Actually it’s having two babies that changes everything.

I have to stop running, at least for a while. This isn’t because I’m A Mom Now So I Don’t Have Time; it’s because having a baby changed my body to the point that running isn’t a good idea right now. I have been experiencing significant pelvic pain during runs for the last few months, though I haven’t been running often — only once or twice a week for 3 or so miles, with walk breaks included. After I had Will, I was able to jump right back into running and finished the four-miler at an 8:50 pace before he was even five months old. But a second pregnancy has put an end to that.

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(Probably won’t be setting a PR at this year’s race.)

It’s pretty amazing to me how much pregnancy and childbirth takes out of you. Maybe it’s because I had my kids in my thirties, but I shudder to think what a potential third pregnancy would do to me. Here I am almost seven months postpartum and my body still doesn’t feel close to being back to normal — a big change from Will’s infancy, when I remember feeling like my old self, and in my old body, after about six months. This time around, I’m wondering whether the changes are permanent.

Yesterday I ran three miles and I’m still feeling some discomfort today, so I think it’s time to retire for a while. I’m going to spend the next who-knows-how-long rebuilding my core strength before I try it again. But truthfully, I haven’t felt like much of a runner for a while now. I didn’t run when I was pregnant and didn’t really make the time for it after Anna was born, so saying goodbye long-term isn’t as hard as it would have been two years ago. I’ve also discovered a love for swimming and cycling, so thankfully I’m not banished to a lifetime of elliptical machines. I’m also planning on walking the 5k I was originally going to run in two weeks — we’ll see how it goes!

I’m also interested in trying out some at-home workouts — quick stuff, like tabata-style workouts or kettlebells. Trekking all the way to the gym for a workout winds up taking up most of our morning when I have to time it around Anna’s naps and feeding schedule, and it would be nice to find something fast and effective that I can do before they get up in the morning or during one of Anna’s naps while Will enjoys Daniel Tiger Hour. I think the challenge will be sticking with it and finding a measurable goal to pursue. Any suggestions or advice? (I haven’t braved Pinterest yet.)

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Sigh. Goodbye to all that. Hello, I hope, to new and better things!

See? Facebook is good for something. These three recent articles — all found linked on Facebook — have all encouraged me and made me think.

1. My Mother Practiced the Piano — from StoryWarren. This is a great article about creativity and motherhood. I especially liked this passage:

You can tell a child a thousand times to go make the world beautiful, but I don’t know how he is to believe you without watching it done. Whether your art takes a traditional form like music or painting, or whether you are an artist in chemistry, cooking, gardening, politics, or befriending the lonely, that part of you still matters. It matters for your children to see that it matters, too.

This is a helpful way to frame thinking about pursuing your own hobbies and passions as a parent. Modern-day motherhood is fraught with the expectation that we need to be all things to our children, and provide them with precious memories and enriching, entertaining activities every day of the year. A good mother is one who martyrs herself for the sake of her children. But there’s a backlash against that attitude nowadays, which I’m glad to see, and this article is the latest (and least hysterical) one I’ve seen. It’s worth a read.

2. The Moral Bucket List — by David Brooks in the New York Times. This article has been all over the place recently, and for good reason.

About once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.

It’s my goal in life to be like the person David Brooks describes above, but I often get caught up in how that person looks and acts on the outside, rather than allowing myself to grow into compassion and wisdom on the inside. It’s not cute.

In his article, Brooks brings up the concept of a person’s “core sin” — your primary weakness — and in the interest of completing my own moral bucket list, I’ve been thinking about how I too can defeat my own weaknesses. (See my previous post, on not making the perfect the enemy of the good.) The lesson here, too, is that this is a lifelong learning process, not necessarily something I will master in a week, but that that’s the point. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination.

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(illustration from the article)

(PS —

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.

Another point for homeschooling?)

3. Your Predisposition is Not Your Future — from Becoming Minimalist. This article is in response to Brooks’s article, but it gets into the concept of self-defeat on a deeper level. I especially liked this suggestion:

Intentionally pursue the opposing behavior. Even for just a short while, cultivate the exact opposite behavior [of the behavior you want to change]. When I decided I wanted to become an early-riser, I challenged myself to wake up at 5 am for 29 days straight. And you know what? It worked.

I … might need to do this in some areas of my life. Just as a temporary experiment. Maybe one a month? Early rising one month, cutting out sugar the next, striving to be early for everything the month after that … Eek. But I do love a good personal challenge.

Anyway: happy reading! And if you’ve read anything good lately (or anything deeply stupid), share the links!

As I alluded in my previous post (thanks for the encouragement!), I’ve been feeling really frustrated these days. The peaceful zen of our winter has given way to a riotous, chaotic spring, and I’m not sure what to do with it all. The riot and chaos is all in me. Everywhere I look I see things I have failed to do, and while I am trying my best to just accept that that is part and parcel of being home with two small children in a fixer-upper while also managing a part-time job from home (not to mention trying to pursue personal goals and hobbies), it is really hard. Is the chaos just something I have to accept, or is it a result of poor planning and decision-making on my part?

A large part of the frustration is that I am irritated with myself, because I can’t help believing it’s the latter. Maybe because it’s easier to blame myself for living in a house that’s strewn with duplos and toy dinosaurs instead of one with perfectly swept floors and clear surfaces; that way I still feel like I have some control over it. It’s not perfect because I’m just not trying hard enough.

Of course I realize how ridiculous that sounds, and I know that the chaos right now is probably a little bit of both, and that I need to be able to forgive myself for being too tired at night to pick up the duplos, too scattered to sit down and really think about my novel, and so overwhelmed sometimes that I start to shut down. Forgiveness doesn’t have to mean that I think it’s okay, or that I don’t have to strive to do better. But I do have to work harder at not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I’ve realized something about the frustration I’m feeling: I’m letting it control me. I’m resisting it instead of breathing through it, and that only makes it harder.

See how God redeems even my worst character flaws? This frustration that I feel is working to refine and mature me — as a mother, as a Christian, as a person. Instead of resenting my frustration and allowing it to make me irritable and overwhelmed, I can take a step back, acknowledge what’s good (even if it’s not perfect) and what I can do in the moment to get past it. I spent much of today doing that, and you know what? I feel so much more in control of things. Imagine that.

Life, not just motherhood, is an exercise in sanctification if you allow it to be. But motherhood can be like a crucible for this sort of thing, a greenhouse for less-than-pleasant personal growth. I get the feeling that right now, maybe I’m not meant to not be frustrated. And maybe it’s okay that I feel discouraged. When I was in mourning, I often reminded myself that feeling sad was normal and that I didn’t have to try to run away from sadness. Maybe now I don’t have to run away from feeling frustrated. Instead of resisting it, I can sit with it for a while and try to learn from it, and know that it doesn’t have to be the one in charge. Like holding a challenging yoga pose, I can just keep breathing.

And that makes me feel so much better.

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(Gardening: a good exercise in both frustration and hope. Above is a speck of green that will someday, I hope, be a salad.)

This isn’t a post about running; it’s about motherhood. Or, about life.

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I am incredibly tired. I mentioned before that the prevailing feeling that I’ve had since Anna was born is that of running on a treadmill that’s set just slightly too fast. I’m tricked into thinking I can keep up with the pace, but before I know it I’m out of breath and overwhelmed, only there’s no way to slow the treadmill down.

It’s been a challenging few weeks, even as Anna has continued to settle into a schedule and Will has grown ever further out of the toddler stage. I think the challenging factor is … me. I keep coming up against my own limitations, and not knowing how to exceed them. Every day I am surrounded by my own insufficiency.

When I say that I’m trying to make the right choices ahead of time, to be prepared and ahead of the game, and to be patient, what I really mean is that I am wondering what it would be like to be someone who actually does those things successfully, regularly, and habitually. What is that like?

It’s hard for me to accept the limitations of this stage in life, because every time the laundry piles up, or the kitchen is left a mess after breakfast, or there are toys scattered in every corner of the house, or I have ten work emails that haven’t been answered yet, it means there is something else I haven’t done. Something else I still need to take care of. Leaving it until later, throwing my hands up in the air and saying “oh well! I have two little kids! It’ll have to wait!” just means that I need to find time eventually to do it, and by that point five other things will have popped up in the meantime. Putting off folding the laundry just means that when I get around to it, I’m drowning in it, and when I feel like I’m drowning, I shut down.

And I think that is the issue right there. I feel like I’m drowning, so I’m shutting down. I don’t cope very well with feeling overwhelmed, which makes me wonder sometimes if I struggle with more limitations than other people (?? that is another can of worms right there …?). I just shut down. When I don’t have time or energy to fold a small hill’s worth of laundry, letting it become a giant mountain only makes it less likely that I’ll be able to address it without suppressing something akin to panic. I don’t know why this is. But it leads to the old familiar chorus of other people can do it just fine! so why can’t you? what’s wrong with you? that I have worked so hard to drown out.

Yes, it’s only housework. Yes, it’s only a part-time job. I really don’t know why it feels so overwhelming or why I feel so stretched thin, but I do, and I don’t really know the way out.

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One more hour until preschool pickup — I’ll make it count.

It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but I still have moments where I instinctively reach for my phone to call my mom. Most recently this happened the other day when I took a picture of Anna practicing her sitting. I then had that whole numbing string of realizations: I can’t text her this picture. In fact, she never met Anna. And in fact, she never even met Will. She never got to know me as a mother. She’s still gone.

It hurts just as much as it ever did, but I’m so used to it now that it feels more like a heavy, dull punch to the chest than a violent blow to the head. It knocks the wind out of me, but I can catch my breath sooner now. It’s wearying to think that this is going to continue happening for the rest of my life.

I’ve accepted my loss. I have “come to terms” with it, whatever that means in the end. Spiritually and theologically I allow it. But it still pisses me off.

In the end I’m just really annoyed that I don’t have my mother around. She doesn’t know my kids and they’ll never know her. It was my worst fear when she was diagnosed, and now that it’s come true, it feels just as empty as I thought it would. I hate not having her around for advice, for encouragement, just for company. Right now I don’t hate it in a sad, disappointed, grieving way — I hate it in an angry way. I may have a happy life, but I can think of a million little ways in which it would be ten times happier and richer if she were still a part of it.

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Where, o death, is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting? — honestly I can see the victory and feel the sting all the time. It’s here in my own heart, in my neverending sadness. It’s hard not to feel sometimes like death has already won.

But today’s Easter sermon was on 1 Corinthians 15. What a relief I felt when I read the passage! It’s one of my favorites and one that brought me deep comfort when my mom was dying. To destroy suffering. (You can listen to it here.) What Easter means is that death hasn’t won. The battle has already ended.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

That victory, here on earth, here in my mortal body, feels hollow sometimes. Sometimes I just want her back, damn it, and that’s the end of it. It’s that physical ache that will never really go away, that hole in my chest that’s never going to close, that longing that is not joy.

But death has been swallowed up in victory. On the other side of this we will laugh at it. I don’t know why there is so much suffering in this world, but in spite of it, laughing in its face, I see God’s redemptive work every day. One day I will try to write and make sense of my mother’s life story and testimony, but all I can see when I look at it right now is that redemptive work. It’s all I see, too, when I think about my own grief and loss. See? The battle has already been won. Suffering will end. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

This is why Easter is my favorite holiday. The hope fulfilled. The longing satisfied. The joy, the joy, the joy.

Happy Saturday! I keep being reminded of the old adage the days are long, but the years are short lately, because the weeks seem to be flying by despite how long some of the days feel. I have always disliked how fast the years seem to fly by. (It’s already April?) — I think I just hate knowing I will never get any of that time back.

But that’s more heavy than I want to get on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I have a few things I’m celebrating this week.

First:

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Six months old. I talked sometime last week about how the last six months have gone, and even since then I feel like we are turning a corner. Anna is learning how to sit up on her own, she is (I think) transitioning to a nap schedule, and we’ve started solid foods in earnest.

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Today I made pea puree and I have applesauce in the crock pot. She has had oatmeal, carrots and applesauce so far and isn’t quite sure what to make of solids yet. She doesn’t know what to do with the food once it’s in her mouth, but I think she’s starting to get the hang of it.

And speaking of turning a corner now that we’re at the six month mark: I have two pairs of jeans that fit me now. No, I am not forsaking my personal uniform or my new year’s resolution to wear leggings all the time, but man does it feel good to have pants that zip and button. Small victories.

Another small victory: today I did a headstand in yoga for the first time. My yoga practice has been interrupted by pregnancy and childbirth a couple of times now (as well as long periods of time with no access to regular instructor-led classes), so it’s taken me a while to be able to advance my practice to the point where I feel comfortable doing more advanced inversions (and, I think, you also have to be in the right place at the right time — today’s class was small, and the instructor was able to help me). I was against the wall of course, and I had some help figuring out how to kick my legs up, but it felt so good to have things click into place, as well as to prove to myself that I do have a lot more muscle strength than I did a few months ago.

And now on to a regularly recurring feature in my life: here’s an article I hated. Every so often I come across an article online that is meant to be inclusive and relatable, but instead it seems to reveal more about the author’s character flaws and personal shortcomings. This is the latest: I called him pathetic, he accused me of ruining his life: What children did to our marriage, via salon.com.

I don’t even know where to start with this one. First: imagine being one of this couple’s children (including the fact that your mom published this article on the internet for all eternity) and try not to cry. Second: imagine being either the husband or the wife. Sometimes, as it turns out, having children isn’t the problem in your marriage. It’s being selfish. Of course children complicate a marriage relationship and it can be hard to navigate the road from independent couple to settled-down family. But insisting to your husband that it’s okay for him to be emotionally absent from your family because you want another child and he doesn’t? That’s insane, and it hurts everyone in your family. Being uninvolved and resentful of your wife and children because your “real life” is being interrupted and put on hold? That’s insane too, and childish. Sulking and blaming your spouse and children because your life doesn’t look like how you thought it would? Oh my god, grow up. I totally want to go to a dinner party with this couple. I bet they’re a blast.

Please tell me I’m not alone in being totally horrified by this article. Please. Someone. Anyone.

Anyway: that’s all for now. I’m attempting to create my meal plan for the next week or two and may have to make a trip to Whole Foods later today — I hope I can make it out alive, braving the grocery store on the day before a holiday. Wish me luck!

Linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into this month!

March is probably my favorite month now that I live in Virginia. It was definitely my most despised when I lived in New England because it’s then that winter drags on and on. I used to start to feel slightly crazy around the third week of March when daily highs were still in the 40s and sleet was still in the forecast. Here, though, the weather agrees with the calendar: it’s spring.

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It was actually a visit to Virginia in mid-March eleven years ago (!!) that convinced me to move here. I haven’t regretted it!

Anyway, here’s what’s happened around here this month.

Books:

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte): I hadn’t read this in several years, and this was only the second time I had read it, so I hadn’t remembered many of the small details. I loved it. I especially loved the few scenes where the narrative would shift from past tense to present tense, in order to make the reader feel even more like a part of the action. I also really enjoyed the narrative technique that allowed Jane to speak directly to her reader; I found myself forgetting that I was reading a work of fiction. It’s beautifully written, also, which I don’t think I appreciated last time I read it. He made me love him without looking at me. At the end of a lengthy paragraph in which Jane describes falling for Mr. Rochester, this line gave me chills. Perfection.

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The Creative Habit (Twyla Tharp): I got this because I feel like I need successful, disciplined artists (and their bossy books) to help me in my quest to become, if not successful, at least a more disciplined writer. Like Stephen King’s On Writing (only more generalized) this book is a great resource if you need to kick yourself back into gear or rethink your approach to a creative life. I appreciate books that take creativity seriously and serve to remind me that just because it’s fun, that doesn’t mean it isn’t also work.

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson): I kind of can’t handle this book. I first read it two years ago and really haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I know it sounds like hyperbole to say that I think it’s the best book I’ve ever read, but … I think it’s the best book I’ve ever read. It’s just incredible. I read it for my book club and we’re meeting tomorrow to discuss it. I hope they all liked it as much as I do.

Free Range Learning (Laura Grace Weldon): I’m not that far into this book and I think it’s going to take me a while. I appreciate its thesis (it’s about unschooling) but its execution is rather dry. But I’ll stick with it. I have a long list of kindle books to read when this one is through, though, so I need to get going on it.

I also abandoned Lizzy and Jane (Katherine Reay). It just didn’t grab my attention. Life’s too short. Maybe I’ll come back to it at the beach this summer. Coming up next: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Bronte)! I haven’t read this one yet and I can’t wait. This is the next selection in my friend Maggie‘s and my Bronte Book Club. After that I’ll be consulting my very long to-read list.

On my mind

I’ve gone through probably 1,000+ tissues this month between allergies and a bad cold. I can’t wait to feel what it’s like to not be congested. Despite all my gushing about March in Virginia, spring is actually pretty late this year and our daffodils are just blooming, so my allergies (which normally last about a week) are lingering. No fun.

In terms of writing, I’ve been struggling some with knowing how to get started on my current project, which I think is going to be a novel. I’ve created some mysteries for myself that I haven’t solved yet, in terms of plot and character, so I’m starting with world-building and hoping that will allow me to glean some wisdom. I am still working on making writing a daily practice but I am getting somewhere.

I’m also thinking a lot about habits, as I mentioned last week. I’m taking small steps toward cementing better habits in my daily life, and those small steps are adding up. We’ve started to settle into a new, manageable rhythm (that I am sure will change before I know it!) and that feels really good. I keep reminding myself, though, to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Forward momentum, not arriving in one leap at a permanent destination.

Other stuff

Here’s something exciting: Will graduated from speech therapy! He aged out of early intervention (he’ll be three next Saturday) and so we took him to be tested by a speech therapist through the public school system, to see whether he’d qualify for ongoing services. They did a screening, but no test was necessary. He’s caught up!

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Celebrating with donuts!

And speaking of donuts, I’m also working on eating less sugar. It’s actually been easier than I expected it to be, simply because I stopped stocking Dove chocolates and the Trader Joe’s schoolhouse cookies, and because I’m still allowing myself some kind of small dessert at night. I was starting to feel like sugar had a hold on me that I didn’t like, and it feels good to get it under control.

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This girl’s going to be six months old on Thursday. I adjusted the rise on her diapers for the first time yesterday, and she’s starting to practice sitting up on her own. She smiles and laughs at her brother all the time and wants to imitate him when he blows raspberries at her. I’m glad to have reached the six-month mark. This is all starting to feel a little less unfamiliar to me now.

As far as house projects go (I figure I will share our fixer-upper updates here too, partly for my own future reading pleasure), this month Steve is working on building a sandbox for Will. We also wired the living room for cable and got a TV stand at Ikea (and special ordered some midcentury-style legs from Etsy) in addition to a new bookcase and hutch. Once we special order a curtain rod for our insanely large picture window, things will really start to look put together. We made a big Ikea trip last weekend and came home with curtains for the living room and our bedroom, so perhaps by the one-year mark we’ll actually look like we live here. I can’t wait.

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Onward to April!

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