If you decided to come over and visit me today, I woud sheepishly invite you inside–my cheeks burning with pink blooms of shame and embarrassment. You likely would notice the 5 gallon and 1 gallon buckets of paint in the middle of the living room (I keep them there so remodeling can be an ever present excuse among the mess), the piles of blankets on my couch, the towering pile of falling books strewn upon the coffee table and floor, the dishes in the sink, and the endless piles of chaos here and there. If you looked closely you would notice every surface could use a scrubbing and the dust bunnies…well I might just welcome you to this our rabbit farm. And then I would make some excuse about the busyness of life and tell you it normally isn’t a wreck ( fingers crossed behind my back).
**(As we work towards minimalism I have secret fantasies of a completely empty house where nothing can be set out of place–then the mess couldn’t creep in.)
We aren’t a family of slobs. We can do a mighty fine cleanup in 10 minutes ( I know I set the timer…convinces my children cleaning is a game). We just get a little messy because life is well messy.
My husband and even myself suffered from ” neat freak-itis” before kids. It was horrible– deep cleaning involving qtips and rubber gloves. Somehow children cured that ailment very quickly.
So my curiosity is now pondering… why do I still glow red when my house has been “caught” in such a state? I’m no longer the freakishly clean girl who alphabetized cleaning supplies?!
Who made it law or expectation that a busy family should have empty sinks (even though we eat three meals a day and haven’t a scullery maid?), laundry should be always done-folded-put away (except our bodies are typically wearing and dirtying those said clothes all day long), that carpets are fresh (treaded on daily), floors mopped (again daily wear and spills), and all is sparkling and pristine? Who says this is the way it should be?
A small part of me would like to have a stern discussion with the media moguls who depict American homes as these spotless mansions–ridiculous. You know who you are–I hope your cheeks bloom as well–for shame!
But honestly, I blame me. I buy into this ” cultural norm” where we believe to be a proper and respectable family we must live in perfection. Cleanliness is next to godliness is not Biblical…just so you know…it really is a mean thing we do to each other–putting up these lofty expectation and judging each other against who? …These unreal perfect people who don’t exist!! Let’s stop. We can choose to make the lived-in look the expectation for our homes and lives.
Drop by my house…I’ll move a can of paint and try to find my sofa then pour you a coffee, and my cheeks won’t burn (that much).
Blessings today and tomorrow on your mess and mine!
Life lately has been quick sand, fast and a bit constricting. Struggling out seems to sink the toes further into the current mistakes or rather into the painful constriction of growth and awakening. Really it is best if I find calm on the inside and wait patiently for a thrown rope–then maybe the pulling can begin?
Choosing to be a full-time mom has made large holes in my resume and hampered hope for career prospects–setback. Choosing to move to away to different state for a myriad of reasons means an empty money-sucking house in a slow real estate market–set back. Choosing to eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (when I really, really know a green shake would do me better)–stupid choice. Not knowing what to do next–I’m going to just take a sit back on that one. I could keep fighting it all–grab a Zig Ziglar book and change my attitude to soar to new altitudes. But really what I need now is to sit back very quietly in my quicksand and listen. The roar of the world is so loud it drowns out so much (sometimes I think it drowns out the essence of life in someways), but if I am very still I can hear my heart beat, feel the air around me, and understand soulfully what I need to do to have a rope come my way. I may not like the clarity I find. That might be why I let the roar deafen me from hearing truth–truth is harder than all the illusions we perceive in that loud outside world. Truth, however, is the lifeline that drags us upward towards a place where we can step forward and do what we need to do. So I’m going to sit back and be still. Sit back and wait in the quiet for resounding truth.
Years ago in a graduate school course, I was required to read Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam. The premise of this book being that those cultural norms in postwar America such as bowling leagues and church (community and civic organizations) have been left behind in modern America. As a result this absence in community involvement is having an impact on our health as well as our nation’s stability (as I write these words many in Baltimore feel saddened and are seized by this instability–praying for you Baltimore). This book was published in 2001 before the advancements of social media. The words and warnings of Putnam’s work has become more prevalent as we’ve become greatly enamored by our cyber communities.
On Sunday, I sat at my daughter’s softball practice. Besides the coaches and one other parent, I was the only other adult present. The other parent and I sat far apart. I chose to be near a tree to block the wind and he closer to home plate. We didn’t nod, didn’t say hello, didn’t really exist in any sort of sameness–two pods separate, and yet still there together. He had a phone conversation and I wrote parts of this post. Community??
I have wondered a lot about so much aloneness and what it means for ourselves and our kids–for our hearts emotionally and physically. We’ve all read the headlines–”Loneliness Kills” or “Get a Dog, or Better Yet a Friend!” But do we?
My children and I love to read (we are a family of shy introverts as the above mentioned softball practice could have indicated to you). Reading is a natural recharge for when we are overtired from to much extroversion. Lately, I have read (again) out loud The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We read of a bygone era where community did not socialize behind computer monitors or flashy touch screen phones. We are falling in love with Almanzo as Laura did during this week of reading and sometimes sighing wishing we too could be at home or in town with the Ingalls family. In These Happy Golden Years there are so many moments of coming together in community–singing, sleigh rides, celebrations, community entertainment, worship, learning, and even the day-to-day archaic act of calling on your neighbor.
The unhappiest moments for Laura are when she is separated from her family or her community. In the monotony of the day to day, she looks forward to the renewing of her spirit through communal activities, which made life joyous and worth getting up for.
Today, we’ve lost something. I don’t know about you, but for me Facebook isn’t causing any spiritual renewal, and Pinterest almost daily makes me question my drapery choices, the negative attributes of my dog’s breed, and why my cooking doesn’t look like the picture. Yet, I still click when I hear their Siren call. But, why do I do it? It is a high–I’m seeking my dose of Facebook endorphins. If someone likes or comments on a post–”ZING” it feels good…if they share my stats…Ooh just hook me up and let it drip…I’m addicted! However, the high is not lasting and if you want to see what a slippery slope it is click here.
So as I contemplated all that social media is and isn’t for me I recognize this:
- While social media is a community of sorts a majority of posts are centrally about the poster (an egocentric action)
- I am often posting about myself (egocentric)
- In the past communities described by Putnam and Ingalls Wilder the activities in the community were often altruistic or mutualistic
- When I am online I rarely experience altruistic or mutualistic relationships
(Note–the Amish have very little instances of depression in their society and what kind of community do they immerse themselves into??? I’m not saying their culture is perfect–I’m just connecting some dots for myself…)
In some ways I do love social media. It gives me a chance to see my sister, cousins, and friends who live states and countries away from me, but in the next breath I spurn how we as a society have become combative in public shirking interaction (I’m guilty as I previously mentioned) because it is easier to text or FB in a cyber community rather than really let ourselves know and be known–there is smoke and mirrors sort of safety behind these screens. Maybe the illusion isn’t what we need–maybe we need the gritty, the hard, the heartbreaking, and mostly the joy that comes with being humans together–face to face, hand in hand, and definitely heart to heart happily and golden throughout our years.
Just some pondering for today.
“And every day the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘this is important! & this is important! & this is important! you need to worry about this! & this! & this!’ And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart, & say, ‘NO. this is what’s important.’”
— Leonie Dawson.
This week, the days may seem hard–the weather may be improving, but work may be difficult, and your private relationships may be strained. Life in its complicatedness can be tough, but life in its lovely simplicity can wrap it arms around you. Sometimes those arms are not as comforting as you would like, and a person has got to stake their own claim on finding relief and a little morsels of happiness.
Gretchen Rubin with her infamous Happiness Project has brought much attention to self-propagated happiness. Rubin a former resident of Kansas City (like myself) realized that we very much choose to see the glass half empty or half full—but Rubin argues that if it does appear to be half empty we can move ourselves to a more full existence. While I appreciate Rubin’s work some of her ideas didn’t seem to fit my life, and though she totes the idea that every plan should be individualized–to me a happiness project is too overwhelming. So I continue to use my happiness file–it’s quicker, easier, and I can access it easily.
THE HAPPINESS FILES
The happiness file can be real or imagined—mine is both. It simply is a procurement of stuff–articles, events, or ideals that make me feel a little better when the world is less than friendly or less than forgiving. I have a happiness file on my computer, in a shoe box, and in my cranium.
The computer file is simply happy quotes, pictures, videos, or articles that let me realize (again) that there are many people in the world who are trying to do good, make a difference, and struggle just like me. A lot of these good feeling bytes come from The Foundation for a Better Life or Proverbs 31. In fact, both groups drop good thoughts in my email box daily, and you can signup to for this bits of inspiration on their sites. Really exceptional quotes, articles, and pictures go in a saved file on my computer. When I’m feeling a bit blue I take a moment to read through those things that have inspired me in the past.
Gummy Lump File
Under my bed is my version of a “gummy lump,” which was first introduced to the world Robert Fulghum of “All I Need to Know in Kindergarten” fame. He kept a box artfully made by his child in a closet. It was filled it with all sorts of special things that made him feel good about his children. I have a “gummy lump” under my bed with pictures, handmade cards, drawing, notes, love letters, bits of this and that–all of these remind me that I am loved and I love others. Mine includes things from my children but also items from friends, family, and my husband. A cup of tea and a moment with my “gummy lump” can make a “Jonah day” so much better. Get yourself a “gummy lump” and let feeling good begin.
Finally, I have a file in my head (and so do you). When your child smiles and it touches your heart–ingrain that image in your head. HOLD ONTO IT. The sunset that takes your breath away–HOLD ONTO IT. The delicious strawberry you eat out of the garden on a warm June day–REMEMBER IT. Then on dreary, hard, unfulfilling days go back and hold onto those moments again. I won’t quote existential philosophers, poets, or spiritual leader but instead tell you this works because it worked for Leo Lionni’s beloved character, Frederick the mouse and it works for me. Frederick captured the warmth of the sun, the colors of the season, and stories. He used them to uplift his fellow mouse and himself when the world felt bleak. Holding onto those happy moments can bring you back when you most need it.
“‘And how about the colors, Frederick?’ … And when he told them of the blue periwinkles, the red poppies in the yellow wheat, and the green in the leaves of the berry bush, they saw the colors as clearly as if it has been painted in their minds.” — Frederick by Leo Lionni
So find that quote that inspires you (save it), the letter your mother wrote you last week (keep it), the smell of your newborn baby (remember it)–we all need gummy lumpies(in whatever form they come)…just about everyday…
* I will be away from technology next week–so enjoy these first moments of spring (fingers-crossed) and we’ll catch up soon.
Sometimes I’m too tired. To be a good mom. To be a good wife. To be a good daughter, sister, niece, friend… Still, I lay awake in this overwhelming tiredness and I can’t sleep. There are lists of thoughts ( things to do, worries, hopes, and the guilt) that spin so quickly they push forward and corrupt a dream-filled night. It is the guilt though that pushes through the most. The constant belief that I’m not good enough to be the above honorable titles. Most painstakingly, I worry that I am not enough to be mom or wife. I’m not giving enough of myself (even though some days I feel like I’ve given every sliver I have leaving none for myself) to nurture and love my beloveds.
The voices from media and the mommy wars would indicate that I am mostly not enough for my kids no matter what choices I make. If I work , I’m a wicked Cowbird. If I stay home to raise them I’ll become jaded in my mommy martyrhood. But here is the thing–I’ve done both and both situations are exhausting. I think we as women (and parents) have done ourselves a disservice. We are trying to do it all and we can’t–and so we become exhausted with worry over being enough to all.
Picture it–a warm summer decades ago on an afternoon in a middle income neighborhood. The Jones didn’t live here, just Joe and his everyday friends. Lawn chairs are stretched out on a shaded driveway. Kids run haphazardly through lawns and mothers (all who work in either their homes or industry) share in neighborhood gossip and watch each other’s children. They are relaxed and happy. So are their kids. These moms may have been tired–life always has hard seasons–but I never questioned if these women were enough for their kids. The fact that one of my buddies or enemies (depending on the childhood rivalry of the day) called one of these persons mom meant they were surely a special person. I never as a child questioned if my mom was enough. She was my mom, simply that was enough.
Today, this worry exhausts me. Is my child flourishing or am I limiting her potential by not enrolling in x,y,z program? Am I emotionally present for my children or am I damaging them by being involved in my own personal pursuits? Am I giving them enough nourishing foods? Enough free play? Enough stimulating learning activities? Am I doing a good enough job at this job of Mommy CEO to create productive and happy adults in the future? I have to stop myself and say what the hell is happening here?! My mom made sure I got a bandaid when I needed one and a drink of water when I was thirsty from play, but she didn’t micromanage my time and the few mothers in the community who did were considered odd. Today it is quite the reverse, but why?
Has the world become that competitive so we must get them started by reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets in the womb? Are we worried that our children will get left behind in this age of intrastate and international economics? Are we worried about how are children will hate us if we don’t find and cultivate their talents? Will other parents judge us as failures? I believe fear is the strongest catalyst in the mommy wars and in my own fear that I am not enough.
No wonder I’m tired. Under this new parental dogma nobody could be enough. I would need six of me to succeed in being this organic farmer, chef, chauffeur, classical educator, child psychologist, and of course housekeeper. Why has raising a prominent, prepared child become the status symbol of keeping up with the joneses? Does everybody need to be Ivey league to matter?
So I’m playing the worst case in my head… What if my kids sought and cultivated their own talents, made their own play, developed their own relationships with peers, ate junk food (once in awhile), learned how to do their own laundry, and even sought out travel experiences or community college instead of Ivey league. Wouldn’t then the natural process of growth and development that occurred within my kids be the best case scenario? My exhaustion is self-induced and that has got to change. Things must be delegated and dropped. I’m going to allow my kids time to be, and I will be there when the growing pains occur, but I can’t prevent the growing pains by being a micromanaging mom. Time will allow growth to take its course, and I need to be a spectator as often as I’m a participator. So it’s time for this mama to let go just a little bit, to take a breath, and rest a bit because while I will be there I can’t do it all for them. They must do for themselves and that is enough.
I will call her Mrs. Denial. This hardworking American mother never bought herself a beautiful dress. She made do with what she had, what was passed-down to her, or what she found on clearance. The kids are grown and she can afford more, but still she does not buy the dress that makes her feel the loveliest. The reason she states are plentiful,”The grandkids may need something, the kids inheritance….” She sacrificed and continues to sacrifice because that is what moms do.
But is it right?
Sadly something happened in Mrs. Denial’s methodology, her children didn’t witness this as selflessness. Instead these actions made them see mom as not valuing herself. The message got mixed up, “If Mom can’t have what she needs or dreams–neither can we.” Today, her adult children all struggle with valuing themselves, and there may be a myriad of reasons why. Mostly, children emulate what they see and not necessarily what they hear…
I talk and write a lot about simplifying and minimizing what we own. I think that message is important–we can’t continue to consume at the level we are in our nation and in the world and possibly sustain it. I’ve wanted to live what I preach and I make do with what I have a lot. It is a game to me, “How long can I go without, how can I use what I have to get the job done, can I borrow it, can I buy it used….” I call it being resourceful and my children participate in the “game” with me and often it is very fun for all of us.
However, something has changed in the past few years and I’ve stopped consuming to the point that buying the shoes I badly need has become unbearably hard. I have the money and yet I haven’t purchased them…do I deserve new shoes when others have so little and think of the resources, the questionable labor…? Seems crazy doesn’t it–this self-created martyrism? But there it is in my head this very instant…and the thing is I think others who journey through voluntary simplicity or minimalism struggle as well. It is a tricky business owning and consuming things. The wants and the needs get confused, the voices of humanity and fairness echo in your head, and with so much vying for our money and time it is almost easier to completely deny ourselves than have to deal with figuring out what has true value or what is truly fair.
But shouldn’t we value ourselves?
If we cannot value ourselves then how can we value others in this world around us? Maybe it’s about making ethical choices in our purchases and finding quality and not succumbing to the quantity. It is the quantity that is the problem–we as a world own too much stuff, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t own anything? (And yes I know the idea of “owning” can be philosophized to death–so let’s skip that part.)
If Mrs. Denial had bought a beautiful, solidly made dress that made her feel lovely…maybe she would have smiled more…her children would have echoed that smile…maybe their stories would be different…a different legacy. Perhaps, some will think how stupid a dress is a thing and it can’t bring joy–no, it can’t…but sometimes our minds can be altered because of the way we perceive a thing…
It is a tricky business owning and consuming things, but I can’t talk about it anymore…I’ve got to buy some solidly made, lasting shoes…and I might just smile about it.