0216

My wedding day, almost 10 years ago. Photo credit: TJ Cameron

Spencer and I have been going to a marriage class through our church for the past couple weeks, and it has caused me to reflect on some of the ways we are different. It’s even helped me understand some differences that I wasn’t aware of before.

Take the “nothing box” for example. Our pastor said, “Some people keep their thoughts in boxes. At work, they’re in the work box. Sometimes, they’re in the nothing box. They’re just thinking about nothing.”

As Jerry said on an episode of Seinfeld, “Men are just walking around, looking around.” Spencer has told me that he has a nothing box and prefers to spend as much of his time there as he can.

In contrast, some people have all their thoughts connected and are always thinking about lots of different things. That’s me. I’m always writing a blog post in my head, thinking about any approaching deadlines, and wondering when I’ll find time to get together with that friend I’ve been wanting to see. My internal monologue can be loud and annoying. But I do try to allow myself to clear my mind and think about nothing while I’m doing something that doesn’t require concentration, like washing dishes or going for a jog.

This is not to say that all men fit into one category and all women fit into the other. Today I came across a Science article about a 2015 study showing that male and female brains don’t fit neatly into categories. (I’d love to hear from you in the comments below about where you see yourself on that spectrum of interconnected vs. more focused thinking.)

Another point of difference between myself and my husband came up when I read an article about how we experience time. I realized that I’m very focused on the future and Spencer is much more focused on the present. I’m also very scheduled and Spencer is less so.

This can be a point of conflict, but it also means we complement each other well. It’s helpful to have a planner (like me) around who is proactive, gets things done before the deadline, and has a strong vision for the future. But I can also have a hard time being spontaneous and being present in the moment.

We need to plan and prepare for the future, but the present is where we live.

My husband and my kids are good at helping me be more present in the moment. They also help lower my stress level…sometimes.

Spencer and I have other differences too — he’s really good at putting together Ikea furniture, and the visual directions leave me completely confused. I’d rather express my feelings in writing; he’d much rather talk. He likes football; I prefer ballet.

We have some important things in common – we like ethnic food, hiking, and the color blue. We like taking our kids to church every Sunday at 9 am, and we’re committed to staying out of debt. We listen to NPR, and Jim Gaffigan is our favorite comedian.

So are we really opposites? Yes and no. We can embrace our similarities while also valuing the balance that our differences bring to our life together.

How about you? Are all your thoughts connected or are you mostly focused on one thought at a time? And are you more focused on the future or the present? Scheduled or spontaneous? If you’re married, do you feel like you and your spouse are opposites? How so?

 

 

 

I was reading a post by author Sarah Thebarge a few months ago about working in a medical clinic in west Africa. It was a grueling experience. She lost more patients in one week than she’d lost in the past decade of working in the U.S. She said she felt a bit like Sisyphus, eternally pushing a boulder up a hill. Futile.

I have spent time in west Africa, too. It’s stuck with me – the open sewers, the diesel fumes, the trash piles. The leper begging on the roadside. The inability to call home because our phone could only receive incoming calls, and that only sporadically. Getting the last flight out on Ghana Air before London’s Heathrow airport grounded the plane for safety concerns.

The. Last. Flight.

It changed me to experience those things. I had entered a new country, and the world would never again be the safe, sanitary place I had known.

But there were other things too. Sitting on a tropical beach, looking up at the full moon. Tasting a fresh mango. Swimming in a warm rainstorm. Seeing the smiling faces of children.

Ghana2

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

In her post, Sarah went on to say that several commentators – Kafka and Camus – imagined Sisyphus to be happy. Happy because he was in love with the work.

I entered another new country about four years ago. A country where my body and my time are not my own. The culture shock was brutal, and this time there was no return flight home.

IMG_0506

He claps his hands with joy on his 10-month birthday.

Over the years I have learned to love the work of motherhood. I think that’s one of the big keys to happiness – you have to fall in love with your work, whatever it is. Sometimes this just looks like reframing our perspective, and looking for the good in our situation.

My 3-year-old can be frustrating. Here’s a typical exchange:

“Sweetie, please put your shoes on so we can go to school.”

Marie hides under her blanket. 30 seconds pass.

“Put your shoes on.”

“No.”

“Please put your shoes on!” Pause. “1, 2….3.”

Marie continues hiding under her blanket. I see that she is about to be late for school. I put her shoes on for her.

The battles over every little thing are difficult. The interrupted sleep is difficult. The constant neediness is draining. I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism, so now I know I’ve been battling an extra layer of fatigue plus frequent dizziness that is beyond normal.

I don’t want the physical, mental, and emotional fatigue to steal my joy. I need to remember self-care. And I need to remember that yes, motherhood really is hard work.

But I can be in love with the work.

Can you relate to doing hard work and loving it? Tell me about it in the comments below. I’m off to change a diaper…

 

 

Today marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. This year, Easter happens to fall on my son’s 1-year-birthday.

I’ve been telling myself for awhile now that Lent is my favorite season of the liturgical calendar. This should be a hint as to what a fun person I am! Did you enjoy overeating and racking up debt during Advent? Well, I love giving up desserts in order to practice solidarity with Christ’s suffering on the cross. Cheers!

Haha. But seriously, I do observe Lent, and I enjoy the fact that it is somewhat counter-cultural. In the U.S., we live in a culture of excess. I recently read that 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, meaning they don’t have enough savings to pay their bills if their paycheck was delayed by just one week. Also, I think it’s safe to say that as a whole our society has big problems with food, alcohol, drugs, and pornography. Lent is all about practicing self-control, and that is not something that we do very well.

This season, I’m planning to focus on two things: cleaning/decluttering our apartment and organizing our finances. This means I’m going to be in a bad mood for awhile! But hopefully by the time Easter rolls around, I’ll be feeling better than before I started these projects. I’m currently reading Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money and I have Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on deck.

To help me with cleaning, I’ve started a housekeeping calendar on a whiteboard on our refrigerator. I’m trying to keep my daily expectations low, since it’s hard to get a lot done with my very active 10-month-old and preschooler around. As I write this, Marie is at preschool and Paul is pulling books and DVDs off our bookshelf. Time to move him into the pack-and-play. I actually started the housekeeping calendar last week; already I haven’t been able to keep up with the laundry schedule I created, but have done okay with the rest of it.

I also want to go through and declutter little sections of our apartment at a time. I’ve already gone through a lot of old papers and filled up several bags of recycling. I got an accordion folder and filed away important papers so that I can find them when I need them. This cuts down on clutter and stress.

My goal in this endeavor is making our apartment a nicer place to be. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be in this apartment, but I might as well make it as nice as I can while we’re here. Plus, if I declutter, it will make it easier when we do move.

For the finance part of this, my husband and I are taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University through our church. We are very blessed to not have any debt, but I want to get a better grasp on budgeting, saving, and a lens for making big financial decisions. This is especially important since we are living on just one income for now. Dave Ramsey talks about using cash envelopes for certain budget areas, like groceries and entertainment, to help prevent you from overspending. I’m planning to try this during Lent and see how it goes.

To be honest, thinking about my finances and decluttering my space fills me with anxiety, fear, and shame. It’s much harder than my usual Lenten sacrifice of forgoing ice cream. I’m reclaiming the things God has already given me.

When this season is over, I’m looking ahead to celebrating. We’ll be kicking up our heels over Easter and Paul’s first birthday, with Marie’s fourth birthday following a few weeks later. I’ll be celebrating finding beauty in the things we already have and joy in opening my eyes to the blessings around me.

rollerskating

Celebrating good times on Marie’s first trip to the roller rink.

 

 

Are you observing Lent this year? What are you giving up or taking on? What’s something you’re looking forward to celebrating?

 

Last June I got an email from my friend Sam in Portland telling me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I think it came as quite a shock to everyone. She hadn’t yet turned 30; I had seen her just a few weeks before when she came to Eugene to meet baby Paul and give him a quilt she’d made. She’d seemed vibrant, happy, and healthy when she visited. We’ve been staying in touch via email, and I asked her to share part of her story here:

image1

One of Sam’s lovely hand-made quilts. Photo credit: Samantha Breen

 

My name is Samantha and I am a fiery, passionate young woman. I am also an elementary school teacher, quilter, printmaker, salsa dancer, and Ed.D (doctorate of education) candidate.

In mid-May 2015 I was reaching for soap in the shower when I hit my left breast, hitting something different, something hard. By May 27, 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a very common type of breast cancer known as IDC (Invasive Ductile Carcimona). I got placed in the Multi-Disciplinary Team for Breast Cancer with an appointment for June 2.

In a PET scan ordered before the appointment, my worst nightmares were revealed: I not only had advanced breast cancer, I had metastatic breast cancer meaning the cancer was Stage IV and had spread to my lung and thigh. I had 0% chance of survival and was told by my all the oncologists in the little exam room along with my parents that they could make me comfortable until the end, but they could not cure me. I was 29 years old.

I ended up being one of the lucky ones. With further examination, they discovered I did not have Stage IV cancer — the spots in my lung and thigh turned out to be non-cancerous. I think that the initial horror that my time left was to be limited and unpleasant led me to be grateful for all moments. I remember waking up from my bilateral (double) mastectomy now breastless, hairless and infertile (from chemotherapy) thinking that these were just battle scars to a better life.

Cancer helped me to clarify my perspectives. I had many friends before I got cancer. Many of them left and stayed away after I got cancer. The friends that have stayed I have learned are true friends, not just friends who are there when it is convenient for them. The deep love my parents have for me is unmatched. I realized that more framed degrees on my wall would not make me happier, but that I should focus on slowing down and enjoying life with the people I enjoy being around.

To help me cope, I go to cancer patient groups. I go to a group that meets weekly that is people mostly 30 or more years older than me and along with a cancer counselor we help each other problem-solve. It is a group made up of people with many different cancers. I also go to a 40-and-under (when diagnosed) group for breast cancer; that group meets once a month. I also walk as much as I can and spend time with the people I love.

If you are just being diagnosed with any kind of cancer, I say you should find a group that works for you. There are writing groups, groups that are just for men, women, and young survivors. Not every group just sits and talks, many groups go on all kinds of outings. For me the greatest help came from another young teacher diagnosed with breast cancer who came to my house when I couldn’t leave for comfort. I hope to do the same for someone else someday.

If you want to be a supportive friend, I suggest finding yourself a job that you can do. The hardest friends to me were the friends who would make plans; I would rearrange many medical appointments, and then they would cancel. I had a friend who loved to drive so she would take me for rides at a good time in my chemotherapy cycle. Other friends lived far away and would send me care packages.

Remember that the worst thing to say or do to someone who has cancer is nothing—it completely invalidates that they exist. Having cancer, I thrive on connection. A hug, a letter, a phone call, they mean the world.

_____________________________________________________

Please join me in keeping Samantha in your thoughts and prayers as she continues to fight to regain her health.

 

 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my journey as a mom, it’s that I can’t do it alone. And it’s not enough just to have my husband’s help – even though I appreciate him and he is a huge support financially and emotionally.

I guess before Marie was born I really thought Spencer and I could handle it all on our own.

I’ve never been more wrong about anything.

I don’t want to spend too much time reminiscing about the details of Marie’s newborn phase. It was so much harder than I could have imagined beforehand. She was healthy, but I had breastfeeding challenges as well as a difficult physical recovery from birth. We made it through, thanks in large part to my mom and mother-in-law who frequently spent the night on weekends to help care for Marie in the night and give Spencer and I some longer stretches of sleep.

Once we made it through the newborn phase, the isolation of being a stay-at-home mom with a baby kicked in. I developed postpartum depression and anxiety, and probably even PTSD from the birth and newborn ordeal. I had nothing on my calendar anymore, and each day seemed to go on forever until my husband came home and I had someone else to talk to.

Yes, I should have sought counseling but I didn’t have health insurance and didn’t think we had the financial resources to pay for counseling out-of-pocket. But the thing that helped get me through was seeking out community. I realized I couldn’t spend so much time alone with my baby anymore, so I tried to engage with community in whatever ways were available to me. I went to:

  • library story times
  • mom & baby yoga
  • baby sign language class
  • mom writing group
  • MOPS

We moved back to my hometown so I could get more support from my family, and I found new sources of community here. We had another baby. Now, my first child is nearing age 4 and I’m still a stay-at-home mom, but I don’t feel isolated anymore. The days go by quickly. I’ve found community through my family, MOPS, church, and preschool. I’m busy chauffering Marie to preschool and play dates and working a few hours a week as a publicist for her choir.

My pastor said yesterday that community is messy, but it’s the only way. It’s so true. Relationships with other people can be challenging. We all have our sharp edges and annoying habits. When we seek community we’ll experience awkward moments, and sometimes rejection. But we’ll also find deep and meaningful relationships.

Recently I’ve had the experience of reconnecting with old friends from various stages of life – from grad school, college, high school and even elementary school. Even though several of these people I hadn’t seen for years – I still felt that we connected when we got together. Once you build a close connection with someone, you can often get it back even if you’ve been out of touch for awhile. So I think the reward of building real friendships is more than worth the possible risk of rejection. Quality friendships are priceless.

No mom is an island.

What are some ways that you’ve found community as a mom?

___________________________________________________________________

If you’re a mom with young children and you’re looking for a community of other moms, consider checking out MOPS or your local chapter of Moms Club. Also, I thought that mom & baby yoga was pretty awesome.

 

 

January is the cruelest month, perhaps. The glitz and the busyness of the holiday season is over. We’ve overextended our budgets and our waistlines. Our out-of-town friends and visitors have gone back home, and now we’re realizing that keeping our New Year’s Resolutions may be harder than we thought. If we want to get in shape, we might actually have to exercise and cut back on donuts. Reality hurts sometimes.

This was the first year that Marie kind of understood what Christmas was about, which meant this was the first year we had to start lying about Santa. And even though we took Marie and Paul to meet Santa  and get their pictures taken, she didn’t seem to really buy it. I’ve assured her multiple times that Santa is real but she still seems skeptical. I made the mistake of putting a book that we already had in Paul’s stocking and Marie said – “Hey, we already had that book.” I didn’t think she would notice, but that is the trouble you run into when your child is more intelligent than you are. At almost 9 months, Paul certainly didn’t know the difference.

IMG_0367

Well, I think this guy makes a pretty convincing Santa, if you ask me.

Marie’s highlights of Christmas included a new bed (with a slide and a tent underneath!), a ballerina music box, an Elsa dress, and ballet classes. These were all gifts from various grandparents. Spencer and I only got her a couple of gifts, one was a fairy wand she had asked for and immediately snapped into two pieces on Christmas morning. I believe Paul’s highlight was the dump truck he got from my mom. For me the the nice part about Christmas was watching Marie have fun and also spending time with family and friends. I also enjoyed donating to Mercy Corps and talking with Marie about what that meant. She started praying for the people who would benefit from the donation.

We were so busy leading up to Christmas and during the week of Christmas and New Year’s, and now I have a little more space to reflect. As I mentioned, January can be a hard month. But I’m actually feeling renewed and hopeful, despite the fact that Paul is teething and hasn’t been letting me sleep much lately. I’m looking forward to this year, and I’m looking forward to this month.

A few things I’m excited about this month:

  • going to a Duck basketball game
  • doing my first community service project of the year with Marie
  • watching Paul learn to walk (he’s already taking a few steps)
  • taking Marie roller skating for the first time
  • taking Marie and Paul on play dates with her friends
  • watching Marie’s ballet lessons
  • finally finishing the Gregory Maguire novel Spencer got me for my birthday
  • Tuesday mornings at MOPS

And that’s just this month. Life is full of gifts. I’m so grateful.

 

 

I love the clean slate feel of the new year. And so, I am a resolution-maker. Every year, I tell myself – this will be the year I get it all together. I will exercise more. I will run a 10K. I will make more friends, get my apartment completely organized, closely follow a budget. This year I will make more money and buy a house. I will be a nicer person and never say mean things about anyone behind their back. This will be the year I finally achieve my lifelong goal of writing a book. I will also connect more deeply with my faith and read through the entire Bible.

This has been my self-talk every new year for awhile now. And I finally have to laugh at myself and realize that it’s not realistic to accomplish all of this in any given year, especially while raising two small children. Maybe I need to lower my expectations a little bit.

2015 was a good year for me. I wrapped up a travel editing project in February with a big client. I finally learned how to do my taxes and was self-sufficient enough to prepare a freezer full of meals during my pregnancy. My son was born in March and when my daughter turned 3 in April we celebrated with a party at the trampoline gym. I wrote a couple of travel articles about Lexington, Kentucky, and I got a new part-time job as publicity coordinator for my daughter’s children’s choir. Spencer took a month off from work in the summer and helped me at home with the kids. We visited the beach several times; Marie went to ballet camp and swimming lessons. In September, Spencer transitioned to a new job that he really enjoys.

IMG_1908

Fun at the beach with my daughter. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

2015 was a hard year for me. When my son was one-week old, I developed a postpartum uterine infection and was readmitted to the hospital through the ER for 24 hours. It took me about a month to physically recover from childbirth and my complications, and I struggled with postpartum mood disorder for the second time (though not as severely). After my son was born, I had to sign up for WIC to help make ends meet. My husband struggled at work and ended up quitting his job without having another job lined up, and without me having a job.

So my year was amazing and it was also difficult. I did not run a 10K, write a book, or buy a house. Maybe in 2016 I’ll accomplish at least one of those things; time will tell. I know there are many joys ahead as well as many challenges, and I’m looking forward to the journey. As for my resolution this year?

It seems to work best if I have one, achievable resolution. Recently I heard about a dad who had resolved to take his 4-year-old son camping once a month throughout the year. While cold-weather camping isn’t my thing, I like the idea of creating a special tradition with my child. So, I’m resolving to do a community service project once a month with my daughter. I discovered a local nonprofit called Little Hands Can that does service projects with parents and kids, and I’ve already signed up for a project in January. I’m excited to start a tradition of service with Marie.

What’s your resolution for 2016?