Perfectionism

Jan23

Football Schmootball

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. FullSizeRender-8This 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.

Jan09

Breakfast is the New Dinner

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. IMG_4164When 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. Untitled

Aug03

Sunday Specials: Toddlerhood, Perfectionism, Theology & Trauma, and more on Israel & Gaza

*Sunday Specials are a weekly round-up of happenings on the web-o-sphere. So enjoy your coffee (or late night beverage) while checking out what’s caught our attention. 

Things You Can’t Do When You’re Not a Toddler by Charlie at How To Be A Dad

How Women Can Stop Judging Each Other by Ann Voskamp

Shame is a bleach that can seep up the hem of you, peroxide away your brave face, the place in you that holds the courage to change. My dad was a perfectionist and I was never good enough and my grandad once hauled a ladder to my bedroom window to see if the bed behind my locked door was made tight enough to bounce a well-aimed quarter off. It’s taken me more life than I care to admit and even more self-castigating to agree with the pain of the diagnosis: Perfectionism is slow death by self. Perfectionism will kill your skill, your spark, your art, your soul. 

 Theology, Trauma and the Space Between by Rachael Clinton

It seems these days there is a commonly held misconception that every person starts with the same basic capacity for imagination—that if we learn the right doctrine and learn to interpret scripture rightly, then we’ll all end up at the same right conclusions. But in truth, our capacity for imagination is as varied and particular as the ways we experience sin, and therefore experience grace. Our imaginations are impacted by our embodied and storied experience of the world—by our bodies, families, culture, etc.—and even more so, by the traumas we experience as a part of being human.

Israel, Gaza, Sanity, and Insanity Part 2 AND Part 3 by Brian McLaren

(T)hose of us outside the region should defect from the predictable, conventional logic and rhetoric that sustain the status quo of violence, hostility, and death and seek another approach … a higher logic of shalom/salaam/peace and justice, which a Palestinian Jewish teacher named Jesus called ‘the reign of God.’ Seek it first, he said, and everything else will fall into place.

Jun13

Passed Out

Over the past few months, I have been studying to take the final licensing board exam.  Passing that exam would give me the highest credentialing available for my degree.  Not passing would mean paying to take the test again after six months had elapsed.  I didn’t want to chance not passing, so I have dedicated many, many hours over the last month to preparing for today, Friday the 13th, the day I arranged in advance to take the test.

Spoiler Alert: The fact that there is a full moon tonight and that this day on the calendar may be considered unlucky did not have a negative effect on my test-taking abilities.  I passed with flying colors and am moving on to submit all the necessary paperwork for state licensure.

But, after I received my scores and realized that I passed, I was remarkably aware of my disappointment.  I had reviewed an encyclopedia of study materials.  Practiced on over 1,000 questions.  Listened to over 15 audio CDs.  Handwritten 200 index study cards in order to take a 200 question test in less than 2 hours.  What?  I walked out of the building and thought to myself, “That’s it?”  Three years of graduate school and a subsequent 3,000 hours of practice were necessary to sit for a measly 200 question test wherein only 160 of those questions were actually graded and I only needed to get 91 of them right.  That doesn’t make any sense.

And yet, it does.  All too often, I evaluate my progress and my profession by external measures of achievement.  I defer to some governing board for a blessing.  I buy into the status quo that asserts my competencies must be measured by a single exam, rather than by the passion and commitment I have to doing good work.  I am not denying that there are appropriate  measures and guidelines necessary to ensure that the people practicing are indeed capable and competent.  I am simply acknowledging that I trust external measures to tell me what is true about myself more than I do my own intuition and self-knowledge.

There are some things I needed to learn before sitting for that exam.  For instance, did you know that the Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficient is a measure of linear correlation between two variables X and Y, giving a value between +1 and -1 inclusive, where 1 is total positive correlation, 0 is no correlation, and -1 is total negative correlation?  Yeah, I didn’t either.  But there are other things that I already know: I am passionate about this work.  And that simply means that I would have practiced on over 2,000 questions.  Listened to over 30 audio CDs.  Handwritten 500 index study cards and taken a 400 question test if that’s what I needed to do in order to have the privilege of sitting with people and hearing their stories each and every day.

Apr09

“Mommy? I think I need some love.”

It was the fall of 2008 when Lucy was four and Peter was two that I was frantically trying to make use of the two-hour afternoon nap time.  That was the only time of the day where my kids were both otherwise occupied when I could scour the final surfaces of my home before I had company over that night.  The night before, I had already scrubbed four bathrooms, vacuumed the upstairs, main level and basement, swept and mopped the kitchen floors, ran the dishes, cleaned the refrigerator, wiped down the oven and microwave, Windexed the glass backdoor and dusted all the wood furniture in the house.  That afternoon, I just had to Comet the kitchen sink and countertops and I would feel adequately ready to have friends in my house.  My two-hour window was closing and I just knew that Lucy would likely be ready to get out of bed before Peter.  As I desperately wrung my Comet covered sponge under the kitchen faucet willing it to get rinsed quicker I began my Hail Mary.  In those moments, a mother hopes, prays, promises, says the rosary, barters, pleads, bribes, and otherwise commends her spirit into the hands of the Universe to just make her kids stay asleep a little longer so she can finish her tasks uninterrupted.  That’s when I heard a voice in the distance.  Only it wasn’t the Universe.  She hadn’t heard my plea.  It was my daughter, “Mommy?  Can I get up now?”

I ripped off my rubber gloves and threw them on the counter in an attempt to punish the Universe for not accepting my righteous petition and huffed upstairs to let Lucy come out of her room.  I told her I would put a show on for her to watch while I finished cleaning in the kitchen and would get her a snack in just a little bit.  I sat her down on the couch and turned on Curious George for her to watch.  At four years old, she had surpassed an interest in Sesame Street which meant Peter practically missed Big Bird and Elmo entirely.

I rushed back to the kitchen and skipped trying to wriggle wet rubber gloves back on my hands and instead proceeded to douse the countertops in Comet.  [I for one, am a Comet kind of girl.  When I was young and cleaning the bathrooms was my chore, I picketed if my parents ever bought the grocery store version of the same cleaning solution.  It was Comet, or they could clean the bathrooms themselves.  Paying the extra $.59 per canister was apparently worth it, as that remained my chore until I moved out of the house at age 22].  Bending over, I proceeded to apply the elbow grease my mother and grandmother swore got the job done and scrubbed the cracks and crevices of the Formica countertops.  Mid-scrub I heard Lucy call from the living room.  I stood up straight, with both hands on the countertops and my head tilted back chanting to myself “Why me? Why me?” and finally answered her as calmly as I could muster “Yes, Lucy?”

“Mommy?  I think I need some love.”

I looked down at my hands clutched a little too tightly to the blue sponge and thought, “Love.  Love.  Love.  Ok.  I can do that.  Love.  Ok.”  So, I rinsed my hands and went to sit next to her on the couch.  She was still watching the onery monkey and I ran my hands softly on her back…side to side up and down in circles back and forth.  When I thought she had either forgotten her request or I had fooled myself into believing she had gotten enough love, I slowly removed my hand from her back and snuck back into the kitchen to pick up where I left off.  My time was most definitely limited now.  I knew I only had moments before Peter would wake up and between the two of them I would not have a minute to finish.  I started scrubbing again when I heard, “Mommy?”  I responded more quickly this time, “Yes, Lucy?”

“Mommy?  I think I need some more love.”

I sat the sponge down and rinsed my hands again.  Then, I proceeded to sit next to her on the couch and rub her back a second time the same way I had done the first.  And when I thought she had either forgotten her request or I had fooled myself into believing she had gotten enough love, I snuck away to the kitchen and was able to finish rinsing the sink and countertops before Peter woke up.

I was able to reach my goal.  I succeeded in getting my house clean by the time both kids woke up.  Friends came over that night and enjoyed a very clean and hospitable environment and left with plenty of food and fun.

It is difficult for me to find these next words.  I am trying to be kind to myself – to look back on the young mother that I was and extend to her grace and mercy, because she didn’t know any better.  But, really, in my shame I want to grab her by the arms, drag her from the kitchen to the couch, sit her down and say, “This is what matters!  Not a clean countertop, not a clean sink!  Love on this little girl right here, right now, so much that she doesn’t have to ask you twice.  Scoop her up and rock her in your arms for all the times you couldn’t…for all the times you didn’t!”

Tears of regret stream down my face as I remember that moment.  What I wouldn’t give to have a do-over.  And…in the same breath, I also believe in redemption.  I know that because of that moment, I have been more aware of my daughter’s need for love.  I have listened more closely, been more attentive, picked up on the nuances of her needs more acutely than if I had not failed in that moment so terribly.  She has never made a direct request like that since.  And for that, I am deeply grieved.  But, because of my mistake, I have grown a strong attunement to her heart’s needs, and I believe she still asks me in many ways to give her more love.  Every time I pause to scratch her back or give her a squeeze, or snuggle with her in the morning to wake her up, or sit extra close to her on the couch when we watch movies, or insist on having my arm around her when we sit in a booth at a restaurant, or hold her hand anytime we are out walking, I get my do-over.

What actions or goals or values get in the way of you being able to give others more love?  Is it your to do list, or your image, your busyness, or external pressures?  Is it all the ‘shoulds’?  We’d love to hear specifics from you in the comments below.