More or Less

_J6A0589I am a mess. Or, in other words, I’m a wife, a mother of two children under two, and I’m trying to make a small business work. Most of the time I feel like all I do is react to things. I get up when my kids get up. I shower when my husband and kids are sick of taking the blame for my funk. I clean when guests come over or when the ring around the toilet starts glowing a neon pink like a Krispy Kreme “Hot Now” sign for bacteria to descend upon.

Outside of our small apartment, I can put on a good show. I feel like I’ve mastered the ability to appear laid-back and calm while simultaneously being a head case. My problem isn’t so much the lack of hygiene in my life (as you might insist). It’s more the pressure that comes with being a mom in our world. I’ve read so many blogs and magazine articles instructing me to relax. Enjoy this time in my life because my babies will grow up fast.

I get that. And I really do believe I am enjoying them as much as I can. I make every attempt to keep the phone at bay when I’m at home with my children. And any work that I do is scheduled during naps, after they’ve gone to sleep, or when they’re in the loving care of grandparents.

The pressure I’m feeling is self-inflicted and more perceived than a reality. It creeps in on days when I feel like the sun doesn’t shine on my life. When warm rays are only for the blessed ones with followers and likes and pretty selfie pictures adorning their social media walls. On those days I look around our 1080 square foot apartment and the walls suffocate me, the tiny pieces of brown leaves in the carpet are suddenly prehistoric in size, and the dearth of my social network for my business feels abysmal.

Suddenly the joy of raising my kids in the messy, germ-ridden way I do, isn’t good enough. And everything I do outside of my kids is not up to par either.

My husband, the kindest and most loving man in the world, sometimes pokes fun at me on these days and that’s exactly what I need him to do. When I’ve escalated a situation into the apocalypse, he brings it down to size. He says my motto in life is “Do More”. It bugs me that he has pin-pointed my problem so pointedly. In fact, until he said it, I never knew the words to ascribe to the constant hum going through my brain from the moment I wake up.

DO MORE MICK.

So you made a meal for that mom who just had a baby? Why didn’t you include dessert?  Or a salad? Or a baguette? 

So you made Evy lunch for preschool? Why didn’t you make little animal figurines out of the food like that giraffe made out of figs that a mom posted on Instagram?

So you posted an image on your Facebook business page for marketing? Why didn’t you write an entire blog post?

So you spent time marketing your business? Why weren’t you writing thank you notes? Or calling family? Or doing something thoughtful? 

So you wore (clean) yoga pants and a stain free shirt to the grocery store? Why didn’t you wear something hipsterish like a”photographer” should wear? 

This inner dialogue goes on and on and on. I was so thankful for a phone call from Evy’s preschool teacher yesterday. She laid out a list of wonderful things about my daughter, assuring me that Evy is developing perfectly and she is a joy to have in class.

Did I have any questions for her?

“So what more should I be doing for Evy on days she’s not in preschool? I mean, I try to teach her the alphabet and numbers, but what MORE could I be doing?”

Evy’s teacher doesn’t mince words. She says it like it is and earns the respect from both parents and two-year old children alike. She told me to “chill out Mick. She’ll be fine.”

I  know she’s 100% right. It’s just those days when all perspective is lost. When my ability to live as God intended, in the present moment, with a quiet mind, seems unfathomable. It’s those DO MORE days that fill my bucket with a list of inadequacies that becomes more lengthy every time I look on a Pinterest board. Especially those boards by uber moms who make the lists of “100 Super Toddler Craft Ideas that Will Ensure Your Child a 1500 or Higher on their S.A.T.”.

When I try to pray about my “do more” motto, the hum always interrupts. I get through about half a sentence and something pops into my brain about how I should have said that one thing to that one person today. Oh no, they’re going to get the wrong impression about what I meant. Should I text her about it? Maybe I should write an email explaining the nordic slang that might have confused her. We Minnesotans can come across reservedly rude without intending so. Yes, it’s 2:30 in the morning, but I know an explanatory text is necessary. 

Push send button….

Oh wait, did I start praying?

It’s not a good way to live. This hum thing. It’s not good at all.

When I think of its origin, I’m pretty sure it all stems from comparison. Sometimes I wonder what life would be like without social media. What would it feel like to live on the prairie where you only had a few neighbors to measure your achievements against and they lived miles away? In my DO MORE moments, I think it would be blissful to live in that Laura Ingalls Wilder sort of setting.

You know what would happen though? I’d end up marrying some dude who, years into our marriage, started to feel “convicted” about the righteousness of polygamy. It would be me and my sister-wives competing for the attention of our collective children and husband. Each of us having a “pin board” with kernels of corn showing us who made the best meal, knit the best sweater, offered the best sexual favors….

Scratch that whole prairie idea.

Even though we don’t share the same husband (thankfully), I know I have DO MORE sisters out there. Women who stay up late in search of an accomplishment on which to hang their hat. Then struggle to sleep because they are thinking of the next day’s accomplishments, then the next and the next. Before we know it, our hat stands are chalk full of meaningless busywork that keeps demanding more branches for more hats.

More clutter.

MORE.

In an effort to change this unhealthy pattern in my life, I’m searching for a new motto. Here are some possibilities…

“DO LESS.” (Inspired by this)

“NEVER PROMISE AND UNDER DELIVER.”

“DON’T MORE THAT MEANS LESS.”

It’s a work in progress but that last one is the idea I’m aiming for. I want to do things that bring me and others joy and I want to do those things with a clear mind. One that is not measuring whatever I did against someone else.

I think I’ll go stew over that motto while I scrub the toilet…

And if anyone has advice for how to balance life in these early child years, please share!

 

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Beauty at the Bottom

I’ve read a lot of blog posts lately warning mothers of the influence their self-image can have on their teenage daughters. Most of the bloggers say that mothers should exude a sense of confidence in their own beauty, instead of communicate words of insecurity. According to these authors, we should look our daughters in the eyes and say “I am beautiful, and so are you.”

If I heard my mom say this to me when I was in seventh grade, I would have first rolled my eyes and thought, “Mom, you’re old.” (Side note: my mom was the ripe old age of 29 when I was in seventh grade). My second thought would have been “Get over yourself lady.” And lastly, the words “She’s lying” would have gone through my mind.

The reality is that some of us are not genetically blessed according to societal standards. Before braces, I was renting out storage units in the spaces between my teeth. I had a permanent Purplesaurus Rex Kool-Aid stain on my upper lip. And the array of hair styles I sported, from mullet to boy cut, made for constant speculation into my gender.

When I looked in the mirror I knew I wasn’t beautiful compared to the blond, straight toothed, perfectly proportioned popular girls in school.

But instead of convincing a girl like me that all her so-called blemishes are beautiful, how about we give physical beauty the attention it deserves?

Absolutely none.

By saying “you are beautiful and so am I” to our daughters, we perpetuate the idea that a girl’s ultimate goal is to be attractive.

I realize that these well-intentioned bloggers want the same end result as I do. We all want our daughters to feel confident in the body they were given. Yet, doesn’t any focus on the empty quality of physical beauty lead to the very insecurity we are trying to dissuade?

My point is that every girl discovers what society considers attractive. They may or may not fit into that standard. Either way, if mothers made it a non-issue from the start, maybe girls wouldn’t care so much.

If mothers exuded a sense of confidence in things like their faith, brains, strength, creativity, and compassion, maybe our daughters would place appearance at the bottom of the list.

That’s where something that cannot be cultivated, earned or changed (without considerable costs) belongs.

So, while I wish that every mother would take this point of view regarding beauty, I know that’s not always the case. My daughter may face the same kind of judgement I did when she walks through those middle school doors. If she comes to me wondering why beauty seems to be so important, I hope I can communicate these truths (even though I’ll know she’ll be thinking, “You’re OLD mom!”):

1. A Compliment is Empty Unless it’s Attached to Something. Here are the type of compliments I will try to give that include the word beauty:

You have a beautiful heart for others.

Your faith is beautiful.

The way you encourage your teammates is beautiful.

The unique way you think about the world is beautiful.

You create beautiful paintings.

These compliments are specific and attached to something more than appearance. The words encourage them to grow and cultivate a skill, rather than admire themselves in the mirror.

2. Physical Beauty Fades.  For some women beauty becomes their identity, and when it starts to fade, which it always does, they can’t handle it. Sure, I’m only in my early 30’s so I can’t say how I’ll feel when things start to droop (more than they already have). I hope I accept that my body was not meant to last forever, and focus on the one thing that does – my soul.

3. Your Beauty Comes from Your Creator, Not What You Look Like. I admit there are times when I look at my daughter and think “you’re so beautiful”. But in my mind her beauty doesn’t come from high cheekbones, long lashes, or big eyes. It comes from who she is. The beauty of her existence. She was knit together perfectly and all the changes her form takes along the way are and will be perfect. The bruises, bumps, wrinkles, and asymmetries are all part of her path on this earth, and I hope she embraces them as marks of distinction.

But mostly, I pray that her physical attributes occupy the least of her thoughts.

Same goes for me.

Misty

I remember watching the gold medal beach volleyball game in the Beijing Olympics five years ago.

I don’t recall any specific points, amazing digs, or even who Misty May and Kerri Walsh played to win the medals. However, I vividly remember the interview after the match on television. May and Walsh were dripping with sweat, exhausted, and overwhelmed by the victory. They had smiles so big it made my cheeks hurt just watching them. The reporter asked them about the game. All the typical questions like “When did you know the medal was yours?”, “Who carried who through those last points?”, “How does it feel to have two gold medals?”

Then the reporter went on to ask about future plans. “What’s next for the Misty May/Kerri Walsh duo?”

The two women embraced and gave each other a huge, sparkling grin. “Motherhood!”, they exclaimed. Misty May admitted that they both wanted to take some time off to “start a family” and when she returns to the court she “wants to have her kids see her play.”

Fast forward to 2013. Kerri Walsh is the proud mother of three children. Her two boys got to see their mom win another gold medal during the 2012 London Olympic games, and she was five weeks pregnant with her daughter when she sang the anthem and the U.S. flag was raised.

Misty May did not have kids watching her in London. At least not kids of her own.

There may be many different reasons for that. She and husband, professional baseball player Matt Treanor, may have decided not to have children. Maybe Misty wants to focus on her career. I know she recently went back to school to get her Master’s in Coaching and Athletic Administration. She also competed on Dancing with the Stars and has traveled the U.S. giving training camps to young girls and coaches. (Umm, yes I am officially her stalker).

It’s true, Misty could have decided that “motherhood” just wasn’t her thing.

Yet, I can’t help but think back to that interview that took place minutes after accomplishing one of the greatest athletic feats in the world. Even in those victorious moments after the game, she was looking ahead. She seemed so excited to embark on the journey of motherhood alongside her teammate and friend.

Because of this, I thought about Misty a lot when Mark and I struggled to have our first child. I wondered if she went through similar doctor’s appointments. Or if she had moments of the same kind of sadness I felt. Even now I think about Misty as our plans to have a large family are in flux.

I know I’m making wild assumptions about Misty when I pretend that we have parallel lives to any extent. From what I’ve read, it sounds like she’s a very strong woman. She doesn’t allow things to bring her down for long. I’m sure, if she dealt with any of the stuff I’m imagining she went through, that she handled it much better than I did.

Still part of me wants to give her a hug. I have no idea how it would feel to announce something like that to billions of people. I know how it feels to announce happy expectations to a very small network of people and have things not turn out as expected. Let me say, it’s not fun. You know people are doing exactly what I’m doing to Misty in this post. They’re wondering…what happened? Can I ask? Are they working on it?

I should know better. It’s none of my business.

Misty, I apologize, but I do want to thank you for being my imaginary friend throughout these experiences.

I’ll still pray for you and Matt too, and keep anticipating a baby announcement on the Misty May-Treanor Facebook fan page (that I just happen to check on a regular basis).

Okay seriously, I’m creepy…but hopeful.

For them and for us.

The Guilt Trip

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I saw it already. Or at least, I thought I saw it.

Evy using my love for her against me. I know she’s only 10 months, but I swear she’s done it. One time when she fell over and started to cry, I went to get her but she reached for someone else, then gave me the scrunchy face.

Another time, I had been away for the night. The first night separated from her since she arrived. When I rushed in to greet her, I expected elation, a smile, and arms reaching for a hug. What I received were screams. Loud, unbearable, angry screams.

Both times, I could feel my heart shatter.

Part of me wanted to whine, kick my limbs around, and scream, “BUT YOUR MINE! YOU HAVE TO LOVE ME THE MOST!”

I’m glad I had the maturity to stop myself though. It’s a beautiful thing that Evy is social enough to find comfort elsewhere and that she has plenty of people to shower her with love. However, I have to admit, that scrunchy face and the screams were tough. If I’m logical, I realize she doesn’t know any better.

But I can see into the future. And also look back at how I was as a child.

All kids use it.

The guilt trip.

I can foresee a time when Evy will deny me her love because she wants to get back at me. When I leave her alone. When I don’t pick her up after she bumps her head. When I don’t give her a treat. When I take away a toy.

As I think about her reaction in those moments, I can’t help but think about how often we do that to God.

We deny him our love and attention when things don’t go our way. When prayers aren’t answered. When life is hard. When consequences seem unfair. When He takes away what we hold dear.

I believe parenthood gives a glimpse, a very small glimpse, into how this feels. It pains me to see her go through the challenges of growing. I get why she’s frustrated at the world. Every task she attempts has its own obstacles. My love for her is so deep, so big, that I feel her pain and frustration like its my own.

How much more is it like that for God?

Just like a child doesn’t know why growing has to be so difficult, us adults don’t know either. Sometimes we act out in our frustration. We give our Creator the scrunchy face and say “why did you let that happen? why did you do that to me?”

When we do this, God has every right to scream “BUT YOUR MINE! YOU HAVE TO LOVE ME THE MOST!”

But He doesn’t. Even with all the guilt trips. Even when we say He doesn’t care.

His love is deeper. Bigger. Completely unconditional and beyond anything we can fathom.

A love that I’ll never live up to as a mom, but I’m glad I have my heavenly Father to call on for advice when the guilt trips come.

I’m pretty sure He has enough experience with them.

 

Coolest Mom Ever

Kerri Walsh is officially the coolest mom ever.

I can just see her attending a mommy meet-up group for the first time. The other moms go around bragging about the athletic feats they accomplished while preggo…

“I went water skiing when I was four months pregnant.”

“Oh yeah? Well I went snowboarding at six months.”

“That’s nothing. I climbed Kilimanjaro at 14 weeks.”

Six-foot-two Kerri quietly sits in the corner with her three tall, athletic children. She raises her eyebrows and nods in recognition after each woman shares her achievement.

Just before they move onto the next topic of conversation, the moms glance Kerri’s direction, waiting for her input.

Casually, she shrugs her shoulders and says, “I won my third gold medal in the Olympic games when I was pregnant.”

“Actually, I did it in a bikini.”

SNAP.

Coolest mom ever.

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Strawberry Patch

For the first two months of Evy’s life, I thought she had a blister on her upper lip from nursing. My “What to Expect the First Year” book assured me that nursing blisters are common and not painful for the baby, so I didn’t think twice about it. Then we visited my husband’s family, which consists of a bunch of doctors and other highly educated individuals, and his cousin who happens to be a pediatrician mentioned that Evy’s blister might, in fact, be a hemangioma.

This word brought visions of my Anatomy and Physiology flashcards to mind.

oma: suffix meaning “tumor”

mick: name of new mother that wasn’t worried, now very worried

She saw the flicker of panic in my eyes and broadened her description. It’s actually a birthmark that occurs often on Caucasian infants. Sometimes people call it a “Strawberry Patch.”

According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, a hemangioma is a “birthmark that appears as a bright red patch or a nodule of extra blood vessels in the skin. It grows during the first year of life, and then recedes over time.”

After reading this, I was adequately mollified. Plus, I heard from my mom that I had one on my forehead soon after being born. Evy’s so lucky she has it on her lips. She has a constant pout that rivals Angelina’s. I almost hope for her sake that it doesn’t recede.

Once I started explaining to people that Evy’s lip had a birthmark, lots of people told me stories of how they had one or someone they knew had one.

One of those stories makes me smile every time I notice Evy’s pouty lip. My cousin Courtney had a large hemangioma on her belly until she was about five years old. Her older sister was telling me how Courtney would meet people and, soon after being introduced, lift up her shirt and proudly show off her Strawberry Patch. She’d walk around the house topless, flaunting her birthmark to her three sans-strawberry-patch siblings. Cami, her sister, told me how jealous she became of Courtney.

“I wanted a Strawberry Patch so bad!”

Courtney gloated about her special mark until it disappeared.

I don’t know how Courtney came to believe that her birthmark made her special. It might have been my aunt Lauri convincing her it was something to be proud of, or it may have been something Courtney believed herself.

I love this story though and I hope that when Evy finds something unusual about herself I can promote this kind of thinking in her.

A mark of distinction rather than an imperfection.

How could she not be proud of these puckers?

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