How I Relate to MR. MOM

Mr. Mom

You’ve heard it’s the true-to-life comedy that’s the funniest. It’s so true. I’ve been watching Mr. Mom for the past two nights (it’s gonna take three to get it all watched–what mom has time for movies?), and I can’t stop thinking about a couple scenes in this 1983 movie that hit so close to home.

It’s a movie about a man (Michael Keaton) who swaps jobs with his wife to become the homemaker and primary caregiver of their three children. It’s funny because it shines a light on all the difficult and mundane things moms do daily via the eyes of a man who now has to do them.

There is a series of scenes where Keaton gets depressed, beaten down by the daily routine, and we see him go from clean shaven and svelte to scraggly bearded with some junk in the trunk; his house goes from tidy to turned-upside-down; and his attention goes from his kids and wife to trashy soap operas. “My mind is mush,” he complains to the wife. That’s the result of no adult conversation and watching the same TV shows as your kids. Yep. Feels like this is where I’ve lived recently, minus the soap operas. Instead, I just nap when Sam lets me. (I love the moment when Keaton’s kid tells him his grilled cheese is cold and Keaton simply slaps the sandwich on the ironing board, steams it with the iron for a sec, and hands it back to the kid so he can get back to his show.)

Anyway, it comes to the point where his wife gives him a good talking-to for letting it all go–the house, the kids, himself. Look at yourself! She exclaims, pointing at his newly flabby belly. And the house is a wreck (paraphrase). Basically, she says, get it together, because I did it for eight years, and I understand it’s hard, but I got through it because I had some pride in what I did; I understood that what I did was important. Again, close to home. I recently had a “talking to” by my spouse; more in a moment.

There is another scene where Keaton daydreams he has an affair with the over-sexed neighbor, and his wife walks in with a gun and points it straight at him. “What did it, Jack, hmm?” she asks. “Was it the daily repetition? The boredom? The loneliness?” Now, I’m not close to an affair (never!), but I understand the list: repetition, boredom, loneliness. Add pregnancy to it and a melancholy disposition, and you’ve got some potential problems.

And so I got a talking-to from my beloved husband two nights ago. The house was a wreck and he couldn’t find what he needed, and he couldn’t avoid tripping over some things while looking (we’re still trying to get unpacked/organized is my excuse). I probably looked like a wreck, too. And I don’t think I’d made supper that night. I don’t remember. But I told him to talk to me; tell me what was wrong; if he had a problem with me, I wanted to know.

So he did. He told me some things that really stung. Including, “It seems like you don’t do anything at the house all day.” And, “Somehow, other moms with more kids get more done than you seem to; you need to learn to multitask more.”

Ouch.

In my hubby’s defense, he never volunteers these kinds of criticisms unless provoked. And I provoked him. He was trying to clam up so as not to hurt my feelings, but I made him talk. I had also used Sam’s Sunday nap time to get out of the house and do some rare shopping instead of staying in my daily “work” environment to organize. (In the future, we’ve agreed he can stay silent in the angry moment as long as he agrees to talk to me when he’s cooled down. This honors both his need to stonewall, and my need to communicate.)

Anyway. Those comments, after which I stayed up late to clean house and shower, followed me into the next day and beyond. Is there really something wrong with me beyond the typical Mom burnout? I wondered. Am I defective because I can’t get anything done besides keeping my kid alive and doing the dishes and maybe cooking a meal or three?

I asked Buc that next night, “Is it possible you’re thinking of moms with older [not-so-needy] kids; or moms who have relatives nearby to help, or moms who let their kids watch a lot more TV than I do?”

He conceded that that might be some of it. But the main problem, he said, as he’s often said, is my “perfectionism.” I don’t want to let our kid go without mommy enough. I pick him up [the kid] too much. I give in too much.

Hmmm. I am still pondering this and praying over it. Even though Buc’s words were said in anger, there is usually some truth to angry words. I wish I got more done these days. I wish my house were cleaner, my meals more consistent, my hygiene sparkling. I suppose there are ways to accomplish this.

I also know what Buc doesn’t: I know the inside of my mind, and the physical limits of my body. I feel like I have mental mountains to climb that other people, other personalities, perhaps don’t. I seem happy and serene to most outsiders, but it takes me lots of prayer and meditation sometimes to get to that point. And a man doesn’t know the work of making a baby.

Maybe these are just excuses. Maybe there is some truth to them as well. Either way, I’m glad for my “talking-to,” so I can work at improving, and I’m glad for Mr. Mom so I can laugh at my challenges. One day I will laugh a whole lot more, and even now, I see humor in my day. I’m putting on makeup for my husband when he gets home–and I also made his favorite meal during nap time (no nap for me today…progress!)–but I’m not going to apologize for my stretchy pants, no sir. This is a mom’s life, and I’m learning to embrace it, along with all the humor wrapped up in the job.

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Getting Refreshed, and Maneuvering Life’s Changes

I stole a few moments away to write this morning before Sam woke up. This is my corner of quiet space while we stay as guests in our Texas home.
I stole a few moments away to write this morning before Sam woke up. This is my corner of quiet space while we stay as guests in our Texas home.

My dad has a simple rule for determining whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert: extroverts draw energy from other people, introverts are drained by the same. There’s no doubt that Dad’s an extrovert. Or that I’m not.

During my past two weeks in Texas, I’ve enjoyed wonderful times with friends. I’ve had meals out with some of them, taken Sam to play with others, and prayed with yet a few more through difficult issues. I feel I have been available to these precious people to an extent I was not able before we moved away. I was even able to bless some of them with the work of my hands and my words of advice or prayers. And I’ve loved every minute of this time.

But last night at 10 p.m., when I realized I had not taken time in seven days to sit down and write, and when I could only gaze defeatedly at The Love Dare book, which has had a bookmark in day 20 for quite some time, I found myself moaning, “I’m not ready for another morning yet.” I knew it was time for this introvert to go “home” and get refreshed herself.

Life is an interesting journey. How did St. Louis become my “home” in just a few months? It’s not “home” in the sense that I have extended family or many friends there (about one friend so far). But it is becoming home in the sense that I have set up my own household, established some patterns, and can expect some routine in my week, more or less. While I love the excitement of our back-and-forth travels from Missouri to Texas, and the extra family time on travel days with “daddy,” I find comfort in routine. And quiet time. And my own space.

I am beginning to doubt this arrangement we have of visiting TX and staying in our old house with my in-laws every couple of months…for the long term (if you missed the details, see this post). Especially if we have another baby. Buc asked me last night, “If we end up getting pregnant, would you rather be based in Texas or in Missouri for the delivery and newborn period?” Good question. There’s no doubt where I would rather be for that early period. Near family and friends. But what about all the days after? As I’ve learned, motherhood gets easier as the first year goes on, but not much easier.

After our last visit, we talked of getting a house in Missouri at the end of this year, but what if there’s a new baby? And no family around to help? And travels back and forth with an infant and toddler?

There would be depression, I’m pretty sure. And maybe insanity.

If we get pregnant, I think we have to look at getting our own space in Texas again, somehow. Maybe it would mean seeing daddy less, as he travels back and forth on business without us in tow. That thought makes me sad, but the thought of toting two kids between two states every couple months, and having to reestablish family patterns, sleep patterns, meal patterns, ALL patterns, every couple of months makes me CRAZY.

For now, I am handling the mild damage control that travel requires when it comes to changes in Sam’s sleep, and changes to Buc’s and my routines. And I have been so blessed to get to see my friends without strings attached (strings such as having to hold offices at my church during this season of early motherhood). But I am relieved to know that this season is temporary–it has to be. At some point, things will change again, and we won’t be traveling so much. I don’t know when, or how, but if there’s anything predictable about life, it is that (as my dad also said), “Life is predictably unpredictable!”

Thanks for the wisdom, Dad.

Knowing When to Quit

exhausted
Photo Credit: “Exhausted,” posted on Thayer Memorial Library’s Website

I can talk a good game about living proactively, being productive, and striving for new heights; however, I’ve also found there’s a time to back off. The time is when you’ve made commitments that are not needful, helpful, or healthy for you to keep.

For a few weeks I’d been feeling stressed because I wasn’t finding enough time in my day to work on my memoir. I entered the fall planning to work on my book at least twenty-five hours per week. As I looked at my records for the past month, I saw that I was logging closer to ten. And because my baby’s due date was approaching, this was making me nervous. Could I still get my manuscript done by the time Baby Sam came?

My hubby has often said I tend to keep my plate full to the brim; he’s always known me to be stressed over what I’m not getting done. But since my unexpected breakdown, I had been trying to pare down the helpings on my plate. What had gone wrong?

As I’ve been learning to do when I get in a pickle, I prayed. But this time as I started to pray, my brain felt too scattered to even stay on track (this is a good sign you’ve got too much on your plate, or you’re pregnant, or both). So in my prayer journal, I began with a list of my current commitments, hoping to see a pattern or pick out something I was unnecessarily stressing over.

 

Let me fill in the background for you about the housecleaning item. In the past two months, thinking I needed to become a better homemaker for the baby, I picked up two books on housecleaning (three, if you count The Happiness Project), and started to try to drastically change my habits, per the books’ suggestions. I had started to feel positively weighted down by the thought of keeping my kitchen sink clean, de-cluttering a little bit every day, and deep-cleaning my kitchen.

When I made the list in my prayer journal and saw the housecleaning item mixed in with everything else, though, I realized something: Cleaning/organizaing my home doesn’t have to be a top priority right now. Especially since I’m not a dangerously messy person (i.e., my dust bunnies are not causing us physical health problems or my clutter creating safety hazards, like some people referenced in my cleaning books).

I asked the Lord to help me set some goals for what I actually needed to do for the time being. He told me, “You can stop reading the housecleaning books right now. If you want to focus on your own book [and I do], read stuff that inspires you to write [books on writing, or memoirs].

“Continue the habits of keeping your sink clean and purging your clutter when you can. But you don’t need to add anything else.”

This was making me feel lighter already. I was next able to list out some new, more manageable goals for my writing each week; although I had to admit it wouldn’t amount to twenty-five hours. This was because my unexpected teaching job had come up at the last minute, and it takes time to create curriculum when you’re teaching a brand new class. This was an item that was not negotiable.

The baby registry and choir cantata were pretty easy to resolve: I’d let them become overwhelming when I saw I couldn’t get the registry done in three sittings (but one more should do it), and the cantata piano music learned in two weeks (hopefully four more will do it—but if not, I have the out of purchasing the performance CD).

While my hubby had told me I shouldn’t feel bad about cutting back on my memoir work, I did feel bad, because this was the single most important thing I’d identified to get done before the baby came. I knew I wouldn’t cut back anymore than I had to, but God did help me see that I was worrying too much about getting the book done in my projected time frame. He helped me resolve this by reminding me that if I got the first section revised and a proposal written, I could start shopping the manuscript to agents/editors even if it was unfinished. This is how non-fiction publishing works, anyway.

Then, God gave me this list of do’s for my guilt:

  • Lighten up
  • Lessen your expectations
  • Give yourself a break. Unpredictable things (like the class and the puppies) have happened lately.

Finally, I realized that God would accomplish his work in his time. I didn’t need to worry about what wasn’t getting done, because he was seeing to it that everything that needed to get done was getting done.

When we are walking in God’s will, or doing our very best according to the light we have (based on reading his word and listening to his voice), we can “quit” certain good things with a clear conscience—and sometimes, to continue walking in his will, we must.

The Playground Kiss (A Rare, Funny Memory)

LITTLE-GIRL-KISSES-BOY
Source: drpinna.com. Apparently, these days a little girl can get the police called for pulling a stunt like this!

What do you find when rooting around in your memory? And do you do this often, or only when together with family or friends?

As a memoir writer, it is my job to sift through memories, but sadly, that’s not always a fun task. On the other hand, when my husband’s family gets together to excavate their collective consciousness, there’s no end to the laughs.

I can only hope my family will get to that point someday, too, but for now, I take hope from a recent realization: Namely, my memory seems to have these gaps—huge gaps—from my childhood.

Anyway, we were at my nephew’s Kindergarten graduation recently, and that jogged my memory back to my own early elementary life. Sitting there pregnant, I started to have memories of me around that age, and I wondered if I really wanted my kid to go to school.

Because suddenly, I was remembering how I’d been scarred by school—specifically, my rejection by many of the girls in my class.

Sad-Little-Girl1
Source: stopbullying.myupsite.com

“Honey, I don’t want our kid to go through that,” I worried to my hubby later that night, explaining how recess used to strike terror in me like class time never did.

“Oh, you’re just assuming it will be the same for our child as it was for you. But you’ve never been comfortable in social situations.”

“Oh really?” I prickled.

“I mean, you’ve gotten somewhat better…” he amended. “But that’s just your personality. Most kids like recess.”

Hmmm. I can’t sort this all out now, meaning I don’t know where our kid will go to school. But I went to bed disappointed that my most prominent memory from early elementary was that painful sting of rejection. I also realized I hadn’t spent much time writing or thinking about my early years, and I hoped doing so would turn up some forgotten gems—and some laughs, like my in-laws enjoy.

So, as I lay in bed, I kept rooting around in my memory. There must be something funny in there, somewhere. Then, I found it.

A Rare, Funny Memory

On that same playground where I remember so often standing on the outside of the circle, I also remembered becoming bold, empowered. I remembered first grade, or the only time I have ever openly pursued a man (well, in this case, a boy).

I don’t remember when it started, or why I thought it a good idea, but for a week or two that school year, before the teacher told me to stop, I became a man-hunter. I spotted a boy I wanted—let’s call him Aaron—and every day at recess I commenced chasing him…past the monkey bars, around the sandbox, under the swings…all in hot pursuit of a kiss.

Poor guy. He was terrified of me, and one day the race, or the stress, gave him a nosebleed. Kindly, that day I desisted.

But one day I finally caught him, cornered him, and bent over his cowering figure. I remember thinking, as I went in for the kill, that it didn’t feel as satisfying as I thought it would, kissing my victim. I suppose it’s that I would have liked the object of my affection to reciprocate, just a little.

girl-kissing-boy-17751309

Anyway, later that day later in class, my teacher, an overweight Trunchbull type, called me out in front of everyone else—in her stern voice and with her lightning eyebrows, she told me to stop chasing Aaron. And I, now terrified, could only stutter, “Y-y-y-y-yes, Ma’am.” It was enough for me, the embarrassment of being publicly chastised.

Aaron didn’t talk to me for the rest of first grade. And then I switched schools for second grade, and when I came back to third grade, he’d also transferred schools. And I’ve never spoken to him since. I wonder how he remembers those moments? If he comes to my ten-year class reunion this summer, I just might ask him. (After I apologize for my appalling behavior, that is.)

In case you didn’t catch it, this story is funny because of my personality now. Docile and quiet, everyone says. What got into that little girl to become a playground terror for a time? Or should I really be asking: What went out of me after that day?

Ever after that, I was never bold enough to send so much as a signed note to a crush—not before he first showed interest in me. So a lot of my crushes—actually most of them—sprouted, withered, and died, all within the confines of my heart, with no one else to witness the damage. I learned to keep it in. Maybe I learned that openness about love was embarrassing?

Coda

girl at pool

There is a coda to my playground story that makes it even funnier, at least in an ironic sort of way.

The summer after first grade, I was swimming with my brother at the community pool, with lots of other elementary kids there. And unbeknownst to me, I was about to get my just deserts for attacking Aaron.

There was another boy in my class—let’s call him James—who had a crush on me, but I thought he was about the grossest boy on the planet. Before that day, I’d never paid him any attention, and may not have known his true feelings for me. He, too, was a quiet child. But after that day at the pool, I would know without a doubt. He, too, got the devil in him, at least for a day.

Suddenly, he started chasing me. Around the perimeter of the pool, in the shallow end, in the deep end, and back again. I couldn’t turn my back for a moment because there he’d be—that big nasty boy—and he wanted more than a kiss!

Though it seems like this went on for hours, it could’ve lasted only minutes. All I knew was I felt trapped, and desperate. I couldn’t get away from this boy, and no one would help me! All they did was laugh!

In the middle of the afternoon, he caught me in the shallow end, cornered me, and caved in on me. His arms and legs wrapped around me like tentacles, and slowly I felt my breath escaping, as if the life were being sucked out of me.

I was thrashing my arms and legs, trying desperately to escape my attacker—and then, suddenly, he released me, and swam away. And that was the end of that. We hardly ever spoke again.

What is the lesson to be learned here? I’ll leave that for you to decide—and comment on. My job was just to turn up a funny memory. Do you think I succeeded?

The Pregnant Post

photo-1
This is the picture we sent to our family members to break the news, but it took our seventeen-year-old niece to get it. Everyone else thought we were making a statement about what we were cooking that night!

I myself don’t like pregnant posts—which is why I won’t keep you in suspense. Yes. I am. A post about pregnancy is okay, as long as it doesn’t resort to clichés, so I’ll opt away from discussing the obvious facts of my developing condition.

I do like irony, so I’ll point out that just a few weeks ago when I posted I May Be Childless (At Least my House is Messy), I really wasn’t. But best of all, I love answered prayers, so I’ll give you these lines from my prayer journal on March 31st:

“I know I should be happy in whatever circumstance I’m in—but I guess I’d like to ask for a breakthrough of some sort: a pregnancy, a job, an acceptance letter. I feel like you work through breakthroughs, and events. You also work through hard times and drought. So any of the above could happen, or not.”

When I wrote that, I was just getting back from my Minnesota visit, and my mother-in-law had asked me if I was glad to be back, and I had lied and said yes.

Truth was, I wasn’t excited about coming back to a house that was empty most hours of the day.

I also wrote that I’d figured out why I was having such an aversion to doing housework lately: It was added “alone time” to my “already lone occupation of writing.” It used to be “alone time after people time.” Now it was “more alone time after alone time.”

At the end of that entry, I recorded that I’d gotten on my knees and heard God say, “You are worried and troubled about many things, but only one thing is needful.” So I decided to rededicate myself to the Lord, again (you’ll notice I have to do that a lot—like, daily), trusting that He’d work out the rest of the details.

Over the next few weeks, I recorded hearing God direct me to write…to write about some frustrations I’d been having in certain relationships…write to be an agent of change…use my swirling emotions as fuel…and I did…until I discovered I had a solid draft of that book I’ve been wanting to publish before thirty.

As to my hatred of housework, I heard God telling me I needed an attitude adjustment. He told me I needed to “plan to stay,” as in Jeremiah 23. I needed to trust that God had put me here, to nest, with or without children. Needed to get over my looking backwards to my past. If there wasn’t going to be children, I still needed to get my house ready…for friends and others we can minister to in our home.

Next to family time, the best memories I have in my home are those times when we held our small group Bible study and our Straight 2 the Heart prayer group. God reminded me that my ministry to others (and the growing of relationships) wasn’t done. I’d been blessed with a beautiful home, and no matter the status of our fertility, the house would be used, if I didn’t get in the way.

In a nutshell, God told me, “Write, and be at home. Get comfortable at home.”

That was also the period when He opened my eyes to see all the Friends in High Places I’ve had all along.

When I realized, on May 4, that I was guilty of the sin of ungratefulness (and a bad attitude), I prayed this verse I found in Micah 7:9—“I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against Him. [My punishment, I felt, was extreme feelings of guilt and uncertainty that were literally upsetting my stomach—maybe it had something to do with pregnancy, too.] But after that He will take up my case and punish my enemies for all the evil they have done to me. The Lord will bring me out of my darkness into the light, and I will see His righteousness.”

I did write. I did get more comfortable at home during those weeks. I decided, “I can do this.” And then, when I wasn’t even looking for it, last week I got the unexpected news: “You’re pregnant.”

Yes, God works both through breakthroughs, and through wilderness experiences. And even though it’s easy to say when things are going well, I’d still like to quote the Apostle Paul to say this: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11). If you’re going through a dark situation today, remember it’s temporary—and the morning light may be just about to break!

The Day after Disappointment

What do you do after you pour your heart and soul into something—only to fail?

“I’m confused,” I wrote yesterday to Jim, my former thesis advisor. I had promised to let him know the outcome of my applications, both the MFA and the PhD.

Both outcomes were the same.

“I thought I’d be getting a terminal degree and teaching college for my life’s work,” I wrote. But it seems God has other plans.

So, what do you do the day after disappointment?

Well, after a little weeping and gnashing of teeth, I sat at my computer and got down to business. I have an almost-finished magazine article I’ve been putting off for over a year—and I have known where I can get it published—but I just haven’t finished it. Today I will finish and submit it.

This week I am also going to get back to the “before-thirty” manuscript I’ve been putting off. And lying in bed this morning I was hit with the possibilities of e-publishing some even older work.

It was like some barrier had been removed; some permission given to just do it, damn it—stop waiting for someone to wipe my nose and just move on, already!

A cocoon was what I wanted, I think. Just a few more years before I grew up. But even with the benefit of one night’s sleep, now it seems kinda silly.

I’m almost twenty-nine. I’ve been in school for about six of my eight years of marriage. I already have a book forthcoming with a co-author. I’ve been published in three magazines. And already for several years I’ve been learning about creative writing on my own.

Oh, and just one more thing. Time will tell, but was it a coincidence that yesterday, after opening my mail, and after crying my tears, my queasiness didn’t go away? Was it a coincidence that I also woke up feeling nauseated again this morning, and that I’ve felt that way for the past four days?

If it’s what I think it might be…well, that would be just too clear—and it would carry the kind of poetry this writer delights in—an extra special way for God to tell me that, even in the wake of disappointment, He knows the plans He has for me (Jer. 29:11).

Note: On the day after the day after, I find it was just a false alarm. Oh well. God gave me a distraction to numb the blow. In any case, I still believe He knows the plans He has for me!