the lies i tell myself, part 4


Full disclosure, I didn’t have a great picture for today, so here’s one of Jonah that makes me smile.

OK, it took longer than I anticipated to get these four lies out. I suppose the timeline I had in mind was just another to a long list of lies… but if you need to catch the first three, you can find them here: part 1, part 2, and part 3. Which brings us to the final lie (for now, anyway):

I am the only one who feels this way.

Now, I know we are quick to blame social media for constantly showing us glimpses of other “picture perfect” lives. And yes, to an extent, the general public *may* tend to post highs rather than lows, but here’s what I have found. When I’m feeling bad about myself and I’m scrolling through my timeline, I barely give a second glance to the posts that say “today is hard, I need a hug!” I zero in on anything that looks shiny and glittery, anything that makes someone else’s life look perfect compared to my own. But this isn’t even the trickiest thing my brain does: let’s say someone posts a picture of a a family fun day. All of the kids are smiling, everyone looks like they’re getting along, and I manifest this whole story about how this family is better at family time than I am. I read so much into one tiny image that I have suddenly put this picture on a pedestal that I can’t reach. And it doesn’t matter if this family’s very next post is about a baby who never, ever sleeps or a stress overload. I don’t see those. I only see the good.

When people tell you to see the good in other people, this isn’t what they mean.

Or it shouldn’t be.

What do we say 75% of the time when someone asks, “hey, how are you?” “Fine!” “Good!” “Great!” “Can’t Complain!” So when I ask someone how they are, if I only ever hear “good!” I think: I’m the only one who isn’t good. I’m the only one who doesn’t have a cute family picture online right now. I’m the only one who hasn’t showered in four days and has really stretched the power of dry shampoo to the max. Look. I know it isn’t easy to say “actually, everything sucks and I’m really stressed, how are you?” And, you know what? I also know that sometimes things are just good. And you should be able to tell that to people without having some sort of survivor’s guilt for being in a good place.

And so, here’s my radical proposal to stop this lie: just stop. I know. It’s easier said than done. But still —

Stop the comparison. Your life is your life, and you’re doing it better than anyone else can do your life.

Stop the fantasies. Other people don’t have the picture-perfect life you assign them in your mind. Remember everyone else is as real and raw and fragile as you are, when it comes down to it.

Stop setting impossible standards. Treat yourself kindly. Treat yourself like your own child if you have to; make goals that make sense for the person you are in the stage you’re in.

Stop trying. OK, hear me out. This one sounds like basically the opposite of most self-help advice, but here’s what I mean: stop trying to be something new all the time. Stop thinking “if I can do THIS (eat paleo, run a marathon, learn a new language, etc), THEN I’ll be good.” You’re good now. Stop trying to be “better” and start being who you are meant to be.

I’ve talked to lots of human beings, and if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s this: absolutely no one has everything figured out. You may admire certain people, and this isn’t bad on its own, but when you forget that you’re admiring qualities — portions — not a whole — that’s when you run into trouble.

This isn’t a lie that can be overturned by changing how we use social media. It isn’t a problem that can be solved by giving every simple greeting a thirty-minute therapy session on our deepest life issues. Rather, it involves looking at yourself with clear, unbiased eyes (as unbiased as possible anyway, because they’re your eyes so… just roll with me, here). Don’t let someone else’s victory equate to your own failure. Acknowledge the fact that you’re on different journeys, with different milestones, and it isn’t a competition.

But all of this isn’t even the very best way to stop this lie. All you need to do is accept the fact that it is one. Think of the most “perfect” person you know — the person you wish you could be. GUESS WHAT? They get overwhelmed. They feel inadequate. They make mistakes. EVERYONE FEELS THIS WAY — EVERY SINGLE WAY — SOMETIMES. When we compare similarities instead of differences, we find our degrees of separation are much closer than we think.

So, hey. Whatever lies you’re telling yourself? Recognize that’s what they are. If you can’t see the truth alone, talk to other people. Don’t be so afraid to show some of your mess, because other people have mess, too. They do. It doesn’t have to be the same as yours to be real.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” -John 8:32

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focus, part 1

focus, part 1

When Boone was three, he had some awful bedtimes. During that three year old summer, he would be OK during the day, but as soon as the first hint of nighttime was in the air, it was like a switch would flip. His eyes got wide, his body went tense, and it was like he wasn’t in control of himself anymore.

It was rough. But, I theorized, he was THREE. And adjusting to a new baby brother. And one day, he’d grow out of it.

When Boone was four, the awful bedtimes continued. The same wide eyes and tense muscles, the same nightly stress for his mama. “He just needs to be in school full time,” I thought. “He’ll do much better when he gets worn out from learning all day.”

When Boone was five and started kindergarten, we had some bedtime peace. After school each day, I’d ask “what did you do?” And he would mumble something like “I don’t know” and shrug when I’d ask him where he left his lunch box. Or jacket. Or shoes.

But, clearly, this was an adjustment. He was still adapting, right? Adapting to a full time school day, to school rules, to… everything. I was noticing that other kids were telling their parents everything that happened throughout their day. Boone still wasn’t… but that was hardly anything to worry about, I decided. He was excelling at academics; one of his class’s top readers, top spellers, top workers.

When Boone was six and in first grade, his teacher said to me, “he’s clearly very smart, but his focus is not there.”

Umm… what?

WHOA.

WHOA.

My smart angel precious baby child wasn’t focusing well? At first I dove into some heavy denial (maybe she’s just remembering days he was kind of sick, maybe she’s confusing him with someone else?), but then I thought about the bedtimes. Then I thought about the times he couldn’t tell me what he did during a day of school. Then I thought about all of the lost lunch boxes and clothing items. Then I remembered when my husband Jason, the pediatrician, said, “you know, I think Boone has ADHD.”

I’m very open about my own mental health. Depression, anxiety, and meds are not topics I’ll shy away from.

When they’re about me.

But with Boone… I didn’t want him to bear labels and stigmas so young. He wasn’t at an age where he could “own a diagnosis,” or so I thought, and I did not want to push that on him. And besides, didn’t ADHD give kids unbridled energy? And if he had ADHD, could he do all of the things he does, like speed through novellas and ace spelling tests? In first grade he was doing multiplication worksheets, for crying out loud!

Too cool for school (and focus issues…)?

So, like any reasonable person would do, I cried and stressed out and ate chocolate and avoided making decisions for as long as possible.

But then I realized the problems weren’t going away, despite every “focus hack” I found online or in books. While Boone could sit and read an entire book, if he were told to do something he didn’t want to do, it was an epic battle of wills. It didn’t matter if he was capable of, say, practicing piano, or writing a short journal entry, if he didn’t want to do it, it was a struggle. And not just a little, tiny, let’s talk about it struggle. Nope. It was three year old bedtimes all over again.

So I made an appointment with our pediatrician (who is not Boone’s father, by the way, going for unbiased opinions here) and after some surveys with Boone’s teacher, Jason, and myself, it was clear: Boone’s focus needed help. We had an official diagnosis of ADHD and a plan to trial some low dose medication.

My questions still lingered. Where was all of his energy? Oh yeah… at bedtimes. How could he read so fast? Oh yeah… he was choosing the books he wanted to read. What about the multiplication?! Oh yeah… even though he could solve the problems, getting him to sit down to work on it was a chore, to put it mildly.

I had a little more research to do, but I was ready to help my son reach his full potential in any way I could. I filled a prescription for Concerta, said a prayer, and began to watch and wait.

For part two of this post, come back to this blog NEXT WEEK, Wednesday, September 27.

all the things i do not know

I like knowing stuff.

And based on how many questions my kids ask me each day, I mean, it’s a good thing. Like any modern day mom, I answer what I can and google what I can’t. And this little arrangement has made me the smartest person in our family — according to our kids, anyway. On most days. Unless daddy bought donuts – or took the boys to a park – or, generally, is home.

Either way, if the kids have questions, I have answers. It’s a good arrangement that only makes me want to lock myself in a closet with headphones to get a break from the constant “hey mom?”s some of the time. And that’s pretty good!

And then I was putting Boone to bed one night…

“Hey mom?”

Here we go…

“Where do people go when they die?”

“Oh, um, Heaven, if they believe in Jesus.”

“What if they don’t?”
“Um, Hell, I think.”
“OK well do they go straight to Hell? Because I have heard people say that. Do they meet Jesus first and then Jesus sends them there? What if Jesus forgets I believe in Jesus and accidentally sends me there? Will you be in Heaven when I get there?”

We have now reached the point in the conversation where I basically look like this:

I am a believer. I believe that Jesus died so I could spend eternity in Heaven. I believe John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but have eternal life.” But I don’t have answers for like… any of Boone’s questions there. I haven’t died. I haven’t personally met someone who took a death vacation and gave me the slide show presentation of afterlife pics. But Boone looked at me so expectantly. So hungry for knowledge. And these are good questions! I didn’t want to dismiss them. So I sent up a quick help me prayer, and I responded.

“Buddy, I don’t know.”

“Um… what? You always know things.”

I told him no one has all of the answers. But that I believe in Jesus and I believe I will go to Heaven when I die. I don’t know what Heaven looks like, I don’t know if you and I will be the same people we are now. I believe you will go to Heaven too, if you believe in Jesus, and do not worry, God won’t get your beliefs mixed up. Then I let out the big breath I had been holding in and I asked, “hey Boone, what do you think about all of this?”

Jonah has questions also.

He basically echoed a lot of my sentiments and said his fair share of “I don’t know”s. He ended with, “but you know what? I think I’ll see you there, and we’ll be the same, you and me.”

I grew up with a very black and white view of salvation. Believe in Jesus = Heaven. Don’t believe in Jesus = Hell. End of story. Any lingering questions about Heaven of Hell were answered with “it’s perfect!” or “it’s terrible!” and that was that. It wasn’t until I was much older that I started to really own the questions I had about my faith. Until I wrestled with these thoughts, I don’t think I really had the same understanding about my faith. It wasn’t personal.

I want my children to believe everything I believe. It’s true. They’re my little human copies, right? I want us to be on the same page about everything. But I know that won’t happen. If my father’s deep love of olives on pizza (double olives on pizza – WHAT) is any indication, kids just don’t always follow in their parents footsteps. And if kids did just blindly follow, would my dad like that I ate his terrible olive pizza even if I hated it? Maybe, I mean, because he’d probably have been able to order it more, but I think he’d be happier if I ate it because I truly enjoyed the nuance of the rubbery seawater taste of those awful little black and green fruits? Nuts? Fungi? What the heck are olives, anyway?

Back to my point. I want Boone and Jonah to share in my beliefs, but I want them to make it personal. They need to think and hear and choose for themselves. And in order to help this along… I have to say “I don’t know.” I will tell them what I think. But I will be honest about what I know — and what I don’t.

For someone who lives with answers at her fingertips, it’s hard to admit what I don’t know. Especially to the little people I’m raising. But I truly believe to help our children find the answers, we’ll have to admit that we don’t have them.

let them be dads

Hi, moms.

This one’s specifically for you. But it isn’t about plans or hacks or solidarity. 

It’s about dads.

Moms, if you’re like me, you stay at home with your kids. I know a lot of you are like me, so maybe I’m speaking directly to you here. I’m going to drop a major truth bomb here. It’ll blow your mind. Get ready for it:

Dads are dads.

Dads are cool.

Did I just hear the sound of your mind exploding? I told you. Dads are like, a totally different thing. They aren’t moms. They aren’t you. But sometimes, when you see them wrestling on the floor with your kids, you might think, That’s too rough. That encourages violence. That’s NOT how we play.

And then, all well intentioned, you might say something like, “isn’t that getting a little rough? Let’s calm down, OK?”

Or – or or or –

Dad’s given you a night alone in the basement. Pre-kids this would sound like a weird torture horror movie thing, but post-kids, it’s heaven. You settle in with your wine and whatever show you’re binging and start to relax. Then you hear it — a THUD from above, a scream, the pitter patter of running feet, a naughty giggle. You sigh, put the wine down, and think I should help out up there. And so you do. The little one runs to you, and the big one cowers a bit and says “sorry.”

Or – or or or or –

On your way out the door for a long awaited girls night, you hug and kiss the kids over and over again and then you hand Dad a piece of paper with writing all over it. Is it a love note? A poem, perhaps? A rundown list of his very best qualities? No, it’s a list of reminders, more reminders than you would give the hired help, i.e. a BABYSITTER. “Don’t forget the kids love the cherry toothpaste and hate the strawberry toothpaste. The tubes look similar. Check them.” “Little likes his bedtime routine to go pjs, teeth (cherry toothpaste!), book, prayer, song, night-night hug, lights out.” “Don’t let Big talk you into letting him read longer! He’s been doing that lately. He needs his sleep.”

Now, moms. Please raise your hand quietly to yourself if any of the above scenarios has ever happened to you.

*Raises hand timidly inside the Biggby in which I am writing this post.*

It’s dad, keeping his boy safe from the big scary Dory (who promises candy but isn’t really delivering).

Look. My husband, the father of my children, is a quality human. He’s smart, funny, kind, and he’s a fantastic dad to our boys. He also happens to work a job that keeps him away from home quite a bit, so the day to day care of our boys falls mostly on me. I’m usually the one who knows why one of them is grumpy — I know who had a hard time getting to sleep, who might be developing a cold, and why the little one is constantly yelling “BADOONGY FACE!” (It’s from The Book with No Pictures, and if you don’t own it, you definitely should.)

And because I know these things, I assume I know our kids better.

And I realized, one evening, watching Boone (Big) and Jason (Dad) bond over The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker for far too long far too late in the evening… 

That I’m the mom.

And he’s the dad.

And I have to let him be the dad however he wants to be the dad. Sometimes I struggle with finding a balance with our personality-opposite boys. I feel like I should take what I’ve learned and share these things with my husband, instead of allowing him to figure it out on his own or, heaven forbid, find a completely new balance original to him. 

Moms, we can’t perpetuate this stereotype that dads are Tim Allen-style grunters and goofballs who pop in for a quick joke and spend the rest of their down time souping up the lawn mower. If you are lucky enough to be part of a two-parent home — and here I’m expressly talking to any kind of two parent home: two moms, two dads, mom and grandma, etc — you have been given the gift of live-in help. And a live-in perspective that differs from yours. 

When we stop the rough housing, rescue our kids when we’re supposed to be relaxing, or leave a list of reminders before we go anywhere, we’re basically saying to our partners, “I’m better at this than you.”

Teamwork = dream work, of course.

I, for one, don’t want to be better. I want us to be equals. Parenting is hard, and I don’t want to be the only one in charge all of the time. So, one more time for good measure:

Dads are dads.

Let them be.

nice to me (by 33)

I recently turned 32. It was a beautiful birthday, and I mean that in all possible ways — the weather was perfect, my kids were happy, my friends and family sent messages and filled my whole day with love. Jason bought me a bread maker I’ve yet to use (today’s the day!). Boone poured me a giant glass of orange juice, miraculously without spilling. Most of it went back into the jug after he went to school, but I truly appreciated the gesture of the 32 ounces of OJ. Jonah and Jason and I went to lunch in downtown Zeeland and caught Pokemon and laughed. Afterward I took a killer nap. It was a good day.

“We need to take a happy birthday selife! Quick, Jonah’s escaping!”

I put a lot of credit for the good day on other people. Nice notes from friends and family – how considerate of them! My husband sacrificing sleep on a week of the night shift so he could hang out with me – what a kind thing he did! My kids were nice and not incredibly insane – way to keep it together, guys!

Now. All of these things are TRUE. I do have considerate friends and family and a kind husband and occasionally not-insane kids. But my friends are often considerate. My husband is often kind. My kids are… OK, well two out of three ain’t bad. What made this day so especially great?

I was expecting greatness.

I love my birthday. It’s in the single best month of the whole year, I get lots of free things (thanks for the coffee, Starbucks, and the mini makeup kit, Sephora, and, for some reason, 25% off my order of kids clothes, The Children’s Place), and I wake up expecting the day to be great.

Maybe I wake up with the same not-rested-enough headache that greets me most mornings, but I don’t care. Maybe Jonah screeches like a monkey while waiting 15 seconds for his breakfast to be placed in front of him, but I don’t care. It’s my day! The day that symbolizes another successful journey around the sun. I give myself the freedom to relax. And I need to do this more often.

OK, OK, I can’t live everyday like it’s my birthday. For one thing, I am worried it would diminish the glory of the actual day. For another thing, I don’t have enough free Starbucks drinks to replicate the experience day after day. (And if I chose to buy them everyday, my wallet would get significantly smaller. My waistline would have the opposite problem.) 

But I can do a much better job of expecting greatness.

When we are stuck in a rut with Boone, or in the throes of potty training with Jonah, sometimes I wake up already pessimistic for the day. How many rude comebacks will I hear from my first grader? How much toddler pee will I clean off the floors today? 

Listen. The first grader will be rude. The toddler will pee. But if you go in expecting the day to be hard; spoiler alert – it will be. So I’ve decided to focus my efforts on expecting the good days. Or at least being open to seeing the good. One way I’m doing this is to be actively making an effort to be nice to me. I don’t know about you, moms, but sometimes instead of winding down in a way that is calming and peaceful at the end of the day, I watch trash television in bed until I can’t keep my eyes open anymore. Or I run around and clean in a ridiculous, unnecessary way because “it’ll make tomorrow so much better!” But then I get to sleep too late and wake up with immediate frustration for the day.

For the duration of the year before I turn 33, I’m going to work on being #nicetomeby33. I’ll use the hashtag on social media and I hope that some of you will do the same. (Also acceptable:#nicetomeby 34 #nicetomeby40, #nicetomeby100; it’s never too late to start. Or maybe just #nicetome.) Expect goodness in your day, even if that goodness is simply reading a book at night instead of crashing in front of Ghost Adventures. You don’t have to change your habits entirely — return to Netflix tomorrow night, if you want. Just be nice to yourself. It will make you nicer to others. It will make you see and be the good the world needs. 

I think charcoal face masks with a weird bubbly oxygenating top layer is my new look.

#nicetomeby33 — now accepting participants!

oxygen masks and self care OR five ways to a better you!

If you’ve ever traveled by plane, you’ve undoubtedly rolled your eyes and daydreamed during the pre-takeoff inflight announcements from the flight attendants. Seat belt, check. Oh, smoking ISN’T allowed on planes? Check. Exit row, check. My seat is a flotation device, check.

The one announcement that I can’t help picturing every time I hear it is about the loss of oxygen and air pressure in the cabin. Maybe I’ve seen too many “we’re going down!” plane movies, but I can see all of those yellow masks dropping and packages falling from overhead compartments and suddenly everyone is on an island with the Dharma Initiative and The Others and nobody ever knows what’s going on.

In case you’ve completely spaced out during the inflight announcements, here’s what they say about oxygen masks: “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling that this would be a hard instruction to remember if I were on a plane in crisis. Once I saw those yellow masks fall, I’d want to move as quickly as I could to get the masks on my kids. But the instruction says no — put yours on first. Why? Because if you’re putting masks on your kids as you breathe in the lack of oxygen, you’ve at best passed out and become a burden to others on the plane, and at worst — I’m not a doctor, but I’ll assume it’s something bad. This reference works better if it’s something bad.

And so, whether you are parent or not, stay at home or not, flying or not, remember this: put your oxygen mask on first. Help others immediately afterward, but first make sure you can breathe. In everyday life on the ground, this looks like taking care of yourself so you are able to take care of others. Parents, we love our kids. We want to put them first. But if we are struggling, if we are hurting, if we are tired, we cannot give them our best. And that’s what they deserve, isn’t it?

So here are my five ways to take care of myself:

1. FOOD

I don’t count calories or follow a specific, restrictive diet. I used to log foods and be incredibly meticulous about what I put in my body, but it was awful. I didn’t enjoy eating. I didn’t always make healthy choices — I made the choices that fit into my daily caloric allowance. So now I eat whole, real foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, drink lots of water, limit alcohol to two or three drinks per week, and try not to snack after dinner. If I eat good food, I feel good. I sometimes eat junk. I usually feel awful after that. It’s a physical tolerance thing, I’m almost certain.

I believe in miracles... where you from, you sexy thing? (From my oven. Because I roasted you.)
I believe in miracles… where you from, you sexy thing?
(From my oven. Because I roasted you.)

2. EXERCISE

There was a time when I would only exercise to try and get to a goal weight. I hated the effort of exercising and was only interested in the results. If they didn’t come quick enough, I’d get discouraged and my efforts would slow. Of course, you can see how this is a destructive method. Recently God has opened my eyes to the benefits of health over physical appearance. Isn’t that lovely? I’m praying that sticks around for a while.

I saw this above the scale at the gym today. I find it completely beautiful.
I saw this above the scale at the gym today. I find it positively wonderful.

3. QUIET TIME

I don’t know where you are spiritually, and while I would not try to force anything on you, this is a very important part of what makes me sane. If you have other questions about it, I’d be more than happy to talk with you privately. I read a chapter or two of scripture, I read the daily devotion from Shauna Niequist’s Savor, and I pray for my people. I meditate and listen for God. It’s a beautiful and necessary practice that I used to treat as homework. “Better quick get in my God time for today…” That isn’t beneficial. Make the time, use the time. If you miss a day, don’t skim through double the next day. Start where you left off. God is where you are.

4. INTIMACY

(Insert red-faced shame emoji, as I had a proper church upbringing.)

Ladies and gentlemen, make time for your partner. Make real time. Make… bedroom time.¬†Intimacy isn’t just sex, however; make time to connect with your spouse and remember why you love them in a real, non-parenting way. Moms, probably dads too but I can only speak to moms from experience — moms, we are tired. At the end of a long day, sex and connection is occasionally far down on the list of things we want or feel we need. But go too long without either, and, well, I, for one, can get cranky.

(Shame Emoji)

5. ME TIME

I’m a loud and proud introvert (by which of course I mean I am quiet and reserved). I need alone time to recharge. Sometimes it means sitting in silence at the end of the day. Sometimes it means hiding in a closet and singing show tunes. Sometimes it means asking Jay to watch the kids for the afternoon, because I just need to be by myself. This has been a learned skill. Although I know I function much better with alone time, I expected Jay to somehow sense exactly when I needed some. He wouldn’t offer, because he didn’t know, and then we would argue about why he wasn’t offering to help more. Ask for help, friends. Let your husbands be dads, and not just in family photos. Don’t be ashamed to ask for a break. You need a break.

From one of my more recent "Jennie Days," aka, "the days that make me sing 'everything is awesome' on a constant loop."
From one of my more recent “Jennie Days,” aka, “the days that make me sing ‘everything is awesome’ on a constant loop.”

Spend some time this week finding out what it takes to make you the best version of yourself. Put your oxygen mask on first, because it’s the only way you’re going to survive.