Archive for February, 2009

Recharging Mama

Caryn: Okay. So I’m going to flake the blog up here a bit—after all these wonderful, deep and moving comments on grief and jealousy and contentment. But I need to vent, to lay something out, and frankly, it’s easier to just start typing than to pick up the phone to call someone (don’t even know who I’d call, really….)

But anyway, last night I took all three of my kids with to the grocery store. God only know what I was thinking—because I know better than to do this to myself and I try to avoid it at all costs. But my husband was harried and trying to work at home and the kids kept interrupting him, and I was trying to be loving. So instead of dashing out by myself at 6:30 pm so I could pick up a coffee cake to bring with to MOPS this morning, I got boots and coats and hats on the kids and took them all with. After all, I just needed some raspberry lattice coffee cake. How bad could it be?

To make a long-at-the-store-story short, my 2-year-old refuses to ride in the cart seat, my 4 and 2-year-old keep bending over to show their butts to customers (everyone else thought this was hilarious—as would have I were they not my kids), and my nearly 7-year-old is angry because I wouldn’t look at the markers longer. And because I ended up getting milk, frozen fruit, peanut butter, eggs, and English muffins when I said we were “ONLY GETTING COFFEE CAKE.”

Point being: This was one of those times when I turned into THAT MOM. And I hate when I turn into her. You know the one? Crazy-eyed, crazy-haired, worn-out, ragged, snapping at her kids while they run amuk. I hate the way it feels—and I hate what I think it does to my kids.

Both feelings stem from the same source, I think: That it’s the sort of out-of-body mom experiences. Where we go through a situation as someone who feels–and even looks—nothing like us. I come home from these situations (which, frankly, involve Wal-Mart more than the local grocery store, though they can arise anywhere really. For what it’s worth: I have YET to have a Target make me feel this way! So feel free to sponsor the Rev, Target!!!) beat down and burned out. My kids are annoyed (because their lovey mommy has morphed into a monster), and I’m annoyed (because ICK, who have I become?).

But then somewhere along the way, I usually remember to breathe and seek some sort—any sort—of recharge. Last night that meant grabbing my 3rd to last Diet Coke (see you on Easter Sunday!), ducking back into my office, and plunking away at the computer. Alone. Often just 10 minutes of quiet time to “process” can calm me down. Though 10 hours would be better. (I’m quite introverted.)

Other times (often times, actually), I recharge by grabbing a book and escaping that way—even as my kids play around me. Sometimes I need a walk or a drive or just to sing along with some loud music.

Okay. I’m rambling here—I just wonder what other people do when they’re SPENT, running on empty, how they get back to themselves after becoming THAT MOM (or THAT WOMAN or MAN, as the case may be). How does everybody else recharge?

Carla: I love that your kids were showing their butts to everyone. That’s the kind of stuff you need to store away to haul out again at their graduation party or groom’s dinner.

I have been spent of late, too. I have a ton of work that’s all due at once, for some reason we are having a three-week run of four-day school weeks which means I am losing three days of work just when I need it the most. And my husband spent the weekend laid up in bed with a bad back. So that meant I was single mom on a deadline, with a ton of laundry to do, people coming over on Sunday night, a child recovering from a sore throat/fever combo, and on a DEADLINE. As you can imagine, it wasn’t pretty. (Single moms, seriously you are strong, strong women.)

Anyway, my coping strategy is to move to the next thing. When I start to think about the long day ahead or how I’m going to get everything done or what we will eat for dinner, I get overwhelmed and then I get snappy. But one thing at a time I can do. It has taken me 12 years of parenting to figure this out, but it helps. A lot. If time opens up for a run to Target (why you go to the other place is beyond me) then we’ll go. But if I try to plan it, I know it’s going to ruin everyone’s day as I get all commanding and demanding trying to get us out the door. If we eat cereal for dinner, no one seems to care all that much.

Of course, I am also now planning to cash in on my “lost weekend.” I’m either kicking the fam to Grandma’s house for one of those long weekends so I can get in a couple of days of solid work, or sending myself to Grandma’s house for a little child-free W&W (work and wine).

Caryn: I may send my kids to your mom too (what IS with these 4-day weeks at school?!?!?)—or join you. Work and wine is a great combo. Especially for those of us who work in ministry. The Spirit really shows up, I think, with a nice red. (I KID. Though this would be a good test to see if any of my clients or my publisher read this thing!)

So Carla drinks and Caryn reads and writes to recharge. How about the rest of you?

Embracing Grief

Carla: Wow. I mean really, wow. The response to our post on jealousy is astonishing and challenging and inspiring and heartbreaking. Thank you all for your engagement and vulnerability. I know some of you have taken some hits and I am so glad you’re sticking around so we can all find our way through these issues together. Clearly, none of us knows quite what to do with the intense emotions that pool together to create jealousy and I’m grateful for the chance to work it out with all of you wise women and men.

Reading all of the comments and thinking more on my own, I’ve started to wonder if jealousy isn’t part of the grieving process. I realize that I wasn’t really jealous of other people when I was in my 20s and I think it’s because I just assumed my life would play out a certain way, that there would be a time when I would have or be or do all of the things I saw in other people that I wanted or admired. The future was wide open and I had no reason to expect that my life would be anything other what what I wanted it to be.

While I didn’t deal with jealousy, I did struggle with commitment. I had a terrible time finding a career path. I was hesitant to get married. I was iffy about kids. All of those things felt like a kind of death to me (bear with me here!) because chosing one thing–a graduate program, a husband, a pregnancy–meant not choosing so many other paths. Once I made those choices, that’s when the jealousy started to roll in.

For me, jealousy comes from seeing something I don’t have and knowing that I’m probably not going to have it–at least not for a very long time. What I feel isn’t really even envy. It’s sadness and loss and longing. I don’t begrudge other people having what I want, I am sad that I don’t have it myself. In other words, it’s grief.

So what if we started to think about jealousy in terms of grief? How would that change the way we experience jealousy? How would it change the way we talk to each other about it? When someone is grieving the loss of a parent or a child or a friend, we don’t tell them to get over it. We don’t tell them that they need to stop focusing on the loss of the person they loved. We give them space to talk about their loss, time to feel it and move through it. We wait patiently for them to come out on the other side, knowing they are different because of what they’ve lost.

I truly believe that the loss of a dream, the loss of our hopes for what we thought our lives would look like is a very real loss, a very real death. There are losses that come from being married and realizing your relationship is never going to be what you hoped it would be. Or the loss that comes with becoming a mother and finding out that you don’t love it or that it’s hard or that you aren’t the mom you wanted to be or that your kids aren’t who you thought they would be. There is the loss that comes when we try to develop close friendships and they just don’t seem to come–believe me I’ve been there. Sometimes we can’t even name what’s been lost, we just know the life we have is not the one we planned on. We don’t feel these losses all at once, but a little bit at a time, sometimes over years and years.

So I wonder if the way through our jealousy is to figure out what we’ve lost, to name it and grieve it and find a way to let ourselves be changed because of it. And when I say figure out what we’ve lost, I mean really dig in. My therapist once told me that the two most basic human needs are to be known and to feel like we matter. I wonder if most of our jealousy comes from those needs.

Today, I am jealous of my friend who’s husband is whisking her off for a kid-less weekend at a resort in the woods. My husband, dear sweet fellow that he is, will never do that. But my longing for more romance in my marriage is not really about romance. It’s about wanting to feel like I matter. So I need to figure out how to get that need met in the marriage I have, not the marriage I wish I had.

While I’ve been writing this, Cindy posted this comment on our previous post:

“When we are jealous of someone, does longing for the thing that triggers that jealousy mask a deeper longing for something else, like connectedness, a place in the world, significance, being the most important person to someone else, a need to be needed, a longing to leave something behind that will outlast us. And instead of being able to accurately recognize what we’re longing for, we long for the symbol of that thing we see that someone else has. The longing is real and legitimate, but God may have a different way of fulfilling that longing for us than the thing we see on someone’s facebook status.”

I think it’s time for Cindy to be a guest blogger.

Caryn: If I were to tell you that I’ve just been writing about grieving—as a foundation to loving life—you probably wouldn’t believe me. (Thank goodness my writer’s group saw early drafts of this last month—-a good timeline in case Carla decides to sue, thinking I stole her idea!)

But the need to grieve has been on my mind a lot lately–because like you and Cindy and a lot of other insightful Revolutionaries commented, I know this jealousy thing that tends to consume me is a flag for something else: the yearning for life I thought I’d have, the life I wanted (and sometimes still want), or even the life I used to have.

So it occurred to me somewhere in the midst of my pain and loss and jealousy (and this is what I’m in the middle of writing about right now on the other project) that grieving what was or what I dreamt might be is more than just okay; it’s actually GOOD to do.

So I’ve done it. I’ve almost forced my “just suck it up and press on” Swedish self to enter into grief, to feel pain, to cry even, about these things in life (the dreams and all) I really thought I wanted but haven’t panned out. I’ve taken it to God, and literally prayed, “This isn’t how it was supposed to be/feel/whatever, and this SUCKS!” It’s kind of a low-country version of Psalm 88.

And I think God really likes these prayers—at least we’ve seen him honor these prayers of some Bible hero types. And I know he’s honored mine. While it may seem like a whiney exercise to engage the Almighty in, I think it’s just an honest lament of a broken, confused woman. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:3-4).

I’ve got to tell you, when I’ve allowed myself to acknowledge what the jealousy usually was about (as you point out so wisely: a real loss) and grieve, when I’ve allowed my spirit to be poor and allowed my heart to mourn, I’ve felt those blessings.

Sorry to totally sap out on you here, but honestly some of the biggest blessings of my life—some fulfillments of my longest-held dreams—were born directly out of some serious crap, major pain, and some deep disappointment. One of those blessings was the book I just wrote (nothing like an identity crisis combined with a desperate need for money to force you to sit down and get writing!). 

 Another one was  just about feeling God’s nearness and his comfort, being amazed by grace, truly falling head over heels for Jesus. Something I’d long wanted to do, but something that’s harder to do when everything’s peachy. (Which is WHY people say religion is a crutch for the weak, I realize. But they just don’t know….)

It took my deep, messy, angry-lunatic grief to get to know that God. I’m glad I did—though I DO wish I could’ve gotten to know him without my parents splitting up and WITH a nice lake house. Just sayin’. 

Carla is Jealous of your Facebook Status

Carla: So many wonderful comments! I feel like we could spent a week of posts talking about each comment and still not exhaust the layers and layers of these topics–grief, guilt, expectations, relationships…. You are truly wise women and we are so glad you’re here!!!

As I’ve been reading your comments, I’ve starting thinking about another issue Caryn and I have talked about a lot: jealousy. Not that I see that in your comments, but I think it’s a big part of this expectation and loss issue. For me, at least, the pain of loss or unmet expectation is compounded by my belief that someone else has what I want. I want a Pottery Barn house and a Norman Rockwell Christmas because I think other people have them and that those people are therefore happier, calmer, richer, closer, thinner, and everything else I am not that I wish I were.

It was one thing when those “other people” were abstract homeowners in the decorating porn magazines and catalogs. Now, they are real people who remind me of their fine and happy lives via their Facebook updates. It can be anything from “Caryn has the house to herself for a week!” to “Caryn’s husband just surprised her with the best Valentine’s Day gift!” to “Caryn is sick and staying in bed all day.” (One day we’ll do a whole post on the bitterness that comes with illness).

I know it’s so petty. I know. But we’re being vulnerable here and the truth is that there are times when the goodness of someone else’s life hits the little places of disappointment in my own. I don’t begrudge others their goodness–not in the least. But I think the instant access we have to other people’s lives can, in many ways, play into the looming losses with which we all struggle.

Caryn: As much as I enjoy that you are jealous of me and my FB status updates, I DO want to point out that the ones you listed were made up (by Carla—just now). My Valentine’s Day gift this year consisted of being able to go grocery shopping alone at 7 o’clock at night after a full day of cleaning and birthday-party prep while my husband spent a morning at a board meeting and the afternoon with our older son at Monster Jam. Go ahead and be jealous of that, though.

But, oh yeah, THIS is a huge problem area for me. I know I have a problem because I was once jealous of a 55-year-old male colleague’s FB update that said he was “sitting on his back deck, with a glass of wine, eating roast duck.” Last week, I was jealous of a friend who was eating “steel-cut oatmeal.”

Mind you: I hate duck and I don’t even know what steel-cut oatmeal is—or why or if it’s any different than the regular Quaker. But I was JEALOUS of the fact that [note to writing teachers: I KNOW there’s no need for “the fact that.” I just like it better] these people were—at the time—seeming to enjoy a quiet meal and some simple peace. Both of which are “losses” of mine, as Carla wrote about.

I am, of course, also jealous of anyone who writes about going to their cabin (Carla!) or reading quietly next to a fire in Door County (Melinda!) or heading to some sunny, warm place (half the friends I have!). Again, this taps into something I deeply long for.

But truth be told: I’m also jealous of the most random things. Some make sense (the cabin). Some none at all (the duck). But whether or not they make sense, it’s all wrong to do and a total waste of time. Especially because I know better—that just because one person has one element of her life that I’m envious of, it doesn’t mean that all is rosy, or pefect.

And of course, were I to have access to that thing of which I were jealous, it would mean I would need to swap out something of mine. Which I really don’t want to do (though I HAVE batted around the idea of giving up one of my kids for lent. Just to see…..).

So why do we do it? What helps us get over this? Why is it so hard to simply acknowledge this jealousy as signaling a loss and deal with that?  

The Expectation Problem

Caryn: Within the past couple years, I’ve adopted a new mantra of sorts: Keep expectations low. Carla can attest to this—since she now refers to her own birthday as “the day of low expectations,” thanks to jolly old me.

While this may seem like a huge downer of a mantra, I actually adopted it after watching a thing about how the Danes (and I’ve written about this before in a zillion places so forgive me if I’ve written about it here. Of course, I’m way too lazy to go back and look) are the happiest people on earth—thanks to their low expectations about life.

After hearing this, I realized how much time and energy I’ve wasted in my life (and how much disappointment I’ve endured) simply because of my own high expectations. My family life was no exception. I became a mother with all sorts of assumptions built in about the ways it was “supposed to be.”

I blame those “supposed-to-be’s” for nearly every meltdown I’ve had since then (or actually over my whole life). So I was nearly giddy when Revolutionary Cindy left this comment after our last post. She said: “Regarding the myth thing: I used to get depressed every Christmas because it didn’t fulfill my longings for the ‘experience of Christmas.’ I thought kids were the answer; they weren’t. I still was depressed and unfulfilled after Christmas. Finally, one year I stopped and tried to figure out what it was that I was longing for–what I was picturing the perfect Christmas would be. I pictured my whole family (parent, siblings, kids–a happy, laughing crowd) all gathered at the family farm. Playing games before the blazing hearth. Sledding and building snowmen. Hot chocolate and cookies. Wonderful meals shared around a big table. Sparkling tree. You get the idea. Then I busted up laughing. There hasn’t been a farm in my family for generations, and I really, really, really wouldn’t want to spend that long with MY family. My big sisters bossing, my kids tearing the place up… I’d formed the idea from all those sappy holiday specials and Christmas cards. I was depressed because I longed for something that didn’t exist.

“I’ve done that with parenting, too; and with my relationship with church. What I’ve been trying to do since then is, when I feel discouraged or alienated, figure out what it is I’m longing for and decide if it even exists anywhere. In the meantime, I try to come alongside my friends and acquaintances as we all try to figure this out. ”

I couldn’t have said it better myself (which is why I didn’t). But seriously, the Christmas farm thing? Totally me. Seriously. I want that SO bad! And I too carry unreal and probably unattainable images over into my family life (which is why I consider Pottery Barn Kids catalog to be porn and chuck them in the recycling pile before even bringing them into the house). Why do we do this to ourselves?

I read somewhere that this is simply our longing for heaven, for the pre-fallen world, for the way it WAS supposed to be (and WILL be). But is it that easy? Can we just accept that then and move on?

Carla: Having just celebrated my day of low expectations, I am so with you here. But I don’t think it’s a longing for heaven. I think it’s an inability to be content with the lives we have. I mean, I don’t really expect my birthday to stop the action in heaven so all eyes are focused on me, which is exactly what I expect on my birthday here on earth.

Our longings for love, for meaningful relationships, for lives that feel purposeful are, I believe, the essence of what it means to be human. But I don’t believe that wanting those things is a sign of weakness or falleness. I believe it is a sign of the life God calls us to here, now. Yes, our relationships will be imperfect, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate them and seek them out. And yes, we will be disappointed by love and by people and by the way our lives look sometimes, but it’s only because we know it can be better. If our only hope for meaning and connection was to wait for heaven, I think I’d go nuts.

I think the trick is to consider the origins of our expectations–do they come from these real longings for purpose and relationships or from some false image of what that should look like? To me, being loved, being connected to other people, having a sense of purpose in our lives are not unreasonable expectations. But “love” that looks like romantic weekends at the sea and fresh flowers every Monday might be a little unreasonable.

I felt so blessed by the many birthday greetings that showed up on my Facebook page–I matter to those people and that matters to me. But I get in trouble when I start to focus instead on who didn’t call or who didn’t send me a card–that’s me defining connection in an unreasonable way.

And purpose? Well I’m still trying to figure that one out. I used to think I had to change the world. Now I’m trying to be content with making the little places in which I operate a little kinder, a little more compassionate, a little funnier.

Caryn: I didn’t mean to suggest that we should not expect any sort of joy or happiness or dreams come true in this life. That sounds a bit suicidal (though, sadly, I think throughout history and certainly around the globe today there are cultures where heaven is seen as the only place those things might exist).

I meant more our sense of incompleteness, of “this isn’t all it could be.” But I’m SURE that’s why we’re called (am I opening up a can of worms by using this word?) to be content—because nothing will be perfect. So we gotta deal.

That said, I think those moments of connection, of bliss, and wonderful surprise are pictures of heaven (which, by the way, Carla: I’m SURE everything will stop on your b-day in the Sweet Bye and Bye to celebrate you).

But anyway: I really want to hear about some of the Revolutionaries’ disappoinments, about the things in their lives that were “supposed to be” and that haven’t turned out that way. How did you deal?