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.)
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.
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.
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.
The timing couldn’t have been better. I was having trouble thinking of what to give up for Lent this year. I’m not huge into fasting as a beneficial thing, as I’ve practiced enough self-flagellation in my lifetime that it doesn’t help me all that much. Once when I was younger, I tried fasting from food for twenty-four hours. In reality, I only skipped an additional snack or two, since it was normal for me to avoid cooking and eating in order to get on with my writing and reading. Cooking and eating three square meals a day would’ve put my feet to the spiritual fire. Intentionally nourishing my body and soul — that’s often the truer sacrifice for me.
I’m not a fan of giving up what’s good or needed (like food) for some ethereal higher purpose. Theologically, I think asceticism is anti-Christian. It introduces a dichotomy between body and spirit that’s confusing at best. We do not become more like Christ by abandoning our body and its needs. Christ became man so that our path to God could be distinctly human — not body-less.
But I do appreciate the practice of Lent when approached as giving up what’s easy for what’s good and necessary. Last year I gave up social media. The initial day or two was a bit hard, but once I was freed from the fear of missing out — it was, after all, only for forty days — I was free, indeed. I tapped into something my body and soul desperately needed: the headspace and time to do other nourishing things, headspace and time that Facebook had monopolized.
For whatever reason, I wasn’t feeling led to give up social media this year. So what would I give up?
Enter adult braces.
Yes, folks, I am a twenty-four-year-old in need of braces. Two days before Ash Wednesday, the orthodontist glued the brackets onto my teeth, strung them up with wire, and sent me off with a goody bag full of strange cleaning tools.
Braces are insanely primitive — a whole bunch of METAL and WIRE, GLUED (yes, GLUED) to your teeth, in order to wrench bone through gums. And your body responds to them as the primitive contraptions that they are: it salivates over them as it does any foreign object. Your poor teeth ache from the pressure. Your even poorer lips and cheeks get shredded and sore until they literally callous over from the braces rubbing up against them.
P.S. The only real way to circumvent your mouth’s inner suffering is sticking wads of wax all over the brackets. Attractive.
And actually functioning with braces? Well, it’s about as gainly as walking with your shoelaces tied together. There I was on Ash Wednesday, the alto section leader, trying desperately to swallow excess saliva at every breath mark, my lips getting stuck on the brackets, my soft consonants going tacky.
It’s a great way to remember one’s mortality, in a reverse fashion — your once normal adult mouth getting reduced to a goulish metallic grin that cancels out all the maturity you worked so hard to project in your already youthful body. And by youthful, I don’t mean the sexy kind. I mean the kind where someone asks what high school you attend, even though you’re married, with a child, six years out from your last high school experience.
I haven’t even kissed my husband yet. Mostly because it hurts, but also because I feel thirteen again.
That’s really the worst part of adult braces. You’re supposed to have your teeth together by now — you’re married with a child six years out of high school, for Pete’s sake. You’re supposed to have your teeth together, and you don’t, and everyone knows it.
It’s my worst nightmare: everyone, from total strangers to my in laws to my coworkers to my beloved husband, everyone, everyone, everyone knows something weird and unattractive about myself, and I can’t do a thing about them knowing.
It’s one of those things that are private enough (or gross enough?) that nobody feels comfortable acknowledging, so it becomes the elephant in the room. You know they know about your mouth full of metal and wire, but they’re too polite to say anything, and it’s silly for you to pretend your entire mouth isn’t radically altered, but you’re too polite to weird them out with your dental sob story.
I’ve never felt much insecurity about my body, but now I feel all of it. I try not to smile too big or talk too much — mostly because, again, it hurts, but also because I’m desperately trying to cling on to control over how I appear to people. I want to be that put-together adult woman with all her teeth in a straight row, and now I look like a thirteen-year-old with obvious dental problems.
That’s what I’m giving up for Lent: my carefully curated self-image of perfection — an image that’s as unobtrusive, benign, normal, and put-together as possible. An image all can love. An image that doesn’t shock or confuse or weird anyone out. An image that invites affection and admiration. An image that doesn’t let out all the crazy and gross and problematic unless it’s on my terms.
And with that carefully curated self-image, I fostered a belief that I could only be loved and appreciated if I was lovable and appreciable in every minute way; if I was normal and benign and mature and put-together, not quirky and flawed and needing a couple more years to mature. And along with that was a belief that by being normal and benign and mature and put-together and not quirky and flawed and needing a couple more years to mature, I could ensure that people would love me.
Well, my adult braces have blown that smokescreen right up.
Being forced to give up control over a very noticeable part of my body — I am forced to realize a few facts of life that were true before I had braces, are true now that I have them, and will continue to be true when I get them off: I am flawed, and I am loved, and I can’t control either of those things.
The response to my monstrosity of metal and wire has been nothing but gracious. My preschool students didn’t notice at first, and when one did, they all demanded to see them, open-mouthed, studious — and then they moved on without a word of praise or censure. My husband asked to see them, and I said no, and he said okay, and didn’t indulge me my wild fantasies of him either having a thing for metal-mouthed women or filing for divorce at the sight of me. Nobody has done the no-you-look-good! protest that we all know is fake. They’ve just noticed and been kind. No admiration, no pity, no revulsion.
Because really, adult braces — and adults with obvious flaws — are incredibly normal.
For Lent, I’m letting myself receive grace, love, and normalcy despite those obvious flaws, dental and otherwise.
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.