear the childish words of Matilda speak to Jesus with distinct and simple direction.  She talks to him like He is right there, so emphatically, like I can see the little ball bouncing over her words like a Karaoke machine as soon as she speaks them.  Of course, her prayers pretty much always go the same way, so there is a delightful predictability about them too.

Dear Jesus, Thank you this day.  Thank you daddy, mommy, Daphne.  Thank you dance class.  Thank you toys.  Amen!

Or something like that.  Playful, honest, sincere, and maybe even a little bit silly sometimes.  Some nights she will wholeheartedly jump right into praying, even announcing "My turn!" and other nights (many nights) she will stubbornly refuse.  Unless she's not feeling well, we don't allow this.  Not praying is not an option in our home no matter how cranky you are.  You will listen to mommy pray, you will listen to daddy pray, you will think of at least one thing to thank God for.  The end.

That might sound harsh, but we're planting roots of discipline and obedience here.  And besides, prayer is one of those things that as soon as you start doing it, you want to keep doing it more.  The more comfortable she gets with it, the easier it flows out of her little lips, and I'm certain to be careful what I wish for or this hour-long bedtime routine will turn into a marathon if Matilda's prayers turn into endless conversations.  (She's a talker - it could happen!)

But, she's not the only one learning from this nighttime routine of praying as a family.  I'm learning so much from her simple little benedictions.  

This may come as a surprise to you (seeing as I'm rather extroverted and outspoken about my feelings) but, I don't love to pray out loud.  It's uncomfortable.  It feels like a lot of pressure.  I might say the wrong thing and someone will judge me this way or that way.  I might sound too religious.  I might not sound reverent enough.  I might come across as self-righteous or judgmental.  I might mispronounce something or start to cry because it's getting too emotional.  I might blubber and become inaudible.  I might ramble on too long and not leave anything else for anyone to pray about.  I might forget someone's prayer request.  I might yawn in the middle.  I might fall asleep.  I might get caught with my eyes open.  And, oh yeah, how can I really be talking to JESUS when I'm worrying about MYSELF this whole time?

Yup.  All of that could happen.  It's true.  And, okay, maybe those aren't real concerns when I'm in my own home with my little family...but, as soon as I step beyond my comfort zone and extend myself out to a situation where I'm willing to get real and vulnerable, certainly I am going to combat thoughts of insecurity when I talk to my Jesus in front of you.  OUR Jesus, I mean.  

Prayer is really intimate.  Prayer is an unbelievable gift that I am so grateful for.  I honestly don't know how people make it through life without it, because that would just completely debilitate me.  But, if there is anyone I completely strip down the facade for, it's Jesus (cause, newsflash, He already knows everything anyway, right?)  But, I'm just me to Jesus.  I'm not "holier me" or "super-put-together me" or "perfect me" or "extra-religious me".  Nope - I'm still just ME, and Jesus wants me - hot mess wailing and all.

THIS is what I love about listening to Matilda pray.  That raw, frustrated, completely honest and sometimes irrational warrior of life.  Cause, if I could be so blunt, sometimes there are moments when I know I need to get on my knees and talk to God and I find my insides punching and screaming and refusing to obey.  I want comfort and MY way and when it's convenient for ME.  I'm a ridiculous child.

But, God wants to hear that too.  He wants it all.  So, I buckle at my knees in awe of His grace and patience with me, and I give in with relentless gratitude and get reminded of my NEED for Him once more.  And then I just barf up the truth to Him and He makes sense of my words and listens to my voice as if it was a melodious symphony of worship.  

Prayer will never come out perfect.  I'm not perfect.  THAT'S THE POINT.  My imperfection and need for Jesus reminds me of my longing to be in relationship with Him, which ignites my desire for prayer and my gratitude for the restoration I feel when that need is met...which reminds me of my need...and so forth.  

That's the power of Christ.  Only He can turn my whining into worship and my pouting into praise.  And that's a routine worth sticking with.  Amen!


Psalm 8:2 (The Message)

Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you; 
toddlers shout the songs 
That drown out enemy talk,    
and silence atheist babble.



Tug-of-war

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I often play tug-of-war with my willpower.  Do you know what I mean?

Take, for instance, something I want, divide it by two, and then make a case for each side of the argument.  Let's say I want to feel better about my body.  (This is true, of course, as it probably is for many of you out there - those of you who are not robots, anyway).  When I divide this thought in two, suddenly I see jogging and working out and sports bras and spandex and tighter abs on one side, and on the other side is some delectable cupcake or pasta dish or the sedentary state of relaxing in front of Downton Abbey for the night with a lovely goblet of Merlot.  And just like that, I'm at war with myself.  Whammo-kablammo, I'm at odds.

I hate this feeling.  I am a gal who likes to know what I like, go after it, earn it/master it/consume it, and then move on to something new to conquer.  Of course, there's no "conquering" life and the beauty/trouble with it all is that the awesome part to life is the ongoing challenge of it all.  New lessons, more improvements, inexhaustible ways to limitlessly expand our horizons.  And yet, so often I find myself collapsing on the couch watching TV and trying to escape it all.  My goodness, this life is full of confusion.

Am I the only one who is just tired?

Okay, maybe I am.  But, I doubt it.  It seems to me that most of what I hear from my peers is about how relentless this world is getting, how most of us are just trying our hardest and feeling tired, and how we are all needing as much encouragement as we can get our hands on.  I can't be alone in this, and thank goodness, I'm not!

Still, my self-war wages on.  My wants combat my resources.  My resources combat my strengths.  My strengths combat my willpower.  And so, I gravitate towards the path of least resistance.  I manufacture excuses to fit my agenda.  I manipulate my own ideas for what is "good enough" for my purpose.  And, sadly (too many times) I am complacent with the thought that my life is perfect being nice and mediocre.  This is comfortable.  I can be this.  This is fine.

But, then again, I've always been one to resist comfort.  I like stretching my legs outside of the box, dipping my toes in new waters, taking the road less travelled (sometimes completely unmarked!)  Are you with me?

I'm seeking some radical anti-self-war-changes for my life.  "Radical" might be a bit of an overstatement.  I bought a new dress today and that was pretty radical for me...so, don't get any crazy ideas here that I'm about to tell you I'm going vegan (I'm not) or shaving my head (never gonna happen).

No, no, it doesn't really have to do with any particular vice or item at all.  Instead...this is the new and radical THOUGHT that popped in my head today and it sprung up in my brain like a geyser of self-reflection that swamped my muddy tug-o-war right out of the water:

It's not about giving in to what I want.  It's about wanting what I already have to give.

I've juggled this around my brain for a little while now.  I've applied it to my battles and it's starting to slowly de-bunk all these illusions I might have about myself.  It's not about giving in to the cupcake, it's about choosing to be grateful for the body I'm already living this life in and caring for it out of the love I have for it's purpose.  It's not about giving in to the self-loathing for the size I wish my thighs were, it's about learning to appreciate that these thighs walk me around to get me to where I'm supposed to be.
And so forth.

So, here I am, nearly one month deep into this new year.  I didn't necessarily enter in with any grand resolutions.  I am embracing 2013 and all it has for me, the trials and triumphs that are to come.  But, I'm giving up this war on myself before it starts up again.  I'm waving the white flag and ready to simply give rather than give up.

What do I have to give? is really the question I should be asking myself.  And sometimes, I need to be okay with admitting that the answer might be "nothing more".  This is okay.  This is wonderful, really.  This is necessary and honest.

At the end of a hard day when I'm a wife, a mother of two, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a cook, a writer, a maid, and a zillion other things (including a gripe) it has to be all I can do to collapse on the couch and watch Downton Abbey.  That's okay.  Sometimes.  But, I also need to grow up and recognize that filling my soul with the right ingredients (time, people, and opportunities, etc.) is providing me the resources I truly need to become all I really want, and all God wants for my life.

The only thing standing between my intention and my ambition is my ACTION...not my motivation.  

I tend to mistake lack of motivation for deliberation, and not for what it really is:  evasion.  (This is another way to say - stop making excuses.)

Okay, everybody, is this starting to sound like a pep talk or what?
So, what is your ambition?  What do you have to give?  What self-war are you waging that you need to diffuse with gratitude?  These are the questions I'm asking myself this year.

This is going to be a great year for embracing some new ideas for myself.  Maybe I'll try cooking escargot or dye my hair red.  Maybe I'll hit a new writing goal or introduce myself to a new friend I'm intimidated by.  Maybe I'll confront a fear or forgive someone for something I don't even know I hold a grudge against right now. Maybe I have no idea why I wrote all of this and I'm super nervous about throwing it out there, but I'm believing that for some reason God used these hands of mine to type all this because one of you out there was supposed to hear it and I'm putting my trust in Him that it will find its way to you.  Maybe?

Maybe that's what I have to give tonight.  And maybe that's all that matters.

xoxo




Dance Pardy

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It was only a matter of time.  A girl can try on only so many tutus before she starts to get ideas in her head.  Dancing ideas, that is.  So, a couple weeks ago when Matilda (3) matter-of-factly informed me that her life vocation had been chosen, I sighed and listened intently with much anticipation.

"Mom-mom.  I am a bee-ree-na.  I go to dance class?"

Dance class.  A ballerina.  Oh boy, here we go.

This venture is such a paradox for me as a parent!  On one hand, I have gut-wrenchingly-adorable visions of pink tulle and toe shoes and sweet buns knotted atop her little head (when that hair finally sprouts, anyway) and little recitals that we can invite our begrudged childless friends to attend.  On the other, I have angst-ridden-jumping-to-ridiculous-future-hypothetical-quandaries that include thoughts of competition, malnourishment, expensive costumes, schedule-burdened weekends, and a host of other delusions that my little three-year-old daughter has no idea to even begin worrying about.  Whew.

Of course, it's my glory and privilege as a parent to want to and get to offer her as much as possible that will take her in the direction to find her calling, her purpose, her joy.  It's also my honor and opportunity to set healthy boundaries, realistic expectations, encourage resiliency, and esteem her efforts no matter the outcome.  No pressure, right?  I mean, all this and I have to check myself that I'm not vicariously placing my own ambitions or shortfalls on her shoulders as well.  Right.  Did I mention she is only three?

What am I getting myself into?

Nevertheless, in the end, that pleading and precocious smile got the better of me and by the end of the week I had booked her for a trial ballet/tap combo class that she could try out for free and see how she liked it before committing to anything too time consuming or expensive.  Within minutes of our arrival, we were hooked.  Maybe it was the shiny wooden floor, maybe it was the princess castle mural, maybe it was the tiny little tap shoes I tied around her ankles, or maybe it was simply the pure elation on my child's face...but, whatever it was, I knew I'd succumb to this adorable new world of little dancers.

I can't help but fear for my child's wants.  It's such a precarious balance, right?  I mean, I don't know any girl who didn't (at one point in her life) want to be a dancer.  They are beautiful.  And, if you've ever seen a live ballet recital or production of the Nutcracker, you know that these creatures are extreme to the average human.  They are lithe, they are fierce, they are lovely.  Dancers (amazingly good ones, anyway) are held to an entirely other-worldly standard and revered for it.  It's awesome and scary all at once.

Of course, that's not exactly what I'm throwing my three-year-old into, I understand that.  She was thrilled to be doing jumping jacks with scarves and learning what a "pliè" was.  Simple, sweet, innocent, and fun.  She absolutely absorbed every second of it and swallowed up the information like it was cotton candy.  It made her happy.  That made me happy.  And it was all about her exploring something she innately liked and was curiously drawn to for no other reason than finding joy out of the discovery of it.  Awesome!  That's worth pursuing.

We stopped at the "Discount Dance Warehouse" before heading home and made our tiny investment in the cutest little ballet slippers and black patent leather tap shoes you've ever seen.  I'm so happy to be able to provide simple joys like this for my little girl.  I think of all the children of the world who aren't so spoiled and days like this remind me that these are precious moments gifted to me.

Who am I to deserve to witness such joy on my child's face?  What a gift!

Sometimes that's hard to remember when my daughter is whining incessantly or my 18-month-old throws a chicken nugget at my face while I'm just trying to purchase said-adorable-shoes.  But, the reality is that I'm living in a place and time where my daughters are incredibly blessed and I get to be in on it.  I get to bear the responsibility of issuing some of that blessing.  I get to reap its benefits.  And, 5-6-7-8...I'm not going to take that for granted.


Jazz hands.  Thank you, Jesus.

There's no telling how long Matilda will want to be a ballerina.  By next week she could be asking to trade in her slippers for snow skis or cowboy boots.  Maybe she will find her niche right away and catapult into stardom.  Maybe she will struggle her whole life to find a talent that suits her best or makes her a living or provides her the contentment she seeks.  Maybe she will be good at many things and hate them all.  Maybe she will terrible at many things but love it anyway.  There's just no telling.

The exciting (albeit, daunting) thing about being her parent is that I get to pray her through this roller coaster of life.  I do my best to buckle her in safely, and then trust that the ultimate Engineer has constructed the road ahead to her best advantage.  I will doubt it.  I will fear it.  I will question it.  This, I am sure.  But, I will do my utmost to remain there, by her, blessed to just be within the blessing of her life.

I might not know too much about the days and trials to come as my girls grow up and discover how their talents, strengths, and desires all match up (or don't).  It's just such a gift to be able to witness it all.  And, until then, I will enjoy these fleeting moments of watching my eldest merrily fumble her way through first position and tap her way to happiness.  I will do my best to count these blessing with each 8-count of her little routines.  And that's enough for me to keep the beat to for right now.

Let the Dance Pardy begin.


Calendar Girl

Monday, January 14, 2013

January is half-way over and though the wreaths and stockings have been neatly put away, there's one more thing left to say good-bye to regarding the holiday season (btw, I'm totally not judging you if you have yet to untangle those Christmas lights or finish off the last of the fruitcake...take your time!)  I'm saying good-bye to my seasonal job at the mall.  While I'm technically employed through the end of the month, the hours have been waning and I have all but scrap-booked my name-tag for good.

Taking on a part-time job in the midst of Christmas chaos and caring for my two little darling girls has been quite the feat.  I'm happy to say it was a wonderful experience, I'm glad I did it, and I wouldn't mind taking on the challenge again if the opportunity/need presented itself.  It was a clean, pleasant, friendly place to work, and I'm delighted to report that if you are ever in need of a mall gig, Williams-Sonoma is a great place to be employed (especially if you dream of French cooking or buddying up with Ina Garten and Julia Child in a time-warped-Iron-Chef foodie challenge...yes, I do dream about this)!

It also taught me a few key things I was wondering about myself:
1.  I could still get a job.  Always good to keep the resumé a little fresh.  With a shaky economy, I always like to know I could "get back out there" if need be.
2.  It is possible to be friendly no matter what.  Regardless of my feelings, my stresses, my achey feet or my attitude, I can shake it off and step up to the plate and help someone find that All-Clad omelet skillet on sale with a smile on my face.  Sometimes this "faking it" was just what I needed to make it through the day.
3.  I love cooking.  Turns out, I really really do.  I love cooking.  I love the gear, the dinnerware, the setting, the scents, the accomplishment, the learning curve, the intimidation, the limitless opportunity to always make something a bit more pretentious with a sliver of this or a pinch of that.  I love the creativity of it, the challenge and confusion, and I love to eat wonderfully delicious things off lovingly displayed plates.  It makes me smile just thinking about it.
4.  I can get huge doses of accomplishing the smallest tasks.  Working isn't all smiling and counting change.  I took out the trash, scrubbed dishes (since they do cooking demos there were always plenty of dirty dishes), handed out samples, straightened linens, and dealt with some rather unsavory customers  at times.  But, being bottom-rank as seasonal help didn't mean I was any less useful, and I felt this immensely when I saw something that just needed to be done.  I tried to be the one who would volunteer for the "yucky jobs" or step up when everyone else tried to look distracted the moment a manager would ask "Who wants to [fill in the blank with said yucky job]?"  I would do it!  And, as short-lived as the task was, I would end up feeling really great that I just DID it, got it done, and now could go smile at customers again.
5.  I could leave my girls and not feel guilty.

And there you have it, the BIGGIE.  Certainly, I didn't exactly take this job to get away from the girls.  It wasn't like I was getting "me time" while I was taking out the trash or straightening linens.  Then again, it wasn't exactly like I wasn't either.  I'll explain.

I first took this job to earn extra money, plain and simple.  It seemed reasonable and conveniently short-term, and so, a lot of the wonderfullness that I reaped from this experience was wholeheartedly founded on the fact that, from the beginning, I knew it was a temporary situation.  So, when I say I was able to smile while taking out the trash, it's not hard to imagine doing so when I knew I wouldn't have to do it forever.  That being said, I still struggle with smiling when I come home and do the dishes or whatever.  The difference being, I don't get paid in my own home, and it isn't temporary.  And yet, it would make my life so much more lovely if I just faked that smile sometimes (just like I do with those ornery customers) and forced myself to look at the moments of my day as a fleeting moment (which, they really are).

All this to say, leaving my nest and flying off to the mall for a few hours each week gave me the departure I needed to deal with my own expectations of myself - and not someone else's.  (Certainly, my manager and fellow employees had certain expectations, but none of those went beyond my own expectations, so they were basically cancelled out.  Does that make sense?)

When I'm at home, even though it is "my territory" I get flooded with meeting the needs of my children first.  I want to serve them well and they place extraordinary expectations on me because, in reality, I'm their entire world day-in and day-out.  When I'm home alone with them, they turn to me for ALL their needs, and it is my job/privilege to meet and exceed those at any cost:  unconditional love, limitless time, reasonable finances, irrational amounts of patience, the fleeting promise of continual health and wellness.  As a parent, I do my absolute best to provide all I can for my babies, given the resources (and sometimes that includes coffee or napping) that I'm given.  I love it.  LOVE it.  But, never was I more acutely reminded of the strenuous toll this job takes on my being than when I left it for a few moments a week.

I stepped into a world where I didn't know everything (okay, I never actually know everything, but my three-year-old and 18-month-old certainly come to me expecting answers, so you see what I mean).  I stepped into a place where I wasn't in charge, I didn't make the rules, and I didn't even decide when or how I spent my time.  It was sort of refreshing!  And, all I was left with was just focusing on being whoever I wanted to be, given my exclusive opportunity to respond as optimistically as I could to the circumstance at hand.

I got out of the house.  I interacted with adults.  I smiled and was kind and helpful.  I accomplished something small, got rewarded for it, and left with a sense of pride.  I was reminded of who I am when no one knows the world I usually live in, and that's a very unique thing.  It's not common in my everyday life to hang out with people I don't know - or with people who don't know anything about me.  It was nice to just interact for a moment with strangers, hoping to affect their day in a positive way, and then take that same positive encounter into my next moment.  It seems simple, but it doesn't happen very often in the life of a stay-at-home-mom who generally finds herself singing Elmo songs out loud and talking on the phone with her friend about whose-pile-of-laundry-is-worse-than-whose.

Most importantly, having these moments outside of the home helped me recognize the importance of scheduling time away for myself.  I'm terrible at this.  Unless I'm making myself useful (which, I was as I worked) I have a really hard time justifying letting my husband take the reigns for a few hours and wholly entrusting the care of our daughters to his attention so I can simply "get away".  And, KUDOS to my hubby for filling in the babysitting-blanks and taking terrific care of our girls while I brought home a little extra cash.  It wasn't easy for either of us, but the opportunity gave him a chance to get some exclusive time with our girls, and it forced me to be grateful I have a parenting partner who is so amazingly kid-savvy.  (P.S. Husbands out there:  There is nothing we wives find sexier than a doting father.)

When it's on the calendar that I have a work shift coming up, I make it happen.  My husband makes it happen.  We team up and make it work and are both the better for it.  Now that my paycheck won't be coming in, is it still possible for me to find the time and make sure I schedule something simply so my mind can get out of the house and interact with the outside world for a few hours each week???

I think it's worth a shot.  I think I need to try it.  I think I just need to put something on the calendar, react to it as if it is an obligation the same as any other job, and establish it in my heart that it is a worthwhile cause for the greater good of my well-being.  The best thing about it is, it doesn't have to be temporary.  I have the power to muster a smile, be helpful to myself, and make it part of my regular schedule.  This is one change I hope I don't lose just because I don't wear a name tag when I do it.  It may take some force and encouragement from my family to send-me-away from time to time, but as I fulfill that obligation to myself, I think everyone will see the benefit of it.

It's time to put the U back in schedule.  C'mon, mamas, put something on the calendar just for yourself! (And don't forget to tell me what you do and how it goes!!!)

Bad Apple

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

There are just some people in this world that are difficult to get along with.  No matter who you are, there is someone you've met who grates you the wrong way, and as much as I wish I was immune to that, I'm not.  Everywhere I've lived or worked or wherever I've spent much of my time, there's always been at least one person who's been that "difficult person"that just makes me cringe.

I know, I know, this is shocking!  Okay, maybe not.  I don't think I'm surprising anyone here when I ask:  Can you relate???  Please don't leave me hanging!  Chances are good that by now you have an image of someone in your head.  Someone who annoys you.  Someone who belittles you.  Someone you are jealous of.  Someone who brags all the time.  Someone who won't stop complaining.  Someone who corrects you constantly.  Someone who, for one reason or another (cause, let's face it, the list could go on and on and on) gets under your skin and you just can't "get over" whatever grievances they bring into your life.

Whew.  Deep breaths, deep breaths.

My husband and I call these particular individuals "toxic people".  The worst are the ones who just say something (that you know has absolutely no justifiable reason or validation behind it) and for some extraordinarily frustrating reason I find myself wide awake at night envisioning the stupid scenario over and over again, coming up with bigger and more boisterous comebacks in return that I would never actually ever act out in real life.  I lose sleep over it.  I worry about it.  And I always end up with the same, "ughy" feeling in my guts that brings me to my knees in confession and praying that either my level of compassion and patience would change, or that that person would change (talk about OUT of my control, right?)

Recently, a very dear friend of mine called me out on this.  I was in a safe place, freely venting to this confidant about a particular annoying person I didn't even know very well.  I made a rather snappy remark and judgment, and this friend stopped me in my tracks.  "Emily, what if this person is trying as hard as you are?"

That was all my friend had to say to get me to stop (and turn red) and think about how I was really reacting.  What was I doing?  Who was I?  And...maybe above all...have I been this person to someone else?  I'm sure that I have been!  Yikes!  Yuck!  Has there ever (ever ever ever) been something I've said to someone that has had them up at night plotting their boisterous comebacks at me?!

This thought was sort of disgusting and embarrassing all at once.  For, certainly, I have been the one to misstep and cause pain and bring grievances and annoyances to someone.  I'm human.  I'm annoying.  I'm going to rub someone the wrong way, absolutely.  And, justified or not, the one thing I can do to redeem past wrongs of that sort is to try and try and try again to give someone in my future the grace I wish my past would grant me. 

Sigh.

The other night, I was making homemade apple pie.  Not just homemade, but I mean homemade.  Like, peeling apples, making the crust from actual flour, and full-on zesting lemons and oranges for added flavor, kind of homemade.  That is some serious, hard-core-pioneer-womaning happening, right?  (Can you tell I am proud?)

In the midst of coring, peeling, and slicing the 20 or so (yeah, that took a long time) apples for the pie, a few lessons trickled into my brain.  I had picked out a variety of apples for the pie.  Four different apples, in fact, were going to make up the yumminess of said pie, and each one felt different when I cut into it.  Some had slightly bigger seeds, some were rougher on the outside, some were smooth and juicier.  

Hmm, I thought, some apples are easier to peel than others.

A very simple thought, for a rather simple task.  Then, I thought about all the apples/people I encounter in my life, and just how very true that felt.  Gosh, there are just some people that I cannot peel. Some people that I just cannot understand.  Some people who, no matter if you are the sharpest knife in the drawer, will not give way to letting you see their insides.  And sometimes it will remain that way, impossible to breach beyond the peel and see why someone is the way they are.  

I remembered back to this fall when we took our girls to the apple orchard.  We took a silly hay ride and got a tour of the orchard, hearing its history along with every apple fact you never wished you ever learned.  Nonetheless, I recalled something I learned that day:  They never throw rotten apples away.

What!?  It's true.  They take the rotten apples and turn them into cider.  Better yet, the rotten apples make the best cider.  And, I can attest to that, I had some of that rotten-apple-cider and it was downright delicious!  Who knew!?  I was amazed.

We all have rotten apples in our lives, I thought, as I peeled yet another fruit making its demise into my pie.  Could it be possible that there's to be delicious cider in my future if I just give them a chance?  That was the truth:  Even rotten apples have a purpose in our lives.

You will often hear the expression that "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade" but that one is pretty easy to swallow, if you ask me.  Lemons are useful as is.  Lemons are tart, but tolerable.  And, if you add enough sugar to anything, it's palatable.

Apples are different.  They start off sweet.  They are appealing and wildly popular.  But, when rotten, they are garbage.  And, that's not necessarily the apple's fault!  Maybe it's seen some hard days, or been in the sun too long.  Maybe some kid kicked it to the curb or only took one bite before it got discarded. But, it just might make the best cider in the world.  And, cider requires no added sugar at all.  It's just right the way it is.  All it needed was a little time, a squeeze, and someone willing to wait.

It might not be easy as pie, but this was a lesson I needed to hear.  I'm not perfect.  I'm not surrounded by perfect people.  I'm trying just like all of us are trying and I'm certain to be that rotten apple in someone else's barrel. Here's to making some delicious cider together, my friends!

It might just take some time for this lesson to work its way to my core.  (Like you didn't see that pun coming?)

Bullseye

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Well, I did it.  (High five, high five, high five!)  I went an entire YEAR without going to Target.

Did you ever doubt me?  I definitely did!  As with most resolutions, I crept into the year with some serious skepticism, found myself wondering why I took on this challenge, and then had moments of curiosity about why it was ever a big deal to begin with.  For a little background, you can read last year's post HERE and catch up at the half-way point HERE, all leading up to today.  Yup, this post has been a year in the making...so, here we go.

This morning, I got up like any other day, drank my giant mug of coffee and bribed my girls into eating breakfast and getting dressed so that we could get out the door before noon.  Whew.  Matilda is old enough to know exactly what "Do you want to go shopping?" means, and so it didn't take too much persuading.

However, when I said "Do you want to go to Target?" and she said "What's that?" I was taken aback for a second in remembering how she would have zero context for what or where that was.  It was so strange.  Like, when your little kid sees Michael Jackson or the Olympics on TV and you have to explain to them how this is something iconic and they should file it away in their little brains as part of the American Institution of life.  Remember this, kid, tuck this away, you don't want to look like an idiot when someone refers to this later in life.  Target, indeed, has become an American Institution.  And, like it or not, shopping has become an American pastime that we all rather pride ourselves in.

Coming off the heels of Christmas, we're all still wringing ourselves dry from dripping with the saturation of overt consumerism that we call "gift giving".  We've seen deals come and go.  We've wrapped and unwrapped and exchanged and gift carded our fair share of things just as we all do at the end of every year.  By the time January comes along, we're sad to see the glow of our Christmas trees dim, but we're all slightly anxious to step back into routine and relax in the comfort of our newly visitor-less homes.  As much as we dread the emptiness of a new year upon us, there is something calm and lovely about it too.  Clean slates.  New hopes.  And a chance to right some wrongs that perhaps we misstepped the year before.

And so, a calm bravery swept upon me as I drove my girls to the land of Target...a journey that I, not so long ago, took with ease and familiarity.  But now, as I parked and yanked a cart from the army of red crates before me, I found myself perplexed with caution and delight.

Here I was - I made it!  A whole year of Wal-Mart and Big Lots and Old Navy, and finally, finally, finally, after all the months of manna, I'd been let into the Promised Land once more.  Target!  Hello my old friend!

And yet, I felt no comfort.  I felt no reciprocating joy at my return.  I felt no peace at piling my cart with trinkets or deals that I had conquered by the aisle.  My guard was up, and I was very serious about this battle.

What the heck is going on?  I've gotta get out of this funk!

I had envisioned a lovely return to Target.  I had envisioned a relaxed, enjoyable mixture of entertainment and refined shopping.  I was determined to combine my needs for what I came for (shopping list in hand) along with my desire for an uplifting experience.  This seems reasonable, right?

Naturally, as most things in my life seem to, this required some caffeine behind it.  I had to start the trip off right, and so, the girls and I stopped off for a snack (latte for me, milk and madeleines for them) before continuing our shopping escapade.

This would help, I thought.  I just need to get back into the feel of how it used to be.  Relax and have fun.  I won't go crazy, I'll be fine.  Just stroll around and take it in and see what I discover.  What's this trip all about?  What do they have in store for me?  Get what I need and see how it all compares to the last year of shopping that I've encountered.  

Ah, okay.  (By the way, I know this all sounds dramatic and ridiculous to those of you who just went shopping and perhaps thought nothing of it.  I get that.  I absolutely and totally have been there.)  But, this trip was (in a word) weird for me.  I have been away.  I have seen the Matrix.  I have returned and have a newly developed, extremely acute awareness of what Target is wanting me to experience right now.  And, well, it wasn't working.

Here's my analysis:  Target is brilliant.  I mean, freaking genius.  They are purposeful in every way.  They are masterminds at drawing my attention to where think I'm the one making decisions for myself in my best interest.  But, I'm not.  Well, I wouldn't have been before today, anyway.  And, while I've been outside of the store and not shopped Target online at all in 365 days...I'm not immune to their ad campaigns in the mail or on TV and can wholeheartedly say they have just about the cutest most clever marketing out there.  Agreed?


Here's the Target experience:
I walk in.  Lovely red carts all lined up.  Not the heavy metal ones.  No, these babies are plastic and easy and with a  complimentary wipe station right next to it because they know I'm a mom who's hoping her kids do not get the flu, thank you very much, don't mind if I do.  Latte?  Why, sure!  Why not.  It's right there and the kids want popcorn or milk or something and it will help quiet them down while I shop so what's a few bucks up front to ensure a productive visit?  Done.  Now remember, we're here for hand soap, diapers and toilet paper.  That's it.
First stop:  dollar bins. Hello bargain shopper!  Right away I feel like I've come to the best place possible.  Everything is a DOLLAR in this 12'X10' area, so how harmful could it be?  Cute socks, some stickers, maybe a little monogrammed anything because it's only a dollar, so why not?  Okay, on to the first item on the actual shopping list.
Wait?  Does that come in my size?  Women's clothes is first thing when you walk in.  Cute stuff up front, bargains in back.  And, does that say Neiman Marcus?  Aren't they that shmancy New York store that is like super-high-dollar that I saw on that makeover show that one time?  How could I afford that?  But, one glance at a price tag and I get a little rush at the thought that I can afford it.  No, I can't think of a setting that is yet-on-the-calendar to wear this cute dress to...but, for that price I will come up with a new excuse to show off this new little number.  I want it.  And my husband will agree once he sees me in it.  I'm sure.
Okay, back to shopping.  Stuff for kids.  Toiletries.  Paper goods.  Check check check.  Is that Nate Berkus?  What's he doing here?  Oh my gosh, that is the cutest towel set I've ever seen.  That bedding matches?  AND a throw pillow?  I love it.  I want it.  But, I shouldn't.  But, I could.  But, now I feel guilty.  Okay, I should buy my husband something so I feel less guilty.  Okay, I'll swing by electronics and get him that CD that's only $11.99 and he'll thank me later for it all and just be glad I spared him a shopping trip with these little hooligans.
Fine!  We'll stop by the toys.  Here, take this.  Fine, what's $5 for your happiness and whatever stops your whining.  I'm exhausted.  Crap, I totally forgot about dinner.  Let's swing by the groceries.  And, oh yeah, we're out of milk.  Whatever, I'll just grab it since I'm here already.  Yogurts on sale?  Chips?  Okay, that looks good.  That's it, we're leaving.
Clearance sign.  What?  Well, I'll just peek.  70% OFF?  For real?  I don't have anywhere to put this candle, but isn't it my cousin's birthday next week?  Birthday!  Oh yeah, I just about forgot my nephew's birthday!  Let's grab a card on the way to the register.  Better get a gift card too.
Okay, we're really done.  I'm outta here.  That'll be how much?  But all I bought was toilet paper, right?  Sigh. Whoops, I totally forgot to buy diapers.

Does that sound familiar to anybody else?  Don't leave me hanging here!  They've got us figured out.  Here is the beauty of Target:  They are cheap enough that it feels like you aren't buying expensive things, but just expensive enough that you don't feel like you're buying cheap things.  Catch my drift?  They have perfectly priced themselves to entice you just enough so that the ways in which you justify your items outweigh any hesitations you might have.  And, somehow, they have products RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR FACES to help us eliminate any hesitations we might be dealing with, perpetuating the spending cycle.

They are geniuses at this in two major ways:  1)  product placement (this is kind of a no-brainer) and 2) gift-cards-as-coupons.  This has "sucker" written all over it.  All over the aisles of Target is this new "incentive bargain".  You don't get to actually save any money today, but rather, when you buy 2 (or 3 or more or whatever) of something, you can get a $5 (or more) gift card to come back and spend later.

Well, guess what me and every other shopper out there are doing when we see this sign?  We're subtracting $5 (or more) from the listed price and convinced we are getting a heck of a deal.  Beware!  They just hooked you in to come back and shop again (for, no doubt, more than $5 worth) and are counting on at least a zillion of us to misplace, lose, or forget about that $5 card they just handed us.  Boom - brilliant.

Here's my last thought on Target's marketing.  Their brands.  We love them.  We're not ashamed to buy "Target brand" anything.  It's not grosser or weaker or uglier than the name brands that we're used to being suckered into.  It's not "Wal-Mart-grade" or "Big-Lots-caliber".  Not in the least.  We're totally prideful in Archer Farms, Market Place, Up-n-Up, Method and all the other pseudo-saver-types that catch our eyes and let us know that we are doing the economical thing by not splurging for the elite-top-shelf-quality-brand that we recognize a mile away.  Target knows this.  Target appreciates this.  And Target places their version of whatever-it-is EXACTLY NEXT TO the others so that you can feel like you are competitively shopping with the utmost of accuracy.

Bullseye.  Target, I'm starting to see your true colors.  You did me wrong, making me think that I needed you so badly.  Turns out, you are just aisles and aisles full of things I never knew I could completely live without.  And I would know - I did it!

The thing about Target, the thing they most brilliantly have mastered, is that they have figured out my weakness of where my line of "giving in" is at.  See, I don't have a problem with caving and spending an obscene amount of money on a Coach bag or Prada dress.  I am not that tempted to buy designer furniture or one-of-a-kind art.  I very rarely (if ever) find myself accidentally stumbling upon products I grossly can't afford or have zero use for.  This is why it's not as difficult to deny myself things when I'm in a fancy store - I already know what I'm in for.  I know I can't afford it.  It's not an option, and so, I don't entertain the desire.

But, when you place similar items ever-so-slightly out of reach and plunge them into a setting surrounded by every day essentials...they immediately become pieces to a puzzle that you never knew were missing.  You can envision it.  You see it.  You like it.  And then, since it's right next to the aisle of detergent that you use every day, you suddenly can't see your life without it.

Until I saw my life without it.

This might all seem quite abstract to you.  Perhaps you haven't thought about all this quite as in-depth, but chances are good several of these observations have crossed your subconscious at some point, right?  Nothing that I'm revealing to you is actual news, necessarily, it's just that I'm probably the only person you know who's stepped outside the box to see what difference it might make.

And so, here's the difference:  What do I really want?

I guess it is sort of that simple.  I had no plumb-line to gauge my wants before ridding myself of the temptations that compelled them.  Leaving Target for a year gave me the opportunity to rely on my own perceptions of how far I was willing to give, get, or go in order to gain what I really wanted.  Sometimes this meant multiple grocery trips in one day.  Sometimes this meant waiting for a better deal.  Sometimes this meant traveling further to find what I needed.  Sometimes this meant intentionally caving for the sake of convenience.  But, it was all on my terms.  Sure, others attempt to lure you in with deals or lights or coupons, etc.  I'm not immune to marketing or propaganda.  I didn't leave America or television behind, I understand that.  But, I side-stepped the beast that had baited me for years.  I got a glimpse of my true appetite and took the time to seek out what I deemed worthy to consume.

Will I be regularly shopping at Target from now on?  No, I don't think so.  Many of the new habits I developed over the last year have stuck for good.  I feel like I've gained a new perspective on things being just things and value lying in the intention and use behind them.  I have found wonderfully creative alternatives for just about everything from gift-giving to recipes to clothing and home improvement.  And you know what, I haven't lost one friend along the way because of it!  No one is the wiser to the pennies that I've been saving, and no one has ever stopped me and gasped out of the notion that I may or may not have purchased said item at a second hand store.

I have plenty to say about this whole experience and I'm certain more blogs are to come as these revelations (now, post-Target-boycott) become clearer to me.  In the meantime, I'm thrilled to have made it out of Target alive, necessities met, and only one little $5 incentive-card burning a hole in my thrift-store-pants pocket.
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