Tuning Out to Tune In

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There is enough noise in the world already.

From 2003 to 2009, I lived in New York City with 8 million people. Lights, traffic, construction, music, strangers everywhere. All the time.

Surprisingly it was easy to get lost and become invisible in that environment. It was easy not to be seen. It was easy to turn the noise to static and drown out my surroundings. If I wanted to be seen or heard, I could emerge from the sensory sludge, reach out to friends, go see some live music and chat up a stranger, go to church and smile at familiar faces.

The beginning of my time in NYC social media had just started getting its footing. I’d started blogging there. I jumped on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagons. In addition to the maelstrom in the streets, I felt the outside world invading my home. It would be a sea we’d all be learning to navigate.

For some reason tuning out the internet influences wasn’t as easy. They were ever present; so easy just to wake up the computer and find myself staring at the screen hours later. Sometimes I was justifiably enthralled, but other times I truly wasted time cramming my noggin with nonsense and noise. It was easy to get lost, but sometimes more difficult to emerge from that dimension to interact with actual humans for quality time. Solid connections. Real relationships.

And now, when I’m in a much slower-paced part of the world, in a pretty chill area of Utah–we live next to horses and sheep, for crying out loud–the internet manages to pound on my brain. What news? What gossip? What music? What bad information? MUST CONSUME ALL OF IT.

Except I mustn’t do anything, but moderate and be conscious of which influences enter my home. Which is especially important to the very impressionable mind under the stewardship of me and Reilly. That little girl absorbs everything. And while she can’t convey all that she consumes, it’s there, just percolating, waiting to manifest in who knows what way.

How do I do this? And how do we do this as a family? A few actions that work for us:

  • I always manage to find some time during the day for absolute quiet, where I can have time to sort my thoughts. Or just take a few deep breaths. For Z, it’s nice to not have a lot of stimuli around for a few minutes and just let her talk. Sometimes the best we can do is the car ride home from daycare. I’ll turn down the radio and ask a few basic questions, and let her think without expecting an answer. What did you do at school? Did you play with the teacher?
  • A huge one for me lately has been physical activity. Exercise clears my mind, and those endorphins make me feel great. We try to encourage physical activity with Z as much as we can. When winter limits our options, we take her to different play areas at different malls, or even fast food places. Give that girl a slide and some space to run, and she’s happy as a clam.
  • Finally, there’s bedtime. This ritual usually ends with us snuggling, watching the night light, and Z talking to herself, and me singing a few nursery rhymes. Her voice is the furthest thing from noise to my soul (except at other times of the day when it’s screaming or whining, then I want to pull all of my hair out SERIOUSLY), and sometimes I’m lucky enough to listen to her happy jabbering fade into deep, sleepy breaths.

There are things that a lot of parents also do: enable actual internet filters, set timers on screen time, help count to 10 during a meltdown/tantrum. Those are definitely helpful, and kudos to all parents doing what works for them. I do other things on my own, as well: Find time to read, limit time on the internet; limit news consumption. It’s nice to find moments to breathe, to appreciate beauty in its many forms, to be able to separate the noise from the music. These moments help me to focus even more on what’s important, to tune in to clearer frequencies.

Clemency Toward Grace

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The other day–sometime last week–I was just hanging out inside my own brain and came across the clearest, most refreshing thought. It came like a revelation. It was about me, directed at me, and it made me pause and feel sudden joy:

Z’s therapist is not a better mom than you.

Seems obvious, right? Seems that I wouldn’t need to hear this so plainly, because the opposite is so ridiculous, right?

For the past year and a half that Z’s had therapy, I would observe some of her sessions. I’d notice techniques used, instructions given, then little, destructive whisperings would creep into my mind:

Why didn’t you think of that? Why didn’t you research that?

If you had been a better mom, Z wouldn’t have to be doing this right now.

Reilly’s a better parent than you will ever be.

Z spends three intense hours Monday through Friday with her therapist. Of course there needs to be a relationship established. Trust. It looked so easy between them. I would find myself getting jealous, especially during those first months, and then sporadically in the last year.

They’re so close now. Look how Z hugs her. Look how they laugh and play together.

Z loves her more than she loves you.

That last thought felt so horrible. I knew these thoughts were irrational, but I had trouble dismissing them. I’d back away from her sessions feeling discouraged and lonely and definitely not good enough.

I felt so defeated.

But internal pep talks also fought their way to the forefront of my mind.

You are her mom.

She loves you. 

Both of you are worthy of each other’s love. All of it.

Where did these thoughts come from? Not completely sure, but I consider them gift of much-needed grace.

With this motivation, I would take the damaging thoughts and negative whisperings and try to use them in a constructive way. I would implement those same techniques and give those exact instructions from her sessions. I found that this reinforced her learning and development, as well as cultivated our relationship. I found myself improving. Researching. Noticing Z’s progress and encouraging her in as many ways as I could.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten angry or impatient–because I still wrestle with weakness–but it does mean that I’ve learned to breathe, and taking time to explain ideas to her and teach her vocabulary not only calms me down, but helps me realize the still-new and growing perspective of our little one. I appreciate this.

The negative thoughts linger, but I’ve learned to focus on working more closely with our daughter, and strengthening our bond and building and maintaining trust with her. I realized that Reilly and I spend far more time with her than any external resource would, and our presence as her parents has become an integral, inextricable part of her. We work hard, all three of us, together.

Understanding this has allowed me to forgive myself.

Now, those negative thoughts no longer dominate that inner conflict. They are not fact. They are not true. They instead have given way to a brightness and warmth and peace and freedom of these undeniable truths:

I am enough.

I am the best mom for her.

2018 to 2019

As I type this, I take a deep breath and try to shrug off exhaustion. Reviewing the year in the middle of winter should be a rejuvenating exercise, but at this moment all I really want to do is sleep. And it’s not like I haven’t gotten enough sleep. I’m on vacation, and I’ve gotten 7-8 hours of sleep every night for the past week. I blame winter.

But I want to look back at this year. It’s been a great one. And in some ways, it has also been really hard. And weird and surreal.

And I want to look forward. And upward.

In 2019, I will continue seeking for opportunities to show kindness. I mean, I’m also going to be sassy, but kindness should drive my interactions with others. With family. With strangers and friends, until they feel like family.

In a similar vein, this upcoming year I will work on letting go of things that don’t matter that much. I used to be really bothered when people don’t text back or say they want to hang out but don’t follow through, but I need to be better at realizing that things come up, that people’s lives don’t revolve around my life. Ideally, it would be great if I could hold people to their word all the time, but I fall short at this as well.

I need to create better personal interactions. I need to get to know people and improve empathy. Regular contact with friends and checking in on their lives should help me with this.

Deeper communication. Stronger connections.

Be a better wife, mom, daughter.

As usual, I’d like to read more. (See improving empathy above.) And write a little bit more. I caught up somewhat on blogging this past year, but it would be nice be get into a routine. Monthly, maybe.

Keep working on self-care: Fitness, health, sleep. Calmness, relaxation. Self-forgiveness. Balance. Which probably means dialing down social media, which hopefully means more quality time in person, with actual people.

Keep on encouraging our little girl to continue learning. She’s growing all on her own. And too fast.

What are some of the things you’re striving to improve?

Here are some photos from the past year.

 

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Have a wonderful 2019. I look forward to more depth and meaning in life. I look forward to moments of being less tired. I hope to see more of all of you along the way.

Not ‘Just’

To those who talk about the number of other people’s children or grandchildren with the word just or only in front of that number: don’t do that. Perhaps without meaning to, you’re inferiorizing them. They’re not below people who have more kids. And the folks with no kids (“no, it’s just us”) are no worse than those with children. Nobody’s worth or value is not tied to the number of children or grandchildren they have. Or don’t have.

[I’m aware of the single people who struggle and say, “It’s just me (for now).” I hear you, and I believe you when you tell me about your experiences listening to how people talk of marriage. You have my support, and I promise I’m not ignoring you; this post focuses on my annoyance with conversations revolving around how many children people have.]

I’ve always flinched a little when people flaunt the high numbers of their progeny. Yes, the numbers are impressive, and it must be something to be surrounded by all that youthful energy and innocence. There probably is a bond within really big families I admit I don’t understand. And honestly, I celebrate your happiness; I rejoice in your joy. But then the conversation turns, and then you’re saying to me, “Oh, just one?” or about someone else, “They have only two grandkids.” Without outright saying it, the subtext to these statements is, “How sad for them.”

And it might be they are having a sad experience, but the context of our conversation compares the number of your kids/grandkids to the number of my kids/others’ grandkids, and that actual difference in those numbers defines sadness to you. That single aspect convinces me that you do not feel empathy, but pity.

We do not need your pity.

Pity allows you to go right back to bragging about how blessed your life is, implying how much more blessed you are, because you have more children/grandchildren. Pity helps you dismiss our situation with platitudes: “Oh, you’ll have more someday.” “You deserve more children!” “Trust in the Lord’s timeline.” And other similar, general statements.

Perhaps well-intended, but really not helpful. Actually judgmental, and dismissive of individual situations. Ultimately hurtful to people like me who may not have toughened up to this kind of talk. As challenging as it is to give birth, it can be just as challenging to conceive. Or to find a good way to adopt or foster. Or stand by a decision not to have children. Any of these, without feeling guilt or shame.

On the other hand, I have had good experiences where people have used sensitive language, specifically at the doctor’s office. It’s possible to use better words, and it really does make a difference to me in how relationships form. The effort tells me you understand the value of my child.

Then again, maybe I’m too sensitive. Maybe I’ve put too many eggshells around me. Maybe I should learn to brush it off and be ok that people aren’t always going to understand my situation. But I want to be sure that my child understands she’s more than just one child, more than an only child.

Her understanding has to be a priority, so please disregard all the whining I did above.

Instead of complaining, feeling offended, and doing nothing, perhaps I can be a turning point to a heightened perspective in our culture/society, the presence my daughter needs me to be. For her. To help her understand her worth. To know she doesn’t have to listen to comparisons of others to her.

What I need to do more: When people ask how many children we have, or if we have children, I answer, “We have a daughter.” And if they say, “Just one?” I say, “Not ‘just.’ She’s really great.” She needs to hear that.

And I smile.

She needs to see that.

To feel it.

To know deep in her soul how much we love her.

Halloween Costumes 2018, and Resisting Monsters

I posted this on social media 10/28/2018. It’s long enough to document here.

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We went to a Halloween concert yesterday and as we got out of the car, a lady shouted, “Chucky!” As we entered the building, we got a few “Nice costumes, guys!” from people we passed. And Reilly said I made a toddler dressed as Black Panther cry.

Also, posting our costumes on a Sunday to get us wondering why anyone should live with near-paralyzing fear of getting murdered on their holy days. Or any day for that matter. That is where my heart is right now.

These characters from horror movies evoke the thrill of a good scare that we can turn off, recover from, and then carry on with our lives. Other real-life monsters, like those just from this past week, aren’t as easy to escape. But we can’t let them conquer us with fear. We can’t let their hate overpower us or ambush us through the mail, at the grocery store, or where we find spiritual strength or a sense of community.

We love these costumes, and we are so excited about showing them off. But costumes are all they are. And you know our hearts aren’t filled with revenge like Chucky’s, or incapable of distinguishing between affection and violence as Frankenstein’s monster’s, or deeply primally evil like Black Phillip’s.

We are here for you. On your holy days, and every day.

Happy Sabbath, y’all.

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Smoke and Reflection

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On my way to work this morning I came upon this view. Smoke from neighboring states’ wildfires has drifted into our mountain range and somewhat obscures the view. This haze has lingered for days, or has it been weeks? It reminds me of a roadtrip I took through the Great Smoky Mountains, where fog cloaked the peaks, not smoke. The mist was beautiful and mysterious but also inspired meditation. As the day warmed the fog eventually lifted. Here, the smoke continues to cling—a sticky, choking cloud. These Uintas should trade names with the range back East, because of all the literal smoke.

People talk of rising above the haze, finding clarity, a better view. People find a way to ascend—hike, horse, plane—or they hope for this veil to lift.

To see. To see, and to breathe.

The path isn’t clear all the time. The religious rely on their faith to nurture what they cannot see into knowledge; the spiritual also have a form of faith that guides them. The rest of humankind also believes in the goodness of others and desires improvement in themselves, but without any post-life motivation or incentive.

This is overly simplified: there are more than these three groups of people in the world, and there are definitely overlaps between these groups. Lives and attitudes and philosophies are so different. I accept this.

How do I assess the meaning in my life? What is my why?

Do I contemplate my purpose because of the smoke, or because of what the smoke obscures? Because I know the mountains are there, does this sustain my hope for better things? Does this motivate me to rise above the current smog?

What if I didn’t know what was hiding in the smoke, would my plan of action be to wait until it clears?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being faithful, or just naïve.

Mother’s Day 2018 Thoughts

What is Mother’s Day to these groups? I may have missed some categories, but in general this is what I have observed:

  • Married women with children
  • Single women with children
  • Women with special needs children
  • Single women without children
  • Married women without children
  • Women who have lost children through tragedy: war, accident, illness, other circumstances
  • Women who have lost mothers
  • Women who don’t want children
  • Women who can’t have children but want them

Looking at this list, I know what it’s like to:

  • be married with a child
  • have a (relatively high functioning) special needs child
  • want another child but unable to have one (yet)
  • be single until the age of 36 until marriage stabilized my life enough to have children

This is my life experience so far, and I admit my empathy is limited to women who fit into these categories. Some fit neatly, for some the lines are blurred. I do my best to understand that, too.

I know women who:

  • are single with children
  • are single without children
  • have special needs children across a very broad spectrum
  • have lost children through tragedy
  • have lost mothers
  • don’t want children
  • can’t have children but want them

Every Mother’s Day I think about these women. What are their struggles? How do they cope? Is this holiday something they even care about, or is it just another day? It seems the world praises mothers as women who have children, but I’ve always felt strongly that to be a mother you do not have to have children. I’ve always cringed at that part of that (cultural/societal) definition of motherhood; I’ve always felt to side with those who may fall in the shadows of the child bearers.

Not that child bearers shouldn’t be standing tall, because they totally should. Raising children is never easy, and devoted moms everywhere should be extremely proud of their hard work. My mom is wonderful. She sacrificed and taught and nurtured and scolded and guided me to learn really important lessons about life. I will always be grateful for everything she’s done and is doing for me.

I know many wonderful women who qualify as “super moms,” because they’re doing it all. They overcome all obstacles; they push aside excuses. They bend the universe around their will. These women have determination and passion, and I know they have their own trials and internal conflicts, but to me they are unstoppable. I admire them, because I know they also have to be super tired all the time.

But you guys. YOU. GUYS. I probably know even more women who deeply suffer when Mother’s Day comes around. It seems they feel a lot of traditional moms look down on them. They feel inferior, less than; their divinities/self-worths don’t measure up because of their different life experiences. Feeling this way, year after year — or even every day for some — is really hard.

If we don’t dedicate this day only to women with children, are we dismissing them? Is this their one day to feel better than the women without children? To say, “I’m so much more like Christ now because I have children”? Is motherhood the only thing that matters to our (eternal) happiness?

Wouldn’t the womanly and motherly thing to do is to include and love women for their differences and experiences, no matter what they are?

Every ten years or so a good thought graces my soul, and four years ago on Mother’s Day I posted this on Facebook, and it still holds up:

As women are all descended from Eve, we all should remember our nobility as Mothers of All Living. Our stewardship, however we currently define it in our lives, is divine.

Happy Mother’s Day.

To my glorious mom, happy Mother’s Day. To all mamas everywhere, happy Mother’s Day. But especially to my dear women friends who face pain, loss, and sadness, and live with heartbreak: at the very least, you have nurtured and guided me and helped me heal in profound ways. If that isn’t being a mother, I don’t know what is. Happy Mother’s Day to you.