Posted in sqt

{sqt} – reclaiming joy

I noticed this week that my children never want to go to bed, because they are just having so much fun and don’t want the day to end, and they wake up each morning full of excitement about the day ahead.

My husband and I, on the other hand, have entered that exhausted parent state where we spend all day waiting for night to come so we can have some quiet space and rest. It makes sense that we end up there, but constantly looking forward to the evening has a tendency to rob the day of its joy.

How can I reclaim some of that joy I had as a child about the new day ahead of me, full of potential for discovery and adventure, for beauty and love?

I’m not entirely sure, but today’s seven quick takes are going to be some ideas I want to implement in my own life this upcoming week. Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the {sqt} link-up!

  1. Reframe the moment: when something is irritating or inconveniencing me, is there a way to look at the situation through different eyes? For example, when one of my children is whining and flopping around about something, I tend to be instantly triggered into frustration. I want to yell at them to pick themselves up and show some independence! At the very least I want to ignore them until they stop whining. But though that is my automatic response, a change in perspective can help me build a more compassionate and helpful response. If I can hear the whining and think, “here is an opportunity for me to love and serve this child like God loves and serves me,” then I can help them with their needs and wants with more gentleness and joy (although I will still ask them to try using a different tone of voice!)
  2. Pause: this goes along with the first point, since a pause can be a good time to try to reframe a situation. But it is good and useful all on its own, also. Instead of coasting through my day on autopilot, pausing for all sorts of reasons can help me see the beauty and feel the joy of everyday life. I can pause to watch with pride as my children take turns with their favorite water bottle; I can pause and count to ten when I hear angry voices coming from the play room to prepare my heart before they come running out to me; I can pause; I can pause when the baby has made yet another awful mess and make the cleanup something we can do together rather than something to make her feel ashamed about. I can pause to breathe out a prayer and breathe in grace when life is overwhelming.
  3. Put the phone away: except for when I’m reading a good book or listening to a good podcast (things I can mostly only do when I’m alone anyways), phone time tends to be an escape from reality and as such hinders any attempt to find joy in my current reality. It distracts me from the good and happy moments of the day especially, since those are the times when the kids are least demanding of my attention – and so it blinds me to the everyday beauty of their growing relationships and maturing character.
  4. Have a plan: if I know at the start of the day something fun that we’re going to do later, the anticipation and enjoyment of that event can easily spread throughout the rest of the day. And if we don’t follow through with the plan because we’re having too much fun doing other things, that is also a source of joy ūüôā It also eliminates some of the tension of looking forward through 12 empty hours not knowing what to expect and thus how to mentally prepare, and it breaks up the cabin fever the kids sometimes get when we’ve been in the house hiding from the heat all day. This could be some sort of outing (like the park or the library or even the grocery store), but it could also just be an activity or craft that we don’t do as often because it requires more set-up (like water balloons or finger-painting).
  5. Go to bed on time: because if I’m tired, it’s going to be a lot harder to feel happy. It’s going to be a lot harder to make the mental effort to reframe each moment. It’s going to be a lot harder to pause instead of reacting emotionally. And it’s going to be a lot harder to be present and engaged instead of sinking away into the virtual reality of my phone.
  6. Play with the kids: play is where they are finding their happiness, joy, and intellectual fulfillment right now, at this age. And they still want me to play with them a lot of the time! Essentially, they are inviting me into their happiness. All too often, being a boring (and tired) adult, I turn them down and find other “more important” tasks I need to do. But if I could let myself go – relax my body, forget the to-do list, ignore the “should’s”, suspend my disbelief – and play with them, even for a little while, I could in those moments have the presence and the joy that they have, and connect with them through it.
  7. Sing!: and dance! Move my body, stretch out of my comfortable shell, and make music! Music is so good for all emotional states – it expresses sorrow and anger, passion and despair, joy and silliness, peace and contentment, and in the expression elicits and draws out those same feelings in us, helping us experience them more deeply and process them more fully. So going back to point 4, I’m¬†planning on having a dance party to silly kids’ songs at least one day this week, and I’m not going to care if my kids think I’m crazy!

What about you? How do you find joy when life is monotonous or stressful?

Posted in family life, musings, quotes

presence

“Asher picked out a rocket Popsicle while I parked the bike and looked for a spot in the sun, eventually setting on a rainbow-colored, oversized hammock. We climbed in and lay next to each other, his head cradled in the nook of my arm, and we swung slowly, gazing up at the giant sycamore trees, new green leaves silhouetted against the blue sky. It was the first time in recent memory that I’d stopped moving, thinking, planning, working, or teaching and done nothing but¬†be in that moment. A moment, I might add, in which Asher stopped talking about Minecraft and Plants Versus Zombies. Instead, as we lay there gently swaying, we talked about spring. And homeschooling. And beauty. And peace and contentedness. And how nature can be a kind of religion. And how important it is to notice and appreciate. And about how sticky hands get when Popsicle juice drips on them.

“[…] When we’re not living in presence, we miss the little things – the bright spots that are there, even when we have to search hard to find them. The tiny growth spurts. The moments of brilliance. The sparks of joy. To experience these things we have to fully be here, open and present.” – Debbie Reber,¬†Differently Wired

It’s tempting for me to be always immersed in my phone, or a book, or a coloring sheet, or even just my to-do list for the day. But I’ve noticed that when I actively engage with my children, when I am present in their games and conversation (even if I am just observing while making dinner or cleaning), their imagination is sparked, their reactions are more positive, their responses are more mature, and their smiles are brighter.

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(Also, they tend to be much more accepting of time apart if our time together is truly a time of connection and presence, which allows me to have more space for deeper renewal and refreshment when I need it.)

It isn’t just me, the parent, who benefits when I choose to be present – my children benefit as well. My presence assures them of my love. It demonstrates that they are worthy of authentic attention and connection. It gives them confidence in the value of their ideas. It gives them the opportunity to learn from any experience and wisdom I may have.

And it is in all the moments, silly and stressful, happy and hard, that a deep and lasting relationship can grow between us. If I choose to be mentally elsewhere for those moments, I choose to stunt rather than nurture that relationship. But if I choose to be present, I am choosing to water and fertilize that relationship, and to weed out all the other trivial things that compete with my children for my attention, emotional energy, and time.

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Being present means playing peek-a-boo with Aubade when she hides her face in her hands.

Being present means talking in a baby voice for hours because the mommy animals in the house want me to be their baby elephant.

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Being present means getting to cheer Limerick on when he chases a ball around the pool and finally manages to grab it, instead of staying oblivious to his persistence and success.

Being present means laughing when Rondel jumps into the pool and totally soaks me with the splash, instead of perceiving it as an interruption of my more important business.

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Being present means noticing how Limerick observes and investigates the world around him, constantly soaking up knowledge with his thirsty pattern-loving mind.

And most of all, being present means mutual openness, a sharing of happiness, and a fostering of love. Yes, I need space and time alone – but when I am with my kids, I am going to try to be fully present as much as possible.


If you liked the quote from Differently Wired, read my brief review of the book here and check back in June for the giveaway!

Also, check here for a list of some awesome pre-order bonuses you can receive for no additional cost if you order the book before June 12th!

Posted in musings

bike thefts and mindfulness

Remember how excited I was about biking in my {SQT} post on Friday? Well… it’s a good thing I’d written that post the night before, because when I went out to the garage that morning both my bike and my husband’s bike were gone. Beautiful brand-new bike (first new bike I’d bought since I was in junior high), stolen. I took the car instead that morning, and worked on cognitive-behavioral techniques about it all day (because sadness triggers a lot of unhelpful thought patterns for me), and prayed about the best way to move forward, and just generally felt sad and disappointed and hurt all day long. It wasn’t just a bike that was stolen: it was my quiet time with God, my exercise time, my outdoor alone time, my time of refreshment and empowerment, that was taken away. And I didn’t know if it would be financially wise to buy another bike when we apparently live in a high-risk area.

But what I did know was that I didn’t want my (very legitimate) sadness to prevent me from experiencing the happiness of all the good things that were just as much a part of my life as the bike theft. Driving home, I thought about how the kids were waiting for me, how they would be excited to see me, and want me to play with them, and fill the house with silly games and wild stories and sweet cuddles – and how my sadness could interfere with my ability to connect with and cherish them, or keep me from feeling the joy of their laughter and craziness. Was I going to let this unknown thief steal the¬†happiness I have with my children? No I was not! It is ok to be sad, I told myself, but right now, in this moment, I am going to seize the joy and beauty and love that presents itself, and let the sadness wait until a time when I can listen to it and determine how to address the practical issues the theft created. The bike was stolen in the past; the commuting will take place in the future; but my children are with me¬†now, offering up their little happinesses, desiring my love and happiness in return. And I can choose what I am going to open my heart up to in this now, this present moment. (Oho! Look at that! It’s my 2017 word of the year!)

One of the things I’ve learned from my therapist is that it’s extremely¬†pointless to try to make a thought or emotion go away. The more one fights it, the bigger and stronger it gets. Choosing to open oneself up to a new thought or emotion, however (a more helpful alternative), allows the unhelpful thought or emotion to slip away, or at least shrink into the back reaches of the mind. So that’s what I tried to do with my sadness and disappointment, by fully living in the present moment so characterized by the happiness (and neediness ūüėõ ) of my children.

(And in the end, we found two cheap old bikes on Craigslist that will work for now and not be quite as appealing to thieves – or quite as much of a loss if they are stolen! I still miss my bike, but at least I don’t also have to miss biking itself.)

Posted in musings

presence and PPD

Back in January I decided that my word for 2017 would be “presence”, with the goal of being more present with my family, community, church, and job, instead of being disconnected or lost in daydreams. It’s not that I think daydreams or introversion are a bad thing – I just don’t want to regret the time I wasted or the things I did half-heartedly because I was distracted with meaningless things. And so I did my best, through the worst of my PPD, to be present with my family. When I could barely make myself get out of bed, I would try to play games and read books in the bedroom.¬†I would try to fill the days with fun activities to keep us going so that the depression and anxiety wouldn’t drag me down and away from them. But I still felt so disconnected, so far away from them and from our life together. I spent hours reading just to escape my emotions, and in the process isolated myself from the people around me. I would watch my children laughing without feeling any corresponding happiness; I would sit with Aubade smiling at me and ache with heart-wrenching sadness. Look at these children, so happy and beautiful, the depression whispered, and look at you, so miserable, so unable to laugh and play with them and appreciate their silliness.

Getting an official diagnosis and some outside, objective perspective helped me see that this inability to feel present was¬†not a moral failing or a character flaw, but a symptom of a disease, and that in itself was encouraging and reassuring; it didn’t solve the problem, but it gave me more strength to fight it. It was a shield against the barbed lies that are, for me, a hallmark¬†of the experience of depression. And at each step, as I sought help and as the depression tried to convince me not to ask for help – that the risks of vulnerability or the potential of getting a bad therapist or the side effects of medication were too great – it was my goal of presence that kept pushing me forward. Because I could tell that I was not capable of being fully present in that state, and because I wanted to be fully present, I knew that I needed something to change.

I never thought that I would take an antidepressant. Those are for weak people, the depression had always told me, and I don’t really like the idea of taking a daily pill (I’m still slightly resentful of my daily thyroid hormone replacement, to be honest, to the point where I once tried going off it cold turkey to see if I’d be ok without it… let’s just say that wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had). And yet, for this past week when I’ve been taking it, I’ve had more internal peace and happiness than I’ve had for a long time. I’ve watched my baby sleeping or cooing up at me and been filled with deep, deep love instead of the ache of inconsolable sadness; I’ve sat with my boys at the table and laughed at their silly antics instead of ignoring or snapping at them. I’ve planned and cooked¬†healthy meals and cleaned up the kitchen every night, and helped my husband with the laundry, and packed diaper bags and taken the kids out without feeling scared or overwhelmed. I feel like I’m living my life again, instead of just observing it through a dim and melancholy glass: I am present. I hope it lasts but I’m not going to waste time worrying about that; I’m going to enjoy this while I can.

Posted in Uncategorized

{just enough info} – 2017

{JEI} is a link-up with a different topic, and a few different leading questions, every week; I haven’t participated before, but the questions for this week made me stop and think in a New Year’s-y sort of way that I’d been avoiding otherwise, so I thought I’d share with you all.

1. What is one small thing, if you accomplish it in 2017, that will make you feel successful?

Forming an exercise routine and continuing it long enough for it to become a habit or discipline would make me feel insanely successful! I’d be happy with 15 minutes of intentional activity every day, to be honest. My body is going to need some extended rest to recover from Aubade’s birth, but because of that, and because of the anemia I had during the pregnancy, it’s going to be fairly weak and need some attention. I’d like to build back the strength and stamina I had before the kids, ideally – but just starting out with some core rebuilding exercises would make me feel like a success.

2. Have you picked a ‚Äúword of the year‚ÄĚ or patron saint of the year?

No patron saint here (how would I narrow it down? and it feels somewhat audacious¬†to think a saint would be interested in being my patron, like asking someone to be a¬†mentor…), but I did settle on the word:¬†presence. I want to be more present this year, less lost in my own head; I want to engage with the real family I have, in the reality we share, instead of forming an idea or abstraction of them and interacting with that; I want to actively listen instead of chasing daydreams while my husband or children try to talk to me; I want to turn my phone on less frequently and run and play and laugh more often. It is easy for me to live in a world of theories and ideals, to the exclusion and detriment of the actual – and I don’t want to squander the actual blessings I’ve been given by not being as fully present with them as I can be.

And ok, I did go to¬†http://saintsnamegenerator.com and have it randomly select a saint just to see who it would be, and it was St. Jude (author of the book of Jude in the New Testament). Apparently he’s the patron saint of hopeless and desperate causes… Honestly, I don’t know much about him, nor am I even that familiar with the book of Jude. Maybe I should rectify that – I need a book of the Bible to dig into deeply right now¬†anyway!

3. What are you looking forward to in 2017?

I’m looking forward to my husband graduating and (hopefully) finding a job! We’ve been waiting for this next chapter of our lives for a long time now and it’s exciting to see just how close it is! The specifics of it will also help us make other decisions like where we’ll want to live (we’re outgrowing our current house because it doesn’t have the best bedroom layout, mostly) and what schooling choices we’ll make for the kids (since Rondel will be turning 4 this summer! Where does the time go?), so I’m looking forward to hammering out the details.

Head on over to Sweeping Up Joy for the rest of the link-up!