11.15.2016

Sesame Street, Politics, and The Importance of Speaking Up

I had something to say recently.

See, I get it. To those outside of my inner circle, I'm probably the funny friend, the quiet one, or simply "her mom". I agree. I'm hard to get to know if you just met me. I don't say much in groups. I deflect pain and vulnerability with humor. And I ask far more questions about you and your life rather than share any information about my own.

I'm also a sucker for harmony. Nothing makes me feel cozier than helping different types of people get along. In my mind, we're all still on Sesame Street--different races, humans and monsters, all singing songs and learning to share. I've often swallowed a controversial opinion or kept a comment to myself in order to keep this fantasy going in social circles.


But all of those things came into conflict last week. As a nation, we were asked to pick sides, and the results divided us.

I'd been quiet throughout the election process, because politics never interested me. Also, as I mentioned, I like things coming together, and politics notoriously tear things apart.

But I had to say something.

By saying something, I knew it put me on a side. I was no longer the quiet one. I also knew that I risked being unpopular... really unpopular. See, while a lot of people move amongst people very similar to them, I do not. Somehow, throughout my life, I've generally been the only Black girl in the room. I'm the only liberal amongst all the Christian conservatives. Rarely is there a woman in the room with more tattoos than me, and I know people are looking at my hair because I get asked about it all the time. I'm different.

So, no surprise (at least not to me), I had a vastly different take on the election than many people around me. I can't tell exactly what people thought. Some comments agreed, but some were a strange mix of defending the candidate, defending themselves, or defending the entire situation by calling it the will of God. I was genuinely surprised at the lack of empathy. In addition to the election not going as I thought it would, my view of many--including dear friends--shifted.

Now, the lack of empathy goes both ways. I had to come to grips with the fact that not everyone viewed the president-elect as I did. Some votes were against the other candidates. Some were for the future of the Supreme Court. Others were simply along party lines. Even if I don't agree with the reasoning, that's how the chips fell for many. If I were to lump all Republican voters into a hateful category, (a) I'd be wrong and (b) I'd be generalizing and stereotyping when both of those things are the exact opposite of what I believe.

The silver lining, if there is any, is that I wouldn't know any of this had I not spoken up. I engaged in dialogue with my friends that was uncomfortable and left us a little disappointed in each other, but at least we walked away knowing more about the other person. See, we can't expect to get anywhere if we're not talking to each other.

If you're sitting there with a mountain of things to say, then say them! If you never stop talking (if you're not sure that's you, ask a friend), shut up for a second and listen to someone else. We may not like how the conversation ends, and it may be awkward as hell in the process, but it's the only way we can learn from each other. This is how you develop empathy, and empathy is an essential tool for building unity.

We don't live on Sesame Street. As much as I'd like to see Oscar the Grouch complaining from my trash can, I'll have to settle for that on my television screen. But I can still try to see past the differences of my neighbor and share my time and love with them. It's in the speaking up where it all begins. I don't want someone befriending the most likable sides of me and the same goes for you too. It's exhausting always being on your best behavior. Be different. Be weird. So long as we can lace our truth with compassion and empathy, we can talk about anything.

I can't make the world a better place. But I can do something in my little corner. I can show up, speak up, and listen. I encourage you to do the same.

And, by the way, just a thought. If the people in your corner all look like you, act like you, and generally share your opinions, expand your corner. You'll never understand what it's like to walk in another person's shoes, but if you walk alongside them, you at least have a better view.

~jennifer.

10.27.2016

Accepting the Mom Life by Choice

So... this is my life.



Lying on the floor among toys that trail from the kitchen to the bedroom. A constant lost and found of sippy cups. Curious George on the television. A toddle running around with the bare minimum amount of supervision I can give because I'm probably recovering from yet another night of interrupted sleep. 

It's funny how after two years of residence in Mommyland, I still find myself amazed at how difficult  it can be. I still selfishly balk at putting someone else's needs before my own. I still look back and remember--with quite fondness--how easily I did just about everything before she came along. I'm still that annoying married mom friend who tells her single girlfriends to enjoy their freedom and grocery trips free of tantrums while it lasts.

Then, I feel super guilty... And rightly so.

It's not completely removed from my awareness that I'm the luckiest girl on the planet. My kid is healthy, happy (except for when we're in Target for whatever reason), and easily the cutest thing ever. I have a husband that could not love me more although he tries to every day. Family, friends, community, roof over my head, and the beach is still within a 30-minute drive. I mean, really. 

I love my life, but I still fight my life. Why?

I'm pondering all this after a community life group meeting of the other moms from my church. Every Thursday we bond over coffee about our shared adventures in motherhood. I don't always say much because that's just me when I'm in a crowd, but today I had to share some frustrations. Other moms with similar woes chime in too. 

Our beloved pastor, who leads the group, then said something that made my focus shift. "These are your choices, ladies," she said. She, of course, said more than that, but those words swirled around my head. 

I am here by choice. I decided to follow through with getting my doctorate knowing full and well the demand it would take and I had just met the man who would be my husband. My daughter showed up a little earlier than expected, but she was in the plan. Staying home with her was something I just knew intrinsically was the right thing for us. All of this came from choices I made--choices about the kind of life I wanted to have. And I have it now. Realizing this, the room for complaining suddenly got very small.

Okay, sure, I was not exactly planning on motherhood being this hard. Let's face it. I was single a crazy long time with only myself to deal with for years. This has been the adjustment of a lifetime. But it's good. It's teaching me new things every day. It's unveiling love and patience I didn't even know I had. And despite how much it drains me, it fills me up too. 

It all goes back to that radical self-acceptance thing that I talked about earlier this year. It extends into not just accepting my body, but also my season of life and my choices. I don't have to love every second of it, but I do need to gather it close to me and smother it with all my energy and attention. No zoning out on my phone or numbing up with Netflix. Be all in. Every day.

So, I accept my choices fully. I'm a stay at home mom. I am sweat pants and sleepless nights and chasing around a kid who thinks diapers are optional. I can't go to anything you invite me to without asking, "Will there be child care?" I live and die by her nap schedule. And it's all good. These inconveniences are for a worthy cause. They are the small prices I pay for the life I really want. 

~jennifer.

7.05.2016

Mid-Year Resolutions, Self-Acceptance, and Why Facebook Doesn't Count as Reading

We sat in the cafe, and over coffee and piping hot breakfast sandwiches, my  friend and I discussed life. More specifically, we talked about the scarcity of absurdly honest moments. Those times when you put aside the social filter of decent, polite conversation and share what's really on your mind.

She thanked me for such a moment, and I replied that I think becoming a mom gave me less shame about my frailties. It's the combination of years of little and/or interrupted sleep, a constant feeling of inadequacy, and finally getting the fact that no one is thinking about me nearly as much as I think they are. It's the real potion that serves as social lubricant. I just can't care to be judged for my truth any more. It's glorious, and I'd revel in it more if I weren't so tired all the time.

I also mentioned my one, lone New Years resolution. I promised to stop trying to fix myself all the time and just embrace my messy existence. Taking myself as is.

That was January. It's now July. I promised you that I'd check in.

So far, so good. Or rather, so far, holy cow, how long have I been this weird?

See, I ran into a few detours on the road to self-acceptance. I realized that half of the time I'm juggling two polar opposite ideas about myself.

Do you do this too? You love Facebook, but scrolling through your feed feels like a waste of time? You really want to be fit, but you don't exercise or eat right? Have you been "writing" your novel for more than three years? This is what I mean. I often want two things that cannot co-exist.

Case in point. As a kid, I was an avid reader. I loved fiction. I devoured stacks of library books. As an adult, I'd still say that I love to read, although I'd be hard pressed to mention a recently read title that was not required for school. Everything seemed more important than reading. And when I was through with all those important things, all I had left in me wanted to veg out in front of Netflix.

I had to make a choice. I stole away for a season in between dissertation revisions and went back to the library. The first novel, I could barely get through. It was dry and it reminded me why I stopped reading fiction in the first place. I figured I needed a book that I knew would hook me. Maybe something of which I'd already seen on the big screen. Something that was really popular. I love suspense. A good thriller would do the trick, and it did.

I read Gone Girl in a week (which for a stay-at-home mom with a toddler is fast). Then, I read Girl on the Train in five days. Then Her; Nobody is Ever Missing; The Dinner; Summer House with a Swimming Pool.... It kept going. I was back to my avid reader self. I always had a book in my purse. I started my daughter on longer bedtime stories (we're almost finished with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland... which, by the way, if you think your art is too weird to be accepted by the masses, this is for you).

Reading led to writing. I blew the digital dust off a few old projects. And, as you can see here, I found time to blog again. Suddenly, I found all kinds of time for those things that made me feel like me. Accepting who I am got easier when I remembered who I was.

Of course, the take-away to all of this is that the things you really enjoy (I mean, the stuff that has a real payoff) require that nasty six-letter word: effort. You have to be intentional about the worthwhile stuff  or else the rest of life will crowd it out. Make time. Re-prioritize.  And for heaven's sake, simplify.

And I'm not saying that social media and Hulu binges don't feed you, because you wouldn't do them if they didn't. But there's fast food and then there's prime rib. Those activities that cost you a little something have bigger rewards and are far more satisfying.

I'm now in the middle of at least three books, and I'm editing an old novel that I'd like to see finished before I die. I feel like a kid with library books scattered around the house. I dig this sweet spot for however long it will last. It kinda feels good to be me.

So, I can't leave you without an exhortation of sorts. I hope the mid-point of 2016 finds you embracing your truest self. Not just doing what passes the time, but really engaging in what makes you fully alive.

~jennifer.

4.04.2016

To Risk, To Fail, To Show Up Anyway

"But what if it ends badly?"

I wrote this line in my journal earlier this morning. It's not the first time. I ask myself this question regarding just about everything, whether it's a major life move or making a phone call.

I'm a thinker, a planner. There is no worst case scenario I can't connect to a seemingly harmless everyday routine. Before I do anything, I've already calculated the 30 different ways it could go wrong. It's a wonder I leave the house some days.

I wish I could tell you why I'm like this, but I can't dig up a reason. In the Meyers-Briggs world, I'm an INTJ and that explains some of it. But, really, I don't know. Somewhere along the line, I just found it beneficial to make sure I was mentally prepared for anything.

Of course, I'm aware this is faulty thinking, but I'm not here to bash myself. We're doing the self-acceptance thing this year. Being overly cautious has probably saved my life more times than I'm aware.

That said, it can get stifling, because it's not the sum of who I am. For every time that I've sat on the edge of something great and said, "Nope," there's another moment when I jumped right in. I've been silent, and again I've been really loud. Buried underneath  my schedules and 5-year plans is an adventurer just dying to run free.

Finding the sweet spot between the wisdom and the wild is the key. When do you sit one out? When do you go all in?

I don't have answers for that. Nor do I have an answer for what to do if you fall flat on your face. We all know risks don't pan out all the time. So many earnest endeavors fail... even when we tried our best.

That's most likely where my caution comes from. The past. Those years I engaged fully and it fell apart. The times I was misunderstood. That day I vowed I'd think twice before opening up again.

There's something to learning from our mistakes, sure. But what kind of life can you hope for thinking everything you build will burn to the ground? You wouldn't begin anything. Yeesh, you'd barely be alive.

Things end badly all the time. Yet, something beautiful happens long before that usually. We connect with each other. We engage with our surroundings. More often than not, we discover parts of ourselves we never knew existed.

Is it worth the fall? I can't gauge that from here. But it's almost always worth the journey: for the lessons learned and for the growth. We are so rarely made up of the days we stayed inside or closed our minds. The most interesting parts of you probably came from the risks that you took.

Sounds like I'm psyching myself up to do something, right? Nope. It's just  reconfirming the adventure I'm on every day. To be a parent. To be an active member of my community. To love the husband who equally fits and shapes me. To show up for my life.

So, yes I did scribble that question in my journal. But I quickly followed it with this: "That's never an excuse not to try."

~jennifer.

3.03.2016

About Being the New Girl and How I'm No Brenda Walsh

So, I've written a lot about this recent move--about experiencing the last of things, looking to the future, and such. What occupies my thoughts these days is the sensation of being "the new girl."

This was not my senior portrait..
I haven't felt this way since I was 16 and moved semi-cross country to a new state, new neighborhood, and new school. My experience was... meh. Needless to say, 90210 lied to us. In a few months time, I was certainly not hanging with the popular girls, getting courted by the hottest guy in school, and hey, where was my Peach Pit hang out? Yeah, I was no Brenda Walsh. It went about as well as you'd expect in real life. I fumbled through loneliness for a couple of years until I graduated and started a far more social life in college.

Good news is, being the new girl is much better this time around. Twenty-two years later, I am not on this adventure alone. I have two of the best extroverts I know by my side: my husband and my daughter. Both have never met a stranger, and they connect with ease. My husband introduced me to the people he already knew here over the years prior to our arrival, so when I landed, there was a community waiting (who, by the way, have been amazingly open and embracing). And my daughter ushered me into a new universe called "Mommy-land" where I'm constantly and pleasantly surprised how much I have in common with other women simply because we are parents.

So what's my deal? I am in the jackpot of all "new girl" situations. I should have no complaints, and truly, I don't.

The deal is, though, somewhere inside, I'm still that insecure 16-year-old girl at lunch period scanning the room for someone to eat with.

I meet people and obsess over whether they like me. I ask myself, am I making a good impression? Are any of my jokes landing? Even in this situation where people are openly warm and receiving, I'm still self-conscious that I'll say something stupid and ruin it all. Seriously, I may look normal, but I'm an Anxiety Cat meme on the inside.

See, being comfortable in your own skin takes on a whole different meaning when making friends. You want to be liked. You want them to think you're cool. Because nobody wants to eat lunch alone (well, actually, as an introvert, yes, sometimes you do, but not all the time). 

And at my age, I'm too old to pretend to be someone I'm not. So, what you're getting is pretty spot on. I'm funny and awkward. I'm reserved, but kind. I suck at small talk. When I ask you questions, I really listen to you, because I want to know you. There's also a good chance that my poor short-term memory is due to knowing way too many popular song lyrics.

Let it be said, I know I am loved. I belong to God. My husband adores me. My daughter thinks I'm her butler. My family both near and far are close to my heart, and I know my friends across the country have not forgotten me. I'm not sixteen any more (praise the Lord).

So, I muster up my courage and show up in my new community. I graciously accept social outings and extend those invitations as well. I'll be a friend and see what happens. Like I said before, the tribe doesn't form over night, but this is how it begins.

~jennifer.

1.28.2016

Perspectives on the Long Haul

That's possibly the most unsexy title that I ever wrote, but I've been saying that phrase a lot lately.

"If we're in this for the long haul..."

"If we plan on staying..."

For once, I'm on a visible timeline. As Lenny Kravitz once sang, "I'm old enough to see behind me." I can now see just how long it takes for certain things to become as they are (or as I'd like them to be).

My good friends started out as roommates or friends of friends who I timidly exchanged numbers with. Man, some people I talk to every day spent years as just acquaintances.

The jobs that I loved and in which I felt comfortable and capable at first were nervous first days.

And every church that I ever called home was once a casual Sunday here and there where I mostly avoided small talk with people I didn't know.

Things change after a while. They grow. They bloom. But everything, for the most part, starts very small.

That's why I'm constantly telling my husband and myself about the long haul. Because when you see things on a long enough timeline, you understand that the good, comfortable stage of any relationship, job, or home address doesn't happen suddenly. It doesn't even happen in two or three months. You need to see years roll by some times before you really settle into something. So, yeah, if you're in it for the long haul...

It just takes the pressure off, you know? For example, right now, I can be okay with getting to know people slowly. The Melissa's, the Karen's, the Hannah's, the Crista's, the Jen's, and every one else in the tribe... yeah, those don't happen instantly in most cases. So, I can relax that I just have three or so local numbers in my phone and a few social outings on the calendar.

This perspective also helps me  manage my expectations. I don't have to know my way around town plus six alternate routes right now. I rarely realize it's trash day until the truck drives by. It's certainly not possible for me to have a favorite restaurant yet. Just because some things used to be second nature before doesn't mean they have to be now (and doesn't mean they won't be again one day).

Another thing this perspective does is slow me down. I tend to rush. I think everything could be done faster. Fix it and fix it now could be my motto. But one doesn't get that luxury being new in town. I must have patience. I have to wait. Not necessarily be idle, but stop forcing what I want, when I want it. Granted, I've never been remarkable at this, but here's an opportunity to give it another whirl.

One day, it will be hard to imagine that I didn't always live here. For my daughter, who's not even two yet, this is the only home she'll ever really know. This will all become old hat one day. So, I'm not in a rush to build a makeshift life like the one I had. I can make friends and grow roots in my community one day at a time. Because, after all, if we're in this for the long haul...

~jennifer.

1.07.2016

Resolutions, Grace, and Acceptance As Is

I had a great blog series planned for the first of the year. It was going to be all about getting yourself together. We were going to make resolutions for fitness, wellness, and taking care of all those little things that we keep putting off.

Again. Things changed.

In Need of Grace
See, I am a resolution addict. I love New Years, because it's my official do-over. I make lots of resolutions and self declarations. I keep many of them. If my resolution list is 10, by December, I've probably nailed 7. Most of all, I enjoy bettering myself. It's a habit.

However, this New Years finds me already in the midst of major risk and change. We moved, and in this analogy of a leap of faith, we are very much still in the air. Not to mention that motherhood feels like an ongoing pop quiz that I didn't study for.

As I held my daughter tonight after her bath, mentally preparing for her bedtime meltdown, something just dropped in my spirit. "What if, this year, no resolutions? No big changes. No big endeavors. Just you accepting you. As is."

How radical.

This year, I want to lighten my load rather than pile on. I don't need to learn a new skill. I need to hone what I already know. Plus, like many, I am hard on myself. Some grace for my fat and personality quirks would be nice.

Now, I have not abandoned all efforts for self-care. I'm running again. I almost consider pregnancy and the first year of infancy as a break. Running is always in my bones. I'm also keeping up with counseling in my new town, because everyone needs someone to talk to (it's just that some of us need a professional).

Everything is a continuance of what already was. Except for the self-acceptance. That's new. I'll tell you how it goes come December.

~jennifer.
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