26Jul

Mrs. Bean

It’s summer break!

…Or at least that’s the word on the street. “Summer” implies a certain temperature range which this soggy gray July is failing to reach, while “break” seems to indicate time off, and oh my goodness gracious. I can remember times of my life in which I must have been busier, surely, but my here-and-now has a competitive streak and refuses to concede the Most Likely to Drop Own Skull While Juggling Schedule award to any former time period.

This is the first summer that I’ve worked in addition to having the girls home from school, and I’m basically feeling like Mr. Bean on both fronts. My children have to call “Mommy!” in a steady crescendo for an average of four minutes before I hear them because I’m too busy making lesson plans or translating, and my bosses have to accommodate babysitter dashes and my awkwardly-sized schedule openings. Ideally, I just wouldn’t work over the summer, but our family has some big adjustments coming up, and every chance to bolster our bank account eases a bit of stress.

As with 95% of the things I worry over, the Mr. Bean routine probably shouldn’t register as a big deal. After all, most of the other moms I know also work. However, they also tend to have nannies (or willing grandmas) and housecleaners (or extra-willing grandmas), and summer camps siphon off their children’s excess energy quite nicely. Here is where I start to feel [rightfully] ashamed of my first-world problems, because my outlook keeps boiling down to Waaaa, I want a nanny! Waaaa, I want a housecleaner! Waaaa, I want an investor to cover my children’s summer camp expenses for life so I don’t have to keep agonizing over their lack of organized fun! Good grief.

What I really want is to feel sure that I’m meeting my family’s needs in the right way, and please tell—Does any mother ever feel truly, completely certain that she has found the right balance between parenthood, finances, and good old-fashioned sanity? If so, I could use her secret before parenting or working morale drops any lower around here.

Sanity has left the building (Sanity, as you can see, has already left the building.)

 

20Jul

Mt. Grampie

Sweet, honest Natalie.

We had a bit of turbulence throughout our morning today. No gales or typhoons, mind you, but enough rough patches that I ended up expressing my displeasure in a rather loud way that may or may not have involved yelling into a pillow. The girls convened with each other in whispers and then tiptoed into the other room, emerging several minutes later with the above letter held in front of them like a shield. There were giggles, kisses, and plenty of “I’m sorry”s nuzzled into forgiving ears, and the girls cheerfully got back to their day. I, on the other hand, spent the next hour in mental self-flagellation.

I have never been not frustrated as long as I can remember. I don’t know how much of this is my personality and how much of it is from growing up in an environment where perfection was expected with the understanding that I would never be good enough to attain it. I still don’t get how a too-heavy sense of responsibility can coexist with utter helplessness, but the mix has stewed under my shoulder blades for nearly all of my life.

Most of the time, it’s just sort of there, not doing anything worse than fogging up my sunglasses. Other times though—for instance, if I’m tired or hungry or, God save us, both, or if I have to call any form of customer service, or if (hypothetically) it’s the second morning of post-vacation summer break and the girls and I can’t remember how to occupy the same house without sounding like screech owls—in times like those, the simmering mess bursts like lava up my throat, and the only way I can find to direct it is out.  Thus the mistreated pillows and the formal requests from my kindergartners to please not be so grumpy.

There have been some Conversations around here lately about my similarity to Vesuvius, and while I’d be happy to cut back on the lava eruptions, I simply don’t know how. My coping arsenal consists of two strategies: 1) remove self from the frustrating situation, and 2) put a lid on it. The problem is that #1 is rarely an option—I often feel helpless in the face of existence, and there aren’t many socially acceptable ways to take a breather from that—and #2 usually just results in the lid rocketing out with the rest of the molten angst. All new frustration! Now with projectiles! Hard hats recommended!

Ergo my question: Which direction besides downward or outward do you channel chronic frustration?

Revised question upon realizing that you probably don’t have a stratum of helpless negativity simmering somewhere south of your clavicle: How do you deal with turbulent mornings without earning a cease and desist letter from your six-year-old?

 

19Jul

A Clumsy Apology

Hello there, neglected little blog.
Hello there, neglected friends.
Hello there, neglected pages, fingertips, heart.

We’re home from a rather dizzying eight countries in three weeks, and I’m still stumbling around on disoriented feet, tripping over an unpacked suitcase here or there. Not having written in even longer, my sense of direction is totally shot. Everything feels unfamiliar… fingers on the keys, the transference of inklings into ink, even (wince of pain) Facebook.

I’ve had to do more on-the-fly prioritizing the last few months than ever before in my life, and of all the mosaic tiles that make up my days, writing feels the most expendable. Make an appearance in the blogosphere or accept the translation project? Work on my half-finished book or run the weekly errand gamut? Journal or attend the girls’ school dinner? Respond to emails or clean up our natural disaster of a kitchen? Even during our vacation, I made a daily decision against snuggling up with my laptop and instead ventured out to experience new places with my family. I wouldn’t have chosen any other way.

But damned if I don’t miss this.

(This being my neglected little blog, my neglected friendships, the neglected passageways from my heart-tips to my fingertips, and the simple pleasure of snuggling up with my laptop despite the kitchen’s resemblance to Mount St. Helens.)

Please to forgive? And to stick around until I regain my footing again?

P.S. – No time or energy for a birthday list this year… but if I can show up around here a little more often [than my current trend of never], I’ll consider every moment of it a gift. Ribbons optional.

 

15Jun

Present Perfect

My head is full up to here. Lesson plans, present perfect study guides, proper British spellings, and would they translate it as cinema or theatre in the UK? Dust clusters, cheese baked onto forks, a weekend filling up fast. Blank pages staying blank, clock face a blur, heart applying whiteout with a heavy hand. Lists like a rolling sea and the tide coming in.

We leave to camp our way across Europe in just over a week, but the days are still picking up speed, and I’m bracing myself for the almighty impact of vacation… or rather, the night before vacation when we’re playing Trunk Tetris with the car and my eyes are only half open and I still have half the kitchen to pack. Being a detail person generally works well for me, but I do have a habit of drowning in my own practicality—especially, say, when we’re T-9 days from an epic camping trip with pretty close to nothing planned. We haven’t even figured out which country we’re going to spend the last week of it in. That would be more than enough to overwhelm my head if there were any space whatsoever left in it right now.

But seeing as there’s not, I can’t manage to work up a good panic, and truth be told, involuntary oblivion is kind of nice. I guess all that really matters is that four of us leave home together and come home together, even if I forget to pack the kitchen sink and/or we accidentally detour through remote Slovenia. (Come to think of it, that could be fun…)

I’m grateful for these spastic little glimpses into the brain clutter reminding me that yep, it’s pretty full in there, no room to worry about the future, and hey what do you know, we’re all surviving. What’s more, we’re all happy to be here right now, and I suspect that two weeks from now when the unknown is our new right now, we’ll still be glad to be living it. However, if there were room in my head for the kitchen sink, I wouldn’t complain. Just saying.

13Jun

Coinstinct

This morning, I pressed the snooze button ten times, at which point my alarm rolled its eyes and turned itself off.  I was tired with a capital T-I-R-E-D and deflated by the realization that even after all the midnight oil, I had still gotten only halfway through a project I planned on finishing weeks ago. I thrive on both completion and sleep, so this really wasn’t my ideal wake-up scenario. Plus, thanks to my snooze button calisthenics, we hit the ground running late.

I don’t remember how many snippy things I said to Dan and the girls as we drove to their school—my cappuccino hadn’t gotten a chance to make it from the thermos to my bloodstream where I count on it to turn on the lights and unlock my brainwaves every morning—but I’m sure I wasn’t overly endearing. As we piled out of the car and jogged onto the school grounds, I mostly thought in cartoonish scribbles and thunderclouds. We’re late, we’re late, we’re latelatelatelate! WHY  won’t the girls’ legs move any faster? And why did Dan have to park across the street when there was a perfectly good crosswalk unoccupied space here? Are they just trying to inconvenience me because they know I’m late for work? Grumble, grumble, thunder, lateness, doom, etc.

Just ahead of us, an equally rushed mama was leading two little girls, her arms spilling over with backpacks and an adorable toddler boy. “Still with me?” she panted toward her girls, and as she glanced back to check, her foot snagged on the uneven pavement. She and the backpacks went sprawling, but her little boy didn’t so much sprawl as he did thud. I made it to his side just as his cries began. His mama’s instincts kicked in immediately as well, and she scooped him up without seeming to notice me. We all saw the smear of blood. Dan ran to get some help, and she followed with blank desperation, the little boy’s wails transmitting across the schoolyard to his sisters.

I knew he would be okay. He hadn’t fallen out of his mom’s arms until she was already halfway down, and the bump hadn’t affected his vocal cords in the slightest. However, I couldn’t help aching for his sisters. The younger one in particular was frozen in place with tiny hiccupping sobs, so I picked her up hoping it wouldn’t land me on the five o’clock news as a child abductor. I comforted as best I could while bringing the girls into the school where their brother was loudly protesting treatment, and then I left them. There wasn’t really anything else Dan or I could do, and the minutes were racing full speed ahead toward work. I hated to leave them though—the little boy wailing in pain, his sisters hugging each other in bewildered tears, or their mama whose lifesaving instinct would undoubtedly turn on her in blame. They had my heart’s full attention; all the scribbles and thunderclouds had been replaced by compassion.

And then, not three minutes later, I was snapping at Dan over his driving.

I couldn’t tell you the exact moment when my mental state shifted back to doom and snark, but snapping at my husband was every bit as sudden and involuntary as rushing to help a child in pain. I mean, I was clearly going to be latelatelate!, so my brain followed its problem-solving protocol to its natural conclusion: Make sure your husband understands his crime of failing to drive just like you do. Hugging him goodbye was a halfhearted mix of irritation and regret, and I booked it to work feeling like I probably should have snoozed that first alarm with a sledgehammer.

There are two things I just can’t understand about the morning. One is that somehow my instinct for compassion can coexist in such tight quarters with an instinct for criticism. Despite the visceral strength of my heart-ties to loved ones and hurting ones alike, those bonds can be sidestepped by something as paltry as being late for work. Do I even need to mention how scummy this makes me feel? The last thing I want is for tragedy to have to strike my little family before I stop taking them for granted; I just need to learn the delicate art of instinct override.

The second thing I can’t understand is that somehow, even after everything, I made it to work on time.

 

6Jun

Pit Stop

(Photo from last summer’ road trip to get me psyched about researching this one.
A photograph is worth 1,000 motivational speakers, right?)

I’m beginning to understand the term “breakneck speed,” caught like a reluctant driver in these days that trade time for whiplash. Good lordy. I stayed up until 1:00am on Saturday cleaning the bathrooms simply because it was the first opportunity I’d had in… uh, weeks. Don’t you wanna come party with me now? ::wink wink, nudge nudge:: (My definition of weekend fun might be a little off, but I can offer freshly scrubbed toilets!)

I don’t intend to keep going so long between posts, you know. My dearly beloved blogosphere is on my mind here and there throughout each day, my thoughts briefly lunging toward it while a work document loads or lesson plans shuffle into folders, but life in the fast lane is teaching to me to reel in my focus and quickly, before any synapses get tangled. Nevertheless, I haven’t forgotten about this space, and your comments and letters have meant the world to me. Thank you so much for taking the time to connect with me, even if I haven’t been able to reciprocate yet. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Over the weekend, I finally wrapped up a huge project and am now embarking on the next: our annual epic camping trip. I always forget just how much work goes into planning these things until we’re three weeks away with nary a campsite reservation to be seen. Plus, Magellan needs some serious TLC before we leave (he still hasn’t recuperated from last summer’s adventures), the line of super-duper-urgent-VIP errands waiting to be run is now winding into last year, and the ironing pile has officially usurped our sofa.

…Aaaand this is also why I haven’t blogged much lately, because pretty much anything I write will eventually degenerate into a to-do list. Apologies, friends. Just know that I’m grateful for you… and if I’m not around much, it’s only to spare your dear necks from secondhand whiplash.

 

25May

Untethered

I don’t know where to start writing about this, even just for myself. It’s too big for me, too heavy, and my soul just wants to stretch out on a beach chair in some blissfully deserted part of the world and fall asleep to the sound of waves. How do I write through where I am now without coming across as fickle or, as more than one person has suggested, deluded?

It’s true—my perspective was warped by years of religious brainwashing and abuse in God’s name—but if nothing else, growing up with people who swallowed someone else’s ideology taught me not to do the same. I refuse to adopt a belief system just because others tell me to, and that applies to Christianity as well. Have I ever believed in God because my own story and experiences led me there? Have I ever even had that option?

I once thought that every good thing that happened to me was an act of divine benevolence. Scholarships, job offers, relationships, fast recoveries, relationships—each a personalized stamp of God’s approval and generosity.  What does that mean for my friends who had to work their way through college though? What of my friends living off of unemployment? What of those who didn’t meet Mr. Right or never recovered or had their homes destroyed by a natural disaster or went bankrupt or lost a child? Where I used to see God’s puppet strings, I now see coincidence because I can’t deal with the implications of an all-powerful benefactor playing favorites.

It doesn’t mean God isn’t good. Rachel Held Evans wrote about the same internal debate, and I’m relieved to know that the struggle isn’t confined to my own head and that others have found other ways of measuring God’s goodness. In nature, for instance, I can’t help seeing the beauty of its blueprint… but I don’t see perfection, and I don’t see personal intention. Whether the sky cooperates for someone’s outdoor wedding or a hurricane devastates thousands of families, I simply see a flawed universe set to random.

And I understand now more than ever why some Christians I know cling to their beliefs at the expense of everything else in their lives, even peace of mind. Coming untethered from a doctrinal picket line is a frightening experience, and there is only a hairline difference between feeling liberated and feeling lost (I tend to vacillate between the two). I can’t turn off my questions any more than I can turn off my instinct to breathe, but I wish I could. Some days, I am absolutely certain I would choose unthinking acceptance over this mind that tracks down holes more easily than it does happiness.

I have problems with a lot of people who claim to take their marching orders directly from God, and this casts doubt on the whole notion of a converted life (at least a life converted from assholery). I have even bigger problems with the Bible, questions that I fear have no answers aside from churchy platitudes, and as much as I might want to, I cannot sincerely subscribe to the whole traditional Christianity package. I cannot accept that a loving God created people for heaven and then set their defaults to hell. I cannot believe that a Jesus who taught turning the other cheek represents the same deity who went around wiping out heathen nations in the Old Testament. I cannot see my way past the violence or the inconsistencies or the staggering injustice of what some call the “Good News.” I just can’t.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this leaves me. I’m not rejecting faith, but I can’t flash a denominational membership card either, and even the space just beyond the old tether’s radius is unfamiliar territory. My biggest hope is that God isn’t tied to the picket line either and that my uncertain journey forward will bring us face to face, maybe in an open-air café without closing hours where he can answer every question I’ve ever penned in my journal or posed to uncomprehending pastors or sensed without being able to articulate. More than anything, I want God to be real and different than I was always told, and I think this longing counts as faith for me right now. And if I am simply deluded, I  pray I’ll eventually stumble across that beach chair.

 

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