Full Time Mom

I’ve been traveling a lot lately for work and feeling the dreaded pull of mom guilt. All mom’s have mom guilt. It doesn’t matter if you work outside the home or stay at home. The mom guilt is real. Your day job just changes the focus of the mom guilt. I can say this because I was a stay at home mom for 3.5 years and have now been working outside the home for 3 years. The guilt remains.

When I stayed home for my day job, my mom guilt was about socializing the kids enough (hello fellow introverts), educating them enough, Pinteresting enough sensory activities, and the knowledge that I alone was responsible for my kids total and complete development for 10 hours every single day (in reality, this is an exaggeration, but in feelings, it’s everything).

Now that I leave home for my day job, my mom guilt is all about those 10 hours of me not being the one responsible for all my kids’ development and learning, not Pinteresting enough class snacks and birthday ideas, too many activities and not enough down time.

Raising kids is hard. Let’s just get that out there. From the moment you find out you’re  pregnant to the 3 seconds of joy you experience before you google “being pregnant” and learn that from here on out everything you eat, don’t eat, do, or don’t do can in effect harm your baby, mom guilt resides. I’m fairly certain it lasts for life, though I have only known roughly 7 years of it, there seems to be no letting up.

I talked to my mom about this issue and found that yes, it’s real, and no, it doesn’t skip generations. I just can’t recall my mom being as scattered or ill prepared as I sometimes find myself, or seeming to ever question her role or path. This is where the talk about parenting and mothering came into play.

Back when I was a kid, schools educated you, families taught you, parents raised you, and community supported you (be it literal community or church or friends). Every one had a role that was important and valued. Moms, while concerned with all these aspects of their child’s wellbeing, were not the sole source. Mom’s mothered. And there was still mom guilt, but I’m guessing it sounded more tethered to reality and probably focused on providing essentials like food, shelter and clothing.

Today, mom’s parent. We parent the crap out of our kids. We plan all the things, schedule all the weekends, afternoons, brunch and lunch dates. We coordinate outfits, plan family photo shoots for every season and holiday, and document every cute, sweet, frustrating, or milestone moment on social media. We carpool, bus stop drop off, and daycare pick up.

We parent every aspect of our children’s lives and wonder why we feel so tired, or why we’ve been reading the same page of a novel for two months…parenting. We parent down to the second but end most days feeling like we weren’t present. And then, on top of all that, we still feel guilty. I’m guessing most mom’s are similar to me, and my mom guilt is an obsessive crazed rant that’s on nearly constant rotation in my brain, and centers on two things: 1) what am I forgetting? I know there’s something! 2) don’t loose your sh*t! Stay calm, you do yoga 6 days a week, why are we still loosing it right now!?

Parenting in today’s terms is absolutely unachievable for me. Partly because I can’t. I simply cannot keep up with the demand. The family photo schedule alone is enough to melt my brain. And secondly, because where is the joy? When the thing, the party, the picture, the planning, become the focus of our intentions, the people and relationships are lost. The point of the thing is to bring joy and show love. I think in the throws of parenting we focus too much on the things and lose our joy. This loss allows an awfully big hole for guilt to settle in.

So, my recommendation to myself (daily) and to all moms out there struggling with mom guilt, remember the joy. Remember that to bring joy you really only need to show up and be present. No one remembers the color of their second birthday cake, or the class gift bag mom made for third grade, or the time it took to coordinate Christmas card photos each year (that are put in the trash anyway people!). But we do remember how people made us feel. Bring the joy, lose the guilt. And the occasional bribe candy never hurts.

The Last Frontier

Whenever a bunch of fellows would get together, someone would start talking about going up north…Things were pretty much settled to the south of us…It’s only natural we’d start talking about the north. We bought out the Russians. We’d built canneries up there. The fellows who hadn’t been up was hankering to go. The rest of us was hankering to go back. ~ Martha McKeown, The Trail Led North

When I heard the word frontier, I always immediately also heard, “these are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise….to boldly go where no one has gone before”. This idea of strange new lands where few ever stepped foot was my idea of a frontier, and I didn’t really think there was a frontier other than outer space and possibly the depths of the ocean. Then I moved to Alaska.

Most people have a preconceived notion of Alaska. It’s cold, snow-covered, dark in the winter, moose and polar bears abound, brown bears and wolves eat salmon in your backyard. This is not untrue, it just doesn’t apply to all of the state.

Here’s the thing, Alaska is huge. If you cut Alaska in half, both halves would still be larger than Texas. If you overlay the state on top of a U.S. map, Alaska spans the map with Southeast Alaska taking up Florida, the interior filling the central U. S. and the Aleutian Islands reaching all the way to California. Due to the size, there are numerous ecosystems within the one state, thus, one notion of Alaska doesn’t quite fit.

Ketchikan is located in Southeast Alaska, regarding the U.S. map, it’s the Florida of Alaska. And Ketchikan is in a temperate rainforest. This means the weather is moderate and it rains – a lot.

When we stepped off the ferry in Ketchikan, our first stop was Buggies Beach, a rocky, log-laden beach on the south end of town. There were eagles flying, sea glass and kelp washed ashore, the sun was shining, it was beautiful. Our next adventure was Ward Lake. We walked the trails and noted the interesting plant life – prehistoric looking ferns, dwarf dogwood and devils’ club. It was misty and damp and smelled like wet earth and moss. We made it to our home and noticed it was surrounded, indefinitely, by the Tongass National Forest.

I have only one other time in my life felt the sense of bigness I felt when we moved to Alaska, and that was in Big Sky, Montana. As soon as we drove through Big Sky, I immediately stared upward and proclaimed, “Wow! That’s a HUGE sky!” Profound I know. But truly, there was an overwhelming sense of expanding horizons, a grandness that I never expected.

Alaska is this feeling for me. A bigness that is unmatched, a beauty and sense of place that runs deep, and heritage that is complex and intricately woven into the very rock of the island. Moving here gave me perspective. Perspective on people and culture, the difference between a mile and an Alaskan mile, family, and myself.

I am continually outside of my comfort zone. I hike up mountains! Not North Carolina mountains, but Alaskan mountains. I ride helicopters and land in the alpine, or take float planes to remote lakes in the Misty Fjords Wilderness, or boat past humpback whales to access recreation cabins as part of my job. The only way off this island is by boat or plane, and it basically takes a full day to get anywhere close by, and two days to get anywhere else. Most folks that live in town think the 20 minute drive to our house on the north end of the island is a haul. Food is expensive and choices are limited (in February the only guaranteed fresh fruit are apples and oranges). And the community here take these things in stride, and mostly, don’t mind.

These differences from the lower 48 and challenges have given me perspective. And I appreciate this experience and the people who have helped me along the way. They have helped me test myself and participated in my growth. In this big place that is still wild, I have found a home in a small community. I have found friendship and mentors. I have watched my children thrive and be loved by strangers. This big wild place, this last frontier of the north, has imprinted on my heart and mind. It’s more than just post card perfect photographs and cruise ship memorabilia, it’s community and stewardship and living. It’s a place where strangers become family, and where you are welcomed just as you are. I know that when I leave, I’ll have a hankering to return.

 

 

Life In The Daily

I get ridiculously excited about shampoo. To be fair, shampoo and conditioner. To be more fair any new kind of product that I get to pick out and use. Hair care, skin care, cleaning, kitchen gadget. I get so incredibly excited. Close to, if not at times surpassing Christmas level excitement. I plan the time of purchase, I research and think about the pros and cons of the brand and product, I comparison shop, I day dream about what it will be like to finally have that new shampoo. I may be certifiable, but if so, I’ll take it. Because I experience true joy in these small mundane everyday experience.

My mom says I have always been this way. That even as a child I would plan and day dream about next month when I get to go to Walmart and buy new shampoo. I would debate the scents of Aussie verses Suave. I would talk about what life would be like when I finally washed my hair and got the full Suave experience. Or my favorite day dream, would salon selective finally have the number 30 conditioner I knew my hair needed…every one must need it, it is always out of stock. Mind you this was way before amazon and everything you need being a click and 3 day shipping away. If my conditioner wasn’t in Zebulon, I was out of luck, Knightdale (30 mins away at the time) was too far to go for shampoo, and Raleigh was out of the question. Not to mention the fancy store markup.

Celebrating life is important. Celebrate the small stuff. Life is in the in between moments. Not all life is a mountain top experience but that’s okay. Without the failures and disappointments of everyday life, the small joys would be overlooked because they would not amount to the mountain top. Learning to see everyday as an opportunity to celebrate your life is where the good stories happen.

I have been reading this book about Haines, Alaska called If you lived here I would know your name. The author talks about how you spend your days being how you spend your life. That can be difficult to grasp when you have one idea of the kind of life you are living, or the kind of person you are, and then have to admit that your days do not reflect that truth. The minutia of the daily, the in between moments make up 90% of our days –  10% are reserved for vacations, concerts, fancy parties, mission trips… Those mountain top experiences matter, they charge us, shape us, but they are not our lives. The days spent home with sick kids, the day the hot water heater breaks and floods the garage, forgetting your wallet at the checkout, the grocery store trips, coffee dates, the weekly staff meeting…these are our days. And these moments make our life.

Focusing on each day with fresh gratitude and love is the only way I can make sense of my daily toils being the sum of my life. I have a very clear image of my most perfect life. It includes 9 hours of sleep every night, lots of yoga, painting, hiking, laughter with kids, no arguments ever, family gatherings, awesome meals (gluten free and dairy free, of course), best friends that live next door, two dogs and a Prius – This is not my life. I love my life and I have managed to incorporate some of these things (come on, I have two kids kindergarten and under, no one in this house sleeps 9 hours a night), but others that were in my plan have not been, thus far, in God’s plan. I live in Ketchikan, Alaska. I love it here, but my family and best friend live in North Carolina. I live in Alaska. Good luck finding anything gluten free and dairy free that you don’t make from scratch over the course of an entire day unless it’s salmon or halibut.

So my life does not always look the way I want, or the way I planned.  That is okay. The point is that the daily is a challenge. Whether it’s sick kids, broken furnaces, homesickness, sleep deprivation, or a serious hankering for a muffin (I would pay so much money for a pre-made baked good that wouldn’t end me), the daily is where we shine, redeem ourselves, grow, learn, and love. So with that in mind, I try to be grateful for every new day and greet it and those in it with love. So that even if my life does not look the way I planned, the way I spend my days, is the way I spend my life.

There is a story, always ahead of you. Barely existing. Only gradually do you attach yourself to it and feed it. You discover the carapace that will contain and test your character. You find in this way the path of your life. ~ Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table

The Least I Can Do

I was watching Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, and the idea of the least we can do was discussed. Essentially, we say phrases like, “oh, it’s the least I can do”, all the time without really understanding what those words mean. In the episode, Jimmy returns a phone call saying it’s the least he can do, then Jerry does not return a phone call to demonstrate what the least he can do looks like.

This made me think not only about the least I can do, but how I communicate to folks every day. The least I can do is pretty shocking to think about. It is literally nothing. For any situation the least you can do is to not do a thing. It seems to me that most people, by default, tend to do something in most situations, making the phrase ineffectual. The implied meaning of the phrase is that of course I would do this thing because to not do this thing would be to do nothing, and what type of person does nothing? Therefore, I do this thing as the least thing I could do because not doing this thing is uncivil.

This idea gave me hope because more often than not people are giving you their most. I did not say their best, but their most. When you have the snappy and rude receptionist at the pediatrician office, that is the most she can do in that moment. Who knows why her most is so much less than we need, but it’s still the most. The least would be not a thing. When we fail at a new skill or a big project, it is still, for better or worse, ego or not, the most we could do. The least would be not a thing, which means no failure because no attempt.

This idea of the most we can do gave me even more hope. What in the world would the best look like? What if we decided to forget the least, forgo the most, and deliver the best. The best we can do in any given situation. This idea also comes with a dose of grace. We would not be allowed to diminish our best by saying, “well, this is the best I can do, sigh”….Oh no, that is the most we can do talking.

The best we can do is truly our best and worth being proud of despite pitfalls or failures. Because at times, even our best is not enough. But imagine a world where we all give our best.  When you see someone in need of a kind word, give your best. When you see someone struggling, give your best. When it’s your turn to provide snacks for 30 elementary school kids, give your best. All these instances will look different every day, for everyone, and the best given will vary because we all vary. I think this shift in thinking is the primary difference between feline and canine psychology. Cats do the very least, while dogs strive to give their very best. I imagine a rabbit is somewhere in the middle. But to think that by simply changing the way we think about what we are giving, and the way our intentions bleed into the world around us, could have countless opportunities throughout countless days to positively affect the people we encounter…..to give our best, that is the least we could do.

Legacy

Legacy is defined in the Cambridge English Dictionary as “something that is a result of events in the past”. Legacy is also money or property that is left to someone by someone who has died. I have been thinking a lot about legacy lately. The legacy that was bestowed to me (the events kind, not money), and my personal legacy that will be bestowed to my children.

For me, legacy is not a material thing. It is a vapor that envelops me like a warm hug from the past. A weaving of all the hearts that have loved me since before I was even a spec. It is outstretched arms from the fields, the sky,  and the soil; it is the weather-worn tan skin, callused and rough, of the hands that worked from sun-up til sun-down so I could become exactly who I am this very moment; it is smiling when I want to curse because I was taught better; it is being gracious to those I think deserve a swift kick in the rear because I was brought up better than that; it is the sound of laughter and the sweet smell of honeysuckle under a brilliant blue indian-summer sky.
I come from a legacy of strong, hard-working, eastern North Carolina women. Sounds simple enough, but the values and ideals these women ingrained in me with every word, every hand gesture, and every head nod, are a unque gift that was bestowed to me. My Aunt Sissy’s spririted laughter and mischevious grin, my Granny’s knowing smile and “Lord, hunny”, and my Grandma Ann’s hand holding and clicking winks – These are my unique legacy. And I have the honor of adding to them and handing down an equally unique legacy to my own son and daughter.

Every generation builds on the foundations. We add to the layers of our personal history and slowly but surely lift up our future. I am constantly aware of what I am adding to the layers. How am I building up my children’s future? What will they remember, what will be important to their story? Probably too many curse words and an unreasonable fondness for cake, if I’m honest.

Even still, I hope that the central components to the legacy I bestow to my children are unconditional love and integrity. To love without conditions, including the condition to be loved in return, and to act with integrity, are the two most basic truths I can think of. And the most challenging. Life becomes seemingly much easier when we block ourselves off with conditions, and when white lies are okay because they keep us from uncomfortable conversations. But this only muddies the water. I know I fail, probably daily at times, with these two truths. But I carry on. I start over everyday, just like my mother, and my grandmothers, and my great grandmothers before me clearing the way for those coming behind us. We continue to propel them forward toward a better life than ours.

 

Sharing stories and taking names

I read once that everyone has at least one good book inside them. Maybe a spicy romance novel, a vampire-zombie young adult novel, or a memoir. I hear a lot of people say if they just had the time, they would write a book about _____ (you fill in the blank).

I believe we all have stories to tell. It’s just that some of us write them down, and others don’t. I want to be a part of the write our stories down group. I want to write and share my stories with all my heart. I have wanted this as long as I can remember, I just never thought I had the time, or had anything of particular interest to say.

That doubt is fear. Plain and simple. And yes, I am terrified of writing my stories down. There are so many ways to fail once you write down your brilliant ideas and share them with people who may, in fact, not find them brilliant at all. Because you see, I am not writing fiction. No vampire thrillers or murder mysteries here (I love both by the way). I am writing down my stories. My memories, thoughts, and lessons learned in my near 40 decades on earth. I am writing my Granny, Ms. Beulah’s, greatest sayings (“We are in the short rows now, honey”), my mother’s insights on life and faith, my family legacy – my father’s barbecue sauce recipe, my hopes, my fears, my sorrows and my joy. I have a long row to hoe, as Ms. Beulah would say, but the short rows are coming. I just have to start.

I read two books recently, both women authors, both Christian lifestyle genres, and both talk a lot about the word yes. In For the Love, Jen Hatmaker talks about living with a yes attitude, and saying yes when God asks something of you. Then there is Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, and not only does she have “Yes” tattooed on her arm, but she talks about saying yes to scary, life changing things, and starting where you are. These women write words that hit my heart and soul. Reading their words I feel like I’m their family, and soon we will all be around the kitchen table cooking, laughing, and learning. They write their own stories, and those stories inspire me to move forward with mine. Their stories ease my fears, restore my hope, squeeze out tears, release laughter, and focus my mind on being the kind of wife, mother, and woman I desire to be. Their stories make God more a part of my everyday in such a relatable way, that I can picture Him being a neighbor who is always invited for dinner parties. Isn’t that awesome? And I do not mean the 1990s awesome, I mean the true sense of the word, awe inspiring, jaw dropping awesome. To write stories so that when I am talking about God, or friends, or family, you can picture them living in your neighborhood, eating your barbecue and drinking sweet tea in your backyard, is my greatest hope – To write with such familiarity of daily life that the extraordinary in your own life is exposed.

So I am saying, yes! Yes, I want to write stories whether they are read by anyone or not. And yes, I want to write about family, food, and faith so personal, that if by chance someone does read them, they will picture sitting at my table, eating by Daddy’s barbecue in my backyard. I have said yes….so now what? I am going to start where I am.

My idea for Farm to Family began incubating in March 2016. Here is what I wrote that day:

It is a fairly nice March Monday in Ketchikan, Alaska. The sun is peaking through the evergreens, the air is crisp and smells like damp moss and rich dark earth. I am five minutes from running out the door to pick up the kids from daycare, I have a giant loaf of homemade bread in the oven to go with lentil soup for supper. I am home today because my husband had a vasectomy exactly three days ago and I am trying to take care of him. And I am starting. Ms. Beulah always told me to “start out like you can hold out”. Let’s see how this holds out, shall we?