Learning to Lament, With Toddlers

crying

My #firsttimeparent moment came when two-month-old e.e. started crying more than his usual contented self. After all the kinds and lengths of cries and screams we’ve witnessed in two years of parenting, it’s utterly laughable that we were even concerned about this particular cry — much less concerned enough that we felt it best to take him to the pediatrician ASAP. He was fine. Apparently we weren’t the first new parents to worry over newborn cries, and our pediatrician assured us that the worst was yet to come.

Toddlers cry. A lot. They scream. They tantrum. They wail. They sob. They reach humanly impossible pitches and intensities. It’s just a thing that they do, even if you check off all the Basic Needs boxes: fed, changed, rested, warm, entertained, attended to. Consistent routines and nap/meal schedules help to stave of hunger- and exhaustion-related meltdowns, but I still cook many a lunch with toddlers screaming, “MAHHHHHHH!” at me, as if I’ve never given them any food in their lives.

It’s my favorite part of parenting, for sure.

Before crying underscored my existence, I resolved never to do that horribly dismissive things parents do — telling their kids to stop crying!, as if they’re miserable because they’re crying instead of crying because they’re miserable. I’m still resolved, but my success rate is far from 100%. Sometimes, I just can’t take it anymore. The crying is so incessant, so loud, so intrusive, and from my adult perspective, so irrational. Nothing triggers compassion fatigue faster than a whiny scream over no discernible thing, with all offers of kindness, solutions, and juice refused.

It’s not irrational, not when I step away from the screaming and process what the heck just happened. Life just sucks sometimes, for all of us, toddlers and adults. It’s not about wanting Mama to get the cup of water instead of Daddy, not really. It’s about the fears we have of losing connection with someone we love, and how little control we have over people, and how much we need them, anyway, and how are we supposed to function, needing someone we cannot control? It’s not about tripping over their feet and falling on their butt (again) as they’re learning to walk. It’s about the frustration of wanting to get to a solid, steady place in life, but development and obstacles constantly hold us back, no matter how much we try. Some days, we wake up on the wrong side of the bed. The world looks bleak, we feel crappy, and it’s just too overwhelming to make it downstairs to breakfast.

Once, a parent tried soothing their daughter who had burst into inconsolable tears. “It’s okay,” they soothed. “You’re okay.”

“I’m not okay!” she snapped.

Toddlers aren’t irrational. Toddlers are honest. They’re honest about the jagged edges of reality that we try to smooth over with the lies we tell ourselves about being in control and everything having a meaning and life always working out in the end.

Toddlers know how to lament. 

The impulse is to calm the child, to make things better. But the scream comes back, “Don’t even try to calm me down!” whether in words or equivalent. Why is this so unnerving? Doesn’t it evoke all the fear, resentment, frustration, which hasn’t really changed at all since our own childhood? And isn’t the impulse to get the child calmed down, by any means possible, an impulse to stifle this Pandora’s box? It’s an enormous challenge to really be with the child in its inconsolable state.

That child is ourself. We want love, which is always going to turn out to be less dependable than the infinite we hoped for. We want psychological security and it will never be enough. We want physical security. We want to continue as me forever. Our wants, and perceived needs come up bang against the wall of aloneness which wanting and hoping and grasping creates. Then, can we be with the sadness this evokes? Can we feel it, the impulse to run away from it, the absoluteness of it, the non-negotiable nature of our predicament as a vulnerable, scared human being? Perhaps if we truly perceive the fact that there is nothing I can do, then the child/adult may for the first time be free from an enormous burden of managing the unmanageable. — Anonymous, quoted in “When a Child Is Inconsolable: Stay Near”

I think that’s why we’re often deeply uncomfortable with crying children: they’re lamenting an unfixable grief. Why else are we still trying to get our children to stop crying when it’s obvious they feel a need to cry about something? Sure, we often get flat out annoyed and overstimulated and just want the crying to stop for our own sanity. But in other moments, we can’t deal with the helpless position we find ourselves in when our babies are sobbing, and we’ve tried everything, and nothing will fix it. We feel helpless, we feel guilty for feeling helpless, and we feel reminded of a deeply uncomfortable truth…that sometimes nothing can fix the hurts in this life, not in the way we want, and certainly not on our own timetable.

Sitting with a screaming toddler, it’s the exact process of sympathy, discomfort, and then avoidance I feel with people who’ve experienced adult pain. They’re single and they don’t want to be. Their family’s a wreck. They hate their job. They want something more out of life. The first few times, I knit my brow and listen intently. Yes, this is a valid pain. I get it. I’ve felt it myself. The next few times, when it gets clearer and clearer how badly this pain is affecting them, I get nervous. I don’t know how to help. I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to be in this support position anymore. Why are they telling me all this? I’m not a counselor.

The few times after that, I want to throw up my hands and tell them to get a grip — as if there’s a timeline on grief.

I find myself thinking of the story of Job a lot, how he drew the short stick in life just for being a righteous man, and how all his friends came, lamented, and sat with him for seven days and seven nights, holding space for his unspeakable grief. They must have got compassion fatigue from seven days of lamenting, because after Job starts verbalizing his grief in long, melodramatic monologues, the friends lose their empathy. They start trying to fix things: Here’s what you did wrong, Job; here’s what you can do; here’s how you can move on.

Just like me. I do that. I’m the obnoxious fix-it personality who’s quicker to Google possible remedies and analyze everything to make sure this never happens again. I do it to everyone, including myself. I haven’t learned to lament. I haven’t learned to hold space. I don’t think many of us have, even those of us who aren’t obnoxious fix-it personalities. We don’t know how it feels to have someone sit with us and let us scream or cry or rant for as long as we need, without judgment, without fidgeting, without Googling nearest counselors who price services on a sliding income scale.

There are, of course, things we can do to help. Sometimes someone needs a nap or a hug or a cup of juice to get blood sugar back up. Sometimes advice, a game plan, and counseling is absolutely critical to resolving or avoiding the issue in the future. But sometimes, at the core of the grief is an unfixable thing that just needs space to be.

One of my toddlers woke up from a nap screaming. They didn’t want to be touched. They didn’t want to be spoken to. They flung themselves away from me at great risk to their physical safety whenever I moved toward them or opened my mouth. Finally I just sat there. They screamed full volume, full heart for thirty minutes. I timed it. My husband had to take over lamenting, because the other toddler needed me (which might have prolonged the screaming). After thirty minutes, the tears abated, I picked them up, gave them a kiss, nuzzled them, fed them a snack, and we went about our day relatively tear-free.

They just needed to lament, and they needed me to sit with them and let their feelings be unfixable.

If I’m honest, I need that. We all need that. We aren’t as free or in touch with our grief as toddlers are. We’re less egotistical; we’re more conscious of how perspective and time work; we’re more considerate of how our sorrow and pain affect others. But we still need to lament more than we’d like to admit. And we still need friends who will sit with our lament in silent acceptance for as many days and nights as it takes to feel okay again.

Advertisements

Passions & Vocation, Post-Deconstruction

theology

When I was younger, theology was my passion. That was the lens through which I saw and processed the world. That was my passion. That’s what I thought about, wrote about, lived for. I spent time and money on a Christian studies degree. I never had any set career plans with these interests (can you have a set career plan when you’re a woman with a degree in Christian studies?), but my life, I was sure, would involve at least an armchair, if not a platform, in theology.

I graduated with that Christian studies degree, deconstructed everything, and came out on the other side totally disinterested in theology proper. Do I care deeply about God, spirituality, and Christianity? Absolutely. Have I finished any of the theology books on my Goodreads list? Absolutely not. Have I revisited any of my old online haunts to ask or answer a theological question? Not at all. Do I have any interest in pursuing my teenage dream of writing bestselling theology books? Heck, no.

College taught me I wasn’t an academic — not like the true academics. It burned me out on books so badly that it took me a couple years to even pick up a light novel. I cannot fathom how anyone who valued their mental health went directly from graduation to graduate school.

So now I find myself looking back on a decade of my life and thinking, “Wow, self, we have nothing in common.”

Welcome to my quarter-life crisis!

I’ve been pondering for a while whether my enthusiasm for theology was a true passion, or more of a means of survival. If it was truly a passion, can it shift this drastically? Don’t true passions stick with you for life, don’t they make up the DNA of who you are, no matter what season you pass through or what other interests come and go? If so, me leaving theology on the bus after my last stop in deconstruction is proof that theology wasn’t really something I was passionate in. It took up so much room in my life, crowding out other things that I might be interested in, only because I felt that my eternal life depended on it.

It did. Theology was a matter of life and death. I genuinely thought that if I believed the wrong thing, God would burn me alive in hell forever for failing to follow his clear and obvious truth. That meant I had to be right, on every issue I was exposed to. It was a horrific catch-22: Someone who truly loved Jesus loved to study the Word. So I studied. The more I studied, the less margin of error I had, because someone as educated as I in the Word should know better.

When my beliefs became emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually impossible to hold onto, I had to start over. I started over with unconditional love at the foundation of everything I believe and do. I’m not afraid of God anymore. My faith doesn’t present itself as a mental illness. There is room to be who I am and follow the passions and vocation God gave me.

Theology and I parted ways when it became clear that our relationship was built mostly out of fear and necessity — a bond forged in a traumatic existence predicated on getting everything right, or else. That is what makes me question whether that decade of theological study was a true passion, much less a true (but temporary) calling.

Now my passions lie with something entirely different and entirely out of left field — children’s rights advocacy, particularly in the contexts of respectful, nonviolent, nonpunitive parenting, trauma-informed foster care, and — get this — play- and nature-based early childhood education. (Bailey and nature in the same sentence? Truth is stranger than fiction.) I see the world through a developmentalist perspective. I want to be an early childhood teacher in a needy area. I want to foster children. Whereas my brainspace was once taken up by minute, obscure, unwanted opinions on eschatology, now it’s crowded with minute, obscure, unwanted opinions on sleep training and baby-led weaning.

I want to say that this is my true passion. This is where I am called now that I am free to answer any call that God gives me. This is what I was born to do and what I choose to do out of love, not fear.

Interestingly, I’m only passionate about this ever since I landed a K5 job at a Christian charter school in the inner city (what else what I was supposed with that Christian studies degree?), got pregnant, and realized that I needed to get my act together before I passed on all my vices to the next generation. How much of this new passion is born out of necessity, circumstance, and, sure, a little (lot) of fear about screwing things up? Are those things the drive of passion and vocation? Will this passion last all the way through my kids’ childhoods? Even that long? Will I have to reboot and rebrand in another decade, in a new season?

And if I do, will that mean this passion wasn’t my calling and vocation? Or does it mean that calling and passion grows and changes organically with the whole person? Perhaps the person, her circumstances, her fears and her loves drive the passion and the calling just as much as the passion and the calling make up who that person is?

This is the gist of my quarter-life crisis. I haven’t quite figured out what to do with my past self and my past passions. I still want to write. I still ponder things about God and spirituality…just off-script from theology. Just the other day I was toying with the idea of writing about God and spirituality through the lens of motherhood, which is a very theologicky thing for someone disinterested in theology to consider. For Pete’s sake, I’m writing a whole article on how important it is for me to find out where the heck that Lost Decade of Theology fits into this new me who wants to write about behavior clip charts, eating healthy on a budget, and the best brand of diapers, all in one breath.

Living longer will answer those questions better than trying to puzzle it out now, I imagine. I’m not worried about it too much. I just like having an explicit, cohesive “point” to my existence.

For now, my friend suggested that my forte was speaking about the universal human experience from whatever vantage point I happened to be occupying at the moment…whether it’s from a nerdy, academic, snobbish place of fear or a page out of the life and times of a mom and preschool teacher passionate about children’s rights and a God of love.

There’s a lot of freedom and a lot of grounding in that vocation. I like it.

My Strange Friendship Problem

phone

I was asking myself the other day whether I was lonely. Was I? Was I starving for human companionship that didn’t require me cleaning up half-chewed banana from the table? Was I pining for human conversation that didn’t involve one person screaming bloody murder for ten minutes straight while the other person played a rapid-fire 20 Questions (Is it an injury? An illness? An emotion? Do you need a third banana??)?

Yes, a change of pace is always welcome, but I don’t feel lonely. I don’t feel socially deprived. I am a low energy, introverted mother who wants a nap more than a night out.

Besides, I have friends. I have many amazing friends, some collected and kept from as far back as my high school days. I knew that if I truly needed someone to talk to, I could text any one of them and they’d say, “I can’t tonight, but after I get through this week of overtime and move to a new house and give birth to this baby and raise him to adulthood, we should totally get together!”

No, I truly do have amazing friends who would indeed drop things to at least call me if I really needed them.

I don’t ever really need them, though, because they are busy, and I am busy, and I have learned to live life without being able to pick people’s brains in real time — thus resulting in a strange adult friendship problem that I will share with you now.

When I was in college, the longest I might have to wait for a friend to be available to talk was…not long. If I could just survive classes, I could crash in a cafeteria booth and spill everything. If I couldn’t survive that long, I could text after class and get at least a little bit of human interaction as they walked into their class.

Adult life obligations do not come in block schedule form. They are never-ending, with too few and too short breaks. Counsel and encouragement are often a day, a week, a month away. Obviously I can’t wait that long to solve a pressing issue. And so, I have had to learn to deal with my crises on my own. I have had to learn to self-soothe. I have had to learn to sit and think through things by myself (or post them to a sympathetic Facebook group and hope a helpful person responds with something more substantial than, “No advice, but solidarity” *heart emoji*).

These are all excellent adult skills to have, and I don’t resent the emotional growing up I did while learning to solve my own problems without hand-holding. It feels good to feel competent and self-sufficient, rather than a co-dependent puddle.

But connecting with others is a still a basic human need that doesn’t go away when emotional maturity blossoms. (And if it does, I don’t want to grow up anymore.) Even though I might not need someone sorting life out with me 24/7, even if I can wait until after work hours, I still would like to process things with somebody rather than monologue the half hour round trip to and from work. I don’t need to reach meltdown mode to justify wanting a friend.

The thing is, now that FRANTIC AND IMMEDIATE NEED is not driving my get-togethers, it’s easy for me to say, “Sure, go ahead and raise your child to adulthood — I can wait until you’re free.” And I can. I can. I’m proud of myself that I can.

Here’s the problem.

I am tired, brain dead, low energy introvert. I do not want nor can I muster up much energy to have conversations about things I don’t find interesting. And I’m finding that I’m really only interested in crises and questions and thoughts as they happen in real time, rather than relaying them all in retrospect at a predetermined date. Texting my husband about how the toddler is screaming for ten minutes straight is a far more relevant and interesting conversation when the toddler is doing the screaming…but if I’ve already dealt with it, and had my ten minutes of screaming, and moved on, it takes more energy than I want to give to recap all those exhausting emotions and thought processes. I don’t need him to know about the toddler screaming. I need him when the toddler is screaming.

Same with friends. The days and weeks and months pass, and by that time, I have usually come to a solid, if not entirely satisfactory conclusion or course of action. Since it’s not bearing down on me, mom amnesia and exhaustion set in, and I find that I don’t really have anything interesting to say about my life.

I’m focusing on the negative things because this week has mowed me over, but this is true for happy things too, like vacations and funny memes and sweet anecdotes. I don’t care much about them a couple months after they occur, and even if I do, I probably don’t remember them. I have been trying for a month to remember to tell my husband about the cute elderly couple who ride their electric scooters to the duck pond on Green Bay St. every single evening, holding hands on the park bench and throwing bread crumbs to the duck with the huge cyst on his eyelid. If I can’t even remember to tell the man I see five minutes after I pass that scene, how am I supposed to remember and/or bring it up naturally in conversation with someone I only see once a month? (I did remember to tell him about the duck.)

So when a friend texts, “I’m so sorry to do this to you again, but something came up. Can we try next Monday instead?!”, I say, “Of course!!” Because I have learned to talk to myself in the car.

This has resulted in me not speaking to friends for a shamefully long time, which has resulted in me wondering if I’m lonely. I still don’t think I am — the simple existence of people I love and people who love me is buffer against that — but I do need and want to spend more of my life, the crises and the play time, with friends, instead of scheduling coffee dates a few times a year to catch up on all the things that are no longer a source of much frustration, joy, and thus, interest, in our lives.

Maybe I could just call people on my way home from work and talk to them instead of texting them after work to schedule a time to talk. But that’s weird, right? And requires that I get over my deal with talking on the phone.

Ah, well, no worries. I’m sure I’ll figure it out soon in one of those heart-to-hearts with the bathroom mirror.

My Dear Brothers and Sisters, Not Many of You Should Be Tweeting

freestocks-org-72172-unsplash.jpg

Sharing the story of our hurt is healing. It’s healing to get it off our chests. It’s healing to take control of a narrative that ripped agency from us. It’s healing to be taken seriously and believed. It’s also healing to see how sharing our story impacts and empowers others.

The amazing thing about the internet is that this healing can extend beyond a couple in-person relationships. We can connect with others who’ve been through our struggles. We can start wide-reaching social media platforms without any middle-man policing our story. We can effect change and expose lies and abuse just through one viral tweet. That’s incredible. I’m eternally grateful for all the brave people who shared their stories publicly, forever changing my life.

The downside to this amazing phenomenon? There are a lot of injured, unprepared, easily triggered people thrust to the helm of important social movements and prominent platforms, and they are not healed enough to be there.

I’ve observed that there are many, many vocal people who subconsciously use their platform as a form of personal healing. They want the internet to hear them, believe them, and validate their experience, no questions asked. They fly off the handle at questions; they attack people’s character for using the wrong word or tone, even unintentionally; they want people to change their minds, but don’t want them to ask any questions. “There are tons of articles on that. Do your own research,” they snap.* They talk about how exhausted and done they are after one dissenting comment. Their patience and their skin is extremely thin.

I used to judge these people as mean and irrational, but now I understand that they’re just hurt and unhealed, and continued interaction with the insensitive and ignorant masses further compounds their pain. The stress of being questioned and not immediately believed, the frustration of hearing the same stupid questions over and over, the exposure of their deepest selves to a skeptical world — that’s a lot. They are burned out.

I’m convinced there’s absolutely nothing wrong with expecting people to accommodate our pain and adhere to our boundaries, but if we’re going to be speaking to people who don’t know us, who aren’t familiar with our type of experience, and who don’t agree, we’ve got to be aware of our needs and explicit about our boundaries. It’s essential for our own well-being and our movement as a whole to specify whether we’re looking to be heard and validated or seeking to educate others.

In my own online experience, I enjoy clearly-defined boundaries that set me up for what to expect as a participant. I don’t mind being in spaces where a particular marginalized voice is elevated or where I’m expected to listen and not talk. I appreciate when someone specifies which terms they do or don’t prefer so that I can discuss things sensitively. I’m okay with working around people’s sensitives and triggers. We all have them — even prominent, confident social media leaders. Just because someone is an internet celebrity doesn’t mean that their followers and detractors get to define or ignore the celebrity’s personal boundaries.

What does bother, frustrate, and confuse me is when people enter into spaces for open debate or set themselves up as a public, vocal advocate, and then not only refuse to accept questions, criticism, or the ignorance expected from beginners, but rage at others for daring to question their experience. Again, to be clear, there is nothing wrong or weak about admitting our triggers, acknowledging our areas that need healing, or setting up spaces and boundaries that are geared toward support and validation only. We just need to be clear about them. And we need to be realistic: it’s not fair to ourselves or others to set ourselves up as an expert, to start debates, or to attempt to change people’s minds if we’re not healed enough to patiently, kindly deal with the skeptics and the newbs.

This is where I see positive social media movements going off the rails. They start as primarily raising awareness about a problem, empowering people with similar experiences to speak up. It picks up steam as all the people needing the validation of being seen, heard, and believed hop onto the bandwagon.

Then, since it’s public and controversial, the dissenters start in with questions, comments, and criticisms — many outright trollish, meant to silence and intimidate; many genuine, meant to understand and to give a fair hearing, even if they cannot agree to agree beforehand. The movement, being designed more for awareness, not debate, and being comprised mostly of ordinary people who signed up for validation, not skepticism, who aren’t healed enough to hear a barrage of questions and a slew of the same old ignorant microaggressions about their very personal stories — the movement reacts as any hurt person punched in their wounds would: lashing out, withdrawing into itself, creating an insular echo chamber that demands unquestioning belief and perfect sensitivity, without any energy to educate even its own people on what that looks like.

This inability to engage with the public erodes the movement’s credibility with the crowd of reasonable but ignorant people willing to give it a fair shot. People get nervous or frustrated, unable to engage in a discussion without being told to sit down and shut up. Within the movement, people are too afraid of getting cancelled for unintentionally saying the wrong thing. People with valid concerns get kicked out for simply disagreeing. The movement fails to educate those trying to listen and learn, and it’s unable to handle the introspection needed to course correct or grow. All the leaders are off and on angry, burnt out, or unwilling to answer or tolerate questions, and finally, the movement implodes in on itself with infighting, because everybody’s sensitivities and hurts are unique, and nobody knows how to handle those differences in healthy ways.

All of this can be mitigated through self-awareness, self-care, and clear communication. We need to recognize with compassion and sensitivity that hurt people hurt people. They’re not irrational or mean or proving that their experience and their take on it is invalid. They’re just hurt. If someone is sharing something personal in a public sphere, we need to ask about their boundaries and respect those boundaries, offering validation if that’s what they want and we can offer, scrolling past if we can’t.

For those of us who put ourselves out there, let’s be real with ourselves. Are we looking for validation or for changing people’s minds? Are we sharing primarily for ourselves and our healing, for others’ healing, or for convincing dissenters? (All of which are valid reasons, in my opinion.) Are we sharing sensitive things only in safe places and checking in with ourselves before entering into potentially triggering debates? Are we aware of and clear about our boundaries — with ourselves and others? Are we setting ourselves up as an expert when what we really need is expert counseling? Are we setting ourselves up as an advocate when we’re still in need of advocacy? Are we setting ourselves up as an educator without any intention or ability to treat our students with respect, patience, and understanding?

There’s nothing wrong with being unable or unwilling to field questions or criticisms about our personal experiences, or to deal directly with those uneducated and unfamiliar with our movement. That’s a huge job for a specific skillset and level of healing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share our story for personal empowerment or the empowerment of others. That’s an important niche in truth-telling. But any decision to lead, educate, and advocate publicly needs to involve an honest, compassionate, realistic assessment of our wounds and our boundaries.

“Not many of you should become teachers,” James warns, “because you know that we who teach will be judged more so” (James 3).

I, as a teacher and a writer, used to freak out at this verse. Interpreted “judged” as divine retribution for getting something wrong. But that’s not what he means. He means it quite literally: the harsh, hypocritical, unrelenting scrutiny from followers and dissenters alike comes with the territory of teaching. People will judge teachers (or leaders or social media celebrities), whether we think that’s fair or not, and whether we can handle it or not.

Not many of you should becomes teachers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more so. For we all make mistakes in lots of things. (And the internet will let us know about it.)

Here’s a good check in for whether we’re ready to take on a public role: “Who is wise and knowledgeable among you? Let them show by their fine behavior that their actions are done gently, with wisdom. … [T]he wisdom from above is primarily holy, then peaceful, considerate, reasonable, full of mercy, unprejudiced, and without pretense. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

And if our words don’t follow this pattern? Our words can set the world on fire — in an apocalyptic, dumpster fire sort of way that burns us and our movements to the ground, not the inspirational kind of fire that keeps our message going. “In the same way also, the tongue is a small body part and confidently says major things. Look how small the tongue is and how great a forest it sets on fire!”

Hence James’s advice that not many of us should be teachers — or tweeters or advocates or social media vigilantes, to put it in modern terms.

It’s okay — it’s totally okay and normal and necessary — if we’re not at a place to do any of those peaceful, holy, reasonable, unprejudiced things, if we still need to vent and rage and feel validated and tear down the dangerous beliefs of others in a safe, understanding place that doesn’t require us to watch our impact on those who don’t get it. I went through a two-year long process needing to do just that. I sometimes still need to do that for certain things, depending on where I’m at in my grieving and reconstructing.

But if we’re not in a place to be peaceful, considerate, reasonable, full of mercy, etc., we should be talking to those committed to our healing — a therapist, a support group, a loved one — and not the heartless, skeptical internet. Our souls and our movements’ reputations will be far better off if not many of us were to become vocal, public advocates before we’re ready.

*See Christian Janeway’s pointed remarks on this popular and frustrating dodge here. (Expletive alert, for those sensitive to that.) The gist: “I take issue with anyone who treats someone with honest questions or even honest ignorance about a ‘category of human’ as if the person with the question is a part of the problem for approaching a [expletive] public expert, who built a platform on that expertise. … If you have info that she didn’t have, it is your job to share it with kindness. That’s not oppression — that’s being a kind human being. … When I’m the expert, I fully expect and welcome people’s questions and mistakes. … People who are voluntarily giving up privilege because it’s the right thing to do are already deeply uncomfortable in a space they don’t know how to navigate, and will make mistakes. If you don’t have the patience and maturity to deal with someone making mistakes in a space they’re unfamiliar with, I truly don’t see why I should trust you to be any kind of representative for your group of humans.” Amen.

My Clothes Shopping Rules

img_20190414_164035814
Goodwill finds: LOFT jeans, LOFT sweater, toddler (look for yours in the stuffed animal bin)

Last Saturday I told my husband that I just wanted to peek inside Goodwill for a pink sweater, and then we’d be done, I promise.

An hour and a shopping cart full later…..

I really don’t spend much on myself, besides medical bills, coffee dates, and the occasional cute outfit. Spending money paralyzes me. Shopping overwhelms me. Decisions in general make my head spin, so it’s not exactly my idea of a fun weekend to hang out at the mall.

But Goodwill’s low prices mitigate some of that fear. So much, in fact, that I’ve got a bag of rejects sitting in my closet waiting to go back to Goodwill.

That’s one of the weird things about being me. I freak out about spending money, and then when I do, I inevitably buy something I don’t even like that much.

Since I clearly have issues knowing my own mind and then making it up, I’ve had to develop some clothes shopping rules. They help me make a decision when I need to make one, and they keep me away from embarrassing impulse buys. (The cheetah print skirt….)

The Rules

(1) It absolutely must fit. Perfectly. If it needs hemming or taking in, forget it. It’s an automatic hard pass if I find myself thinking, “Well, it’ll fit if….” I don’t like belts, I can’t sew, it won’t happen. This rule prevents 90% of all purchases because I am too short for most bottoms, too embarrassed to wear most shorts, and too skinny to fit into almost everything else.

(2) It needs to coordinate with with multiple items in my preexisting wardrobe. Last year, I decided on a color palette (olive, pink, denim, gray, tan, chestnut, bright white), a color saturation (muted, some pastel), and a style (looser shirts, skinny jeans/leggings, long sweaters, some slight, tentative ventures into boho/hipster/vintage worlds). I can pretty much pick any random pair of pants and any random shirt and throw it together with any sweater. Voila, an outfit! Several things don’t exactly go with the New Me (and to be honest, I don’t exactly wear them, either). While I can’t work up the courage to get rid of these un-matchy pieces, I sure try my darndest not to bring any more of them home from Goodwill. If I can’t match the article of clothing to at least a couple of my regular outfits, it’s going back on the rack with a wistful farewell.

(3) I need to be able to wear it at work or church. Gone are the college days where cold shoulders or super high heels could even remotely be appropriate. Gone too are the days when dressing preppy for class or, at the other extreme, lounging in sweatpants, was a daily probability. I get ONE singular Saturday a week to wear something not work-appropriate or church-appropriate. Since I’ve already got lots of competition for that spot (short shorts! ripped jeans! graphic tees!), I don’t buy anything I couldn’t wear to work or church. I know now that I just won’t wear it, no matter how cute it looks in isolation from my real life. In case you’re wondering, I can wear normal clothes to work — even athleisure.

(4) It needs to fit with and cover the bra types I already own. You feel me? None of these weird straps and cutouts and necklines that are made for braless prepubescents and recklessly marketed to adult women.

(5) It needs to be well-made but easy to care for. This is actually a new rule for me, developed after reading Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth L. Cline. It should feel substantial, not thin or see through; be tailored well; include nice details; wash without turning into a permanently rumpled mess; and have no stains or holes. (Because, again, it’s delusional to think I’ll get around to fixing it.) I now try to avoid fast fashion brands that use cheap materials (even though my entire wardrobe is hypocritically Old Navy).

Last but not least: (6) It needs to be something I’ve wanted for awhile. I’ve got a running wish list: I’m on the hunt for a pleasantly colored yellow something in my life, a pink cardigan (maybe floral, please?), a white calf-length tulle skirt, a shirt with dinosaurs or hedgehogs or sloths or llamas (channeling my inner Ms. Frizzle here), those cute high-waisted shorts that tie in a bow, and maybe — the unicorn of petite clothing — a maxi skirt that doesn’t trip me onto my face. These are things I persistently find myself drooling over whenever I encounter fashion. They stay with me over the years and the Google searches. They are my true loves and my real style. And when I find them at Goodwill for $7.99 like a fated meeting — I feel absolutely no hesitation buying them.

Just last month I stumbled upon a leather jacket in exactly the color and style I’ve wanted since forever. It makes me happy in a way a leather jacket probably shouldn’t make me. I’m so glad I didn’t settle for the Target one that didn’t fit quite right, or the online one that cost a fortune. True love waits.

This rule also helps me make rational decisions when the price tag is high. If I’ve been wanting a piece for forever, I feel more confident spending a bit extra or buying it brand new instead of off the Goodwill rack. I know it’s not an impulse buy, so I’m okay forking over money for good quality and the exact look I want.

While I’ve got a lifetime of impulsive and disappointing buys to educate me, these rules really flow from that satisfaction of finding just the perfect piece for a price I’m willing to pay — and then loving it every time I pull it out of my closet.

Do you have any clothes shopping rules?

You Can’t Have It All, But You Can Prioritize What’s Most Important to You

oliver-hale-705232-unsplash

Good news! I finally realized that I don’t have to live my life according to every twinge of guilt that plagues my soul. In the absence of direct moral imperatives, I can choose my priorities, and I can order my days, years, and life around them.

I’ve been in a funk ever since birthing a baby. More accurately — I’ve been in one particular funk, the funk where I worry about what my abysmal housekeeping skills say about my mothering, and what my stay-at-home status says about my feminism, and what wearing a robe and unwashed hair until noon says about my success at life.

There are so many things I want to do and mean to do, and then there are all the things I feel like I should do. Motherhood doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but it does come with pre-downloaded guilt. I can’t always tell you what specific thing I feel bad about, much less why I feel bad about it, but I can assure you I almost always feel bad about something. Call it hormones or the patriarchy, the result is the same: discouragement and paralysis. I don’t do any of the things I want to do or mean to do because I’m too busying doing the things I think I should do — or procrastinating on everything.

I tried bolstering my momentum with the thrill of crossing items off my to do list. This college hack failed to work its magic in the post-grad world. For one thing, the sheer number of unconnected tasks overwhelmed me.

If my to do list was whittled down to a less overwhelming number, it contained mundane items that required far too much of a learning curve than they were worth. (Check tire pressure. Unclog the drain. Clean that rubber part of the washing machine that breeds mold. All of those things required calling up my dad and having him walk me through the process again, only to end up watching YouTube tutorials.)

Most discouraging of all, a good chunk of my to do list had to be repeated almost instantly. Sweep the floors? Check! Sweep them again because the toddler dumped Cheerio dust on the floor? Check. ….and again because he tracked in dirt after you chased him outside to sweep up the Cheerio dust in peace? Forget it.

Bottom line: accomplishing things I didn’t want to do and didn’t care about did not make me feel successful or productive. I just felt so guilty admitting that I’d rather not clean my apartment than clean it. Don’t all successful women choose a clean home over sanity? Plus, I kind of did want to clean it. Just not all the time. Not when there were other things I wanted to do with my life.

Around that point in time, I was toying with the idea that maybe I didn’t have to live my life according to these vague shoulds that haunted every stolen moment of pleasure. I noodled on that, and I noodled on what that would look like practically, to live by conscious choices judged against my own values. Another college hack came to mind: the depressing but honest quip, “Friends, School, Sleep: Pick Two.”

friends school sleep

Of course, this is old news for us modern women. “You can have it all — just not at the same time.” I needed to harness that truth in an empowering way, instead of a discouraging way. I couldn’t resign myself to accepting even one season of life where sweeping up Cheerio dust was the biggest accomplishment of my every day.

I needed to prioritize, yes, but I needed to know that I could pick my priorities based off my values — not off shoulds that came from whatever undefined, unexplored, unwelcome value systems muddled around in my conscience.

I had to do a mental organizing of my plans, goals, and values — hanging them up on their own hooks where I could see them, and then consciously, daily pulling them down and fitting them together into something cohesive, practical, and fulfilling. Is this the year I’m going to write a book? Nah, that doesn’t pair well with where I’m at in motherhood. Maybe next year. Is this the week I’m finally going to get together with that mom I met at the playground? No, I’m choosing to rest up from my cold. I’ll come back to that when I’m recovered. Is this the day I’m going to mop the floors? Yes, it matters to me have to a somewhat clean floors, but I am only allotting time on Thursdays to exert any cares about that.

I’m finding so much freedom, satisfaction, and oddly enough, productivity in deciding to prioritize what I actually care about and conscientiously deciding to table other things.

The hardest part of adult life is the mental load. I’ve discovered I need to set things down so that I’m not juggling an armload of unfinished tasks every time I attempt to accomplish something. I need the habit and the intention of asking, “Is this important to me? If so, is this important to me now? If not, I’ll table it until later.”

Today, I prioritized writing. I have some office work that absolutely needs to get done today, but I checked in with my priorities and energy level and decided that I would be okay sacrificing some veg time after work in order to get the office stuff done. This morning, I wrote. This morning, I let the house go to pot, I let the toddler play independently, I ignored the other items on my to do list, and I wrote.

I don’t always prioritize writing. In fact, I struggle to fit it into my life at all anymore. I just don’t have the mental bandwidth or the time to prioritize it every day., or even every month. Generally I prioritize quality time with my son over everything else — my overarching value and goal for this season of life. But today, knowing he would be fine, I told him that Mommy was writing, and she’d play with him later. And having made my choice, I wrote without guilt.

The thing I had to get over is that another person could see me make that choice and say, “This is unacceptable. I value a clean home and quality time with my kids over writing. I would not make that choice.” I constantly found myself looking at my life through those eyes of judgment, through the eyes of someone else with different priorities — and I think that’s where a lot of the guilt came from. I knew that I could never convince a critic that I made a good choice, and I couldn’t handle that judgment.

I’m learning that I don’t have to live my life on the defensive against every imaginary criticism or different lifestyle. There are many good priorities in the world. There are many people who will rank their priorities differently and find fault with mine. That’s okay. I don’t need to pretend there aren’t good reasons for prioritizing different things than I do. I don’t need to adopt their ranking if I see otherwise. My priorities are different in this stage of life, in this season, on this day. And if I ever feel convicted to change those priorities, I can do so when and if that time comes.

When I became intentional about what I valued and what I wanted to accomplish, I could look at my life through my own priorities. Instead of focusing on all the things I still needed to do, I could focus on the things I chose to accomplish that day and feel successful. I didn’t have to hide from the things I didn’t do. I could look them squarely in the eye and say, “You’re not a priority right now, dishes. I’m cleaning the bathroom instead, and then I’m taking a nap.”

Am I Morally Obligated to Tweet That?

sara-kurfess-794955-unsplash

The New Rules for Social Justice in the Age of the Internet

  • If you Tweet in support of any one group or issue, you are now required to give your opinion on every injustice, as it occurs in real time. If you exercise any discretion, hesitation, or preference for issues that you actually know about, you are heartless, hypocritical, and not a real member of whatever label you dared apply to yourself. Notice: This will be strictly enforced by an elite task force of users whose primary purpose is complaining about everything you don’t say when you don’t say something and questioning why on earth you chose to say something about that when you do.
  • Real change is retweeting inflammatory messages. Do you even care about anybody if you’re not on social media?
  • When people get upset at your insightful criticisms that you crafted after one interaction with an obnoxious troll at 2:07 AM, DON’T engage them directly. Pray another supporter will come along a defend your honor and your bad argument, and then do of of these two things: Start a fresh Facebook post to document how you once believed in the good of all humanity, but now that you’ve seen the opposition for what they are, you finally understand why your side has given up trying to accord them any basic human respect. OR (the courageous option) USE HAND CLAP EMOJIS. And shout louder for the people in the back. (Preferably only party lines that fail to capture the nuance of the opposing viewpoint.) This isn’t about changing minds. This is about moral posturing, damn it.
  • You don’t need to know anything about the issue at hand to have a tweetable emotional response. Lives are at stake. Tweet like it.
  • Listening to alternative, marginalized viewpoints means filling your social media feeds with liberal white women who yell at you to elevate the voices of people of color.

Ah, me. Such have been my errors in trying to fit in with the cool kids.

In all seriousness, I do struggle with my moral obligations on social media. It’s real life in the sense that it involves real people discussing real issues that often bring about real awareness, education, and change of hearts — but it can all go away with a single disabling of my social media accounts.

I often contemplate with envy and curiosity the strange creatures who resist the lure of social media altogether — creatures like my dad, who can’t be persuaded to get a Facebook account even by photos of his adorable grandkids. If I’m honest, I wonder if that’s an unfair cop-out. A delightful cop-out, to be sure, but a cop-out nonetheless. Now that we have the whole world at our fingertips, aren’t we obligated to participate in it?

Are we?

“Who is my neighbor?” the clever Law expert asked Jesus — and I find myself asking the same question. Who is my neighbor? Or more precisely, what are the boundaries of my neighborhood in a limitless world? These rules that governed my social justice warring life — they stem from these questions. Am I passing my neighbor by when I read an article about racism and do nothing? The least I can do is share it, right?

But is it truly meaningful care to pass along awareness of the tragedies of the world that I know little about — especially when the amount of misinformation and ignorance is mind-numbing and extremely problematic? Is it nothing but moral posturing, an act meant mostly to assure my worried ego that I am a good person and to alert my couple hundred followers that IN CASE ANYONE NOTICES, I AM NOT A HYPOCRITE?

You see my predicament. Add to that the excruciating and exhausting burden of being a highly sensitive person, and things get even more confusing. The tragedies of the world build up in my soul until they burst out in anxious pessimism, leaving me paralyzed in my flesh-and-blood relationships. This is especially true when feeding on a steady diet of short, upset, shame-inducing bites of information that are meant to motivate me to do something even though I don’t know what to do. Is that anxiety and shame just the cross we bear? Or is it a sign that I’m doing social justice advocacy all wrong?

I recognize that unplugging for self-care and unplugging for self-denial often look like the same thing — maybe they even go hand-in-hand sometimes. The last thing I want to do is stick my head in the sand — correction: I would gladly stick my head in the sand, but morally speaking I don’t support that option — but the harsh reality is that I am one person, with one life, with a limited capacity to understand complex issues, much less do anything about them.

Who is my neighbor? What are the boundaries of my neighborhood? Is it morally preferable to make small, barely understood differences on many issues all across the world or to make deep, informed issues on only a select few issues close to home? And where’s the role of social media in all of this? What issues am I obligated to tweet about? Am I even “obligated” at all as nobody writer with a few hundred followers and a Facebook account?

This is your cue to jump into the comments section and answer all these questions for me.

Here’s where I’m at in this thought process. I frankly don’t know what’s right or wrong when it comes to drawing the boundaries of my neighborhood — or if drawing firm boundaries is even an appropriate thing to do when it comes to matters of justice. I want to draw boundaries to focus myself on the people within my neighborhood, not to exclude or ignore the needs and insight of those outside my immediate neighborhood. That’s why intersectionality — the overlapping of distinct but related issues — is imperative.

Instead of coming up with an arbitrary list of shoulds, I am committing myself to intentionality — slowing down; figuring out my intention, weighing my impact; learning the difference between wisdom’s caution and peer pressure; discerning what’s valid criticism and what’s somebody’s prejudiced projection on my motives; making deliberate decisions about what I’m called to say and do and where I’m called to say and do it.

I’m committing myself to thoughtful, intentional education — reading books and long-form articles, listening to interviews and podcasts. I’m committing myself to sit under those whose alternative and minority viewpoints are combined with a pursuit of truth, understanding, community, and love — people whose character, thinking, and work I admire, even if I disagree with them. There are plenty of minority and alternative viewpoints that fall into this category. Usually they’re the ones who are out working face-to-face with people, not those who tweet from their armchair for a living. Don’t worry — their words are plenty uncomfortable even without the shame-y hand claps and shouting.

I ended up unfollowing groups who primarily complain about The Other Side, even though I technically agree with them. They weren’t helping me understand the issues any further, and they weren’t helping me love. I got off Twitter entirely.

I determined which social media platforms I want to use and what I want to use them for, and have been trying to match what I do and don’t write about to those intentions. (It’s a work in progress.) I also want to redouble efforts to create community and shared understanding with my words and platforms, not just speak controversy into an out-of-context void.

And the really hard, not-so-fun part: I’m committed to nonjudgmental but objective scrutiny of my motives. Am I disengaging because I need self-care or because I don’t want to face the facts? Am I unfollowing because this user doesn’t provide any new insight or because I don’t want to change my mind? Am I not speaking up because I’m scared of what someone will think of me or because I truly don’t have anything productive to add? I’m finding that I tend to shoot from the hip when I don’t know what I’m talking about, and hold back when I do.

Whether or not I keep or delete a platform, tweet or don’t tweet, unplug or plug in, I want to keep tabs on my fears, ignorance, strengths, and calling; I want to focus on whatever I’m doing with intentionality, courage, and wisdom; and I want to enter into careful learning under thoughtful teachers who challenge me to do the above without compromising on the hard things I need to hear from them.

What I Read: March 2019

big little lies

Favorite: Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty

True confession: I’m tired of reading literary works. That’s almost all I read in high school and all I read in college, because I was a pretentious snob (okay, and scared of reading anything with overt sex and swear words). And I loved it — the highlighting, the “profound” margin scribbles, the essays dissecting this or that theme, the trawling through JSTOR looking for feminist interpretations of Pride & Prejudice. Most beloved, the group discussions. I’m convinced that good, literary works are best digested in groups.

But alas, I am a lone reading island surrounded by busy adults, shrouded in a fog of toddler interruptions.

So I find myself reading thoughtful, serious literary works and thinking, That is objectively a really good book — but I don’t love them, I don’t get excited about them, I don’t think I want to read them. I need a cheap, common, digestible hook to keep me going — quirky characters (maybe a bit stereotypical or unbelievable), a sense of humor, an almost-too-ridiculous situation, a mystery.

But I am still at my heart the same pretentious snob that requires something meaningful and well-written in even the lightest of books — which is why I adored Big Little Lies.

It’s got all those hooks I talked about, it addresses serious, relatable issues, and while it isn’t literary, it’s objectively a good book. I insisted my non-reading sisters read it, and they devoured it almost overnight.

As one Goodreads contributor quipped, “Probably the funniest book about murder and domestic abuse I’ll ever read.”

Bonus: Madeline and Ed are a great example of a normal, flawed egalitarian marriage.

Enough fangirling. The other books I finished up this month:

Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally, by Marcus Borg \\ 5 stars \\ My full thoughts here.

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith, by Marcus J. Borg \\ 4 stars \\ Biggest takeaway: Jesus challenged the conventional wisdom of his time with alternate, subversive wisdom based on loving God and others. This reframed some tricky contemporary subjects for me. Instead of just looking at “what Jesus said” as a measure for how to approach today’s issues, I feel encouraged to approach today’s sacred cows with the love, courage, and clarity that Jesus did in his own time.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty \\ 4 stars \\ Being a highly sensitive person, I had to put it down for days every time she mentioned a child’s death. When it became clear that her goal was to help me come to terms with death, I almost refused point-blank to finish it. But I worked up enough courage to finish it. After all, Lent is the perfect time to contemplate that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins \\ 3 stars \\ In light of Gone Girl and Big Little Lies, this just didn’t measure up.

Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan \\ 3 stars \\ Sub-par writing, fascinating culture. Watch the movie first.

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love \\ 3 stars \\ I need to write an entirely separate post on this. Its concepts saved my marriage, but it’s bizarrely incomplete and poorly constructed.

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren \\ 3 stars \\ This sums up my spirituality, I think. (More thoughts here.)

Do Expectations Kill Happy Marriages?

jason-abdilla-1272321-unsplash

“Remember, expectations kill happy marriages!”

It sounds right. Αfter all, many of us have found ourselves stewing in hurt or bitterness because we expected one thing and got another. Sometimes we felt those expectations were justifiable (seriously, just throw the socks in the hamper already), sometimes we realize those expectations weren’t quite fair (how was he supposed to know I wanted a birthday breakfast in bed if I didn’t tell him?). Marriage involves compromises and communication, not stubbornness and reading each other’s minds.

But I don’t like the expectations-kill-happy-marriages advice. It doesn’t clarify what “expectations” mean. Worse, it implies that the only solution to unmet expectations is giving them up altogether. In fact, if you listen to popular Christian wife advice, the takeaway from expectations-kill-happy-marriages is this: You silly woman, your feelings and perspectives are what’s killing your marriage. Swallow your feelings, change your perspective, and your marriage will be hunky dory!

This might be the only survival method in a marriage where the husband’s perspective, feelings, and decisions take precedence, but this sort of thinking has no place in an egalitarian marriage. Our feelings are real, valid, and insightful. Our perspectives are significant and necessary. Our marriage’s happiness does not lie in forced female cheerfulness, but rather on mutual understanding, communication, and accommodation.

I think it’s unequivocally true that regardless of what kind of expectations they are, unexaminedunexpressed expectations kill marriages. No matter how eager and proactive the husband, if he doesn’t know what she wants, he doesn’t know what she wants.

Often those expectations go unexamined and unexpressed because they’re such basic, fundamental things, things you think you both understand and agree on. Throwing tissues next to the wastebasket instead of in it? Seriously? That never came up during premarital counseling.

Unexamined and unexpressed, “I expect you to throw your tissues in the wastebasket instead of leaving them lying around all weekend” is a real marriage killer. (Ask me how I know….) Unexamined and unexpressed, it invites frustration, irritation, exhaustion, and a negative view of your spouses’s character. 

Once examined, that expectation can be expressed in a productive way: “It really bothers me that you leave your tissues lying around when there’s a wastebasket right now. I think that you should toss them immediately so that I don’t go crazy looking at them all weekend. Can you make it a priority to throw them away sooner rather than later?”

There’s nothing wrong with that expectation. It just needs to be understood as an expectation, as an issue that irritates you, and then communicated as such.

Another way unexamined and unexpressed expectations wreak havoc on marital bliss is when spouses don’t know what they want, especially when those expectations get buried under psuedo-arguments. Pseudo-arguments, in relationship psychology, are arguments that on the surface are about the tissues tossed next to the wastebasket, but at its core are about deeper issues relating to trust and commitment: “I don’t think you’re pulling your weight around the house. I don’t feel like you respect my feelings. I don’t think you’re taking my exhaustion seriously. I don’t feel heard or respected. I feel alone and unseen.”

That’s not to say that the tissues aren’t an irritation unto themselves, but the real heat and passion about the tissues comes from the disrespect and loneliness you feel after the tissue expectation goes misunderstood or unmet.

Again, the expectations aren’t at fault, but rather the lack of understanding and communication about them.

The first response to unmet expectations should not be to ignore your reactions or change your expectations. Strong feelings are not a sign of “being silly”; they are red flags signalling a deeper problem about being seen, loved, respected, and helped. Instead of dismissing unmet expectations outright, the disappointed party should examine the expectations thoroughly until she or he knows precisely what the expectation is, and then communicate that expectation clearly, respectfully, and collaboratively.

Unaccommodated expectations kill happy marriages too.

Here’s my unorthodox opinion: marital happiness rides and dies not only on one spouse clearly, respectfully, and collaboratively communicating expectations, but on the other spouse’s willingness to understand and accommodate these expectations. 

Marriage itself is a set of non-negotiable expectations. Those expectations can be mutually changed or lowered, but at a certain point, they shift so much that they no longer resemble marriage.

At its core, marriage is (or ought to be) one giant expectation that you can trust your spouse to care about what you care about. It’s one giant expectation that you will both meet each other’s needs and honor each other’s wishes. Marital trust is built on those expectations; marital commitment follows through on those expectations. Happy, healthy marriages might look different in other specifics, but that is because the individuals within those marriages have different needs and wishes being met — emphasis on being met.

The fact that your happy Christian wife friend can overlook the tissues at her house is a sign that (1) she’s in denial or (2) tissues left by the wastebasket don’t bother her. It’s not a sign that scattered tissues shouldn’t bother you.

This does not mean that you should expect to get your own way, always, exactly as you envision it. That is a dysfunctional expectation, born out of a scarcity mindset, out of a lifetime of being told that either you matter or the one you love matters: you cannot both matter and maintain the relationship at the same time.

That’s why it’s essential to examine even the smallest, most petty expectation, to see where the non-negotiable expectations lie. Only when the expectations are drawn out as distinct, uncompromisable circles can they overlap into a Venn diagram of mutual compromise.

Maybe you can live with tissues lying out longer than you’d personally prefer, because the real issue is that you can’t live with picking up after a grown man. He wants a more lax, independent, let-me-deal-with-it-when-I-feel-like-it approach, and you don’t want to deal with it at all. Maybe the compromise is that he does whatever he wants with the tissues as long as they’re cleaned up by the end of the evening, or that the tissues must stay contained on his personal desk. Whatever the compromise, it cannot be reached by lowering the expectation that the wife’s feelings and desires matter.

That’s often the unspoken command underlying “expectations kill happy marriages,” isn’t it? It’s not asking wives to compromise on the things they can live with. It’s requiring wives to compromise on the things they can’t live with. In order for their marriage to continue, their feelings, their personhood, their rights, their desires, their needs must cease mattering.

And honestly, sadly, that’s what many marriages do require to continue: a relinquishing of the expectation that both spouses matter. Marriage becomes an either/or (either my spouse matters or I matter), instead of a both/and (I matter, and he matters, so what can we do to meet both of our needs and desires?).

This might be a functional relationship in the sense that it keeps conflict at bay or the couple out of divorce court. Unfortunately for those with a scarcity mindset, maybe this is the only kind of relationship where they feel loved or loving.

But it’s not a marriage.

So do expectations kill happy marriages?

It depends.

It depends on the precise expectation. An expectation that you matter more or you matter less, for example — that can kill a happy marriage. An unexamined and misdirected expectation can kill a happy marriage (and that’s really what the either/or expectation is — an unexamined, misunderstood expectation of love). Unexpressed expectations kill happy marriages. And rebuffed expectations — those kill happy marriages too. Failing to meet certain expectations — to be faithful, caring, respectful — destroys a marriage altogether.

But when examined, expressed, and accommodated without compromising the other spouse’s needs and desires, expectations don’t kill happy marriages. In fact, they are the very stuff that happy marriages are made of.

What We Eat

wesual-click-719517-unsplash

I’m always curious about how real people eat. It’s nice to hear expert advice and inspiration from dietitians and chefs, but their enthusiasm can only motivate me so much — being, as I am, a non-cook who grew up eating frozen taquitos for lunch and can’t afford organic everything. I’ll just be honest: my budget, interests, and priorities don’t match professionals’.

Still, once I had a hungry child, I started caring more about what we ate. Neither my husband nor I cared about that before. We regularly skipped meals. We ate lots of spaghetti and chicken alfredo, the only variety being the random spices my husband tried out. Taco seasoned spaghetti was one such experiment. Fresh fruits and veggies? Eh. Occasionally we bought clementines and apples.

But when e.e. showed up with a pure, unspoiled gut, it felt like sin to feed him the same sugary, processed, meat-heavy, vegetation-barren diet we ate.

What to feed him? That was a mine field. The last time I’d done any real learning on diet was back in the dinosaur days of the food pyramid. Everyone swore by these specialized diets that cut out my favorite foods. (Give me my carbs and cheese!) Every diet seemed zeroed in on losing weight or reducing inflammation or detoxing or other stuff that was only tangential to my main question: What do I feed a human in general?

I read a couple books over the past year to figure out the new lay of the food land. The Whole Foods Diet, by John Mackey convinced me that immortality was within my grasp as long as I had the discipline to stay away from all my favorite snacks. What to Eat, by Marion Nestle stuck my spinning head back on straight. The website Real Mom Nutrition gave me the permission and confidence to do my best — even if that included more processed snacks.

Our new food philosophy is pretty simple: inexpensive, plant-based, reduced sugar, minimally processed but easily accessible. Am I really going to bake my own granola bars on the days I’m too tired to get dressed before noon? Absolutely not.

To borrow a line from another controversial area of baby nutrition, fed is best.

Having said that, the research is clear and consistent that a minimally-processed, plant-based diet is healthiest. That gives me both freedom and challenge in my meal planning. My rule of thumb with everything is, Would I be okay with my child eating as much of this food as he wants? If the answer is no, I don’t or rarely buy it (she says, as she eats mint chocolate chunk ice cream at her keyboard).

Because this is my other big thing with food: eating should be pleasant. It should make us feel good about our bodies. It should bring people together. It shouldn’t be a source of paranoia, or a headache, or a trigger for tantrums, adult or toddler. I want to create good associations with food for my son — both in the sense that he reaches for healthy food naturally, and that he doesn’t feel guilty about certain foods. I don’t want him drinking Kool-Aid and eating Twinkies after school everyday, but I also don’t want him to decline a treat at his friend’s birthday party out of an irrational fear of sugar. This means, to me, stocking our pantry and fridge with healthy, yummy foods instead of trying to keep certain things off-limits, and letting him regulate his own appetite within that boundary.

That’s the theoretical stuff. Practically, since I hate meal planning, I follow simple meal formulas and just plug in recipes that meet those requirements.

Breakfast is a dairy/egg, grain, and fruit, and it stays the same every week:

Monday: Siggi’s yogurt, frozen berries, and cereal sprinkled on top
Tuesday: whole wheat English muffin, cream cheese, whatever fruit we have on hand
Wednesday: oatmeal with a splash of milk and frozen berries
Thursday: goat cheese crumbles or yogurt, fruit, and cereal
Friday: oatmeal again
Weekend: probably more oatmeal or cereal if I’m exhausted, or French toast with cooked apple topping if I’m feeling like that kind of mom

Lunch is a meat alternate, grain, veggie, and supposedly a fruit (but sometimes we run out of fresh options, or my guys decide they’re not interested in that particular fruit that day — which happens more than I like, but, c’est la vie). Our favorites are beans and greens on quesadillas, with noodles, or with rice or quinoa; pasta salads; spinach and mushroom French bread pizzas; and stir fries, preferably with peanut noodles. We’re branching out into egg dishes now, such as huevos rancheros, with the occasional grilled cheese or PB&J when I’m running late on lunch.

Try Crazy Good Peanut Noodles with frozen stir fry or Kale and Cannellini Bean Pasta.

Dinner is a meat/meat alternate, grain, and veggie — soups and noodle dishes, mostly.

If I’m planning dinner, we mostly eat vegetarian. I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable with eating meat, to be honest — or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I’m uncomfortable with all the mental gymnastics I perform to get around the inconsistencies in my thinking. The long and short of it is, I can’t stomach the idea of animals being poorly treated, I don’t think I can stomach the killing of even well-treated animals, but we can’t afford locally sourced meat, and my family still enjoys meat to the point where it’d create hassle and headache to accommodate everyone’s strong feelings on the subject.

So we still eat lots of spaghetti and chicken alfredo, pending my courage to address my concerns. We just add frozen veggies now.

Try Thai Green Curry with Spring Vegetables or add frozen spinach, a 1/4 cup of whole milk, and a new kind of noodle to shake up regular ol’ spaghetti.

Frozen produce is our secret to getting in enough fruit and veg every day. We buy steamable bags to throw in the microwave for a side, or add them into cooked dishes. We sprinkle frozen berries onto our breakfast foods. They’re quick, cost effective, and don’t spoil. And we live off canned beans — another quick, cheap, shelf-stable addition to meals.

Apart from a couple Pinterest finds, our favorite meals come from Cookie + Kate, a vegetarian website. We’ve also been enjoying new recipes from 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget, by Lisa Leake. Everything else originates from my husband’s brain or personal recipe stash passed down from the women in his family.

Okay: snacks. We splurge and fudge a bit to make sure e.e. gets fed without too much mom guilt. I wish I could say that we only eat homemade energy balls and fresh produce, but I only shop twice a month — snacks have got to last; we’re on the go during morning snack — they’ve got to pack well; and there are few veggies that a baby with a singular molar can eat.

Shamelessly, I buy shelf-stable snacks (i.e., more processed), but I’m willing to pay more to make sure they’ve got realer food and less sugar. Our go-tos are cheese sticks, cherry tomatoes, real peanut butter (ingredients: peanuts) on unsalted rice cakes, microwave popcorn, Craisins, raisins, and other dried fruits (DO NOT get freeze-dried strawberries — nasty), Squeez pouches, chips and salsa, Power Up Mega Omega trail mix, The Good Bean (chickpeas or favas and peas), Harvest Snaps green pea snap crisps, RW Garcia sweet potato crackers, and Triscuit original 100% whole wheat crackers. I’m not above purchasing Cheerios, Kix, and other processed cereals, either. (Some great practical guidance here.)

And on the occasions when there are cookies and candy and ultra-processed foods in the house? We eat them without guilt as special treats — Oreos, chocolate, Girl Scout Samoas, my in laws’ delicious molasses cookies. And I, personally, indulge every morning in a cup of coffee with a generous splash of Natural Bliss coffee creamer. I refuse to live in fear of individual foods when the overall pattern of our diets is healthy. Besides, when you’ve developed a hankering for quinoa and chickpeas, of all things, processed sugar doesn’t sit too well anymore.

I know we can eat better. I hope to continue to make more positive changes throughout the rest of our lives. But like I said: right now, I don’t have the time, interest, and budget to eat like a registered dietitian. I have other priorities that lead me to zap a can of refried beans in the microwave instead of make a lunch from scratch. I feed our family to the best of my priorities. We feel good about our food physically and emotionally, our son eats a wide variety of flavorful, healthy foods, and we all get fed.

What do you eat?