The Pillow Test – My Messy Beautiful

The Pillow Test – My Messy Beautiful

**This essay is part of the Momastery Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project. 

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The Pillow Test

Far more often than I’d like to admit, when my tired head finally hits the pillow at night, my mind morphs into a jukebox stuck on an endless loop of the Ray LaMontagne song, “Trouble:”

Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble
Trouble been doggin’ my soul
Since the day I was born

Worry, worry, worry, worry
Worry just will not seem to leave
My mind alone

When the lights go out and I am still and all is quiet for the first time All. Day. Long., I usually experience about a millisecond of relaxation and relief as I settle into bed.

And then, it begins.

My mind. The worrisome, stressed out, analytical-as-hell part of my mind thinks it’s time to PARTY.

I don’t know what it is, but when it’s just me and that pillow and my thoughts and my dear husband has long since drifted off to sleep, my mind starts going a thousand miles an hour. I agonize about everything I could have done better, said better, cleaned better, cooked better, explained better, written better – All. Day. Long.

I then move on to worrying about all the things I must do better tomorrow, all the things I must make right, or fix, or adjust, or be sure not to forget.

The time of day when I finally get to lie down and rest, is often my most exhausting hour of all. One thing I know for sure – this is not good, friends!!

I recently asked my husband, “What do you think about when you’re just lying there, before you fall asleep?”

He replied, “I think about things I’m grateful for, and things I’m looking forward to about the next day.”

Huh. Right. Of course.

So I’ve tried doing this – I’ve TRIED silencing the Ray LaMontagne record and replacing it with “Happy Days” or something – really, I have – but there’s only one way this works for me.

Enter, The Pillow Test.

It sounds super obvious – but I’ve simply learned (and re-learned, and re-learned), that how I conduct myself during the day is directly correlated to how I feel about myself at night.

There are things I can do or not do, and principles I can abide by or not, that ultimately pass or fail what I like to call “The Pillow Test” – how my mind and my spirit feels – at peace or wreaking havoc – when I come face to fluff with that pillow each night.

Here’s what works for me. I’m sure your pillow test parameters would be different than mine, but these are the things and values I have found I need to do and live by in order to be holding my head high when I lay it down each night. When I do these things, I rest well, I check my burdens at the bedroom door, and I unplug my mind from that scheming soundtrack telling me to worry, worry, worry.

Here’s my list. I encourage you to experiment with your own.


1. Be Authentic – to me this just means presenting my true self to the world, and standing behind who I am, where I’m at and communicating that honestly as I go throughout my day. Examples of not being authentic, for me, is pretty much anything that makes me feel like I’m “playing a part” – speaking or acting in a way that feels expected, but not real – be it at church, at the playground or chatting with neighbors.

2. Mind my own business and refrain from gossip – I define gossip as this: anything I say about someone else that a) is not my immediate business, directly impacting my life, and b) serves to neither compliment them nor express sincere concern. For example, “Did you see what Lauren was wearing at the party? It just looked so awkward” is neither a compliment, nor a serious concern, nor does it impact me in any way. It is simply sport and entertainment at someone else’s expense. Gossip is a huge shame trigger for me. It can feel so satisfying at the time, yet so rotten and empty at the end of the day when that head hits the pillow.

3. Live at peace with others, as far as it depends on me – Life and relationships are messy and I’m pretty sure there’s no lifelong cure for awkward situations, fights with friends and family, or stressful encounters. Unfortunately they just seem to crop up once in a while, some very much by our doing, and some in ways we could never control. I’m not one of those people who says I live life “with no regrets.” I have regrets, you bet I do. They mostly involve ways I’ve let down myself or other people, or caused someone else pain. Feeling unsettled about a stress in a relationship is another major pillow test fail for me. But, I’m learning, I can only do my part to make things right. I can’t control other people, make them like me, talk to me, or see things my way. I believe it is my responsibility to be a peacemaker as far as it depends on me. Beyond that, you HAVE TO let it go, friends. Let it go, let it go.  

4. Be Productive – As a “stay-at-home mom,” I sleep easiest on days when I’ve honored my roles as a mother, wife and homemaker to an extent that feels honorable to me. Again, this is a different measuring stick for everyone. For me, I feel better on days that have structure, tasks accomplished, exercise incorporated, and a clean home and nice meal for my husband to come home to. No this most certainly does not always happen, but it’s a nice pillow test perk when it does. My roles in my home and my family bring balance and fulfillment to my identity.

5. Explore my passions – In addition to my roles in my family life, it is important I continue cultivating my personal identity through passions and purposes that I hold important, independent of who I am to other people. For me those are things like reading and writing and running. When I do these things I honor my mind, my body, and my spirit – and I sleep easier knowing I made myself a priority, too.

6. Be present – I’m currently reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain (partially to decide whether I’m an introvert, partially to better understand those in my life who are). In it she argues that scientists have proven multi-tasking really doesn’t work. The other day my babysitter was over and I was trying to simultaneously carry on a conversation with her, and pay her. After signing my name on both the memo line and the signature line of the check, I discovered once again that I suck at multi-tasking and needed to do one thing at a time – talk OR write a check.

Similarly, it is so much simpler and fulfilling to look at my husband while I’m talking to him, rather than sort of talk to him and sort of watch the news. Or to play with my son with my hands on the book we’re reading or toys on the floor instead of sort of play with him while staring at my phone texting someone. I feel better about myself at the end of the day when I truly make an effort to be present.

“Trouble” has been playing less often in the silence that comes with bedtime lately. I haven’t found another song to replace it, either. I’m learning that when I’m more OK with myself, I’m more OK with the quiet. Those are nights, I sleep like a baby.


And the good news is, on the days when I fail the pillow test, I’m all the more motivated to do better by myself the next day. And knowing I always have that chance for a “do-over” helps me sleep a little better.

His mercies are new every morning.   -Lamentations 3:23

Things I’m Learning from my 13-Month-Old


I used to be a little skeptical when I would hear parents say that their children teach them more than they teach their children. Really? I would think. But surely you are teaching your kids SO MUCH STUFF! I mean, they rely on you for EVERYTHING! How could you be learning even more from them??

But I’m learning that old adage just might be true – when it comes to the important stuff, anyway. Sure, we teach our children many practical things – like how to tie their shoes and chew their food and use the potty. And we hope we model love and trust and kindness. But the stuff they teach us, I’m learning, can’t be taught in a class or spelled out in a curriculum. What they teach us are primal, instinctual, JOYFUL lessons about humanity in its purest form. And whether you have an 8th grade reading level or a PhD, their lessons are sure to sharpen your mind and awaken your senses.

 Here are 10 things that my (almost) 13-month-old has been teaching me lately:

 1. Be content with what you have.

In a world of “bigger, better, faster, louder,” my son has helped me re-discover the magic of small pleasures, quiet moments, and slow rhythms. He doesn’t care about the size of his bedroom or our house, where his clothes come from or if the books on his shelf are on the bestsellers list. He is so happy with exactly what he has – books old and tattered or shiny and new, a gourmet meal or a jar of peas, a dapper suit or hand-me-down pjs. He seems to be in on a secret many of us grown ups have forgotten long, long ago – we have everything we need, and more.

2. Nap when you’re cranky.


Another habit many of us adults long ago abandoned – the healing balm of a mid-day nap. Now I am the first to admit I am an almost nonexistent napper – I could probably count on one hand the number of naps I’ve taken since Anderson was born. To my own detriment, I’m sure. Anderson reminds me of the renewal of sleep, in any increment – it does wonders for our mood, energy, body and mind. We could all use more naps. Even if you don’t fall asleep, just to embrace some stillness and calm in the middle of a busy day can really help to refocus ones perspective.

3. Find joy in sharing.

No matter how excited Anderson is about whatever food he is eating, he is always even MORE excited to share it with our dog, Izzy (who is, in turn, even MORE excited to be eating something other than her dog food of the last seven years). Though half of me knows I should discourage our son from feeding his overpriced baby food to our dog, the other half of me can’t help but smile when I see how giddy with joy he becomes from making her giddy with joy. Am I that excited to share and bring joy to people in my life?



4. Comparing leads to pride or pain.

I just finished reading a fantastic, inspiring book I would recommend to anyone, called The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. In it, she explains that our society teaches us from a young age to “compare and compete.” She explains it is a paradox in that we are taught to be like others, but a little bit better. Often we feel just fine – or even great!- about ourselves until we see what our neighbor/relative/friend has. Babies, on the other hand, couldn’t care less if they’re the best sleeper among their baby friends, or the slowest to walk, or the pickiest eater, or the friendliest. They just are who they are and they haven’t yet been taught to be anything but OK with that.

5. Crawl before you walk.

I love observing the joy Anderson has in crawling. While some babies his age are walking, he is content right where he is, army crawling with the best of ‘em. This mode of transportation works for him right now, and he’ll get to the next step when he’s ready. It reminds me to be present. Whether I’m training for a race, or writing a novel, or decorating a house – crawl before you walk. And don’t just suffer through crawling, embrace it – those first miles or pages or picture frames will surely roll into more. Enjoy the journey.



6. Messiness is liberating.


Ever notice how babies seem to be having the most fun eating when they are making the biggest mess? I think it’s because they’re going all in, fully committing to prioritize their pleasure over all else – a clean face, stain-free clothes or a full plate of food actually in their mouth. They’re going all in and making a mess of it. Go big or go home. It makes me think about how some of the most rewarding experiences in my life involve “going all in” and making a mess. Like working up a big sweat on a hard run, or baking up a storm until my counters are covered in flour. There’s a freedom in letting go of the need to be clean and in control All. The. Time. And babies will tell you it just plain makes life more fun.

7. There is comfort in routine.

Just as there’s a time to make a big old mess, there is also a time (many times a day, typically), to find comfort in the normalizing rhythm and predictability of daily life. Seeing how much Anderson depends on his routine – whether it’s a book before bed or a warm bottle of milk – has made me reconsider and reprioritize components of my own routine. Like Anderson, I feel better and more grounded when I have people I can depend on and earmarked things I can look forward to every day. Molding his routine has challenged me to remake elements of my own.

8. There are too many good books out there to not be reading every day.


For someone who lists two of her highest passions as reading and writing, I can really suck at making time for either/both. I get busy, and I get tired, and I think I’d rather be: (watching TV, making small talk, checking Facebook, fill-in-the-blank…), but more often than not, I’d really rather be reading. I am thrilled that my son loves books. I find joy in building his library, reading to him, and watching him pensively study the pages himself. There is not a day that goes by when his eyes and hands are not all over a book, or ten. It has reconnected me with the sweet pleasure of reading and heightened my commitment to making more time to read.

9. Enjoy your own company.

There is a time to enjoy the company of your friends/family/colleagues/spouse, and there is a time to be totally cool chillin’ on your own. Sometimes I catch Anderson in his playpen, deeply engrossed in his books, toys, socks…. Whatever it is he’s doing, he is perfectly fine spending some time alone figuring it out. I think so often we’re afraid of “missing out” or “slowing down” that we neglect valuable time spent alone, by ourselves, reconnecting with our thoughts and our spirit and our dreams. I am going to Chicago next month, alone. I will be spending some time with a friend who lives there, and I can’t wait for that “girl time,” out on the town indulging in brunches and having one too many margaritas. But I’ll also be spending some of the trip alone and, to be honest, I can’t wait for that, either. As moms, I think we often feel guilt about desiring time for ourselves, away from our children and our spouse. But that time – whether it’s an hour away or a weekend away – is so important. It renews us, and refocuses us, and sharpens our appreciation for home when we return there. So I am excited to be on my own for a bit. For the 4-hour flight to get lost in a novel, for the luxury of taking baths and watching whatever TV I want in my own hotel room, for the stillness and quiet of wandering an art gallery for hours. I know I will miss my family, but I also believe I am worthy of this time to recharge my batteries, and I think we’ll ALL be better for it. I can’t wait.

10. Let love in.

This picture was taken when Anderson was sick, which made him more dependent, lethargic, clingy and cuddly than normal. This picture reminds me that we all need, and desire to be needed. Babies just love, and just let you love them. Who in your life could use your love? Who could you allow to love you more? Sounds simple, but I think sometimes we suppress this most primal need, and Anderson has taught me how sweet it is to just sit back and let love in.