Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Myth of Continuous Forward Progress

I struggle with the concept of continuous forward progress.  All our lives we make progress.  You go from third grade to fourth grade, you go from being an Assistant Account Executive to being an Account Executive.  We are constantly moving forward.  It is great, except of course, when it is not.  What about when you take a step backwards? Or worse yet, when you take one step forward and two steps back?  Are you failing? Is it still progress?

This concept has been a point of contention for me on so many different occasions.  When my mom died I was a mess.  Like an unholy super sized hot mess.  I would think things were getting better than they would suddenly get worse.  I was lost.  When my dad was sick in the hospital he would seem to be getting better one day and then the next he would be really ill again.  I was so perplexed.  This was the first time I identified the myth.  I was grilling his doctor and he looked me in the eye and said, "healing doesn't happen as continuous forward progress..."  What in the world?  Why on earth not? How can you possibly measure success?  Most importantly, how do you know when you are out of the woods?

So here I am many years later and while I know that there really is no such thing as continuous forward progress, I still long for it.  I want to have a good day followed by a better day, followed by a fantastic day and then I will not have any more bad days.  Yep, that is the fairy tale I want.  The crummy thing is, I know it is a fairy tale but when it doesn't happen I struggle.

This week I felt like we had turned a corner.  The kids made friends.  I went to a PTA Meet and Greet where I met people and greeted people-winning.  My sister-in-law and niece came to visit, score, our first visitors!  You see, building blocks to my house of happiness.  Then today it crumbled.  We all cried, we were tired, we said things we didn't mean.  Sad feelings were magnified...by a thousand.  And for some reason it feels like my blocks never even existed in the first place.   Why is that?

It's funny, I was also thinking about contentedness this week - or more precisely my lack thereof and I am realizing these concepts are linked for me.  I have a hard time holding on to my happy.  This is why forward progress is so important to me.  When someone says it isn't about the destination, it is about the journey.  I nod my head and smile but I secretly think - CRAZY TALK.  I know this about myself and I recognize it as a flaw.  I am just not really sure what to do about it.

I think that is part of what this blogging journey is about.  I want to work on holding on to my happy.  I want to recognize that even when you take two steps forward and one step back you are still not at the starting point.  I have to remember that continuous forward progress is a myth but movement is movement and it means I am doing it.  I am meeting a challenge and doing the best I can and that six months from now, the days I went backwards won't be that memorable.  Instead of fleeting happiness I want to cultivate lasting joy.  Now to figure out how...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Day One


Today is the first day of school.  Not going to lie, I am probably more nervous then the kids.  Friendships are such a big deal to me.  It took me a really long time to learn how to be myself.  I spent most of my school years being who I thought I was supposed to be.  That works great except everyone has a different opinion of what that is.  Cue, schizophrenic posturing.  I really came into my own as an adult, more specifically as a wife and mom.  There are definitely elements of my school age, college and working adult personalities that are still with me but I have gotten to a place where I actually like my quirky, type-A, mom self...most of the time (thanks for that hormones.)  

All this to say, my kids are not like that.  They are just themselves.  They don't seem to care about being cool.  (Em's exact words, "Mom, I don't think I will ever be cool, but that is ok.  It is more important to me to be smart because that is the gift God gave me and if I don't use it then I am wasting it.") She wants to be liked, but she wants to be liked for who she is.  She doesn't want to pretend to be someone else.  That is one reason leaving Batavia was so hard.  She had some really good friends, at school and in her theater group, who got her and loved her that way.  

Sam just wants someone to play video games with and a compatriot for recess.  He is one of the most loving kids I know.  He had some kids in his class last year that had pretty significant emotional needs.  He was always the first to stick up for them., tell them things would be ok or invite them to a playdate.  He is Jeff - easy-going, kind and lovable. 

As I was praying for them this morning, I just asked God to give them a pal for lunch and recess.  The idea of them sitting alone at lunch or playing alone at recess is almost more than I can bear.  The ridiculous thing about that is that they would probably be just fine, but this mama's heart can't take it.  I even packed Em a peanut -free lunch in case the new friend God has for her has to sit at a peanut free table.  (It is good to cover all scenarios when worrying about your kids!)

My children, especially Em value friendships the way I do.  They are social kids.  They want someone to lean on and they really want to be that for someone else.  They also just want someone to play dolls and legos with.  As mature as Sis is, she is still a little girl who likes to play house.

So, with all the feels going on this morning, I could not keep it together.  I was doing so well until I pulled into the drop off lane.  Then I was cheerful crying, you know where you try really hard to pretend you are not crying while talking in a totally unnatural voice about how great everything is going to be. "You guys are going to have a g-g-great day!"  "I c-c-can't wait to hear a-a-all about it!"

As we got to the actual spot where you open your door to get out, there were fifth grade kids welcoming every child that got out of the car with a friendly "good morning!"  The poor girl had the audacity to look at me and say, "have a great day!" Then came the ugly cry-the heaving, sobbing, I actually can not see out of my liquid eyeballs right now cry.  Thank goodness the line to get out was moving slowly and I could sort of make out the maroon mini-van in front of me.

What to do with myself now?  I went to the paint store, because nothing else is open at 7:40 when school starts here and I could not stand to go home just yet.  I just silently weeped as I tried to pick a sunny yellow for the walls of Em's room.  I pulled it together long enough to sort through the 50 shades of whitish/grayish/taupeish paint I was considering and then took my multiple paint chips and got back in the car to cry some more.  The good news is at this point I think I am all cried out.

Someone will be kind to them today, I  know this because that is just how God works.  They may not meet their new BFF, but they didn't meet their Batavia besties on day one either.  If all else fails, I will take them for cupcakes - if I survive the pick up lane.




Friday, August 12, 2016

Brighter Days

Two nights ago, I had the most amazing dream.  My friend and I were on a big red roller coaster and I was terrified.  I was screaming bloody murder and crying and completely losing my mind.  My friend,  on the other hand, was happy - screaming and throwing her hands in the air.  The ride was one of those that goes backwards so you can't see what is coming, you know, the worst kind.  I could not for the life of me figure out how she was so calm.  She leapt off the ride exhilarated and I got off complaining and crying.  I asked her how she could enjoy that crazy ride.  "It was so scary,"  I said!  "You couldn't see what was coming," I cried!  Then she looked at me and said,  "but I always knew it would end."

The reason this is so profound is because this particular friend has been in a difficult season with her job for three or more years.  She is a teacher who stayed home with her kids but then she wanted to go back to work.  She found a job, then wasn't brought back the next year.  She had a long term sub job, but it wasn't the right fit and she wasn't brought back when the other teacher came back.  She spent a year subbing but was really hoping for a permanent position.  Just the other day, she got her dream job in a school she loves with a team she adores.  Now, I have been through this season with this friend and I have seen her discouragement but always she came back to "I know God has a plan and His timing is perfect."  I have learned so much from her.  In this dream though, I learned the ultimate lesson.  Even though she could not see the twists and turns as they were coming she always knew that each terrifying drop would eventually end with her safely back in the station.

I know it sounds completely CRAY-CRAY to say God spoke to me in that dream, but I am certain that He did.  I awoke from the dream filled with hope.  I just knew that the boxes would all get unpacked and the stuff around the house would get fixed.  The kids would make friends and I would too.  Joy will be had, maybe not on the actual ride, but I know that the ride will end.  

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

It Has Been Awhile

So, clearly life happened and I gave up blogging.  I am not sure why I didn't go back to it, other than I just found it harder and harder to find time to compose cogent thoughts.  Also, I think Facebook sort of took over in the thought sharing category.  I am still not convinced the world needs to know everyone's thoughts and opinions all the time, but alas I seem to be one of the few.

Why pick up this blog now?  Honestly, because I am struggling and I am looking for a place to get some mental relief.  Here it is August of 2016 and my kids are seven and nine and a half, my husband works for an entirely different company and oh yeah, we moved to South Carolina last week. Leaving my home was hard, really hard.  I have moved  five other times in the course of my life but this one has been the hardest.  In Batavia I had amazing friends, my kids went to a great school full of good friends for them and I felt established.  I had a house I loved (although I am sort of having ex-boyfriend syndrome with the house - you know, you forget all the bad stuff and only remember the ONE time he brought you gas station carnations.)  But, more than anything, I had order and routine and places that were mine with people who knew me and liked me - the real, quirky me.  I could find things in Target; even secret, online-returned, deeply discounted things that were stuck on a back end cap.  I knew which light switched controlled the same light even though they were at opposite ends of the hallways.  I has stash spots for my miscellaneous junk.  You get the idea.  My friend Lorie once said, "one of our greatest desires is to know and be known."  I don't know anything and I am not known by anyone.  It makes me sad.

I am trying not to be negative, although often I am not trying hard enough, because the whole family is struggling and as Jeff says, "mama makes the weather." If I can pull it together and not be a pill everyone else is more likely to do the same. I also know that Jeff struggles with feeling guilty.  He brought us here for a job.  Although, we believe with all our heart that this is God's plan for us,  but when I look at the boxes and the chaos and the never-ending to-do list, doubt creeps in.  I get a terrible case of the "what ifs."  What if this isn't God's plan?  What if we never find a church?  What if I don't make friends?  What if this house never feels like home? What if I never find my way in Target?  Or my biggest, most real fear right now, what if I never find joy again?

I know all the Biblical lessons on joy and that they don't come from circumstances, etc, etc.  I know that I am to find joy in my relationship with the Lord and that joy is different than happiness.  I have talked about all of these concepts a million times in Bible study but at this very moment I've got nothing.  I feel like an empty cavern. I feel far from God, which seems odd given I am residing in the "Bible belt." I feel perpetually confused and out of control.  I know that control is a total illusion but I  don't know where to go or what to do.  I have amazing friends, lots of them and they are all a phone call/text message away but I don't even know what to tell them.  "Hi, I can't remember what light switch turns on the kitchen lights and it sends me in to a tail spin every day?"  "I can't find my gum ball machine painting and the thought of losing my $10 painting from At Home makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry."  "There are so many boxes in every room and I don't know where to start which means I can not even make a list which means it feels like the walls are caving in on me."

You see, even as I type this I feel like a selfish, brat.  People move, it involves boxes, get over yourself Erika.  Quit being a victim, stop letting your feelings dictate your day.  I want to give myself a good pep talk/butt kicking but I just can't.  I think that is why I decided to come back to the blog.  I have been through cycles like this before.  I know they end.  I know that when you are able to look back and remember the really hard days you can be even more grateful for God's mercies.  You can laugh about your neurotic need to master the Target and find a home for the lunch boxes.  So I am writing about the beginning so that when the end comes I can remember the rescue.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A New Day

For some reason it feels like January 1 to me.  Around the first of the year I am always filled with a sense of optimism.  I feel like I can make changes, start fresh, reboot.  Mondays often tend to feel like mini-New Year's days for me but today really feels like a fresh start.  I think it is because I have seen my husband for more than one hour for the last seven days. Sam's birthday was fun.  We had a great trip to Notre Dame for graduation and yesterday we did yard work.  None of this sounds extraordinary but it is.  It is totally extraordinary because we were a team.  We were a team in getting the car packed.  We were a team in handling the kids in Chuck E. Cheese.  We were a team when the kids got tired and cranky.   Jeff is an amazing, involved, active father.  He was also completely overwhelmed for most of the last seventeen months which left him for little space to be on team mommy.  He still helped out but I tried not to ask to much and he did not instinctively step up the way he normally does.  After about the first three months I just sort of got to used to it and it did not feel like to much of a burden but now that it is over I realize that it was really hard.  It was just hard feeling like I carried the weight of the family rock.  

I am trying not to whine because I certainly know that there are people out there who have it worse than me.  There are single parents and there are women who are married to inattentive unavailable men.   There are workaholic dads and moms who leave the other spouse to carry the entire family load.  I get that, but I am not in that boat.  I married a man with an amazing sense of work-life balance who comes home from work and is completely present with me and the kids.  I married a man who offers to take the kids and enjoys taking the kids so I can have a break from them.  I married a man who will take his children to the auto show or the air show or any other crazy busy public venue...without me.  He has no fear of changing diapers or wiping tushes, he brushes hair and teeth without being asked.  He reads stories and plays "tickle tickle tickle daddy eats a pickle."  But for seventeen months he has not had a lot of time to do those things and if he has the kids so I can take a break, then I am not getting to see him.  Most evenings I spent on the couch watching whatever while he studied.  I missed just sitting with him and talking with him and being with him.  I have him back and I am grateful for that.

This MBA has been good for both of us.  Jeff has grown personally and professionally.  It has stoked a desire to lead and rekindled his sense of who he really is.  It has been good for me in a different way.  While I find myself feeling a little jealous of his new found sense of self but I come away with a new found sense of who he is also.  I am so thankful for him and who he is and what he does for our family.  Maybe in the following months I will have a chance to learn more about myself and who I want to be as our family grows up and evolves.  Maybe not, I don't know what will happen but I do know that I am not alone on team mommy anymore.  Today that is good enough for me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sweet Baby Sam

Today is Sam's third birthday.  What a wild ride it has been.  Those first six months I was not sure either of us would make it.  Between the reflux he had and the post-partum issues I had, life was really dark for a little while.  I am so thankful to Jeff for the grace he showed me during that time.  I am grateful for my friend Kirsten who literally sat me down on my front porch and told me I wasn't crazy and held Sam while I cried.   I am most amazed by God's hand at work to turn such dark first days into such a bright ray of sunshine today.

 I love my little boy more than I ever thought I could. When I found out I was pregnant again I was really worried that I would not be able to love another child as much as I loved Emelia.  I had such a deep and profound sense of love for her that I could not see being replicated.  When Sam was so fussy and I was so sad I did not feel that love. It took me awhile to fall in love with my son.  That is so hard to admit but it is the reality of that time.  But when I fell, I fell hard. 

He is such a sweet boy.  He is loving and kind and busy and funny.  He likes to say funny things and he loves to laugh.  He loves his sister with a passion I did not know a three-year-old could posses. He loves to play with his daddy and do the "high-five game."  He is just a joy.

There are times when I allow my mind to wander to what the future might be like.   I suspect at some point Emelia will not want much to do with me.  She will be fiercely independent and yet cry in my lap when that first boy breaks her heart.  ( The scenario sounds familiar because I was that teenager.) 
Sam however I don't think will ever be embarrassed by me or want me to drop him off at the corner.  Only time will tell if I am right, but I just have a feeling.

I love you sweet Sam Sam!  Happy birthday. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Friendship

Someone recently told me I should blog more.  I often find myself  with all sorts of interesting thoughts and I think, I should blog about that, but then life happens and I don't.  I think I will try though.  My kids are getting older and are less needy so perhaps the time will open up.  We will see.

Lately, I have found myself thinking a lot about friendship.  What do REAL friends look like, as opposed to "Facebook" friends? How do you know how to be a good friend?  Can friendship look different for different people?

I have decided that friendship IS different for different people and with different people.  I have a different relationship with my best friend from seventh grade than I do with my best friend from adulthood.  I love them both, but the friendships are different, partly because they are different and partly because  we have been through different things together.    I don't see either of them daily yet our friendships survive based on those shared memories. 

How do you know how to be a good friend?  I believe that is a learned skill. One which is most often picked up by being the beneficiary of a good friendship.  I have learned a lot about being a thoughtful friend from my friend Britt.  I have never met someone as thoughtful as her.  I have learned about how to be a good mommy friend from my friend Lindsey.  There is no subject that is off limits, no competitiveness about our kids or condemnation of the choices we each make, just a constant sounding board tempered by accountability and encouragement.  I have learned how to be a godly friend from my friend Tami, no gossip, no judgement, no selfishness, only love.   My first lessons in friendship I learned from my mom, my original best friend.  She was not my best friend until past the stage where I needed a mom not a friend, yet I learned about compassion, patience and empathy from her early on.    If you did not have a mom like that and if you spent a lot of time around friends who trashed you behind your back and if you have not been the recipient of good friendship, can you learn to be a good friend?  I think you can.  I actually think you just learn to be a friend because there really is no such thing as a bad friend.  A friend by its' very definition is good.

I think that you learn how to be a friend by first befriending yourself.  If you do not have kindness, compassion, grace and love for yourself, you don't have any idea how to extend it to others.  When you can give yourself the freedom to just be without demanding more, better, different; than you can open up room for those around you to just be also.  What a difficult journey that is though. We are often far kinder to others than we are to ourselves.  I recently went through a dark spell where I was feeling really bad about myself.  I was talking to a friend on the phone and saying all these negative things about myself when she stopped me.  She said, you can't talk about my friend that way.   It was a wake up call for me because I would never allow someone to talk about my friend that way, why would I allow myself to talk to me that way.   I also would never allow someone to talk about one of my friends that way.  How do we stop trash talking ourselves?    If you figure it out let me know.

I think one of the other difficult things about friendship is that for many people, like myself, there is an endless supply. I have room in my life for all kinds and varieties of friends.  The only problem is that I have a finite supply of time.  I can only give my time to so many people.  That is more of a balance issue than a friend issue but what does one do with that?

I recently read an article titled "Is Facebook Making us Lonely?"  The theory is our breadth of friendship has grown but the depth of those friendships is shallower.  Then there is the despair around the status update.  No one has commented.  No one likes my status. What does that mean?  Does no one like me?  I mean really, are all 435 of your "friends" really friends?  That is not actually possible. 

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.  When we deceive ourselves about our friendships it only complicates our lives and leaves us with false expectations.   We end up with expectations of friendship that no one can ever live up too which only adds to the complexities of friendship.

Alas, like everything else, I think the bottom line is it takes practice, like most everything else in life.