Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Multiple Mirrors

I felt like she just "got" me. 
And believe me there is no greater feeling in the world than the feel of "gotten." 
~Rob Reiner, The Story of Us

When we drove into our campsite in Big Sur State Campground this August, first order of business was to stop by the site of our friends Lorene and Oceana, a mother-daughter camping team with whom we had made friends the year before. Camping is not unlike the first few weeks of dorm living in college. You get to know people well and quickly. (Having no walls and seeing each other cooking breakfast in pajamas is part of it.) 

We had kept in touch with Lorene since last summer via texting and facebook, and when she  brought her daughter down to SoCal over Christmas break, we had a great day at the beach and sushi dinner together. They had been enamoured with our "Four S'mores" sign which we hang in our campsite every year, and so I had made them one that said "The Happy Campers."

When Lorene came into our campground as we were unpacking our overloaded car, she gave me the once over. And with a penetrating and rapid assessment, she got down to the heart of how I'd been and currently was with a characteristic astuteness that I both love and am disconcerted by. In a moment, she saw that I had lost weight and was strung out psychologically. Two minutes later, I'd given her the rundown of the last three weeks of chaos, and the transition and busyness that I was planning to return to when the week in Big Sur was over. That was it. Three minutes, and Lorene knew right where I was coming from and what I needed for the next six days: rest, restoration, and adventure. 

She gets me. I love it when someone gets me. And I think Lorene would say the "getting" is mutual. 

My friend (I should say "our friend" because she gets Jeff, too) and I have different lives. I went a very traditional route: college, marriage, career, then kids. I have never lived outside of my home state of California, and I currently live in the same southern CA county I was raised in. Lorene, on the other hand, is a single mother, currently balancing work and school; she's a Zumba instructor and studying for an advanced degree in holistic health. She speaks fluent Spanish, and once spent a year living on the beach in Costa Rica with her daughter; they are currently living in Maui while she does an internship.

Our friendship, lived out intensely in two weeks over two years, has had a lot of influence on me.

Lorene observed during our week, for example, that Sophia is a very time-conscious child. While Oceana would say, "I'll meet you a little later and we'll skateboard," Sophia would try to pin her down: "In 15 minutes or 30?" Oceana, who is Sophia's age, barely knows how to tell time, while Sophia, raised by her extremely efficient and "productive" mother, likes to map out her days in 30-minute increments. Neither approach is wrong, but a fresh perspective born out of the camping experience and our relationship with the Happy Campers is... our family could perhaps use some loosening up. 

A week after we got home, I received a text from Lorene. I don't remember why she sent it, but I have thought about it dozens of times since. It said something about how much alike Olivia and I are and that she is "like your heart walking around outside of your body." I have always thought that my eldest Sophia is the child most like me (which is why we often butt heads), but Lorene observed something in our family dynamic that I hadn't seen; meditating on it for a month or so, I see the truth in what she said.  

In our beloved Big Sur, a river runs through the campground, and if you follow it upstream far enough, you come to a gorge where there is a deep pool and a high rock for jumping into the frigid water. This was the first year we made it that far up, as it requires a bit of water wading and rock climbing which we couldn't accomplish with Olivia as a toddler. All but Olivia took turns jumping from the rock this year, including Lorene and Oceana; and it was Lorene who skillfully empowered Sophia to literally take the plunge after she'd stood staring down at the water for almost 10 minutes.  

 But what I will most remember from this year's trip is an adventure Lorene and I had even further up the gorge. First, we swam a deep canyon, then picked our way up rocks and logs to where the river comes down in a series of small waterfalls. (If you look closely, you will see me under the log, above, at the beginning of our journey.) There was no final destination, no way of knowing when we had "accomplished" a goal in this part of the river. There was only the immense fun of finding new ways to get higher and higher, alternatively swimming and climbing, dunking our heads into new waterfalls, sitting atop rocks for new views. 

In the last eight years, my adventures have been of a particular kind, like navigating Disneyland with a breastfeeding cover and a diaper bag; or sleeping in tents with toddlers; or dining out with two moms and five children. All intrepid and bold endeavors, to be sure. But my life as a mom of small children, among other mothers of tiny children, is short on adventures of the rock climbing and frigid-river forging variety. And so being with Lorene, a mother of a nine year old who lives a life of adventure, is as refreshing as diving into a salty wave (another thing I hope we will do together, as both our daughters are learning to surf). I rediscover a side of myself with her that was in danger of being lost. 

Over the last few weeks, I have spoken to several mom's groups in Orange County about the importance of having a network of safe friends -- not just a single safe friend. As Bruce Willis' character in The Story of Us says (quotation above), there is not a greater feeling than the feel of "gotten." And because we are all complex beings, we need to be gotten by more than one person, I believe. No one, other than the Creator who made us, can accurately see the wholeness of who we are; it takes lots of different people to reflect back to us a true image of ourselves, and even more so to encourage us to become a fuller version of ourselves. Proverbs 24:5 says, "in multiple counselors is wisdom." I think, in multiple mirrors of many safe friends, we see a clearer picture of who we are.

So I'm grateful to Lorene, one of my favorite mirrors. See you in August, my friend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Skeleton in my Daughter's Closet

I have done something I'm deeply ashamed of. So I have decided to publish it on the Internet.

Both my daughters are home sick from school this week, which means I am home as well. And while at home, I have been rooting around in closets, finding reorganizing projects that need to be done but for which I don't have the energy. Think I may have got a touch of this virus, too.

Yesterday I was shifting some things around in the very top of my daughter's closet where I have a couple of quilt projects in no man's land: I have cut out the pieces and then basically decided they were too hard to sew together, but they are too valuable to throw away. And next to those UFOs (quilter-speak for Un-Finished Objects), is my dark secret.

At least five years ago, the Craft Coordinator of our MOPS group organized a charity project. She had the moms in our group color white squares of polyester with fabric markers. Then she asked me if I would sew them together and quilt the whole project, which was supposed to be given to a children's charity ( a foster home I think).

I never did it!

Those cheerful blocks, bearing messages like "God loves you," "Shoot for the stars" and "Jesus calmed the storm," are still unfaded from their half a decade in the dark of my daughter's closet. When I put it there, I meant to do it soon, but as time has passed, the guilt over not having done it yet has kept me from getting it down. Meanwhile there is a foster child somewhere in Orange County with no blanket because of my laziness mixed with guilty feelings. For this UFO to get to its intended destination, I will have to call my ere-long Craft Coordinator and bring to her attention the fact that I never fulfilled my promise, and ask her where this quilt is supposed to go!

Can any one else relate to this? Have you ever put something off for so long you feel like it would be an insult to even attempt it now? An apology that should have been given long ago? A thank you note that now seems way too small for the kindness that originally inspired it? Even just a birthday card you should have sent but didn't? For my part, I leave these things neglected, believing that doing the undone might call more attention to the failing in the first place. But then I think if I were the recipient of a decade-old apology or a month-late birthday card, I'd actually appreciate it. So...

I'll make you a deal, readers. I'm going to 1) Call my friend the Craft Coordinator and then 2) make the quilt. But YOU have to do something you've been putting off, and it can't just be cleaning out the junk drawer. Instead, you must rectify the sin of an undone kindness! I'll never know if you did it or not, but I trust you. For my own part, I'll post the finished picture. And all this is not to earn forgiveness for myself, because that's not how forgiveness works; however, it will make me feel better if my neglect inspires someone else to cope with theirs.

Monday, October 8, 2012

What Happens When Republicans Go Camping

Even though our annual camping trip took place at the end of August, here in the beginning of October I am still pondering my experiences. My next three blogs or so will likely be inspirations from the campground, where I had no technology to blog them in real time. 

The second night we spent in Big Sur State Campground, the usual peace of our river-side site was disturbed. A couple of campers (I'd place them at age 50 or thereabouts) were walking by with their Golden Retriever, when the Labrador puppy belonging to the single woman in the site next door came charging out toward them.

There's no other way to say it. The couple with the big Golden freaked out. They started screaming that dogs in the camp site have to be on a leash AT ALL TIMES. The single camper immediately went to get the leash but the couple kept yelling. Even as she walked up and tried to get the dog they were still yelling. The puppy had no idea what was going on and went running around in circles, so wound up by the commotion that the lady couldn't catch him. 

At this point, the single woman began dropping f-bombs, both verbally and with gestures. The rest of the campground looked on. When the man with the Golden grabbed her arm and she turned and hit him with a martial arts move (just as my kids started back from the bathroom), I decided it was time to intervene. My adrenaline was up, but I think I said something like, "Let's just stop yelling at her long enough that she can actually catch her puppy." This she did, and they walked off, shouting all the way that they would report her and she would be evicted by the next morning. 

It was getting pretty real in the Big Sur Campground. 

 Let me pause for a moment to say I fully support the California leash law, and her puppy should have been on a leash. On the other hand, her dog was half the size of the Golden Retriever and clearly not a threat to anyone. The urgency they clearly felt at restraining the animal seemed excessive to me. On the other hand, I stand against f-bombs in public. But that is not the point of my story.

About 30 minutes later I went to check on our neighbor, because no matter what infraction you have committed it is not pleasant to be publicly shouted at or to have a strange man grab you by the arm. After apologizing for swearing in front of my daughters and telling me that she has a black belt in judo, she said, "I probably shouldn't say this, but THIS is what happens when Republicans go camping. I can't WAIT to vote in November." 

I immediately walked down the road to my friend Lorene's campsite (Lorene shall have a blog dedicated to her in very near future) and told her the story. We laughed our heads off about that comment and I am still laughing. What in the world does being strict about leash laws and hot headed when confronted with a rogue puppy have to do with being a Republican? And what about being a Republican makes one ill-suited to camping? 

I asked this last question of Lorene and she started to chose her words carefully as she assured me that she thinks Jeff and I are very fine campers though we are both Republicans. This was even funnier to me, because neither of us are Republicans. But Lorene, knowing we are Christians, assumed that we were. 

I realize I am getting into a dangerous area here because this blog isn't nor shall it ever be a place where I voice political beliefs. But I shall share my belief about politics: I have no faith in party politics at all. 

I believe the political party labels we give ourselves and others cause us to make a lot of assumptions. We assume that because we know what party someone is registered under that we know all kinds of things about them that we don't actually know.  We make assumptions about their education, their wealth, their religion. We might even make assumptions about what kinds of vacations they should take and how they respond to leash law infractions. 

And I think, most importantly, we assume motives for the way they vote, and we may be totally wrong. There are a lot of people who hold what they would say are the same moral values, but also have different ideas about how government should or should not be involved in their values.

At the church I attend, the staff policy is to never make political statements or take political stances in any of our church groups or worship services. We pray for upcoming elections, and ask for God's will to be done in our nation, and specifically we mean: we pray for peace, for justice, for the end of oppression against the powerless, for the welfare of children, for the safety of the innocent in our nation and around the world.

Back to the black belt with the puppy problem: what possible way could her November ballot help to bring about rationality, peace and kindness in interpersonal relationships? I'd vote for that bill or that candidate for sure, but I haven't seen one yet.  I have little faith in government to accomplish what matters (though I do vote in every election according to my conscience and I do value this wonderful country in which we live), but at the risk of sounding like a 60s song, what I do believe in is love on the ground level. In individuals making choices in their communities that promote justice tempered with compassion, in giving a voice to the voiceless, and in protecting people who can't protect themselves. 

I see people on all sides of the political spectrum making those kids of choices in their everyday lives. Those people are welcome in the campground next to me any time. Just as long as they keep their dog on a leash.

Friday, October 5, 2012

All I Can Say Is, I Survived

I had a beautifully humbling experience yesterday. 

I was hired by a church in Tustin to speak on the subject of Safe, Sane Friends. (I call it "All My Friends Have Issues" after my blog of same name.) I thought I was speaking to their Mothers of Preschoolers group, which generally means an audience of mothers of infants and toddlers. Many are pregnant; most are sleep deprived. 

But instead, I found out when I arrived that I was actually speaking to their MOPS Next group, which meant mothers of elementary and junior-high-aged children.  (This was totally my error, by the way. They told me two months ago in an e-mail but I somehow missed the detail). So, instead of walking into a room where I feel "ahead" of the women, I am suddenly in a place to share my insights with people who ought to know more than me.

I came clean about this immediately as I opened my speech, and the women seemed appreciative of my candor, particularly when I told them that if they wanted to feel superior and more put together they should go downstairs with the baby moms. I know I was feeling more confident downstaris. I knew at the very least I had probably got more sleep than most of the women in the room and therefore had a mental edge. Plus, I didn't have any spit-up on my shirt. 

In reality, there is absolutely nothing superior about me in a room of MOPS moms. I only graduated out of the early childhood stage of mothering about a month ago. True, many of the women I'll be speaking to this fall have not hit the milestones of picking a preschool or navigating the world of drop-off play dates or getting a child to sleep in their underwear without accidents -- all of which I have done. Twice. But just because I have done those things doesn't mean I did them very well, or that I have any idea what the best way for them to do it is. 

All I can really say about early childhood mothering is that I survived. I am still married. I still love -- and even like -- my children. And I now find that I have come out the other side of the early childhood tunnel with a better sense of myself. 

It's possible that's what young mothers need most: to see someone that has come out of the whole process alive and smiling. The worst thing that ever happened when I was covered in spit-up with a screaming baby in the cart and a yelping  three year old under my arm at Target was to have an older woman say that I should savor every moment because this is the best time of my life. 

What a lot of hoo-ey that was. Parenting is steadily improving with age (check back with me when the girls turn 13). Crawling baby was more fun than sitting-there baby and walking baby was the best. Four years old was way better than three. Elementary school kids are awesome: more independent but still willing to wear t-shirts that say "My Mom is Totally Awesome."

In the strict parenting advice sense I only have two pearls of wisdom. 1) Hang in there. 2) This too shall pass (the good stages and the bad). 

On the other hand, I know God is calling me to speak to women, especially young mothers. So what do I have to share? First, that God loves them and cares deeply about their lives. But also, spiritual truths that I've learned from God's word, wise mentors, counselors, and my own experience (mistakes are great teachers). Here's my advice to moms, for what it's worth (and let's hope the first one was relevant to those beautiful elementary and junior high moms I met yesterday): 

1.Build a network of safe, sane friends by being learning how to be one, and keep those women close. Don't try to do life alone. 

2. Let go of perfectionism. No. Stronger than that! Wage war on perfectionist thinking styles. The "shoulds" and "all-or-nothing" thoughts of perfectionism  lie to you and make you feel that you are doing much worse than you are. Perfectionism keeps you from taking risks, stifles creativity, and robs you of joy. Daily! So embrace the beauty of Imperfectionsim: pursuing love and excellence without expecting perfection from yourself or others!

3. Give yourself permission to rest and refuel, preferably at your Father's feet. Ask God every day to help you choose "the one thing that is needed," as Jesus praised Mary for in the gospel of Luke. Stop working before you get bitter. 

4. Negative emotions like fear and frustration don't disqualify you from a life of faith with God, or make you a bad mother. But chronic fear, anger, anxiety and depression are indicators that something is off. Seek God. Seek counsel. Seek help. God wants you living in a land of joy and freedom, but sometimes we have to travel a desert to get to them, and in the desert, you need a guide.  

5. Don't worry if you aren't currently making a living. Concentrate on making a life. Our culture devalues women who don't earn money, but life is much more than making a paycheck. Even if you have "given up" your career to be with your babies (and you go, girl if you are able to do so),   you never know how the lessons you are learning from being a mom are going to be used in the greater world  around the next bend in the road. Stay-at-home mom status isn't necessarily a permanent state. 

And now, as I step off my soap box, I'd like to say thanks to the MOPS Next moms of Trinity Pres for your listening ears and your laughter. And thanks for showing me, as I follow in your footsteps, that you too are coming out the next stage of mothering alive!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Status: Content

I was driving around in my car alone this week when I had a sudden rush of self-awareness.

What is this odd sensation? I thought. Why, I think it's contentment.

Despite my tearful posting in August (I literally cried on my keyboard) over my youngest child going off to kindergarten, I dropped her off on the first day dry eyed (see photo at left). And then, I found myself on about Day 7 of Both Kids in School to be almost entirely adjusted to this new reality, and pretty much loving life. True, I am only alone for three hours and 20 minutes while Livie is in school. But it's five days a week! If I don't get all my errands done by myself on Monday, and I do them on Tuesday. Or Wednesday! If I don't work out today, there is tomorrow. You see my point. 

 The sensation of knowing that I will have this time to myself on a consistent basis for the next, say, 13 years is like a physical presence in my body. Or more like a physical lightening. For the first time in eight and a half years, I feel that what I have to manage on a given day is actually manageable. I wasn't even aware how unmanageable life felt before (at least not all the time). I never even let myself imagine this era: Mom with Kids in School. 

And yet. You may notice that I have blogged only once in the month since school began. What have I been doing? Here's the answer: 

*Having coffee with friends who also have kids in school, or who have adult kids.

*Taking showers and going out in public in clothes that all match, and some that have "dry clean only" labels.

* Speaking at MOPS groups (four in the last three weeks)

* Reading ( I had a cold and I lay on the couch two days in a row and FINISHED A NOVEL)

*Frivolous sewing (my god-daughter is turning one and her big day would not have been complete without a custom party hat)

* Zumba

*Gardening. My pots are filled with cheap seasonal mums.

* Counting my blessings. 

And yet again. My favorite day in the last four weeks was spent with my friend and her three children ages 11 months to four years. I gave the two eldest horsey rides and put the baby to sleep using my mad infant skills. I thought about that sleeping dumpling on my chest for the rest of the day, and probably also into the night.

Meanwhile, I said "Goodnight, baby" to my Kindergartner a week into her public school career, and she said, "I'm not a baby! You don't have any babies, anymore, Mom. We are both big girls now." Gulp. Sniff. And then I spent the next three weeks having dreams about having babies, adopting babies, being given other people's babies.

So don't let my put-together appearance  and contented air fool you. I'm not made of steel. I am mourning the end of the early childhood in my own way. But I am available for coffee dates while I mourn. And if you have a baby you need held, bring her with you.