To the Mom Who Doesn’t Love Staying Home

I normally do an internal eye roll at most of the open letter blogs I see. “An open letter the lady wearing a purple sweater who let me go in front of her at the bank”. Really? Just thank her to her face. If it meant a lot, tell her. No need to tell the entirety of the internets something that only applies to one, single person. There have been some great posts, so I certainly don’t feel this way about all of them, but let’s be real: a good portion of these “an open letter to…” blogs could have easily been titled “This Happened Today and Here’s How it Affected Me”.

Yet here I am, penning an open letter, because I know it’s to more than one, single person. I know there are many out there, most of whom are silenced by guilt, by fear of others’ reactions, by stereotypes and standards that are never actually realistic.

There are mothers who stay home with their children, doing “the most important work there is”, devoting their days to their daughters or themselves to their sons, and they are miserable.

You, mom who left a thrilling, challenging career. You, mom whose degree is as useful as a PeePee TeePee. You, mom who longs for adult interaction. You, mom who misses getting dressed up every day. You, mom who feels trapped in your own home. You, mom who wanted to love it, but staying home just is not what you thought it would be. You, mom with the difficult child. You, mom who feels like she doesn’t contribute to society. You, mom who feels overlooked. You, mom who is struggling to pay the bills because you gave up an income. You, mom, whose circumstances made the choice for you. You, mom who feels left behind by the world. You, mom who feels like she has nothing left to give. This is for you.

The very phrase “stay at home mom” implies that something else is going on without you. In order to stay home, someone else must go out. Coworkers, partners, clients… they all move on and go about their business and lives and learning and making and doing…. while you stay. Every day is painfully the same, like your own personal Groundhog Day, but with just enough change and unpredictability to make you feel like you’re never getting the hang of it. People are being promoted while you’re potty training.

We’re all fortunate to have the chance, the opportunity to know first-hand the kind of care our kids are receiving (which sometimes means we take full responsibility for too much iPad time). We know that not every mother or parent is able to have lunch with their child. We know that there are millions who say “Good morning” and then “Goodbye”, and we are humbled by this. But being grateful doesn’t always make it less hard. This is not meant to be entitled, we’re very aware that our position at home is not afforded to everyone. This does not dismiss our feelings, however.

This is also not an invitation, Mom Who Loves Staying Home, to shame or negate the feelings of the moms who don’t. Some women are incredible at it. We all know at least one, at least one HER, whose home is always clean, whose children are always dressed, who not only recognizes how important what she does is, but ENJOYS it. She’s calm, peaceful, instructive, stern without yelling, and apparently has 9 extra hours a day to cook, homeschool, take her kids on outings that don’t result in embarrassment and frustration, and teach them how to sew or dip candles from their own beeswax.

Very few are this mom.

I recently participated in a discussion with over a hundred women, many of whom gave up careers – or at least put them on hold – when they became mothers, and there was an overwhelming amount of admission that they are not fulfilled in their current role as a stay at home mom. Many felt like they were terrible SAHMs, that they never should have taken on the job. They were all plagued by loneliness, disappointment, shame, guilt, and constant feelings of inadequacy. They thought they’d be better at it, they thought they’d love it, they thought it would be different. But it turned out to be really freaking hard, and a hard job will get anyone down.

I’ve worked in retail, in restaurants, at a bank, at a job where I dug a ditch by hand and gave a miniature horse an enema. I completed two college degrees simultaneously in three years and maintained a 4.0 GPA. I’ve made boondoggle keychains with only inches of plastic lanyard. So I’ve done some tough stuff in my day, I’ve worked hard and I’ve seen the results. But when those projects or work days were over, I could walk away, go home. Now if I have a hard day, I’m still at work. When I go to bed, I’m still at work. When I get out of the house, take the kids to the library or the park, I’m still at work. During meals, showers, holidays and sick days… Stay at home moms are always at work. Always. The walls of home can begin to feel like the bars of a cell, the tiny people we care for our warden. We turn down lunch invitations because it interferes with naptime or the risk of a meltdown is too great. We cancel hair appointments because WE are our only childcare. Our prayer life suffers because the few moments of silence we get, we want to just breathe or read blogs. Sometimes we lose track of the days. Sometimes we stay in our pajamas for days on end. We get lonely. Really lonely. And if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting to get a different result, then we are slowly going mad.

Too often we see the Ideal Stay At Home Mom, usually on TV, and let it affect us. We feel inferior, feel like failures. We see clean, open floor space on Fisher Price commercials and women sweeping fully dressed on Swiffer commercials. Moms who slowly and lovingly apply lotion to their smiling, accommodating baby on a perfectly-made bed. Snapshots on Instagram or Facebook of the only moment someone was able to get all the kids herded and smiling during their trip to the pet store. We see these images, then see what we are not. We try to speak up about how hard it is, and we’re met with “I wish I could stay home.” We’re told to keep a plate in the corporate fire or else society will move on and forget us. We’re left feeling drained, left behind, inadequate and messy. Our doubts often silence us and our shame keeps us lonely.

But guess what, Mom Who Doesn’t Love Staying Home – YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Not every mom feels this way, but a lot do. Thousands. The other moms you see at the grocery store in the middle of the day, fighting their toddler from tossing in everything they can reach? They’re probably having a hard time, too. The moms who homeschool? They’re probably exhausted, too. Not every job is perfect for every person, not because anything is wrong with the person. I’m a night owl who recharges from alone time and hates Minecraft. Does this mean I’m a bad mom? No! It means I have a harder time with some of the aspects of staying home with early-rising, Minecraft-loving shadows.  And I’m not the only one. You are not the only mother who is having these doubts and thoughts and longings for alone time and silence. Do not allow that idea to knock you down and shame you. Know that you’re part of a universal network of women who are struggling, who lose their tempers, who don’t derive all their joy from playing with Little People princesses for 9 hours straight.

You also can’t allow staying home to become your identity. I became a stay-at-home-mom at the ripe age of 21, a few months after graduating from college. That first year was the hardest I’ve ever been through. I had no idea who I was anymore. I went to Sears and bought elastic-waist khaki capris, t-shirts embroidered with flowers, and polos. I cut my long hair to my shoulders, I subscribed to Parents magazine, and I thought every day had to have a craft…. for a 6-month-old. I wasn’t me, I was pretending to be who I thought I had to be. But because I’m not a khaki-capri-wearing person, I was failing, floundering. I didn’t have any friends who stayed home, mostly because my friends I already had were still in college and definitely not having kids, but also because it was painfully obvious I didn’t fit in. I never wore my beloved heels, I only watched PBS Kids… I had forgotten to do what I’d loved before my precious firstborn came along.  Hobbies, nights out with the girls, internet friends…. anything we can do to stay connected to the outside world JUST FOR US is crucial. You may stay home, but you’re still valuable, you still have plenty to offer, and you still deserve new lipstick. You are still a wife, a partner, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and an all-around gem.

Despite what online comments hint at, you are not lazy and ungrateful. You’re exhausted. You’re drained. You’re putting everything you have into a job that doesn’t offer much in the form of immediate returns. You’re isolated. You’re broke. You’re in your pajamas at 3 in the afternoon. You’re always on call, never on break. You’re HUMAN. To never get tired while doing this job would require robotics… and even those would most likely get worn down or short-circuited by juice or pee spills.

Admitting you’re having a hard time does NOT make you a bad mom. If anything, you’re better for recognizing your limitations and being in tune with your needs and emotional state. No one loves doing the same thing, all day, every day, day after day. Prisoners are tortured by listening to music from kids’ shows on repeat. Seriously. It says nothing about your parenting abilities or love for your child(ren) that you break every now and then. It says nothing about your parenting abilities or love for your child(ren) if you’re in tears before 10AM. Fatigue is not the absence of love, it’s the absence of REST.  It’s okay to not love staying home. It’s okay to not find your identity in it. It’s okay to be honest about your feelings. It’s okay to be tired, frustrated, and even sometimes annoyed. Even if you made the person you’re at home with, you’re still individuals with different personalities, and they’re not going to always compliment each other. Not because anything is wrong with you, not because you’re momming wrong, but because you’re PEOPLE. Every single youth camp ever, by the 3rd and 4th day, arguments start happening. People start getting tired, they’ve spent too much time together, personalities clash, expectations aren’t met, and emotions are high. Wearing the Having-the-Time-of-My-Life mask gets tiring and true personalities begin to emerge. That’s just 4 days into camp. I’m almost 11 YEARS into being a stay-at-home mom. Trying to be someone you’re not, being surrounded by different people all day, always being needed… it gets tiring. Not because anything is wrong with me, not because I’m a bad mom, not because I love my kids less than anyone else, but because it’s a hard freaking thing to do.

Your kids don’t make you dislike staying home. It’s not your kids’ fault. Your kids are not worse than Mom Who Loves Staying Home’s kids. I know moms with kids wildly different from mine who are having a hard time staying home, and moms of kids who are a handful who have an absolute blast every day. Just as it’s not a baby’s fault when they cry, it’s not the kids’ fault that this is hard. Kids have needs, we can’t hold that against them. They need to learn things and we’re the only ones there to teach them. Kids argue, want snacks, get picky at mealtimes, need to be wiped, play loudly, and make messes. They worship us and want to be near us. They didn’t know life before us and didn’t give up anything to hang out all day with us, so we are their constant. We are their safe place. It’s not their fault, they’re not doing anything wrong by needing us. You didn’t go wrong somewhere. The JOB is what makes it hard. Remember that when it’s been a hard day, the kids are crying and fighting, you have a headache, everyone is hungry and you have to pee. Remember that when you’re cleaning up any number of bodily fluids. Remember that when they break YET ANOTHER picture frame. It’s not their fault this is hard. Don’t allow that resentment towards them to fester. We are humbly at home FOR them, and they need us. For better or worse.

Speaking of for better or worse, remember your husband, your partner, your other half? Hard days at work can sometimes cause some strain there. You’re exhausted and need to sit in silence for a little bit, and he’s missed you all day and wants to talk. You’re touched out and he wants to make out. You’re unhappy at home and he’s working hard to keep you there. A lot of the time it can feel like you’re in two different places, and sometimes you just are. It’s easy to resent him when he goes to lunches, leaves the house, enjoys a quiet car ride, and the kids behave better for him. But those things aren’t his fault. Keep in mind that as different as your days are from how they used to be, his remain largely the same. When you stayed home, he went back to work, to the same job at the same company in the same car with the same schedule. Coming home to a wife in a different role with a different energy level and different needs is going to be jarring, and will take a lot of time to get used to. It may take a really, really long time for him to begin to understand that you can’t just go to restaurants, you can’t just keep the house clean, and you don’t just sit all day watching soaps. Remember that his day is largely the same as before, and it will take time for you to both adjust to where you are now. Statistically, marital satisfaction is at its lowest when there are young children at home. It’s going to be hard on your relationship, and this is NORMAL. Remember that you’re on the same team, and hard days don’t mean you’re doing a bad job.

Remember that joke about sleeping while the baby sleeps, how everyone was trolling you when they told you that the dishes could wait because babies don’t keep? Ignore it a little. Just a little. Enough to do something for YOU. When I first became a stay at home mom, social media was in its infancy. I was lonely. I floundered for months until I found photography, which I credit with saving my sanity. It gave me something to do that I loved, that had an obvious result, something to stretch my creative muscles. With my third, I discovered online forums, specifically ones dedicated to women due the same month as myself. We swapped advice, birth stories, shared in the excitement and disappointment of the big gender sonograms… it was a circle of friends I never had to leave the house to hang out with. While we all can’t always afford a pedicure or a trip to Sephora, a new shirt, a road trip, or a date night, we can access Facebook groups. You can escape for a little while and laugh with other people without the hassle of putting on a bra. I have made legitimate, meaningful friendships with incredible women I never would have met without the internet. I play with makeup, because I like to. I watch Friends over and over, because I like to. I pull out my glue gun, I drink a Pepsi, I get something at the thrift store that I can make over, I just find SOMETHING that is for me only. It recharges me, breaks up the monotony, and unlike my lunch or my bed or the remote or my uterus, I don’t have to share it. Find something for you. If you have to let the kids watch Caillou to buy you some time with a magazine, do it. Just as you’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask first on a plane, take care of you, momma, or there won’t be any momma left to take care of everyone else.

The best advice I ever received was from That Mom, who told me that the days are long but the years are short. I cried HARD when she said this to me. Not every day is a winner. Some days all we’ve done is survive. Some days I go to bed in tears, some days I’m up late giggling with the kids. The days are as varied as their personalities, and thankfully we do NOT have to do all of our parenting in one day. We’ll mess up, and we’ll get another shot. You won’t always be wiping someone. Some day you’ll go from talking about Santa to talking about sex. You’ll trade in your audience in the bathroom for a closed door. I cried when my firstborn started holding his own bottle, because there was something he didn’t need me for, and today there is so much more that he can do without me. I can be sad about this, but I can also be proud to know that he can do these things because of what I taught him. The Karate Kid didn’t know that the seemingly menial tasks he’d been repeating were preparing him for something bigger, and we don’t always realize that what we’re doing, saying, teaching at home is laying the foundation for an adult who can change the world. So we’re basically like ninjas, and that’s always cool. You won’t always be where you are now, no matter how many times you’ve repeated yourself or cleaned the same mess. Our kids will grow, their needs will change, and our influence will take shape.

There is no shame in changing jobs. Sometimes, for the sake of everyone, you just need to call it what it is and look for work outside the home. This is not quitting. This is not failing. This is not running away from your kids. This is shifting what you provide for them to an area you are more equipped or comfortable with. No matter what, being a mom is hard. No matter what, you will sacrifice and work hard. Find your gifts and offer them to your family without any ounce of shame at what it is you have to give or what you think you should have. Be proud of what you do for your family, no matter where you do it from.

You, Mom Who Doesn’t Love Staying Home, you are strong. You are ABLE. You are a good mother who loves her kids and sacrifices just about everything for them. You are making it. You, who feels so unappreciated. You, who feels trapped. You, who is overwhelmed. You, who is tired. You, who is lonely. You, who is grieving the mom you thought you’d be. You are not failing. You are normal, human, tired, giving, teaching, and caring. You’re a ninja, a safe place, and a vital part of your children’s lives. You are important. You are valuable. You are seen and you are remembered. You are working really freaking hard, and you will not always be where you are right now.

 

 

 

*** Please know that I am writing this from my own unique perspective and experience. I know that there are many stay at home dads out there, and I am not dismissing their sacrifice or hard work, but I can’t pretend to know what their position may be like. I am not intending to leave anyone out, only offer encouragement to those who may be in a place I can empathize with. I love my kids and this is not a popular feeling to share, so be kind.

Don’t Live Life in the Shallow End

Last weekend my loud little family and I were swimming at my parents’ house. It was a great day, full of splashing, grilling, laughing, and the inevitable anxiety that comes with having 3 kids in the pool at once. My 7-year-old had come a long way over the summer and was swimming like a splashy, awkward fish, so we’d been playing a game where I’d toss a stone into the pool and he’d swim down to retrieve it. I played this all summer long as a kid myself – though, being an only child, the high-fives when I swam up triumphantly were pretty bizarre. He was so excited, you could see his smile through the water before he ever broke the surface. But then I got a little too excited and did the unthinkable: I tossed the stone into the deep end. We all encouraged him and stayed close as he tried, and tried, and tried, then tried some more, but it just wasn’t happening this time. He would stand at the edge of the pool, close his eyes, and pray each time before he threw himself into water almost twice as deep as he is tall. He’d done it before, and having inherited his mother’s stubbornness, he was not willing to give up without trying. And trying. Then trying a few dozen more times.

After more than half an hour, it was just him and I in the deep end. Everyone else had gone on to play and splash, cheering him on from afar. I decided to sneak over and see if I could use my feet to scoot the stone to a friendlier depth, since the water was just a few inches over my own head. But I did not go unnoticed.

“Mommy, can you get it?”

I took swimming lessons as a child, and practically grew gills from all of the time I spent in the water. The Little Mermaid was my favorite movie (WAS?), and I would cross my ankles and pretended my feet were the fins at the end of my glorious mermaid tail. I am a certified SCUBA diver, for goodness sakes! Yet this small task had me frozen. You see, ever since I became a mother almost 9 years ago, I haven’t been swimming. I’d been in the pool, sure, lakes, even the ocean. But I hadn’t been swimming. Head-under-water, hold-your-breath, nothing-beneath-your-feet swimming. Without knowing it, I’d parked myself in the shallow end, holding babies and toddlers, observing eager boys, barking out orders about splashing. I’d hold onto them, show them how to kick behind their bodies, correct their arms, cheer them on, toss them, tickle them, and teach them, but I hadn’t been SWIMMING with them. Of course, there were times when this was absolutely necessary, and I don’t regret the watchful eye I kept over my little tadpoles as they turned into frogs… or some other aquatic animal that’s maybe not so gross. But here I was, a 30-year-old woman with years of swimming experience, and I was pausing before diving.

Part of it – okay most of it – was that I was embarrassed. I didn’t want everyone else to see me go under, for fear that I’d thrash and flail like my kids when they were beginning to swim. I didn’t want to head towards the bottom of the pool, only to come up empty-handed. I didn’t know what I’d look like, didn’t know if I’d fail, didn’t know if my ears would pop or my eyes would burn or my nose would sting. It had been nearly a decade since I’d felt the weightlessness of water, and I was feeling it.

There’s really no way to describe it eloquently, it was over so quickly. I took a breath, dove down, got the rock and popped back up. No biggie. But I did it. People saw me do it, too. And it was no big deal. Well, apart from the mascara streaming down my face and the water that just WOULD NOT stop being in my nose. A minute later, I did it again. I’m sure I didn’t look like Ariel, but I made it to the bottom and back up, and the day went on.

This all seems like a strange story to share, I’m sure. And until I felt God speak to me, the moment would have passed as if it were no different than trying a new food or hearing an old song I liked on the radio. But as I was back in the shallow end, watching the little one jump up and down in three inches of water, I felt the Lord speak to me about how significant it had been. How many other areas of my life had I spent hanging out in the shallow end since becoming a mother?

How many hobbies had I let fall aside? How many opportunities had I passed up? How much of myself had I lost in assuming the identity of a mother? How long had I allowed my relationship with God to consist of me just treading water – or even just calling out and keeping watch from the shallow end as I guided those going deeper than myself? I get it, we’re busy. We’re tired. We’re stretched and pulled and needed and wanted, and we give so much of ourselves to our children that it feels like there isn’t time or energy or money to do anything for ourselves, and a lot of times there isn’t. Friendships can fizzle and pastimes become the past as we devote our lives to raising our kids. When I was preparing to graduate college over nine years ago, I had grand plans, great ideas about my future and bubbling excitement about what I’d do with my hard-earned degree. I was going to devote my life to helping others, I’d dress up for work and have an office where I’d hang my counseling degree, I’d make a DIFFERENCE. Then I saw two lines on a test I took on a whim, and all of those plans dissipated like smoke. My future no longer belonged to just my husband and I. On that morning in March, the same day I was to have my exit interview for graduation, everything changed. I waded to the shallow end.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t take my calling as mother lightly. This work we moms do is invaluable, influential,  immeasurable, and infinite. I wouldn’t give a thing to change the years I’ve had with my children, and I know that it will impact generations beyond just my own. But in that hard work, in the gravity of the work I’ve been doing, I stayed in the shallow end. I let fatigue keep me from hobbies, let stress keep me from relationships.

If you haven’t heard the song Oceans by Hillsong United, do yourself a favor and go download it. Right now. It’s an incredible worship song, and I absolutely love it, but there are parts of the song that make me uncomfortable to sing. “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger.” Um, can we just hang out over here where it’s safe? Where I can feel solid ground beneath my feet and know that a wave won’t take me down? Where I can breathe as I wish and not take the risk of running out of air? It’s an incredibly perplexing predicament that motherhood puts us in, simultaneously proving God’s goodness in His ability to create life and planting almost crippling anxiety in us at once. I have never been more scared than I am as a mother. Diseases, accidents, bridges, water, fire, side effects, allergies, predators, bills, tornadoes, floods, snakes, spiders, famine, war, inappropriate commercials, Caillou – there’s just so much to be afraid of for our babies. So we devote ourselves to remaining watchful, ever vigilant, observing from the shallow end. We are EXHAUSTED. To our bones. Sickness, nightmares, potty training, school, sports, practices, activities, play dates, doctor appointments, homework, projects, cooking, cleaning, folding, hanging, refereeing, soothing, reprimanding, teaching, guiding, Minecraft – everything takes so much from us and leaves us with nothing left, resting in the shallow end. Personally, I’ve been focused on being a mom for so long that I feel embarrassed and timid about trying to be anything else. Would I still be relevant if I tried to get an interview somewhere? Can I still relate to other people? What WILL I do with myself once the kids are old enough to not need me here? Heck, what will I do with myself once they’re all in school and the house is empty and quiet, devoid of fights to be broken up, books to be read, and dolls to be played with? I’ve reached the age where I watch shows that have been off the air for 10 years and listen to music that I first purchased on a cassette tape. Is there a place for me in this world, or is my time up? What will I look like if I try? What will people think if I fail? What can I possibly have to offer apart from being a mom? So I stay in the shallow end, where I know my place, where I can do my job. The problem with the shallow end is that eventually, everyone outgrows it. Two out of three of my little ones are now in the deep end, and the day will come when the littlest one takes her first brave journey into water she can’t touch bottom in. I can’t stay in the shallow end, more than anything, because that’s not where my Savior is. He’s walking on the deep end, calming the waves, inviting me to trust Him, to join Him.

I urge you, fellow mommies, daddies, friends – don’t stay in the shallow end. There’s a time and a place for it, yes, but don’t forget what it feels like to be completely submerged. Don’t be so nervous and tired that you miss the opportunity to experience the weightlessness of having nothing beneath you, especially when the weight of the world is upon you. The deep end is scary sometimes, it’s more work, it’s a little unknown, you have to hold your breath and you can’t see what’s going on above you – but you can’t have much fun in the shallow end, at least not for very long. Let’s vow to dive in, to find what we loved and forgot, to kick our feet and ruin our hair and find ourselves again.  Let’s give faith a chance. Let’s allow God to carry us. Let’s find something we like to do – and do it. Let’s stop being so scared of being someone else that we forget who we actually are. Because the whole time I was underwater, I was still Mom, just much, much better.

D.I…. Why?!

I consider myself a crafty-ish person. I love to create and customize and transform. Plain black phone case? Blasphemy! A simple vase? It cannot be! My happy places are thrift stores and Hobby Lobby, my drugs of choice are glue guns and spray paint. One of my biggest character flaws is admiring something, turning over the price tag and scoffing, “Psh, I could make that myself.” I’m no Pinterest-level crafter, but I’m easily excited and often obsessive, so the thrill of a project gets me hooked, leaves me needing to scratch the itch. However, another character flaw of mine is overestimating my abilities, underestimating the cost, and just not even trying to estimate the time it would take to complete a project. My modus operandi often looks like this:

Step 1: Like something. Anything. It could be a wreath at Hobby Lobby, a craft from Pinterest, or a completely original idea. Either way, the seed is planted.

Step 2: Lie awake at night and allow all thoughts to be consumed by step 1. Food has no taste, birds have no song. There is only the empty hole inside me (or the blank wall in my house) which may only be filled by the completion of the project.

Step 3: Drop major hints to my understanding, patient, and forgiving husband. These hints include, but are not limited to: texts, Facebook messages, re-directing every conversation back to the potential project, and lying in the floor moaning.

Step 4: Curse the man who shot down the 24-hour craft store idea at 4am while simultaneously fantasizing about how much more improved my life would be if I could just jump into the project.

Step 5: Obtain the all-clear and run to Hobby Lobby. It’s go time.

Step 6: Spend 8 times the cost of the premade item that inspired the project on supplies alone.

Step 7: Come home and set down the Hobby Lobby bags.

Step 8: Forget about the project.

Step 9: Move the Hobby Lobby bags full of project supplies to the closet, stacking them on top of the other piles of Hobby Lobby bags full of project supplies. Note that 75% of the project supplies in these newest bags could have been found in the mound beneath, the Craft Idea Graveyard.

Step 10: Start all over at Step 1.

Okay, I don’t ALWAYS fall through. I really have completed several projects. Those have gone like this:

Step 1: Jump in with no measurements, plan of attack, or time estimate.

Step 2: Hope for the best.

Most of my ideas are really just creative holes to throw money into. But this knowledge – and the mountain of unused craft supplies – does nothing to deter me when an idea takes hold. I need a seasonal centerpiece and I need it NOW. So when I found a $5 side table and repainted it a few months ago, my husband was shocked impressed and I was hooked. The high was too great and too short. I needed MORE. I looked around my home for an opportunity to take on an entirely too-big project that exceeded my experience and abilities, and my eyes settled on the dining set.

It was more than 10 years old, and had served us well. It was small and round, had a glass top that was easy to clean and hard to stain or scratch, and 4 chairs (which had, of course, been spray-painted by me many years ago). However, we are now a family of 5, with the youngest just about out of her high chair, and there was no room for a 5th chair at our tiny, trusty table.

I began the hunt.

Many, many late nights on Craigslist and countless unanswered emails later, I found a steal of a deal on the perfect table… but it came with 4 chairs. Me being me, I set back out, and months later found 6 chairs… as part of a set. We now had 3 dining sets in our home. THREE. 14 chairs.  I combined the table from the first “new” set and the chairs from the second… but there was a big problem. The chairs looked like they came from a church office circa 1992.

DSC_0270

This was it. My moment. My chance to tackle a big project with big results, to scratch the itch, to create and transform and emerge from a project covered in paint and glory. The chairs were incredibly detailed, but those features were lost in the darkness of the wood, so I decided to paint them. This is where you find out how basic I am: I painted them white. Well, technically, I primed them white. Twice. THEN painted them white. THREE times. I also ran out of primer. Twice. And ran out of paint. TWICE. Always one to overestimate my abilities and underestimate supplies, it took me and my 8-year-old three days to do this. Not only did I not buy enough primer and paint, I didn’t buy enough masks. Meaning, I bought zero masks. After watching his first few sprays, I sent the kid inside for the sake of his lungs and brain cells.

chair2

Fun fact: bird poop is also white. So while priming and painting outside, I occasionally discovered surprise lumps that had to be dealth with.

At this point, I was over it. I’d already invested about 4 hours JUST in DUSTING the chairs, cleaning them up, killing the spiders who had made a lair under the seats during their time in storage.

I was determined to do this project the RIGHT way. With the money we’d invested (even though I’d found killer deals) and the amount of use these chairs would get, I really wanted to put forth the effort and know I did my best. But dear GOD. 4 hours for cleaning? Shouldn’t the entire project have been finished in 4 hours?!

After dusting and cleaning and priming and painting and coughing and sweating and fearing that the neighbors could see me bending over in incredibly unflattering shorts at even more incredibly unflattering angles, they were dry. Finally, the time had come for glaze. This was the part I was most excited about. This was the moment when angels would sing and all those details in the chairs would come forth, like a hero emerging from battle, worn and glorious. Yeah, all those details. All. Those. Details. The thing about glazing that nobody tells you is how futile it feels. There’s the first “Oh, crap, what have I done?!” moment when you paint the suuuuper dark glaze over what you’ve just spent a month painting.

chair3Then, once you’ve got an area good and covered…. you wipe it off. Yeah. After obsessing over every nook and cranny and carving, making sure every little detail is covered, you just wipe it off. Like it was no big deal, like you didn’t just pour your heart and soul into even strokes and hard-to-reach corners. You wipe it off and what’s left behind is meant to look accidental. And remember all those details? They all had to be glazed. They all had to be wiped. They all had nooks and crannies and carvings. Yet I pushed on. I tossed some crackers and fruit snacks to the kids and took about 6 more hours than I’d anticipated. Because it will always cost more and take longer than I think. Like pregnancy or road trips.

Being obsessive, I glazed the heck outta those chairs. If I’d spent this much money and this much time, they were going to look like it. (In hindsight, this isn’t the best statement, since I bought all of them second-hand.) I took the time to make sure the undersides of the chairs were evenly glazed, because what if the Queen came to visit and happened to select THAT chair to sit upon, and while her guards were patting it down they discovered the white, unglazed spots and confirmed the Queen’s suspicions that we are but peasants, confirmed her suspicions about America as a whole being lazy and unskilled, and the British tried to take us back? WHAT IF?! Onward I glazed, into the wee hours, because when you’re obsessive it’s near impossible to leave a project and come back to it later. 6 chairs, all highly detailed, all seeming to grow more than the standard 4 legs. Glaze and wipe, glaze and wipe. My body was sore, my stomach was empty, my bladder was full. Finally, at 5AM, they were done. I could rest!

Well, not exactly. They still had those movie theater seat cushions. I’m not a huge lover of color, and you already know I’m basic, so I chose a solid green. Honestly it’s a big deal that I didn’t pick beige or brown, like everything else in my house. Having spent more than I intended – financially and physically – there were a few weeks in between the completion of the glazing and the purchasing of the fabric. Really it’s a miracle I didn’t move on to another project and resign us to a life of those awful red velvet seat cushions. Not wanting to lose another minute, I jumped into re-upholstering the cushions last night. Now is a good point to share that I’ve never re-upholstered anything in my life. I can barely zip my jeans, I had no business handling this much fabric. When the adorably sweet woman at the fabric store asked me how much I wanted cut, I shrugged. Classic Jen, I hadn’t measured the cushions before purchasing fabric to cover them. At least I knew there were 6. Fortunately, when I got home and checked, there was enough fabric. I didn’t measure then, either. Just laid the cushions out and cut around, all willy-nilly. By now I was not concerned with what the Queen thought of my chairs. If she sat on a staple, then ‘Merica.

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Finally, at 3:30 this morning, I finished. The last staple on the last bit of fabric on the last cushion for the last chair. Done. I did it! I completed a project, start to finish! It cost more, hurt more, and took longer than I planned, and after spending so much time so up close and personal with these chairs, I’m not sure I even like them anymore, but by golly my family is going to sit on these for years to come.

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Obligatory “I was crafty so here are some close ups” shots”:

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My takeaway: this stuff is hard. There are people who do this for a living (and don’t charge enough) who have a passion for it and the skills, knowledge, and experience to back it up. They are small business owners who will happily customize whatever you want in whatever way you want, and it will be done quicker, it will be done better. You can sit on the couch and watch TV enjoy time with your kids while someone else sweats and fusses over your pieces. But I didn’t learn a dang thing, because I found a fantastic little vintage vanity and my husband is gone this week, so I’ll be priming that tomorrow.

Diagnosis: Fat

That’s not an original title. There’s a whole hashtag devoted to it on Twitter, although it’s been overtaken and trolled enough by now to have lost its original momentum and intent.

This is not a post promoting obesity. I’m not encouraging people do “just do you” and ignore healthy lifestyles or guidelines. I’m not saying doctors who suggest a heavier weight is detrimental to your overall health are meanies or bullies. My feelings do not spare me from the realities of being overweight.

My weight also does not disqualify me from receiving quality, unbiased care. And THIS is what I’m writing about today.

I remember the first time I ever encountered a doctor who couldn’t see past my weight. I’d made an appointment with a doctor because I’d been experiencing some crippling anxiety and thought it was time to ask for help. I went through the usual routine with the nurse – weight, height, blood pressure, symptoms, allergies. Having never been a patient in this office before, I answered everything with patience. The handle turned, the door opened, and the as-yet-unintroduced doctor walked in, chart in hand, and handed me a pamphlet and a few information sheets. “These will help you lose weight.” Those were the first words he said to me. Barely 3 months postpartum with my second child, and being a WOMAN, I was embarrassed. I hadn’t yet realized that you’re allowed to stand up to doctors and demand they treat your symptoms, demand that they listen to you. I timidly tried to remind him what I was there for. He didn’t listen. Never once made eye contact, and wrote me FOUR prescriptions before he finally took the time to find something suitable for a breastfeeding mother. I never filled that prescription, a sort of symbolic “forget you” to the doctor I swore to never see again. For years I chalked the experience up to him simply being a jerk, a butthole, a tool, whatever. After all, in any profession you’ll find people like him, so I couldn’t assume I’d ever be treated so poorly by another physician.

Until I needed another physician.

Let me just get this out of the way: Fat people know we’re fat. No one is telling us anything new. We shop at different stores, take elevators to separate floors in department stores. We own mirrors and scales. We read the same articles and see how big of a deal it is when Target announces they’ll carry something in our size. We rarely see anyone like us in the media, and most of the time it’s only because someone felt it was their place to point out how much bigger that person is getting. Kirstie Alley has become a punch line for struggling with something the VAST majority of Americans struggle with, and somehow the same majority feels it’s okay to laugh. She knows what number stares back at her from her closet, long before anyone writes a joke about it. She knows. We know. We all know.

if you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’ve battled PCOS for most of my life. A few years ago, it began to get out of control. Not that it was ever a walk in the park, but it was truly affecting my quality of life. I sought help from a highly-specialized doctor, a man with incredible reviews and a very fancy office. I saw him several times, went through some invasive procedures, bloodwork, and tests, then sat in his office and slumped my shoulders when all he said was, “Yep, you have PCOS.” I reminded him of my symptoms, my complaints, my misery, of how I’d gained 50 pounds in a single month. Through tears I asked him if there was nothing else that could be done to help, nothing else to look for. “Well, you’re fat, so you’re not going to feel well.” Ouch. He offered to send my information to a surgeon he knew who performed bariatric surgery, despite my insistence that diet had not caused my appearance.

I worked up the courage a few months later to see another doctor. I knew that my weight was a symptom of something going horribly wrong in my body and was determined to find out what it was. This new doctor interrupted me as I tearfully shared my complaints with her to ask about my diet. My nearly 100% organic, home-cooked, acceptably-portioned diet. She was puzzled, I could tell. The confusion on her face was clear: How does she eat like that but look like this? When I told her I drank a Pepsi every day, she looked relieved and let out a huge sigh. She thought she’d solved the mystery. “Well, are they two-liters?” Out loud. She said that out loud. To me. A woman in tears, begging for her help. She didn’t care what was wrong with me, she couldn’t see past my size.

Months later, I braved the MDs again. This one actually handed me tissues as I cried. She scheduled surgery, bloodwork, tried really hard to figure out a lot of the symptoms I was experiencing. At the end of the months-long process, we were none the wiser and I was no better. Having earned my Google University medical degree at this point, I asked if she could check my thyroid. She, instead, handed me a Weight Watchers flyer. Again, yet again, this prison of fat was being seen as a cause, not a symptom. I lost my cool that time, handed her the flyer back, and gave her quite a speech on how many patients she’s probably missed the mark on because she couldn’t see past the weight.

I read a blog a few months ago that discussed this very topic, how doctors are so blinded or biased by weight that they fail to treat the actual underlying cause of a patient’s complaint. A sore knee is seen as the byproduct of bearing too much, not a possible autoimmune disorder, a legitimate injury, or even a blood clot. Labored breathing or chest pains in a plus-sized patient are met with eye rolls, not concern. There is no sympathy, no dedication. As soon as the weight of a patient is assessed, it becomes a hurdle the patient must overcome in the long path to getting a doctor to LISTEN. Yes, we know we’re fat, but please listen to what else is bothering us. Please stop staring in judgement long enough to listen with care. If doctors attend medical school for so long to help people, then start doing it already. Yes, obesity is an epidemic that causes an incredible amount of health concerns, disabilities, and death. Yes, it’s bad for us. But so are doctors who don’t pay attention to anything more than our waist band. Google “doctor fat bias” and you will find numerous studies indicating that doctors tend to treat thinner patients better and more effectively. I, for one, am less likely to seek medical care because I don’t believe that my concerns will be heard or addressed, and I don’t feel like dealing with the judgement or embarrassment that comes from being ignored.

This is a problem. All patients, no matter their size, deserve equal, empathetic care. I spent hundreds, heck, thousands of dollars trying to find a doctor who would behave like a doctor. My money is the same as that of a thin person’s. I wasn’t looking for a pat on the back, I wasn’t looking for someone to make me feel good about myself, I was looking for a DOCTOR. Yes, I’m fat, now let’s find out WHY, please. Despite treating the PCOS (which causes weight gain, hurray), I still had extreme fatigue. Hair loss. Mental fog. Aching joints. Hives. More weight gain. The overwhelming diagnosis was that I was fat. Fat people are supposed to feel miserable. Fat people only get fat by eating a whole lot. Fat people are unhealthy. Lab result after lab result showed that I was actually in incredible health. (One doctor even said “wow” when she saw my healthy blood work.) My cholesterol is fine. I am not diabetic. My heart and lungs and liver and everything else work great. I just feel terrible and won’t stop gaining weight. They all missed it. Every doctor I saw, every doctor I begged, every doctor I worked up the courage to share my struggles with, every doctor I trusted to help me. They were blinded by my size and their objective abilities to help left the room. They didn’t see the pattern. They didn’t see the fatigue, the weight gain, the hair loss, the joint pain, the mental fog, the hives, the sleeping troubles. They didn’t see a woman in front of them with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Because that woman is fat.

When I got the phone call from yet another doctor (who asked in our initial consult if I’d ever eaten a salad), I knew what was coming. A simple Google search had provided me with a diagnosis more than a half-dozen doctors couldn’t reach, months before. I knew what was wrong with me and I knew what to ask for. And while he was quite rude about it, that last doctor ran the tests that needed to be ran all along. I’d cried for years that my body felt like a lemon, like it was attacking itself, and it was finally confirmed to be true. I cried VICTORIOUS tears after that phone call. I wanted to call every doctor I’d seen and tell them the news, tell them they’d failed me. Instead my mind went to all of the other potential patients they’d failed. How many other people were walking around with treatable illnesses because they’d been diagnosed as fat? How many people who become statistics each year by dying from obesity-related issues actually have years left, but were written off as collateral damage caused by cake? I kept this news largely to myself, mostly because I’d complained enough about my health. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder, so there is no cure, only treatment. It was likely caused by the extreme imbalances from the PCOS, but everyone is different. It takes, on average, 5 years for a patient with an autoimmune disorder to get a diagnosis. And with the way autoimmune disorders work and how connected every hormone and organ and gland in our body is, those with autoimmune disorders often develop other autoimmune disorders. So we are quite literally getting worse as we look for help. We are actually wasting away. Our health deteriorates with every doctor we visit. Doctors, who take oaths, who vow to help, who wear white coats and earn letters after their names, are making their patients WORSE, simply because they don’t have their listening ears on.

I love Humans of New York. If you don’t follow Brandon and his project, you’re really missing out on an incredible glimpse at humanity. Similar to what Post Secret used to be, it shows us, every day, that we can’t judge a book by its cover, that we truly have no idea what’s going on inside someone. Until we listen.

Last night I had to go to the doctor. My throat burned like lava, I had a fever, and my lymph nodes were swollen. I needed a doctor. He walked in, sat down, and asked if I had diabetes. “No, but I have a sore throat.” It turns out I have strep throat. Treatable. Temporary. And in no way related to my weight.

Listen up, doctors. Your patients are dying and don’t care what size their coffins are.

Raising the Difficult Child – Consider the Dandelions

I wrote a concise little blog on this topic a few months back, but now I really feel like I can go a little deeper into the issue. I am no parenting expert, nor do I believe there is only one, specific, unwavering way to raise children. But I DO have a difficult child, and am learning quite a bit in the process of raising – and loving – him. I’m not naming names, but let’s just say it’s not the oldest one, and it’s not the youngest one. I’ll leave it up to your imagination. He has always been difficult. I remember our pediatrician trying to tell me in between my desperate sobs that some babies just don’t need as much sleep. He rarely napped and didn’t sleep very long. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who slept 14 hours straight at night and took 2-hour naps. I remember the night he discovered he could escape from his crib, because he did it more than 30 times. That one, single night. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who climbed out once and was so sad to have been in trouble for it that he never did it again. I remember the first time I punished him and he laughed at me. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who is so sad to have disappointed me that I rarely have to punish him. This difficult child of mine (who shall remain unnamed, remember, you’re still guessing at who it could possibly be) is stubborn, willful, volatile at times. He is easily angered, easily frustrated, and easily entertained by acting on any impulse he has. Covered in scars and dripping with swagger, he is unmoved by the concept of cause and effect. I’ve said it before that he knows about gravity, he just doesn’t care. He climbs walls, he leaps from furniture, he talks back, he gets into trouble at school, and he is extremely difficult to parent. This is particularly frustrating when I compare him to my firstborn, who is compliant, people-pleasing, a teacher’s pet, and pretty easy to parent. You can probably guess what the first thing is that I’ve learned in my journey of parenting a difficult child: you can’t compare. Comparison is the thief of joy. In parenting ANY child, comparison will only leave you frustrated and doubting yourself. One of the best days I’ve had as a mother was when the lightbulb went off, when it clicked that my two boys are different people. The more I compared the unnamed mystery wild child to the older, tiny-adult-like child, the more I was setting us both up to fail. He will never be his older brother, and that is a GOOD thing. He is unique. I don’t need two of the same kid. God spent a lot of time making him, with intention, and it was high time I started appreciating him for who he was, rather than getting frustrated at who he wasn’t. Milestones, demeanors, and reactions are as varied as likes, dislikes, and fingerprints between two same-gender siblings from the same gene pool. Wild.

Another thing I’ve learned while parenting my difficult child is that it sucks. This echoes my sentiments from the previous blog, yes, but allow me to elaborate: it really sucks. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s EMBARRASSING. It’s isolating. I cannot tell you, dear reader, how many books and blogs and journals and wise sages I’ve sought in my attempts to tame the unruly beast, all spanning different belief systems, based on different foundations, and implemented in different ways. But the one common thread is consistency. Be consistent. If it was against the rules yesterday, it has to be against the rules today, no matter how tired you are. But oh, Lord, how tired we are. How truly, bone-achingly exhausted, drained, depleted, worn we are. Every single incident, every single day, in the hopes that it will someday *click* and he’ll get it. It can make a mommy numb. It can make a mommy dejected, make her feel hopeless. Afraid to leave him with a sitter because his behavior is embarrassing, afraid to go to the splash pad because he may act up, it leaves a mommy feeling alone. Tears over what’s happening and fears over what’s to come, parenting a difficult child is, well, difficult.

The final, most important, most incredibly hard thing to grasp that I’ve learned while parenting this difficult middle child of mine (don’t act surprised, you knew it was him all along) is that it is not my fault. No argument that was ever presented to me in college has ever made me think more about nature vs. nurture than raising a strong-willed child. Sure, there are kids who act a fool because of their parents’ foolish ways, but having this handful has given me a new, more sympathetic perspective. Not every kid who talks back or doesn’t listen or has a moment is the result of bad parenting. The mom you’re judging is likely nearing dehydration from all the exasperated tears she’s cried. We know our kids are rough, it’s not something that escapes a parents’ attention.  Not every difficult child “needs to be set straight”. How do I know this? Because I’m a good mom, dangit. I know I am. I do everything I’m “supposed” to and then some. He is loved, disciplined, fed well and put to bed on time. We engage and take an interest in him, he is physically active, intelligent, and socialized. And yet he acts like a real butthead sometimes. He will always have a consequence for his disobedience, yet he still chooses to disobey. This is particularly ENCOURAGING when I compare him to my firstborn, who is from the same gene pool, is of the same gender, and is raised in the same home with the same rules, love, and attention. Two wildly different fruits of the same tree prove to me that the roots aren’t to blame, it’s just how the fruits ARE. He just IS how he is. It is no fault of my own, it’s only up to me to adapt and learn what he needs and marry that with what is expected of him. And THAT is nearly as hard as not blaming myself for my child’s behavior. I’m a good mom. This is not a cop-out, it’s a revelation. The sooner we can let go of the guilt, the sooner we can address what REALLY is causing behaviors and deal with them with an appropriate amount of attention. It is not my fault. As I sit here, my face red and tear-stained, debating just giving him an iPad for a few minutes of peace, I notice a dandelion and feel God speak to me. Dandelions are weeds. Unsightly and dreaded by gardeners. They’re stubborn, unruly, and difficult to get rid of. The more you tug at them, the harder the fight, and the more likely you are to find more dandelions next week. Just like my difficult baby. He doesn’t fit into what would be considered ideal, pristine. No one WANTS dandelions, they just pop up. But consider them for a moment. Difficult, yes, but vibrant with color. They stand out instantly not because of our feelings towards dandelions, but because they are different, bright. Dandelions can provide healing and nourishment. They undergo marked transformations, and are the stuff of childhood wishes. They spread their seeds with the wind, quickly, and all too soon are gone. Just like our difficult babies. Stubborn, tough, and not “ideal”, but beautiful in their own way, quickly-growing, and valuable. My dandelion literally grows like a weed, but he is also incredibly intelligent, creative, talented, funny, thoughtful, and can be painfully sweet. I can compare him to roses, tulips, or lilies, and he will always fall short, because he is a dandelion. Or I can appreciate his vibrancy and his limited time with me and be happy I have a flower at all. What if we all saw our own dandelions not for the pain and hassle they cause, but for the wishes we can make upon them? Hang in there, you, me. We’re not alone, it’s okay to admit we’re struggling. Having a hard time doesn’t mean we love them any less, or that we’re not doing a good job. It just means our precious little ones act like buttheads sometimes

Loving the Mentally Ill

*originally published July 2016, updated June 2018*

I’ve written, deleted, and re-written this blog for months. It’s a tough subject, and it’s hard to be honest without offending, or encouraging while still being truthful. But in light of everything that’s being said about the recent suicide of a beloved actor, I need to write this. Again.

You see, not much offends me. Things anger me, confuse me, sadden me, sure. But not a lot hurts my feelings. But I’ll say it: I’m offended at some of the reactions to the death of Robin Williams. Straight-up offended. As if it’s our place to pass judgement on a man’s death. As if our opinions on the circumstances surrounding his life and death hold any weight. As if our own experiences give us any modicum of expertise with regard to the experiences of another. I’ve seen a lot of people who claim they overcame depression, so someone else should be able to, as well. As someone who has battled depression and anxiety for decades, I still have no ounce of justified judgement towards someone fighting a similar battle. I’ve seen even more complete misunderstanding and disregard for mental illness. The fact is, depression is an illness. Sometimes it’s temporary, like post-partum depression or seasonal affective disorder. Sometimes it’s based on circumstances, like bills or illness or difficult relationships, and can thus change with the situation. Sometimes, though, it’s chemical, it’s through no fault of the sufferer, and it’s STRONG. Chemical depression CAN be overcome with prayer, but just because it isn’t sometimes doesn’t mean the person suffering has no faith. It doesn’t mean the person is weak, just as requiring insulin says nothing about a diabetic, other than the fact that they’re diabetic. Depression is a symptom of a chemical imbalance that must be corrected and observed constantly, or else it will quickly overwhelm. Depression is an ILLNESS, not a choice, not a lack of appreciation or contentment, not a weakness or a fault, and it most certainly is not selfish.

Ahh, selfishness. This is what so many of the judgements I’ve seen seem to get caught up on. The selfishness of the sufferer who chose to end their life. Does suicide affect so many more people than just the one who decided to take their life? Absolutely. But how quick we are to forget that mental illness affects the family and friends of the sufferer in life, not just in death. The loved ones of those who are mentally ill have long been experiencing pain, yet we rarely – if ever – check in with them and consider how they’re affected. How quick we are to dismiss the suffering of the depressed or mentally-ill person, alive or otherwise. We overlook the lifetime of far-reaching pain until it makes headlines.

I’m not here to argue the theology of suicide, nor do I believe that death by one’s own hand brings about a poetic release or freedom, but I will say, LOUDLY, that mentally ill persons do not think logically. You and I can think logically, yes, and using our serotonin-producing, non-muddled-up brains we can look at the circumstances surrounding someone’s suicide and decide that it wasn’t worth it, it wasn’t that bad, or they were selfish cowards. But just because something doesn’t seem to make sense to us doesn’t make it untrue. Just because you’ve never been so overwhelmed by darkness that you thought death was the only life for you DOES NOT MEAN it did not appeal to someone else. In discussing mental illness recently with a friend, she said that mental illness “gummed up” her brain, and it was the best description I’ve heard yet. Your brain may work, firing on all pistons, using logic and reason and recognizing cause and effect and multiple escape routes. But a mentally ill person’s brain does not. I need glasses to see clearly and you may not. This does not mean that because I need help to see, your eyes are better than mine. It means I need help to see. All of us, mentally ill or otherwise, have the same need and dependence upon the same chemicals and hormones to maintain a sense of balance and happiness in our brains. Really, we’re all a slight shift away from suffering, so who are we to pride ourselves over those who need what we need but can’t seem to naturally produce what we can?

I’ve lived my whole life with mental illness in the form of a bipolar mother. Is it hard? YOU BET. Do my struggles with her illness change her? In no single way at all, ever. It’s been a long road, and a very difficult one. Sometimes she does things that just make no sense… but they don’t have to. Just because I cannot empathize with her suffering does not mean her suffering is any less real. My confusion does not heal her. My frustrations do not heal her. Even my hurt does not heal her. Because SHE CANNOT HELP IT. No matter how much I want her to not be mentally ill, it won’t change the fact that she is, so I can either love and embrace her as she is, or I can live life constantly disappointed. A few times, in her darkest of days, she has even tried to hurt herself, and as a young girl who did not understand mental illness, I was offended. My feelings were hurt, I was mad, and I thought her selfish. But just as a thirsty person will drink, a mentally ill person will do what their body is telling them to. Someone with Tourette’s or Parkinson’s cannot control every movement their body unwillingly makes any more than a mentally ill person can control every thought or action they take. Cop-out? To someone who does not have understanding or empathy with regard to mental illness, maybe. The fact remains that no matter how hard it is to love someone who is mentally ill (and it’s okay to admit that it’s hard), our suffering does not negate or outrank theirs.

Robin Williams, specifically, also dealt with addictions many times during his life, further proof of his suffering, his inability to control himself, his inability to behave like a “normal person” or think clearly. Robin Williams suffered a great deal more than any of us will ever understand, even those of us who have battled the demon of depression and stepped back from the ledge just in time. The truth is that we don’t know what he was going through. We don’t know what he thought or felt or lived or saw. We do know that he made us laugh and cry and quote a lot of movies, and we should be grateful for the impact he had on our childhoods. But we should not and CANNOT pass judgement on the very last choice he made, no matter how much that choice hurts us. Because it hurt him, too. Because it may have been, in his gummed-up brain that just wouldn’t submit, the only choice he had.

This has  been a bad week. Earlier in the week we awoke to the (far too detailed) news of designer Kate Spade’s suicide. Today it was celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s decision to take his life. Once again the comments abound – “What did SHE have to be sad about?” “He was rich and famous, why would he want to die?” “Her designs were so colorful, I never would have known she was depressed.”

Again I say, nearly two years after first writing this post, that suicide will never make sense to us, those who are left behind. It will never appeal to us, those whose mental state is not gummed up, clouded, those of us who do not hurt just being awake. Their reasoning will never make sense to us, but it doesn’t have to. We aren’t owed an explanation. We are expected to care and be kind human beings. Let Kate Spade’s bright bags and Anthony Bourdain’s zest (pun intended, he would have rolled his eyes) be a reminder that we cannot always see mental illness, we definitely cannot predict mental illness, mental illness is not a stereotype, and mental illness is real.

You know someone who is suffering, I promise you. You may not know they’re in pain, or you may roll  your eyes at their frequent posts you deem to be attention-seeking or overly dramatic. It could very well be the person you least expect to be hurting. That’s the thing about depression – it’s not just sadness, it’s pain. Having every comfort in the world doesn’t preclude someone from experiencing pain, and as you know, pain cannot always be seen.

No one is ever too rich, too bubbly, too healthy, too young, too famous, too privileged, too religious, too smart, or too anything to hurt. No one is ever too anything to struggle with depression. And none of us are ever enough of anything to pass judgement on any other.  If we continue to publicly pass judgement and name-call those who are suffering from mental illness, especially those who are no longer alive to explain their pain, we will make it even harder for someone who needs help to have the courage to speak up, reach out, and get what they need. Stop making it NOT okay for someone to suffer. Have some sympathy and maybe save a life.

 

Related: The Righteous Wrong – The Flawed Handling of Mental Illness in the Church, You’re Probably Wrong About Anxiety, Measuring Others’ Pain

PCOS – To Hell and Back

Heads up – this post will contain some TMI-ish mention of lady parts. Dudes don’t really read blogs, anyway – at least not ones I write – but just to be on the safe side, you’ve been warned.

As many of you probably know, I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, PCOS for short. It is characterized by, among a few other things, polycystic ovaries. Every month, when our awesome bodies are gearing up to ovulate (release an egg for possible fertilization), several eggs, called follicles, are called up to the front lines. In a normal woman’s reproductive system, one follicle volunteers as tribute, and the others go back about their business. There, the “dominant follicle” (potential baby) grows and grows and then, when the time is right, releases an egg, resulting in ovulation. In a woman with PCOS, those homies who came up to the front never go back to where they came from, and end up hanging out all over the ovaries, some growing and growing. The “dominant follicle”, rather than releasing an egg, just hangs out, either growing or not making babies, making it very difficult for women with PCOS to conceive. Occasionally, maybe once a year, maybe a few times in a lifetime, these follicles will rupture, causing extreme amounts of pain. I’m sure you all either know someone who has experienced an ovarian cyst rupture or had one yourself. Almost every gal who has been so fortunate as to experience this has ended up in the emergency room for treatment. It hurts that bad. (Don’t worry if you’ve had it happen, ovarian cysts do NOT equal PCOS!)

Why the biology lesson, you ask? Because I need you to understand the situation I’ve been in. I had my first ovarian cyst rupture at the age of 11. After a night in the hospital and a very scary ultrasound, it was determined that the pain I was experiencing was a cyst the size of an orange bursting. An orange. That was the beginning of my PCOS journey.
I have now dealt with this awful disease for 18 years. That’s a literal lifetime. As I got older, it got worse. Every year. Then I had kids, and it got more worse. But wait, Jen. Didn’t you say that women with PCOS often struggle with infertility? Way to pay attention! You see, I have suffered, through the years, in agony, with extreme, atypical, and uncontrollable PCOS. A normal woman ovulates once a month. A woman with PCOS ovulates a handful of times a year, if that. I, for some unknown reason, was ovulating EVERY 8 DAYS. It used to be two weeks, then got worse. Then it was 10 days, but it got worse. And it finally leveled off that every 8 days, I was having a cyst rupture. Every 8 days, I was in agony for part of my day, in the type of pain that sends women to the emergency room. EVERY. EIGHT. DAYS. Because I was such a determined ovulater, a few follicles had the chance to break through, resulting in my gorgeous babies (whom I was told I would never be able to conceive without medical intervention). So while there’s THAT silver lining, every 8 days I was writhing in pain.
I saw, I think, 7 doctors last year, trying to find answers, help, RELIEF. Each time I’d leave disappointed or insulted. I’d go through testing with one doctor, just to be told I had PCOS and handed a prescription for birth control, the standard treatment. It didn’t help. I saw another doctor, went through the same invasive tests, just to be told I had PCOS and handed a prescription for birth control. Which didn’t help. I’d pick myself up off the floor, rally my spirits, and get the guts to try AGAIN. More invasive tests. More of the same results. More birth control. Every. Single. Time. Depressed doesn’t begin to describe me. Each time I had to explain, through tears, the awful symptoms. Each time I had to beg and plead for them to see my weight as a symptom, not a cause. Few listened. Some symptoms are too embarassing to tell the interwebz about, but you’re welcome to Google PCOS symptoms and imagine my life. Extreme fatigue, mental fog and confusion, acne, and the worst: incredible, soul-crushing weight gain. Once “my hormones came back”, we’ll call it, after I had my daughter, I gained 50 pounds in a single month. I could literally feel myself getting fatter and nothing could stop it. With being overweight comes a whole host of health problems, which God has thankfully spared me from. But it also comes with stares and assumptions and judgements and shame. I don’t look this way because I ate my way into Lane Bryant. I don’t look this way because I drink 2-liters of Pepsi a day, as one doctor suggested. I look this way because my flawed, human body is incapable of making the correct amount of hormones, and I was trying so very desperately to get someone to help me fix it. Doctor after doctor, disappointment after disappointment, suffering in silence and trying to explain why a hysterectomy wouldn’t fix it. The last doctor I saw I thought would surely be The One. She was very nice, more sympathetic than the others, and immediately got me scheduled for a morning of various surgical procedures. Friends, cannot express the depth of my absolute despair when I awoke from surgery to discover that nothing had been discovered, nothing had been removed, nothing would be different. I cried tears of absolute grief in the recovery room. I had incisions and no hope. The surgeon and my doctor hadn’t communicated well, it seemed, and only half of the procedures had been done. Only half of my uterus was explored. But the entirety of my heart was just shattered. Give me a moment to gather myself, I can’t see through the tears well enough to type.
It was hard. I kept trying and trying and trying, and no one was able to help. Rather than find out WHY my body was going rogue, they just handed me the cookie-cutter solution, no matter how many times I screamed that it wasn’t helping. I was in pain. Miserable. Fat. Something was wrong and there appeared to be no way to fix it, ever. Could I really live the rest of my life like this? I couldn’t let myself imagine another lifetime like the one I’d already experienced. So I just resigned myself, for the time being, to be a good little patient. I took my pills, I grew my cysts, I gained weight, and I lived in suffering. I prayed. Oh, how I prayed. Deep depression threatened to overwhelm me, creeping behind me like a shadow, ready to pounce. Like the pain, it was ever-present. Between the fatigue and my self-worth plummeting, I had no motivation. No joy. I knew God healed others, but for whatever reason, it did not appear to be His will for me. PCOS was, quite efficiently, ruining my life. I sought counsel in PCOS-specific forums, only to be shunned because I had been spared the pain of infertility. I was so alone, so sad, so ashamed, so hopeless. My birth control prescription ran out, and I had nothing left inside me to seek another one. Then it got a little worse.
You see, one of the symptoms of PCOS is elevated testosterone. Every woman produces a tiny amount of it, but some women with PCOS produce way too much. I, of course, am one of those lucky ladies. You can imagine the toll it takes on a woman’s womanhood to know that her ovaries are treating her like a man. Testosterone is believed to be the cause of the follicles that hang around and turn into cysts. It also causes acne, in grown stinkin’ women who have been out of high school for 11 years. (Just for future reference, asking someone about the rash on their face probably isn’t the best way to make them feel awesome.) It does other, more embarassing things, but it had one final blow to deal me: Hair loss. Male pattern baldness, to be exact. If you know me, you know of my hair. I’m not cocky, but I can admit that it is my crowning glory. It’s the one part of me that cannot get fatter, can’t get stretch marks. If I were ever to model, it would be for hair. I have lots of it, and I complain about the work, but the truth is that I couldn’t rid myself of the last-remaining quality I had to be proud of.
I started noticing TONS of hair coming out in my brushes, in the shower. I asked my hairdresser if she noticed a difference, but I have so much stinkin’ hair that she didn’t notice. But I did. I saw the handfuls coming out. I noticed when I started being able to wrap the elastic around a ponytail more times than ever before. Then I looked up and saw it: thinning hair, just like a dude. I was starting to look like Stabler on SVU, and feared I’d soon look like Cragen. I know, I know, there are worse things. I have a beautiful friend who has zero hairs. But to a photographer, who spends so much time surrounded by beauty, it cuts deep to not be proud of your appearance. As a woman, male-pattern baldness deals a heavy blow. I’d had enough. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t be fat, pimply, tired, dumb AND bald. So I took to Google, where I earned my Google University medical degree.
Deep in the pages of a hippie healing site, I found a glimmer of hope. Well, not really hope, because I was so devoid of it at that point, but more of an it-couldn’t-hurt glimmer. Saw Palmetto. An herb used by men to lower testosterone, usually when fighting prostate issues. It made sense – if excess testosterone is causing all these problems, take a medication that blocks or lowers testosterone. DER. So I took my hiney to our local hippie store and bought the small bottle, just to try, and asked my Facebook friends to pray for me. A little over a week later, I was sitting on the couch, marveling at my baby’s-bottom-smooth cheeks. Maybe not THAT smooth, but smoother than my face has felt in about 15 years. If it helped nothing else, it helped with breakouts, so I ordered a big bottle and kept taking it. I had been taking it about a month (too soon to notice any difference with my hair) when I commented to a friend that I hadn’t had a cyst rupture in weeks. Weeks! Like clockwork, because that’s just how my body rolls, I felt it. The stabbing, burning, rumbling that starts when a cyst is rupturing. Only this one didn’t stop. It hurt. BAD. As bad as my unmedicated c-section. It hurt from my knees to my lungs, felt like my trunk was melting, and the only way to know that I could still breathe was to scream. I don’t know who was more scared: myself, lying on the bathroom floor, writhing and jerking and vomiting from pain, trying not to black out, or my poor kids, confused and unable to help. My amazing husband rushed home and took care of me, and I survived. Obviously. It was the worst rupture I’d ever experienced, and the pain never fully went away, so two days later I went to the emergency room to make sure I hadn’t experienced ovarian torsion (Google it) or something worse. A sonogram and a CT scan later, I got the greatest news I’ve received in a long, long time. While the ultrasound showed fluid from a ruptured cyst the size of a cantaloupe (OUCH), it showed ONE cyst. ONE. One single, solitary follicle. But Jen, you still have a cyst there! Yes, you’re right. And it’s a fairly large one. But 7 months ago, my most recent sonogram before that, my two ovaries were hosting more than 75 cysts. You’re reading that right. My left ovary had 31 and she stopped counting at 46 on my right. This was WHILE on birth control, the standard treatment for PCOS. I teared up with joy, felt light with hope, and just about hugged the doctor. One cyst. Just one. Years and years of trying to find help, trying to find an answer, years and years of disappointment and depression and pain… and only one cyst. 18 years of having “devastated ovaries” (doctor’s words). Only one cyst. Am I still fat? Yep. Do I still have a lot to fix and figure out and tweak? Yep. But now I finally, FINALLY have something I hadn’t dared to attempt again: hope. I know that there is something that can help me. I know that my body WILL respond to SOMETHING.
Please note that I am not a medical professional and hold no formal training in any type of healing, other than prayer. I am not one to be a conspiracy theorist who accuses pharmaceutical companies of creating customers more than assisting patients. But why hadn’t this herb been mentioned before? Go ahead and Google “saw palmetto for PCOS”, you’ll find tons of information, testimonials, and recommendations. Why had no single doctor mentioned it to me? Why did they sit in their offices and stoicly watch me sob, plead, beg for help, then only offer me synthetic hormones that they knew would not make a difference? Each different prescription I tried came with pages of warnings, side effects, interactions, and more. Each pill I took caused an unfavorable reaction in one way or another, and none of them offered any respite. Pain and pills, that was my life. But this natural herb, to which no one holds a patent, has done more for me in a month than nearly two decades of labratory medicine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to modern medicine. Without it I wouldn’t know that I had too much testosterone, wouldn’t have Benadryl or sonograms or scientific proof that what I’m doing is working. But I am ever so grateful to God for giving us natural, working medicine. I am grateful to Him for wisdom, for access to healthcare. Did I mention that I only have ONE CYST?!
I’m sitting here, still in pain from the massive cyst that just exploded inside me recently, trying not to be vain about the fact that I’m fat enough for something the size of a cantaloupe to fit inside my stomach, but I have hope. Not just hope, but excitement. I am going to continue my current dosage and begin more natural options to heal the rest of me that needs fixing. With God and His intentionally-created nature, I believe that I can find relief, can find a life that I live happily, without chronic pain. I sit here hopeful, happy, in the process of healing. It’s said that the follicles on polycystic ovaries look like strands of pearls. But today, friends, these are the only pearls I have on.

pearls

 

Planting Time

“It’s just a season.”
I hate this phrase. I hate it because it’s usually accompanying a really tough time, and the phrase, while meant to encourage the sufferer that their woes are temporary, often feels flippant, cliche, and dismissive of how horrible the trenches can be. Because in the middle of a season, it doesn’t feel like a season, it feels like forever.
But it’s true. Heck, it’s Biblical. “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, in case you’re wondering.) It’s scientific, too. Strawberries aren’t meant to grow in winter, snow isn’t meant to fall in summer. There are seasons for sowing, seasons for reaping. There are seasons for enjoying the spoils of a season spent working, and seasons for huddling and weathering the storms. Seasons where everything is in bloom and seasons where everything appears frozen and dead.
Seasons do not appeal to me, for the most part. I don’t like change. I like control, and I can’t persuade a season to stay, or to stay away. The beginning of every season is exciting, a new start, a change in perspective. Fall boots and Starbucks! Pedicures and ice cream trucks! CHRISTMAS!!! There’s always something to look forward to when a season changes. But then the allergies kick in, or isolation sets in. We’ve been cold and shut up inside with short, dark days or sweating for weeks during the never-ending summer days. Seasons always last just a little longer than we’d like them to. And with “seasonal” fruits and vegetables being grown and manipulated to be available year-round, indoor pools, and Peeps being sold during holidays other than Easter, the lines get blurred and we get bored. Quickly.
My season right now is one of planting. It’s a hard season. It requires lots and lots of work, time, attention, sacrifice, and sweat, with no indication of how the harvest will turn out, no taste of reward just yet. I have young children.
For a while I fought the season. We drug our children along with us and asked them to adapt to our schedules. We tried to plant during the wrong window. Since before we even began dating, I worked alongside my husband in ministry. If there was an event, I was there. If there was a girl in tears, I was ready. We stayed up late getting our calendars to look the same, dreaming up more ways to reach our students and spend time with them. I started wearing down, but there was no way I was going to admit I couldn’t do it all. I tried. Hard. I fought tired, hungry kids and schedules that were happy to eat me alive without a blink. I tried to be available to everyone, all the time. I scoured the internet for advice on being a ministry partner and a mother, I asked every pastor’s wife I knew, I cried, I begged, and I darn near collapsed every time I heard “It’s just a season.” I remember the disappointment, the near grief I felt when I thought I’d found a book that would give me the answers, only to discover upon reading it that nannies and babysitters were what made motherhood and ministry possible. I want to raise my children the way that God seems to think I can, the way He called me to. It was time to recognize that I couldn’t serve everyone else’s families while I served my own in such an important capacity. It was time to accept my season.
My calendar began to gradually look different from my husband’s. It’s still strange to me that there are new students who I don’t know, events that I don’t attend, sermon series that I don’t hear. Every now and then, someone will make a comment about my not being there, and it hurts, but I know I’ve made the right decision. I simply can’t do it all. And if I miss this season of planting with my children, I will not see the harvest in the next. God has called me to ministry, I just had no idea that ministry would be at home, and that three children could take up more energy than 100.
The best part about seasons, despite the fact that I can’t control them, rush them, or pick and choose what can be accomplished in them, is that they’re not permanent. We don’t live in the south pole. With babysitters not being an option, I can’t go to the movies right now. I can’t attend 99% of the things I’d like to. I can’t be by my husband’s side in ministry (although I’m learning that behind him in ministry is just as important). I have to turn down invitations and opportunities, friends and family. If a kid is sick, I stay up and stay home. It can often feel like a winter season, where nothing much changes, where I live in near isolation. But I am planting, planting, planting. Working the soil (complete with fertilizer, since one is still in diapers!). Learning how much water each one needs, giving each one the right amount of sun, nurturing growth, taking setbacks personally. I am a child gardener, throwing myself into the task of growing healthy, prosperous people. No matter how long this season lasts, it absolutely will not be forever, and will likely be over before I feel like I’ve had the chance to do my best.
Ministry or not, mother or not, we’re all in seasons. And we’re all in different seasons at different times. It can get really depressing really quickly to compare my sowing season to another’s reaping time. It can get really discouraging to try and live in a season other than my present one. Some days feel like they’ll never end, some days I even resent this season. But it won’t last. None of this life is permanent. Seasons come and go, seeds are planted and seeds grow. Harvest, winter, planting, growing… it’s all one big, ever-changing cycle that will continue whether we want it to or not. The sooner we (I) embrace our (my) season, the more effective we (I) can be in it. In the winter, we can rest and know that the sun is coming. In the harvest we can see the benefits of our hard work and understand how everything we did was so important. Dear friend, whether you are a parent, a single person, struggling or thriving, take heart and know this time will not last. There are plenty of other seasons ahead for you, and the change in season is not BECAUSE of you. The seasons change without regard for our feelings, but how often we allow the seasons to rule them. Embrace your season. Accept that it is only a season. Get the most out of your season. Know that each one prepares you for the next. Anticipate change even in the most monotonous of times. And if you don’t see me, it’s not because I didn’t want to be there. I just have a crop I’m tending to at home.

Are You Makin’ A List, Checkin’ It Twice?

Last night, while doing the final before-bed Facebook scroll, I saw about 4 posts of ladies referring to their list of Perfect Man Attributes. You know the list. The list of qualities that your future husband HAS TO HAVE, that you pray over and ask God for and measure every guy up to (until you meet one who is just so flippin’ cute that you want to bend the “rules”). You totally made one in middle school. And another in high school. And one after every church camp. Maybe when you got to college. Maybe after watching The Vow or something, I don’t know. I TOTALLY had one. And not just a puny list, it was accompanied by a drawing, colored in with map pencils, and ranked by importance. This fictional man that I prayed so earnestly for had blue eyes, dark hair, was 6’4” (I’m tall, the struggle is real), played baseball (not because I was an avid sports fan, but because I was a lustful teenager), and loved Jesus with his whole heart. My husband of more than nine years DOES have blue eyes and dark hair, but he doesn’t wear baseball pants, and, while taller than me, is not 6’4”. Does this mean that God did not honor my requests, that He wasn’t listening? No, it means my list was stupid.

I am a wedding photographer. I’ve lost count of how many couples I’ve had the honor of photographing, but I do know that I have not photographed a SINGLE bride and groom smiling, holding up their checked-off lists, giving a thumbs-up. I also have a degree in counseling, and I tell ya, either I missed the day our professors went over comparing lists in premarital counseling, or the topic just was not covered in the Marriage Preparedness and Strengthening units.  Jacob didn’t consult his checklist when tricked into marrying Rachel, he just knew that she wasn’t Leah. I don’t know how the phenomenon got started, but I can’t find anything to support it.

Don’t get me wrong, us gals deserve good things. And yes, God wants to give us the desires of our hearts. But how about instead of creating a list to mentally compare every guy you meet to, you compare every one to Christ. Does he love? Does he extend grace? Is he chasing after the Father? Consult the checklist in 1 Corinthians 13. Is he patient? Is he kind? Does he rejoice in wrongdoing? You are not shopping for a car. You are making yourself available to someone who you will spend your life with. Don’t set up parameters that can come and go like trends, measure him by the Word of God. Jesus would never slap you around. Jesus doesn’t get drunk and blow the rent money. Jesus doesn’t care about swag. God said He would never leave you nor forsake you. THAT’S what you need until you are parted by death. That’s someone who will stick by, in sickness and in health.

I have had several friends who have met incredible men, but were hesitant to pursue a relationship because of a deal-breaker from their list. “But he has a child from a previous relationship.” “But he has a giant face tatoo.” Listen, I would hate to think of how many times I would be deemed “unworthy” because of how I fell short of a list my husband may have dreamed up. Thank God He doesn’t count me out because of my mistakes. Thank God He doesn’t count me out because of ways that I don’t measure up. Stop worrying so much over the present circumstances of your ideal husband, and start praying over his future. Stop daydreaming about his physical qualities and start praying over his HEART. Don’t worry and fuss over the things he does before you meet him, but begin praying for him as your HUSBAND. Pray that he would exercise wisdom with your finances. Pray that he would lead your future family after God. Pray for your husband, not for God to make the hot guy who brings his guitar to youth camp INTO your husband.

But you know what list you should make? Make a list of the qualities YOU want to have as a WIFE. Pinterest has made weddings so romantic, but after that one single day, you’ll be a wife for the rest of your life. After you’ve found the guy, you’ll need to make it work every day after. Make a list of qualities you’d like to exhibit and pray over THAT. Compare to THAT. Will you be a patient wife? Will you support your husband in any career he chooses? Will you speak kindness over him? Will you publicly cheer him? Concern yourself with BEING the right person more than FINDING the right person.

God knew you before you were born. He knit you together. You are His masterpiece. The same goes for your future husband. God made him long before you put pen to paper. Open yourself up to Him, trust that God knows what He’s doing. In theory, if you are looking for The One, then every single man you meet but ONE will be him. Billions of no’s. Billions of Not The Ones. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t waste your energy and set yourself up for disappointment by comparing every man to a list. Pray for this unknown man’s heart, pray for God to prepare yours, and open yourself up to His will.

“Watch Me!”

 

lego

Words every parent has heard a thousand times. “Watch me!” Be it on the playground, at the swimming pool, or soaring from the top bunk, it’s in a child’s nature to want an audience of their biggest fans. My middle child – who is consequently already riddled with scars – is famous for crying out “Watch me fly!” while already midair. He did it once from a hospital bed in the ER, before we’d even seen the doctor about the stitches he needed from his most recent flight. “Watch me!”
I’ll be honest: I don’t always want to watch. “Do you want to watch me draw?” Not particularly. I’ve got two other kids and dinner and laundry and dishes and Facebook all calling my name, and I forgot to put deodorant on today. “Will you watch me build with my Legos?” Do I have to? There’s not much for me to do, just sit there and NOT look at my iPhone. “Watch me go across the monkey bars for the 8 billionth time!” Dude, I brought you to the park so you could play over there and I could sit, untouched, over here. I don’t say these things, of course. I watch. I’m not always excited to watch, but I try to just sit and watch. And when I watch, I love what I see.
Seeing and watching are two different things. Watching is just acknowledging what is happening in the moment right before you. Seeing is looking past the present and dreaming about how it will lead to the future. A spectator watches a gymnastics competition, a mother sees the next Olympic gold medalist. A spectator watches a child play with Legos, a mother sees an award-winning architect. A teacher watches a student give their first speech to the class, a mother sees the future president of the United States. Conversely, a spectator sees a child walking on their toes or not speaking very much, and a mother will see autism. We mothers, we parents, look at our children and apply these moments in a sweeping blanket to their entire future. It’s a blessing and a curse, when we let worry creep into our dreams, but no one can see the potential in a child like a parent.
What, then, does God see when He watches us? When we stumbled, when we failed, when we cowered in guilt and shame, did He not look at us and SEE the future, what He created us to be? Does He not smile knowingly when we exclaim in middle school that we could never be missionaries? What did His face look like when others looked at the small, unassuming baby born in a barn and turned their nose up at his circumstances? Didn’t Mary know when Jesus was a child, carrying on conversations in the temple, that one day His words would be preached from the same pulpit? The most powerful scene in all of The Passion, for me, is when Mary, mother of Jesus, is watching her son, battered, bleeding, and broken, stumble through the crowd and she flashes back to him falling as a young boy. God gives us the ability to see in our children, not to create a competitive edge, but to equip us to support, catch, encourage, and guide our children.
It is HARD to take three kids to swimming lessons. HARD. Especially when the lessons aren’t at the same time, or in the same pool, and you’ve got two kids to entertain (or keep from “flying” into the pool) while another one is learning. You want to celebrate each stroke while simultaneously zone out for the 30 minutes that someone else is entertaining your child. Every summer, my boys take swimming lessons, and every summer, I consider just buying them adult-sized life jackets because it’s so dang hard to juggle timing, snacks, boredom, a stroller, towels, goggles, wet carseats and WATCHING. But then I see something: my oldest son, built like a pool noodle, gliding through the water with speed and precision, reaching the edge before anyone else, kicking with power and intent. That’s right, my son is the next Michael Phelps. You laugh, but Michael Phelps’ own mother dragged three kids to swim lessons, Michael Phelps’ own mother saw her son take to water like a fish, and Michael Phelps’ own mother saw a future champion in the long-legged boy she was raising. At some point, Michael Phelps’ mother looked up from her word search (I’m guessing) and started SEEING her son’s talent.
David, in the Bible, was a big deal. He was king. He was wealthy. He was a mighty warrior and successful leader of armies. He got the ladies. From his lineage came Jesus Christ. David was a chosen man of God whose actions made history and influenced the world around him. Did anyone see that when he spent each day in the field, tending to sheep as a teenager? Did his mother know that when David sang idly in the fields, he was preparing his praises to become Psalms? Did his mother know that his slingshot, barely a toy in the hands of her young boy, would bring down giants and raise up a nation? When David came home and told tales of killing a lion and a bear with his hands, did his mother see that God was strengthening a soldier, a man who would kill his tens of thousands? When it came time to seek out a new king, no one even thought to present David as an option. This boy who spent his days singing, protecting flocks, playing with slingshots. This boy who was, while seemingly going about mundane tasks, being prepared to be a KING.
Our children have purposes. They were perfected in the womb. They have a future. Our children are fearfully and wonderfully made. They were made with intention, with a destiny that we could never dream up on our own. We do not get to decide their destiny (believe me, I wish I could!), but we are charged with the sobering responsibility to shape them in preparation for it. I can beg God all I want to not to call my oldest into ministry (it’s a tough life, yo), but that won’t change His plans for my boy, or His plans to change the world through my boy. I can want to shield and protect him from the world all I want, but that will only hinder what God wants to do through him. When he was about to start kindergarten in – gasp! – public school, I was sobbing, as any mommy would. I was terrified, I was sad. I cried out to God “Lord, he’s about to go out into the WORLD!” And God, clear as day, said to me, right there in my car amongst my snotty and undignified tears, “That’s what I created him for.” Boom. So let’s stop just watching them. Let’s open ourselves to see God’s purpose for them, let’s listen to the Holy Spirit and make ourselves available to their future. To see the musicians banging on pots and pans, to see the pastors praying fervently for their friend’s missing dog, to see the artists covered in eyeliner, to see the policemen protecting their siblings on the playground. Thank God that He has given us an inside track on how to pray for our children, for their future, for their purpose. And thank God that He sees so much more in us when He watches.

Side note, I’m still praying for baby girl, unless God can find a way to use an obsession with Barney for His glory.