Coming Alive Again

The last few weeks have been rough. Like, dragged through the mud, thought I was going to die, rough. Not just the kids giving me a hard time or being a bit tired. I’ll explain. This will be long winded but it has been necessary to process this properly and that takes time (and words).

On Monday morning, January 15th, I woke up with a small, slightly sore and red spot on my right breast, telling me that I had not fed Simon enough from that side overnight and I was starting to get mastitis. So, like the dozens (literally, dozens) of times before, I nursed from the right side throughout the day, hoping to head it off before it got any worse. By the end of the day, the spot was still there but the pain was gone and I had never developed flu symptoms so I figured I was done with it. I made supper and around 6:30 I was sitting with Mike and brushed my hand against the side of my left breast when I moved my arm. It was sore, which was odd because it was the opposite side. Then I realized that while I was feeding from the right side first all day, I had likely missed at least one feeding from the left, if Simon had nursed from it at all. I tend to have oversupply right until I wean and when I don’t empty enough, I get mastitis.

After folding some laundry around 7:00, I told Mike I was in rapid decline and by the kids’ bedtime, I was feeling like I had the flu. I got chills so badly I couldn’t hold still and decided a bath was a good idea. The bath was nice but I knew I wasn’t getting better yet. At 10:30 we decided I should probably go to the emergency room but after the bath, I was looking a bit better to Mike (no shaking after the bath) so he wasn’t certain. It took us until 11:30 to make a decision because on the one hand, I didn’t want to wait so long that things got worse but I didn’t want to make a fear based decision, either. A pretty conservative, wait and see friend, said she thought I should go in and we finally made it to the ER at 11:45. I didn’t have to wait long for triage and as soon as my blood pressure and temperature were taken, I puked. I have never had nausea with mastitis before so this was new. I got into a room and they immediately got me an IV with fluids. I threw up again at some point – the timeline is very fuzzy – and eventually the doctor came and ordered IV antibiotics.

Mike left the hospital around three in the morning after a few hours of sitting by me while I dozed, made woozy and fuzzy headed by the Gravol they gave me for the nausea. I slept off and on, waking up once an hour or so to have my vitals taken and in the morning, I was given another dose of IV antibiotics. After that, they gave me a prescription and Mike came to pick me up. I had an appetite and felt ten times better than I had the night before so I assumed this would be the end.

Mike took the day off on Tuesday and Wednesday through Thursday were spent resting as much as possible and feeling like I was operating at thirty percent of normal energy. I wasn’t sleeping well, was still in a lot of pain and the entire left side of my left breast was red and splotchy. At the end of the day Thursday, I knew things were not going well as I had still been running a fever off and on and the pain wasn’t getting any better, even though I’d had 48 hours of oral antibiotics.

Back to the emergency room I went, this time having Mike drop me off so he could go home and put the kids to bed. I waited two hours to be seen by the triage nurse and then another fifteen minutes to be given a bed. It was probably ten minutes after that when the doctor came in – the same doctor who I had seen on Monday night – and he quickly agreed that things were not improving fast enough so I started another dose of IV antibiotics.

I spent another night in the ER, this time having a terrible time falling asleep. I got two doses of antibiotics while I was there and noticed a huge difference in how I felt by the time I had to leave the next morning. Mike took another day off but I was amazed at how much better I felt. I took a shower just after I got home and while I was standing there waiting for my towel (my sweet husband put it in the dryer while I was showering), I felt the water on my skin and just felt alive. This was significant because I realized that I had not felt alive like this in a long time.

Most of Friday was spent really thinking about how I have not been taking care of myself very well. I have re-committed a few times this last year to loving myself, proving to myself and others that I am worth the time and effort it takes to renew my mind, body and spirit. But I have failed myself over and over and this was more proof of that. I get distracted by my phone, Facebook, time wasters, and don’t pay enough attention to what is going on each day. Missing a few feedings because I have a busy baby is one thing, but in this case, I was so preoccupied on Monday with what I saw as my failings (I even blogged about it) that I didn’t see it coming.

I know that God has a plan for me. That there is something He wants me to do. And as I thought about all of this that Friday, I realized that it’s going to start with putting a little bit of time, effort and maybe money into myself. Over the following weekend, we heard a speaker who talked about how two things in a Scripture that seem opposite can be true at the same time. It occurred to me that putting myself first and putting myself last can be true at the same time. I don’t need to see it as an all or nothing situation. Women who do this often pour themselves out into their families and neglect themselves or do the opposite and pour themselves into their own pursuits and neglect their families. I need to find the balance of the two. I’m going to start with the tangible things. Blogging more, because writing is and has always been important to me. Allowing myself to be creative again. Getting a pedicure or a massage now and then. Maybe getting a gym membership, just to have it in case I want to use it. Paying someone to come in and help me clean once a month or so. I told Mike all of this and he didn’t hesitate to agree that I’m worth it, even if I have to borrow from our savings account to do it. Why is it so hard for me to do these things for myself?

I wrote a few months ago about reinventing myself – this overwhelming desire to make myself new, different. Someone was talking about words for the year around New Years and the word renewal came back to me. Renewal is not reinvention. It is taking what is here and making it new, rather than trying to erase what is and make something else from scratch. God created me to be who I am, I just need to find who that is, buried somewhere underneath all these years of being a mama. I don’t want to be the mom who wrapped herself up so fully in her kids that she’s totally lost when they fly off on their own. I want to build into myself in positive ways now so that I have something left of that when I’m no longer spending every day in motherhood.

I am very aware that this will take effort on my part. It may require me to step outside of my comfort zone in the area of scheduling and routine, but I am also very aware that it will be worth it in the end.

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Someone hit repeat

I went to write what I thought were new thoughts rolling around in my mind and instead decided to read back over old posts here. I haven’t written often so I was able to skim read the last two years fairly quickly. It nearly made me cry that what I was feeling and expressing that long ago is basically the same place I’m at now. No closer to an answer than I was then and if anything, feeling like I have less time to think about it.

I’ve been reflecting recently on the push for women to do more and be more. Facebook is full of “you’ve got this, mama,” and “do what it takes to make things happen.”

I want more income but don’t want to run a business. It adds so much stress to our lives when I’m pushing hard at something like I did with Usborne last year.

I want more time to pursue creativity but I don’t want to farm my kids out to do it.

I want to have a more orderly house but I don’t want to spend every moment cleaning or organizing.

I’m just as stuck as I was years ago and I don’t know how to get out of it. I tell Mike this stuff and he doesn’t have any response. I suppose this is one of those times when I honestly wish he was the kind of man who wants to fix things. I think he is just as stuck as I am but isn’t bothered by it.

There are areas I can let go of. I am trying to work myself into a place where I’m okay with things being the way they are at home as long as everyone is functioning all right. If no one is bothered by the schedule we keep with laundry, meals, etc. than there is no reason to change it. It may mean that sometimes it looks different here than in other homes but if my kids and my husband are okay with it, does that matter?

I am making another effort to lose weight. I’ve lost thirty pounds since the middle of September, which is a success at least in losing the weight that I gained during my last pregnancy. I honestly would be fine staying where I’m at, in terms of comfort with myself and it being a relatively easy weight to maintain but I know that when I get pregnant again, I am already going to be in multiple different high-risk categories. My weight is still at a place where, based on BMI, I will be red-flagged as overweight in addition to all the other red flags that will exist because of my history. I wish it didn’t matter but it does. So I am forced to carry on and try to lose as much as I can before another pregnancy, even though it is time consuming and tiring to think about it.

This is all very uncomfortable. I would love to say that I’m moving forward and ready to jump into whatever it is I’m called to but I’m in the same place, feeling like I’m failing at the obvious calling – motherhood – and stagnant in every other area.

I told Mike last night in the middle of another monologue that I wish I had the answers to all of these questions. He quoted Hitchhiker’s Guide and said, “42.” I don’t think he knows how much it hurts when quoting a movie is the most he can give me. I know he’s not supposed to have all the answers but he’s the only one I am completely honest and open with. I feel like I’ve asked God and only hear silence. And friends have advice for what works in their lives but most is not applicable to mine. I’m lost, stuck and confused and it sucks.

Reinvention

At least once a year, the urge to reinvent myself takes over. It often happens near the New Year but sometimes in the fall, when school is starting again and everyone seems to have a clean slate. In the last week, I have dyed my hair and gotten new glasses, so I suspect the urge is here again.

As I was thinking on things I could do to magically transform into a different kind of person, I remembered that yet again, I did not get family pictures printed or write a newsletter or send Christmas cards. I didn’t bake for my friends and I didn’t knit anything for family members. In my earlier years of motherhood and marriage, I did all of those things every year. I was organized and on time and the reason for all of this (in my opinion) is that my kids were young and still took naps. I’m also certain that this is why I blogged an awful lot more nine or ten years ago than I do now. I just had more time.

I have perfectly good reasons for doing things differently now, or for not doing things. But somehow I always feel that life would be better and feel more “real” if I still managed all of that and more. When it comes down to it, I feel that I just don’t measure up right now. I suppose those are mostly my own standards but they are also standards set by family members or other stay at home moms. I know deep down that I don’t have to live up to them but they still hang there like flashing neon signs.

I have been reinventing one area in my life lately and feel that I’ve made a lot of progress in making it something for my good instead of something I have to do. I have so often read my Bible quickly – one chapter at a time, alternating books in the Old and New Testaments. For a few months now, I’ve been reading a book I feel led to read and writing at least one page on a verse that stands out to me and my thoughts on it. It feels good, like studying for the enjoyment of the subject versus studying to pass a test. I’m meeting once a month with a small group of friends to pray and encourage each other and that has also been a blessing instead of feeling like an obligation or responsibility.

But still this desire to change other things is there. To become organized, efficient, more frugal. To cook more and eat out less, to exercise regularly. I know that what works best is small changes over time, that trying to turn my world upside down all at once will be a failure every time. There are just so many times when I try to work on the little things and get busy, distracted and tired. The next thing I know, I’m right back where I started.

These are just my thoughts today. I wish I had an answer, a light bulb moment to show me how to get past this or accomplish it. I don’t. I just needed to write.

 

Wanting Too Much

You know how some people are just made to do that one thing? To sing, teach, act, build buildings or run marathons? Sometimes they make it their career, other times it’s just a hobby. But so many people seem to have that thing they do and do well.

I’m a mom. I always wanted to be a mom and when I became a mom I felt fulfilled in it. But I didn’t stop writing and creating. And I didn’t stop dreaming of things I wanted to do someday. At least not right away.

Women are told they can do it all. Some seem to be told they should do it all. No one told me that. I’m a mom and most of the time I profess to be satisfied with motherhood as my thing. Except it’s not. I don’t actually feel very good at it most of the time. I love my kids and I love being a mother but I feel as though I’m failing in this position so often. There are other things I can do that I feel I am better at than mothering. Clearly I’m good at having babies and I’ve been fortunate enough to breastfeed all seven successfully – in a few weeks, my estimated time breastfeeding will total one hundred and three months. I’m good at that. But beyond this stage, moving into other areas, I have so many shortcomings.

I know plenty of other women who feel this way but so many of them have a thing that they do and I believe that success in that task helps them overlook some of the perceived failings in their motherhood. Some grow amazing gardens. Others write books. Some paint and sell their paintings. Some craft beautiful jewelry. Many go to the gym, eat right and stay in great shape.

I feel like I don’t have that anymore, though. Here I am, raising seven kids – kids who are with me all day long, basically every day. I do the basic things that moms are supposed to do – keeping their clothes clean, feeding them, doing the dishes. But then I just sit around and think about all the things I’d like to do. I want to write a book. I want to lose fifty pounds. I want to re-learn guitar, write songs and maybe even perform them. I want to take a pottery class. I want to make things again. I want to buy furniture and make it look amazing and new. I want too much.

How do I deal with this? I have no idea. I have this feeling that I don’t have time for it all. That I’m going to have to pick something and give the rest up. Then another voice enters and says, “You think you have time for something other than being a mom? You’ve got to be kidding me. This is your life now. Let go of all that stuff; you don’t have time.”

Who am I supposed to believe?

Do I have talents I’m wasting or is it silly to think that they are still there? Is there some other thing I should be doing? Or is motherhood really my only task and calling?

This may seem such a trivial question for so many people but know this: it breaks my heart not knowing. There is so much uncertainty in these thoughts and my actions reflect it. I am stuck, my legs knee deep in mud, fighting to keep myself upright and wondering if the branch reaching out for me to grab is this thing I’ve been neglecting. If grasping it and running with it would pull me out.

Mom Brain

Soft baby skin against mine,

A giggle and a smile.

Whisper-shouting in my mind:

“Remember! Remember! Remember!”

So many moments like this forgotten.

Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years,

Remembered only in hazy, unspecific pictures.

Remembered like a sunset I must have seen because the sun sets every day.

 

Is it enough to know it happened?

To know it must have happened,

Rather than remembering like a picture?

They grow so fast

One day they are baby soft and two-teethed

And the next they are tall and slender and mostly grown.

I will keep shouting, “Remember! Remember!”

And hope that it works now and then.

Stop shoulding on people!

I am probably the one-millionth blogger to write a post on this subject. This is not an original thought. The title line is often a plea to “stop shoulding on yourself,” by saying no to things you are constantly feeling you “should do” when they aren’t right for you. Or something like that. You understand.

Scrolling YouTube in search of an entertaining BuzzFeed food video (there are so many!), I noticed the thumbnail for a “clean your house in thirty minutes,” video and it reminded me of tips I’ve gotten from friends or online about keeping my house clean. My mind wandered and I thought about cooking and how apparently if I was a serious cook, I “should” totally have my own garden. I could hear friends or acquaintances saying it in memory – “Oh, you should totally have a garden! Your kids would learn so much responsibility!” And then everything else. I “should” do the _______ diet plan because it works so well and it’s not even that hard to follow. I “should” do something different with my savings because what I’m doing now isn’t good enough. I “should” get a certain curriculum for my kids because it’s just so amazing. On and on and on.

I will admit that sometimes these well-meaning friends and acquaintances “should” me because I have mentioned that we’ve hit a roadblock with learning and need to figure things out, I’m having a hard time losing my baby weight or I would love to garden but just don’t feel like I have the time. I know mentioning these things sounds like an opening for advice but sometimes it’s better not to go there. I try not to complain because I know it’s an open door for opinions but I also attempt to be honest about where I’m at and admit that my life isn’t perfect.

I’m getting better at owning my decisions. I’ve been married for thirteen years, and I’ve been a mother for twelve. I’ve decided that a garden is just not something I can invest in right now. I have seven kids and going to the gym (or doing a DVD workout) and being on a diet of any kind, let alone one that requires me to prepare my own separate meals, is just not something I can do without sacrificing my sanity. My house is NOT going to be perfectly clean – ever. A little bit of clutter is at least a semi-permanent fixture in my home.

I have a suggestion (not a “should”). If you feel tempted to tell a friend that they “should” do anything other than have a wonderful day, try using a question instead.

“Have you considered having a small garden and letting the kids do all the work?”

“Have you thought about the _____ plan to lose some weight? It worked really well for me.”

“Have you heard of the _____ method of decluttering? Maybe that would help.”

Etc.

It is a much gentler method and even if the answer is, “No,” down the road if she’s struggling with the issue again, she’ll remember a gentle response from you instead of a “should” that might make her question her decision or her abilities.

I believe that we can all help each other out by sharing ideas and experience, but we don’t always know what the other person is going through and how our “shoulds” might come across.

 

Combating “never enough” and getting unstuck

On Saturday night, I explained to Mike that I feel stuck in everything right now. I know I need to make changes in so many areas, but I lack motivation to get started. I know how to make changes but I can’t seem to take the first step. I’m stuck.

So when our pastor preached yesterday on declaring our connection to God by speaking out Acts 17:28, “In Him we live and move and have our being,” it struck a chord. He said that by declaring this connection, we can combat “fix it myself,” mode. And really, that’s what I’ve been in and why I’ve become so thoroughly stuck. You can only struggle to fix it yourself for so long before you burn out. And when you’re trying to fix every aspect of your life because all of it feels so screwed up, you will have a hard time succeeding on your own.

When we declare the connection we have to the Father, we begin to slow down – we stop rushing to and fro trying to get it all done and figure it all out. We have a choice in front of us again instead of being driven to fix everything. We turn ourselves back to face Him when we make this declaration.

Our pastor also talked about interrupting our “natural thinking” – something I would take a step further and often call, “thoughts planted by the enemy” – with God’s Word. When I gained freedom six years ago, it was because I learned how important it was to take my thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and started to practice that. It’s something I have not been great at for awhile now, though.

Yesterday afternoon after a few “aha!” moments in church, I watched the movie “Embrace” – a documentary about body image. There is a lot I could say about it but the message I took away was that we waste so much time thinking and worrying about how our bodies look. This has been more important to me than how my body feels, which really doesn’t make sense. I want my body to feel good and that probably means making some changes to my diet and how often I exercise. But the main goal should always be health, not looking “good” by the standards of western society.

This morning, I got my first email from No Sidebar, a minimalism ecourse. And instead of giving me a challenge on the first day to go through a closet or pare down my collection of kitchen appliances, it pointed me to three posts about being enough and challenged me to simply say “I am enough,” to myself ten times throughout the day. I have written and deleted more than one blog post on the subject of not feeling like I’m ever enough. Not enough in the areas of parenting, marriage, housekeeping, physical health, etc. And the point here is not that I should stop changing because I am enough, but that who I am is enough. I can change my habits and improve but it’s not about changing the core of who I am, but what I do. And I know deep down that I cannot do it all at once, no matter how much I wish I could.

I always imagine that making new rules to follow will change everything. Buying a new journal to write in every day, tracking everything I do (or eat), using my planner religiously. But in reality, nothing ever really changes because my motivation is all wrong.

I cannot deny the power of all of these things coming up in the last two days, particularly since I had that initial conversation with Mike on Saturday. It all works together and motivates me to think about change in a different way. To realize that it won’t happen all at once, that it’s going to take hard work but most of all, peace as I walk through it, not drivenness. And knowing that I’m not making change to be enough, but that I am already enough, so I have what it takes to make these changes successfully.