Tag Archives: life

On not doing everything better

I love the illusion of being able to do it all, and I’m fascinated with people who seem to do that, who have challenging careers and beautiful homes and vibrant minds and well-tended abs…

Out to lunch one day with my friend Denise, I asked her about it… And this is what Denise told me: she said it’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about…

I’m a list keeper. I always, always have a to-do list, and it ranges from the mundane: go to the dry cleaner, go to the post office, buy batteries; to the far reaching: stop eating Henry’s leftover Dino Bites, get over yourself, forgive nasty reviewer, wear more jewelry.

At one point, I kept adding to the list, more and more items, more and more sweeping in their scope, until I added this line: DO EVERYTHING BETTER. It was, at the time, a pretty appropriate way to capture how I felt about my life and myself fairly often. It also explains why I tended to get so tired I’d cry without knowing why, why my life sometimes felt like it was running on a hamster wheel, and why I searched the faces of calmer, more grounded women for a secret they all knew that I didn’t. This is how I got to that fragmented, brittle, lonely place: DO EVERYTHING BETTER.

Each of the three words has a particular flavor of poison all its own. Do: We know better than do, of course. We know that words like “be,” and “become,” and “try,” are a little less crushing and cruel, spiritually and psychologically, a little friendlier to the soul. But when we’re alone sometimes and the list is getting the best of us, we abandon all those sweet ideas, and we go straight to do, because do is power, push, aggression, plain old sweat equity. It’s not pretty, but we know that do gets the job done.

Everything is just a killer. Everything is the heart of the conversation for me, my drug of choice. Sure, I can host that party. Of course, I can bring that meal. Yes, I’d love to write that article. Yes, to everything… One of my core fears is that someone would think I can’t handle as much as the next person. It’s fundamental to my understanding of myself for me to be the strong one, the capable one, the busy one, the one who can bail you out, not make a fuss, bring a meal, add a few more things to the list. For me everything becomes a lifestyle. Everything is an addiction.

And then better. Better is a seductress. It’s so delicious to run after better, better, better. Better is what keeps some women decorating and redecorating the same house for years on end, because by the time you get the last detail of the finished basement home theater just right, your countertops are just ever so slightly outdated, and so you start again. Better is what makes us go to a spinning class–or maybe two, or maybe three today, just for good measure. Better is what makes us get “just a little work done,” after the last baby, you know, or just to look a little bit fresher and more well-rested. Better is a force.

The three together, DO EVERYTHING BETTER, are a super-charged triple threat, capturing in three words the mania of modern life, the anti-spirit, anti-spiritual, soul-shriveling garbage that infects and compromises our lives… the “do everything better” way of living brought me to a terrible place: tired, angry, brittle, afraid, hollow.
–Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

This is very much the place I was right after Sprout was born. When I couldn’t keep up, I felt like a tremendous failure.

And then I gave myself permission not to do everything and not to do everything better. To focus on the things that really mattered to me.

It’s brutal, making the list of Things I Don’t Do, especially for someone like me, who refuses most of the time to acknowledge that there is, in fact, a limit to her personal ability to get things done. But I’ve discovered that the list sets me free. I have it written in black and white, sitting on my desk, and when I’m tempted to go rogue and bake muffins because all the other moms do, I come back to both lists, and I remind myself about the important things: that time is finite, as is energy. And that one day I’ll stand before God and account for what I did with my life. There is work that is only mine to do: a child that is ours to raise, stories that are mine to tell, friends that are mine to walk with. The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be. It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being.

This year, one of the things I decided to give myself permission not to do is homeschool. I could give a variety of reasons why. You could give a variety of reasons why I should or should not. They don’t need to be listed here. Mostly because then it just becomes another comparison, another debate, etc. This is just the decision that was right and best for our family and our circumstances and that is really all that matters.

One problem we encountered in this was the cost of preschool and that Bean’s birthday misses the cut-off date for some programs just barely (we’re talking a couple weeks to a few days). We finally found a “Just Teacher and Me” class at one of the community centers for 2.5-3.5 year olds that was reasonably priced and that she met the requirements for.

So for an hour and a half, twice a week, Bean gets to interact with other kids, not be the “big fish” at home, do an art project, read books, sing songs and play.

Her teacher has been so sweet and Bean has really become quite the character since joining the class this past spring.

One day she wore her sunglasses to and all throughout class, prompting her teacher to dub her “my movie star.”

Bean has gone from shy and sitting by the door by herself waiting and watching for my return and asking a million times if I will come back for her when we’re on our way to school, to being super excited about class, running right in and sometimes not even saying goodbye to us. Sidenote: Sprout always says bye to her and it’s so cute watching him wave and say, “buh-bye seestor!”

Today was the last day of the summer session. We are so looking forward to the fall session that starts in three weeks. Here are some pictures from when I picked her up today:

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Bean giving her teacher a big hug.

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Bean and her teacher.

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We brought her teacher a little thank you gift today, inspired by these ones that Jimaie made.

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Cupcakes on the last day of class.

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Sprout riding bikes with the big kids.

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Getting her backpack ready to go all by herself.

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Last day of class!

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For Paula

My sister left me with a book, Bittersweet by Shuana Niequist, when she came to visit briefly before heading off to Korea for a year to teach English with her husband. I am sad. I will miss her so. Also I am slightly jealous of her life situation and opportunity to go gallivanting off to explore a foreign country for a year.

Anyway, she specifically asked me to blog my favorite parts of the book. We mainly communicate and keep up on each other’s lives through our blogs. That may seem weird, but it isn’t and it works quite nicely for us most of the time especially now that we will be in entirely different time zones. And we acknowledge that sometimes this isn’t nearly sufficient and a several hours long phone call or FaceTime is necessary.

The book is highly relatable if you are a Christian in your mid- to late-twenties as it deals with life circumstances that age bracket faces.

The first few chapters flow really well together. Then it seems a bit disjointed to me and it took me several more chapters to figure out that it was a collection of separate essays which I would have figured out had I read the back cover. I got used to the format though and plundered on through the whole book in just one day.

Niequist wrote the book after a couple years of drastic changes in her life, including she and her husband no longer being on staff at Mars Hill church.

This last season in my life has been characterized, more than anything else, by change. Hard, swirling, one-after-another changes, so many that I can’t quite regain my footing before the next one comes, very much like being tumbled by waves. It began three years ago, in January in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I got pregnant, lost a job I loved, had a baby, wrote a book. A year after I lost my job, my husband, Aaron, left his job in a really painful way, and then for the next year and a half we traveled together and separately almost every week, doing all the freelance work we could find, looking for a new home and trying to pay the bills. Leaving our jobs at the church meant leaving the church community, the heart of our world in Grand Rapids, and that loss left a hole in our lives that was as tender and palpable as a bruise. The day after our son Henry’s first birthday, my brother Todd left on a two-year sailing trip around the world, taking my husband’s best friend Joe with Him. My best friend, Annette, left Grand Rapids and moved back to California. I got pregnant again, our kitchen and basement flooded, and on the Fourth of July I lost the baby. My first thought, there in the doctor’s office, was, “Everything in my life is dying. I can’t keep anything alive.” At some point in all that, we put our house up for sale, which meant lots and lots of showings but no offers. After several months, my husband and our son and I left our house still for sale and moved back to Chicago, to a little house on the same street I lived on as a child, exhausted and battered, out of breath and shaken up.

I guess that was the part most relatable to me because I’ve felt so in limbo since quitting my job, finding out I was pregnant, having a baby, moving to Thousand Oaks, leaving our ministry and church, finding out I was pregnant again, trying to find a church and become part of a new community, having another baby, moving again, etc.

Here’s the part where I learned something though. Because I have pretty much responded to these changes in the same way that she did. A child throwing a temper tantrum. You’ve all seen if here with terrible posts railing on motherhood and feeling stuck in this life and whining about how very awful my life is.

I know that to another person my difficult season would have been a walk in the park, and that all over the world, people suffer in unimaginable ways and manage far worse than my own little list. I was miserable because I lost touch with the heart of the story, the part where life always comes from death. I love the life part, and I always try to skip over that pesky death part. You can’t do that, as much as I’ve tried. I believe that God is making all things new. I believe that Christ overcame death and that pattern is apparent all through life and history: life from death, water from a stone, redemption from failure, connection from alienation. I believe that suffering is part of the narrative, and that nothing really good gets built when everything’s easy. I believe that loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom. But for a long season, I forgot all those things. I didn’t stop believing in God. It wasn’t a crisis of faith. I prayed and served and pursued a life of faith the way I had before that season and the way I still do now. But I realized all at once, sitting in church on a cold dark night, that the story I was telling was the wrong one–or at the very least, an incomplete one. I had been telling the story about how hard it was. That’s not the whole story. The rest of the story is that I failed to live with hope and courage and lived instead a long season of whining, self-indulgence, and fear. This is my confession… Looking back now I can see that it was more than anything a failure to believe in the story of who God is and what he is doing in this world. Instead of living that story–one of sacrifice and purpose and character–I began to live a much smaller story, and that story was only about me. I wanted an answer, a timeline, and a map. I didn’t want to have to trust God or anything I couldn’t see. I didn’t want to wait or follow. I wanted my old life back, and even while I read the mystics and the prophets, even while I prayed fervently, even while I sat in church and begged for God to direct my life, those things didn’t have a chance to transform me, because under those actions and intentions was a rocky layer of faithlessness, fear, and selfishness… If I’m honest I prayed the way you order breakfast from a short-order cook: this is what I want. Period. This is what I want. Aren’t you getting this? I didn’t pray for God’s will to be done in my life, or, at any rate, I didn’t mean it. I prayed to be rescued, not redeemed. I prayed for it to get easier, not that I would be shaped in significant ways. I prayed for the waiting to be over, instead of trying to learn anything about patience or anything else for that matter… Every wave presents us with a choice to make, and quite often, unfortunately, I have stood, both resolute and terrified, staring down a wave. I have been smacked straight on with the force of the water, tumbled, disoriented, gasping for breath and for my swimsuit bottoms, and spit onto shore, embarrassed and sand-burned, standing up only to get knocked down again, refusing to float on the surface and surrender to the sea.

So there it is. Now what do I do about it? Stop being angry and whining and face up to life, my life, just the way it is. That’s what. Because there is no use in complaining or saying I am not built for this or meant for that life circumstance. That this is not the way I planned things or what was supposed to happen. This is what happened. This is right where I am supposed to be learning and living in this situation just as it is.


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Five Days

This is what we’ve been up to…

Friday
-Told everyone
-Stephen and Sprout slept most of the day
-I was wired and wrote up my birth story. I was also pretty bored, honestly.
-Our friend Cara and her little family stopped by for a visit and they brought us dinner. The first few meals after giving birth are always so amazing tasting for some reason. I am not the only person that has experienced this phenomenon. Combine that with the fact that every meal around here for over a month has been fast food or something quick and easy from Trader Joe’s freezer section and I think the soup and bread she brought us has been one of my favorite meals of my life.
-We all slept

Saturday
-Sprout’s first pediatrician appointment. We saw the backup doctor because the main guy is out of town. LOVE our pediatric group! The pediatrician was super supportive of all our choices and really friendly and easy to talk to
-Sprout had a major meltdown in the In-N-Out drive thru.
-I finally caught up on my sleep and took a long nap all afternoon.
-Midwife came for our one day check. Everything is going good.
-“Baby feast” with Stephen’s sister’s family and afforementioned Cara’s family. Stuffed myself with too much good food. Guys did their usual Mario Kart marathon.
-Slept.

Sunday
-Stayed in our jammies all day.
-Stephen did a lot of laundry.
-Sprout started looking yellowish.

Monday
-It rained a lot.
-Took some pictures of Bean and Sprout.
-Pictures made me think Sprout was really yellowish, especially compared to Bean.
-Called the pediatrician and was told to bring him in.
-Rain + wind + babies + lack of covered parking = not fun. I felt like the sky was one giant hose spraying us down as we tried to load the kids in the car. Gutters were mini-rapids wherever we went.
-Doctor didn’t think Spout was too yellow, but decided to take a blood sample anyway. Heal prick #1 for our little guy. Bean was very concerned.
-Went to hospital to get PKU and hearing screening. Hospital has a parking garage so we didn’t get soaked again. Admitting took FOR-EV-ER. Then the lab took FOR-EV-ER. Heal prick #2 for Sprout. He was not a happy camper. By the time we were finished, the nurse that does the newborn hearing tests was already gone for the day.
-The sun came out. A good thing for Sprout.
-We ordered pizza.
-We slept.

Today
-Made an appointment for the newborn hearing test
-Snuggled with Sprout
-It rained a lot.
-I made our last Trader Joe’s freezer selection for lunch
-Planned a menu for the week and made a grocery list.
-Made an appointment with my doctor because my PUPPPS rash (it’s a pregnancy related belly rash that looks really ugly and itches a lot) is getting worse, not better.
-Put Bean down for her nap for the first time since Thursday.
-We went grocery shopping with both kids after the sun reappeared.
-Sprout had a major meltdown in the parking lot of Whole Foods.
-I made dinner. I really missed my cooking. We had rosemary lemon chicken (it was OK, too much rosemary though), roasted herb potatoes (these were really yummy), a simple salad (romaine, cuties, green onions, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt) and some toast.
-Checked out the news.
-I blogged.
-Going to take a bath.
-Going to sleep.

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Status updates are easier.

This is going to be a pathetic excuse for a post, but the content around here is seriously lacking and I’m sort of afaid that some of you are going to give up hope on me. I know that eventually I’ll get around to feeling like a long thorough post again, but that time isn’t now. Sometimes it’s just easier to say things in a couple sentences, rather than a big long post. So for those of you that aren’t my friend on Facebook or think that Facebook is way too connected and scary or too time consuming or the tons of other reasons people have for not being on there, here is my life in a week’s worth of status updates.

I know it’s still November, but I just busted out the Sufjan Christmas album. Had to. It’s the best.

Just managed to felt all my Christmas knitting projects. I suck.

Actually kind of excited to be able to wear warm clothes in Bakersfield today. Not looking forward to another week long detox from all the pollutants and allergens though.

1cm 50%eff. Had like six contractions today. Bath seems to have calmed things down for the night. I hope.

Trying to be realistic about the handmade challenge in light of everything.

Commercially available money management programs are not good enough. My husband wrote his own application last night. The joys of being married to a computer whiz…

New carseat and coffee maker arrived today. Yay for packages!

Hoping these gluten, dairy, and egg free cranberry orange muffins turn out good. If so, blog post with recipe will possibly follow.

Muffins were a success. Mmm….

pressure pressure pressure

At lunch today my sister got Bean to eat half a baked potato stuffed with vegan cheese, chicken and broccoli. Tonight at dinner she wants nothing to do with it. Then when I leave the table she’s all about it. So I’m starting to think the eating issues are directly related to me.

Knit doggie for my other niece

Tonight I am glad that I no longer work in downtown Bakersfield and did not have to battle the parade craziness on my way home from work. Instead I laid on the couch and knit all night while we watched A Christmas Story.

Sis took Bean outside to play on the playground. I feel bad that she’s been cooped up in the house all week.

After this week I am so over being pregnant and I’m starting to go a little stir crazy.

An overcast day in December? What?

Bean actually ate pasta (Gluten free quinoa pasta that is) tonight! I think the picky food issues are slowly getting better.

“This time of year weird people get weirder, sad people get sadder and messy families get messier. It’s a weird time of year.”

Food victories with Bean today: for lunch she ate all the rest of her leftover pasta from last night, for a snack she had two GFCF chicken nuggets, and for dinner she ate half a kid sized GFCF pizza. I know this is all somewhat junk food type stuff, but this is a huge improvement over her strict diet of yogurt, cereal and fruit.

Dear Sid Meyer, I want my husband back.

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Week Thirty Nine

Week 39 happened to fall on the same day that Bean turned nine months old. I was contemplating switching to months at some point, but I figure I’ve made it past the halfway point with weeks so I might as well continue until she hits a year.

It was a big day for Bean and I. We drove to Bakersfield all by ourselves in the new minivan we got this past weekend (Honda Odyssey for those that are wondering). First stop was my lovely midwife’s house for a prenatal appointment. Got to hear baby #2’s heartbeat! Even though he couldn’t be there Stephen also got to hear because I called him.

After that, Bean and I headed over to my friend Tiffany’s to hang out with little Lucy for a playdate. Oh how refreshing it was seeing her. I have to say that one of the things I grieved most about leaving Bakersfield was the new friendship we were forming. Tiffany just gets me! We have very similar philosophies about so many things from parenting to doing research about everything to the fact that we both cloth diaper our kids to our love of crafts. The couple hours together was gone so fast and much too short!

Once both of our kids were tired out I headed over to my old station to say some hellos and then to my sister’s apartment for a few minutes before heading back home.

Driving around town gets more weird the longer I am away. I know where stuff is and I know how to get where I need to go, but I find myself making silly mistakes and getting confused much more easily. Streets that were once so familiar seem strange and distant. Maybe it’s just the realization that Bakersfield isn’t “home” anymore. Even the cute downtown houses that I used to count on as unchanging when I passed them each morning on my way to work are drastically different. So many of them are getting gutted, stucco facades, and completely “made over” from their quaint demeanor of decades past. I guess change is the only constant in so many aspects of life.

Bean is certainly a testament to that. It is amazing how much she has changed in just nine short months of life. Tiffany kept commenting on how big and different Bean was today. Last time we hung out Bean was barely sitting up on her own and certainly not crawling yet.

Her current phases are “everything in the mouth” and “pulling stuff out of containers”. She is also still very much into climbing on things and pulling herself up to stand no matter how stable the items used for support are.

She tends to get very fixated on things that she wants or wants to do. Usually no amount of redirecting, “no” or even getting hurt can dissuade her. For example, yesterday I came home really quick in the middle of running errands to go to the bathroom among other things. I basically walked in the door and put her down and then ran to the bathroom. I forgot to make sure that the gate on the stairs was latched. Bean of course immediately headed for the stairs and climbed up them. I was telling her “no” (which she knows what that means) as best I could while disposed of, but she was not listening. In fact, she was looking back at me and giggling as she went higher and higher. She got about to the third step, looked back at me in her very “haha Mama” way, and lost her balance rolling down the two stairs below her. She sat up, cried for a second, then laughed and set about heading back up the stairs again. At this point I was able to stop her and close the safety gate, but she probably would have continued to climb and then hurt herself as long I let her because she is just that determined about stuff.

I am sure this is going to make my life so much more interesting in the future.

She can also layer the drama on thick if she doesn’t get her way. I probably have to sweep her mouth for various objects (leaves, carpet fibers, hair, etc) about 20 times a day. If I find one and take it out she immediately errupts into a puddle of tears. This also holds true if I try to redirect her from something I don’t want her to do or have to another toy. The other toy is NOT good enough. The tears begin flowing, the face turns bright red and the upper lip juts out. Where do kids learn to do this? Sometimes it just makes me laugh because her pouty face is so funny and cute.

She does have an extremely funny and silly side too. Lately she really thinks that this head bang, hip thrust, bounce type dance move that she does is extremely hilarious, especially if you join in with her. She gets to laughing so hard that she sounds like she is almost gasping for air. I think the gasp noise is probably just another thing that she finds to be really funny. She is extremely ticklish, just like Mama. You don’t even have to actually touch her. You can just wiggle your fingers at her and she’ll start giggling away.

She continues to be more and more vocal, though she isn’t as big on her words as she was at first. Actually, the only time she says “Mama” now is when she is crying. We’ve tried and tried to get her to say “Mama” and “Papa” on command, but she just won’t do it anymore. Sometimes it does sound like she says “yeah,” but we’re not completely sure on that one. Mostly it’s just a lot of “aaaahhhh ba da la der di di di.”

Anyway, here she is at 39 weeks/nine months:

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