When in Doubt, Don’t Ask About:

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Today’s blog post will be a gentle reminder in etiquette for us all.  Myself included.   My name may be on the byline here, but I’m guessing I speak for many of you reading who have experienced the awkwardness, embarrassment, anger or hurt that comes from being asked things that are none of anyone else’s business.

The inspiration for this post was sparked by a friend’s bewilderment over the many people in her life who inquire about her age (and hair color…. “Is it natural?”), and the list goes on… and cemented by my being asked one time too many (just this week, in fact) if I’m pregnant – when I’m not and haven’t been for almost 16 months, but thank you very much for asking.

It got me thinking about all the things that are taboo to talk about – or should be – but people relentlessly talk about them and ask about them anyway. There are the old standbys of religion, sex and politics, of course – but in today’s world, or my life at least – those topics tend to be some of the rarer offenders.

Everyone has a different barometer when it comes to what makes for appropriate conversation topics with the people in our lives, and we all have things that we prefer to not talk about with anyone, except maybe our therapist, spouse, or the closest of family or friends.

I’ll share some of mine and maybe you can add yours to this list. My hope is that the more people are aware of how they might be making someone feel when they ask about x, y or z, the more they will slow down and think before asking.

One of my personal “hot buttons” is MONEY.  I really don’t think I’m alone in my feelings on this matter, but it seems to surface a lot, so here goes: I will take the lead and let you know if I want to talk about the value of my house, my family’s income, or how much I paid  for personal items. But in many circumstances, I  don’t.  If I don’t bring it up, it’s because I find those things unproductive or unnecessary to talk about – or just simply, private.  If you want to genuinely compliment my outfit or my hair or my home – like most human beings, I welcome that! But please make sure there’s a person (me!), not a price tag, attached to your compliment or lack thereof.

Another hot button issue for me (because I am a woman, on planet Earth) is PREGNANCY: Wow. Where do I begin? It would be exponentially quicker to compile a list of things that are acceptable to ask someone you suspect of being pregnant, than of those that are a social no-no. But since clearly many, many people are painfully unaware of this etiquette, for starters:

Don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant. Ever. Trust me, she’ll tell you if she wants you to know.

Don’t ask her if she’s “keeping it.” I can’t believe I even have to address this….but yes, I have been asked this. While at a wedding. After joyfully sharing with people that Aaron and I were several months along. That wasn’t an awkward moment at all.

Don’t ask a pregnant woman if she’s sure she should be doing that/eating that/drinking that. She probably knows a lot more than you do about prenatal health.

Don’t ask if she wants advice of any kind. Again, if she does, she’ll ask.

BODY: I think this is the one where well-meaning people are most likely to get tripped up. Even asking someone a seemingly complimentary question like “Did you lose weight?” can bring up all kinds of body image triggers for that person, like “Did I need to lose weight?” or “How closely have you been monitoring me?” or “I’ve actually gained weight – what did you think I looked like before??” Tread lightly, friends…we’re all fighting our own battle here.

Earlier this week, while out walking with Anderson, I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen for some time. We exchanged giddy hugs and happy updates, and she introduced me to her boyfriend. She seemed exceedingly happy in love and in life. She bent down to Anderson’s level and made him smile, and then she looked down at my not-quite-iron board stomach and breezily asked without missing a beat (and in front of this boyfriend I’d known for five seconds), “Are you pregnant?”

Standing there gripping the stroller, feeling frozen and numb, I instantly sucked in and plastered a fake smile on my face, groping for words that wouldn’t come and thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this is happening again.” (This has happened to me at least four times, many months removed from an actual pregnancy). Then, without even planning to, I lied.

“Haha,” I fake laughed. “No, we just had a big breakfast” I said, while visualizing the half bowl of raisin bran I had consciously limited myself to that morning, after running twice last weekend and intentionally trying to chip away at those “extra pounds.”

That lie was my armor, my safety net, my remote control for changing the subject. The lie kept me from admitting the simple yet complicated truth: there are some women who are neither pregnant, nor unhealthy, nor a doppelganger for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. I, among millions of others, am one of those women.

I’ve tried so hard to be an advocate for a healthy body image – my own and others – but standing there on that street corner reliving the humiliation of having to answer that question again­ – that question that essentially accuses that, if you’re not pregnant, there’s no justifiable reason for your body to look like that – I just felt like crying.

If this person I ran into today ever reads this, I would simply want her to know the same thing I would want anyone to know, who has asked me or anyone else questions that were personal to the point of causing pain, at worst, or discomfort, at the least:

“Dear friend – you are a beautiful and wonderful person and I’m sure you care for me and mean no harm. But please, please think of the impact your words may have on others before speaking them.”

One more note about sizing up someone else’s body, even without saying a word: we notice. I notice when I haven’t seen someone in a while and they look me up and down lingering a little too long on my midsection. I notice when someone is fixated on my stomach that happens to be a magnet for any possible pesky pounds I’ve yet to lose, or maybe never will. If I made it enough of a priority, I’m sure I could navigate this new body a little more effectively and customize workouts to get it back to more closely resembling its prior shape. But I shouldn’t have to explain myself to anyone in the meantime, and I shouldn’t have to constantly wonder if people are judging me because I didn’t “bounce back” like the Bodies after Baby! on the cover of People magazine.

So why do people ask such intimate, personal questions? I’m not a psychologist, but I have thought a lot about this, and I do have my own little theory. I believe that people ask overly personal questions for two primary reasons: to connect and to compete.

Best case scenario, these people simply like you and are looking to find more personal common ground on which to connect. They feel closer and more bonded to you upon learning you’re both fill-in-the-blank (rich, poor, 39, blonde via bleach, struggling with your sex life, looking to lose weight….). I totally get that these people, sincerely seeking to connect, have good intentions. I get that, and I’m not saying they’re the bad guys for asking these unknowingly loaded questions. But the questions often are loaded, and we could all benefit by being a little more thoughtful about how deep we dig (and with who, and how soon into the relationship) and how these personal questions might make someone feel.

Worst case scenario, people are delving into your private life to see how your sex life/weight loss/income stacks up to theirs, in a quest to compete, not connect. This is the most toxic version of this question asking, of course. And I think most of us have probably been guilty of it from time to time.

In closing, I’ll state the obvious – I realize we all have people in our lives we have chosen to talk to about money and sex, babies and body image, wars and weight loss. So how do you know if person A will be down with talking about topic B? If you really want to talk about religion, paychecks or politics, put your personal data out there first. If that person wants to reciprocate with private info of their own, they will. If not, well…now you know. At the end of the day, if you’re not really really sure the person in your midst is cool opening up and answering that burning question on your mind, it might be better to leave those hot topics for the ladies of The View.

When it’s Really Hard

I think I just had a true emotional breakdown. In car with Anderson. Not listening ad nauseam. Can feel my stress level reaching cataclysmic, desperate, absolutely miserable levels. I raise my voice, deep, gravelly, shaking – it doesn’t even sound like my own – desperately pleading with my 4-year-old to be quiet. I feel helpless and truly tortured. I have to leave the car.

We arrive at the park. I get out of the car, pacing back and forth in the parking lot, trying to pull myself together. I’m so thankful for my dark oversized sunglasses. I start sobbing, shaking, leaning against the car. I can’t pull it together. I can’t fake my way through lunch or the park. Thank god Aaron is there. He takes both kids while I sit in the car and force myself to eat a sandwich. Numb, depleted, in a haze. I immediately start googling emotional breakdown. Turns out the stresses of motherhood and added female hormones can be the perfect recipe for feeling emotionally flooded. Absolutely overwhelmed. Though I’m sure that emotional breakdowns aren’t limited to parents of young kids.

It’s hard to talk about, but I wonder how many mothers before me have reached this frantic, dizzying breaking point. How scary, how isolating to feel like you can’t even acknowledge your big overwhelming feelings, for fear of being judged, demonized, gossiped about, as less than “totally together”

Excuse my French, but F- that.

Sitting in the car, I text three people. My babysitter to help take the pressure of parenting duties off Aaron as I recover from whatever the hell just happened to me. My therapist, to get in to see her as soon as possible. And my friend who I know will always keep it real, will never listen to serious even scary problems I’m having and pretend she hasn’t been to equally dark places. So many people pretend…I’ve done it too. We listen to other people’s trauma and drama, we absorb the juicy details into our bloodstream like oxygen. We bury the most human parts of our selves that could actually offer true empathy in return – our own shame, our own fears, our own shortcomings.

We all have them. Why do we pretend?

I’m writing this because I refuse to feel like I should be silenced, or pitied, or outcast for having a very human, probably long overdue reaction to the mounting stress of parenting that can chip away at the fault lines of a parent’s spirit, until an emotional earthquake rolls over your entire body, your whole being.

I am a warrior. As is every hardworking, ground down parent out there. We would go to battle for our kids. Sometimes we go to battle against them. Today I encountered a battle that brought me to my knees, tearing off my armor, admitting defeat. The circumstances were nothing out of the ordinary, trivial, forgettable really. Potty talk and yelling and shrieking. But I just reached a breaking point. My soul was screaming for a break I couldn’t get. I couldn’t come up for air.

If that happens to you, tell someone. It’s ok to cry and it’s ok to load up your husband with all the kids and sandwiches and explain that you have to – need to – be alone. It’s ok to sit in the car and cry and dab your raw red eyes with Subway napkins and text your therapist and a good friend and reach out because we all need to be reminded we’re not alone. Young children have the ability to wear us down and chip away at us in a uniquely painful way that demands our attention and self-advocacy. We are no good to anyone else if we can’t at the very least acknowledge that.

I will be ok. Because I’m speaking up for myself, because I’m supported, and I have learned to have faith many times over in the resiliency of the human spirit. I do not feel hopeless in any sort of ultimate sense. Because I actually know, without a doubt, that many of you reading this will reach out to me to tell me that you care, that you’ve *been there,* that parenting is the hardest job on the planet and AMEN for admitting it gets the best of us and brings us to our knees once in a while. If you are a parent and have never felt it truly kick your ass or bring you to tears, I am happy for you. You’ve won a special kind of lottery. To the rest of us – be kind to yourself. Take a breath, insist when you need a break. You are doing the very hardest kind of work there is.

My First Year with Two

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What will I remember in the long run when I think back on my first year as a mother of two?

I wonder if I’ll remember the nap schedules I have meticulously planned life around (I doubt it), or the silky soft baby thighs that jiggle like under-set Jello (I hope so).  Or the countless times I’ve joked that I need a black and white striped referee’s uniform and the word, “GENTLE” tattooed across my forehead, as I’ve all but ground down molars watching my older son eagerly explore big brother terrain.

I wonder if I’ll be able to vividly recall the frail, nauseating, mind-bending pain of rock bottom sleep deprivation.  Or if I’ll just laugh and brush off those “sleepless nights” as something I vaguely remember, or even merely assume that we went through (because every parent does, right?), when I think back years from now.

Perhaps I’ll have trouble recalling what exactly it was we did with all the hours in the days we had together, me on my own with a baby and a toddler.  The 80 pounds of double stroller and kids I pushed up and down hills, to parks and the library and Starbucks. The hundreds of times my older son made the younger one laugh…and cry…and everything in between.

Will I remember the precise strategy involved in a trip to the grocery store with two kids?  The careful order in which I unbuckled each car seat and somehow maneuvered myself, two little humans and a shopping cart safely in and out of stores, elevators and parking lots with the nuance of navigating a corn maze?   I’m sure I’ll never remember details like that.  I’ll just lump it all together as a “busy time.”

Will I be too hard on myself and feel guilty for the missed opportunities to “be present” with my kids?  Will I wish I ignored dirty dishes more often to slam little cars together on the floor with my preschooler when he asked me to?  Probably.  Will I wish I more fully embraced nursing the second time around, instead of counting the days until I never had to lug around a breast pump or be awoken from the discomfort of engorgement ever again?  I’m sure hindsight perspective will be 20/20.

I wonder if I’ll close my eyes and be able to picture Jude’s wispy “clown hair,” as I call it, and the pink rough patches of eczema that persistently marked his little cheeks that first year.  They’ve become endearing to me now.

Will I one day break into laughter when I remember, for the first time in years, how I once said that Jude’s crazy hair and sparsely gapped teeth as a baby caused him to somewhat resemble Sloth, the chained, monstrous-looking brother from The Goonies? 

I hope I am never delusional enough to pretend this year was photo-worthy or pulled together all – or even much of – the time.  Much of it was spent simply feeling spent.  Tired.  SO. TIRED.  Unbalanced, frazzled with responsibilities and people and things to tend to and please.  Used pumping parts sat unwashed on the bathroom counter sometimes for days, until I felt like I could catch my breath and stand still for the 90 seconds it took to wash them.

Emails and bills piled up by the dozens, my hair was rarely worn down or styled in between my bi-monthly hair appointments.  I let Anderson watch way too much TV that first summer I had both kids at home, and eat far too few vegetables.

I was consistently imperfect, and I always had a constantly-growing list of goals and “growth opportunities” turning over and over in my mind.  It was relentless – the striving for balance, the longing for acceptance of the present moment, the uncomfortable urge to propel time forward and move past whatever hard thing at the time felt like a weight holding me down.

I hope I remember that I was a good mom.

I hope I remember how some of the sweetest moments of my life were reading my kids bedtime stories when they were young.  Or smelling their hair after a bath.  Or bundling them up and strapping them in side-by-side in their orange double stroller on one of our many neighborhood walks.

I hope I remember how Anderson proudly ran to his brother waiting in his stroller in the hallway each day at preschool pick-up, and how, as the older brother, he embraced the nicknames “Judy” and “Jude Bug” more proudly and enthusiastically than any of us – practically singing them each time his brother re-entered his line of sight.

This past year I learned how to be a mom to two entirely different people. Edit that – I’m still learning and probably always will be.  I’m reliving what it’s like to parent a baby, while continuing to celebrate – and survive- all the “firsts” my 3-year-old hurls my way.  I would, hypothetically, find myself pausing to enjoy the confidence that comes with parenting a second time around, but I’m too busy to bask. I’m too tired.  I give Google fewer anxiety-ridden questions at 2 a.m., but it’s a trade-off for having two mouths to feed, two schedules to juggle, two young minds to engage and entertain for all our waking hours.

This has been the year of potty-training, big boy beds, temper tantrums…sleep coaches, nursing issues and learning how to be the mother of siblings.  I feel like I’m a more polished and prepared parent in some ways, a more spread thin and rundown one in others.

It’s a “new normal” I tell people, adding a second child to the family.  The first six months I often felt like I was underwater – utterly floored by the disorienting, head-spinning busy-ness that comes with adding a new baby to the mix.  The second half of the year I started to find my footing again.  We got through the worst of the sleep stuff, our older son turned three and became more independent, we established a bedtime for the baby and got our evenings back as a couple.  After months of what felt like holding our breath and keeping afloat, we finally began to exhale.

One of the truest things I’ve ever heard about parenting is that while the days can pass by so slowly, the years fly by fast.

Happy Birthday, Jude.

And happy one-year anniversary of “the new normal” to the rest of our family.

Remind me to toast to that. heleyna-holmes-photography-0168

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The More the Merrier?

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Four Moms Talk Family Size, Sibling Dynamics,  and Why Timing is Everything

Did you always dream of having a family big enough to fill up a minivan or your own basketball roster? Or maybe you had a baby and quickly realized one is more than enough, thank you very much? While some parents struggle to conceive at all, others are graced by a surprise(!) second, third or fourth baby, just when they thought they were “done.” When it comes to family planning and family size, there is only so much we can, in fact, “plan”. One thing that’s guaranteed – every parent’s story is uniquely personal, and each family took its own set of twists and turns along the way.

As someone who has always been open to, yet unsure about, having a “larger” family (more than the average two kids), I love hearing about other parents’ experiences in planning for (or not…), and raising, families of various sizes.

To get the real scoop on what it’s like to have two, three, or four kids, I interviewed four mothers of varying family sizes about growing their brood, the story on siblings, their ideal age spacing between kids, and how each new addition has changed them as parents and their family’s dynamic. I hope you will enjoy their candid, insightful words and the lessons they’ve learned along the way as baby has made three…then four…then five…then six! I am indebted to these women for contributing to my first collaborative, interview-based blog post.

First, a bit about how I know each of these moms:

Shawna and I have been friends since high school, were in each other’s weddings, and bonded even more as belly buddies while simultaneously pregnant with our sons (her second, my first), both born in March, 2013. Shawna lives in a suburb of Spokane, WA with her husband and two sons, Kiptyn (3) and Brody (1).

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Becka and I led Young Life together when I was in college and though we have not seen each other in years, it has been a joy to follow her life and the growth of her family remotely, through emails and Facebook. She resides in a suburb north of Seattle where she and her husband are raising their four children – Jordan (7 ½), Kalum (6), Addison (4) and Lincoln (1 ½).

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Kalimar and I were in a book club together a few years ago, and I will never forget the gathering at my house where she stunned us all with the news that she was expecting her (surprise!) third child and first son, Anthony (2). He joined big sisters, Kadence (6) and Kohyn (3). Kalimar and her husband reside in a Seattle suburb.

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Vanessa was my PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) group leader when Aaron and I joined our first group with our son, Anderson, and has served as a support and example to me as I have gone on to lead PEPS groups myself. She and her husband are raising their three kids – 10-year-old Luke, 7-year-old Vivian and 4-year-old Soren…and have a fourth on the way! – in Seattle.

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It goes without saying there are wonderful mothers of 1 and of 5+ I also could have interviewed for this project. And if you are one of those moms – I welcome your unique insights, so please comment and share! Alas, these are the moms I invited on board to share their greatest struggles (the diapers! the whining! the sleep!) and what keeps them smiling (the giggle fests!) no matter how zombie-tired they are… as their families have grown… and grown… and grown. Read on!

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“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” – Woody Allen

 

“I never grew up wanting to get married, or thought about being a mom,” shares Vanessa, who is currently expecting her fourth child.

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“We had not really discussed children before our first. When we got married I didn’t even think about kids, really – hadn’t given it a thought.” Vanessa says that it wasn’t until after having children she knew she wanted to have four. “Everyone always tells me that the woman knows when she is done having babies…literally just having given birth the mom will know – she will still have that feeling for one more or she will feel complete and done, and it’s so true with me! I never felt done with each of my kids. I’m currently pregnant with #4, and I feel done. I’m ready after this one to be finished (my husband is so happy about that!).”

For Shawna, “two” was always that ideal number – before and after becoming a mom. She says that even in discussions she and her husband had before getting married, having two kids someday “seemed natural for us.” Now, with two toddlers at home, they certainly have their hands full, but Shawna admits, “Now, we partially joke that we would like a third child.” She is quick to add that is not an option for them, however (“They make surgeries for that sort of thing”).

Kalimar also had her feet firmly planted in the “two kids” camp, until a life-changing positive pregnancy test came along that turned her plans – and life as she knew it – upside down. Her son, Anthony, was born when her youngest daughter was just 16 months old – an experience she wouldn’t recommend to anyone. “I was in survival mode for his entire first year and can barely remember any of it,” she shares, adding that the timing of having two babies so close together was “extremely challenging” and – quite simply – “horrible.”

Becka, who gave birth to four children within six years, says she and her husband “always talked about having four kids close in age.” But those plans didn’t come to fruition without some serious doubts along the way. “Our talks/plans did not change until I was eight months pregnant with our third child,” she says. “After having two boys I had mentally assumed our third was also going to be a boy and if I was lucky I would get a girl for our fourth. (Finding out we were having a girl) threw a wrench in my mental picture of my family.” As a very tired pregnant mother of two, Becka says she “began to think I couldn’t do this again. I couldn’t be pregnant again and wake up to take care of three children.” After some serious thought and prayer, and experiencing 19 months as a mother of three, Becka says at that point she finally knew that she truly wanted a fourth child.

How Close is Too Close? The Age Gap Debate

As any mother of twins will tell you, taking care of two babies is at least twice as much work as taking care of one – twice the diapers, twice the feedings, twice the tantrums… you get the idea. Much of these same consequences hit parents of closely-spaced kids. While many parents intentionally wait until older children are potty-trained, sleeping through the night – even in school – to lessen the impact of adding another baby to the mix, other parents deeply desire for their kids to grow up very close in age, and some even find it easier to get through the “diaper days” all at once, however daunting that task may be.

Let’s talk diapers.

It’s something every one of the mothers I interviewed mentioned – without even being asked. For some it plays into their ideals for age spacing, for others not so much.

Becka loves the age spacing between her kids (“They are each other’s best friends”), though she can see the benefits of spacing kids out even more.

“It is hard because I am in the ‘trenches’ for quite a few years in a row,” she says, “but once I get out I will be able to stay out. As opposed to my parents who had four kids with a four-year age gap between each, so my oldest brother was 12 when my baby brother was born. That’s 14 years of never really getting out of diapers!”

For Kalimar, most everything was easier with her first two children (daughters spaced 2.5 years apart) than with her youngest two children who have only a 16-month gap in age.

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“My first two are 2.5 years apart and it’s wonderful. My first was daytime potty-trained when my second was born…could ask questions and understand my answers.” The short spacing between her two youngest was another story entirely – both were in diapers full-time, and Kalimar was still nursing nearly halfway through her third pregnancy, which hindered her own (and, she suspects, her baby’s) weight gain. When the new baby arrived, her 16-month-old daughter was confused to see Mom holding a new baby and not her. “The lack of communication and understanding of my 16-month-old was heartbreaking. There were so many times daddy had to pull her away crying and screaming because she wanted to snuggle while I was nursing the newborn and she couldn’t.”

For Vanessa, diapers were no big deal and weren’t one of the reasons she spaced her kids further apart, at three years apart each. Though she says diapers never bothered her, getting each child to sleep through the night, be more independent, and into a bigger car seat were some practical aspects to her choice. Most importantly though, she just wanted more time to be their mom, one at a time. “The best thing to me about my kids’ age gap (three years each) is that I had time with each one – to take care of each of them in the baby stage when they need you the most.” She also mentions that her kids are still “incredibly close” even with the larger age gap.

Shawna also had her sights set on a three-year age gap, but plans changed when Kiptyn was 15 months old and she and her husband found themselves trying for baby #2. Like Becka, Shawna and her husband had grown up with their own siblings spaced further apart, and felt the impact of not being as close. With her boys almost exactly two years apart, the double diaper duty can be taxing, but she loves that they are “close enough to experience life together, go to the same schools at the same time, and grow up as buddies.” Playing referee to their wrestling matches is a small price to pay.

Growing Pains…and Growing Joys

I asked the moms what the hardest transition was for them – going from 0 to 1 kid, 1 to 2, 2 to 3, or 3 to 4. Three out of four said the first baby was the hardest, followed by going from 2 to 3 (although Vanessa felt that by the time they had their third, it was a “piece of cake!”).

“Everything is much easier with two,” says Kalimar. “Once you have three or more you are in the market for a bigger car, bigger house etc…”

Becka seconds the car considerations, adding, “I don’t want a car bigger than a minivan!”

Across the board, one of the biggest rewards the moms have felt as their families have grown, is watching the bond their children form with each other.

“There is a lot more fighting and yelling happening, but also so much more giggling and silliness,” says Vanessa. “The giggles are priceless,” adds Becka. Shawna agrees, “Pure joy is seeing my boys interact and laugh together. The belly laughs I find myself listening to these days make me smile from ear to ear.”

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Whining toddlers and older kids wanting to roughhouse with the fragile younger babes was a top challenge mentioned by the moms. But on the flip side, the older, more independent kids are also able to help out with little siblings. Girls tended to take right to “mothering” their new baby brother or sister.

Words of Advice for Undecided Parents

I asked the moms what advice they would give other parents who are undecided about how many kids to have, and when to have them. Here are their pearls of wisdom:

From Kalimar: “Age spacing is crucial! I highly recommend not having kids closer in age than 2 ½ years if your first is a girl, and at least three years if your first is a boy. The reason for this is that girls are natural little mothers…they understand and want to help with baby at an earlier age than boys….even the most sensitive boy loves to crash and bang, and yes he will crash and bang into the newborn.”

From Becka: “Talk about it, pray about it and think about what you can handle. There are hard days that seem to last an eternity, but in the scheme of things a year flies by!”

From Shawna: “Consider how much time you’ll be able to spend with each child, teaching them, learning alongside them. (As for spacing), go with what feels right. Whether planned or unplanned, children enrich lives, turn life upside down in the most perfect of ways. Life is amazingly crazy with kids in it, and it is the best, most challenging thing I may ever do.”

From Vanessa: “There is so much pressure on parents to have their second child…I felt like right after we had our first, people were already asking us when we were going to have our next one! Now that I’m pregnant with baby #4, people can’t believe that either and I get a lot of weird looks and people asking if we are having it on purpose, and ‘Why?’ which no one would ask with baby #1 or #2. There is no pleasing everyone… If you are content with having one child, then just have one. Do what you want, and have your babies when you want. You don’t have to please anyone but yourselves.”

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As for Me….

Aaron and I are expecting…..to hopefully be pregnant again sometime next year! God willing. I SO relate to Vanessa’s comment about a mother just knowing when she is done, or not done, having children. Throughout my pregnancy with Anderson and even early on with him as a newborn, I already genuinely looked forward to someday, I hope, getting to do it all over again.

The insight I have gained from these mothers is invaluable to me as one of the hardest things about making any parenting decisions is the many “unknowns.” I so appreciate the “reality check” these moms have given me and their experience-based wisdom makes me feel more informed as to what I need to take into consideration – what’s best for Anderson and what’s best for Aaron and me as parents – before heading down the road toward additional children. As much as my heart tells me I would love to be pregnant again right now, my head tells me there are good reasons to wait just a little bit longer.

Flying Solo

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Earlier this month I took a big leap outside of my stay-at-home mom bubble and hopped a plane – alone! – to Chicago for three days. My old college roommate, Catherine, was about to turn 30 and graduate from med school and I thought it was the perfect time to plan a trip to celebrate. I also selfishly was ready to spread my wings a bit and prove that I could do this – be apart overnight from my 14-month-old for the first time ever!
I eagerly awaited this trip for weeks and weeks and dreamed of it being this relaxing, rejuvenating and luxurious time where I could stretch my legs walking the big city, read for four uninterrupted hours on the plane, indulge in bubble baths in my OWN hotel room…. You get the idea.

In some ways the trip was exactly what I had felt I needed and hoped for, and in some ways it wasn’t.

First, the flight:
The last four flights I had been on included Anderson, so it was quite the change not having to juggle a diaper bag, nurse, change diapers, or get a baby to nap on my lap while on the plane. It almost seemed too easy, like I was cheating or something, to board the plane with just myself, a small bag and a book. It was nice to be able to listen to music and zone out, to get lost in a book and not be accountable to anyone else on the plane. But I also got nostalgic and a bit homesick every time I heard a baby cry. It never annoyed me in the slightest, in fact I actually found the sound comforting. I sort of missed the sweet soft skin and warmth of a baby’s body against mine on the flight, of shuffling through board books and watching the hustle and bustle of an airport and flight through a baby’s eyes. There were things that were nice about flying alone – don’t get me wrong – but I was reminded that the extra baggage required to take a baby on board was ultimately pretty priceless.

The hotel:
Yes, it was nice to have a bed to hog and a TV to watch whatever I wanted, but I was also loneliest at night all alone, towering above this foreign place. I had the hardest time sleeping and tossed and turned until well into the early morning hours both nights. It was almost as if things were too quiet, too sterile, too simplified. I missed my own hastily made bed, the hum of Anderson’s monitor beside me, the random knocking sound of our quirky refrigerator. A hotel, no matter how nice, doesn’t hold a candle to home (and mine wasn’t THAT nice…. Here’s looking at you tiny square pillows made for a guinnea pig).

The celebrating:
It was good to see my longtime friend. We had a lot of catching up to do on our very different lives. She introduced me to three amazing restaurants and made sure I was well-fed and well-acquainted with where I was going (I would have been lost without her…). I was reminded that emails and texts can’t replace the ground you can cover catching up in person. I’m glad we made the time for each other, and that I got to walk with her in her home city of the last four years before she moves across the country yet again. I find it fascinating to witness a life path so different than mine, and am so proud of all she has accomplished!
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The city:
It was a bizarre sensation to be so completely untethered to the identity I wear like clothing every day here in Seattle – that of a mother. I have typically one or two small blocks of time on my own each week at home, to run errands, do my appointments and so on. But having an ENTIRE WEEKEND devoid of my mom hat entirely was a strange and almost disorienting feeling. As I walked for miles through the city, smelled the food and crossed over the river, window shopped, and got coffee, I figured I probably could have passed for a single, local woman about town. I did things I never ever do by myself or at home.

Like spend two blissfully quiet, meditative hours meandering through an art museum:
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Or spontaneously attend an Aretha Franklin (yes, seriously – Aretha Franklin!!) concert at the famous Chicago Theatre:
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I had a good time in Chicago. But undoubtedly and by a mile, the BEST part of my trip, was coming home to this:
back home with baby
I did not fully realize how much I had missed him until he was in my arms again. We were glued to each other for about an hour; I didn’t want to let him go. My coming home again to Anderson was one of the sweetest moments of my life. He made these sweet cooing sounds and showed me smiles I’d never seen before at the sheer joy of our reunion. I knew in that moment there was no place in the world better than this.

How You Do Anything

How You Do Anything

We’re moving later this month, and that has sort of put the pause button on home decorating, but when we’re into our new place, one thing I am itching to do is frame and prominently display some quotes that inspire me.  One that has stuck with me as 2013 has faded into 2014, is this:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.” 

I came across these words as the cornerstone of the editor’s letter in Real Simple magazine’s current issue on balance. The RS editor writes that sometimes, when we feel so overwhelmed that we’re not sure we can do anything well – like we just don’t even know where to start – we need only to choose ONE thing, and do it well

For her, one harried, hurried morning, that meant spending 15 minutes she really didn’t have (know the feeling?) making her son the exact home-cooked breakfast he wanted.  Schedule and to-do list be damned, that morning, for that 15 minutes, she focused on making her son an exceptional breakfast.  And you know what I think?  I think her son, and his mom, will probably remember that breakfast more than they’ll remember what was on the news that morning, or who forgot to put the trash out, or how many minutes they may have been late to school or work.  She made that egg dish as if, by it, her life’s work would be judged.

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

My husband is really, really good at this.  He is the type of person who will respond to each of the hundreds of emails that come through his inbox each day.  He’ll make time to call his mother on his drive home.  If he’s making us a meal, he often takes time to make me these perfect little bite-sized “snacks” of whatever he’s cooking, so I don’t get hungry while I wait.  He is extraordinarily generous and kind in the way he treats people, be it his employees, his neighbors, or a homeless man on the street. Aaron is someone who typically pushes just beyond what any given situation calls for.  He chooses to do ANYTHING the way he wants to do EVERYTHING.  I believe all those little “anythings” will add up to the big “Everything” that is the legacy of his life.

I have been meditating on why I have felt so compelled by these words.  To me they have felt like a call to action – consistent, character-molding action.  And I have questioned whether such a seemingly tall order can co-exist with my “Sometimes you just have to buy the cake” philosophy.  I’ve decided, it can. 

For me, this challenge isn’t about striving for perfection, or pouring 110% into all we do to the point of exhaustion.  It’s about being fair.  Fair to ourselves, fair to all of those around us, and even in our character.  I think there are several realms in which this challenge is particularly engaging:

One is in our public vs. private lives.  How many of us are guilty of talking, acting, ignoring, neglecting in private, in ways we would never dream of in public?  They say that our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, and our actions become our character.  What a challenge it is, to behave as if others are watching, even if they’re not. 

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Secondly, it makes me think about how unequally we treat the people in our lives.  For example, I might be bitterly rude to the barista who’s “making me late” for an appointment, then two minutes later be all smiles and easy breezy “life is good” as I float into that salon.  Or I might reserve all my patience for my baby, and none for my dog. 

This idea brings to mind a passage from the New Testament, which implies that, as Christians, our character is judged not by how we act in church, or on Facebook, or with the people we find easiest to be around, but with the most difficult, inconvenient, downtrodden, burdensome people in our lives:

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  – Matthew 25:40

So if I’m rude to my barista, it’s basically like I’m being rude to God?  Yep, she’s His child.  He’s offended.  And Lord knows I could go on and on with examples…. You get it. 

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

So this year, I strive to be consistent with my character, with the effort I put into my words and my actions that mean something to others. 

Now, we don’t always have 15 minutes to spend cooking an egg.  And for that I have another quote I refer to often.  This one I want to put next to my bed, so it’s the last thing I read each night before I go to sleep:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Finally, never forget that no matter how you fill your days – by being a lawyer, or an egg chef for a 4-year-old, or a teacher or a CEO – the work you do matters and how you do anything is noticed by the people in your life. You have a chance, every day, to be GREAT at whatever it is you do.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” 

Thankful for WHAT?

Thankful for WHAT?

This month there have been two particularly hot topics burrowing deeper and deeper into my Facebook world – two “lists” that have been making the rounds and into my life day after day.  One is lists of things people are thankful for, in honor of Thanksgiving month.  While most people will share something involving things they are grateful for today (Thanksgiving), many of my friends have been sharing something each day for the whole month of November, stretching the thankful thoughts out a whole 30 days. I think it’s great and have enjoyed reading.

The other “list” that has been circulating is a things-you-don’t-know-about-me list.  This is where someone posts 8 things you probably don’t know about them (like, everyone thinks they’re an extrovert but they really just love being alone – OR – they have a terrible fear of elevators – OR – they recently reunited with their high school sweetheart after 20 years apart).  I also think these are great and have enjoyed reading.

In an effort to be a creative writer and to challenge myself to think a little outside the box for this Thanksgiving post, I have decided to combine these two hot topics into a hybrid Things-You-Don’t-Know-I’m-Thankful-For list. 

I believe a lot of the things that we tend to say we’re thankful for this time of year are the predictable and safe things to talk about – health, family, happiness, safety, food, shelter, security…  Look, these things are huge and good and authentic and we SHOULD be thankful and SAY we’re thankful for all of them.  Of course.  I am thankful for all of those things too – deeply, sincerely, undeservingly thankful.

But – I can’t help but wonder about all those deeper, rougher, messier, more complicated gems of Thanksgiving each of us has within our own story.  The things that aren’t pretty or simple or safe, but that have helped forge us into who we are today.  It is those things that I also want to pay tribute to today.  So bear with me folks.  This is an unconventional, yet necessary list.  I wouldn’t be who I am without it. 

 

1.  When Things Don’t Go My Way

Some of the shiniest silver linings and most beautiful blooms of my life have stemmed from the rocky soil of heartbreak and the bleakness of failure.  In high school, getting cut from the cheerleading squad, while devastating to my all-consuming 15-year-old social life, opened the door for me to spend the summer working at a Christian camp that is a cherished part of my life and family history (I’m riding the horse):

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and gave me distance from some friends who weren’t so good for me after all.  When I was in my early 20s I experienced my first (and only) real romantic heartbreak.  It was like being underwater unable to catch my breath, or like a drug addict going through painful withdrawals each time I looked at my message-free phone or passed a place we used to go.  But that break up ultimately re-focused my course, my self image and my standards, and I am such a different person today because of the road I have taken after emerging from that wreckage.  Thankful. 

 

2.  Therapy

It’s something that still isn’t spoken of or encouraged in many families and social circles.  There is often a stigma or shame attached to the words “therapist,” “shrink,” or “mental health professional.”  And THAT, my friends, is a shame.  These people save lives, save marriages, help save us from ourselves in ways that everyone else in our lives is often too “close” to be able to do. While it started out as a stretch of my comfort zone and something I questioned whether I really ‘needed,’ appointments with my therapist have grown to be some of the most cherished hours on my calendar.  There is something uniquely special about having someone in your life who doesn’t know anyone else in it, and who is there for YOU, to listen only to YOU, and advocate for YOU.  My therapist helps prepare me for the battle that is daily life in a complicated world.  She is my treasured sounding board for all the things I really want to say to real people in my real life, and gives me a place to flesh out those thoughts as I work up the courage to say them out loud.  I am thankful for the team she and I have become, and the important work that we do. 

3.  Atheists

As a person of faith (or one who tries really hard to have faith that some days comes easier than others…), throughout my life I have tended to shudder in sadness at the mere mention of this word: atheist. It has always felt like a personal assault on MY God, a rejection of MY intimate faith, a mockery of MY beliefs.  But you know what?  I am thankful to have people who believe differently than I do in my life.  I think their doubts and their anger and their love and their questions and their honesty make me sharper, more compassionate and less complacent in my own beliefs.  I believe we’re all on some kind of a faith spectrum, let’s call it zero being no faith in God at all, and 10 feeling as rock solid sure as you possibly can in everything you believe to be true.  On a good day, I’m at a 7 or an 8.  But have most us had days, seasons, even years in our lives where we’ve hovered at a 1 or a 2, or even a zero?  I think that at the very least, we need to be comfortable talking about these very real peaks and valleys, beliefs and doubts on this scary, uncertain human journey we all share.  Personally, I choose to believe God loves us no less when we claim we don’t know Him, as when we claim we do.  He loves us in our honesty, in our struggles, and in our faith.  The pieces of other people’s puzzles are not for me to belittle, judge, or solve. Recently, we had Anderson dedicated at our church, because that felt right to us.  This was a symbolic, joyful day for our family, and I appreciated all the love we felt from friends and family, near and far on the faith spectrum. 

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4.  Divorce

Many people don’t know this, but I am Aaron’s second wife.  It feels weird and foreign to even type those words, because I don’t think of myself that way.  Ever.  I only think of myself as his wife.  His one and only wife.  Period.  But, for some reason I have never been uncomfortable talking about the fact that he was married and divorced.  That is his story to tell, but as far as it has impacted our story, I can’t help but feel thankful to live in a country and culture where people aren’t stoned or disowned (or worse…) for making the painful, HARD decision to end a marriage that isn’t right for them.  I would never take divorce lightly, or wish it upon anyone, but I also can’t ignore the fact that some of the best couples I know are part of second marriages for one or both of the people.   I also can’t help but feel that something about the experience of going through a devastating divorce makes many people even MORE loving, MORE faithful, and MORE grateful for their relationships moving forward, and a BETTER husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend because of the brokenness they have known.  I’m only 30, but I can already count at least three friends my age who have been married and divorced – two of the weddings I attended.  I don’t know the details of their stories, but from the glimpses I do have into their current lives, these friends each appear to be healthier, happier, freer and more gentle people in light of what they have been through.  I would imagine divorce can be a very lonely, alienating, confusing and painful place to be – especially for a young person who never saw it coming.  We plaster our Facebook walls with photos of engagements, weddings, and anniversaries, but you almost NEVER see a post or a photo indicating someone got divorced.  Those revelations come slowly and quietly, through an absence of photos, an absence of the mention of that person’s name.  The rest of us awkwardly assume a divorce has occurred after enough of these absences, but most of us prefer to never actually ask the person directly.  I can’t speak for these people, but I would imagine that they would like the freedom to talk about it, the knowledge that they are accepted and supported, and the friendships they have relied on as a married person, to continue beyond divorce.  Maybe that is a gift we can all strive to give our divorced friends.  No judgment, just love.  And a listening ear if they want it. 

5.  Baby Weight

I have always been a thin person, from a thin family.  I really never had any experience with being overweight, feeling overweight, struggling with dieting or exercise or maneuvering the heavy-ness of my body to do simple daily tasks.  Until I gained 50 pounds while pregnant. 

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I still have a good 10+ pounds of extra “padding” almost 9 months post-pregnancy.  One of my fellow young mom friends and I were just talking yesterday about all things post-baby-body.  From the struggle to make the time to work out, to how we feel about ourselves naked, to considerations of plastic surgery that many women face – we talked about it all.  This was just one of many such conversations I’ve had with various women over the past year.  Thankful for women I can “talk about it all” with! 

One thing I really can’t respect is women who cringe at the thought of what pregnancy would do to the mere physical appearance of their body, to the point of deciding against it (though these vain, narrow-minded people probably shouldn’t be mothers anyway IMHO.  Oops, did I just say that?) or DO get pregnant and deny their bodies much needed pregnancy calories and fat intake, valuing their own body image over the health of their baby.  It makes me shudder with disgust, to be honest.  I’m all for feeling good about your body, but not at the expense of your baby.  So I am thankful for my “baby weight” because it is a constant reminder that I am here on this earth serving a purpose so much bigger and more important than myself.  I would, without question or debate, rather live the rest of my life in a black one-piece bathing suit, with a soft belly and a happy, nourished family to show for it, then give back the most amazing, sacred experiences that are pregnancy, childbirth and a baby that is worth any bodily sacrifices 1,000 times over. 

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So on this Thanksgiving Day I am thankful for all the things that everyone else is thankful for, and fully, authentically so.  But I am also thankful for the things on this list that aren’t often talked about, that have woven together the unique, imperfect, sometimes uncomfortable but ultimately genuine fabric of my life. And I like my life, and it wouldn’t be MINE without each of these things.  So for all of it, I am grateful.  Happy Thanksgiving.    

 

“I pray for you, that all your misgivings will be melted to thanksgivings.” – Jim Elliot

 

Do you LIKE me, or are we just “Friends”? – A Facebook Roast

Do you LIKE me, or are we just “Friends”?  – A Facebook Roast

I have a beef with Facebook.

Actually I have a beef with the way many of my “friends” and others’ “friends” (to use Facebook’s exaggerated term for connection) use Facebook.

Look, I know there are many flawed motivations behind why and how we use this social media mecca:

Things we would never admit out loud like,

“I am having a really good hair day and THAT never happens, so must come up with some other reason for posting this fabulous picture of me…….Celebrating the Second-to-last day of Spring!”

 OR

“I am really smart.  I want others to know how smart and insightful I am, so I am going to post this ego-inflating insight but curb it with a self-deprecating jab at the end so people don’t think I’m TOO full of myself, thus jeopardizing my ‘like’ count.”

 OR

“Hmmmm….. this person hasn’t talked to me in three weeks.  I’m going to cast a line here by posting about a hot button issue I just KNOW they can’t resist chiming in on.  Just to make sure they’re still alive.  And don’t totally hate me.”

 OR

“I’m going to post an intimate/personal/deeply moving picture of my wedding/baby/hospital stay/ — guaranteed ‘likes’ and reminders that I DO have friends (‘friends?’).”

So. 

Who wants to admit in engaging in one – or all – of these semi-manipulative, insecurity-laden, embarrassing-to-admit tactics online? 

I’ll go first.  I admit to using Facebook to feed my ego, present photos and parts of my life that leave the ugly stuff locked away, garner support for my self-esteem, and affirm that I am WORTHY of my thoughts, my goals, my lifestyle, etc….

BUT – I will admit that I ALSO use Facebook to share my struggles (like on this blog), to ask for help or opinions when I know I don’t have all the answers, and to genuinely do what I can to encourage and support my “friends” – whether it’s my brother, my former co-worker I haven’t seen in 10 years or my cousin’s cousin two states away.  It may not be much, but if a simple “like” or “congratulations” or “thinking of you” or “love you” on someone’s Facebook wall can make their day even a LITTLE bit better, make us all feel a LITTLE more connected to one another, then why the hell can’t we all spend a little less time posting selfies and a little more time letting one another know we actually have some inkling of an interest in acting like a human FRIEND.

Here’s the thing – there IS an honorable way to use Facebook.  If we want it to be, it can be an amazing gift of a tool.  A tool for learning from others’ experiences and sharing their sorrows and their joys – regardless of the miles or years that may now separate us.  A tool for FINDING support when WE (and not just our egos…) really do need to know that we’re loved, and listened to, and relatable.  A tool for watching each other’s children grow up if it isn’t possible to see them every day.  It can be a tool for so much more than the lazy, vain, gossipy ways so many of us tend to use it.  Like an unhealthy, shameful drug. 

It’s time that this stops. 

Here’s the heart of this issue, for me.  I consider it a privilege to grant you access into my life, my family’s life, my writing on a blog I pour my heart into, my family’s photos, my web of connections that are my REAL life experiences.  I also consider it a privilege to be granted access into YOUR life and have learned SO much from YOUR stories, blogs,  struggles and successes – things I never ever would have known about, learned from or been touched by, if it wasn’t for the bridge Facebook provides for all of us – everywhere- to come here every day and connect.

But there are those of who ARE active on Facebook, who DO enter through these doors of access to my life….and I NEVER hear from you.  No words of encouragement, no “likes” or “loves” no congratulations on the biggest milestones of my life.  Maybe once in a while I’ll hear from you if I happen to strike on something that is of particular importance to YOUR personal life (like I tout your family business) or if I hit a nerve with my views on a controversial issue you happen to DISagree with.  Then, suddenly, you emerge – when it suits you.  What about all those other times I could have used your support?

My question is this:  Why on earth are we connected to each other at all if not to elicit the most bare bones of decent human interaction and support?  This isn’t about my ego; this is just about a system we’ve lazily fallen into that is Really. Messed. Up.  If you’re going to take the time to spy on my life, please take just as much time to let me know you support ME.  Or please, just go away. 

This may all sound harsh, or like I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or am taking my Facebook “relationships” way too seriously.  But it’s not, I didn’t, and I’m not. 

This is about basic human decency, basic love, and how we express that (or don’t) through the medium we’ve all chosen to devote hours and hours and hours “connecting through.” 

Many of you will read this blog and never let me know that you read it at all, what you thought of it, or what you think of me.  That’s fine.  Just know that I do my best to read what YOU write, to let you know I am happy for the celebration of YOUR baby/birthday/anniversary/promotion, and that no matter how busy my day is or how wrapped up in my own little world I may be, I hope I’m never too busy to let you know I LIKE you – in person, on the phone, or at the very very least – on Facebook.  I challenge you to do the same – not just for me, by any means, but to all the deserving, support-needing people in your life.  And THANK YOU to the many, many friends and “friends” who have never made me doubt their support of me, online or off.  It takes a village, and we ALL need each other.   

Go Get Your Galoshes

Go Get Your Galoshes

A friend once shared with me words from her husband on their wedding day about how his heart was like a big messy mud puddle and if she wants in, she better go get her galoshes.  I’m paraphrasing, but I hope I’ve done justice to these raw, tender words – the visual has always stuck with me.

I’ve thought a lot about the messiness of friendships and other relationships over the years.  A LOT.  I’ve read books about it, I’ve watched lots of Oprah back when there was Oprah.  I’ve gone to therapy about it.  I’ve felt some people have been amazing friends to me when I didn’t deserve it.  And I’ve felt others have not been amazing friends when I did deserve it.  Galoshes people, friendships are messy.

When I was younger, I remember being taught that some friendships are “for a reason,” some are “for a season” and some – that hard-to-reach friendship fruit at the very tip-top of the tree – are for a lifetime.   Blessed is she who has even one of those.

I think “seasonal” friends are the most common variety.  These are the friends that get us through clearly defined life stages:  childhood, high school, college, our ‘single years,’ etc..  I think all of us can name friends who meant everything to us in one of these stages, but for whatever reason faded away when we moved along to the next one.

I think sometimes our friends have a little too much mud in their hearts, and we feel scared, or burdened, and we judge them and decide we’re not having fun anymore and they’re not making our lives better or easier.  We drift away and without even knowing it, we neatly file them into the “Seasonal Friends” file drawer – maybe to be revisited again, maybe not.

I’ve been this muddy friend.  I’ve been less than my best self and have lost good friends because of it.  In these moments I think I have blamed them for not giving me “the benefit of the doubt” and I have struggled with feeling betrayed and abandoned by friends who have let me down when I let down my guard.  In retrospect I know it was my own insecurities that caused me to be shallow, fickle, judgmental and aloof, amongst other things.  It’s so much easier to distract ourselves with picking apart others than it is to do the painstaking work of picking apart our own hearts.  It’s taken me a looong time to point the finger back at myself in the face of these broken relationships and say, “What can I learn from this?”  “How can I be a better friend – the kind that makes someone’s life better and easier and sweeter?”  Because that is who I want to be.  That is the kind of friend everyone deserves.

I’m a big fan of Glennon Melton.  She is a smart, sassy stay-at-home-mom who started a small blog a few years ago, writing honestly and painfully and humorously about mothering and messiness and recovery and relationships.  Now it is a very big blog and she has fancy titles after her name like TED guest speaker and New York Times bestseller.  Pre- or post-fancy titles, she’s pretty awesome, and clearly has a God-given gift for speaking to women through her writing.  I would go so far as to say it’s changed my life. But,I digress.

In the opening chapter of her brave and beautiful book, Carry On, Warrior, Glennon discusses an encounter with a new friend, Tess, in which she decided to experiment with what would happen if she bypassed the socially-accepted and “safe” new mom friend topics like soccer practice and temper tantrums, and dove right into talking about who she really was – addictions, insecurities, shame, secrets and all.  Tess did not know she needed to bring galoshes to the playground that day. 

Glennon writes that she “stared at me for so long that I wondered if she was going to call our minister or 911 …  But at the playground that day, Tess decided she wanted help and love more than she wanted me to think she was perfect.”  It remains to be seen whether it is of the reason, season or lifetime variety, but I think it’s safe to say a friendship was born that day because two women dared to walk through the mud together. 

Friendships are tricky.  Unlike our birth families or our chosen-through-marriage families, friends are the only people in our lives not bound by legal documents to love us, like us, or even pretend that they do.   

Recently I have felt very blessed by what I consider to be an abundance of new, flourishing friendships.  Friendships from past seasons had gotten increasingly stagnant, and I had been praying for a new crop of friendships, to meet me, the current me, right where I am, right now.  I’ve met incredible women in all sorts of pockets of my life – through church and PEPS and family ties and my neighborhood and through our business. I realize that most of these new friendships have cropped up, at least in part, due to yet another shared “season” of life – motherhood.  But I hope that at least some of them stick around beyond our shared ties of new mom-hood, simply because they like me for me. 

In addition to these new friends, I’ve also been surprised at how many old friends have circled back into my life on a deeper, more meaningful level in recent months.  Just this week I was spending time with one of my very oldest friends.  We have had our “seasons” with each other, and have walked through some mud together.  But we’re still here for each other, and who knows?  We might even have one of those “life-long” gems on our hands. 

This friend and I were talking about how we’ve both struggled with feeling “burned” by people in our lives who we felt we were very kind and generous to.  I think we were both feeling a bit victim-ish in this conversation, and I’m not sure it accomplished a whole lot. 

The next day, my friend called me and told me she had been thinking about our conversation, and had an “epiphany” while leaving pilates class.  I’ve never met an epiphany I didn’t like, so I was all ears.  She told me, “Beth, I just had this epiphany that people have been so much kinder to me, than I have been to other people.”  In essence – while it’s easy to want to lick our wounds when we feel our kindness to someone isn’t returned, it’s harder, yet probably healthier, to focus on all the kindness that is in our life.  Like most epiphanies, simple, yet oh-so-complicated to arrive at.  In other words, here comes that index finger again, rounding the corner right back at me. 

 ***

I’m turning 30 (THIRTY!) in just over a month, and I can honestly say two things:

1)  I am 100% a work in progress

2) I am more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been.  Not only that, but I am more okay than I have ever been, with other peoples’ choices to “take me or leave me” just as I am.  Not to say I wouldn’t be hurt if my friends all stopped calling me tomorrow, but I’d be more at peace with it than I would have been 10, 5 or even one year ago. 

 

There are a couple of timely quotes that have been swimming around in my mind as I write this.  The first is a (new? old?) saying that seems to be circulating amongst my friends and things I read lately and it says:

 

“It is none of my business what other people think about me.”

 

I scratched my head the first few times I mulled this over.  What does that mean?  Don’t I have the right to know what others think about me?  Shouldn’t I care?  If I were a celebrity could I really resist reading the tabloids? 

I think what it means is that what others think of us should not be the driving motivation behind how we live our lives.  Which brings to mind another of my all-time favorite wise words: “What’s right isn’t always popular and what’s popular isn’t always right.”  Live a life that feels right to you, and the right people will follow suit.  Chicken before the egg. 

And then there are these words, from the great Maya Angelou (and borrowed from a friend’s Facebook page):

 

“When people show you who they are, believe them, the first time.”

 

Especially the good stuff.  And the galoshes stuff.  If people always lived by those words with us, and us with them, I think it could save us all a lot of heartache and preserve some of those file-drawer friendships.