What Are You Defined By?

Teacher, writer, artist, creative, intellect, doctor, professor, clerk, housecleaner, nanny, mother, grandparent.

Who are you?

Often when we get to know someone, one of the first things we ask is, “What do you do for living?”

There are some people who have found themselves (or worked very hard to get to that position in life) able to make a living by doing what they love. Some people love their job, although it might not be their greatest passion.  Some work in order to support their hobbies or other interests, although they may never make it into their profession. Others work to survive and don’t necessarily have any time on the side for creative endeavors or hobbies.

Then I think of motherhood, because that is where I tend to go as my life is so deep in this season. I think about the times I have asked other women I meet while out at a park or preschool event, “What does your husband do for a living?”, innocently trying to learn about their family, but also inadvertently implying that her identity is somehow wrapped up in what her husband does to provide for their family.

As if it is understood that during that window of time we have young children, we somehow lose our identity within the never ending work of childrearing.

Some of us love the identity of “mother” and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, or we grieve that we have had to give up a career or passion because we are torn to be away from our little ones (or cannot reconcile the cost of childcare if we were to continue working). Some of us have no choice but to work full-time, maybe in a job that is not fulfilling, but provides food and clothing and shelter for our family. Others continue working out of choice, constantly finding the balance between home-life and their careers.

It feels really hard to me, personally, to give up time with my kids. I place an incredible pressure on myself to not look back some day and feel like I, or they, missed out because I wasn’t more present.

But, I wonder how much of this has to do with the culture I live in and the ideals I have been surrounded by as I have grown up.

I have a spectrum of friends – those who homeschool, are avid public school supporters, are stay at home parents, work outside the home, are entrepreneurs, and more. Different choices, lifestyles, parenting styles, etc. You cannot make these choices for someone else, many choices we don’t even make for ourselves to an extent. Life presents itself, and we make the best decisions we can.  It doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes, this is to be human. But, we don’t see everything and there is no way to actually put ourselves 100% in the shoes of another.

I think I have adopted this idea that if I am not constantly present with my children, I am going to harm their development somehow.  I am going to miss out on the enriching experience of being with them and seeing every moment of their childhood. Or they won’t feel loved or seen enough.

Lately, I am feeling more and more like this is a false ideal that I have clung onto in order to excuse myself from working hard and making dreams come true.

And it is hard for me to come to a conclusion, because I see both sides of the coin. I see real value in simplicity, in slowing down. In trading in the hours at a job and the extra income it brings for time to be present and with others and to pursue passions and learning and being generous with time and our resources.  I have seen how less stuff and more time brings more fullness into my life. It is why I am continually trying to minimize our home and life.  It brings focus and shifts our values around in a positive way.

I also give great credit to those who have made sacrifices in order to fulfill a calling or dream or passion in their life and have achieved things that could seem impossible given their life situation. I think it is actually a gift they give their children for them to see their parents working.

Balance is necessary, as there are extremes on either end – there is a toxicity to busy-ness and over-achieving and non-stop go, go, going, as well as the danger of becoming lazy and so self-focused we become stagnant and miss out on community and having a purpose outside of ourselves.

Sometimes there are seasons of extremes and we must just continue to do our best and try and find balance.

For most of my childhood, my mom worked outside of the home. I remember her most as a waitress and we used to occasionally help her close up at one of the family restaurants she worked at – filling ketchup bottles and resetting table settings. She was a banquet manager for a while and I have memories of our family coming in at the end of a big brunch to eat the leftover buffets. And then some years later, she worked at a bookstore. And then a bookkeeper for a non-profit.  There may have been some other jobs in there, but those are the ones I mainly remember.  When she worked, we were usually home being watched by our older siblings. When I became older, I remember being responsible for my younger ones much of the time. Or we went with her to some of her jobs and just sort of hung out, read, did some schoolwork.

Did it harm me or my siblings that my mom worked as much as she did?  I don’t think so. There may have been other things that she could have done better (there are many things I could do better, too). But I think it is good for our children to see us work. Whether that is in the home or outside or pursuing a hobby or interest or all of the above.  To see us make sacrifices and continue to grow and change and do things for ourselves and our family and others.

More and more I feel a gnawing that my children need to see us put more focus on service and less on ourselves. To work for a greater cause than our own pleasure, development, and needs. To give up something without looking for a reward. I recall many situations in my life where I had to serve someone and it wasn’t always easy or comfortable or something I felt like doing.  But, I always felt better about life afterward and am thankful I was made to step outside of my comfort zone and do something selfless.

In doing this, I believe we will find truer fulfillment and a deeper connection with others and the world we live in.

I hope that I can be defined more by what I give (art, encouragement, support, space, inspiration, grace) and in selfless service than in what I make for myself.

-b.e.

 

Advertisements

A Mother’s Wishlist

oregonmem069.jpg

// that I make time to nourish my body through food, movement, creative outlets // my children hear love in my voice. always. // that I stop apologizing for what I feel // I make things both useful and beautiful with my own hands // a heart brimming with gratitude // a house filled with less things and more grace // that we live somewhere new, for a little while // that we nurture a sense of adventure and curiosity // that I react less and embrace more // and some new pillows would be nice, too.

-b.e.

 

the “lost” years

DSC_0143

Are you familiar with the Chinese Bamboo Tree?

Once planted, it doesn’t break through the ground for 4 years.

During this time, gardeners tend to this seemingly bare spot of earth – water it, fertilize it, nurture it – with no visible display of what difference their care has made.

But then, after 4 years of “nothing”, in the 5th year, the shoot bursts through the ground and grows at an amazing pace.  In just over a month, it will tower over you at 90 feet high.

I feel like this relates to so many areas of life.

It resonates so deep within me right now.

Because some times I give up tending to certain things I believe in.

Sometimes we don’t see the outcomes of our kindness, generosity, patience, grace.

Sometimes the grueling, gritty, every day work just doesn’t seem worth it.

Sometimes we fail and instead of learning from our mistakes, give up prematurely.

Sometimes we look crazy devoting so much time to something that gives us so little in return.

Sometimes I look at everyone else’s bamboo trees and instead of enjoying their beauty and celebrating the hard work it took to grow them, I allow envy to settle in my stomach.

Then there are those moments – days, weeks, years – where incredible growth takes place.  It was happening all along, but you didn’t see it.  You couldn’t.  Maybe it is all timing.  Maybe you just weren’t ready.  Maybe someone else came along who believed in you and even did the hard work and tended to your garden for a time when you neglected it.  Maybe there are a slew of reasons.  Maybe you were so busy tending to that barren ground that it just sort of changed overnight and things are suddenly happening at a dizzying pace.

I feel like I have experienced these stages at different times in life.  Some times I give up and move on.  Some times I wonder and doubt and second-guess why I am even doing the things I am.  Or I am just lost and don’t know what is next or what I should be doing at all. And then there are times when I stand back and see the outcome and feel full and satisfied.

But you can’t skip the seasons and you can’t get the lost years back.

There is so much going on below the surface that we don’t see.

As a mother, this feels poignant.

I sense that many of us with young children feel like we are just getting through these early years with our kids.  We have lost ourselves somewhere along the way and feel like every drop of energy is devoted to their care and nothing is left. We just have to get through these years and things will change. Not that we don’t enjoy it.  Being called “momma” and caring for my children is a great joy.  And it is hard and I have never found myself more than through childbearing and child raising.

It has loosened so many lies I believed about myself and others, about where I actually find my value and what is important in life.

Even those formative years in our children’s lives are like tending to a bamboo tree.  You might not see the outcome of what you pour into their every day, the sacrifices you make for them, for years to come.  And we bear the wrinkles and tired eyes from the laughter and frustration and sleepless nights and dim, early mornings.

But when I think about the bamboo tree, and I think about entering my last year in my 20’s, and hear the stories of others’ lives and the abrupt ending we some times have…I also feel a broader call, an urgency.

Not to see change, but to work toward it.

Because some times the work takes years and years and maybe I don’t even get to enjoy the shade that will one day come from the daily tending.

But,

I can imagine who will.

And I wonder, what have I been tending to beneath the surface all this time?

-b.e.

motherhood: when I just want to give up.

DSC_0021

This morning I posted a picture from last night on my instagram – it describes the magical feeling we had while sitting on our neighborhood beach with our littles watching the fireworks all around the Sound as we nestled into each other in a peaceful spot.

Ah.

We walked back late in the night with tired kids who wanted nothing more than to be home snuggled in their beds.  As I tucked them in and hugged and we smiled content smiles, my son informed me he would most likely sleep in very late.

Then morning came and the sleeping in did not materialize and I have not dealt kindly with any situation that has come up.  I have snapped, shouted, and said things I immediately regretted.

This is not the graceful, peaceful way of being a mama I want.

This is not the tone I want vibrating through my home.

This is not who I have been in the past.

I used to be so. much. more. calm.

So what do you do when everyone is screaming and crying and you are pretty sure you have made things escalate more than necessary and it seems like you can’t come back?

You come back.

You stop.

You breathe.

You keep people safe.

You hug.

You calm your voice.

You start over.

You say you’re sorry and ask for forgiveness and start over and come back to love.

You ask for help.

Whether thats from them or someone else or in a prayer.

And you try again.

Something I tell myself very often is that just because I made one (or two or five or twenty) wrong choices in a day, does not mean my day is doomed down a bad path. My next choice does not have to also be a bad one.  You ate two pieces of cake, you don’t have to eat a third (or in Jim Gaffigan’s case, the entire cake). Maybe – OF COURSE – it could have been better if I had made better choices, but the fact that I didn’t does not disqualify me from future better choices.  I can reclaim my day.  I can reclaim the peace and the love and use it to patch up the tears.

Mothering is hard.

It takes a lot of surrender. It takes giving up and trying things and energy and some times you want to just quit, but you can’t really. And I think there will always be gaps, because how can we be so much to so many people in so many different capacities?  Some of us work or are trying to bring in some income to survive, or going to school to make things better but in the meantime, it’s a struggle.  Or we feel stuck at home with young kids and barely know what to do to get through each day, just waiting for our spouse to get home, and each day feels so similar.  And at times it can be hard to see what other families are able to give their kids and we want to be so much more.

And it can just kill our joy, and we in turn can suppress and strangle the joy out of those around us.

But.  I think more important than focusing on what our life situation is or what we have or don’t have is remembering that our kids are watching us.

They are watching the grace with which we live in this world.

And mornings like this, I shake my head, because I have not displayed grace.  I have not displayed an ease in accepting others (their) flaws, I have not been generous with my kindness, I have not shown them that being unselfish is worth the effort and a good thing to do.

I admit it and know it is true – sometimes I am not a pleasant person and my standards are higher for others than what I hold myself to, and my kids and husband see the worst version of me that exists.

And it is very easy to get fixated on the negative moments and forget the many times that as siblings they worked things out between each other, or the times when they do make good choices and show kindness and compassion to others, the times when I know I am doing my best and being a solid and safe place for them to land when they are struggling with something or bubbling with an abundance of happiness.

Today is not my everyday, but I don’t ever want it to become that.  This is just a real and honest struggle, but many times, it is hidden within our home.  Although, I am certain we have all seen struggling moms and dads at parks and stores when we and our kids are at our best, and we are thankful it is not us in that moment, or perhaps a little too judgmental about their lack of grace.  So many times I have been that parent, but many times I have been the other, also. Isn’t that just all part of it?

But, grace. Whether tantrums are being thrown or no major event is happening, displaying and being a person who lives out grace is what I am longing for these days.

I love my kids, I am glad I get to be with them as much as I do, and I want so desperately to continue to grow as a person and a parent.

-b.e.

stuck on repeat.

Days gently melt one into the next.

Some days repeat themselves.

We trip over our own feet again and again, brush off the dirt, kiss the bruises, and forgive and forget again.

Some times it feels so very mundane.  I wonder how a week, even a month, has passed by and when asked details about it, it is seldom I can recall many moments that stand out or what we spent our time doing.

But I know.

I know we cuddled on the couch and read and laughed.

We ran outside through the grass and dug in the dirt.

We went to the library and brought home a much too large pile of books and racked up a small fine after returning them late, even though we had read them the first day.

We ate popcorn and watched a movie, three snuggled deep in a blanket.

We wrote and learned lessons and did simple arithmetic and went to classes and played at parks and made new friends and fought with old ones.

We quarreled and stamped our feet and threw some things and screamed a bit.

I held my head in my hands and wondered what I was doing and if I could ever figure this parenting thing out.

We came back  and looked at each other in our tear stained eyes and all apologized and forgave again.

We allowed the tide to chase us back to the shore and froze our toes in the cold, salty water.

The sun is shining more and we wait for the green new sprouts to spring out of the garden boxes. We sit and revel in the warmth on our faces. We find ourselves continually longing for more of that warmth to come.  Oh summer, my heart is yearning for you.

It is easy to feel that the days must mean nothing since I barely seem to notice one from the other.  I look forward to bedtime beginning at the lunch hour, and wake up feeling tired and not quite ready for the day to arrive.  But oh how I am reminding myself right now, as I type these words and think about what our days have been full of, how important this time is, and how it is merely one season.

Young ones, so full of life, learning so much and sharing so much and needing so much and yet, becoming so independent at the same time.  And here I am, failing and loving hard, and learning about second chances and grace and what it means to become and just be.

Keeping eyes open hard to find the gems tucked throughout.

DSC_0035

– b.e.

embracing what is

DSC_0016DSC_0007DSC_0019bwDSC_0012DSC_0018Her quick steps lightly skip across the pavement, beckoning me to hurry and catch up.  We dash down the gravel path and round the corner to the museum entrance.  Her face is aglow as she realizes that the words I spoke this morning, the promise made of places yet to be seen, really did come true.

—-

Days come and go quickly and sometimes, seasons change abruptly.  I can recall some early September mornings when the air grew cold overnight and you wake up and dig in your drawer for the wool socks much sooner than expected.  It can feel a little bit like the earth is betraying you – summer hasn’t lingered quite long enough and suddenly, the cold creeps in and steals your last warm sunsets away.

But after a bit, you relax a little.  Pull your sweater around snug and cup your mug of tea with your hands, feeling the warmth transferring and transforming.

The cold is doing its job.

If we remained stagnant forever, what would life be?  How would we grow and how limited would our perspective be?  In the end, we are thankful for the changing seasons.

—-

January 1st.  Just a day.  It could be any day.  But this day has ushered in a new season for me.  Nothing has really changed around me, but I have chosen to embrace what is.

Being more present to my children, finding time to reflect and plan, and being more intentional and mindful with my time has opened up so many possibilities for this year already.

I am dreaming again.

Today, this meant embracing the odd schedule my son’s classes are and devoting that time to my daughter.  We went to the local children’s museum and played together, and I reveled in watching her role play and problem solve and practice her social skills.

We walked to the art museum and catching a glimpse of the wonder in ehr eyes and hidden pleasure as she listened to the very sweet woman who, with joy, guided her to a whimsical woodland scene. Time at the library together, and before we knew it, time was up and we picked up her brother.

I was starting to feel like the drive and the time “stuck” in the area was a complete inconvenience in my life.

But just a small shift of perspective reveals that truly it was a beautiful opportunity.

b.e.

listen instead

copy_07

I sit here, tea cup to my side; half full with tea which has steeped for too long and become tainted with bitterness. The house, quiet, other than the near silent whirring of the fan and humming of the computer.

Children tucked in and kissed and brought water, nightlight turned on and off and on again and chilly toes tucked in once more, finally, settled and still and breathing the sweet deep sighs of sleep.

I sit here to write, but a phrase cycles through my head: “listen instead”.

I close my eyes.  The typing ceases. Breath becomes quiet and small. And I listen.

No agenda.

I am not trying to hear anything specific.

I simply listen.

If only more often, I would listen to listen, rather than to reply, perhaps my relationships would grow deeper and my understanding of others richer and the words they have to offer more valuable.

What if when my child is going on and on and on, and I really just want to quickly respond, because there are so many things I am trying to do…what if I actually stopped and fully listened? Not just so I can reply with affirmation, laughter, or correction, but so I can understand this growing and developing young person. And what if this became more of a practice in my every day life and encounters with others?

I feel an enormous amount of gratitude for people in my life and the diversity of perspectives and stories each has enriched my life with; a kaleidoscope of color. Yet there are many colors I have not even begun to imagine, for even the ones I think up and have caught vague glimpses of, I have not come close enough to understand all the depth and shades and value.

I read a book earlier this year about the Amish culture, specifically about the way their children are raised, but one part of their culture or common behavior which left an imprint on my mind was the way in which they listened and responded to one another.  The writer referred to it as the “amish pause”, because every time someone spoke, there would be an uncomfortable (to our outsider ears) pause in the conversation as everyone in the room reflected on what was said and took their time before replying. This allows them to focus simply on listening while the other is talking, and put their attention on their response after they have listened fully and clearly.

In a world where everything is so instant and we begin to worry when someone hasn’t texted us back or replied to an email within a day, I truly believe there is so much value in this waiting that we have lost.  So often we can feel undervalued when someone does not respond to us almost immediately. What if taking a little longer to reply was actually a gesture of respect, rather than the other way around?

This is just a small thought on a quiet night, but when I am gearing up to respond, I hope I will more often choose to listen instead.

-b.e.

these words are hope for a mommy who needed a break

WP_005249 Photogram-20150721020836 DSC_0455 DSC_0456 DSC_0461 DSC_0467 DSC_0470 DSC_0478

I have been enjoying summer and love being out with friends and doing things as a family. Beaches and parks and day trips and so much more.  But there has been a lot of stressful moments and pinging feelings of failure as a mom.

This week so much has adjusted.  Not just by itself like I hoped it might.  No.  It took conviction and thought and intention and planning and work.  And it may not look like a big deal or anything, but it is movement in a better direction, and after 5 days, I see small progress.

We have slowly stumbled into some sort of a cadence for our daily life, and fine tuning happens each day, but everything has slowed down and become simpler, less rushed, better.

I have almost finished the book, “More Than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting” by Serena Miller.  It has impacted me more than I thought, as I didn’t even expect to want to read the entire book. For the past few years, I have tried to embrace more of a simplistic lifestyle.  We have come a far way, but we have also gone back to the way things were many times.  With each new stage my children enter into, I see new needs – or old ones I have stopped paying attention to.  I have noticed more of my ill modeled actions being echoed in these little mirrors, actions I chose in desperation to make things better when I had no idea of what to do.

Consistency failing because I never had the answers and my husband and I  didn’t always see eye to eye on how we should respond.

One thing we have decided to do is put down our phones. We disconnected our internet at home and haven’t had it for almost a month now.  While we can access it with hotspots on our phone, it is very slow and really only to do things like pay bills, check email, or to blog, etc., and it generally takes place in a condense period of time after the kids are in bed. Not only are we saving money, but so much time.

I started planning and using our days intentionally. I began to think of motherhood as a job – not because I feel like I need some sort of affirmation of the importance of what I do, but rather to raise more of an accountability for how my everyday goes.  If I was at work, I would not be “checking out” on my phone, I would check it only on a break or for important calls.  I wouldn’t leave what I was doing to answer a text or check my email. I realized how much time this adds up to and how belittling it must feel to my children when they are less interesting to me than a text. And how I limit their screen time, but not my own.

It has made our days so much better.  I am learning to watch my children and enjoy them – they are young for so little. I have slowed down my words and looked them in the eye and I am seeing tones change and respect for everyone becoming greater. We are cooking together, creating together and playing wildly together. Shea loves racing on his bike against me on my longboard – today we did it for nearly an hour in an empty parking lot, and didn’t want to stop even then.

We are pursuing interests they have that I never had the energy to teach before, always giving the answer “not today”. Shea has been reading books to me every day. Small, short ones, but he is growing more confident and it has remained fun.  I taught him how to use my sewing machine and he sat there and competently sewed a small dress for his sister’s plush duck with just a little guidance and practice. We find our way into the backyard or a local park and come up with as many variations of hide and seek as we can think of and I am joining instead of trying to read a book or catch up on articles and facebook posts. we are so happy to get in bed and sleep soundly at the end of the day.

We read and read and read.

And some times, I still grow tired and we do put in a short DVD, but it is treated as a reward now and often we just enjoy it as a family rather than as a babysitter.

There is so much joy to be had when we turn off  and limit our access to the screens, because we don’t realize how much time we are wasting until we are sitting there in the void. We become more selective about the information we decide to read and what we do with our screen time and whether it will be a positive addition to our lives or not.

What for a while felt like a daily battle where at the end of the day, bedtime – which had never been hard for so long – began to feel like that last uphill climb at the end of a run that drains every last bit of reserved energy, has now changed so suddenly.

I wonder how children feel when after a day of spending time with them, mom collapses on the couch and of course they come wanting to cuddle and dad says, “mommy needs a break”. What message do they get from that?  Yes, it IS tiring taking care of children.  Yes, some days it feels like I am spending the entire day teaching them something I thought they already knew. Reminding them again and again. YES.  Because this is parenting.  And parenting means making a lot of sacrifices and realizing that many of the things we want to teach our children we never learned to do ourselves.  Slowing down has brought peace back to our household.

It has been a tremendous amount of encouragement for me how one huge desire and a few small steps can create momentum and purpose.

And I write about all of this because I don’t know how many parents I have had to see do and say these things before I tried it. I don’t know how many days I have sat there thinking about how tired I was and how I couldn’t understand how my children could behave the way that they do and how that reflected on me and what an awful parent everyone must think I am and how my life had turned into just waiting for the “break” at the end of the day.

When so many of us are just figuring things out from the pieces we were given from our parents and experiences. It is so easy to judge from one moment.

Or several.

And read into all the things that someone is doing or not doing and not really give any encouragement because we are too busy talking about it to others and justifying the good things we are doing and excusing the areas we are failing, because at least our children “don’t do that”.  (And when I say “we” I am definitely talking about myself). Grace abounds and we can be transmitters of that grace to others.

These words are maybe a mess and spewed out from a jumbled heap of thoughts being processed late at night as my heart has ached and prayed desperately for my children and a change of my own heart. But. They are hope.  And they are tangible and real ways I am seeing my prayers answered. Once change begins, it is hard to go back. It is a constant and moving process, but I no longer feel like a helpless bystander.

I have been given these beautiful children.

I have been given this assignment of raising them.

I am better for it.

And it is a beautiful place to be.

– b.e.