Thursday, June 26, 2014

Rules To Live By/Facts

There are 1,899,012 blogposts about mothering: read them all and apply every lesson to your life, even if you’re not a mom.

There will be a test at the end of your life to see that you have taken care to recall every helpful tidbit you’ve read on Pinterest.

If you have deduced that the world expects your life to genuinely reflect that of your Instagram, you must pursue that life and assume failure if you cannot live up to that expectation.

On topic with expectations: always have them. The more detailed, the more helpful.

If someone doesn’t live up to the expectations you have imagined for them, blame them.

If you are driving and a fellow driver annoys you, assume an expression of deep offense. If said fellow driver notices your sour expression, he or she will hail you as king until they die.

If you need the cars surrounding you to evaporate, make a phone call.

Yelling “hey, lady,” to get a woman’s attention will get you places in life, while yelling, “hey, gentleman,” is just offensive.

Females who bring children with them into public places are sub-human, except if that female is accompanied by a well-groomed bearded man and/or yoga pants.

If you cross paths with a woman who is well into her pregnancy, it is only polite of her to pause, wait for you to place your hand on her abdomen, and await your assessment.

When looking at a menu board or for a friend in a movie theater, avoid a blank expression at whatever cost.

If you want your friends to trust you, focus all conversation on the stupidity of your other friends.

Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you.

Thank you,

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"You're a muggle, Julie."

When Charles slams the cabinet doors on his fingers over and over, I wonder why he keeps doing it.

When Alice screams and doesn't get her way over and over, I wonder why she hasn't learned to stop screaming.

So, when I fight a million battles that I constantly lose every day, you'd think I would stop and wonder why I keep fighting. But, like an idiot, I keep fighting.

Maybe I keep fighting because raising babies into adults often feels like constant losing, and I grow so accustomed to losing that I don't even know when to stop and think, "Hey, in this situation, I should be winning the entire world."

Instead, I think, "Keep slamming the cabinet doors. Keep screaming. And keep up the good work, you son of a gun."

That, my friends, is lunacy.

Today I have been fighting nap time.  That's what my day has been centered on. One baby, one toddler, and dealing with their sleep patterns.

That is ridiculous.


I have fed them, changed them, done dishes, started laundry, and even straightened my hair today.  But I have other plans... plans that have been squashed by children resisting the beauty of sleep in one way or another.  This is not abnormal. In fact, this is a pretty normal day, yet for some reason every single day I think how strange it is that nothing is going according to plan. It has taken 2.5 years for it dawn on me that my plan stinks, which means I deserve no awards or pats on the back or anything that might imply I have a brain.

So, people, what if I stopped fighting it?  Would I be a bad mom? No. Would anyone die? No. Would anyone be mildly wounded? No. Would it cause a mess? Probably. Would I be able to clean up that mess? I don't know. And I don't care. Because I can't care. I can't care. I CAN'T CARE, I SAY! Doom on you for thinking I can care and keep my sanity at the same time.

So tomorrow -- or rather, now -- this is the actual plan: survival. I've been fighting the fact that having two very small kids means that I'm just over here survivin' and enjoying the process. Some evil House Elf put the idea in my head that I'm supposed to be a magician. Well, you know what, elf, I'm not. So shut up.

Now that we've established I'm a dumb human, this is my plan:
If my kids are awake: Hi, what's up, what do you need, what should we do, what can we learn?
If my kids are awake and don't care about my existence for a few seconds: Hi, dishes, how about you stop being dirty.
If my kids interrupt those dishes: Totally normal.  Let's do this.
If my kids are asleep: What can my brain do? Sleep? Neato, it's time to sleep. Do I have an ounce of energy? Special, how about a load of laundry.
If my kids fight sleep: Bring it on, cutest kids in life. We'll figure it out... even if it takes

Some moms are awesome, laid back, and don't even have to lay out a plan to not have a plan.  I'm clearly not one of those moms... and maybe I'm still awesome. Maybe. My hope is that this plan will actually allow me to get more done because my expectations are realistic and I'm not being weighed down by feelings of failure. After all, with my new non-plan, my success is now being measured by how well I can be with my kids and not how successful I am at being a witch when I'm actually a muggle.

So, here's to accepting that I'm not a magician and here's to discovering the power of powerlessness! I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, June 2, 2014

When We Need: loving your neighbor and talking about money

"We can't afford that right now."

"It's not in our budget."

"That price is not realistic for us."

These are some of the polite, comfortable phrases most of us have learned to use in talking about money. Maybe it is my little world, maybe it's being human, maybe it is just living in the materialistic U.S., but money is simply not a comfortable topic.

As my husband, Caleb, and I have grown in our marriage (i.e., lamented money problems), we have become more and more befuddled as to why this very real necessity in life called "money" makes people squirm in their seats.  No one wants to talk about it.  We can tell someone that we are hungry (we NEED food), that we are cold (we NEED a jacket), or that our finger hurts when we've cut it (we NEED a band-aid), and all of these things will likely require some amount of money in order to acquire, yet most people are happy to oblige in either fulfilling this need or, at the very least, discussing it.  But if you turn to your neighbor and say, "Things are tight, we can't get a lawn mower," the chances that he or she will readily discuss this further with you are one in none.

I can understand why.  This is a need your neighbor can't fulfill -- the fact that you can't afford a lawn mower means that you have an unfulfilled need in your life, one that could very well be fulfilled in your neighbor's life.  That's an uncomfortable reality.  We all have different incomes, we all have different life-circumstances, and we all have different needs.  Also, talking about how someone can't buy a lawn mower is incredibly boring.  It is very unlikely that you and your friend have the exact amount of money in your bank accounts, that you both need to replace the rotting chairs on your porch, and you both need groceries this week, but will also slash out "chocolate chips" because your kids need new sippy cups instead.  If your circumstances aren't the exact same, it's just going to be weird to talk about.  One of you will walk away from the conversation feeling guilty, and the guilty party is more than likely to be the one who -- at that moment in time -- has more disposable income.

There is, however, more behind a discussion of money than money itself.

Within months of getting married, I was pregnant with our sweet Alice.  What God had planned in the months to follow was not at all, ever in a million years, what Caleb and I would have chosen. We moved out of the college town where we had met, put our stuff in a storage unit, and settled in at my parents. Each month I watched my pregnant tummy grow and my anxiety grew tenfold. Caleb was working at Starbucks and searching fervently for a full time job with benefits. I cried a lot in those months as every part of me wanted to be planning and making a nursery for this baby to come, but couldn't even pour our own coffee into our own mugs in the morning because we were relying solely on the help of others -- my parents -- to pull us through this time.

"At least we have a roof over our heads," I always thought. "We would be utterly lost without the help we have from my parents," I would tell myself. "We should be grateful."

These thoughts were true, but I beat myself up with them countless times a day.  I could hardly allow myself to complain because that would just be ungrateful.  But what I didn't realize at the time was that feeling and stating "This is the hardest thing I've ever done," was not a complaint.  Saying, "We need our own house," was not whining.  These were just plain facts -- hard facts -- that I needed to stick inside my head and work through.  Instead, I kept telling myself that I shouldn't feel this way.

When friends and family asked how we were, most of them, bless them, wanted us to see the bright side.
"At least you have a place to stay."
"Things could be worse."
"He'll find a job, don't worry."

Though filled with good intent, these words stung. These words reinforced the words I'd been beating myself up with.  What these words actually communicated was,

"In all fairness, you should be in a homeless shelter."
"I wouldn't be complaining if I were in your situation -- pull it together."
"I found a job one time, so your husband will likely get one, too -- stop needing my understanding."

When something is difficult, it could always be more difficult, and it is neither helpful nor sympathetic to point that out.

I was desperate for someone to really and truly understand and sympathize with our pressing need.  Sometimes needs look like a sink waiting to be fixed or an empty fridge needing to be filled, but we didn't even have a sink or a fridge... we needed money first. Our lives had been whittled down to life's basic necessities to the point where all we needed in the world was money.  In the same way that the only thing we will think about when we haven't eaten in half a day is food, the only thing we could think about, and the only thing we really wanted to talk about, was money.  We had a family to consider and, unfortunately, that meant we had money -- first and foremost -- to think about.  It was a big fat bummer of a reality.  When I spent time with anyone, it took a conscious effort to NOT talk about jobs and money. When it slipped, I was always met with disappointment because no one seemed to truly understand.

What I failed to verbalize at the time -- because it seemed so obvious when I was in the thick of it -- was that yes, money is a physical need, but I was emotionally burdened by the reality of it. It hurt me, it crushed me, and everyone's responses communicated that I was wrong for letting it hit me that way.  There are times in life when you can pray day and night, but your spirit will not feel at peace until someone wraps you in a blanket. And I just wanted that blanket.

Fast forward about 3 years later to the present.  We are in our rent home that we moved into when we left my parents' house (1 month before my due date!).  We have been through our sweet Alice staying in the NICU, Alice released from the NICU, yet another bout of unemployment, another job, another sweet baby, a totaled car, a sold car, a replacement car, and the list goes on and our gratitude swells.  I can now scream across mountains, "This is the hardest thing I've ever done," then shout to the world, "I am better for it."

Since we're still human, we still have needs.  I'm still learning to say, "I NEED mascara," and not feel guilty about it (because, seriously Julie, you can survive without some stupid makeup).  I'm still learning to say, "I need to put 'shorts' in the budget because Alice doesn't have shorts and she actually NEEDS them," (because, seriously Julie, she already has some dresses).

I'm also learning not to scoff at people who say, "Things are tight, so I can't upgrade my iPhone," (because SERIOUSLY, who cares), or, "It's been a hard summer, we just couldn't fit a vacation in the budget," (hahahaha, well, WE couldn't fit a trip to the zoo in the budget).

To sum this up, I am learning not to compare or compete over who has the more difficult situation and who is more of a saint because of it.  The man on the street corner holding the sign that says, "anything helps," would look at my life and see a wealthy woman indeed.  In the same way, I look at people whose lives look materially better than ours and see wealthy people. However, these "wealthy" people still have needs, whether physical or emotional or spiritual, that are just as "needy" as my needs.

In part, I feel compelled to write these things because I know I can't be alone.  I know that it can be incredibly awkward in social settings to be surrounded by the upper middle class.  It's an awkward barrier in relationships because most of the time those with the higher income are the ones blind to this barrier, leaving you feeling extraordinarily isolated (like how I truly have no idea what to say when someone comments on what a bother it is to go car-shopping when all I can think is what a delightful problem that would be... "Um, yeah, maybe that would be a bother!" *weird laugh*).  It's not super fun to account for a Starbucks drink when you plan out your budget, nor is it a thrill to really want to give your friend that amazing gift, but must settle for that cheaper, less-amazing gift.  Some -- if not all -- paychecks can be a neon sign that say "You are limited! You have no control!"  (Fun fact: we are all, actually, limited and not in control.)

The other part of why I want to share this, is this: we must be gracious to one another.  It is not up to us to decide whether he deserves that car or she deserves our graciousness. We must rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  Even if it's hard or makes us squirm in our seats, we must be happy when our friend is, and be truly happy for them.  And we must also feel disappointment for our friend when they "just can't afford to join you at the concert."  Let's not be afraid to talk about money, whether it is because your friend needs it or because your friend got a fat raise.  I am obviously not advocating that we should all start talking about money or let "the budget" become an obnoxiously regular part of conversation.  After all, the love of money is the root of all evil, and I am greatly aware that it is not just the wealthy who fall prey to this love. But we should be sympathetic and tenderhearted toward one another because, as much as we would like to think otherwise, we do not know what other people's lives are like just because we have glanced at them.  So, let us love one another as Christ loves us.  And as part of this, let's not be afraid to talk about money.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Charles Tells All

Meet Charles: the happiest guy around.  He's happy, high maintenance, hunky, and here to tell you all about his almost-10-month-old self.  Take it away, Charles.

Hey, guys.  Hi.  I'm looking at you right now and this is serious.  I'm thinking about you.  You're sitting there... reading this... I'm summing up the situation. You're probably awesome, but it's best to start off serious.  Okay, yeah.  Yeah, this is good!  Yeah!  I can't stop smiling!  Yes! I like you! It's official!  Let me tell you all about myself.

First things first, let's get one thing straight: food is meaningless.  Why people eat it is beyond me.  It's gross, it makes you gag no matter what, and I can't think of a single okay thing about it.  Milk is a different story. Milk is better than a million dollars.  I will never stop drinking it ever.  I will never not wake up 5 times in the night to drink it because I love it and no one can ever take it away from me.  That's all I have to say about that (actually, I could talk about it all day... I love it).

Music is pretty groovy, I have to say.  If you start humming, I'll start dancing.  Sometimes I even like to bop around when my mom is singing and trying to rock me to sleep -- she loves that.

If I see you fall down, there is nothing funnier.

Please come over to my house but, if you do, never leave.  That is really sad.  People should never leave.  I'm going to cry just thinking about it.

When I do cry, I really need my mom and I tend to say, "Mamamamamama."  I'm not sure why I say this.  It might be a coincidence or it might mean that I'm attempting to say something... I don't know myself well enough to know what I'm doing yet, so I'll get back to you on that.

My sister is really nice and I love her.  Sometimes she pushes me down or hits my head for no reason.  I cry a lot when that happens, my mom comes over and holds me, and then Alice and my mom talk a lot and Alice goes away for awhile and it gets busy around here.  But Alice is the coolest person I know.  When she's not around, it's not very fun.  It's kind of scary when she's not there to play with me.  Sometimes she takes my toys or tells me not to do things that I KNOW are okay to do.  She's the best, you guys.  She reads me stories and rubs my head and sings in my face.  When I'm bored she makes funny faces at me -- she's hilarious.  If I cry, she asks me what's wrong and hugs me really, really hard.  Sometimes her hugs make me fall down.  She really is the best.

I could go for some milk right now.

Sometimes I have something very specific in mind that I want... if you can't figure out what that is, I will be extremely angry.  You better figure it out.

However, if you take something from me that I shouldn't have, my heart will break. It won't make me angry, just the saddest baby ever.  How could you.

I think this about wraps up my life as an almost-10-month-old.  It's pretty confusing, but generally good.  If you'll excuse me, I need to go hang out.  ...but come with me... don't leave.  Come hang out with me.  Let's go.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Suh-no = Snow (and other Alice pronunciations)

Alice is coming up on 2.5 years and I can hardly believe it.  She has always been a little babbler, and so eager to babble and chatter that she is taking her sweet time actually learning the words she pretends to babble.  Finally, she seems to be slowing down enough to pause, listen, and learn words, and they're being pronounced in the best way possible. That said, I use this time to document some words that are uniquely Alice in pronunciation.

Suh-no = Snow (snow is yucky, in case you didn't know... it lands on cars and trees and makes a mess)

Cweeb = Crib

Taw-wees = Charles

Aw mawnin' = Good morning

Sussin = Medicine

Twends = Friends (everyone is a twend)

Munch = Lunch and/or sandwich

Beekies = Blankies

Aw dawb = Good job

Pawno = Piano

Bah = Umbrella

A-mawn = Amen

Ginks = Thanks

Last but not least, unfortunately, Alice thinks her name is Ass.  That's okay.  She'll get that L and I soon. We hope.

Hands down, our favorite word of hers is "cweeb"... it cracks us up every time.  At this point, her pronunciations are cute. If she keeps up this cuteness through age 3, I might get worried.  As for now, I'm embracing her sweet little baby talkin'.

P.S.  Alice has been stealing the show on the blog... Charles, you're up next, don't you even worry.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Let's Read Some Stories

The cries of her toddler's screams awoke her with a start.  "Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!"  A pause.  There it was again.  "Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!" Nothing about these screams should have startled the young mother, for they were a frequent cry heard in the early hours of the morning.  A silent moan welled up inside her -- that familiar tightness in her shoulders, resisting the day's monotony of splattered applesauce, smelly diapers, and the very real fear that catastrophe could, would, and should strike any moment.  The day itself began with the reminder of chaos, as Alice continued to scream from her bed, "Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!" The mother listened for her husband, perhaps in the kitchen starting his breakfast.  No, he had left for the bus.  Two cars in the driveway: one too dangerous to drive and too costly to repair, the other for her and the children.  Maybe they should get out of the house today... some place other than the grocery store.  Some place to justify her husband leaving an hour before he was due at work, compared to the 15 minutes it took to drive.

The mother turned to see her 9-month-old sleeping soundly on his tummy.  For a brief second she wondered how much more pleasant the morning would be if that baby were in the same room as the Egg Monster, no feedings through the night, just a normal morning with your body's energy a sweet reminder of the deep sleep of the night before.  That dear 9-month-old who much preferred feeding off his mother to a spoonful of anything a grown human might eat.  "Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!"  She crawled out of bed and made the one-second journey to the next room, the nursery. The morning sun always shone brighter in this room where behind, a mess of blonde bedhead, Alice greeted her with a rascally smile.  Alice's blue eyes stuck fast to her mother's. "Eggs?" she asked. 

                                                                         The End 

I often tell my husband that if he read more fiction -- or any story, for that matter -- life would make a lot more sense.  Caleb is an avid reader and a hungry learner, but he strongly prefers philosophy, theology, and the like to a book of fiction.  He's good at understanding information and there is nothing he loves more than understanding a topic backwards and forwards (is there any other way to understand something?).  While in college, I could walk into a Geography test knowing very well that there was plenty I did not understand.  This did not worry me because this was life... I studied my face off and didn't understand everything and that was that.  However, when Caleb worried about a test, it was because he "just didn't understand the concepts in the least. At all.  I know NOTHING."  As it turned out, knowing "nothing" about something simply meant he couldn't write a 1,000 page study on that topic but could, however, get a B on the test.  

Apply this way of thinking to life -- that you are an imbecile for not knowing your tire would spontaneously blow out -- and you have yourself the perfect recipe for mental insanity.  Yes, you creeton, you should have understood life enough to know that a speck of ketchup was just waiting to jump on your white dress shirt, you careless buffoon.  You know nothing.  You thought you could plan out your day, you thought you could impact the world, you thought you could finish reading that article?  Well, you didn't and it is obviously because you do not understand how life should work, and anything you don't understand is your fault, so try a little harder and learn a little more and get an A+  in life already.  Is this the voice inside your head?  Please read a story.

In books -- inside the hundreds of pages of a well-written story -- we find the timeline, in whole or in part, of a person's life.  We can read how Anne Shirley, a skinny little nobody of a red-head, is anything but a nobody.  We learn how Benjamin Bunny ignores his mother's instructions for the sake of adventure but, oh Benjamin Bunny, that is not the adventure you had in mind.  We explore the peculiar behaviors of Winnie the Pooh and all his friends, and join their grand adventures (and we might even have extensive conversations with our own Pooh stuffed animal, begging him to talk).  We can identify with the stubborn nature of Elizabeth Bennett, scoff at Lydia and Kitty's foolishness, secretly adore the meddlesome Mrs. Bennett, and nobody knows it.  We are free to assess the lives and characters of these people with no strings attached.  We can read as a fly on the wall or as Elizabeth Bennett herself.  We explore, think, and live in a way life would otherwise never allow us to explore, think, and live.  While we bury our heads in the sands of our own lives, we see the accomplishments, failures, outcomes, and consequences that the characters, whose own heads are so far buried in their own stories, cannot see.  We close the book with a higher understanding of our lives and a greater appreciation for a dreary day because that dreary day is just a speck of a thing to endure until we turn the next page into a new day where Mr. Darcy is confessing his love.  

Stories allow us to grow, imagine, and hope.  History is positively freckled with true stories that allow us to grow, imagine, and hope in the same way.  Life never looks as grand as it is until we make it a story; until we prove to ourselves how grand it is through the words we paint.  The sunny day with a picnic at the playground is not life finally made right, but rather a gift to enjoy and hold onto because when we turn the page to the next day, it could be filled with a tragedy for which only the sunshine could have prepared us.   

The small amount of fiction I have read (even as an English graduate) is appallingly embarrassing, but I think it's safe to say that I was shaped most by the stories I grew up reading.  If you have kids, show them the gift of stories.  If you want to teach the crazy voice in your head to be a sane voice of comfort, read any good story.  Learn from Noah, Moses, Ruth, Bloody Mary and Queen Elizabeth, Lucy Pevensie, Ramona Quimby, Montresor and Fortunato, Jane Eyre, Hulga Hopewell, Harry Potter, and Frodo Baggins.  Yes, that list turned out completely strange, but you get the idea: read a story.  

Stories open our eyes to possibilities and write ambition into our bones.  Stories help us make sense of the bleak and find hope in failures.  Stories help us rejoice when we are served our favorite dessert or get a new car. Stories are how I awake to a day burdened with the mundane, but suddenly see its meaning in the sunshine behind my daughter's blue eyes.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Temple, Tapping Into My Toddler's Toes

It might be a little belated, but it wouldn't seem right to let my blog go without recognizing the passing of Shirley Temple.  My sisters and I adored that happy, singing, tapping, bouncy-haired girl, and she is forever etched in my childhood.  Naturally, I want to pass down this love to Alice and, because she's a dancing fool, she has had no trouble becoming attached to the dancing ways of Shirley Temple.  I adore her bizarre 2-year-old interpretations of Shirley Temple's moves.  Alice has always loved dancing, and I'm sure Shirley -- or, as she calls her, "Temple" -- will impact Alice in the inspiring way she did my sisters and I.

At Alice's 10-week ultrasound, she was dancing.  If you've seen Bubble Guppies, she looked identical to a dancing Bubble Guppy.  In the womb she was a rollie pollie, and I told Caleb almost daily that we had a dancer on our hands.  Lo and behold, she was born with the cord wrapped around her 3 times, she was so busy dancin' it up.

Dance away, little Alice!  I completely support your choice of a role model.

Alice's favorite "Temple" song.

P.S. I'm deeply sorry for bringing something as horrifying as Bubble Guppies into a conversation about Shirley Temple.