Overwhelmed

I received a rejection slip! Of course I’m disappointed, but here’s the catch: all creative ventures involve risk. I took a risk. It didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but I took it nonetheless. I am creating, and putting my work out there, and it’s a step in the right direction. This post just didn’t meet their needs at this time, which also means I get to post it here instead. Create, and recreate, and all good. What are you creating, and how’s it going?

Bristling like an electrical storm, Teen blustered into the house—door slamming behind him—and tossed his gangly body onto the couch beside his dad. “Hey, did you know the wage gap is a myth? That women get paid less than men for the same work is just not a thing!
 
We stared in response, so he kept spouting facts he’d heard in a video on social media. He thrust his phone in his dad’s face, insisting he watch it, too.
 
Parents want their kids to think critically. At eighteen years old and soon off to college, it is good for him to take account of the world and wrestle with his place in it. But a two-minute video by some guy not much older than he is cannot be his only information source.
 
I left the room, returning armed with a book—Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (2014: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York). Earlier that afternoon I had finished the section on Work.
 
Schulte offers solid reporting and not by any definition a feminist manifesto. Yet as I read one story after another, I felt affirmed and discouraged that sexism—in the workplace as one societal microcosm—still runs rampant. My kid may be right, that women and men with comparable education, experience and skills receive comparable pay for comparable work. But nothing is ever that simple.
 
For example, researchers at Cornell University put together four nearly identical resumes: half with male names and half with female; half signaling parenthood through PTA involvement and half indicating childlessness through charitable volunteerism. Nearly 200 college students ranked fathers as “best worker,” more employable and promotable and better management training candidates than men without children, while mothers ranked at bottom, considered significantly less competent, intelligent and committed than women without children (79). To test this “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus,” they confirmed their research by submitting resumes to entry and mid-level positions and found that fathers were called back at a higher rate than nonfathers, while mothers received half the offers of nonmothers (80).
 
As I tried to explain ‘my side’ to my ever-argumentative child (oh, the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the women he will encounter in life, begging him to trade grace for an arrogant hard line), he asked, “But Mom, when have women had it better?”
 
To which I replied, “Maybe they haven’t. But, Son, look at me. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
 
Over a post-yoga iced tea with a girlfriend, I relayed this story. She gave up her hard-earned career to be a full-time stay-at-home mom who employs her work skills as PTA president. I have cobbled together full-time motherhood with part-time employment plus freelance writing. We each have made choices that feel sacrificial. Even at our best, we both feel we will never be able to do it all well.
 
Schulte defines overwhelm as “a product of lack of control and unpredictability and the anxiety that both produce” (280). Who can calculate how many factors in a women’s life fall into “lack of control and unpredictability”? On any given day, I can only control so much: what time I get out of bed; how I fuel and move my body; the ways in which I interact with others; the work or home projects I tackle before the interruptions come. Because the interruptions come, hard and fast, predictably unpredictable: sick kids; forgotten lunches, forms, homework; overlooked deadlines, and immediately-required answers; bad news, local and global, or worse, from loved ones.
 
No wonder we feel overwhelmed! So how to squelch the rampant anxiety? Schulte includes pages of suggestions in the “Do One Thing” appendix—working smarter, not harder; time chunking; practicing gratitude; remembering that play, too, can be useful. For those too overwhelmed to read a book on feeling overwhelmed, this appendix alone is worth perusing.
 
Thankfully, my friend and I have found our way to a straight path. Exercise and togetherness. Swapping stories and encouragement. Expressing gratitude that, though we may not do it all as well as if we only did some, we have opportunities that others have not. Cherishing the truly precious moments in the mess of parenting (that an eighteen-year-old wants to spend an evening discussing real-life issues with his parents is not to be taken lightly!).
 
And taking time to read good books.

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Thankful Thursday – Love Thyself (Body, Too)

Arguably the only good thing about injury and illness is their capacity to increase one’s gratitude for health and wellness.

Almost four weeks ago I went for a run (over a year later, that I run–ever!–still gives rise to my surprised giggles). A few miles later, having run and walked in turn, feeling better than ever and enjoying each step, I limped toward home.

I didn’t fall. I don’t remember a bad step or an “OUCH!” moment, just a gradual then growing discomfort above my right ankle.

It didn’t hurt as bad, nor swell as much, as last summer’s sprained ankle. I thought I’d heal quickly. Since gentle walking helped last time, I’ve tried to carefully and regularly walk around the block.

I have to think about how I move and work hard not to limp; I wouldn’t dare run yet. My whole body has felt out of whack as it compensates. To boot, the severe drop-off in physical exertion has caused indigestion and nasty heartburn; I get hungry but I can’t eat much. My shoulders have inched up to my ears and I’ve stopped sleeping deeply. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. Bleh!

Mind-body connection, of course, and I’ve been feeling (literally) lame and a wee bit depressed, knowing that I’m missing out on fun fitness and time with friends. The irony of finally discovering joy in movement and developing injuries from said movement has made me flat-out mad at my stupid body.

That’s not helpful, I know. Accepting limitations and working through them, that’s the way.

Today a friend met me for a chair yoga class. She’d never done yoga and felt nervous. So did I my first time. But if I can do chair yoga–a gentle introduction to stretching and yoga poses–while out of shape and in an ankle brace, anyone can do it.

As I had hoped, she loved it.

At the beginning of class, we set an intention. Mine was simple: Love. I was at yoga to love my friend into a safe and loving practice. And I was there to love this body I haven’t even liked much of late (historically: ever).

We stretched and breathed deeply. I felt my body realigning and muscles releasing their tension.

Later, I visited the chiropractor where, for the first time, he didn’t work on my shoulders. Instead he focused his healing ministrations on my ankle. Because my shoulders have been such a chronic pain, I had No Idea he could offer such quick relief to my stupid injury. I almost felt as though I could run out of the office.

I know it will still be a while before my ankle has healed. So meanwhile, I’ve decided to stop disparaging this lug of flesh that is me and instead be grateful. Life is good. Health is better, and I’ll get there.

I found this quote today while cleaning my desk. It doesn’t, and yet does, apply directly:

I want to beg you to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms…

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to love them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
–Rainer Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

I have to be patient with my body while it heals, and patient with my heart as it struggles with the body’s less-than-wholeness. For now, I choose to live everything: injury and frustration and healing. Who knows what other good gifts life has in store through this process?

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Play at Your Own Risk

I’ve written about this before, but most of my life I thought I could not be a runner. Once I hit puberty, running induced unbearable abdominal cramps. Later, as a college freshman, I tore my meniscus and running hurt my knee. Sports never floated my boat, so I had no reason to run. I was the indoorsy type, content with introspection while walking/hiking when the outdoors required my attention.

Until last spring, when I had a sudden impulse to run in the rain. And it didn’t hurt. And, surprisingly, I had fun. I kept it up, increasing the frequency and length of my runs.

Until I developed allergy-induced breathing issues. Six weeks of labored breathing and an inhaler later, I got back to running.

Until I sprained my ankle on a late-July run. Three weeks of limping, and a doctor told me to start walking on it. The harder I walked, I noticed, the better my ankle felt at night. So I began running on the treadmill at the gym, “safe” terrain to build up my stamina while my ankle healed.

I’m not a good runner. I don’t far or fast but, as my only competition, I have noticed improvement. I don’t think I’m losing weight either, but that wasn’t necessarily the point. I feel stronger, more confident in my own skin. Having made way on a path that once felt impenetrable, I have gained confidence to tackle other areas of life.

Over the last few weeks, I’m finally back on the road and varying my route. Today the dog tugged in the opposite direction of my “usual” run, or even the alternate route I took yesterday, so I followed her lead.

Until about half-way through when my toe hit an uneven stretch of sidewalk and I took a spectacular fall, one that felt like flying though probably looked like something on America’s Funniest Videos. My left (bad) knee hit first. My hands slid along the ground, thankfully keeping my face off the pavement. I landed flat out on my stomach, arms fully extended above my head. Thankfully I let go of the leash and the dog had the good sense to get out of my way.hands-ouch

Already winded, I knocked away any breath left in my lungs. I stayed flat out for a minute and then, slowly, curled to sit on my rear, knee bent before me. I took inventory: road rashed hands; I didn’t tear my yoga pants; knee with bright red individual pebble gravel indentations. But I’m okay.

A bicyclist didn’t stop, but asked if I was okay. I offered, “I think so.” He smiled understandingly; he’s probably taken a spill or two himself.

A neighbor pulled his truck over and got out. He grabbed the dog’s leash, and waited as I got to my feet. He offered a ride home. I considered but said, no, I needed to walk the stiff out. He said, “Good, good for you. Walk it off, as they say.”

Right. Walk it off. They do say that.

I did my best to laugh. “Before I fell, I was just realizing that I’ve been running for almost six months…”

He laughed, too. “Great! Keep running for six more. Maybe just take a different route.” The irony… This was the different route…

Before I fell, I had planned to keep going straight, to take the long loop back home. Instead I turned at the corner to take the more direct route. My knee throbbed, and I had to think about holding the leash so it wouldn’t touch the pools of blood forming on my palms.

I walked until I came to a side-street that loops around–I turned left and ran it. It took a little more effort, but I was okay. I walked a little and ran a little. I added an extra loop to the right as well, running and walking. I kept going. I didn’t give up.

Breathing issues didn’t stop me; I take a deep breath on an inhaler before I run. A sprained ankle didn’t stop me; I wrap my ankle before exercise (and occasionally take ibuprofen after). A fall won’t stop me, either.

As I type I’m sitting in a recliner with my feet up, an ice pack on my knee and bandages on my hands. It may be a good idea to take tomorrow off. And still, I’m proud of myself. Six months ago I couldn’t have imagined running regularly. Six months ago one or another of the obstacles I’ve faced would have derailed me. Six months ago, I would have accepted the ride home, giving up.

If you want to play, you might get hurt. Play at your own risk, right? I’ve gotten hurt, and I’ve gotten back up. So far, the risk has proven worth it.

Exercise Caution

runIn March I took up running. A life-long walker/hiker who thought she hated running, I had a surprisingly good time pushing myself to more frequent runs which became faster and longer runs (still not far or fast, but my only competition is myself.)

It was fun until it wasn’t. Gulping in deep outdoor fresh-air allergy-heavy breaths, I developed breathing issues. For about six weeks I could hardly walk across a room or hold a conversation, which put running firmly out of reach.

As soon as I could I got back to it, starting right back at the beginning and yet doing it, persevering. And then I sprained my ankle. Honestly, I think I took a bad step hiking but running aggravated it. I’ve been limping for two weeks, but I hope to be running again soon.

The other night we firmly nudged Tween toward his bike for an hour-long pre-sunset solo bike ride. After a day of sitting on his patootie, he needed some exercise. He returned just before dark with silent tears streaming down his face: he had watched as one car–then another, and yet a third car–struck a baby deer (how that even happens, I can’t imagine…). He set down his bike to investigate, to see if he could possibly offer any assistance. He heard it scream, then whimper. He watched it twitch. He yelled in helpless frustration at passers-by who didn’t stop to help. Realizing he could neither put the deer out of its misery nor move it out of the way, he finally left it behind to head home.

His heart broke. He cried on and off until bedtime, and found sleep difficult.

Exercise can cause body aches and heart aches. I suppose we could all move our exercise indoors to the safety of air-conditioned gyms, a good idea sometimes but not a permanent solution. The outside world can cause all sorts of aches, but avoiding it is not the answer.

Risk is an essential part of life, the life we encounter when we close the front door behind us. Allergies, labored breathing, sprained ankles, and yes, even broken hearts, may be exercise risks, but they are risks worth taking. Strangers, violence, hardship, challenging thoughts that lead to paradigm shifts also await us beyond the safe shelter of home. And we learn and grow and become stronger people as we face each risk with courage.

I am glad Tween has a sensitive heart, and I am grateful he chose to share his sad story with us so we could cry and talk through it together. I can’t protect him forever, but for now I have the privilege to process with him life’s brokenness and beauty. I have the responsibility to teach him to exercise caution, but not too much.

Running in the Rain

run-in-the-rain

You don’t have to know me well to know I’m not a runner. My inner critic says, You might know at first glance, but I tell that voice to hush up now. For various reasons, I haven’t run since a college-required fitness class, mostly because it felt torturous, no fun at all. Walking, hiking, YES, but even still, it’s only been in the last decade of my life that I’ve realized how much better my body – and my brain – feel when I move for 30 minutes most days and some days more.

My funniest running memory? I set Toddler Tween on his feet in the park after releasing him from his car seat. He was so excited to see his friends on the playground that I said, “C’mon, let’s run!” He took three steps then halted, wide-eyed. “Wait! You know how to run?” Goodness.

Still, I’ve always admired runners and the freedom they seem to feel in their bodies. I can’t remember feeling truly free in my body. Even when I’m hiking, enjoying spectacular vistas, I fight feeling sluggish. I have to push myself forward no matter how much I’m enjoying the experience.

Last weekend I leashed up the dog and decided to shake things up: I decided to run. I had thought it through in advance since I walk this neighborhood almost daily. I walked down our street, then jogged the next leg. Walked half a block, jogged half a block. Walked the up-hills, jogged the down-hills. Wash, rinse, repeat for a longer distance than I usually walk in 30 minutes. I imagine even the dog was pleasantly surprised, and she indulged me by forgoing her sniff-and-water routine.

I can’t even think about how I looked. It felt as awkward as I remembered, and different: no one required this of me, and so I could think about it as play. I felt new feelings in my knees, my thighs, my arms. My lungs filled and ached. I felt slightly light-headed in a not-so-unpleasant way. And I kept moving. I didn’t pass out and I didn’t die. Surprising even myself, I might have had fun.

Rain has been splashing down this weekend. But in Costa Rica we hiked in the rain, played frisbee in the rain, didn’t mind the rain; so why should I let some glorious and much-needed NorCal rain keep me indoors? Besides, I heard the voice of a long-time runner friend in my head telling me that she loves running in the rain. Doggy hates the rain so I left her home. I donned my favorite kelly green windbreaker, put my phone in my pocket and headphones in my ears, and took the same route.

Of course the heavens unleashed a downpour just as I hit the street. No matter. I thought about puddle jumping with a college friend during a big storm; our sweat pants got so wet-heavy we had to hold them up. I remembered puddle jumping with Teen as a preschooler. He wore his yellow rubber rain boots and yellow slicker, green froggy umbrella in his hand, as we danced and jumped and reveled in the rain. Head and heart filled with pleasant memories, I ignored my thudding steps and smiled.

Just as I topped an up-hill and prepared to jog down the other side, my phone offered up the Glee version of Rhianna’s “Umbrella,” arguably my favorite Glee scene/song. I giggled. Not singing in the rain, not dancing, but running in the rain – playing, and enjoying it, even when it felt hard. If my wet hand could have dislodged my phone from my pocket, I would have put the song on repeat.

Why did I run, not once but twice? I don’t know as it’s so out of character. All I can say is, I wanted to and so I did. I might even do it again, especially if it’s raining.wet child

Dead Weight

The smallest bump and it shattered to heaps of blue safety-glass shards.Shattered-Tempered-Glass

Because of our bathroom’s tight space, we wedged the scale between the shower and toilet. No room to stand on it there, we pulled it out each time we required its services. For years, it tattle-taled the ups and downs of our binges and purges, our couch-sitting and exer-cursions. Its yo-yo reporting had us just the slightest bit addicted, self-loathing on the upswing and exulting on the downswing.

You might expect I was the hard-core user, the lone female in a house reeking from testosterone, but you’d be wrong. Its whispered secrets enticed us all.

Oldest daughter of the tiniest Viking you’ll ever meet, my pediatrician always found me on the high end of the growth chart. And I blossomed early, so to speak. I felt like a giant in my family and on the playground. Never an athlete, I also never felt comfortable in my own skin. I had no reason, or none that I recognized, to respect what my body could do.

To complicate matters, my mom cooked like a gourmet but ate mostly muesli, what we called “bird food.” Small like a bird compared with her gigantic offspring, early on I developed a love-hate relationship with food and my body. I genuinely appreciate good food and the creativity of cooking, but I’m almost as likely to punish myself by eating bad pizza, with its accompanying greasy guilt, as I am to reward myself by eating healthy.

Both my babies were born in the six-pound range, but neither stayed small for long. Teen competed in the top three for height throughout elementary school and passed up his mama in shoe size and then height as middle school began. An easy athlete, he played most sports hard and fast until in 8th grade he discovered his passion: rugby. Between 9th and 10th grade he grew an inch and dropped 30 pounds, equally due to ADHD meds and his desire to be in his best shape for his sport. Now he spends hours most days of the week split between the gym and the field. He pushes himself until it hurts, complains loudly, and loves it. A tad obsessive, he weighs himself regularly and presses harder until the numbers tip.

Tween’s diapered infant body revealed a barrel chest, just like his dad’s, and one of my favorite things about his dad when we began dating. I felt safely wrapped up in that chest, and I anticipated that far down the road someone else would appreciate that same feature in my son. As a picky-eating toddler he got skinny, and then grew wider before taller. He’s still waiting to hit his growth spurt, which we anticipate any time now. He weighs himself infrequently, mostly to confirm his negative body feelings, exacerbated by comments from peers and a few unthinking adults.

I can’t report on Guy because we don’t share numbers. Which means neither of us feels good about the numbers we know and the numbers we desire, and so…

We have tried hard to fight the body-shaming culture with a body-positive culture at home. Health is the goal. We eat mostly plant-based, unprocessed foods. We expect everyone to be involved in regular physical activity – a sport, the gym, walking, biking, playing outside in the fresh air – because our bodies were made for movement. We discourage negative body comments and counter with, “eat healthy and enjoy moving.”

But that scale…3479588225_de40388083_n

Guy intended to replace it on our next Costco trip. I had mixed feelings, especially when Teen missed it. Our clothes and overall feelings of health ought to be a good enough indication without a number. At Costco today we completely forgot to purchase a scale. I remembered after we’d left when I realized I had bought supplies for a three-day food-based cleanse and wondered how much weight I might drop, at least for a time, as I detoxed my winter indulgences.

Obviously it’s complicated, and I guess I’ll have to listen to my body instead.

The #Day Challenge

I’ve picked up an odd habit this year: I have said Yes! to an assortment of (mostly) online challenges, all for a set number of days:

The 30 Day Power Purge
Soulful Spring Cleaning: A 30-Day Life Reboot
Lenten disciplines, an annual 40 day adventure
The Body Love Experiment 21 Day Challenge
40 Days of Prayer (for a season in our church life)
Clean Eating 30 Day Challenge

Hmm, now that I look at the list, I see that my challenges center on a theme: cleaning out and cleaning up, whether it’s the kitchen junk drawer, my attitudes or relationships, my eating and exercise habits, or my prayers. Sometimes I crack myself up!

With the arrival of summer vacation, I am reminded of the theme song to one of my favorite animated TV shows, Phineas and Ferb:

There’s a 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem of our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it

Phineas Ferb

Around here it’s 72 days of summer, unless you’re in middle school and then you have 73. In any case, a finite number of days with the challenge to fill them well.

Truth: my kids can get pretty sludgey. I can almost watch them melt into primordial ooze as they stare blankly into screens – phone, computer, or TV. They’ll get up eventually, to eat or use the facilities, but return to their well-worn cushions of thoughtlessness. They get less creative and more grouchy as the day wears on.

I can’t have it, and I know from years of experience that they lack the drive of Phineas and Ferb and I lack the skills to make a good summer cruise director. However, I make a pretty good chart and so, some years ago, I devised a summer activity chart for each child. They have to do 5 activities each day, each for at least 20 minutes, and all of them at least once between Monday and Friday. There is no screen time between 9am and 4pm unless both boys have completed their five activities. If they complete all activities at least once before the end of Thursday then Friday might contain even better activities and treats.

Each year I tweak each kid’s chart – new interests and strengths (and occasionally, new weaknesses) require different activity suggestions. I’ve intentionally made the activities general so the kids can apply their creativity to how they will complete the activities.

For example, this year Teen’s activities include: reading, exercising, Eagle Scout project, creativity, writing, Bible, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Tween’s activities include: reading, physical play (exercise, but at 11yo it’s still “play”), creativity, Bible, trumpet, Khan Academy, Typeracer.com, writing, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Yesterday was the first Monday of summer. I reminded the kids Sunday evening that the charts were coming. All warning aside, when they saw the charts you might have thought I’d told them the world had cancelled summer. Teen threatened to leave the house, all day all summer. Tween, less mobile and just as determined, followed suit. I calmly explained that less than two hours of activity suggestions in 14+ hours of sunlight – and they have lots of choice in every regard – was not an unreasonable request, and yes, they’d still get plenty of screen time, fun- and friend-time. And then I left them to it while I walked the dog and walked off my frustration.

I do realize that at 11 and 16 years old it is less plausible that they will enjoy checking things off a chart. However, I also realize that they don’t transition well, that they benefit from lists and suggestions, and a chart has proven more effective than repetitive mom-reminders. And I need a) time to do what I need to do and b) time with them, and the chart helps them know what they should do with and without me.

Despite their initial loud and dramatic protests, they settled in. Among other things, Teen went for a bike ride that led to a hike that led to tree climbing; Tween played tether ball, cleaned the tortoise enclosure, and we read together.

As we read, Teen came in with a bottle of bubbles a friend gave him in honor of getting his driver’s license. He obviously thought it was funny to blow bubbles at us; we found it funny, too. The bubbles were captivating, iridescent in the sunlight, big and small and beautiful. He put the bubble wand in front of Tween’s bedroom fan, then went to fetch another bottle of bubbles so he had two wands to create a bubble wonderland. Tween bounced on the bed to catch bubbles with his hands, his feet, even his mouth.

bubbles

We played and laughed and caught and popped bubbles for I don’t know how long. Eventually Teen was done. Tween and I finished reading our chapter, and then I made the craziest suggestion: push me on the swing? Tween couldn’t believe it.

We have a swing in the big pine tree in our front yard. It’s been on my mind for weeks, waiting for the ‘right’ moment, and this was it. I sat on the swing and, at first, Tween leaned against the tree, ridiculously smirking at me. He couldn’t believe Mom was doing such a kid-thing. But why not? So he pushed me, and I squealed, and we laughed some more.

The day started with battle cries and ended with hysterical laughter. Energized by day’s end (and not drained!), I’ve created my own activity chart. My sons’ mother, I also benefit from lists and suggestions, evidenced by the number of #Day Challenges I’ve undertaken this year. So I’ve joined my kids in the challenge of how to fill our summer days well. My chart includes: work (of course), exercise, reading, creativity, Bible, blog, “project” (a little something I need to get into gear), and purge (once begun, constantly in progress).

And on Day 2, I can already say with confidence: it’s working for all of us. I’ve completed at least five if not more of my activities each day, and so have the kids. Today they didn’t complain at all. I had to go to the office for a couple hours and Tween texted me a picture of his chart with check marks and the word, “Finished!”

Too soon we’ll have to say, “Finished!” to summer and “Hello” to a new school year. But I’m determined to fulfill this 72-day Summer Challenge and live the days well.