Background

A Tale of Two Women

Let me tell you a story. It’s a tale of two women.

The first woman was born to teenaged parents. She was extremely shy and usually only had one friend at a time. Her parents were alcoholic drug addicts and violent toward each other. There was always yelling in her house growing up and money was always tight. For four years, she lived way out in the boonies without running water or electricity. She was close to her paternal grandparents who provided some relief from a difficult home life. When she was twelve years old, her uncle sexually abused her. She tried to tell her mother, but she didn’t know how. Later, her maternal grandmother told her sexual abuse was just a fact of life and wasn’t something that should be spoken of. This woman thrived in high school where good grades boosted her self esteem. She lived for good grades. She started dating when she was fourteen, lost her virginity when she was sixteen and was engaged to be married to her high school sweetheart. Just before her sophomore year of college, a good friend died a tragic death. One month later her mother died after being in a car accident. Then a month after that, her grandfather passed away. During the aftermath of losing her mother, her father went to prison and her little sister was put into foster care after being sexually abused by the same uncle. After living with her for a year, her little sister chose to go back into the foster care system, and years later they still do not have a good relationship. She became estranged from her mother’s sister, who she was close to as a child. Transition to motherhood was difficult for this woman, and while she loves her three children, she often wonders if she is doing enough to be a good mother.  In more recent years, this woman has learned to enjoy life, relying on her faith, despite her unhappy history. She is now in her late 30s and feels like she has lost herself and searches for her purpose in life.

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Woman Number Two grew up in the same small town as the first. She had a loving mother who read to her constantly and worked hard to make life as good as possible. Her father was a hard worker who did his best to provide for their family. When he wasn’t at work he was whistling, singing and watching football. She was very close to her two sisters as well as her extended family who lived nearby. Her grandparents introduced her to the Church, which has become a defining factor in her life. Her family enjoyed much time in the outdoors swimming, fishing, camping, biking and hiking. Because she was a hard worker all throughout school, she was the first person in her family to go to college. She also enjoyed many different extra-curricular activities and learning opportunities outside of school. She graduated with a degree in four years and was married to the love of her life during that time. She realized her dream of becoming a stay-at-home mom to three smart, strong, fun children. For five years, she homeschooled her children, reinvigorating her love of learning. She has been able to travel throughout the United States, and recently moved to Germany, visiting many different cities Europe with her family. She is also now in her late thirties, planning and dreaming about her future.

Which one would you rather be?

I’d rather be Woman Number Two. But truthfully? I am both. These stories are both about me. The first one focuses on the negative things that have happened to me and the second, of course, focuses on the positive. Isn’t it incredible that just a difference of perspective can change a story so drastically? What story do you tell about yourself?

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Background

Happy Birthday Mama

I thought I would be morose today. It’s my mom’s birthday. She would have been 54 years old. And she has been gone for almost seventeen years.

My mother-in-law is also gone as of nine years ago. And her birthday was three days ago. And yesterday was Mother’s Day.

Yeah, mid-May has been a tough time time of year for me.

But today I woke up and felt… good. For the first time in a long time. I am considering it a birthday gift from my Mama. Even though it’s her birthday, she is sending me a gift.

Background, Middle and High School, The Early Years

Football.

I am watching This is Us. We are on the episode when the Pittsburg Steelers win the Super Bowl. The conversation about their Dads watching football reminds me of my own Dad. He was a die-hard San Diego Chargers fan.

Professional football provided the background sound of my childhood. Sometimes it got annoying, having to make sure we weren’t blocking my Dad’s line of sight to the TV or being too loud. Actually, I don’t think he ever minded our noise. I don’t know that he even  paid attention to the commentators, because he sure was in his own world when watching football.

I remember one time he told us kids that his parents didn’t let him play sports when he was in school. He really wanted to, but they couldn’t afford it and didn’t think it was an appropriate use of time when there were chores to be done. My dad was the youngest of seven children.

When I was fifteen years old, I had had enough with football. This thing that dominated every weekend between August and February every year, I was done with it. So I asked my dad to explain the game. Naturally. Even though I had fifteen years of football watching experience behind me, I did not get it. (My conservative estimates put that at roughly 500 hours of football!) He explained the basics of the game, and it made my TV viewing experiences much more enjoyable. And then my senior year of high school I was a football cheerleader (don’t read into that too much). For a while there I really loved football.

These days I am the wife of a former player and mom of a future football player, and I completely understand why parents would not allow their son to play football. The fear of motherhood is not to be messed with.

I am at a point in my story that I am not sure how to explain football and my love-hate relationship with the sport. Do I embrace its influence in my life, or do I delve into creating some sort of symbolism with it? When we tell the stories of our lives, how much do we emphasize the positive and minimize the negative? Isn’t it funny that in the current moment, the opposite is true? We tend to emphasize the negative and ignore the positive. So I guess I will just leave it at that. Football: a neutral force in my life, both positive and negative, a balancing and evocative trigger of memories.

Baby-making years, Background, Germany, Homeschooling years

In Retrospect

My husband says I am never happy. Of course that’s not entirely true, but what he really means is that I am never content. I am always looking to the next thing. After we were married and still newlyweds, I really wanted a baby. Even though we were young and both finishing college, it seemed like the thing that would make my life perfect. Later, when our beautiful little girl came along, the transition to full-time motherhood was really hard. I had spent my entire life getting good grades and proving myself to others through academic performance and all of a sudden there was no one giving me that A+. That combined with my ingrained desire to be The Best was the perfect storm for a huge hit to my self-esteem. Looking back, I think that was the beginning of me feeling really lost in my life.

Of course raising a baby keeps you pretty busy, so I didn’t really think about it all that much. It’s only now in retrospect that I can see what was happening. And I do think I was a pretty good mom, but one with really low self-esteem. The things of life took over: we bought and sold a house, we moved states, bought another house, had another baby, and then a third right on the heels of the second. Those years are still a blur in my mind. My second and third children are only 21 months apart and there are days (or weeks?) that I just don’t remember at all. The status of BUSY kept me from figuring out why I didn’t ever feel content.

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When that third baby came along, my oldest was starting kindergarten and there is a huge learning curve in that whole rigamarole. When she went to first grade, it all just felt wrong. I loved the preschool years, but sending my kid off to school for 7 hours a day only for her to return home hungry, tired and grumpy left a bad taste in my mouth. So, for that reason and many others, I started down the path of homeschooling my kids.

This seemed to be an almost-thriving part of my life. I had always pretended to be a teacher as a kid, and it just came naturally to me. It was still really difficult, especially with a preschooler and a baby underfoot as well as a second grader. But I liked it! It gave me a sense of doing good and spending my time well the way nothing else since becoming a mom had.

Five years of that went by and suddenly our family was faced with an opportunity to move to Germany temporarily. What homeschooling family doesn’t take advantage of that? “It’ll be a grand adventure! We can learn another language! What a great bonding time!” we said. The pickle was that homeschooling is illegal in Germany. We are not a military family so if we took that plunge, it would shift our lifestyle tremendously. “But it is only temporary, two years max.”

And here we are, seven months into our stint in Germany. The kids, especially the oldest who was more than ready to dive back into public school already, are doing well and love their school. It keeps them busy.

But me? Well, not so much.  I get up with the kids and get them off to school, making them breakfast and lunches before they stampede out the door at 7:15 am. While my husband goes off to work all day supporting teams both here in Germany and in the U.S. eight time zones away, I am home.

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Because I am not accountable to anyone for how I spend my time, I have gotten really lazy. This makes me feel very guilty. I have a hard time not being productive with every minute of my time. And since the dust has settled on our international move, the silence of my days has been very loud. I am not busy. I don’t have friends or extended family vying for my time. We rent a house so we are not responsible for home improvement projects. I am involved in some church responsibilities, but it doesn’t take much of my time. I don’t work because I don’t speak the language. I actually thought I would spend this time getting some years-in-the-making projects done, but I don’t work on them.

Why not? I am living someone else’s dream life– seems like I should be able to write a novel or something. But instead I sleep a lot and pretty much just figure out what is for dinner and make sure all the dishes and laundry are getting done. I don’t even watch TV or movies; they make me feel like I am wasting my time- oh the irony! And I just feel…. lost. It’s like all the silence has made me realize that my soul hungers for something more. I am missing the passion and purpose in my life.

I have wondered if I am suffering from depression. It is a thought that has come up in my mind regularly over the years. I have lost my ability to feel happy for more than a fleeting moment. I am often angry. I remind myself of my mother and in many ways that scares me. I have no doubt that she was depressed.

I don’t want mental health issues to be a part of my story, but sometimes we don’t get a say in how the story of our lives unfold. And sometimes the protagonist in the story only has their own demons to overcome. I am certain there will be a time when this chapter is  behind me. Today I am trying to make it so.

Background

Absorbing Responsibility

My whole life I have absorbed responsibility for everything and everyone. I suppose it goes along with trying to control all the details.

When I was in kindergarten, my dad lost his job because he slept through his alarm and got to work late. I was awake and heard the alarm going off, but I didn’t know if I should wake him up, or if there was some reason he wasn’t getting up. (The mind of a 5 year old!) For years I blamed myself for the fact that my dad lost his job and as a result we had to move across the country to a place where my mom was unhappy the rest of her life.

P1000010Growing up, I was always the responsible child.  I remember one time I was sitting on my grandparent’s deck when my mom yelled for me (we lived on grandparents’ property for a while). When I came back later, she asked what my mom wanted. I told her I had to pour a glass of milk for my sister. I remember my Grandma shaking her head and telling me someday I would be grateful. I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me then, but over the years it became clear. I always had to watch out for my sister- make sure she brought her coat home or else she would lose one every week. In high school I remember finding a trail of papers someone had obliviously dropped as they walked along, only to find out it was my own sister with her backpack wide open, clueless as to what was happening around her.

My younger sister was, shall we say, a dreamer. My parents expected me to be responsible for her, but I think I took it too far. After we were both adults I still found myself giving her all the “you shoulds” until I had an epiphany: I didn’t need to be her mother anymore! I could just be her sister and listen and nod along without judgement as I would for anyone else. She was an adult. She could make her own choices and mistakes, and I no longer needed to take ownership of her faults as well as my own. Once I did that, our relationship got better over night.

IMG_5069Also in high school, I would feel so guilty for asking my parents for money when I had an away tennis game or other activity that required dinner out. They would give me $5. I would bring back the 32 cents, knowing that money was tight and I could at least do that much. My mother’s anxiety about money made me anxious and worried.

P1000230My parents always had a rocky relationship. Some of my earliest memories were of them fighting with each other. Thankfully, I never worried about them hurting each other physically, but in many ways the emotional scars were worse. When I was about twelve years old, my Mom asked me if I thought she should leave my dad. I distinctly remember feeling torn: I desperately wanted my mom to be happy, but I was afraid of how life would change if they separated. And of course somehow I figured that I could be responsible for keeping the peace and making them happy– that somehow if only I did more chores, or got good grades, or babysat my little sister more often– things would be okay.

P1000085Today I still feel like my little efforts can make a big difference. I still tend to absorb responsibility in places where I don’t need to. I could say that one of my life’s mantras is:

If you find yourself thinking, “Someone should _______,” then that someone is probably you!

For example, I feel passionately about recycling. If only everyone would recycle, maybe we could save the earth! I’ve seen a need at church and started a Facebook group to fill the need. Nobody asked me, I didn’t ask for permission, I just did it. When my husband is stressed I tend to get sympathy pains. If he has an upset stomach, I get one too. If he has a sore neck, I get one the next day.

IMG_6512Absorbing responsibility can be debilitating. No child should feel like anything their parents do or don’t do is their fault. No young person should feel so much weight on their shoulders, but be focused on creating their own fabulous life story, supported by their family. (This is not to say that children and young adults should shirk reasonable responsibility.) And no person should feel like if they fail, something bad will happen. I am trying to adopt the philosophy of just doing your best and the rest will fall into place. How faithless it is to feel like you have responsibility for everything and everyone around you! God is good, He will lift you up.

 

Background

Where to start?

This is the primary problem preventing me from writing more and sooner. I am the kind of person who likes to have a Plan. Everything all nice and tidy. The more life I get behind me, the more I realize it’s just not how things work. Life is not tidy. Life is not linear like freshman algebra (which I looooved!). Life is circular and inside-out and upside-down. Is there even really a true beginning and ending? Does it not all just feed into itself? A jumble of memories bubbling up and then dropping back down into the abyss of our minds?

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I’ve decided to simply write where I am. Today, here and now- whatever is in my heart at the moment. I hope to get back to where I was, but I am forcing myself to do it in a non-planned, non-linear way. The telling of my story will just have to be spontaneous and organic, taking me to wherever it leads.

So. Today. I suppose it is appropriate that it starts on a Sunday.

Today of all days, I feel like I actually lived a good story. I woke later than I would have liked, but I let go of my self-imposed “rule” to take a shower on Sundays. I looked at myself in the mirror and recognized that I was good enough. Oh how far I have come.

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We got the family out the door to church with ideal timing. I even remembered to return the glass and spoon that had somehow found themselves sitting on my kitchen counter for weeks now. I teach music to the 3-11 year olds at church. It’s only a 20-minute music time, but it makes me so nervous every week. 1. I am an introvert and being in front of people, essentially performing, is not my idea of a good time, and 2. Right now I live in Germany and teach in German. Except that I don’t speak German. Once again, I just have to be good enough, relying on my preparation and friends to get me through it.

After church we rested a bit. (My eyes wanted to close so badly all throughout church.) But I resisted actually falling asleep. Instead I rode the wave created by my three children. Playing, being silly, arguing, talking, eating. I am not usually so go-with-the-flow. But that’s what tired does to you.

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It was a beautiful early spring day with full sun, blue skies and warm enough to wear short sleeves. We couldn’t let the day slip away without spending some time outside, so we went for a traditional family “Sunday stroll.” I did my best to soak it in by taking pictures, even the eye-roll inducing family selfie. (Someday they will thank me for all these family pictures!)

Once home from the half hour walk, I started on dinner preparations. I often find myself stewing in the kitchen because nobody wants to help me. I want them to WANT to help. Don’t they recognize how much work I do around here?? But today, I declared dinner would be a family affair and handed out assignments. Surprisingly there was little arguing and it made the whole experience much more enjoyable for me. Oh how far I have come.

I’m learning to let go. As if somehow little ole me has any say in the Running of the World. I find my most joyful moments happen when I surrender my desire for control. Today is a perfect example of that. Oh how far I have come.