As I write this, I’m sitting in a hospital, waiting for my dad to come out of a 6 hour open heart surgery. As nervous as my mom and my siblings and I are, we are all so relieved that Dad is getting some help for the intense health issues he has been dealing with for the last few years. But…now we wait. None of us slept much last night (except for Dad, who is the least nervous of all of us!), but despite our exhaustion, none of us can fall into a restful sleep while we wait. Given my propensity for screaming nightmares, the ICU waiting area might not be a good venue for deep sleep anyway.
The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. I drove to my parents’ house and then to the hospital with them for Dad’s heart cath, which identified the issues that this open heart surgery will correct. Almost before Dad was out of recovery, I had to jump on a plane to fly to Vancouver for a work event. On my way home, I stopped back in to visit Dad in the hospital and then went home to my kiddos and husband. That weekend, my husband and I headed to my parents’ house again with my siblings to help get some things done outside that Dad is unable to do. If you’ve never used a wood chipper for 5 hours, jamming the last branch into the feeder LONG after the sun has gone down, well—you just haven’t lived, my friend.
Immediately after our lumberjacking weekend, we went home and I had to start prepping for my own lesser medical evil—my bi-annual “Hey, let’s look at your screwed up insides!” colonoscopy. Colonoscopies take a lot out of me. Wait. Colonoscopies are extremely draining. Argh! Okay—colonoscopies are just downright unpleasant and inconvenient. My insides are such fastidious little jerks these days. I am still being punished for the injustice they have perceived this week. The day after my probing, it was back in the car for four hours to come up to the hospital again—but not before we squeezed in a work day, one gymnastics class, a vet trip, and two Halloween parties. Today is October 31st, and I’ve promised the kiddos that I will do my very best to make it home in time to take them trick-or-treating, assuming that Dad is okay. We aren’t allowed to see him for longer than 2 minutes, and I don’t function very well in “hurry up and wait” conditions. Plus, in times of emotional distress, I crave the sweet hugs and comfort of being with my kids and husband. That makes the thought of another four hours in the car bearable for sure.
I am driving my husband’s car so that he can shuttle the five kids around in my mom-mobile while I’m gone, poor guy. On the drive up here last week, his car politely flashed a sweet little alarm that said “rest reminder” on the dashboard display, along with the image of a tree. I suppose the idea is that I would pull over, find an inviting little tree, kick my legs out and take a nap? Clearly this car was not built for busy mothers. I steadfastly hit the “ignore” button and forged ahead, wryly smiling at the naiveté of the car thinking that there are still women in the world who rest.
The physical strain of the last couple of weeks has hit all of us pretty hard in our immediate and extended families. While rest for our bodies isn’t an option, rest for our spirits is within reach no matter what is happening at the time. The solitude of many hours of business travel and the hours of driving alone, while worrying about my dad and the harried schedule we’re surviving, has given me the chance to seek reassurance from my Heavenly Father. When my fearful, weary brain just wouldn’t shut up, one verse popped into my head over and over again: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11: 28-29) Oh, man. Rest for our souls. That is exactly what we need, isn’t it? Can’t you just picture your spirit, stretched out under a shady tree, and at perfect rest? That’s what God wants for us and what He gives us. We just forget to ask sometimes. Or I do, anyway.
Dad should be coming out of surgery any minute, and while he won’t know we’re there in the 2 minutes that we get to see him, we’ll sure be thrilled to see him! I know our hectic pace isn’t unique to our family, and you are likely experiencing your own version of it right now–or worse. I pray that you find your own “happy little tree” of rest in the midst of your chaos. Feel free to reach out if I can pray for a specific need, and I would appreciate your prayers for my sweet dad.
Consider this your “rest reminder.” : )
**UPDATE: Dad is out of surgery and we got to see him for our allotted 2 minutes. He had a pretty serious close call during the surgery, but his medical staff is simply amazing, and the prayers of all who love him so much were definitely heard. Our family has so much to be thankful for!
If you are a working mom (or dad…or human…), you’ve likely suffered at some point from PVD—Post Vacation Dread. It starts out like any other virus–a little twinge here and there on your departing flight. A nagging little reminder on your return flight of the aches and pains to come. At my previous place of employment, PVD was a pandemic. During vacation season, it was nothing but bleary-eyed colleagues, staggering around the halls in a caffeinated haze, clutching their smoking laptops and pathetically asking “what happened while I was out of the office?” So many things, friend. So. Many. Things.
If you would have asked one of them (or me, for that matter) if it was “worth it” to take a vacation, knowing what awaited upon the return to the office, the answer would have been, at best, “I don’t know.” We were given a generous allotment of vacation time each year, and in the 7 years I was with the company, I used all of my vacation time only once. Once. I didn’t even come close the other 6 years. Why? It just wasn’t worth it. Instead of enjoying a stress-free, blissful vacation with my family, more often than not I found myself skeptically enjoying the first three days, and then spending the last four days nervously checking my inbox, panicking about the requests that steadily streamed in. You can’t recharge your batteries that way, and you can’t be an effective employee when you get back to the office. It just isn’t worth it.
In my current role, the PVD is less like the bubonic plague and more like that “food baby” feeling you get from eating too much pie. It’s a little unpleasant for a while, but totally worth it! We receive the same generous allotment of vacation time here, and I just realized today that I am going to use every last hour of it this year. Even more mind-blowing than that—I don’t take my work laptop on vacation with me anymore. It’s amazing how something that weighs about 10 pounds can feel like 100 pounds when you have to lug it around on your time off. I am so grateful for the opportunity to unchain myself from that weight.
One of the things I love about this company is that we use what we sell. For example, at any time of the day, any one of my co-workers can see my “status” and know if I am working, at lunch, on vacation, or if I don’t want to be disturbed. (It’s not creepy–I promise!) It’s very useful, but unless your company embraces a culture where that status is respected, it doesn’t do any good. The work/life balance is revered here, thankfully, and it shows in the loyalty and commitment the employees have for this company and its leadership.
I took several days off last week to go to the Grand Canyon with my husband and the two kiddos who were on Fall Break. I checked my work email three or four times while I was out, and while emails were coming in, the demands were not. The tone was that of respect for my family time and understanding that I would get to it all when I got back and had time to do it. Most email subject lines were “please don’t read this on vacation.” I am still working to catch up, but the level of understanding from my colleagues that I can’t do that in a day–or even a week–is so sweetly refreshing. Instead of spending this week in fetal position under my desk, I have spent it diligently plowing through my inbox and project list, my precious vacation memories intact, and with no regrets for daring to have a personal life. It was totally worth it.
I spent far too many years caught in the death spiral of a culture that treated me like property instead of a partner. The guilt of making your career a priority over your family when you feel like you don’t have a choice, is suffocating. Of course we love our families more than our employers. But if you love your family, you feel an obligation to support them and provide stability for them, yes? How can you do that if you refuse to give in to the soul-sucking demands of corporate America in an effort to keep your job? Believe me—I’ve been the mom on a conference call during a field trip. I’ve created Excel spreadsheets at soccer games. I’ve stepped out of school programs to email files that “just can’t wait.” I’ve even violated the sacred ritual of date night with my feverish email-stalking, waiting for data that I “desperately needed.”
No more. My life is going to be worth it. Every minute of it. Please don’t misunderstand me—I work hard and I bring the most value that I can to my employer, with the intent to constantly increase that value. As a Christian (and frankly, as a responsible member of the human race), it’s my obligation to do that. I just want to encourage you, if you feel like you are shackled to a job where anything outside of it “just isn’t worth it”, to take that terrifying first step to make a change. It might sound silly, but when I realized that I couldn’t take any more, I forced myself to apply to three jobs a week. They weren’t even things I was necessarily interested in or qualified for, but exposure to the application and interview process really helped me get my confidence back. I didn’t think I wanted the position I ultimately took here, but after my second interview, I knew that this was exactly what God had in store for me, and I haven’t stopped thanking Him since. I checked Glass Door for EVERY company with which I interviewed, to ensure that I didn’t jump out of the frying pan of misery and into the fire of a new hell. There is a lot of truth in that website. Check it out.
This random topic was on my heart today, so thanks for sticking it out with me if it doesn’t really apply to you. If it does, and you are mired in a career that is beating you down, let me know (privately, if you wish). I would love to pray for you and keep my ear to the ground for opportunities that can help you feel like your life is worth it again—because it totally is. Go get ’em!
Have you ever stopped to think about how weird it is to cry? I mean, how did God decide that the ultimate expression of extreme human emotion would be salt water dripping uncontrollably from two tiny little drain holes in our eyes? It’s just weird. We’re happy and we cry. We’re sad and we cry. We’re in pain and we cry…
What a bunch of leaky sad sacks we are.
I hate to cry. My emotional engine typically runs at one speed, so it feels very unnatural to succumb to something that’s so…natural. The rest of my body is in agreement with me. I know, because I’m allergic to my own tears. No joke—my traitorous eye-terrorists leave little red shame trails on my face. Every. Single. Time. Since I cry approximately once every leap year, this has never been much of a problem—until recently. I seem to cry about everything lately. Happy crying. Sad crying. Stress crying. Pain crying. I don’t know who this emotional lunatic is, but I miss the old robot me.
The past couple of years have been some of the best years of my life, but some of the hardest too. In the last two years, I married the love of my life, became the stepmom of three fantastic boys, quit a job that made me want to give myself a lobotomy most days, started a job at a company that I love and respect, and became even more involved in my church and my community. All wonderful things. In the last couple of years I was also diagnosed with an incurable and wretched GI disorder, I had to all but stop running—which has been a huge part of my life for the better part of 20 years, I have had to learn how to be a stepmom to the aforementioned boys, I lost my grandmother, and my husband and I have had to juggle his self-employment with my new job and all of the stress that comes with both of our career paths, all while navigating a new marriage and blended family. It hasn’t been easy, but every moment was part of God’s plan for us. The happy, the sad, the painful and the downright stressful—all part of the plan. Just knowing that makes everything seem much more manageable, doesn’t it?
Through all of this, even on my worst SOD day, I’ve kept my emotions in check for the most part. I cried when my grandma passed away, and even then the feeling was so foreign that it almost felt like someone else was operating my face. Don’t get me wrong– I love my family so much that it scares me sometimes, but my tear ducts haven’t traditionally felt obligated to weigh in—that’s all.
Today, I wrote down every stressful or nervous or negative thought that crossed my mind during the day. I was amazed at the extent of the thoughts I had. Looking at that list, I realized just how trapped I am inside my own stoicism. I think mothers feel like it’s their duty to keep it all together sometimes. I know I do. When I can’t keep it together, and it all starts leaking out my stupid face, I feel like I have failed somehow, and my “Pillar of Strength” merit badge has been ripped away.
Since my face isn’t really giving me a choice, and since I feel like maybe there is a lesson in here somewhere for me, I’ve decided to just let my acidic tears fall where they may . Maybe the old robot me is still in there, but this new, dribbly, soft version of me can co-exist with it. Being a human is hard, but what a blessing it is to feel things worth crying about, right? It reminds us of what we have to lose, what means the most to us, and the grace we’re given to overcome the hard times. If you’re feeling like you’ve misplaced your robot too, I’ve got a box of Kleenex with your name on it.
Okay, half a box.
Two. Two used Kleenexes with your name on them.
Rip off that hero badge, mama.
I hear other mothers talk about how they limit the time their kids are allowed to use electronics to 10 minutes a day, or only on Saturdays, or only when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter is aligned with Mars–but only if it’s on a Tuesday.
Friends, I am not that mother. I would like to be, but it is with great mom-shame that I tell you that sometimes I use my kids’ iPads (yes, they have their own) as babysitters, teachers, bribes and the carrots at the end of the stick that is parenting tedium. Don’t get me wrong—we have rules about our electronics, and the kids are expected to follow them. Our rules are just a little…looser than some of my other mom friends’ rules.
In our house “One more word and you lose the Xbox” elicits an immediate and intentional silence that even the crickets don’t dare violate. “Do you want to lose the iPad?” has the same weight as “Do you want to be dipped in boiling oil?” The behavior in question magically vanishes, and my previously unruly child stares up at me with the face of a sweet cherub.
In my kids’ defense, they really are bright and creative and active. Although there are days when I have to pry their electronics out of their white-knuckled grips and drag them outside as they blink up at the sun like little zombies, those days are rare. As all moms do though, I feel that sense of “I’m the biggest failure that ever failed a fail” when it comes to most things (why do we do that to ourselves?) and I aspire to impose stricter limits on electronics. Oh, but then I have an emergency conference call. I have to run across town for an unexpected errand. The dog eats 7 smoke-bombs and starts vomiting neon projectiles (true story). The point is that life gets in the way of good intentions and I hand over the iPads in defeat.
I am not making excuses for myself in the areas in which I need to improve. Life is never going to stop being crazy—we just have to find new ways to cope with it and become the next “better” version of ourselves. One thing that we all have in common is that we want to do our very best for our kids. If my best today is “watch a movie while Mommy picks Legos out of the garbage disposal” then that’s my best, and I have to be okay with that.
I picture my inner critic as June Cleaver. White apron, immaculate hair, perfectly-applied red lipstick… I hate her. She smells like fresh-baked banana bread and judgment, and she is always staring down her perfect little nose, telling me what I should have done and tsk-tsk-ing at my failures. You know what, June? My kids might have permanent grass stains on their behinds (it’s possible—trust me), and they might be able to quote the NFL Bad Lip Reading videos verbatim (if you’ve never seen them, they’re HILARIOUS–but, I digress). They might be missing 2.5 buttons at any given time, and it’s 50/50 if they remembered to flush the potty, but they are loved and they love fiercely in return. Their little hearts are pure and sweet and focused on Jesus—even at their young ages. For every moment that they cause another gray hair to pop out like a turkey timer on my head, they give me a thousand moments of warmth that make June’s banana bread look like a pile of regurgitated smoke-bombs.
It’s not easy going through your parents’ divorce. When you add on a new stepparent and step siblings, life really gets interesting. I am not one to embrace change. I often wonder how I would have reacted as a child if my parents had divorced and remarried. I have a feeling it wouldn’t have been very pretty.
One of things I am most proud of is for the way that all five of our children have adjusted to life in our blended family. We all still struggle in different ways and at different intensities, but I am so proud of them for continually adapting with such grace. (Do me favor please, and remind me of that the next time they are all in the car, arguing about who gets to sit where while I rock back and forth in the passenger seat, pulling out my eyelashes.) The bottom line is that all seven of us continue to develop new, improved versions of ourselves. Our 2.0’s. We work on our “bug-fixes” and make adjustments where we need a little tweaking.
Mommy 2.0 might not be able to get the kids to flush, or to stop running around in the yard in their socks, but she’s okay with that. Who knows? She might even bake banana bread.
For the past 6 months, my husband and I have been attending classes at a Bikram yoga studio. If you aren’t familiar with Bikram, here’s what you need to know:
Okay, okay. It’s more than that. For people like me, with digestive tracts made of rotting garbage and fire, it’s actually very beneficial. It releases toxins through the 3.72 gallons of sweat I provide during each 90 minute class and it also increases the blood flow to my ungrateful pancreas and ill-tempered liver. A bummer for me, however, is that heat exacerbates my digestive disorder in some pretty spectacular ways. It takes the worst parts of my illness and amplifies them.
There are classes where I feel like a Zen-master. I bend and stretch and ohm in ways I didn’t even know my body could, and I feel great. I barely notice the 104 degree heat and that it’s so humid in the studio that it’s about to rain. Then there are the other classes. The ones where it’s too much work to just lay like a melted marshmallow Peep on the mat, and my internal dialogue sounds something like this:
“Why did you do this to us?”
“Shut up. It’s good for us.”
“I am going to make you pay. I’ve been talking to Stomach and Colon, and we have a plan.”
“Try me. Look at your husband back there. HE’S not panting like a Chihuahua during a thunderstorm. What’s YOUR problem?”
“It’s not a competition.” (silently competing harder)
(Instructor) “Now, let’s move on to Wind Removing Pose.”
“Oh, no. NoNoNoNoNo. Dear Jesus, please put your hand of embarrassment-prevention on my belly. Silence the evil of Stomach and unleash your righteous fury on Colon, telling him to ‘just be cool, man.’ I know I’m not supposed to bargain with you, but if it helps, I will cover myself in sackcloth and ashes and sing of your mighty works on Monument Circle—just please, please get me through the next 30 minutes with my dignity intact.”
Jesus, in His infinite mercy, always heeds my prayer and I make it through. I roll the dice again in the next class, not knowing if it’s going to be 90 minutes of magical, organ-compressing bliss, or of pure, vomity torture.
When the heat gets intense, my worst parts act up. It’s the same way in my non-yoga life. As work and motherhood and day-to-day pressures start to make me sweat, I am no longer the flexible and focused wife, mama and stepmama that I want to be. Anxiety and crabbiness start pouring out of me and my inner dialogue gets downright mean. So how I do silence it? I am slowly learning, but I have a long way to go.
More than anything, I have to ask for help when I need it. I’m going to make a confession to all of you: I enjoy a little self-imposed martyrdom now and then. I just do. It’s easier to let myself wallow in my “Poor me! I have to do this all by myself!” than it is to just ask for help and admit that I can’t stand the heat of life. Don’t be a grumpy hero, y’all. Ask for help.
Secondly, I need to let go of the way that I do things and realize that my way is not necessarily the best way, and it’s certainly not the only way. I can’t tell you how many times I have refused the offer of help from my husband or one of the kids because I thought “I’m just going to have to do it over anyway.” Why? Because they put the bowls in the top rack of the dishwasher instead of the bottom? Because they use a little too much furniture polish when they dust? The horror! Instead of letting the people who love me most show me that love by helping me when I need it, I load the dishwasher and dust the furniture my way, and then feel sorry for myself because of it. Goodness. That’s embarrassing to see in print, but it’s true.
If you find yourself doing the same things, I hope you can join me in the effort to let go of the grip we have on our to-do lists and just ask for help when we can’t take the heat. Like Bikram, it takes a ton of practice and patience with yourself, but we can do this. Namaste.
One of my friends used to lament to me that “everyone aspires to be a business traveler–until they get their wish.” I have to say that I agree with that statement for the most part. Something struck me two trips ago, however, that I have to share with my fellow parents and wives (working, stay-at-home or somewhere in between): There is great blessing in being alone. Sounds crazy, but hear me out. I am not talking about being lonely. I am talking about having time alone. And by “alone”, I mean without your family. You can be surrounded by thousands of people, in the middle of Times Square, and still be this particular type of “alone.” I can almost hear your maternal gasps of horror from here. Relax. You can be Supermom and admit that you need time to yourself, away from your spouse and your little Dewdrops from Heaven.
When I travel for work, my second goal, aside from providing value to my employer, is to see/do/find/taste/experience something new. I have visited Prairie Dog Town and the Buddy Holly museum in Lubbock, Texas; I have rigorously taste-tested gelato all over Little Italy in NYC; I’ve walked the Freedom Trail in Boston; explored cemeteries in New Orleans– you get the idea. If there is a “World’s Biggest” or “Guinness Record Holding” something in a city I am scheduled to visit for work, I’m there, iPhone in hand, photo-documenting every bit of it. If you have to leave your family, manage the childcare jigsaw puzzle, and suffer through the delight that is traveling by plane in 2014, why not make the most of it?
About a month ago, I had to travel to LA. As usual, I spent a few minutes on Trip Advisor, researching the area in which I would be staying, and discovered that Redondo Beach was a) where they filmed the TV show “Baywatch” and b) that there had been an unusual number of great white shark sightings lately. Sold! Alas, I didn’t see any sharks, but as I was catching up on emails from the beach, I looked around at the vacationing families and laughing children, and was hit with a surge of love for my own family, which was immediately followed by the realization of how desperately I need my sporadic alone times.
In the summers, we have all five of our kiddos every other week (and two every week). I am so grateful for the extra time as a family of seven, and I wouldn’t trade one day of the crazy, ear-splitting loudness. However, I have to sheepishly admit that sometimes it just feels like too much while I am living in it. We’ve all had our moments of martyrdom, where being the mom, the maid, the chauffer, the bank, the personal attendant, the provider, the referee, the counselor and the disciplinarian feels like it is going to crush you. I had plenty of those moments this summer. More than I would even like to admit. However, sitting on that beach in LA, I realized just how much I desperately love and need each member of our crazy family. Distance and separation have a way of bringing clarity to your heart and mind in a way that counseling and Prozac never could! If you are in the middle of one of the “crazy moments”, where it’s all just too much, I would encourage you to find some creative ways to give yourself the gift of a little smidge of distance. It’s medicinal, and it works.
If you don’t have the sort of vocation that calls for periodic jaunts to the 4 corners of Earth, here are a few ideas:
1) Don’t undervalue the healing power of a few moments with a friend. Doesn’t have to be out of town– make time to have coffee or dinner with that one person to whom you can be completely honest about how crazy you feel at the moment, get it out, and then enjoy the perspective that only distance can provide.
2) Take time for something that is just for you. A fitness or art class, or a cup of coffee and people watching–whatever it is, schedule it into your calendar like an appointment and set the expectation with your family that this thing is just as important as a medical checkup or work obligation. You’ve heard that “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”, right? Truth. Everyone will benefit from your rabid insistence that they honor your “alone” time. Do not feel guilty about this (and do as I say, not as I do while you’re at it…).
3) If you do travel for your job, I encourage you to step outside of the hassle of it all the next time you go somewhere, and breathe in the sights and experiences around you. Take note of the good and the bad. Enjoy the strangeness of navigating a new place by yourself and on your schedule. Let yourself miss your family, and enjoy the opportunity to miss them.
It’s such a strange dichotomy to let yourself bask in the chance to be independent of your mom-ness and wife-ness for a moment, but for your heart to long for your family. That is the blessing of being alone. I am grateful for the distance that allows me to refocus on what is most important in my life, and return to it with a renewed spirit and mind and with gratitude for being trusted with the exact life I have been given. I hope you can use your “alone” for the same purpose.