Last week, I discussed how I have found extra free hours in my schedule recently by not watching football games. I am certainly in the minority as it is projected that over 110 millions people will be watching the Super Bowl game this Sunday. However, I am pleasantly surprised at the personal discoveries I’ve made during those free hours. Having time to spend without guilt or pressure allowed me to explore my creative side.
I can’t recall loving arts and crafts as a child. I wasn’t a burgeoning artist who could draw at a young age. I didn’t glue random objects together as makeshift dollhouses or rocket ships. While I took piano lessons, I didn’t have a great ear or exceptional musicality. I never went to ballet, tap or jazz dance classes. I wasn’t a voracious reader who would then pen my own poetry or lyrics. The only thing that resembles any childhood artistic expression was my love of dressing and redressing my Barbie dolls. Each week I received a $2 allowance and knew exactly how I was going to spend that money. We lived just a few blocks from a small shopping center where among Furr’s Cafeteria and May D&F, there was a local drugstore was called Duckwall’s. My brother and I would hop on our bikes and speed to that store where I would promptly spend $.99 on a new outfit for my Barbie’s wardrobe collection and the other $.99 on a box of candy. I had the clothes and the shoes and the purses and relished creating outfits for every make believe occasion. Later, that interest would turn to magazines. I would feast on Seventeen’s fashion editorial spreads and collect every black and white perfume ads to tape on my wall. In the end, I dabbled in amateur fashion photography in college and family portraits in my twenties and toyed with Photoshop into my thirties. I thought that medium was the extent of my artistic expression until recently.I
I currently live in a house that is over 100 years old. The closets are uniquely designed in that they are far more deep than they are wide. This architecture makes it a very inefficient use of space. In order for Karl and I to fit our clothes in one room he takes the dresser I take the closet. I hang most of my clothes, and use plastic drawers for everything else. Frustrated with not being able to see in the back of the unlit closet, I decided I would take an old dresser from the basement and make room for it in our bedroom. This meant several pieces of furniture were going to shift throughout the house. After one move and then another and I realized things would fit, but they wouldn’t match. Like my Barbie doll’s outfits, things needed to “go” together. And unlike my current allowance, though not $2, still does not afford the luxury of buying new things. Hence, I began the work of making everything “go” together.
And in the process, I discovered what makes me happy: I love color. Thumbing through paint samples was a highlight. I found such delight when the gorgeous color I chose was first deposited on the wood. I enjoyed the specificity of measuring resin and its activator to create an epoxy coating. I relished the order of placing pennies in rows of tails first, then heads. And even the blemishes or mistakes that resulted from my amateur work were fun to attend to and remedy. Being able to display my success in our living room and share with the world on Facebook and this blog adds to the pride of my creation. But more than pride, I experienced pleasure as I painstakingly took on this challenge. And in the process, I discovered just how much I enjoy transforming things that don’t work into something like a beautiful work of art.
What brings you pleasure? What are you creating right now? What medium do you use? I’m curious to hear what makes you happy and why.
I realize that I am in the minority, but I have absolutely zero interest in watching football. The reasons for this are legion, but primarily, I don’t like watching football simply because I’d rather be doing something different instead. And when everyone else is glued to their screens, it means they are not on the streets, or in stores, or at parks. So the city is empty and quiet and I feel like I have the whole place all to myself.
Last year, when the Denver Broncos (my hometown team) and the Seattle Seahawks (my current city team) faced off in the Super Bowl, I was gleefully taking my time walking around a nearby lake enjoying the quiet and stillness and silence. Last week, during the final playoff game, I was meandering through Home Depot picking paint colors for a new project and tickled that I was the only one in line at the paint counter. I haven’t yet planned my adventures for this year’s Super Bowl Sunday, but am excited to begin imagining how I am going to spend my time alone.
Super Bowl Sunday is just one of very few days out of the year when I don’t feel guilty for doing exactly what I want. My husband and kids like watching football and end up seeing them on the big screen at a church party, or over at a friend’s house. And since they are so excited about watching the game and being fed by the potluck tasties, I don’t feel like my presence is required, needed or even missed!
I recognize that as I write this, I am both acknowledging and somewhat accepting of the reality that I don’t carve out very much time for myself; that I have to pamper myself only when everyone else is otherwise being cared for. I look forward to Super Bowl Sunday every year as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Am I equating my work as a mother, a wife, and a financial provider as the same as being in jail? Maybe. Yes, definitely. All the time? No. But women are socially and culturally constructed to be care takers of everyone but themselves. We are nurses and therapists, cheerleaders and teachers, maids and cooks, seamstresses and bankers, decorators and curators, artists and landscapers, gardeners and excavators. As mothers, as wives, as workers and as friends, we spend a lot of our time, our energy, and our finances to provide for the needs of others. When do we invest those kinds of resources in ourselves?
When my daughter’s tennis shoes showed signs of wear and tear, I went to the store that day to find her a new pair. And yet, I have chronically been walking around in flats that have an outright hole in the bottom of the sole. This dichotomy in treatment seems unnecessary. Why did I not get myself a new pair of shoes at the same time? Did I not have enough money? No. Was it an extra trip just for myself? No. Did I go to a store that only sold girl’s shoes? No – because my 10-year old and I now wear the same size. So, why did I not feel the urgency for to care for myself, but I did for my daughter?
I understand that being mama bears and lionesses means we care for our cubs and defend and protect them at all costs. But how can a weak, depleted, fatigued and sick mama take care of anyone? So, really, is it just that we aren’t that weak or that depleted or that fatigued or that sick? How bad do we have to get before we begin taking care of ourselves?
I spent the first week of this year detoxing off of caffeine and sugar. Maybe sometime I will write about the exquisite pain I was in for five days straight as a result of that decision. But in brief,
I realized that addiction to caffeine and sugar was just a way to keep going – to push through the weakness, the depletion, the fatigue and sickness. And when I arrested my use of those things, I crashed and burned and realized how poorly I had been caring for my body, soul and spirit.
I expect myself and have expectations thrust upon me to be a superwoman and the only fuel I have to keep going is several cups of coffee and some gum drops? That seems absolutely insane. But I have been a mother for almost 11 years and a wife for 15 and a student and a professional and on and on, and have known no other way how to play those roles and take care of myself at the same time.
So, I start by not watching football. I start with one day a year that I look forward to, and cherish and hold sacred as a day where I can begin taking care of my needs, replenishing what has been lost, honoring my hard work and taking time to pause and ask myself, “What is it that you need or want to do with yourself by yourself this Super Bowl Sunday?” I can’t wait to hear what my long lost long-suffering self has to say.
*Initially prepared as a sermon for Advent, the material is particularly relevant in January as we anticipate and await for the fulfillment of hopes and dreams for the new year. The sermon is entitled Advent and can be found at http://www.westsidechurch.com/media-library by searching chronological order going back to December 7, 2014.
Following are the slides that correspond to the audio material.
I recently wrote about the miracle of my becoming a morning person. Now, I am happily employed as the parent who wakes up the children, makes their breakfast, packs their lunch and double-checks their cheeks to make sure no toothpaste lingers. While this may sound like no feat whatsoever for all the mothers who do and have done this everyday since their children began school, having been a recent graduate student, those duties have not fallen to me for a few years. Before I began my studies, however, I was the one left tackling the morning duties when Karl left for work at 6:30 AM. However, they looked very different then. Rather than the checklist of preparations involved in getting elementary-aged kids off to school, toddlers require something akin to an acrobatic performance.
As caretakers of tiny people, first we begin the day by drawing up energy to deliver a very singsong greeting to say good morning. Next is a fantastic Cirque du Soleil rendition of getting them out of zip-up footie pajamas, changing their diaper and fully dressed in outfits that require snapping between the legs and elastic waistbands that are never quite stretchy enough. Then, there is the pushing, pulling and shoving physical therapist maneuver required to get squishy jelly piglets into stiff small shoes. All that, and you haven’t even left the nursery, yet. For those of you with young children, it gets easier, I promise. In elementary school, they refuse to wear things that snap between their legs.
Now, since my kids are old enough to do things for themselves, that leaves me with just a bit more space to fill with song, sometimes dance, definitely food, but most importantly, togetherness.
Let me explain.
The song of greeting my children in the morning has turned to whispers. My favorite part is sneaking quietly into their room and crawling under their warm covers to scratch their backs and whisper in their ear a happy good morning while their sleepy heads roll over and mumble back. Then, I move on to the kitchen where while I am preppy and cooking, they are getting themselves ready (Yes, young mothers, there will come a time when your kids will take care of themselves independently without getting into too much trouble). By the time they come out, they are dressed with socks and shoes on and telling me about whatever comes to their mind first thing in the morning. (Yesterday, Peter wanted to remind me of the word we had learned the night before that is the longest recorded in the dictionary: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis; and then proceeded to write it on the white board). I set the table and have everything ready for when Karl comes back from his run and together we sit down to enjoy breakfast. When we begin, the day ahead is new and fresh and exciting. There are squeals of delightful jokes. I have been known to bust out in song and surprisingly the kids join in. Karl is at his wittiest best right after a run. And the BEST part??? I cook the exact same thing every single morning, custom for each person at the table. So, there is no arguing, complaining, rolling of eyes, arms-crossed in protest over what’s for dinner. Because everyone is getting a nutritious breakfast that they love and not changing it up every morning takes stress off me.
Since I often work nights, or a myriad of events interrupt weekday evenings, breakfast is often the only meal where we are all at home together to eat. At first, I thought this flew in the face of research that demonstrates better family stability when dinners are eaten together. However, by trying to follow the letter of the law, I was missing the whole point. It doesn’t have to be dinner! Thankfully, now, other research is coining the term “Family Meals,” which includes lunch on the weekends, brunch after church on Sunday, or Saturday morning bonus breakfasts of pancakes, eggs and bacon. The significance of the research isn’t on which meal of the day (dinner), it’s on eating together anytime.
So, if your family is like mine, and trying to do dinner every night together brings up shame, blame, guilt, anxiety, stress, or otherwise, then make breakfast the new dinner this year. Even if it means getting up a little earlier to do it, I think you will find the sacrifice is worth it.
There’s been a lot of body talk going on in our household this past week. No…not the resolutions kind of body talk. I would guess that we talk about bodies, on average, more than most families anyway, but the subject has been even more present in our recent conversations. Bodies, bodies, bodies. Bodies growing and changing. As of New Year’s Eve we officially have two teenagers in the house. Lord have mercy. Bodies, bodies, bodies. Bodies hurting and healing. Bailey, our second oldest who just turned 13, has been suffering from Post Concussion Syndrome since last August and just recently began experiencing relief from near-constant headaches. Faith, sprained her ankle in soccer (yet again!) this past week and Krisalyn even tweaked her foot when we visited the giant trampoline during winter break to combat the cabin fever that started to settle in. Bodies, bodies, bodies.
“Mommy? Why does there have to be pain?” Krisalyn asks me every time she gets hurt. That poor girl was made with the lowest pain tolerance in this family of accident prone, perpetual toe-stubbers. But her questioning eyes long for an answer that will help sustain her as she copes with the pain.
“I don’t know baby girl.” I respond. “But I do know that pain reminds us of our limitations. It reminds us of our humanness. It brings our attention to our bodies.” These reflections are never enough for her 10 year old mind. I don’t think they’re enough even for my 35 year old mind.
We celebrated Briella’s 2nd birthday on January 3rd. I wonder if there will ever come a day where her birthday can stand alone as the beginning of her story or if it will always feel interconnected to the second act of my own. Will I forever associate her 10:47am exit of the womb with the nearly-fatal pouring out of my lifeblood? Her entrance meant my near, yet spared departure. It was also the beginning of a five month struggle with pain, vulnerability, brokenness and dependence like I had never known prior.
Bodies, bodies, bodies. January 3rd. We were celebrating Briella’s birthday with family, all the while praying for comfort and peace as a friend was in his final hours of life on this earth after a year-long vicious fight with cancer. Images constructed by the descriptions of his body, beaten and abused by the disease continued to invade my mind.
Why must there be pain? I went to bed that night with a heart of desperation. Sleep was well beyond reach, so I drifted as I often do on nights like these, to wherever the thoughts desired to travel. Bodies, bodies, bodies. Images of pain collided with images of pleasure. Memories of days where I would take three different baths because it was the only place I could find relief from the pain would be overtaken by memories of tender moments like when my sister spent a night in the hospital massaging my swollen legs and feet. The imagined picture of our friend lying in a hospital bed fading away while his wife held him and offered words of comfort were broken up with the recollection of the photos I received earlier in the day of him affectionately pinching her behind as they hiked trails in the breathtaking beauty of Beaver Creek. Unwanted memories of abuse were replaced with reflections of the most intimate experiences of love and connection.
Bodies. Bodies. Bodies. These awe-inspiring soul-capsules, being-carriers, life-vehicles allow each of us these full-spectrum EMBODIED experiences. Would it even be possible to experience one side of the spectrum without the possiblity or experience of the other? I don’t know. That’s a question for a far more skilled philosopher than my wanna-be self. The power and beauty of pleasure may not cancel out the horror of pain. But maybe it redeems it. Or maybe it can sustain us. Bodies. Bodies. Bodies.