An exercise in “Grey Thinking”

So I’m in the process of considering whether to finish my masters in social work in the coming school year (the 2012-2013 year). Its the last possible year I can finish, according to the Head Hoo-Hahs of the MSW world. Being that it is the last possible year I could finish my degree (well, aside from going back and doing the whole program all over again in 15 or 20 years–after the whole raising our kids is said and done…wow…will it really be that long until I don’t have a little person under my roof?! What did I get myself into with this whole parenthood thing?!), the decision feels big. And it kind of is a big deal– whether I go or not decides whether I can add an MSW to my name, if I so choose– it determines whether or not I have “easy” (as in clear-cut) options for a career, if I needed to go back to work in the next however many years.

So, as background, I never really imagined myself as a working mom. Granted, I didn’t imagine myself working and raising a family– but I didn’t actually think out what that would mean, financially. “What?” you say, “How could you not take that into consideration?” Well, that’s how my brain works…I often come to a conclusion that I think is right (really trying not to use right/wrong language these days because of how black and white my thinking can get) good– and then think through what it actually means. I don’t do this all the time– that would just be silly!- but I do think this way sometimes– it feels right- shoot! there I go again– so I go with it and think through all that is behind it later…So, back to the stay-at-home mom thing. I’m not exactly sure how or why when I imagined myself with kids, I also imagined myself at home with them. Probably mainly because my own mom was home with me– but, nonetheless, its the image of motherhood (for me) that I’ve had. And, I’ve been unbelievably blessed because its actually been a financially viable option for us. I recognize- as best I can–that this is a HUGE luxury/blessing/gift…and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to The Man of the House that I can even consider staying at home. Its a mix of his God-given talent, dedication to his development of those talents, dedication to us and the Lord’s leading that we are in a position where, albeit on a budget, I can stay home with LO since she was born.

All that’s to say, as much or as little as I really considered or knew what being a stay-at-home mom meant, I always knew I wanted to be one. And yet, although I certainly made particular choices and had a good 9-10 months to consider that reality prior to LO’s birth, all of a sudden, I feel like I’m being forced to decide– how committed to staying at home with LO am I? Am I so committed that I’m going to give up a master’s degree? Is that commitment or is it just a lack of desire to go back to the grind of school and clinical work? (For those of you that don’t know, MSW programs require you to do 15-20 hours/week of an internship– i.e. I worked at a psychiatric hospital my first year of grad school, running therapy groups, doing counseling and casework.)

The whole question of going back to school/work forces me to consider what and why I want to be at home with my child…and honestly, its an emotionally-draining exercise…and exercise that I’m (shirkingly) aware may not result in a *right answer* (horror of horrors for a left-brained individual like myself!)

Even more than trying to decide whether I choose to identify myself as a stay-at-home mom…this is an exercise in “Grey Thinking”. What is “Gray Thinking” you ask? Well, I think I may have just made the term up (actually, I’m pretty sure I didn’t – I’m not that inventive!), but in general, its thinking and living in the both/and world- not the either/or world. In whatever way I’ve been thinking of staying at home, it somehow (and this is by no means an indictment to moms that work– this is just where my brain is about ME- somehow that doesn’t translate to judging others about this— I tend to be much more judgmental about myself) mixed up with the idea that if I’m at home with LO then I’m a better mom to LO. And the reality is its not an either or. It is not I’m either a good mom or a bad mom and that’s simply based on a formula of being at home. I could be a damn good mother at home– I could also be a damn good mother working outside the house. I could-and this is really going to shock you (well, it does me at least!) be a good and a bad mom all in the same 5 minutes! Or even more shocking, I could be neither a good nor a bad mom but just a mom who is both gifted in some areas and weak in others. WHOA! Have I blown your mind yet?!

Most things in life, I’ve discovered I’m discovering are not black and white. Many things are both/ands not either/or– meaning choosing to go back to school for a year does not mean that I will never go back to being at home with my kids…nor does it mean that I’m not a dedicated mother. I can be in school and working AND be a good mom. Its a both/and. Yes, its different than what my current roles are today, but that doesn’t mean its better or worse or right or wrong. To go back to grad school or not does not make or break me as a mother or LO’s sense of being.

To be honest, its the fact that there isn’t this clear cut answer that makes this decision so hard. It would be great if there were a right and a wrong answer…then I wouldn’t have to wade into the unknown…make intentional choices…have things I miss out on…

So this decision is pushing me…its forcing me to grow. Forcing me to realize that a drop of ink on a white canvas doesn’t necessarily taint the canvas but rather enhance it. Add life to it. Add some color. Even if the color’s grey.




Birthdays & Baggage

This morning I have been up early praying and thinking and journaling. I just celebrated a birthday and I find it so fascinating that the older I get, the more I realize how much baggage I carry. With each year, as I attempt to become more present to myself (my emotions, my thought processes, my past), I discover more and more ways that I long to be stripped of some of this stuff that I unknowingly have packed in my many bags along the way. I have bags upon bags of experiences, wounds, misbeliefs, hangups that I so often don’t even realize I’m bringing into the room with me…or even more poignantly, into a relationship with me.

And yet, and yet. I’m grateful for age because as I grow older, I’m becoming so much more aware of the baggage I’ve collected. I can now even call out some of it by name. In fact, I’ve discarded quite a lot  of it already! Some of the bags have been habits that once worked for me, but I’ve since grown out of…others have been stuff I never intended to carry– in fact, sometimes it has been someone else’s stuff that I was given and just carried along with me, without even questioning why I was carrying someone else’s things.

But I’m grateful. Grateful that with age has come an increasing boldness to shed all this extra stuff. Its amazing what actually *looking* at your emotional baggage (I kind of hate that phrase, actually, but it serves a good visual and symbolic purpose at this point) will do for you…and how freeing it is to realize that you don’t actually have to hold onto it.

But I think we get so daunted by the painfulness of really looking into our experiences…and we don’t know how to hold the pain with the good–especially when it comes to our families…its hard to acknowledge both the pain and love that can co-exist. So, our baggage collects and gets bigger and bigger. And the longer we go not looking at it, the more scary it becomes.

So again, I’m grateful. Grateful that with age–and God’s grace, I’m not afraid to look at my crap. Well, that’s not true. Sometimes I really am afraid– the same old track plays in my head…”if you look at this [choose your own adventure: the brokenness in this relationship, the pain, the unhealthy habit I’ve formed and feel unable to reverse etc. etc.]  you won’t be able to handle all that comes with really looking at it. and you’ll be worse off than you were before.” But what’s so incredible is how shallow a lie that thought is…because once you begin to make sense of something broken, it actually can begin to heal…and the momentum of that healing makes it possible to look at something else, and something else…once you really confront that lie of not being able to handle it, you realize how much more capable you are to handle anything, really.


AndI feel so so grateful because truly, with each year, I feel more and more capable…to boldly to look at my stuff, make a little (prayerful) sense of it, and oftentimes, leave it behind.

I undo the buckles, I unzip the seam, I take out the things that don’t fit anymore or were never mine to carry…and I move on, knowing that I am stronger for having examined and assessed it….and more alive for having done so. To move forward without excess and to live more and more as the person I was created to be. Free.

back to it.

and….i’m back. a very short post to say i’ve been gone far too long. summer and early fall always throw me for a loop with their non-scheduley schedulessness. i’m a wannabe free-spirit, but i’m also a girl who a little too type-a to feel functional with no schedule at all. that said, as the peanut, the hubs and i settle into our weekly routine, its taking some adjustment! i keep trying to *schedule* in blogging time, in addition to training for a triathlon (good god is squeezing in working out with a kid hard!), trying to keep our apartment clean (thank god we only leave in 1000 square feet! if it were more, i’m not sure if our counters would ever be clean! not that they’re very clean these days as it is…),  have some semblance of a social life…and oh yeah, be a thoughtful, intentional mom to the tiny sponge that follows me around and calls me mama…anyways, doing all these things well all the time clearly does not happen– and figuring out a schedule to fit them all in has come to no avail…one of these days, i’m going to find a system that works(or that’s the dream/myth i keep chasing …) for now, i’m trying to do some trial and error and realize, i can always try something one way and if it doesn’t work, simply readjust. no biggie.

no biggie. trying to believe that. and trying to scorn the shame of not getting it *right*.

if i keep telling myself the truth, eventually it’ll set in, right?

Running from the present…into the present

In high school, I was the girl who absolutely dreaded- I mean DREADED- being told I had to run for sports. I’ve been active and athletic my whole life. I never had a problem with running, as long as I didn’t know I was doing it. As long as there was a purpose (read: ball) which required a chase, I was game. But, running for running’s sake? Count me out. Except for my ill-fated choice to, along with the most of the other girls on my high school lacrosse team, join the winter track team (what was I THINKING?), simply running was never something I would *choose* to do. But, fast forward a few years, and add in two destroyed twin towers (so close I could smell the stench of the burnt buildings and bodies) a few miles away from my new home, an emergency appendectomy, two childhood homes unexpectedly sold in a matter of weeks, a roommate who kept our dorm room at a “comfortable” 92 degrees because she came from the Carribbean, a broken nose and you find an anxious, actually TERRIFIED 18 year old in her first year of college, and wow, somehow, running became appealing…enticing, even. Like the stereotypical bad boy in a teen rom-com (think, Heath Ledger’s character in “10 Things I Hate about You”-be still my heart! Or even, James Franco in “Freaks and Geeks”- pre-his bizarre academic-soap opera acting-Oscar hosting episodes…), everything that I’d once found repulsive about running- its isolation, sterility, intensity, exhaustion!- now became part of its appeal. With running, things were measurable. Things were contained. Things were focused— things were achievable. What I expected, I could map out and achieve. Unlike my life at the time, when things felt so chaotic, so confusing, so lost, in running, I could escape.

Granted, I didn’t realize I was using running to escape. That’s the cruelty of pain. It hides. It buries. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it can mask itself as something good- life-giving even. I mean, being active, exercise, running– it is, truly, good for you. Yet, for me, at that time in my life, running became how my brokenness sought to be made whole. It was an illicit affair-convulted desires, intense need for meaning, even moments of passion hinting at-though certainly not capable of attaining- the satisfaction of a profound love.

And yet, eventually (THANK GOD), running, along with a few other choice methods of escape, betrayed me. Like any false love, it led me further astray. I found myself hurting even more. I found my escape had become my prison. In choosing to run from my life, from the confusion and pain and anxiety and hurt, I actually had been running towards death. So, I had a choice- a choice to face it all, as scary as it was-and trust me, my running from it only made it all the more scary (isn’t it awful how that happens?)- or to keep running, to continue to choose to believe that I could not handle it. Whatever “it” was. Because, you see, what I’ve learned is- our need to escape…our belief we *must* escape– its our fear-our anxiety- predicting our own failure. Fear that we will not be able to handle it– and shame over our failure. Because we believe that if we actually faced it, we wouldn’t be able to handle it. Its shame. Shame that we will fail. Shame that we aren’t strong enough. That we don’t have it in us.

Fast forward about a decade. Running is back in my life-though trust me, its been a rocky relationship at times. There have been points when I’ve had to walk away– times when my needs were too much for running to handle. Times when I’ve sought to abuse it- to use it to escape my present, rather than ground me in the present. But I am grateful. Grateful for what I’ve learned running can’t do for me– perhaps more grateful for that, than any of its other benefits. Grateful I no longer believe I *need* an escape. Grateful I know I am strong enough, through God’s grace, honestly, to face my present. Grateful that running, just like me, has been redeemed. That my runs no longer are a means to escape the present, but truly to remind me how to live in the present. One foot in front of the other, one move at a time. Looking towards the open horizon, concentrating on the ground beneath when I need to. One step…one slice, at a time.

Have you been *should* upon today?

Every night, around 7:40pm, I gently close LO’s door and turn to face the mess that is my kitchen. Oftentimes, TMOTH (The Man of the House) is on the ground, picking up LO’s wooden train set and placing its pieces back in their proper spots-or he is at the sink, attempting to noiselessly (a total impossibility) stack some of the dirty dishes to make them more manageable. Even with him there, attacking the mess, at times it feels like its never good enough. Not TMOTH, or his help, but rather, my seemingly endless hours of keeping our home organized and clean. I feel as if I spend much of my day, trying to sort through how to be present with LO while also not going crazy with the insanity that ensues as soon as our day begins with her happy morning squeals.
Whether I take a heavy sigh as I look out onto the chaos of kitchen or swiftly go to the sink and simply start scrubbing what needs to be cleaned, depends on many things, but mostly, where I find my worth. If I am looking for my worth to be found in my perfection…well…let’s just say, I will be heavily sighing (or worse!) the whole night. I will (and have found myself many times!) feeling heavy laden and weary with whoa-is-me feelings. And really, when I’m in my clearer moments, my self-pity stems from my shame that I can’t get it all right–and I feel like I should be able to. I *should* be able to keep my house clean at all times…despite a little person who latest favorite thing is to empty her toy bin and then attempt to place each toy in a cup and then shake it…I *should* be able to cook and serve and eat a delicious, nutrient-rich meal that myself, TMOTH and of course, LO, will like, not just for dinner, but also for breakfast and lunch. And for it to truly be all those things, it *should* be almost entirely from scratch and made up of real foods—and be the perfect blend of protein, carbs and fats. I *should* find time also to wash, sanitize, declutter and organize whatever needs washing, sanitizing, decluttering, organizing in an orderly, timely fashion (i.e. at least once a week) for every room, while also being present and attentive to my daughter’s socioemotional, physiological and psychological needs- as well as my own and my husbands. Overwhelmed yet? Ummmm I am.
While these *shoulds* currently revolve around taking care of a home and a family, before homes and marriage and kids, these *shoulds* existed in full force- they just revolved around other things. I *should* look beautiful everyday, including the first few minutes after I wake when my face can look red and puffy. I *should* look beautiful- at least beautiful enough for others to notice my beauty, but, I *should* also be secure enough with myself that I don’t care whether I am beautiful or not. I *should* succeed at whatever I try my hand at…be it my education, work, new social settings and interactions…and it *should* be effortless, stemming from my natural abilities- and of course, I *should* succeed the first time. And if I don’t, then, at the very least, I *should* be able to feel grateful for the challenge of it all.
Almost ten years ago, a counselor asked me to write down all my shoulds-at least the ones that felt important to me at the time- in an effort to help me realize the standards that I had for myself. Wow. Was it revealing. Seeing my list-page upon page of shoulds- was actually a powerful tool in helping me realize the mantle of shame I lived under. Thin slices (like how I tie in “thinly slice” in all sorts of places?) of unacknowledged shame, each layered upon each other, like the delicate layers of phyllo dough in a pastry, that stacked upon each other are every standard I fail to meet. Writing this makes the exercise sound depressing, but the reality is, I did not experience it that way. Rather, it felt freeing- freeing to see the endless list of shoulds and realize no single person (well, maybe One single person…) could meet every standard I had in my head for what I needed to do or be all the time.
Every so often, when I’d meet with this friend, she would ask me if I’d be “should upon” today, meaning was I living life with my measuring stick out all the time, assessing how I was coming along with my many, many expectations of myself- and for that matter, others. It was hard to get out of that mentality…hard to want to lose that mentality- scary, even. Because without my shoulds, how would I know where I measured up? How did I know how I was doing? What does it mean if life isn’t about should or our to-do lists?
I kept that list in the front part of my journal for a long time. It was a reminder of the perfection I expected of myself and the impossibility of it all. It was a reminder of the grace I’d been given in being freed from my lists- that I could never be perfect, but that that is ok, because life is not actually about that. Life is about living in the moment and truly, it is impossible to BE in the moment if you are concentrating on your lists of shoulds. Seriously. It is impossible. Try it. When I truly am IN the moment, I am not even able to think about the expectations I have for myself or for others because I am simply living. I’m concentrating on LO’s seemingly insatiable desire to pick up a small object and place it in a cup and shake it around like she is an African tribal musician. I’m measuring out the spices that go in my favorite pumpkin bread recipe. I’m listening to The Man of the House tell me about his day and the bizarre story he read in The Express. I’m living in the present and not in the future of all that I *have* to do or dwelling on the past of all that I’ve *failed* to do.
The reality is, the mess I walk into many nights represents a life being lived. It represents the mess that is my life- its imperfections, its failed expectations, its joys and little moments of life. Its a mess that represents the fullness of our lives. Our life as a family is brimming over with good things- even to the practical realities of good food whose traces remain on our plates and on our counters…and, thanks to LO’s fondness of flinging her meals, on our floors.
Now, all this is not to say that I don’t still “should upon” myself frequently…I do. Quite a lot for that matter. And some seasons of my life are better than others in this regard. But, more and more, day by day, I am praying that I can be more gracious with myself and learn to live under a robe of Grace, and not a mantle of shame. Because life goes by too quickly…and I’m never going to get it quite right and if I spend my whole life trying, as Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
p.s. on a side note, I’d written a draft of this post a week ago and just this weekend, on a retreat, the speaker mentioned this whole “should upon” concept in her talk…coincidence? I think not…