Archive

musings

Today I found a note to myself that I wrote on December 31, 2009. Apparently I had intended myself to read it 10 years later, but 5 and a half years seems good enough.

Dear Ursula (me),

You should now be 36 years old. That means a lot has happened since I wrote this.

I am now 26, happily married for 3 and a half years, living in a nice apartment in Westmoreland and teaching 4th grade. I wonder if I will still be teaching in 10 years? I just hope to be happy in my job, whatever it is.

Also, I hope to still be happily married and have 2 or maybe 3 children. I hope that Spencer will be happy in his job. I hope we own a house.

Most importantly, I hope that God remains at the center of my life.

I think I should write back.

Dear 26-year-old Ursula,

So much has happened in the past 5 and a half years that I can hardly relate to the childless version of myself. I wish you would take a little more advantage of your childlessness. Go to Seattle for the weekend. Go to yoga. Take an art class. That’s cute that you like the Westmoreland apartment. I guess it did have some hipster appeal, with its proximity to Papa Haydn and the neon glow of the Yukon Tavern sign visible from the bedroom window. Soon you’ll find out about the horrible mold problem – really you should just move now.

Teaching is fun though, right? I’m not sure why you took a job that paid so poorly, but then again, I know you were excited just to have a teaching job. And fourth grade really is a great age to teach. I’ve now been married almost 9 years, have two sweet and sometimes challenging children, and am occasionally working as a freelance writer and editor. I do love being a mom and a writer and editor – I just wish I were able to get more consistent work. I am keeping my teaching license and may still go back to it at some point if the right job opens up.

My goals for the future remain much the same – be a good mother and wife, be happy in my work, keep the faith, be financially secure and own a house. Make meaningful memories.  Have fun. Do good deeds. Overflow with joy.

Love,

Me

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

I didn’t babysit much as a teenager, but once I babysat two sisters for an entire weekend. They were super easy and sweet elementary age kids, but still I thought a whole weekend seemed a bit relentless. You know what’s really relentless? Being a stay-at-home parent.

Today was hard. It was raining and I was without transportation, so I was stuck in my 2-bedroom apartment all day with my newborn baby and my sassy, firecracker 3-year-old who refuses to potty train or take naps. I questioned my sanity frequently throughout the day. Thank goodness for streaming Netflix. I was able to stay fairly patient with my sassy girl, and only told her she was being annoying once or twice.

If we lived in France where they have free government-subsidized daycare, I would probably not be a stay-at-home mom. I would wear professional clothes and work in an office and spend my day talking to adults. But we don’t live in France, and in spite of my master’s degree, I’ve never been able to get a job that pays a living wage. So, here I am – doing the most meaningful and important and underappreciated and relentless job there is.

Yes, it’s a blessing to be a mother of two, and to get to stay at home with them – but it’s also really really hard. I’m reminding myself that the first few years with my daughter were very difficult, and then I felt really happy after she started going to preschool last fall. It gave me just enough space in my life to feel like I could do the things I needed to do to take care of myself. I know that in 2 years and 3 months, she’ll be in full day kindergarten and my baby will most likely start preschool. I imagine that somewhere during that time she’ll agree to use the potty. Life should start to be easier again then. That’s a long time, but in some ways, it’s a short time.

It’s the longest shortest time.

 

My daughter just had her second birthday. It’s been two years since I first held her tiny body in my arms, felt the gentle rise and fall of her breath. Two years since the timeline of my life split in half — before motherhood, after motherhood.

At two years old, my daughter explores the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Celebrating my daughter’s second birthday with a trip to the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

How has motherhood changed me over these two years? Or rather, how is motherhood changing me?

It has given me a new and deeper understanding of what love is. Love is patient, love is kind. Love will let you wipe your snotty nose on its clean sleeve. Love will get up with you at 11 pm and 1 am and again at 3:30 because your teeth hurt and you can’t sleep. Love isn’t grossed out by spit-up or giant poop diapers. Well maybe just a little grossed out.

I had a thought a few weeks ago, perhaps a God-revealed thought: The purpose of life is love. (Ok, I admit this is not a very original idea). If we don’t love others, we are missing the purpose. What does it matter if we’re highly successful in our careers but our lives are devoid of love? Even if we devote our lives to something altruistic, like teaching middle school, but we don’t do it in love — our lives are empty.

So, if our whole purpose for being here on this earth is to learn how to love others — well, what better opportunity than being a wife and a mother? What an opportunity to humbly serve others in love. What a high calling. What a blessing that I have been entrusted with this.

And I’m struck by how much I’ve come to love this tiny person, my daughter. At first she was a stranger who had entered my life like a hurricane, leaving me injured and bewildered. I looked forward to the day when I could go back to an office job and my normal life. But now? I’m so grateful that I have the chance to work from home and spend each day with my daughter.

I’ve always been career-driven and I still would like to have a successful career. But I know now that being a mom is the most important job I will ever have. If you’re a mom – or a dad – I hope you feel the same way.

What have you learned since becoming a parent?

 

It’s been almost ten years and still I can’t forget. Even on vacation at a gated golf course community in the Palm Desert, I have Africa on my mind.

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

I feel her in the unrelenting beating sun. I smell her in diesel fumes, a freshly cut mango. Memories return: Guard holds an AK-47 to his chest, tells me, “Why don’t you go back home obroni.” Beggarwoman breastfeeds twins. Leper holds misshapen hand outstretched, seeking coins of mercy.

I remember: My colleague at the newspaper walks me to the station, sees there is no tro-tro for me to ride home tonight. “Tonight we will have to suffer,” she says.

I shake my head. No. I will not suffer the African way, not tonight. I have white skin and a first-world passport. “I have money for a taxi.”

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

She looks surprised, then hails one and negotiates a fair price for me, not the obroni price I usually pay. I ride safely back to the house I’m renting with other American students, the big house with running water, a security guard and wall to keep Africans out.

Africa, I remember you, the thin space where the very air is electrified with the presence of God and I barely even notice. I see the tin shacks and open sewers, the child beggars surrounding me. I still visit you in my dreams, always searching, never satisfied.

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

Dear 15-year-old Ursula:

Greetings from the future! It is the year 2014. You are a successful film and stage actress and drive a Mercedes hovercraft. Last year you made People’s Most Beautiful People list, and this year you’ve been nominated for an Academy Award.

Okay, just teasing you a little bit. I’m choosing to write to you at 15, because I’m now 30. I hope that in doubling my age I’ve learned a few things about life. Perhaps this means I can soon expect a letter from the 60-year-old me? Maybe by then they’ll have better technology for communicating across the space-time continuum.

First, I will encourage you to enjoy high school for what it is. A time to learn and make friends. Thank you for not caring about being accepted by the “popular” group. That’s very wise and admirable! You’re choosing instead just to make friends with people that you like. This will be a blessing to you during your high school years. Most of these friendships will fade after high school as people move away, so enjoy the time you have with these fun friends. I know you want all your close friendships to be lifelong and some will — but not all. Life is filled with surprises, including the surprises of which classroom acquaintances bloom into long-term friendships, and which BFFs fade into the memory banks.

This is also the year that you’ve started going to church and chosen to get baptized. Thank you also for making these wise choices! Seeking to know and follow God is, in my opinion, the most important thing you can do in your life. Your faith will bring you peace and joy and will ultimately lead to you meet your husband and develop many significant friendships. As a sidenote that is perhaps related, thank you also for not being interested in drinking and partying — you will need all the brain cells you can get to help you through the sleep-deprived early parenting years.

Do not be afraid to try some new things and meet new people. I know you’re shy and afraid that new people won’t like you. Don’t let that stop you from participating in activities you want to participate in. Be nice to people and they will like you. Except when they don’t, because sometimes they won’t. (Well, those people are jerks, so you shouldn’t pay them any mind). Also don’t let your fear that you might not be good at something prevent you from trying it. If you want to run on the track team, then run on the track team. Maybe you won’t be very good, but you won’t know unless you try. Likewise, if you want to join the choir or start a photography club — you should do those things! You won’t have as much time and energy when you’re in college and beyond.

Lastly, don’t worry so much about academic success and getting into an elite college. I mean you should do your best in school, but don’t give yourself a heart attack. You don’t really want to go to an elite college anyway — it’s just not your destiny. You’ll get a good education and meet your husband at the University of Oregon. But maybe you should reconsider the journalism degree? Marketing perhaps, or something else with the potential for good pay?

Love,

30-year-old Ursula (wife, mother, freelance writer, substitute teacher, world traveler, ice cream enthusiast)

 

Running, is once again, one of my goals in the new year. Perhaps there's a metaphor here?

Running is, once again, one of my goals in the new year. Perhaps there’s a metaphor here?

New Year’s has always been one of my favorite holidays. I like reflecting on the past year and looking forward to what’s ahead. I enjoy making New Year’s Resolutions but I rarely end up keeping them for the entire year.  Last year I set two goals for 2013:

1) Read through the entire Bible in a year

2) Run a 10K

Did I accomplish either of these goals? Alas, no, I lost interest in both. But — I did stay on track with the Bible reading for about 6 months. I realized I wasn’t getting much out of it because the reading schedule was too intensive. To read through the entire Bible in a year you need to read three or four chapters per day. Lately I’ve been trying to read one chapter a day and that is working well, so I plan to continue that.

As far as running goes, I have been running off and on throughout the year. I’ve noticed I feel much better when I run regularly. For about the last month, I’ve been running twice a week, but I’d like to increase that to three times a week.

So what was 2013 all about for me, if not completing my resolutions?

1) A Mommy Year

2013 (and 2012, 2014, 2015, etc.) was mostly about caring for my sweet little one. It’s been amazing to see all the changes she’s gone through in the past year as she’s changed from Baby Bear to Toddler Bear. In 2013 she learned to walk, clap, sign, talk, dance, run, and climb. From her first word (Mama) to her first sentence (“Read the book!”), it’s been a joy to watch her language development.

2) Becoming a Writer

In 2013 I’ve made the transition from being an aspiring writer to being a writer. Although it’s been years since I graduated from college with my BA in journalism, this is the first time I’ll be putting “writer” as my occupation on my tax return. And that feels pretty great, even if it doesn’t pay much – yet. I’ve completed two freelance editing projects and have published a collection of parenting articles on sites like eHow, GlobalPost Parenting and ModernMom.

3) Moving

This fall marked a move that has been very beneficial for me. We’re now in the same town as my parents, and have an apartment that boasts a dishwasher and is (mostly) mold-free. Hip hip hurray!

Goals for 2014:

Goal-setting is important to me, as it makes me feel like I’m purposefully moving forward in my life. Explicitly stating my goals helps put them into a clearer focus and greatly increases my likelihood of accomplishing them. I’d encourage you to also have goals for the year, even if some of them seem unrealistic right now. Dare to dream. Here are mine:

1) Write and self-publish my young adult novel.

I just completed an excellent online course on writing young adult fiction. I’ve wanted to write a YA novel for some time, but never knew how to structure it. Now that I’ve taken this course, it seems an achievable (though challenging) goal.

2) Buy a house.

I’ve already completely Step 1 towards this goal — just bought a book about becoming a first-time homeowner. Yay!

3) Run 3 miles in 30 minutes.

Currently I can run 2.5 miles in 30 minutes, but I think if I increase my running to three days a week it will be fairly easy to reach this goal.

4) Make new friends but keep the old.

Focusing on relationships is always important to me. I’m shy, so it is a challenge for me to make friends, but necessary since we don’t know many people in our new town. And I want to continue investing heavily in my old relationships — particularly with my husband and the little one.

A few of my favorite books.

A few of my favorite books.

As part of a recent Facebook game, I made a list of ten books — excluding The Bible — that have impacted me. I chose (in no particular order):

10 books that have influenced me

1. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
2. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
3. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
4. The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
5. The Poetry of Robert Frost
6. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
8. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
9. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Also, I’ll share my favorite book I’ve read this year. I’ve read a lot of good books so the competition is steep and maybe I’m slightly biased because I had the chance to meet this author and take a writing workshop from her, but here it is (drumroll):

Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love by Debra Gwartney

I was also inspired to reflect on movies I’ve watched. I’ve seen so many movies over the years that I found it impossible to make one Top 10 list, so I had to break it up by category. Again, these lists aren’t necessarily in any kind of meaningful order.

10 documentaries that entertained, inspired and/or influenced my thinking:

1. Lord Save us from Your Followers
2. What Would Jesus Buy?
3. Jesus Camp
4. Grizzly Man
5. Supersize Me
6. Food Inc.
7. Sicko
8. An Inconvenient Truth
9. Encounters at the End of the World
10. Blackfish (just finished watching this yesterday but it was very impacting — fascinating, informative, and highly disturbing all at once).

10 comedies that really made me laugh:

1. Sideways
2. Little Miss Sunshine
3. Juno
4. Stranger than Fiction
5. The Princess Bride
6. Pretty Woman (well it’s not that funny, but I can’t resist the storyline).
7. Say Anything (I love you young John Cusack)
8. Office Space
9. Zoolander (yes it’s a terrible movie, I know).
10. I Heart Huckabees

10 dramas that have either entertained, allowed a good cathartic cry or led to a deep phobia:

1. Lord of the Rings trilogy
2. American Beauty
3. Jurassic Park
4. Jaws (is it safe to get back in the water yet?)
5. Romeo & Juliet with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes
6. The Breakfast Club
7. In America
8. A Beautiful Mind
9. Good Will Hunting
10. Dangerous Minds (had to include an inspirational teacher movie)

What about you? What are some of the books and films that have most influenced and inspired you, have made you laugh the longest and cry the hardest?