Update on my housekeeping streak: I kind of failed all through this month. I sat around in my robe longer than I wanted. I stretched out my morning coffee to give myself an excuse not to do anything yet. I stopped cleaning the bathroom every day and keeping my sink shiny. Sometimes the dishes sat for a day. And I didn’t even try to keep up with Flylady’s daily challenges.
I did a little each day and tried to do a little more the next, but I ended up doing barely anything today and next to nothing the day after that. That’s how my August went.
I was just so unmotivated, and bummed that I couldn’t keep up the motivation that made me such an awesome housekeeper once upon a time.
But I tried something new, something I’d learned from my obsessive study of childhood development: focus on the needs a negative behavior is communicating rather than the behavior itself. When you address only the behavior, the needs remain unmet and come out again in destructive ways. When you meet the needs, the behavior changes too.
What was the need behind my failure to do housework like a champ?
Sleep deprivation. Even though my baby regularly sleeps through the night, it’s taken me a couple months to adjust to that. I woke up at odd hours and couldn’t get back to sleep.
Armed with this unsurprising find, I focused on meeting my needs. I stopped beating myself and pushing myself to do more. I did the bare minimum, rested as much as possible, and focused on getting enough sleep.
And it worked! Once I got enough sleep, my motivation to get up and get going came back. I’m still getting back into a routine, but I’m confident I’ll get there.
Tl;dr: The secret to getting stuff done is meeting the need underneath why you feel unmotivated. Maybe it’s perfectionism. Maybe it’s depression, or sleep deprivation, or saying yes to the wrong things. Whatever it is, work on meeting that need first, and don’t beat yourself up in the meantime.
I recently discovered the only podcast I ever get excited about: “What Should I Read Next?” with Anne Bogel. It’s a literary matchmaking show with lots of fun bookish conversation on the side. Anne asks her guests about three books they love, one book they don’t love, and what they’re currently reading, then makes suggestions on what they should pick up next.
It makes for fascinating literary discussions, and it’s such a great conversation starter in real life. My husband and I have discussed this about our adult reading lives and our childhood reading lives (our picks were somewhat different at different ages and stages). These have been some of my favorite conversations in our relationship to date.
Why on earth he listed Harry Potter as his book he didn’t love, I have no idea, as that series falls perfectly within those parameters. I’m still going after him to read Harry Potter. He stopped at the first book, a few chapters in, after scoffing at chocolate frogs and Bertie’s Every Flavor Beans — an absolutely ridiculous reason to quit a book, if you ask me.
But I’m biased, because the Harry Potter series definitely makes it into the “books I love” category. (I’m re-reading them this summer. They’re even better the second time around!) I adore The Help, by Kathryn Stockett — another perennial re-read. And the latest book that got me excited (and my husband teary) is The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole, by Miranda Cuevas. A book I absolutely hated: Dietland, by Sarai Walker.
The common threads between all of these?
(1) They involve character development within a community — and by that, I don’t just mean that the characters are multi-faceted and grow as the story progresses. They learn about themselves and others through relationship — their biases, their strengths, their passions, their purpose — and we, the reader, learn about both the characters and the world by seeing different perspectives about the same events.
Though I’ve enjoyed plenty well-written novels in the first person tense, I generally don’t fall over myself to read books told in that way, especially if they focus too much on the interior life. The self is just too isolated of a viewpoint to truly understand the world. I’m too much of an interior person myself; exclusively reading another person’s interior thoughts gives me anxiety about human beings. But the self and the individual’s perspective make up part of the world, which is why I love books that combine different first person accounts (like The Help) or have a more omniscient narrator (as in Harry Potter).
(2) The authors slip in crucial plot points without fanfare. It drives me nuts when authors dramatize, over-describe, or frantically signal to pay attention to key moments. Books that do that often have underdeveloped villains and protagonists, as the villains are clearly marked as villains and the protagonists clearly aren’t villains, in a black-and-white sort of way.
I’m outgrowing the mystery genre itself, but I still appreciate plots that have you thinking you’ve figured it out and then dash your confidence in your judgment. J. K. Rowling does this exceptionally well. Re-reading her series, I find more and more information that seems like random fun facts at the moment but turn out to be critical points of information or key turning points in the series.
(3) These books are self-aware, even if their characters are not. I don’t mind reading about experiences and perspectives different from my own, or encountering dark or immoral elements, but I won’t get excited about any book lacking a strong moral core. The book needs to show awareness that the character’s perspective or actions are at least questionable or nuanced, if not downright destructive. Dietland failed on this account for me: it praised a violent feminist revolution and the protagonist’s hardening toward others, things I cannot get behind, things that weren’t exposed as destructive and wrong.
This is another reason why I dislike many first person accounts: I really have to like the narrator to stick with them for a whole book, and in order for me to like the narrator, she needs to be self-aware of her faults. If one of her flaws is that she isn’t self-aware, I won’t enjoy the narrative, no matter how accurate a reflection on the interior life it is. Books that drop hints that it’s okay to laugh at, dislike, be mad at, and get frustrated with even the main characters are my jam.
(4) There’s a foreign piece to the stories that initially peaks my interest — whether that’s a fantastical element, a well-described historical time period (like 1960’s Mississippi), another culture, or a character with a life experience completely different from my own.
(5) These books are wholistic. I was going to say realistic, but that often signals to people “dark, gritty, and hopeless.” While many perspectives fall within that depressing category, I think a wholistic view of life involves the dark, the gritty, the hopeless, and the humorous, the hopeful, and the quirky. Humans are weird and lovable and aggravating all at the same time. I love how Harry Potter, The Help, and The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole all deal with deep, difficult subjects but still make me laugh and inspire me to keep living.
But these aren’t cheap laughs — they have heart and substance, which is why I have a difficult time getting through books by Roald Dahl or Lemony Snickett or the Eddie Dickens trilogy — dark humor and ridiculousness alone give me a literal headache. I need to cry and rejoice and believe as well as laugh.
To clarify, these are the kinds of books that I most often get excited about — that I re-read — that I rip through and then beg all my friends to read them. There are many, many other books that are exciting, well-written, and worth reading — that have changed my life, even — that don’t meet all these criteria. (The Hate UGive, by Angie Thomas is an example.) But when I’m looking for a book that I know I’ll enjoy, these are the kinds of books I turn to.
I no longer think in terms of “good” or “bad” books. (Okay, I do think some books are objectively awful.) That’s one thing Anne Bogel talks about often: just because a book isn’t for you doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. This changes throughout life, too. There are books I adored as a kid (and still do for nostalgia’s sake) that wouldn’t exactly fit every criterion above.
And it’s fascinating how two people can love the same book for different reasons. Many people love Harry Potter, for instance, but wouldn’t be remotely interested in reading the other two books I love. Myself, I don’t love Harry Potter for the fantasy genre, per se; there are many fantasy books that aren’t for me because they fail to meet the criteria I listed above.
If you enjoy the same kinds of books I do, check out some of my other recent favorites:
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a neat person. Once I was out from under my mom’s reminders, I never made my bed, washed my dishes in a reasonable time frame, or kept my room clutter-free.
It didn’t bother me too much at first, but by the time I became a mother, the guilt caught up with me. When company came over, I scrambled to pull a thin facade of cleanliness and discipline over the disaster zones. Something had to give.
I tried excuses: “I’m a new mom; I’m tired.” I tried adjusting my expectations: “Who says a disciplined person needs to have her bed made every day? Mess is a sign of genius, anyway!” I tried psychoanalyzing: “All those years as a stay-at-home daughter guilted me into thinking it’s my duty as a woman to keep the house clean above all else!” I tried prioritizing: “I’d rather spend time with family than keep my house clean.” I tried rationalizing: “The floor’s just going to get dirty again, so why exert too much effort to keep it clean?”
Nothing worked to either alleviate my guilt or motivate me to clean.
Drowning, I turned to Marla Cilley, a.k.a “The Flylady,” who promised to teach inept homemakers like me how to get their house in order once and for all. The very first step was getting my kitchen sink clear and shiny before bed, every day.
It’s been two months, and my apartment is in great shape. Not perfect, but I feel in control of the mess and free of guilt. If company drops by, I no longer rush to shove stuff into closets, slam doors to hide messy rooms, or apologize profusely for not having enough time to clean a cruddy toilet. I now can’t imagine not making my bed or folding up the throw blanket after I use it. I get up in the morning and immediately start putting away dishes. I’ve turned into my industrious mother — I, the girl who left a bowl of encrusted macaroni out in her dorm room for months.
I figured out the root issue: I wasn’t undisciplined or lazy, per se. I didn’t need a new outlook on the joy of cleaning. I just needed to kick my perfectionism.
In all of her emails and articles, the Flylady constantly hammered perfectionism out of me. I did only a little each day. I couldn’t tidy up my house in one go like Marie Kondo insisted, but I could shine a sink. I religiously prohibited myself from doing any cleaning other than what the Flylady prescribed in the baby steps.
“We do what we can today, and then we do a little more tomorrow,” said the Flylady.
“Progress over perfection!” her emails reminded me.
Something over nothing, I chanted to myself whenever I wanted to throw in the towel.
This simple phrase has revolutionized my life.
Without realizing it, I had expected myself to be able to do the impossible (make your apartment look perfect all the time!), or the possible in an impossible time frame (clean everything even though your baby kept you up all night!). Again and again, I failed those impossible expectations, heaping shame, guilt, and discouragement over me until I was too petrified to do anything productive.
Subconsciously I was thinking, “Why wash the dishes when I don’t have the energy to keep the rest of the house clean?” The Flylady taught me to think, “I don’t have the energy to clean the rest of the house, but I can wash the dishes and be done for the day.” And not only “be done,” but to celebrate that small accomplishment, to focus on what I could do and what I did do instead of everything I couldn’t do or didn’t want to do.
With my perfectionist expectations exploded, I succeeded all the time. The successes gave me more energy and motivation to do a little more the next day, or to bounce back a couple days after that if I didn’t do much the next day, after all.
I was disciplined! I wasn’t lazy! I could keep my house clean! And out of that newly-found self, I kept challenging myself without burning out.
“Your house didn’t get messy in one day,” the Flylady said, “and you won’t be able to get in clean in one day, either.”
Words I now live by.
I truly feel like I’ve kicked perfectionism’s hold over my life. And not just in the housecleaning area — I apply the mantra “something over nothing” to developing habits or tackling projects in other areas of my life, like using kinder words to my husband, writing, and working out.
“I don’t want to work out today,” I’ll say to myself. “I’m too tired. But I should work out today. Do I do something I hate, or do I feel guilty for the rest of the day?”
“No,” myself will say back, “it’s not that you don’t want to work out today. You just don’t want to drive to the gym and run on the elliptical for half an hour. What about cycling while watching Netflix? What about yoga at home? What about ten minutes on the elliptical? What’s something you do want to do, instead of doing nothing at all?”
The biggest gift I got from learning how to keep my apartment clean wasn’t a clean apartment. It was learning that when I dodged my perfectionism and did something, I could do whatever I set my mind to.
It’s been a crazy past few weeks. In the midst of multiple weddings and weekends spent apart, Erich turned twenty-four in another state while I was driving home from my sister’s graduation. Guys get a bad rep for forgetting important dates, but I’m not far behind — I only got a happy birthday in with an hour to spare.
When I got home, I realized that I’d never purchased the gift that I’d spent weeks thinking about; that I was too tired and inept to make an ice cream cake; and that Emmerich could not put off his nap long enough for us to run to Walgreens for some streamers and balloons.
Epic wife fail.
But epic wife fails are the mother of invention, and I came up with the perfect quick party idea.
Not far from where we live is a cute touristy town we’d been wanting to walk through ever since we moved here. On some hot pink sticky notes, I wrote down a few addresses and clues: “May you always stay young at heart!” (for a toy store); “I wouldn’t trade you for anything” (for a trading post); “You life is a masterpiece” (for an art museum); and “I’m sweet on you!” (for a candy and ice cream shop).
As soon as Erich walked through the door from a long trip, I handed him the stack of clues, hustled him back into the car, and we were off!
All the addresses were in walking distance from each other, so we parked way too far away and strolled through town. We snapped some photos and ate some birthday treats, then caught tadpoles on our way back to the car.
Besides being a last minute birthday party, this is a fun, simple, potentially free date night idea, and a great way to explore a new area without getting burnt out!
Does anyone else have trouble with personality tests?
I used to love taking personality tests, particularly the Myers-Briggs. Throughout high school and most of college, I consistently tested as an E/INFJ. My friends and I would discuss the nuances of our results and uncovered lots of insight into ourselves and our friendships.
Then several things happened:
I started seriously dating, which brought out a completely different side of me. While I was pretty nonconfrontational and undemanding with everyone else in my life, I was this raging storm of confrontation, demands, and neediness with him and him alone. To this day, I am like two different people when it comes to things like confrontation, conflict, and communication. In my marriage, I am blunt and initiate conflict and confrontation with no fear. With everyone else, I live in fear of conflict. In my marriage, I expect Erich to pull his weight in the relationship. With everyone else, I can overextend myself.
Dating also aroused my latent anxiety, and I developed or became aware of habits that looked a lot like insecure-anxious attachment. I had developed coping mechanisms to control this anxiety with other people, but with Erich, it all came out. Which was my real personality — the flood of anxiety or the strength that reined it in?
I got burnt out by college and withdrew into introversion. I’ve always been more of an ambivert, but I noticeably changed into an introvert in my senior year — and people annoyed me like never before. I hung out with “my people” and dropped as many obligations that involved dealing with people and their emotions as possible. Today, whether I am introverted or extroverted (that is, whether I lose or gain energy around people) depends primarily on the individuals, the social situation, and how much sleep I got the night before.
My inner life and my outer life are very different beasts. At work, I am driven, detail-oriented, and perfectionist out of principle. My self-control is insanely good in public. At home, I have often felt legitimately out of control. In personal conversation, I am docile and overeager to find common ground — to the point where the words coming out of my mouth make no sense because I’m trying to say everything and nothing at the same time. When interacting online, I tend to be too blunt, and stirred up far too much trouble when younger behind the protection of email.
My two closest friends (my husband, an ISTP, and my college roommate of three years, something like an INFP) began rubbing off on me. Their major personality differences balanced me out, teaching me new ways of thinking and interacting with the world.
All of these things taken together make personality tests a nightmare. Radically different parts of my personality switch on and off depending on the person I’m with or the situation I’m in. There is a huge difference between how I instinctively react, feel, and believe and who I allow myself to be.
It’s no wonder that the last time I took an Enneagram test, I got this message: “It is not clear from these test results which type you are.”
Do you have similar problems with personality tests? What do you get typed as? The Enneagram tentatively has me as a 6 (which sort of makes sense), and the last time I took a Myers-Briggs test, I got ISFP/Adventurer (which is accurate in its data but not in its explanation of the data).
Edited to reflect my newfound realization that I’ve been spelling “Myers” with an extra E my entire life! Word lovers, psychologists, and people who actually pay attention when they read, I apologize for the agony my misspelling has been causing you.
I am the primary caretaker of my little e.e. Not only do I care for his physical and emotional needs at all hours (all hours), I plan on homeschooling him too. I love being a stay-at-home mother. Love it. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
The other thing I’m not giving up? The couple hours I work at a preschool. I put time, effort, and expense into being a professional preschool teacher. I hope to return to it full-time when e.e. is grown. It brings me a great amount of joy and surrounds me with an amazing community of families, female co-workers, and kids.
Because it’s only a few hours a day, I haven’t felt any friction between being a teacher and being a mom.
I never expected to hold down any sort of outside, paying job as a mother. A freelance writer, a self-employed worker, maybe. But outside, paying jobs with the sort of flexibility I wanted in order to be my child’s primary caregiver — those are few and far between.
Plus, I grew up hearing all sorts of false narratives about women’s careers. We’ll start off with one unique to patriarchy, and then look at a more ubiquitous one another time.
False Narrative #1: Working Women Bear the Double Curse
Vision Forum loved using this little whammy to relieve women who wanted to stay at home full-time and guilt women who didn’t.
“How many women do you know who have to bear the curse of the man? Try seventy percent of our culture. Did you know that women are bearing the double curse? This is a tragedy of enormous proportions! It is destroying the church. It is destroying the family. It is killing these women. It is killing them. And it is wrong. Totally wrong.”
This idea comes from Genesis 3, where God doles out curses unique to Adam and Eve. For Eve, he multiplies her pain in childbearing. For Adam, he curses the ground, making it bring forth thorns and thistles, the harvesting and eating of which cause Adam to sweatily eat bread.
Clearly, a compassionate reading means that since only women experience pain in childbirth, only men should experience the pain of providing for their family. No woman should ever have to birth babies and provide for the family.
Now I’ll be the first one to admit that if this questionable interpretation brings about paid maternity leave for all women everywhere so that we don’t have to waddle around for eight hours a day on our aggravated sciatic nerves in the third trimester, then I’m all for this.
But compassionate as it appears on the outset, it’s rather ludicrous. Sure, we’ve all had jobs or aspects of jobs that feel like a great big cosmic curse. Of course, people look forward to retiring or wish for more free time or count down the days to vacation — even if we enjoy our jobs. We need rest and free time — and we also need work.
This is why women choose to work even when give options not to. We want to work. We enjoy working. Work gives us purpose as humans. We were created to work with the world, to explore it, to question it, whether it’s with quarks or figures or words or inquisitive young minds.
Women are no exception to humanity. We need work of some kind — purposeful, creative work that engages our minds and hearts.
That’s not to say that there isn’t purposeful, creative work that engages our minds and hearts at home or within the family. The majority of my day involves engaging work with my child, so I’m a testament to that! It’s just to say that not all purposeful work for women exists in the home.
And it’s also to say that not all housework is purposeful, creative, and fulfilling. I won’t bore you with the numbers of times I’ve gone to bed depressed because the only thing I accomplished that day was putting away the dishes and dumping a load of clean laundry on the floor. If that’s all working at home entailed, I would shrivel up in two days flat.
Being cooped up at home with nothing but housework? That sounds like a curse to me.
But it’s not a curse to walk into my preschool classroom to love, teach, play, and change diapers — just like it’s not a curse for many women to go to work each day and pursue professionalism and excellence in their careers.
Depending on a woman’s circumstances, goals, and interests, working full-time or stay-at-home full-time is either a curse or a blessing. I’ve certainly heard many women wish that they could financially afford to drop their job in order to be their children’s primary caregivers. I’ve also heard many women wish they could afford childcare so that they could pursue a career.
To characterize women’s eager desire to do purposeful work outside the home as a curse is woefully ignorant of what real women really want.
The twenty-first century West is not prehistoric post-Eden. For many people, careers are not simply for making ends meet, and even if they are, they involve little sweat and few thorns of a literal nature. But that’s often a privilege of the mid- to upper-class West — being able to choose a career based mostly on personal interest rather than on finances.
If I were to apply Adam’s curse to the modern day, I wouldn’t interpret work outside the home as a curse — I would interpret struggling to make ends meet as a curse. And it is. Working out of necessity, without choice, just to scrape together enough money for food and rent is indeed a curse. It breaks my heart to see older folks still working when they’d rather retire, spend time with their grandchildren, and take care of their health. It breaks my heart to hear single parents talk about the burden of parenting solo and bringing home the bacon solo.
Let’s save all compassionate indignation for the single parents and the elderly who are scraping by without support, but don’t pity me, a healthy, young, creative, energetic woman who earns a paycheck. It’s not a burden to me to help provide financially for my family.
Somewhere along the line, Christians got into their heads that the Bible calls men to be the primary financial provider. There is no verse that says this anywhere. The verse that allegedly bolsters this idea is often mis-cited as, “if a man does not provide for his family, he has denied his faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Almost all translations use the neutral “anyone.” Anyone who doesn’t provide for his family has denied his faith.
In context, that verse speaks about caring for the widows of one’s family, and the passage specifically calls out children and grandchildren to care for their widowed relatives. (Note the gender neutrality. Daughters don’t get off the hook because of their sex.)
Even more ironically, the only gender singled out and charged with the financial care of widows is female, not male: “If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need” (1 Timothy 5:16).
Again, to be clear, Paul sees having children and managing the household as important work (1 Timothy 5:14), but he doesn’t exempt women, by virtue of being women, from financially caring for their family.
Of course, many men do feel sensitive about their role as primary provider, so much so that they feel shamed or resentful when their wives make more money than they do. There may be all kinds of explanations for this sociological phenomenon, but there is nothing in the Bible that supports this sort of rigid structure.
When I first got married, I was surprised at how much I cared about contributing financially. Some young women I knew quit their jobs and stayed home upon marriage, even before children were in the picture. That choice felt selfish to me.
For me, there was absolutely no good reason why I by default of my gender should get to pursue my interests at home while my husband worked his butt off to pay the bills. I felt just as responsible for making sure all our material needs were provided for, and I take great pride in bringing in an income, however small. (In theory, my income goes directly to savings, since Erich’s income covers all our bills. In reality, our paychecks all go to one bank account, and we don’t keep track of whose dollar pays for what.)
I don’t find that responsibility to be a curse, just as my husband doesn’t find it a curse to work all day yet care for his baby upon coming home. We’re a team, helping each other out in all the responsibilities of life. I love that there’s no room for resentment in our marriage, no room to feel like we’re alone in one particular responsibility.
Women are quite capable of juggling many responsibilities, and it’s not a curse to financially provide for the family.
For sure, it can be a real frustration to figure out a happy work/life balance. The American workforce is arguably detrimental to families, and there are many opportunities for that work/life balance to go awry. I don’t doubt that many women are unhappy with their current career situation. But those frustrations come not from work and not from shouldering the responsibility of providing for one’s family, per se; they come from the same cursed afflictions that people of both sexes experience — single parenthood, poor pay, less than ideal employment, not enough time with family, etc.
The bottom line: women’s paid work outside the home is not inherently a double curse or a tragedy of great proportions. It’s often an important, wonderful, productive part of our lives that invigorates rather than kills us, and brings many benefits to our churches and our families.
The last time I exercised for more than two days in a row was when I was a young teenager. I discovered that if I followed my mom’s Pilates DVD every day, I got rock hard abs — and that was incredibly motivating to me. Abs. And watching the numbers go down from 115 on the bathroom scale.
That’s what exercise was for, right? Dropping pounds and sculpting muscles for that bikini bod. Even as a skinny girl with no need to lose weight, even as a frumpy girl with shirts too baggy to reveal any abs, sculpted or otherwise, I’d internalized the way women talk about exercise: It’s about being attractive.
Pinterest is flooded with exercises that target chicken wings, cellulite, love handles, even double chins. Workout DVDs feature defined abs in bikinis and sports bras, with full-faces of perfect hair and make-up. It’s almost as if being healthy is secondary to looking attractive — attractive to beachgoers, attractive to wedding-goers, attractive to our significant others, and if we really want to be progressive, attractive to ourselves. Look great, feel great!
It’s not like I’m some paragon of feminist virtue in this regard. I did Pilates for the abs. I contemplated a bridal bootcamp in the months preceding my wedding. I looked up those cellulite-begone workouts. The only difference between me and the women who do them is not a valiant stand against the sexification of women’s workouts…it’s just laziness.
Laziness prompted by the fact that, frankly, if it’s a choice between being active and sexy versus lounging on the couch and being just average, I’d choose the latter. Plus, I was already skinny.
I had zero motivation to be sexy or skinnier, so I had zero motivation to exercise.
Then I became pregnant.
When I hit my third trimester of pregnancy, I learned that fit women generally have easier, faster, and earlier births. Sign. Me. Up. I stopped bemoaning my existence as a beached whale and started doing some YouTube pregnancy workouts. (This is my favorite series!)
You know how the instructors always call out dorky encouragement? Like, “How are you doing at home? You’re looking great!” (usually when I’m collapsed on the couch too winded to answer). Or, mostly, “We’re working on the sexy abs! We’re getting your beach body in shape!” And you know how every cardio workout is subtitled something about burning or melting or destroying calories?
Not in pregnancy workouts.
When you’re pregnant, you don’t have abs, or a beach body (unless beached whales count). You don’t have the energy to care how your glutes look in your jeans because the only jeans you wear are a hand-me-down, belly-band maternity pair a half size too big. In fact, you don’t really care how your body looks because you’re too busy complaining about how crappy your body feels.
And nobody cares about fat in the third trimester. You carry a baby around long enough, you deserve to indulge every single carb-loaded craving that comes your way. You deserve it.
In pregnancy workouts, the painfully chipper instructor doesn’t make beach body references or fat-burning comments. She talks about strength for birthing your baby or sculpting your biceps for lifting infant car seats. She praises you for doing something good for your body. She asks you to connect with your baby in utero as you breathe.
You come away feeling like your body can do anything — birth a baby, do a squat, get through this next set without fainting. It’s empowering. You come away thinking that your body is meant to do something, not just look pretty.
For the first time in my life, I felt motivated to work out, because the motivation was actually motivational. I wanted to be strong enough to lug around the infant carrier. I wanted to be fit enough to birth a baby in record time. I wanted to maintain that connection to my body — a body that wasn’t meant to be sexy so much as to be functional.
And then I gave birth. It wasn’t a spiritual, goddess-like experience that left me in awe at my body’s capabilities. It mostly just hurt like no pain I’d ever experienced, and the postpartum recovery has me too traumatized to ever want another biological baby.
But, the minute I could walk straight without my pelvic floor threatening to split open — that’s when the goddess, girl power awesomeness kicked in. It felt amazing to move — to bellyflop on the bed, to walk without pain, to kneel, to bend, to run (since when did I ever feel joy about running?). Being deprived of basic motor function gave me a new appreciation for abilities as small as tying my shoes. This postpartum period felt like a second chance at life.
I signed up for a YMCA membership and now go to classes five times a week, first thing after work. Instead of focusing on the postpartum belly flab still jiggling over my jeans’ waistline, I’m tapping into the strength, competency, and beauty of my body’s unimpaired motion.
Each day, I feel myself getting stronger and more functional — just like a woman’s body should be.
Over at my apartment, it feels like the Grinch stole Christmas. Until today, just eight days before Christmas, there wasn’t a Christmas decoration in sight.
The banner over our window still read, “Happy Fall,” with a couple inches of snow clearly visible behind it. The Christmas cards were shuffled under some bills, old pay stubs, and coupons for Maternity Motherhood nursing bras.
There was one plate of just a few cut-out sugar cookies, stacked on top of a Tupperware full of unfrosted cookies, and if you looked in our fridge, you’d find baggies of colored frosting left over from a week ago when we invited my sister to decorate cookies with us. We got a late start with the cookies, and then her baby got cranky for bedtime, and she left, and with her went all motivation to finish frosting the rest of the cookies. I don’t know what I was thinking — I’ve always hated decorating cut-out cookies.
I’m also bad at decorating in general. I said there wasn’t a Christmas decoration in sight, but that’s not entirely true. Every Christmasy thing we owned has been spread out over our table for weeks. Even though I had plenty time during the day, puttering around waiting for my baby to be born, I avoided it.
I was so much more prepared for Christmas this year than last. Joanna Gaines had come out with an inspirational holiday collection at Target. I had been pinning Christmas ideas since the summer. I had read the Christmas editions of both Better Homes & Gardensand Family Circle.
And then the thought of making decisions and things not looking right and me botching Christmas again…the only warm and fuzzy feeling I got at the thought of Christmas decorating was intense anxiety.
The Grinch is wrong, by the way. The true meaning of Christmas exists without presents and Who Hash, but what is Christmas without the traditions surrounding it? I’ll tell you what — just an ordinary day of reflection on family and togetherness and Jesus. All good, don’t get me wrong. But not Christmas.
Unfortunately for me, I haven’t had much luck with igniting the Christmas spirit on my own. Our first married Christmas, I thought it was simply a matter of meshing my husband’s and my favorite traditions and making them “ours.” That bombed the second we squabbled over when to open stockings — on St. Nick’s Day all the way in the beginning of December (wrong), or on Christmas morning (right).
“It wouldn’t be Christmas to me if we opened stockings at any other time than Christmas morning,” I pleaded. “That’s my favorite part of Christmas.”
Of course, opening stockings on St. Nick’s Day was one of his favorite parts of Christmas, too, and it just wouldn’t be Christmas without that.
I don’t know why we bothered arguing about it. It was a moot discussion, because Santa doesn’t visit anyone who lives without their parents.
We tried migrating over other family traditions — the Advent wreath, the canon of Christmas songs and movies, the driving around town in our pjs sipping chocolate shakes and looking at lights. Those never caught on, because I discovered something I’d never realized before as a kid — it’s not half as fun to be the adult in the situation, the one who has to hunt down those elusive purple candles at Michael’s, who has to go out and rent all the movies and CDs, who must Google the route around town and justify spending money on shakes.
And it’s no fun trying to be the sole motivation for all these things without an energetic younger sibling to support you. I learned that the hard way when I’d planned an entire St. Nick’s Day celebration only to hear the words, “I’m really tired and just want to go to bed” from my husband. It was 7:30. Party pooper.
Adrift in a Christmas season without any traditions of my own — that’s how I felt. And no matter how many nostalgic feelings I felt about Christmas, no matter how many times I scrolled through my Christmas Pinterest boards, I just couldn’t seem to make those traditions happen.
Then I realized I was doing it again — that thing I do as a young adult, trying to recreate something that no longer exists. I can never go back to being a little girl whose primary job in the kitchen is eating the cookies, not making them. I can never go back to being the recipient of Santa’s generosity, not the jolly old fellow himself. I can never go back to not being in charge of the budget or responsible for planning the day’s events or making the Christmas magic happen. Christmas wasn’t going to feel the same, because it, frankly, wasn’t the same.
Even when I go home for Christmas, it’s not the same. Someone’s always missing, off fulfilling their holiday obligations with their significant other’s family. There’s only one kid unjaded enough to get excited about Christmas cookies and decorating the tree. Some of the family traditions have stopped completely due to all the adolescent inertia in a house full of teenagers.
Christmas couldn’t be found there, either.
But the Grinch hadn’t stolen it completely.
Sure, we didn’t watch any of the holiday movies our families watched, and we didn’t get the tree up until eight days before Christmas, and we don’t have access to my dad’s complete collection of Mannheim Steamroller CDs, and, realistically, we probably won’t do a fraction of the things I wanted to do. And yeah, decorating sugar cookies doesn’t get me in the mood for Christmas anymore.
But we don’t have to do those things for it to be Christmas, and those old traditions don’t have to work magic in the way they used to. We’re our own little family, our own persons, and Christmas comes to life in different ways now.
That’s where all the anxiety and frustration was coming from — I wasn’t okay with that, with growing up, and accepting that things are different, so Christmas will be different too.
The Grinch didn’t return many of the old traditions that growing up stole — but their absence inspired some new ones. And when I look back at this Christmas season, I’m satisfied. I’m happy. I’m in the Christmas spirit — even if it’s eight days before Christmas and we only just decorate our home.
We spent a frosty day picking and cutting down our way-too-tall Christmas tree, sharing a kiss under the mistletoe at the owner’s bequest, and drinking hot cocoa with my brother-in-law who works on the tree farm.
We light two candles at every shared meal pretending that they’re Advent candles, since, after all, there were only two Sundays in Advent left by the time we set them up. We didn’t do any of the accompanying readings or prayers or songs, but there’s always next year.
My church gives us plenty of opportunities to sing Christmas carols, both in and out of service, and I love communal caroling.
I play Spotify Christmas playlists as background noise.
I sang through Handel’s Messiah — all of it — because that’s my favorite Christmas music of all. And maybe I’ll start over and sing the alto parts now.
What’s to stop me from eating the raw cookie dough and frosting left over from our failed cookie decorating endeavors?
But my very, very favorite — we read A Christmas Carol out loud. Next up is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and, of course, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I hope that’s a tradition that carries on forever. But even if it doesn’t, in some other season of grown up life, I know there’s something else out there that can make Christmas feel exactly like Christmas is supposed to be.
Before I got married, I watched newlyweds struggle to send out thank you notes for every pillow and pot and pan set they received. The bridal shower occurs smack dab during wedding planning, so those notes get shoved back. Then the wedding occurs, then the honeymoon, then moving, starting that new job, processing marriage, and hunting down your car paperwork (since of course your car fell apart somewhere amid all of that). You find the paperwork in a stack of junk mail and lists of people you need to thank. All fifty to three hundred of them.
Next weekend, you say. And then the next. And some of them happen, some of them don’t, until you’re so flustered and your hand is so cramped and you start questioning the whole stupid concept of etiquette and forget about thank you notes until your second anniversary.
Before I had a baby, I watched the same thing happen — the distraction, the frustration, the exhaustion, the defeat. And by that point, the baby is born and nothing gets done until you retire.
There’s one common thread to these sad tales — wives get stuck doing all the thank you notes.
It might be because wives generally get stuck with social obligations. It might be because women get thrown the bridal showers and baby showers while the husband- and dad-to-be stays home. Those are all things I think we should challenge (desperately), but in the meantime, here’s a quick and dirty tip to get all the thank you notes done without burn out:
Wives, don’t write all the thank you notes.
Erich and I split up wedding thank yous — he responded to his family and friends, and I responded to mine. That proved especially helpful because I had no idea who Aunt and Uncle Unpronounceable Polish Name were, and they had no idea who I was — and there were lots of aunts and uncles with unpronounceable Polish names on his side of the family. There were also people who neither of us knew.
I’m not sure how that happened.
Even more importantly than splitting up thank you note writing, we split up the mental load of thank you note writing. That is, I made it clear that this was not my task that I was delegating to him. This was his task that he was solely responsible for thinking about and completing. I would not remind him, nag him, or deal with the fallout if relatives started asking where their thank you notes were — just as he was not responsible for reminding me to complete my thank you notes, even if it took me months (or a year…) to complete them.
I cannot tell you how much of a relief that was — to not feel obligated to nag. Because that’s where nagging comes from, right? The feeling that it’s ultimately your responsibility and your reputation that takes a hit, so you must badger your husband to do it your way, in your time, instead of letting go of everything — the method, the time frame, the responsibility, the consequences.
Whenever anyone asked how thank you notes were coming, it felt amazing to simply say, “Oh, Erich’s in charge of the rest of them — ask him” — instead of throwing him under the bus to deflect from my embarrassment.
This makes for a much happier marriage.
Now that baby gifts and Christmas gifts are rolling in, I’m planning on revisiting this simple tip — he writes the notes for his family and friends, I write the notes for my family and friends. Of course, his family is now my family and vice versa, and I have more time on my hands than he does since I work part-time, so that changes things more than when we both worked full-time and hardly knew each other’s families.
But if the thank you notes get overwhelming, I’m not going to hesitate to pull in my husband. After all, expressing gratitude for gifts given to both of you is not a wife’s sole responsibility.
Well, hey. I just wanted to cave into the boring trend of explaining long blog hiatuses.
What happened was, three weeks of illness, long work hours, and the third trimester.
In other words, I did not think any coherent thoughts during the past month. Zero. I just cried randomly.
I’ve begun thinking coherent thoughts again, thoughts like, “I only have a few weeks left before my self study course is due” and “I need to finish the baby registry” and “Shoot, I’ve got to sew that crib sheet before my sister takes her sewing machine away from me.”
And lots of great blog content, too, actually, but I’m in that intellectual funk where I can talk to myself in car about it all day long but go blank when I try to write about it. You know what I mean? It’s not writers’ block; I just need lots of mental bandwidth before I can write well, before I get just the right angle that captures exactly what I want to say.
Until then, you get these little updates:
30 Rock is the best, funniest, only comedy I’ve wanted to watch in its entirety. Like all good things, it got booted off Netflix and forced me to stay one step ahead of my bingewatching by ordering it from a neighboring library. Which leads me to this existential crisis: If Netflix never has anything good, and I can get everything I want for free from the library, why am I still paying money for this? Great question, Bailey.
Nesting is an actual thing, and it’s happening in bizarre ways. Remember me, the girl who hates homemaking? I don’t know where she went. Whenever I get upset at odd hours of the night, I’m up and scrubbing dishes, vacuuming, and picking Kleenex and empty pizza boxes off the floor. I’ve currently got three different projects started — repainting the changing table, sewing a crib sheet, and sewing a lovey. And my Pinterest boards are exploding with more projects I plan to do before Baby Stegersaurus comes.
Lesson planning is my absolute favorite. I am obsessed with creating unit studies, setting up invitations to play, and reading preschool book reviews. I spent a whole weekend mapping out homeschool plans for my child’s early elementary years (because I’d already had his tot school and preschool lesson plans made months beforehand, duh). Hand in hand with that, I can’t stop reading Reggio Emilia-based blogs like An Everyday Story and The Imagination Tree.
I got into mommy Facebook groups. They are the best and the worst. Mostly the worst right now, because I have yet to desperately need support at 4 AM. There’s one mommy group that spends most of its time responding in GIFs to stupid questions. There’s another with drama queens who believe the world’s problems mostly stem from scheduled bedtimes (personally, I’m sitting here more worried about the impact of their inability to follow basic grammar and logic). Moms preface their behavior questions with, “And he doesn’t get any sugar, dyes, vaccines, or television, so I know that’s not the problem.” Nobody seems to be able to find common ground with moms who don’t agree with every tiny parenting decision she makes. And everyone’s child seems to have a sensory disorder, be autistic, or have ADHD, ADD, ODD, or other heretofore unknown combinations of letters. Oh, and everything my mom ever fed, gave, or applied to me causes cancer.
I can’t believe it took me this long to hop onto the Brené Brown bandwagon. Despite my sluggish reading of late, I breezed through her latest, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone — which was not only a fabulous book itself but addressed everything I’ve been thinking about lately. (Check out my Goodreads page if you’re curious about what books I think I’m going to be able to read before the baby comes.)
And finally, pregnancy. I am 30 weeks along. Baby is doing fabulous; mama, not so much. I dislike being pregnant. A lot. Being the more cerebral type, I’ve always wondered what to do with my physical existence, but I haven’t encountered the sort of mind/body struggle you experience in pregnancy. I cry daily over some new or rediscovered limitation my body imposes on me — I feel incapable as a teacher because I can’t pick up crying children begging for “up” or remove three children vying for a spot in my limited lap space or pick up and redirect a naughty child, because I can’t move or breathe like a normal person. It’s a herculean effort to change sleeping positions — or worse, haul myself out of bed. (Erich is now used to me yelling for assistance or using his body as leverage.) Singing in the choir, my beloved, beloved hobby, has become a struggle due to sciatic pain or passing out cold due to anemia, less lung capacity, low blood sugar, or all the above. Everything physical is a struggle of some sort.
And none of my clothes fit.
But. I am thrilled to be a mom. Yes, we’ve had some stern talks, my son and I, about not going over the due date or jabbing me in the bladder. But I am so excited to meet him, pregnancy woes notwithstanding. I feel so close to him already, what with reading books and singing lullabies and referring to him by name. Erich and I finally agreed on a beautiful medieval German name that sounds modern and means, roughly translated, “your parents really can compromise!” I can’t wait to share it with you all once little Stegersaurus makes his appearance!
I’m looking forward to having more time and energy in a couple weeks to write. In the meantime, let me know what you’re up to!