How to Say Goodbye (Again)

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Last night was the end of the year celebration for our local homeschool co-op.  Since we won’t be returning to this particular group next year, it was a bittersweet, flashback kind of thing that left us with a pulled-tooth ache.

For us, it was the culmination of three years of learning, growing, and walking with other like-minded parents and kids after having lived abroad in relative homeschool isolation for the previous three years.  In a way, this season in community would help to rehabilitate us, though we couldn’t have known that when we started.

The kids received their fancy certificates dressed in leftover Easter clothes because I’m determined that they get more than one wear out of them.  We took pictures, ate brownies, and reminisced with other parents who have taken this road less traveled.  Some of the moms looked fresh and eager, but more looked tired, like we’d run a marathon, and then applied lipstick to sweaty lips on the way here.

Life is a series of chapters (it’s true, even if it is a giant cliche and there’s violin music playing in the background).  Just when you’ve gotten past the tentative beginning of a thing, after you’ve forged through the spiral griefs and joys of its interminable middle, you find yourself at the end, and you aren’t ready, though you saw it coming five pages ago.

This is how it always is.

Different, same, different, same.

Different.

Same.

Being Mom and Me

Sometimes I stumble across an article or essay that sums up what I’ve been thinking/feeling about an issue, and I’m relieved I didn’t have to write it.  Because, you know, tired.

For instance, I’ve often thought that motherhood has deeply changed me.  Not in a I’m-now-wiser-and-less-selfish kind of way, although I hope that’s true, at least a little bit. More in a but-seriously-I-think-I’ve-been-permanently-and-profoundly-altered-in-more-than-just-the-stretch-marks way.

And, I don’t know, I don’t always love the thought of that because my original self and I were pretty tight.

Today I read Jamie Martin‘s thoughts about how she believes motherhood changed her personality, and I resonated with them.  Some questions to consider:  What do you do when the person you always were gives way to the person you have to be as Mom?  How do you keep being the you you while also being the you your kids need? (Hint: they aren’t always the same person).

These are questions I don’t have the answers to.  Jamie might not either.  But it’s nice to know I’m not alone in the asking.

How To Be In Two Places At Once

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I’m a writer who only writes for short periods of time each morning.  This is because writing is not my day job.  Motherhood is.  But just because I’m not sitting in front of the laptop doesn’t mean I’m not in writing mode, if only in my mind.

Of course, I’ve found that it’s not always possible to muse about resolving tricky plot issues or tightening up the dialog in my work-in-progress while also being a mom and teacher to my three kids.  They’re old enough to recognize the vacant look in my eye when I nod at something they’ve said, but am really on chapter seven in my head.

You’re doing it again, Mom.

Sometimes, though, I can sharpen my writing skills (or at least stoke my imagination and strengthen my powers of observation) without actually writing.  And, when everything goes the way I want it to, I can include my kids in the process.

Today, for instance, my family and I drove to a park next to an immaculately kept cemetery to get some exercise.  Once there, we soon abandoned the park’s walking trail to read headstones, as often happens.  As we ambled along shady footpaths, we wondered aloud about the might-be stories behind those names etched in gray.  Our conversation planted in me seedling ideas for future story characters, while looking at the stones gave me their names.

Then there was the drive-thru lady at Sonic with unusually precise diction, the one who sounded happy.  As she repeated our list of slushes back to us, I imagined the kind of face that went with a glad-tidings voice like that.  A face I could write about, maybe.

A few minutes later, we turned onto our street and I watched our Asian neighbors bend low, pruning their velvet lawn with salad tongs.  They’d placed orange cones in their driveway (again) to keep others from pulling onto their asphalt.

What makes people go to such lengths to perfect and protect their tiny plot of earth, I wondered.  Had they always lived like this?

Flecks of imaginary back story glinted before me, the maybe answers.

Of course, none of this translated into immediate words on a page, but it fueled me all the same.  It kept me thinking about people and ideas, about colors and what-ifs, preparing my mind for the moment I could write again.  It counted for something, if not word count, exactly.

This is what I’m doing these days–trying to be present for my children and to grow in my craft.  It’s awkward and precarious, keeping these two lives going.  They’re never as integrated as I’d like them to be, though sometimes–like today–they hold hands.

And that has to be good enough.

Clean and Dirty

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I wanted to do a little follow-up on the post I wrote a couple of days ago.

I have many “mom friends,” those who work full-time, part-time, are SAHM’s, homeschoolers, private and public-schoolers.  And I love all of them for different reasons.  I don’t pick my friends based on whether they do things like I do but whether I like them as actual people.  I’ve been choosing friends like this since middle school.

So far, so good.

But because we’re all different, what works for one of us (or what is a priority for her), doesn’t (or isn’t) for another.  And, sometimes, if I write about how I love a clean house, or how I’m trying to exercise for ten minutes a day, or how I make my kids do Latin, it makes some of my friends feel bad.

This, in turn, makes me feel bad.

Because, the thing is, we all have different gifts and abilities.  We have unique kids and husbands and personalities.  We have specific preferences and things we can’t stand.  We have weaknesses, blind spots, baggage we haven’t yet shed.

 None of this makes us “better” or “worse” than any other mother.

And when I say I keep a clean house, you can know one thing for sure: I have other things that are “messy” in my life–things like my ongoing battle with depression, the fact that I’m often not very patient, that lots of times I give my kids vitamins in lieu of green veggies.

So what?

At 37 years old, after 15 years of marriage and 13 years of parenting, I believe this now  more than I ever have:  we’ve all got our things.  And it will be OK.  At least I believe that on my good days.

So when I talk about my little routines, or how the kids and I read poetry together, or that everyone does their own laundry in this house, please understand:  there’s also lots of saying ‘I’m sorry I yelled,‘ lots of ‘I can’t believe we’re still dealing with this issue,’ and ‘Mom, where are my clean socks?

I like a clean house.  But what I want even more, what I’m asking God to work in me, is a clean heart. 

I can do the former (and I do), but only He can do the latter.

And that’s the most important thing of all, no matter what my toilets look like.

P.S.  I still think Challies missed the boat on clean houses.  :)

Nothing Is Wasted: On Scrubbing Toilets and Making a Difference

I don’t like to participate in the Great Internet Wars, such as they are.  And I don’t intend to enlist in the cyber army with this post.  But I will say that I felt a little piqued by an article I read today, and wanted to respond here because, well, because I can.

Tim Challies is a well-respected Christian author, blogger, thinker, and person, and rightly so.  And when I write the following, I don’t wish to disparage him in any way.  But the thing is, he’s not always right about stuff.  Today, for instance, he wrote an article called “A Clean House and a Wasted Life” that appears to pit orderly, tidy homes against those that are messy, but bursting with energy, life, and love.  One kind he clearly approves of.  The other?  Maybe not so much.

As someone who cleans my house regularly, I hated his title immediately.  But then I actually read the article because that’s just a good rule of thumb before deciding to hate a person’s written opinion.  In fairness, the article makes some good points about not letting a desire for cleanliness in your home trump everything else–to the detriment of your family, neighbors, and kids (white sofas and china figurines, anyone?).  But it also seems to hint that if you work hard to keep things tidy in your home, you might be wasting your time, or worse, your life.  In fact, he juxtaposes productivity (messy, life-producing, experience-laden!) with cold, sterile orderliness in the home.

I’m bugged by this false dichotomy.

I love a clean house.  I’m home a lot, and having order helps me to be a better mom.  Furthermore, I make my kids help me keep it tidy on a daily basis.  Yes, they hate to clean, and, no, I don’t care.  This is because I know that a clean house aids all of us in a). finding things we need when we need them, b). reducing stressful clutter and minimizing materialism, and c). being ready to receive spur-of-the-moment guests, even for overnight visits, without feeling frantic.  In short, more often than not, keeping a neat home means we are ready for life in all of its messiness.

Housework is often devalued in our culture.  It’s seen as meaningless and menial, something you do only because you don’t have 1,000 more worthwhile things to accomplish.  This attitude has developed largely because people are busier now than they’ve ever been, and the idea of wiping down the kitchen sink feels like just one more thing.

But it isn’t just one more thing.  From a Christian perspective (one I share) all work is made sacred when it’s offered to God.  Even scrubbing toilets.  On the other hand, all of our accomplishments (all of them!) will fade away someday.  We’ll go six feet into the ground and, in fifty years’ time, our names will be forgotten.  So it’s a little silly to suggest that maintaining domestic order for the sake of a peaceful home is ‘sterile’ or ‘cold’ work, while performing data entry, or even wiping a snotty nose, is of ‘noble’ value.

News:  It’s all mundane, and it’s all noble, if we’re doing it for the right reasons.

So I’m going to keep insisting that my kids take out the trash and make their beds (order).  But I’ll also invite neighbors to the house, host get-togethers with friends, and feed other people’s’ kids (life!).

Both/And.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get off here and make my own bed.