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Monday, July 31, 2017

Searching for Soulful – Part One


Anyone else feel like they're walking through life in a daze? 

Looking forward to big events only to have them grow smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror? Or constantly flying from one season to the next like a trapeze artist? Letting go of one season to zip on to the next?

For so long, I've complained that my life has lacked focus. Not so much that I feel like I should be pouring my energy into achieving my goals, but that I'm just not fully paying attention. There should be more to life than laundry, cleaning, careers and appointments and Netflix subscriptions, shouldn't there?

There should be more to life than the physical. There should be more to life than entertaining yourself to death.

Years ago (maybe half a decade ago?) it seemed easier to live in the bevel of appreciation and purposefulness when I journaled every day. Pen to page. Left hand characteristically smudged with blue ink. 

I'll be honest, there is very little time for journaling these days. And I know that's a trite excuse: you get done the things that you make time for.

What I miss about journaling is the discipline of taking the time to remember the day you've lived. The good. The bad. The frustrating. The joyous.

Mostly, finding meaning, finding soulfulness, in the every day is what I miss about it.

The best thing about being a writer is deriving meaning out of an otherwise normal day. But if you can't remember the normal days, you're left with a sense of cloudiness. Like you're living whole life full-on in those moments before you have your morning coffee.

Perish the thought.

This series is an attempt to practice the art of being aware. Of having the discipline to not live a life in a swarm of distractions. As cliche as it sounds, enjoying the moment. Actually, forget enjoying it. I'd settle for simply being aware of the moment.

I'm on the search for soulful, and I hope you'll join me.


taking a seat

For all of the health benefits of breastfeeding (for mother and baby), there is a downfall for the extravert I wasn't aware of: isolation.

Don't get me wrong. I know my rights as a woman. I know I have the right to feed my child when and where I want. Covered. Uncovered. And I fully support women who do. 

Doesn't mean I'm comfortable with it, just yet. Further, it doesn't mean I expect others to be either.

One night last week I was with a group of friends at a dinner party when my little one began to get fussy. Like clockwork, it was time for a feeding. I excused myself to the next room, grabbed my wrap from the diaper bag, fighting back hot tears.

Yes, I was feeling a smidgen sorry for myself. I already felt so out of touch. Like the whole world is a part of an inside joke that I'm not in on.

Here I was, finally gaining my way back into the world, though still feeling like a sense of normalcy was torturously out of reach. As I began to focus on my little one, I pushed the feelings down.

This is motherhood, I thought. This is, in its own way, a tiny sacrifice.

Then a friend of mine left the dinner table and came to sit with me.

I don't remember what we talked about. But I remember her taking the purposeful walk to join me. To ask me about my week. To be in the quiet with muffled laughs and chatter playing in the next room.

Soulfulness is in the friendships that see and sense you.


folding laundry 


The clothes were still warm from the dryer.


I sat cross-legged on the floor and caught a glimpse of the time on my phone.


11:30 p.m. And with a potential 2:30 a.m. wake-up call to feed a restless two-month old, I should've been in bed.


My husband came into the room and could tell – maybe by the way my head hung over the laundry pile, or maybe he's just gotten the hang of the whole hormone-thing – that something wasn't quite right.


"What's wrong?" he asked, sitting down with me on the floor, beginning to fold the stack of clothes in front of us.


Then I confessed how I was fearful of returning to work after three months. I told him how I was dreading not being with our little one every day.


Fold.


How I didn't want to leave my heart behind and get swallowed up by expectations.


Stack.


Fearful because this would bring about change. Real change.


Sort.


The world wasn't stopping for our baby anymore. It's almost time to reintegrate. And I was scared. This wouldn't be like folding laundry. With compartments and order. This would be a much bigger mess.


I told him how I was anxious about stepping into a new role, all-the-while raising a kid. It seems, as of late, that everything is heightened. The stakes are higher.


"I'm just worried. Worried that I won't be enough here at home or the office. All I know is that our little one is worth it."


"Do you think you're worth it?" he said. The shadow of the hallway light painted clarity across his face.


Am I worth it? Am I worth grace? Am I worth a few slip ups and uncertainties? Am I worth permission to make mistakes? To still learn? To recover? To grow?


"You've been saying the last few years how you want to grow. How you want to nurture," he said. "Maybe this is it."


Soulfulness is being seen, known and encouraged.




running in the rain

Norfolk, Virginia is slated grey.

I grab my lime green rain jacket and lace up my hot pink running shoes before I head out the door.

Pounding my feet on the ground gives me a task with a start and end time. A mini-goal to achieve. Something to point at when I come to the end of the day. Something that warrants an "I did that."
Apart from the rain, the run is business as usual, tracing the same city loop I have for the last few months. Past the museum, over the bridge, past the cute cafe...


I lost myself in a podcast until I was interrupted by a sudden splash of cold water on my left foot. I looked down to see that the road had flooded.


I should've anticipated it. This part of the road floods all the time. Our city sits below sea level, after all. They're always talking about how it's sinking.


As it stood, I couldn't do my usual route. I had to turn back and wiggle my way through a neighborhood. Though I knew where I was, it was disorienting. Foreign. This wasn't going how I planned. I couldn't auto-pilot this run. I had to pay attention.



I had to follow a different route.

Soulfulness is pressing on when the world doesn't bend to our plans.
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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The 4 Words Every New Mama Needs to Hear

Parenthood doesn't come with a driver's test. Or a job application.

A few months back, before the pregnancy, before the baby, basically a lifetime ago, a coworker and I had a sort of dumbfounded realization about parenthood:

"Anyone can do it," we laughed.

Anyone.

It takes a license to drive a car. A degree and four years of education at an acclaimed university (most of the time) to get a career.

But having a kid? It's not really something you need to ask permission for. Or get a degree in.

And if I'm being honest, throughout the first few weeks of motherhood, I wish that there were.

I didn't want anyone to tell me how it was going to be. The stubbornness in my heart and body prefers to fall and make mistakes and discoveries on my own.

But I found myself clinging back to those glory K-12 days. The days of supervision. The days of checks, balances and hand-holding.

The days of someone sitting closely and watching. Someone who knows the authoritative ins-and-outs. Someone to say with conviction: you're doing it right. You make the mark. Level one parenting achieved.

I have been blessed in so many ways. Countless ways. And lately, I've unturned another blessing in my life, having a community of new mothers. At work. At church. From college. From high school. You name it.

And between us we pass a phrase that has become catch-all balm for all the anxieties that creep into our thoughts, either by complete surprise during a late-night feeding or one we've seen coming toward us for weeks:


"You got this, mama."

It's a phrase, I'm learning, like a call and response. A code for, "I don't have the answers, but I'm here. I'm rooting for you. You're not alone."

It's used in a lot of contexts.

I'm burning out on breastfeeding.

You got this, mama.

My kid cries every day from three to seven p.m.

You got this, mama.

I've lost 20 pounds in an unhealthy way, because there never seems to be enough time to nourish my body in its most basic form.

You got this, mama.

My child has been in the NICU for days and all I want to do is hold him.

You got this, mama.

I feel guilty putting my kid down.

You got this, mama.

I'm deathly afraid I won't be able to provide nourishment for my child while I'm at work.

You got this, mama.

It's sort of like saying "bless you" after a sneeze. Or "I'll pray for you" after someone shares a difficult truth about their lives. Except it's so much more. I don't think it would be at all hyperbolic to name it for what it is – a battle cry for the fed-up, the run-down, nervous and incredibly joyful women we've watched ourselves become.

Growing week-by-week in a similar fashion to how we measure our children, into this strange, contradictory, topsy-turvy world of motherhood.

So, for those new mamas, like myself – or for anyone, really, towing the line of "I don't think I can do this anymore" – let me be among the people in your life to tell you that you can. You absolutely can.

You.

Got. 

This.
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Monday, July 17, 2017

I Waited for You, My Darling

It was just a few months ago when your mother stood in what was to be your bedroom.

Through the dim light of a floor lamp that belonged to her in college, she planned out your space. The anchor decals on the wall. The framed pictures and prints she'd purchased from her friend's Etsy shop.

She was a force in her second trimester. Painting furniture, building your crib, taping off edges and rolling slate colored paint on your walls.

She was all business, pouring energy into her prep-work while she had it. She folded your clean laundry - all your clothes that will last you your first year - with the same focus she brought to her two years of graduate studies. 

She prayed sometimes, although she always felt she ought to do that more. She prayed that you'd be joyful, honest, loving and above all, a good human. More so that she would have the strength and character to raise such human.

But most of the time she fought through her impatience.

Get here already, little one.

When she met you in the hospital (after two rounds of failed inductions, "get here already, little one," indeed) her love for you looked a lot like those initial preparations: focus, drive, with a goal to be an A-plus student in the mommy department.

Pen to the pamphlets the nurses gave her about breastfeeding and your general growth milestones to be on the lookout for.

She studied your eating and sleeping habits around the clock. By the dim light of our heart monitors. Pumping in between in the early morning hours, marking the date, time and amount of breast milk with the precision of a NASA employee.

She didn't know love could look like that. It was a head-over-heels love at times. But mostly with the love that comes with really, really wanting to keep something so precious, so new, alive and happy.

After all, we waited for you, my darling.

Two months have passed.

And it struck your mother straight in her core when she walked into your nursery this morning: you're really here. Your nursery is done. Your clothes are organized by month and season.

You, the squirming, curious, loud, hilarious two-month-old, are really here. Live. In color. And better than what we could have imagined. More than what we could've hoped to wait for.

Maybe it's true what they say. Maybe true love waits after all, just not in the way we were taught. 

Maybe it has nothing to do with sex or temptation on prom night. Maybe it has to do with hoping for the future. Hoping for what's to come.

Maybe it should be reserved for the bits of life that are absolutely worth the wait. 

For our darlings. 

For you

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Time, Space and a Whole Lot of Grace

It happened when we were first married.

This creepy, crawling feeling that this was all so simple. Too simple. Am I doing this right? Am I wifing correctly?

And what does it mean to be a wife? A partner? Does it mean pouring his cup of coffee before I pour my own, even if he doesn't know? Does it mean letting him rule the Netflix subscription? Or deciding together if we have enough money in the account to justify another road trip or a Stitch Fix to spruce up my professional wardrobe?


Does it mean changing my name? Taking an afternoon to tackle the DMV and Social Security? Does it mean morning routines and rituals – praying together before I leave the house in the morning? A hug? A kiss? Always goodnight?


It meant all of that, sure. And I'm still learning what it means, admittedly. There's the groceries, the bills, the careers that don't always align. The give and take. And bless it, the coffee every morning. But there's more.


For so long I wanted someone to sit beside me. To watch and observe. To affirm me in this new season of sharing a life with another person.


Now we're two years into forever together with a brand-new tiny human in tow.



And in the hospital I felt the same crawly feeling.


Only this time the stakes seemed so much higher. There I was, wrestling with a squirmy baby, aches and sleeplessness, fluorescent lights and a cruel need to close myself in the room and cry.


Meanwhile foddered with loose-leaf instructions on how to keep said squirmy baby alive.


No pressure.


So often these last few weeks I've longed for a supervisor of sorts. 


Not a doula, or a lactation consultant, per se. But just another person to sit quietly and observe 24/7. To say, "well done, stupendous burping method, A-plus" or "kudos to you on that particularly thorough wipe-job."

Or just, you know, what you're doing is passable. You're hitting the marks.


While there are books, podcasts, and methodologies so numerous they begin to contradict each other, what I'm learning is that there is no one right way to mother. Just like there isn't one right way to be someone's wife.


There is no formula for perfection. No way to be correct. No milestones to achieve. No levels to unlock. No report cards to send home to your parents.


I remind myself of this the days where everything seems out of sorts. On days where – thank God – there is no report card. Because if there were, it would only be a blinding representation of how much I was getting wrong.


But there is time. There is space. And there is a whole lot of grace as I learn and weave through the uncomfortable bits of being a mom.


I'm thankful for this at the start of every day.












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