Taking Charge

2014 is coming to a close, but I’ve been too distracted for interviews or posts.  I started an exercise regimen and lost 10 pounds.  I gained back six over time, but I am stronger and have muscle definition that I’ve never seen before.  I can now hike 10 miles, run a bit, and do push-ups.  I’m saving my paddle boarding enthusiasm for 2015, but I can hardly wait to try that first yoga pose on the river!  We continue to educate our kids, navigate a relationship with a family member living on our property, plan some exciting trips abroad, and now operate an Airbnb rental. This new development has been so rewarding and fun. Further, we’ve gained momentum on our Ramsey-eque debt snowball, making space and freedom for other ideas.

Earlier this year, I had prayed that God would take some things off my plate, responsibilities that I didn’t want anymore, duties that felt too peripheral, too disintegrated to truly be worthy of continued financial, emotional, and mental energy.  I think His word to me was, “It’s time for you to take charge.  I want you to learn to learn to persevere in the face of what I have given you to do and steward it well.”  This has forced me to solve problems more creatively, something that is so good for my mind.  And in order to take charge well, I had to enlist help with some responsibilities and rearrange other ones.   So, bring on 2015!  A year for me to stretch more creatively into that calling of perseverance and stewardship!

Far Away Memories

IMG_2398

A few days ago, as I scanned my bookcases filled with titles that have been with me for almost twenty years, trying to decide which to keep and toss, I found this card and message.  It was lost inside a book on natural home remedies, bought at a used bookstore years ago, read once and seldom consulted since.  While I don’t doubt that it was a message to myself during the period of my life that I lived 2500 miles away from family, I have only a muted memory of it.  I believe that it used to hang somewhere in an apartment, possibly on a bathroom mirror or refrigerator where I would see it often.  It’s preserved appearance suggests, perhaps, that it held a place in various books I was reading at the time.  The more I look upon it, the better I remember creating this warning to myself, and I feel some regret for having misplaced it.

In the morning, I leave with my daughters to visit my ailing grandparents.  It’s been four years since I visited their home, although they have travelled thrice in that time to visit me.  I’ve sloughed off the guilt to my constant demands as a mother, to pregnancies, to nursing, to weather. To whatever. Recently, my grandmother was diagnosed with Lewy Body Syndrome.  We don’t know how long she’s had it or how much longer she’ll be with us.  I speak with my grandfather every couple of weeks, and I can hear Mama Ann prattling in the background alongside the television.  She always sounds upbeat when we’re on the phone together, though I can never be sure if her account of the day’s events reflects the facts.  Papa Roy, too, is starting to sound worse.  As I spoke with him on Monday night, touching base about my upcoming visit, I fancied at first that he was inebriated. The longer we talked, the more I realized that constant care of my grandmother has caused him to lose a little bit of his mental grip on the world.  He sounds a little silly, a little detached.

It will be a sad trip, but a good trip, too.  I haven’t traveled alone with my girls in six years, so I’m excited about the chance to spoil them a bit on the journey.  We’ll stop at a nice restaurant for lunch, spread a picnic under a live oak at a rest stop somewhere.  We’ll be able to have actual conversations since they’ll sit right behind me, not in the third row on the other side of our high-decible boys.  I can answer all their deep questions about what they are thinking of lately, what they are dreaming of.  At least, I hope we have those conversations.  And, I’ll remember all the road trips that my grandparents took me on when I was their age.  And one day in the future, when they leave home, I’ll make them a little reminder card of their own.

INTERVIEW WITH BUCK: “I think that’s one of the first times I’ve hit someone.”

As I reflect on my childhood, I wish my mother had invested in something outside of me that stimulated her mind and diverted her attention elsewhere.  It was nigh impossible to establish separateness, and it nearly drove me crazy. Before kids, I knew I would need something to give me purpose outside of my role as a mother.  Now that I am a mother, I experience a mild desperation to stay on top of mothering and nurturing.  I’m confident when my at-home mothering days come to an end, God will lead me toward a new adventure.  Until then, I must steward my own spirit and mind to be ready, because the task at hand will not always be so.  My interview with Buck reminded of this. It also reminded me of the many times I wanted to just hit my mom!  I didn’t, but I’m sure you all can relate.  For that matter, I’m sure my own kids can relate.

What’s your age:

43

Are both of your parents living?

No. Father is deceased, mother is living.

What’s their marital status?

Divorced when he passed away.

How many siblings do you have?

Two brothers.

How often do you see your parents?

Once a month.

What are some of the ways you spend time together?

Art projects, sitting on the porch, talking.

On a scale of one to ten, how much do you enjoy their company?

Depends on what kind of crazy mood Mom’s in, probably a 6.  I didn’t spend any time with my dad when he was alive.  I saw him probably twice a year.

What are some of the positive aspects of your relationship with them?

None for my dad.  She allowed us to be who we wanted to be and pursue our own decisions and choices.

What are some of the negative aspects of your relationship with them?

We have such similar personalities that I’ll get on her nerves and she’ll get on mine.  Just saying something that allows me to be hostile.  She’ll say something.

Which is weightier, the positive or negative?

I think I feel kind of neutral.

What aspects contributed to your current relationships as adults?

There was very little parenting.  I pretty much had to raise myself my whole life.  I just grew up early.  If I were a parent I would do things totally differently.

How?

For my dad, I think it would have been not forcing me to emulate or be him.  Not to live his lost youth through me.  For mom, to have had a stronger sense of value for herself.  She allowed other people to influence her in negative ways and she didn’t value herself and the things that she does.  It’s influenced me as well, even though I come across as a confident masuline man, I still have issues finding value in myself.

How well do you relate to your siblings?

We don’t.  There’s a 20 year difference in our ages.

Do you think they share your same reflections on your parents?

I don’t know if they would say that necessarily. My closest brother in age had a different relationship with my father.  Maturity will change you, and I’m sure at some point he recognized that he would ultimately do things differently within his family dynamics, with his own children.

Can you share a defining moment with your parents?

Growing up in a very abusive relationship and my father being an alcoholic, after they divorced when I was 16, we had moved and my dad decided to come over.  Of course, he was drunk.  He pulled out a gun and was going to shoot my mother.  I stepped in between them and hit him.  I think that’s one of the first times I ever hit someone.  I think it shocked and surprised him as well.  He left us alone in that point and time.  For me that was enough to realize that I wanted to live my life differently.  I’m better equipped to recognize and make a change.

With mom, because she’s still living, the only one that comes to mind is being around 10 or 11, and she’d just started doing hair.  She’d been to a hair show and won a trophy that was as tall as me.  That was a defining moment that [doing] hair would be a major part of my life.  Because I saw my mom, despite all the home environment, she rose above and I could see it in her face that she felt value in herself.  It was short lived, though.

Has anything happened in recent history with them to change how you felt about them as a child?

None that I can think of because I’ve had to become the supporter and parent in the end.  I still do that, the role reversal causes you to see things a little differently.  I’m still doing that.

 

Fast to Move

IMG_1374For the 2013 Lenten season, I have given up my two favorite night time rituals: sleep aides and sitting on my derrière.  (It was an accident, really.  I went on vacation and forgot my opiates.)  What I haven’t given up?  A glass of wine and a fabulous book.  I’m going to push straight through Resurrection Sunday and beyond with P90X, a glass of sparkling white, and Moby Dick. Every night, in that order.  I reckon that trifecta would put me to sleep as well as a pill.  But don’t be looking for my B&A shots on this blog. No, Madame.

My kids have taken a surprising interest in the P90X videos.  I wish they were that interested in Herman Melville, but there’s still time.  My four-year-old son asked me if I was watching my “big muscle movie” and if I was going to get some big muscles, too. My girls watched me do the first workout, participating for about 20 minutes before settling down on their leopard-print bean bags to watch me sweat and strain.   I shared that I was doing this to get stronger, that I want to keep up with all of them as they grow. My oldest asked me if she would lose weight by doing P90X.  What the what? She’s a nine-year-old, über-sheltered bean pole!  Where did she hear this stuff?  Well, probably from her mother.  I tried to redeem those negative messages explaining that muscle actually weighs more than fat and that the goal is to get strong so we can explore the world together.  She flashed a shy smile and said she’s glad that I’m doing this.  And for so much more than burning fat and building muscle, I am glad, too.  Now, for that plyometric workout . . .

INTERVIEW WITH CLAIRE: “As flawed as they are . . . if you speak truth to them, they accept it and don’t argue.”

It was a conversation that I had over a year ago with Claire, 32, that sparked the idea for this blog.  We share a belief that one day all things will be made new.  Her commitment to bear in love with her parents until that day was an encouragement to me as I work to bear in love with members of my family, as well.

Are both of your parents living?

Yes.

What’s their marital status?

Married about 36 years.

How many siblings do you have?

Two sisters. I’m the middle.

How often do you see your parents?

About five times a year.

What are some of the ways you spend time together?

It depends on where we are.  When they are here, the main thing I do with my dad is household projects, outdoor and around the house kind of stuff.  He likes to do things, he likes to constantly be fixing things and working on some project because he gets really bored.  The same is true when I visit them–he always has a project we can help him with.  He’s very self-directed and doesn’t need anyone to do it with him, but I’m kind of that way, too.  I like to be doing things.

What I do with my mom is mostly sit around and talk and drink coffee.  She’s more involved with the kids, she’s nurturing, helps me with baths and laundry.  She’s more support when she’s here. The thing that we still do, that we’ve always done, is she’ll take me shopping.  Her way of showing love was taking us girls out shopping.  When she takes me shopping now, she buys me whatever I pick out, not what she wants to buy me.  It’s awesome.  My mom is sort of my companion in parenting, and that is really nice.

On a scale of one to ten, how much do you enjoy their company?

When my dad is not doing well and is manic, it’s a 1.  When he’s balanced, he’s a joy to be around.  Not a perfect joy, but I would say an 8 or 9.

Then my mom, when she’s in one of these moods where she’s (not too subtly) trying to drop hints on what I should do, how to relate to my husband or kids, it’s irritating.  It puts her at about a 4; I don’t want to talk to her.  When she’s being really sweet and gracious, she’s a 9.  It’s really restful to be with her. It’s easy when she’s not being negative, but [sometimes] negative stuff comes out of her mouth.

Does spending time with them as a unit affect the dynamic of the visit?

Definitely.  I don’t ever spend time alone with my dad, only my mom.  She takes off sometimes and comes up here alone.  When it’s just her, it’s laid back and nice.  She makes statements about how she feels like she’s coming out of crisis mode and relaxing. I don’t want to undervalue her hurting and pain from being married to my dad, but she has a lot of choices and resources, and she hasn’t made good choices about extracting herself from his mania.  She always says she’s going to, but she never does.  I think she’s really dependent on him.

What are some of the positive aspects of your relationship with them?

I would say the most positive thing is that they really, truly want to seek God and are faithful in their desire to follow Christ.  As flawed as they are and as dysfunctional they can be in the way they relate to each other, if you speak truth to them, they accept it and don’t argue.  They are willing to humbly submit to the truth of the word.

What are some of the negative aspects of your relationship with them?

What would a redeemed relationship look like with them?  Something that’s hard for them is any difficulty that one of their daughters has in her life pertaining to money, spouse, work or health. They worry a lot.  That actually becomes a burden on us, how much it weighs them down.  For example, when my sister and her husband were more or less homeless and unemployed for a year and a half (but still taken care of) my parents were in crisis the whole time.  They let my sister know that, and it added to her burden.  My parents would become emotionally volatile, and it would make my sister not want to tell them anything.  It would make her question everything, and I would have to talk her down and tell her that she was fine.  But, my parents would become obsessively negative.  It would take them all the way to the worst scenario.

Which is weightier, the positive or negative?

The negative.  They are both people who despite their commitment to their faith, don’t trust that God is in control and let their thoughts run wild.  That’s been passed on to me, and I don’t want to pass it on to my children.  It leads to depression.

What do you appreciate most about their parenting?

Their loyalty.  Their love, generosity and loyalty feels really genuine.  It’s not tied to something, not like they expect something.  It’s very free.

What do you wish they had done differently?

I wish we were more involved with other people, in more community.  We went to church and school, but they didn’t really spend time with friends.  I missed out in having relationships with adults other than my parents who could have broadened my life.  I wish they had encouraged us to work.  That would have given us confidence and skills that would have done a world of good in our college years.  I had no clue.  I didn’t know what I liked.  My whole experience was what I had done in high school.  There were no other adults in my life where I could have learned about other occupations.  I wish I had worked in high school–it would have done a lot for my self-esteem and confidence.  That’s something I really want for my kids.

How well do you relate to your siblings?

Very well with one and fairly well with the other.

Do you think they share your same reflections on your parents?

The one I relate to very well, yes.  The other, not exactly.  I just think she doesn’t think about it as much.  She’s sort of emotional and reactionary to the way they are rather than reflective.

Can you share a defining moment with your parents?

This sums up my mom in particular.  I went with my high school choir to Germany.  We were falsely accused of harboring a guy in our room one night at the guest house where we were staying.  The choir director was absolutely convinced that we did it and that we were lying.  She was friends with our parents, our piano teacher.  As you can imagine, being in another country and told that we were lying escalated into yelling.  I was being very combative.  This was a fiasco for our prep school: these three girls caused an uproar in a German hotel and the school sides with the music teacher, of course.  Though she cannot prove our guilt, we’re suspended anyway because there has to be some recourse.  We had to pay for it.  My parents were livid and made special appointments with the headmaster to tell them that they completely believed their daughter, and they didn’t accept the punishment, and that we girls were free to go to the beach and have fun on our suspension.  That was the most dramatic story, but it was typical of my mom and dad’s relationship to me.  They always took my side.  In that case, they were right.  I was telling the truth, but there were probably times they should have challenged me more rather than trying to make everything easy and in my favor.  It was like, “Our kids can do no wrong.”  But, it was an example of their fierce loyalty for me.

Has anything happened in recent history with them to change how you felt about them as a child?

As I’ve aged and matured, I don’t pick fights with them anymore and I avoid topics and arguments that make me annoyed with them.  I’m much more inclined to smile, nod, agree and avoid a conflict.  Not because I’m trying to avoid something important, but to avoid the things that aren’t important.  I’m secure enough and old enough to just let it be.

Philosophy of Clothing

IMG_1455In the first years of being married, I ran the gamut from being a teacher, a student, a professional, to a full-time mother.  I’d always been a bit of a clothes horse. I recall a whisper about me as I walked by my classmates in grad school. I’d just hopped off my eggplant purple scooter in a leopard-print skirt: “She always looks so put together.”  After living in Seattle for a few years where the homeless lady next to you in PCC could actually be a Boeing exec, I learned to enjoy a more “laid back” style.

Three years later I moved south and was thrown into a social circle with gals from Mississippi and Louisiana. The first time I showed up at a playgroup for our babies, I was the only one in yoga pants and sneakers.  Every other mommy had on boots. With heels.  Did I even put on lip gloss? I can’t remember.  My girls were still in their sleepers and the other babes wore Gap outfits.  Wow, I’d let things slide!

Eventually, my kids grew up and started walking.  They got so dirty playing outside that I developed what I called a “philosophy of clothing”.  I bought half their clothes, which were bound to be ruined, at the thrift store.  A quarter of their clothes came from a clearance rack and the rest were more intentional purchases from nice catalogs.  I had graduated to skinny jeans, tees from J. Crew, and boots with heels.  When I threw in a scarf and earrings, I was dressed up.

My kids are in school part time now, and sending them in their “grubbies” isn’t a great idea.  I can still find great things for my son at the thrift store, but my girls need a few new pieces. As for me, I’m turning 38 soon. It’s harder (and more costly) to look nice as I age.  Yoga pants only come out when I’m doing yoga.  A friend has demanded that I raise the bar, and I’m trying. Garnet Hill seems to have captured a nice look for women my age.  I like Boden, but a lot of their stuff is just boring design that looks good on swizzle stick models.  J. Crew’s last catalog was somewhat inspirational. For a couple of seasons there, they looked like they dressed their models and styled their hair in a dark closet. Where can a formerly “put together”  grown woman go to look fashionable, but not freakish? Elegant, but not old?

The Only Song That Fits Today

IMG_0811By Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

No more questions,
Please.
No more tests.
Comes the day you say, “What for?”
Please- no more.
They disappoint,
They disappear,
They die but they don’t…

They disappoint
In turn, I fear.
Forgive, though, they won’t…

No more riddles.
No more jests.
No more curses you can’t undo,
Left by fathers you never knew.
No more quests.

No more feelings.
Time to shut the door.
Just- no more.

Running away- let’s do it,
Free from the ties that bind.
No more depair
Or burdens to bear
Out there in the yonder.

Running away- go to it.
Where did you have in mind?
Have to take care:
Unless there’s a “where,”
You’ll only be wandering blind.
Just more questions.
Different kind.

Where are we to go?
Where are we ever to go?

Running away- we’ll do it.
Why sit around, resigned?
Trouble is, son,
The farther you run,
The more you feel undefined
For what you’ve left undone
And, more, what you’ve left behind.

We disappoint,
We leave a mess,
We die but we don’t…

We disappoint
In turn, I guess.
Forget, though, we won’t…

Like father, like son.

No more giants
Waging war.
Can’t we just pursue out lives
With our children and our wives?
‘Till that happy day arrives,
How do you ignore
All the witches,
All the curses,
All the wolves, all the lies,
The false hopes, the goodbyes,
The reverses,
All the wondering what even worse is
Still in store?

All the children…
All the giants…

No more.

SNUGGLE DUTY

IMG_1394I took off with a good friend last week for a Girls’ Only trip to Savannah.  If ever a town was made for wandering! On our tour of squares, we found E. Shaver Bookseller. While my friend had a book wrapped for her daughter, I perused the bargain section. I found a vivid photographic book on the nomadic tribes of Niger. One image caught my attention most: a mother, devoid of expression, nursing her little baby. A child of three or so, wearing a hint of fear on her face, sat leaning against the mother.  The captions explained in these tribes, immediate families don’t show affection to their children until they are two years old. Infant mortality is high, so it makes sense. The next page showed photos of smiling aunts and uncles filling in to snuggle, play and laugh with them.

Since I’m an only child and my husband’s siblings are 2,000 miles away, we are our children’s main source of bonding and physical closeness.  I wouldn’t have it any other way, but looking at those images did cause me to reflect on how I want to be my children’s everything.  It may eventually drive them bonkers.  I’m happy, though, that they are showing a physical attachment to one another.  I watched my baby toddle up to one of my girls today and raise his arms to get picked up.  She was so delighted!  This same daughter kicked my bedcovers off last night and then snuggled up to me when she got cold. For now, at least, I still make the grade for snuggle duty.

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INTERVIEW WITH CAROLINE: “The sad thing about my mom is she has outrun her usefulness.”

Caroline’s mother bears some similarities to my own, and I appreciated her candor in this interview.

What’s your age?

37

Are both of your parents living?

Yes

What’s their marital status?

They were separated for my whole childhood.  I think they got divorced when I was 16.  I never knew my father; he left before I was born.  I’ve seen him three times.

How many siblings do you have?

I have two half sisters and two half brothers.

How often do you see your parents?

I’ve only ever seen my father three times, and my mother I usually see every three years, maybe.

What are some of the ways you spend time together? 

(Laughs) Arguing!  About the only way we can spend together not arguing is playing a game.  I’m a really good speller and she can’t spell worth a dime, but she likes to play spelling games with me.  Or Monopoly.  Most of the time she picks fights.  She’s very easily offended when no offense is intended.

On a scale of one to ten, how much do you enjoy her company?

Three, and that’s giving her the benefit of the doubt.  It’s very difficult for me to be around her.

What are some of the positive aspects of your relationship with her?

The only positive outcome I can see is, if I can love her as Christ loves her, she can see that and be saved.  It does nothing for me.  If she weren’t my mother, I wouldn’t talk to her.

What are some of the negative aspects of your relationship with her?

Everything.  Often, when I leave a conversation with her, it puts me in a funk for a couple of days.  I guess I see my own flaws in her.  I have all the same tendencies, it’s just that I have Christ and she doesn’t.  There isn’t anything to soften the edges, she just lets it all hang out there.  For instance, she’s just selfish—there’s nothing to moderate it.

 

How did her parenting contribute to a fractured relationship as adults?

She was irresponsible, she didn’t protect me, and I don’t trust her because of that.  I never know when she’s going to blow up now, so I never can trust her, even though I can forgive her for the past.  I couldn’t trust her then and I can’t trust her now.  I don’t think she ever developed interests on her own.  She played computer games and went out drinking. There’s nothing to talk to her about.  We have nothing in common, she doesn’t share my worldview, we never see eye to eye.

Do you appreciate anything about her parenting?

Somehow, she taught me to be resourceful.  Regardless of whether it was a negative thing or if she did it, I know how.  She did always insist that we eat dinner together as a family.  She always let me make my own mistakes, and she probably shouldn’t have, but she let me learn from them.  My sister lived in the same house and she suffered from that, but for me it was a good thing.

What do you wish she had done differently?

I guess it boils down to . . . I wish she hadn’t been so selfish.  Everything was about her pain and her pleasure.  As a kid, I thought she would sacrifice everything, but now I realize you don’t leave your kids in the house after they fall asleep so you can go out drinking!  I think she did all those things because she was in pain.  I don’t think she knew what to do.

How well do you relate to your siblings?

My father’s children from his previous marriage–they are so much older than me.  We get along fine, I just don’t see them very often.  My older half-sister has lately taken to looking out for me on Facebook.  My younger half sister, we are very different, but we have a connection because we both lived with my mother.

Do you think they share your same reflections on your mom?

Absolutely.

Can you share a defining story with your mom?

I remember when I stopped really sharing anything important with my mother. It was after college and I had been dating my soon-to-be husband and I was getting impatient.  He hadn’t asked me to marry him and I called her for advice.  She said, “Why don’t you just ask him?”  That was SO not what I needed to hear.  I needed her to encourage me to be patient.  I realized we would never see eye to eye, and from that day on I stopped really talking to her.

Has anything happened in recent history with them to change how you felt about them as a child?

I feel more negatively about her as an adult than I did as a child.  In college, I read a book called From Bondage to Bonding.  Reading the book made me extremely angry.  I realized whether she did it on purpose or not she enslaved me in a way.  She did it worse to my sister because I had the good sense go to college 800 miles away.

The other thing is I started going to counseling in high school.  I thought I was going for abandonment issues with my father, but I found out I had more issues with my mother.  I used to give my mother all these gushy cards and tell her she was the best mother ever.  She would just say, “One day you’ll find out the truth.”  That became a self-fulfilling prophecy because it just made me look for things.

While my relationship with my mother has left scars and continues to leave scars, I think throughout my life, God has left numerous life-lines.  People who provided love and support and got me through when my mother couldn’t.  The best gift besides my husband has been his mother.  I never knew you could have a mother like that.  She is the picture of what it means to love with no strings attached.  She’s secure enough to not need anything from me, and that makes me want to give to her.  The sad thing about my mom is she has outrun her usefulness.  She has no wisdom; she has nothing to offer me except pain and more pain.

Best Blog Post on Parenting

Best Blog Post on Parenting

This post is the best I’ve read on how parents can maintain a sustainable relationship with their children.

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