Pursuing meaning

I had this great conversation with my brother Devin, a month or so ago. We talked about having kids, and how that has changed our lives. He shared that his colleagues in his psychology program have asked him, why he and his wife chose to have a child when the research shows that having children decreases happiness. He responded that what he is pursuing is not happiness, but meaning. And he assured them that very few parents would say their life has less meaning since having kids. The distinction hit me as profound. Perhaps even more so since reading the book Devin gave me for my birthday “The Happiness Trap.” The book too, a sort of acceptance commitment therapy manual, suggests that our pursuit of happiness is based on the pursuit of a feeling that is, by nature, transient; and the hope for its permanent dwelling within us is unrealistic. The author, Russ Harris, suggests that only when we accept the changing landscape of our emotions can we dwell in a state of meaning which is actually the “happiness” that we desire. I have been a happiness seeker my whole life. And I’ve long held the belief that “If you’re not happy, you’re not doing it right.” Well, mothering has challenged that statement and in so doing, shook me to the core at times. Am I failing at this mothering thing, if I’m not always happy? What do I need to do to get rid of these feelings of frustration, fatigue, and even hatred? Flipping my pursuit to meaning instead of happiness has had, might I say, a life changing, hopefully, or at least year- changing effect. I dislike disciplining my children, but I find meaning in teaching them, and seeing them gain empathy. I hate seeing my children be mean to each other, but I appreciate the opportunity it has given me to hone my skills of patience, empathy, and forgiveness. My life is less happy-go-lucky than it once was, but it is full of so much more meaning.

31

I turn 31 today. I didn’t get a chance to wax sentimental last year when I entered my third decade, (something about having a baby or something) so I’ll do so now. The decade of my twenties was pretty magical. I spent the first half pursuing my dreams of advanced degrees, travel, and marriage. I spent the second half fully absorbed in my career as mother. And now I’m in my 30s. I can’t say it feels weird. I feel 30. For much of my 20s, even after I was a mother, I didn’t feel like a woman. Now I do. I’m not sure what changed, I’m sure some of it is that I feel the weight of life more now. I’m less carefree, more reserved. Motherhood has humbled me and laid bare many of the naive assumptions I’ve made in the past about life and child-rearing. Tom’s residency has been intense for both of us, and too often we’ve given up our own interests and passions for convenience sake. Looking ahead is interesting. What will my 30s hold? What are my goals?  Who do I want to be when this decade comes to a close?

Today, in church I was pondering upon a realization I’d had earlier that I’ve been less pushy about Chiara walking. I remember being much more eager with Scotland and Anders. I kept thinking Come on, you ought to be able to walk by the time you’re one! I’d practice with them, and create situations where they’d have to walk between me and the couch for example. But now, I feel at content with the knowledge that Chiara will walk when she’s ready. It’s clear she’s working hard at it, she’s interested, she begs me to walk with her, I have faith that soon she’ll walk. Today, I was touched by the thought that Heavenly Father probably feels similarly about me. He has faith that one day, soon (in eternal terms) I’ll demonstrate the traits of godliness that I so dearly desire. He sees my effort, He acknowledges my growth and He’s not worried by my slips or falls. This came as a great comfort to me, because much of my big projects for this upcoming decade are in regards to my character and spirit. Full-time mothering has exposed a certain number of serious weaknesses in my character, weaknesses that I’m determined to overcome. I want to be more charitable- when others make it hard, I want to be more respectful- when others don’t seem to deserve it, I want to be more in tune and willing to hear and follow the promptings of the spirit. I want to be better at asking questions and sticking with them until I find answers. I want to engage more, appreciate more, and let negative things fall off my back easier.

In some ways, it’s hard to look back at that girl who was ten years ago, because there are parts of her I really want back. What I need to do, however, is not pine for the past, but rather determine in the now to merge the decidedly happy me of my twenties, with the more experienced and slightly more life-worn woman of my 30s into co-existence.

And so, this year, I determine to think deeper, love more, listen longer, feel fuller, and be more forgiving of myself and others when I do none of those things!

 

 

RS Unity Talk

The key note address for our RS night of unity and sisterhood. 

I have a very expansive view of the power of Relief society.  I believe that when Relief Society groups function as God intended them to, it has power to advance, progress and uplift not only its members, but their families, their ward and stake,  community, nation and world. It is an eternal organization with eternal aims. Our RS general presidency recently modified the wording of the written purpose of RS. Tonight we are going to be focusing on one section, specifically the wording “Work in Unity”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has told us: “No one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. … He loves each of us—insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. … He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other.” 9

Christ said “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”

Paul taught: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? And if they were all one member, where were the body? “ 1 Corinth 12

We are all needed in God’s great kingdom, and we all need to be different! There is no stamp for a Mormon woman! Tonight we are gathering to learn about one another, to support one another, and to open up to one another. The adversary encourages us to discount the positions of others, to criticize, make fun or just plain ignore the ideas, lifestyles, and opinions different from our own.

Joseph Smith, however, described himself as a “disturber” of the adversary’s kingdom. He said, “It seems as though the adversary was aware … that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom.” 16

We want, in fact we need to be a group of women who are disturbers of current trends and ways of thinking. We need to buck the trend of being divisive, confrontational, judgmental, critical. And instead we need to rise up as a group of sisters who listen, find common ground, and seek understanding and show respect when little common ground is found.

We each have infinite worth, not because of what we do, how we look, what we own, but because of who we are. We are daughters of God and He has infinite love for us, simply because we are His. Tonight when the thought starts to creep into your mind “Oh, she does X, I could never do X. I wish I was more like X. I’m not as good as X. . .” Stop those thoughts and replace them with “I have infinite worth. She has infinite worth. I am enough. She is enough. The Lord loves me so much he died for me, he died for us. The Lord loves me for who I am, and for who she is and through him we can be anything we want to be.”

In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

Moving

Tom and I have been talking about moving a lot these last few months. With applications and interviews for fellowship positions occurring, we’ve been forced to face the future. We love so many things about living in Seattle, but different training opportunities for Tom and a lower cost of living are forcing us to look else where. The thought of relocating is always followed by a mixed bag of emotions for me. I love novelty, and the thought of exploring a new city/area excites me. There are things about Seattle that I wish were different (namely the lack of sunshine for much of the year.) So the thought of living some place sunnier thrills me. But when I move past the niceties of those changes, and face the other realities I’m brought to tears by all I will miss when we move from here: dear friends, a wonderful  church family, and frequent visits to and from my parents and younger sisters. Then there is the home we’ve built here- the slide and fort out back, the raspberry plot that is finally producing abundantly, my perennial beds that are finally filling out, an organized home where everything has its place. All theses things take years to establish and the thought of starting again. . .

Already thoughts of what to take and what to leave have kept me up at night. Do we just sell it all and start afresh? We’d save thousands in moving expenses. But then, would we find ourselves in a new place, with a whole host of things to acquire? Or do we bring along the things we’ve come to enjoy, making the transition less severe? The minimalist side of me gets giddy with the thought of lightning our load considerably, but the practical side knows that much of the things we have, we use, and re-acquiring them would be burdensome.

Then I’ll stay up late looking at housing options in the places we’re considering, which throws open a whole new list of questions. How big of a house do we really need? Do our kids really need their own bedrooms? What length of commute is ideal? How much should we spend on a house? Would we be okay living in a townhouse without a yard? Do we have it in us to renovate another house? Maybe we’d love living in a track neighborhood with a neighborhood pool and playground. Or maybe I want to homestead.  I’ll try to explore each option in my head, predicting ramifications, and puzzling over how each choice would effect our family.

Whenever it gets too daunting, I’ll project myself 30 years. Life will be  more interesting to look back on if we mix it up every several years. Experiencing a new part of the country, with a different culture, and different demands will change us, and shape us in new ways. We’ll be able to relate and connect with a larger group of people. We’ll have a wider range of experiences. We’ll be more complex and hopefully interesting. We’ll widen our sphere of influence.

At these moments of decision and change, I’m ever more grateful for the gift of the spirit that blesses us with peace.

 

A full heart

The previous post was written over a month ago. I just published it. That’s how things seem to work around here. I rarely get to finish what I’m working on, and not because I’m absent minded but rather because more important things step in. Writing this, I realize, I’m really proud of how well I step aside from projects to help people. For years a favorite quote from a favorite man was posted by my computer:

“Never let a problem to be solved, become more important than a person to be loved.” – Thomas S. Monson

I’m a focused finisher by nature. I like to start early, end early and think through all the details. These tendencies are often a thorn in the flesh as a mother. Interruptions are continual, and change is the only constant. It’s is why so many Mom’s say they are “loosing their minds.” I never lost my keys before I had kids. But now it’s becoming an all too common occurrence. I’m forever lugging too many bags, holding a toddler by the hand, and balancing a baby on my hip all while trying to finger keys. Too often setting them down for convenience, only to forget where that “convenient place” was. I’ve found them twice in the carseat with Chiara- after looking for 10 minutes.

That aside, tonight my heart is very full. And I have some mothering moments I want to record.

When we decided to put Chiara in the guest room, I was concerned that the room couldn’t fit a chair to nurse in. I guess I’ll just sit on the bed, I’d thought. Looking back it couldn’t have been a better decision. I never nursed lying down with the boys. So, I didn’t realize the luxury I was providing myself by having a queen sized bed in the nursery. It’s become one of my favorite parts of the day, lying there, cozily with my daughter in the morning, her breath on my chest. I run my hands through her thin silky hair, or we play with each others fingers. She’ll break to chat and smile and then continue with grateful contentment. Nursing is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Doing it lying down removes any sense of duty or chore. It’s a time of powerful bonding.  Sometimes Anders will join us, cozying in under Chiara’s “soft blanket”- the quilt I made her with the minky backing. He’ll rub my arm and whisper sweetly in my ear “I love you so much, Mom.”

The woman of focus and finish that I was six years ago could have never imagined the joy of these morning rituals. So while I mourn that girl who rose early to run three miles every morning before studying her scripture for an hour, I’m pleased to be a mother who savors her children.

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I’m trying some new approaches with homeschool this month. In December, Scotter and I were both pretty burned out. There were several rough weeks, and the suggestion to send Scotter to public school in January was discussed. As Tom and I considered the problems I realized I was stripping Scotter of much of the things I kept him home for- more exploration, more free play, more outdoor time. So I’m trying to restart with more playfulness. Last semester, I skipped a lot of the supplemental activities in our reading book, for example- feeling they would take too much time. This week, we had a blast playing the version of pictionary suggested. Instead of getting up-in-arms when Scotter wanted to change the game, I went with it- which resulted in a more writing, reading, and drawing from him (which is the goal!) We had a blast making a book about parties- he dictated a story, drew coloring pages, and proudly added it to our bookshelf “So anyone can pick it to read!” I happily allowed him to pick some 30 early reader books from the library. He began pouring through them as soon as we got to the van.

I’ve approached my new role as “primary educator” like I would a new job. I’ve poured over books, blogs, and podcasts seeking advice and ideas.  It’s had it’s rough patches, but I must say I have been thrilled with how much I have learned these past few months. I feel more confident and fulfilled. Thanks to homeschooling, my boys request “Story of the World” (A world history text we have on audiobook) as soon as we get in the van. Scotland finds ways to teach Anders. Just yesterday he was giving him a tutorial on how to draw people- which Anders quickly followed.  Anders is enthusiastic about “reading” to me and working hard to learn his letters. He’ll often jumpstart our review of famous paintings or start singing the days of the week during breakfast. The boys like to compete over who will finish first the verse of scripture we’re memorizing that month. Most importantly, the boys have bonded in deep and beautiful ways, and their adoration for Chiara only grows.

I’m still trying to figure out the best way to mother an almost six year old. Scotter doesn’t engage the way he used to. He often skips our story time before naps, (a favorite time of mine to cuddle my boys). There is much less physical contact between us now, and I think that might be contributing to the emotional distance I feel from him too. Both Scotter and I like to be in charge, and lead out. That’s why we butt heads. He likes to do things his way. I like to do things my way. I feel justified because I’m the mother. I get frustrated when he won’t just listen and obey and he gets feisty when I direct his life too much. Scotter thrives on a situation where he can teach himself, and only get help if he asks for it. It can be frustrating as his teacher. I worry he isn’t learning enough. Then, the other day I started to list all the things Tom has taught himself: electricity, plumbing, coding, book making, car repair, etc. I see many similarities between the two and it gave me peace that if I provide a rich environment Scotter will do just fine. He’s inquisitive and determined when something captures his attention. The struggle is being willing to go along with his whimsy! (“Let’s build an entire city! We’ll use LEGOS, duplos, magna-tiles, blocks, the train tracks, the play mobile stuff. . . Let’s try to build a bridge from the TV to the couch!”)

*******

We spent a week in Utah with my family after Christmas. It was a wonderful trip, and the boys were in cousin heaven! I was grateful for the chance to spend some one on one time with many of my nieces and nephews and siblings: building snap circuits with Keiton and Rhyse, painting with Brecklyn, playing water basketball with Landen, Bryce, and Talia; reading to Coleman and Brielle; playing cars with Miles, playing in the snow with Brielle and Sam. I was surprised by how jolly and affection Anders was. He went around giving everyone hugs, would crawl up on anyone’s lap, and clearly felt completely at ease. He’s that way at home, but I guess it surprised me by how completely he accepted that all these people who he rarely sees are “family”- to be loved and cherished. I hardly saw Scotter. He was all too happy to be in a constant state of play. I could hardly drag him away to eat! Scotter said over and over that the thing he wanted most for Christmas was to be with family. (And by family he meant extended family.) I’m SO grateful to my parents and Dantzel who drove us down. Not having to drive and help my children was such a blessing, and it was a treat to get to spend more time with them.

Guard my heart

I’m a pleaser. It’s impossible to please everyone when you’re a mother. This stresses me. A week ago I had a bit of a melt down. It was all too much, I was failing right and left, I needed a break. .  . I cried and cried- gave myself a headache, stressed Tom out, and fell into a deep slumber and awoke with renewed determination to overcome. I awoke early, and spent a good hour in prayer and scripture study. I signed up for a free online parenting course, I prioritized a few things, and determined to let go of some things. Out of it all the most powerful morsel of help was the realization that I need to pray for God to “guard my heart.” I need Him to stand in the way of the emotional meltdowns or accusations of my children and confidently own my thoughtful intentional parenting. Just because my child gets mad and frustrated when I tell him we aren’t having dessert for breakfast, or screams and throws a fit because I tell him that “Yes, today, like everyday, you need to help with a chore.” My natural tendency is to get pulled into the emotion, to get defensive, and, too often frustration, turns into anger. Now each morning I proceed with the faith that God will guard my heart. I’m working on setting realistic expectations, asking respectfully, and then allowing God to protect my heart from the onslaught that so often proceeds. So far, it’s worked beautifully. The emotional melt downs are lessening, as they’re not getting the same attention- nor are they getting fed by my own immature responses. It’s one of the things I find the most challenging about motherhood- the balance of apathy and empathy. For too long I’ve thought it had to be one or the other, but I feel like I’m learning there is a melding that is most powerful. “Oh man! Brownies for breakfast sound delicious. But we strive to eat healthy as a family, so let’s wait and eat a brownie after dinner, ok?!” Instead of, “No, you can’t have a brownie!” or Ignore. And be annoyed he asked a question he knows the answer to.

More often than not I realize after an encounter how I could have imbued my response with more empathy: “It looks like you’re in the middle of some really fun LEGO play! We really need to go, or we’re going to be late. Can you leave your LEGOS just where you have them, and return to them when we get home?” Instead of “It’s time to go, come on get your shoes on quick. . .Anders, please go get your shoes.. .  Anders! We’re going to be late, I need your help! . . .  FINE! I’ll put your shoes on!”

My prayer is that eventually the thoughts and realizations I have after I mess up, will one day precede the events. A girl can hope. A girl can pray.

Quote of the day:

“This is my own baby. My baby’s three months.” -Anders to me as he comes up the stairs carrying his baby doll. (He later asked Scotter to help him carry his baby like mommy (in the ERGO) so Scotland stuffed it down his shirt.

Making a bed

I recently became aware of the fact that I’ve never paid much attention to how beds are made. I’ve always made mine the way my Grandmother taught me-  fold the sheet down, pull the quilt up over the pillows, do a quick karate chop under the pillows to make a line, smooth things out. Call it a day. I’d noticed the abundance of pillows that most designer beds have.  I like the color and character they can add. But I didn’t realize until a few months ago that typically the quilt it not pulled up over the pillows. It’s folded down, revealing the sheets and pillows that are slept on. What?! Who has pillowcases that they actually use to sleep on that are worth showcasing?! Is that normal? Are most people’s sheets in a state worth revealing? Eek.

The fact is NO. Most people don’t have either of those things. It just so happens that the visual minority is misrepresenting the unseen majority. Most are lucky to have a bed to sleep in. (If we’re thinking globally.) My grandmother’s method of making a bed, was orderly, but it didn’t require new bedding be purchased on a regular bases, it didn’t call for an overabundance of pillows, and it certainly didn’t require all parts of the bed to look unworn.

What is it with the mentality that everything look “unworn” “unused.” I sleep in my bed. I drool on my pillow. And maybe because I’ve never spent big bucks on quality linens, but my sheets NEVER look worthy of display. I would never leave my pillow intentionally uncovered. Am I alone here?

I refuse to be pulled into the consumeristic trend to be constantly replacing perfectly usable items in order to maintain “a look.” I recently had this lightbulb moment. I realized that I had fallen prey to this concept, in other areas of my life. I wanted my house to constantly “look” a certain way. And when I was real with myself that “look” was the “un-lived in” look. How absurd of me! This realization has really changed my perspective on my home, my looks, my children. I don’t care that my recently finished floor is resplendent with scratches (though I sure am glad I didn’t stain it!) because each scratch means life was lived on top of my floor. It’s a FLOOR by golly, it was meant to be walked on, danced on, jumped on! I’ve tried to apply the same principle to my body. I’ll admit it’s hard to embrace the “cottage cheese” skin that now adorns my belly. But I certainly have no difficulty embracing the three little loves who caused that state of affairs, and I’m grateful for a body with the transforming potential to give life- despite its scars and changes.

When we focus on looking a certain way, it stifles our ability to live a certain way. I’m less restrictive of my and my children’s activities when we’re wearing our older athletic clothing- “Go ahead and slide down that dirt hill!” When I’m fixated on keeping my house looking perfect I don’t engage with my children in the same way- we don’t lie among the couch cushions on the floor and read stories on our backs- I don’t sit down and paint with them. And yet those are the moments that warm my heart for months even years, when I think back on them. A sparkling house gives me a temporary lift, but it’s fleeting- because well. Dinner must be made.

Things I love. . .

The way Anders says “key-oot!” (cute) anytime he seems something small.

Anders trying to say “Interesting” when we went on our science walk today.

The way Ari holds her foot while she’s sleeping in the Ergo.

How Scotland’s eyes glitter when he showed me his LEGO glider this afternoon.

A direct quote from Anders tonight after dinner: “O.K. Let’s use the potty, brush teeth, get the corn, (he had some corn stuck in his teeth from dinner), get a treat, and get my crown.” (This kids loves lists!)

Anders, intensely: “Mom, show me the bow owen.” (Show me how to shoot the bow and arrow.)

Anders:”Mom, baby wants to hold me.” He gives her a hug, and says sweetly into her ear, “I love you, Baby!”

Chiara giggling as I play with her arms and legs.

Chiara raising her eye browns and full body smiling.

Scotland belting out made-up tunes the entirety of his “quiet time.”

Scotland: “Mom can we get peanuts with shells!” (Gotta love Five Guys for popularizing peanuts in shells with my boys. Talk about a great “snack” if you need to feed and entertain your kids at the same time!)

Scotter asked if he too could get a treat and proposed he clear the table to earn it. (He’s noted the inequality of Anders getting potty treats.) I readily agreed, and he did a beautiful job. When I handed him not, two, but a handful of skittles he looked up at me in complete bewilderment. “Why did you give me so many Mom?” “Because, I’ve really appreciated your help today.” (He ate a few and saved the rest.)

Anders realized this week that he can complete dress himself. I still forget and will start helping him wit his pants or shirt and he’ll giggle and smilingly say, “Mom you don’t need help me. I do it myself!”

I spent time this afternoon sketching the various stages of the blooming fuchsia. Scotland sketched a leaf- noting it’s jagged sides, vein structure, and the placement of a certain dark spot. Anders drew a fuchsia flower. (An oval with lines descending from it.) We collected a variety of interesting flowers, rocks, leaves, and eight insects to “study.” The boys were thrilled to use their magnifying glasses to examine and tweezers to gather various specimen.  Then we played a rousing couple games of dodge ball and basketball. I’m loving this homeschooling gig!

The chance to take a friend to the Frye art museum today! The exhibit by Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi was reverential. His attention to the beauty of simplistic interiors, and his appreciation of gray and mist- was a perfect precursor to the approaching Seattle gray. I love how art helps me see beauty in greater abundance.

Three sleeping children- with no fight before bed!