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.

 

before they fade away

It was quiet in the house.  Son in the office listening to an audio book. Myself taking a moment to sit and rest in the living room. Daughter upstairs being unusually still.  She doesn’t actually sleep much during our sacred still space in the middle of the day, so I was curious to see if she was indeed asleep.

I crept up the stairs and found her lying flat on her stomach at the top of the stairs, breathing and sleeping deep.

There was something about the way she was laying there, as the sun filtered through the window and warmed her little spot, golden curls highlighted in the bright rays and softly falling across her face.
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I lingered a moment and watched.  Watched her breath. Looked at her small features and rosy skin. Things I couldn’t stop myself from doing when she had hardly been outside the womb a few days, but now it was harder to slow and just look.DSC_0006_01

Life speeds by so fast. There are so many things we can think about wanting to do or places we want to go, and so often, those things just end up passing us by.  Or we can become so consumed in achieving our goals that what is already around us fades into the background and we forget what we already have.

I find myself wanting to be more present and more realistic. As mothers, we can feel pressed to prove our worth and the value of what we are accomplishing on a daily basis.  It is so easy to look at our friends without children or those who continued with their careers or developing other hobbies and talents into something that seems so much more exciting than what we are doing. Or perhaps you are on the other side, waiting for those precious little ones to call your own, to nurture and care for and fulfill a deep longing in your own heart.

It is good to pursue your callings.

But oh dear mothers, how I wish I could look you in the eye and tell you that you are doing so much.

If there is a calling on your heart and it is the season, pursue it.  But also,

soak in these warm sunshine filled moments.

Maybe right now they feel few and far apart,

but when they are there, grasp them for just a little while longer before they fade.

I remember reading in a gardening book about waiting a full season in a new house before planting your garden. During this time, record how the sun falls, the water drains, the vegetation grows so you can be the most prepared when you finally begin to lay seed into the ground.

Maybe we need to do this more with our children. Watching and paying attention to who they are and then carefully considering what seeds we will plant in their lives.

Some times we simply have to linger longer and wait, faithfully, consistently, lovingly.

stop our feet for a moment or two

breath

and just watch.
DSC_0012_01– b.e.

rest

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I took these the other day when Hailey fell asleep on the couch.  She doesn’t sleep much during the day anymore, so it was a surprise to walk in and see her passed out.  I was thinking about how good and necessary it is sometimes just to stop everything and rest.

I was sick all last weekend with an infection and high fevers for three days straight. After a trip to ER and getting my meds sorted out, I felt 100% better and my symptoms went away. I have had so much energy, have been eating better, and feeling so much more normal than I have for the past few weeks, even before I was sick.  I think this is because I got so much sleep and was able to break up some bad eating habits I had started.  I stopped drinking coffee and haven’t had much desire to drink it again.  Sometimes you just need a rest from everything. Even if it meant feeling sick and awful in the meantime and I definitely am not asking to experience that again, I am thankful for the rest it brought.

– b.e.

rhythm and drive

Often I find that when my head at last hits my pillow at night, my brain becomes most active.

Finally, all is quiet and still.

I can hear the dim hum of the fan near my daughter’s bed.

My son tosses about, occasionally hitting the wall with a leg or an arm.

I hear the deep and steady breathing of my husband.

As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I can see the trees out of our large windows, glisten in the moonlight and the occasional headlights bouncing along as a car drives by.  And I think and reflect and make plans (oh, the plans!) for the next day, or week or whatever.  Usually these have to do with things I want to do better.  Tomorrow, I will wake up earlier and do such and such before the kids wake up. or I will work out or  I will show more patience. This dialogue can go on for quite some time, mixed with prayers and attempts to process life.  I run circles in my head of the same thoughts again and again and again, as if I can somehow will them into reality.

Then I drift off to sleep.

And the next night, I wonder where all my ambitions went and I begin the same loop of thoughts as the previous night, hoping something will stick this time – longing for a change to this rhythm and a new drive to keep it alive.

Rhythm and drive.

These two words bring the humble image of a monastery to mind.

My husband and I have always been drawn to the ways of the monks and christian mystics, who live their lives to a certain cadence.  They stop what they are doing to pray at certain times, to bring themselves back into awareness of communion with God and each other.  They have an intentional rhythm in their life, and they keep to it, because they see the importance of it.  They are driven by their love for and devotion to God.  

Our family has started to practice this in a few ways on a seasonal basis, like observing certain traditions such as Lent and Advent.  Lent was really a groundbreaking thing for us to do as a family last year, and we have been looking forward to it again this coming year.  I imagine I will be posting on this soon, because it truly was a huge catalyst for change in our lives.

Those traditions happen only once or twice a year for us.  Afterward, we find ourselves in a “high”, excited and determined to remain in this new rhythm.  Soon, however, this excitement wanes, and we are back to our old busy and self-centered habits.  This is the very reason for these traditions; we need something to physically change in our lives in order to be brought back into a better rhythm.

But.

I am left wondering.

Is it possible to keep this connection in the “every day”, before losing sight of what is important?  Before I end up in a different rhythm, one defined by reactions and defeat and praying the same thoughts about changing the same things every single night?

I have many thoughts on this, which I will share soon.  One practical thing I am challenging myself to begin doing is having a regular “quiet time” each day.

My children already have this as a regular daily routine.  My 16 month old daughter naps for 2 – 3 hours and my son takes at least a 45 minute rest time (most days it is longer) after lunch.  They do not always want to do this, but I know they need it and so, it happens. What do I do in this most sacred of times during a mother’s day?  It varies from day to day.  Some times I work out, other days I write, do housework, sew for my shop, or mindlessly waste time on the internet.  There is no real rhyme or reason to it.  Then I ask myself at the end of the day, Why am I so exhausted?  How did I not find any time to be still?  To breathe, to reflect, to pray, to re-connect?  How much better would my day have gone if I had?  How much better would their day gone if I had?

I need this.  My bones are crying out for it.

It is important for my children to rest midday because they are young and need more rest for their developing bodies. I also hope to instill in them the value of slowing down and resting each day, so that they may choose to make this a habit as adults.

Because who have we ever met who does not seem to be asking for more rest and peace and quiet, whether their words or only their eyes speak of it?

So.  I am going to start joining my children in their “rest time”, for at least 15 minutes before I even think about the mound of other things I want to accomplish.

I just keep reminding myself that those things will still be there once I have caught my breath.

– b.e.