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Monday, October 9, 2017

For When Parenthood Feels Like Fall

The trees are turning in Norfolk.

It's subtle at first: the once leafy, deep greens turn to a mojito-lime in the sky. Then sprigs of yellow. Then orange to red.

It happens somehow, somehow, somehow. Over time and all at once. 

I first noticed it on our walk to church yesterday morning. I pushed my son in his stroller across a small collection of leaves on the crooked sidewalk. I told him about the seasons changing, how he'll feel cool air soon, and how we'll see other colors on the leaves of our tree-friends.

"They're turning," I said to his little ears, going over the science of it all. He is a brilliant nearly five-month-old, of course, and already understood how it all worked.

I expect his thesis to be complete by the end of the week.

I cooed into his stroller, stroked his cheek and told him about how the chlorophyll lessens in the trees, how that exposes the color that lies beneath.

The color that's been there all along.

I let my mind play to where it normally goes - thinking about the future. What he'll be doing next year.

My foot went a little out of its way to crunch on a leaf, and I prayed that the wonder and delight of the season would spark awake in my boy. Looking forward, always forward, to when his tiny shoes will stomp on a leaf first out of curiosity, then again and again out of delight.

The trees are turning. And something, it seems, is turning within me.

The past few months of my son's precious life, there has been a lessening of something in my soul. Something like a rich-green selfishness; the kind that's born from not knowing any better or really having to.

The green that comes from a moderate life of caring for yourself, your health, your career, your social life: your, your, your.

But then the double pink line appears on the test. You get the sonogram. You tell your friends and family. Your belly swells with pride, joy and water weight.

Then. Bit-by-bit. Step-by-step. A part of you is multiplied and divided in two. And a new person is brought into the world.

And your temperate green leaves turn. To make way, for better, for worse. For what was there all along.

The baby cries for three hour straight. 

A sprig of red.

Your dishes, clothes, your very body and hair go unwashed.

A streak of yellow.

You divide your time, your talents, your gifts, your callings, your friendships and count it all second-place to this new little being.

Full-fire orange.

Parenthood, new parenthood, has a way of stripping us of the ways we keep ourselves together.

But without the unraveling. Without the questions. Without the anxiety, the rearranging schedules, the doctors appointments, the stroller-pushing, the trying-your-hardest and still coming up short... 

Without the grace. Without the needing other people to take the lead on parts of your life you didn't ever have to think twice about... 

There wouldn't be the extraordinary wisps of color and beauty in our world.

Somehow, somehow, somehow. Over time and all at once.

The color that's been there all along.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

29 Lessons for 29 Years

Once again we've come a full year. And what a full year it's been.

A few days ago, I celebrated my 29th birthday. The last year before I cross a decade-threshold our culture deems important and scary, though I don't know why.

Once you get through those swirling years of your early twenties - breaking the habit of treating your job like schoolwork, navigating friendships that are at best distant, dating the wrong people and spending the wrong money - the late-twenties, if you're lucky, can be a season of sophomoric confidence.

Which really is the most fun, isn't it?

This time last year, my child was still just a promise. A bright hope. The thought of him (I didn't even know he was a him at that point) was tethered together with anxieties large and small. Pointless and very, very verified. For the first time in my life I was nervous for the parts of life I didn't know to be nervous for.

Sound loopy? A little scattered? Yes, there's much of that, too.

This time last year I had a different job, we didn't know who our president was going to be, and the hardest part of my day was trying to get through it with one(ish) cup of coffee.

As I watch my child grow, I realize a lot can happen from week-to-week. A tiny human can realize the functionality of his hands (or what a great snack they can be), a properly timed sermon can turn your world upside-down.

For those moments, and the rest that have seemed to fizzle and pop over the last year - like champagne - here are 29 lessons I've learned for 29 years.

1. Gratefulness can repair a multitude of sins: selfishness, worry, fear, doubt, regret, jealousy. The minute we get after grateful in our lives, the minute we can truly start living fully.

2. If you spend more waking hours with your work colleagues than you do with your family, you better get to loving them, too.

3. Maternity leave is a gift. Even if you don't get paid for it, if you can, take the twelve weeks. You will never regret it.

4. If you're planning on returning to work and pumping after you've had a baby, register for all the pump parts. Bottles, flanges, the little yellow thingies (so descriptive, I know). All of it. Otherwise you will spend a small fortune on backup parts, or bottles to give to your caretaker.

5. Just because something -- a diaper change, an email, or a meeting -- isn't done the way you think it should be done doesn't mean that it isn't being done well. Step back. Shut up. And let someone else learn and grow.

6. If you genuinely need something, ask. It's always better to be frustrated with a "no" rather than a "never knew."

7. No matter how tired, how emotionally fatigued, how confused or strung out you are, you can always go one step further. You can make it through to the next day.

8. Having a baby is difficult. And the friends who have patiently made time and listen to struggles in the midst of their own pregnancies, new babies and all the life transitions that entails are the true MVPs.

9. Asking for help is not a sign of defeat or taking a shortcut. No one is keeping score, and no one benefits from making yourself a slave to the way you believe things should be done. It's a sign of maturity and wisdom when you can let go, recognize that someone else may have a better idea. And you should be secure enough in your own worth to step out of the spotlight for the common good.

10. Wear a blazer. It really does make a difference.

11. Stitch Fix is almost always worth the investment.

12. Just because you mute or unfriend someone on social media doesn't mean you're deleting them from your life. It's okay to remove people from your online world. Life outside the digital world goes on - and guess what? They likely won't even notice.

13. At one point or another, what you have is what you wished for. Try to remember that when you're tempted to look ahead or think that the grass is greener.

14. On a similar note, try to remember how badly you wanted the things in your life that you're mostly likely to complain about.

15. If you fall short, pray, breathe, ask for forgiveness if you need it (hint: you always need it), and get back up.

16. It's not a crime to say "I don't know."

17. If you're tired, angry, sad, stressed, annoyed, or hungry, drink a glass of water first.

18. Don't go to bed with makeup still on your face. You're officially too old to neglect your skin.

19. When you're listening to a friend, let a space of silence fall. Let them finish. Allow them the privilege of coming to their own conclusions.

20. Don't wait until you're skinny to chase after your dreams. Seriously. Don't wait for the better, thinner version of yourself to start working on your goals. If you want to be perfect before you begin, you'll never start.

21. Just like "there's room for everyone on the nice list," there's room for everyone to find success. Someone else's success does not equate to your failure.

22. Learn from the successes of others, of course. But more importantly, learn from their failures. And from their failures learn that their successes didn't come consecutively.

23. It helps to see the "nos" in your life: the rejected articles, the missed opportunities, as simply "not nows." Not as debilitating marks on your character, talent or your calling.

24. The same rule (23) applies to your pant size. Your value is not marked by a number on a tag. Sometimes that number might be higher than you're comfortable with inside your own skin. It doesn't make you a second-class human.

25. In a world full of hurt and hatred, don't be the sort of person who argues about how the dishwasher should be loaded.

26. If at all possible, in marriage, in friendships, in motherhood, in work and in your relationship with yourself: be where you said you'd be when you said you'd be there. Keeping your word is a lost art.

27. If you want to receive grace, first give it freely.

28. Operating anything out of anxiety or fear of losing control, in work, creativity or personal relationships, shows.

29. The world seems less hopeless the less time you spend reading Facebook comments.

Monday, September 11, 2017

There's Gonna Be a Little Pee on the Wall

With all the warnings. With basic knowledge of physics (very basic), I should've known: 

You have to gird up when you're changing...well...anyone's diaper. Let alone a baby boy's.


Pee on the wall.

I don't know if it's maternal extinct, or a certain defiant look in his eye. But I can sense it coming. And it happens the minute my guard is down. When the blockade-diaper I placed, just so, shifts for a split-second. Any opportunity, any freedom, it seems, he takes.

Peace like a river. Joy like a fountain. Pee on the wall.

At first, it wasn't funny. Then again, nothing really is those first few weeks postpartum. Pee on the wall was usually the straw that broke this mama camel's back. Yet another battle to fight. Yet another brick on the tower of messes to clean up. Tear-inducing, yelling for my husband to, "please come quick! Red alert! Red alert!"

When all was said and done, wall de-peed, little one changed, I'd look back on my dual-income-no-kids glory days.

The days before pee on the wall.

I remembered my friends. My happy, well-rested friends. Feeling a little embittered that they're living glamorous lives full of guilt-free cocktail hours, leisurely Sunday afternoon naps, with (unless something went terribly wrong during said cocktail hours or naps) their lovely un-peed-on walls.

Then suddenly it became funny. No big deal. Nothing a Clorox wipe couldn't handle. Like outbursts in public, late-night feedings, or tears because you love a tiny human so much it's completely turned your world upside-down, it became clear:

There's gonna be a little pee on the wall.

Now that we're about four months into this parenthood journey, now that my diaper-changing efficiency has increased by about 80 percent, the absolutely unmanageable, stressful bits of life with a newborn became simply a new way of life.

Our wall-peeing child smiled at us. Started sleeping longer than two hour stretches at a time. Let a little time lapse between feedings. These tasks that were once exhausting and mentally draining on all fronts became a little easier, day by day.

And then the new challenges came into play.

Battles with my identity. Battles with guilt. The feeling of having to outrun a tidal wave, of keeping up appearances, of trying to prove that I'm the same woman: that motherhood hasn't stripped away some parts of me, has only added, multiplied.

While it's added a lot of wonderful parts of life – my son being my absolute favorite – it's added a few thoughts and shoulds that circle my head like a bathtub drain.

I should've known this. 

I shouldn't have said this. 

I took that the wrong way. 

I shouldn't have eaten that. 

I should be in bed. 

I should, I should, I should...

It seems that so far, doing this motherhood business without a few glitches in the day, without a few tears, without a few pee-on-the-wall instances is impossible. None of us will have a perfect day. A day without crying, losing tempers or losing our minds a little.

No matter how prepared for it, in life, in motherhood, to do it well is to do it imperfectly. Because, well, there's going to be a little pee on the wall.

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