I had a baby.
It was an interesting pregnancy, complete with hyperemesis gravidarum (that means morning sickness on crack), preterm labor, bedrest, and a slightly preterm delivery (37 weeks).
But now Miss Evelyn Dorothy is here, everyone is happy and healthy, and she will be celebrating her six-week-iversary this upcoming Sunday.
Since I’m out on maternity leave and am breastfeeding, I have spots of time during the day where I’m relatively sedentary. I’ve been using that time to read and watch Doctor Who, but it has occurred to me that I could fire up the old bloggy-blog a bit during this time as well.
I’ve also been doing a lot of Pinning, Instagramming (@saramadlyn) and Facebooking in the meantime. We are living in a digital world, and I am a digital girl.
Still, actual writing does me a whole lot of good, and while my life already looks pretty good from where I’m sitting, I could always use some more goodness.
The guy from the gas company who came out last week to check if we had a gas leak didn’t look the part of a philosopher, but these six words out of his mouth definitely hit home with me.
As you probably know, I love houses, and my particular favorite type of house is a simple farmhouse built around 1910. There is something completely charming to me about the simplicity and the craftsmanship of homes built around that time.
I don’t live in a 1910 house. I live in a 1941 Cape Cod. And while I find my little 70-year-old home charming in its own right, I often find myself daydreaming about a crisply painted 1910 house with ample porches, tall windows, two stories, and a big farmhouse kitchen.
One thing I do love about my house is the wide kitchen window I can look out of while doing the dishes. My view out this window, across the street, is the site of a 1910 farmhouse-style house situated on two lots. In the springtime, the yard is full of old growth forsythia and hydrangea and a gorgeous star magnolia tree, and I love looking out at the yard and the house and daydreaming. Since I’ve lived here the condition of the house, owned by a very elderly couple and split into upstairs/downstairs apartment units, has gone steadily downhill as the couple’s health declined. And, about three or four months ago, the couple lost the house on the auction block and it was purchased by an investor.
A few weeks ago, a crew came and cut down a bunch of bushes and trees (weep) and stripped the siding off. Wow, I thought! Maybe I’m going to get to watch them redo this house and make it beautiful again. And while I can’t live in it right now, at least I can look at it, right? The idea of seeing the house restored to its glory and a happy family inhabiting it warmed my heart.
Tom and Ella and I went out of town the day after Christmas for just one night. When we returned, the house was a heap of rubble. They tore it down!
Now, I know it was in really rough shape. I know the investors who bought it were likely not crazy people like me who would renovate such a ramshackle house. It was a totally practical, even expected step for them to take. And I was SO. SAD. that they did it.
Crews came back with bulldozers over the next few days to clear the lot. One day last week, I suddenly smelled the very strong odor of natural gas, so I shepherded my little family over to my mom’s house a few blocks away and called the gas company who came to investigate whether the smell was coming from the now vacant lot. I lamented to the gas man that I hated to see the house torn down, and that’s when he said, “Hey, sometimes progress begins with a bulldozer.”
I’ve been mulling over those words the past few days. I got to thinking about 2011 and how so many aspects of my life feel like they were not just changed by circumstances beyond my control, but bulldozed. My father died. My uncle, his brother and business partner, also passed away unexpectedly just before Christmas. The family business that supported my immediate family for 40+ years, and which is my sister’s only source of income, is being shuttered. My brothers have their fair share of troubles that I won’t publicly go into on my blog. My business partner and I had to make our own share of difficult decisions in our business; while we’re doing great, changes definitely happened in 2011 business-wise.
2011 was difficult. There is no sugar-coating that. Just like finding that house in a pile of rubble, most of the changes were unanticipated, sudden, and tough to swallow.
But then again, who knows what’s to come? What can be built now that the land is cleared and the ground is healing? I already know some big changes are afoot in 2012, some of them utterly wonderful. And even among the rubble there are always treasures, little unexpected blessings to discover.
I am blessed to be here. I am blessed to have those who love me by my side. And maybe, just maybe, since 2011 was in many ways about tearing down, 2012 can now be about building up.
I posted a little while back that I had reluctantly jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon.
It took me months to finally commit to joining Pinterest. I had requested an invite about six months ago but never activated my account. It took much pleading from my dear friend (and Pinterest enthusiast) Lori for me to go dig up the email and join the site.
The main reason I was hesitant? Because knowing myself and my addiction to the Internet, and my propensity to use said Internet to avoid productive work at key moments, I feared whether allowing myself to start “Pinning” would actually make me fully devolve into a cybervegetable. Don’t I already waste enough time staring blankly at my Facebook ticker, watching silly Japanese cat videos, or attempting to stump Spotify’s music collection?
As my finger hovered over the “Login” button for the first time, I pictured major deadlines flying by, clients leaving angry voicemails, the bank calling about foreclosure, and my daughter and husband digging around in the dumpster behind the grocery store for a sizable box to install under the freeway, all while I clicked “See More Pins” just one.more.time.
I am proud to report that I have been using Pinterest for a few weeks, and I am still gainfully employed. IN FACT, Pinterest has NOT been a negative force in my life; on the contrary it has been incredibly positive.
I have found home organization projects, craft projects, cleaning tips, and even beauty tips that I would not have otherwise found. Among other things, I have learned:
- How to do a sock bun (amazing! will never show up to pick Ella up with crazy WAHM hair again!)
- How to organize cords and cables with TP rolls
- How to make a chore chart out of scrap paper and clothespins
- An awesome solution to the shower storage dilemma in my downstairs bathroom (been puzzling over that one for years!)
- That I can indeed master freezer cooking, which means I now have 6 huge bags of crockpot delights in my freezer, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice during a crazy work week.
Pinterest and it’s crazy addictive idea-sharing platform has already made me feel better about my house, my work, my life. I feel creativity flowing through my veins in a way that has been missing for a long time. And I see visual evidence that other people are struggling with my same issues, large and small, and making changes that bring just a little more order and happiness into the world. Suddenly things seem possible - I’m energized and wanting to try new things.
This little experience has taught me a bigger lesson that I’m going to blog more about soon - that sometimes, your heart has priorities and needs that your head thinks are wasteful and silly and indulgent. But that sometimes, following your “heart priorities” is just what is needed to give you the energy to tackle some of those “head priorities.”
More on that later, tater. I’m off to Pin with wild abandon.
I got me one of them there Pinterest thingies:
Yes, I’m posting again. Don’t faint! I’m sure this is just post-vacation glow, causing me to feel all motivated and capable and whatnot. I wouldn’t count on it lasting too long.
In the meantime, I had to share an enlightening moment my daughter provided me with earlier this week. As you may know, we went on a week-long Caribbean cruise last week, and like dutiful nerds we made our daughter bring along her schoolwork on the trip. She completed most of it on the boat (more than I expected!) but had a few straggling assignments to finish up over the weekend.
On Sunday we were pushing through the last couple of homework assignments. She was over it and losing focus, but I really didn’t want to start the week with old work hanging over her head. We came to a page where she had to write down three Halloween safety rules.
I’m sure this was something they covered in class last week, but given she wasn’t there, she had no idea what to write. Likewise, I was kind of stumped. Um… wear a helmet? Avoid zombies? Don’t eat yellow snow? I don’t know, I always take her trick-or-treating, so I haven’t worried much about educating her about traffic laws or which strangers are OK to talk to on Halloween.
I came up with a few common sense rules and rattled them off to her.
“OK,” I instructed. “Write, ‘Look both ways before you cross the street.’”
She scribbled a few letters hastily, then hopped down off the chair to inspect something minute on the rug. Then she laid on her belly across the chair singing a song. Then she went into her room to get a stuffed penguin. Then she proclaimed she was very, very hungry.
“Ella, please sit back down and finish your work.”
“But Mama, I CAN’T. I just CAN’T. It’s way too HARD.”
“I know, but I’m here to help you. You already wrote ‘Look.’ Now how do you think the word ‘both’ might start?”
In full-on drama queen voice: “I don’t even KNOW anymore.”
“What letter makes the ‘buh’ sound?”
Tears. “Mama, I don’t KNOOOOWW.”
“Come on, you’re doing a great job. You’re almost finished. We’ll stop after this one. Let’s write ‘both.’”
“Ella, just write a B. That’s it. Just a B.”
She looked up at me with pitiful ocean-blue eyes, then sighed deeply. She bit her lip, and scratched a straight line and a backwards c-shape to form the B.
Then, on her own, she wrote “O” “T” “H.” Then the whole word, “ways.” And we were on back our way again. She finished the rest of her work with minimal kvetching.
Later it hit me that my daughter was demonstrating to me my own behavior on many work days, especially days when I am supposed to be writing something. The task can feel insurmountable. Suddenly I think of 45 other things I need to do, like file my nails or find out where Zambia is on a map. I become exceedingly hungry, or sleepy, or hot, or cold - any physiological state that requires urgent attention. And that drama-queen dialogue? Oh, that’s totally playing in my head the whole time. Because suddenly I doubt my own ability to do anything at all, even type, and I am tempted to just lay down and die, or play Sims 3 until nightfall.
I need to learn, in those moments, to coach myself the way I was able to coach my daughter. To kindly, but firmly, put myself back on track. And to break the task down into its smallest, easiest component. Just start with “B.” That’s all I have to do. And the rest will flow from there.
Back in 2000 or so, my friend bought me a book called “House” by Tracy Kidder. It was a novel about the building of a brand-new, custom home, chronicling all the ups and downs, significant and trivial, experienced by the architect, the builders, the construction workers, and the family for whom the new home was ultimately intended. This was a different kind of novel for me, and it made a deep impact. Stylistically unlike the overwrought, Victorian fiction I had been reading throughout my college days, or the deep, metaphorical emotional tidepool of the Southern-fried “chick-lit” I tend toward naturally, this was a tight, thoroughly modern bit of New England fiction.
In this book, I particularly identified with the architect character. To me, he represented an artist operating within the confines of the money-driven business world. I can remember reading the book on an airplane on one of the very first business trips I ever took, and loving it, and then coming across a line that just reverberated through me. The author understood me perfectly, it was clear, when he created the character of Bill.
I am not the type of person who frequently rereads books, especially novels. Actually, I am no longer the type of person who frequently reads novels at all, sad to say. (I believe my fiction-writing muscles have almost totally atrophied not only because I rarely use them to write, but also because I so rarely use them to read.) So I’ve kind of carried this line around with me in my head for about ten years now, thinking about how it perfectly described me. Replaying it in my head every so often.
This morning for whatever reason, I Googled this line, and sure enough the book popped up in all its full-text glory on Google Books.
It reads like so:
“In the morning he traveled in a fog bank of his own. Bill knows himself to be a heavy flywheel, slow to get moving, slow to wind down. He comes fully awake when quick and early starters like Jonathan get sleepy.”
And my reaction, these ten years later? Oh. So that was it? Meh. So what?
Wait! I remember this being some great, eloquent something! I remember this being longer, in fact - in my mind it was a whole rambling passage of greatness. I remember feeling smacked as if by a 2x4 at this brilliant combination of words. And now it just kind of falls… flat. I guess since I never pulled out the book and actually reread the line, it’s like I’ve been playing the telephone game with myself, in my own head.
I am not knocking the book or the author. Heck, the book was a NYT bestseller, and Tracy Kidder won some little dinky prize called the Pulitzer or something.
What this makes me realize, though, is how many worn-out epiphanies I must be carrying around with me. It’s like I’ve suddenly realized I’m carrying around a moldy rucksack stuffed with old ideas. How much of who I am right now, or how I identify myself anyway, is actually dusty and out of date? When I pull it out to examine it, will it really still ring true? Or will it seem lifeless, like this line of fiction?
I feel the urge to do some mental house-cleaning, to make room for new ideas and new life-changing lines of prose. Maybe that way, I could even move toward writing a few.
I love this article, and also how it insinuates that I only have one junk drawer.
What, pray tell, is one to do when every drawer is a junk drawer?
I’m a meta-mom. That is, I in addition to just being a mom, I spend a good deal of time thinking about motherhood and what it means to be a mom, for myself personally and for women in general. So yes, I spend a lot of time contemplating my navel, as well as my daughter’s navel, and how we even got navels in the first place.
In considering motherhood and how I came to become the kind of mom I am (whatever kind that is; I’m not sure I’ve even decided yet), of course I have considered my own mother and her immense influence on my parenting style. Many times, I open my mouth and my own mother’s voice pops out. I am so like my mother in so many ways that it amazes and frightens me. Among many other lessons, from my mom I have learned:
- There is no shame in microwave cooking.
- Quantum physics, songbirds and Murder She Wrote are all equally interesting conversation topics.
- Every woman should own a staple gun and always have back-up staples at the ready.
- Whistle while you work, or even better - sing! If you don’t know the words, you can make them up.
- When you are mad, yell “balls.” When your children get older, you can add “piss” as a prefix.
- When in doubt, clean.
- 2am is a perfectly respectable time to hang curtains with the TV on and all the lights blaring.
- Every one of God’s creatures needs to be loved, no matter how small, how frail, how different, or how stubborn.
I could go on and on and on.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about other women who have influenced who I am as a mother. Sometimes I do or say something, and I realize that I am not being like my own mother, but I am being like someone else’s.
Take for instance my best friend who lived across the street from me until I was about 12. I spent a lot of time at her house from the time I was able to walk, and therefore a I spent a lot of time around her mother. I was always intrigued as a young child by how different Mrs. P. was than my own mom. While both were stay-at-home moms, Mrs. P. definitely had more of a crunchy-granola leaning, although I didn’t have those words for it at the time. She made her daughters’ clothes, made preserves, cooked from scratch, made scrapbooks. My mom still owns a shirt that says “I can cook, I just don’t.” Mrs. P. also danced around her kitchen while she cooked. The closest my mom came to dancing was when she stepped on a tack in her workroom, where she repaired old furniture for a living. I loved that Mrs P. kept detailed calendars of her childrens’ milestones and funny sayings. As a fourth child, I was lucky my mom even wrote my name in my baby book.
Mrs. P. was firm but kind. She was consistent and rarely yelled, while I could push my own mom pretty far - and then she would snap, which was sometimes funny, sometimes not so funny. There were a lot more rules at my friend’s house than at my own house, about details like bedtimes and mealtimes and such, and as a result there was also a quiet stability. By contrast, our house was more free - loud and funny and raucous. We had debates, conversations, intellectual sparring. My teenage siblings were coming in and out of the house at all hours, dropping the occasional swear word, watching “Night Court” or listening to Madonna. There was none of that stimulation at the P household - but there was a general sense of peace that my house sometimes lacked. In short, their parenting approaches, household compositions, and personalities just differed.
While my own mom obviously left the biggest imprint, I think I have somehow assimilated both mothers from my early childhood into a composite picture of what a mother should be. I’ve picked up traits here and there from both of them, and somehow feel I have to fill both of their shoes. (Even though most of the time, neither of them wore shoes.) When I am in conflict internally about some parenting issue, it often boils down to some major point on which the moms differed. Consistency vs. creativity. Routine vs. running free. Made from scratch vs. buying the kit. Thinking for your kids vs. thinking with your kids. Strict bedtimes vs. staying up to watch ONE more show because it’s just that awesome. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know where I stand on any of this. Trying to achieve both ideals gives me unrealistic expectations for myself.
Realizing what an influence this “other” mother had on me has been eye-opening. As I’ve thought about it more, I’ve begun to view it as a great blessing that I had two examples of great motherhood to observe - not to mention all the other moms in my life. By blending together the good lessons both women taught me, along with the myriad lessons learned along the way from other moms I’ve known, I am becoming someone totally unique - Ella’s mom. And as Ella grows and begins to move into new friendships, who knows who I might influence along the way. It can be scary if I let it - this sense of obligation toward raising this kid right. But it’s also a chance to teach someone else to dance around the kitchen, to sing all the wrong words, and above all, to love.
So, yeah, um… oops! I haven’t blogged in forever.
I have to say the #Trust30 project I was trying to undertake kind of broke my brain. I knew going in that I wasn’t going to be able to blog every day, and I told myself I was going to give myself some grace about that, but I didn’t expect myself to get so discouraged when I couldn’t keep up. After a few days would go by without blogging, I would just feel like throwing in the towel altogether, and obviously I eventually did. I’d get these email notifications from the project every morning with the topic for that day, and after a few mornings of hearing the jingle-bingle of my phone as that notification came in, I started to dread them. I do not love the sound of failure in the morning. It’s a learning experience that I still have a long way to go in terms of both grace and self-discipline.
Coincidentally, at the same time the Trust30 project was chipping away at me, work got incredibly hectic. Which it still is, and which it will be until at least October. While having a guarantee of income is a blessing, it’s still daunting to look forward and realize I won’t be able to take a deep breath again until the fall, and that summer will have come and gone with a total of two beach days under my belt, and one Busch Gardens trip. Sometimes being a grown-up is the pits.
One thing about being a grown-up that is the absolute pits is arguments with other grown-ups. Especially the grown-up you’re married to and have pledged to love and care for. Sometimes it’s so easy to look at my marriage and see all the negative stuff. (Let’s face it, my natural inclination is to ferret out the negative in whatever happens to be in front of me; I’m trying to fix that.) I see all the differences of opinion, the different ways of thinking and approaching problems, the lapses in communication. Sometimes it feels like there’s no way to find common ground, even on issues as trivial as where we should keep the Diet Pepsi.
Today we had an experience that really illustrated that our disagreements are never a mere matter of black and white, right and wrong.
T’s car was in the shop today, so I drove him to work. Well, actually, he drove himself to work, and I rode along so I could take the car back home with me.
We came to an intersection and I noticed a sign on a pole that said, “Jesus Forgives and Heals.” I didn’t say anything, but I noticed it, and was thinking about it as we drove along. A few moments later, he said, “Jesus Saves from Hell.”
“That’s not what the sign said,” I said.
“Yes it is.”
“No, it isn’t. It said ‘Jesus Forgives and Heals.;”
“No, it didn’t say that,” he insisted.
At this point, I actually began to get frustrated over this. “But I saw it, I’m telling you. You read it wrong”
“I drive by that sign every day. I think I know what it says.”
“Yep, I sure do. Turn around.” I challenged. “I am 100% positive.” I was laughing, because I knew this was silly, but I also so wanted to prove my point.
I glanced at the clock. It was 8:56. He had to be at work in 4 minutes. Plus, he never likes to go out of his way for anything or diverge from the planned path. So I figured he would just let it go. Instead, he turned right into a parking lot and whipped around to drive back to the pole in question. Apparently he likes to be right as much as I do.
There, plain as day, were TWO SIGNS. One said, “Jesus Forgives and Heals,” and one said, “Jesus Saves From Hell.”
We were both right, and we were both wrong. We both saw only from our own perspective, and because we were thinking in a limited way, it seemed impossible that we could legitimately seeing different things.
The world is so much more than what we see with our eyes, and we’re constantly filtering what we do see through our own lenses and perspectives. There is room for different ways of thinking and different ways of seeing. We have to acknowledge that while we may think we are completely right, there may be a different way of looking at it. Realizing this, how can we fill the spaces in between? For me, that’s where grace comes in. An acknowledgement that maybe I’m not seeing the whole picture, and maybe the other person isn’t either, but I’m going to love that person anyway.