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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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.

Leap of Faith

You know those people you esteem at a distance? Shirley is one of those women in my life. Our kids have traveled together through elementary school and now into middle school, but she has a daughter and I have a son and so our social overlap has lacked. Yet I have watched with deep respect as Shirley has invested in her passion and launched her business. She inspires me, and I’m sure she will inspire you as well.

Create Challenge #7 – Shirley DeFrancisciDef-2

I took a leap of faith on November 11, 2014, which resulted in me receiving an amazing gift. Within days after a family photo session I said, “I can and want to do that, too!” and I decided to start a photography business of my own.

Why do this? Photography has been my passion for as long as I can remember. I started with Kodak Instachrome and Polaroid photos in elementary school and I carried around a Nikon SLR during most of my junior and senior years in high school. I never stopped loving photography in my twenties but becoming an aunt and then a parent inspired me to pursue photography more intensely.Def-1

So when the opportunity came about to share my skills and art with others in a more official capacity, I seized the chance. It felt like the most logical thing to do. I am grateful and have no doubt that God’s hand provided the bit of push I needed to pursue this dream. With giddiness, nervous excitement, prayer and with my family’s full support, I launched DeF-Stop Photography. My announcement was a simple email sent to a collection of friends/acquaintances with a link to a Sign-up Genius. Hitting send made me feel so vulnerable! However, within four days I received over 30 confirmed bookings for Christmas mini-photo sessions. I felt humbled, surprised, honored, energized and beyond grateful for everyone who trusted me out of the gate to capture their images. It was a win-win as my clients started to report how thrilled they were with the results.

Why do this? Since then, I have constantly questioned myself: Is this what I want? Is this God’s intent for me? Is this relevant to who I am?Def-3

Why do this? I also do mental sanity and capacity checks. I work full-time at a great company. I am the mother of three, incredibly beautiful-yet-busy children. I am a wife, daughter, sister, friend and I need at least some time for myself! There are only 24 hours in a day! In order for this venture to be successful long-term, I had to frame it in a way that was relevant and resonated with me, my husband and family while aligning to our goals and, sometimes, just logistics. Being creative makes me happy. Happy mommy = happy home = happy family. Okay, keep going!Def-4

Why do this? To pursue my love for photography and share it with others. My goal is to express myself as an artist but also communicate what is true. The camera doesn’t lie (Photoshop does if you need it to). I listen and strive to provide what my clients ask for but I take risks and show them angles they might not have considered. I see one thing but do they see it, too? They show me things I did not see at first. I am learning and growing my craft. I am rewarded when images pleasantly surprise me and are better than I imagined.

Why do this? I capture God’s beauty and I capture life as it happens, either outside in open space, at a local event, inside for a party or in a nursery for a newborn shoot. I see people in beautiful light, playing and, most often, happy (even teenagers). I want my clients to enjoy the experience and love the results. I am inspired to capture with my lens the emotions of family interactions, sports and other activities. During shoots, I sometimes remind my clients to look around since they are often with people they love the most. I remind them to pause, take a deep a breath and treasure this moment. I do this too. When we can collectively stop and realize that nothing else matters but these people around us, it is a priceless gift. I am always in the pursuit of capturing this moment with my lens. This is why I do this.Def-5

 

Def-Shirley

 

Shirley lives in Moraga, California, with her husband, three children, mom, and a very old, fat cat. She volunteers whenever she can. In her free time she loves music, reading and, of course, photography! To see more of her work and schedule your photo session, see her website: https://defstopblog.wordpress.com/

Garage

“Mom, I’m okay, I wasn’t involved, but the police want you to come pick me up.”

My heart races at this rush of words through the telephone.

Teen and two other boys had permission to spend a summer night at another friend’s house. He has a game room and they wanted to play late into the night.

Teen neglected to tell us parents would not be home; we goofed and didn’t check.

Someone invited someone who invited someone else who did something stupid to attract police attention before arriving at the now-party. Police ran a license plate, called parents, and eventually discovered unsupervised minors, some of whom were still obliviously playing games.

Guy went to get him while I stayed home and prayed. Obviously the car ride home involved a conversation about trust and a now-depleted, in fact negatively balanced, Trust Account.

Teen has never been a big gamer. He is a health-conscious athlete and mostly a likable, good kid. He gets in trouble because he acts impulsively, the tell-tale symptom of his ADHD which inclines him to risk-taking. Honest to God, I’m grateful his risk in this situation was relatively low.

Teen barely knew the kid for whom the cops arrived and he easily recognized the stupidity of the kid’s actions. He never argued about being grounded. He understood that the situation could quickly have become So Much Worse. He learned something.

A summer week without friends might be a rough kid-consequence, but his parents enjoyed hanging out with our Teen. He won’t say it, but he might have had some fun with his family, too.

This is the reason we spent our not-truly-a-staycation cleaning out and reorganizing our garage (aka storage-unit) into a hang-out space. Not in response, as we’d already begun the process before the incident, but because we want our house to be a place Teen wants to bring friends.

Teen’s tendency has been to go out rather than invite friends in. Understandably, as our smallish house lacked a space with sufficient separation from Family Life. Almost simultaneously, Teen bought a PS3 + games from a friend who had moved on to a newer system, and friends offered us their sectional couch and rug. We saw an opportunity.

garage

Purging in process

garage 2

Prepping for sanding/painting

Parents did most of the purging; Teen put on his work clothes to move furniture, to sand and paint. He offered input on where things should go (he pushed us to purge even more) and what else might be needed (mini fridge, space warmer for cold nights). He even reorganized games into attractive storage boxes.

It’s still a garage – bikes and sports equipment, tools and laundry, no cars (we live in California) – but thankfully, the renovation worked. Over the last three months, Teen has stayed home more than he might have AND he has invited friends in. Goal! It has also given Guy a new opportunity to bond and play with his boys and provided another comfortable hang out space.

Our garage-pantry makes for easy snack access; cat = happy, too!

Our garage-pantry makes for easy snack access; cat = happy, too!

No perfect solution, the Man Cave has also created new problems. Teen hears the siren call of video games so much louder than our reminders to get homework done first. It has become a too-frequent escape when he’d prefer not to engage with family. And the three guys enjoying the space so much sometimes leaves Mama out. As families do, we negotiate as we go.

We listened with ears, eyes, heart, and our love for Teen led us to a Labor of Love: a garage hang-out space. He receives love best through Time and Gifts, and I’ve seen it in his eyes – he understands that we spent significant Time to create a Gift of space for him.

I asked him again today: “Are you grateful we worked so hard to create this space for you?”

He responded, “No, Mom. Seriously, are you really asking me that? Yes, I’m grateful.”

Sarcasm aside, he is grateful. He received the love. I’ll take it.