Crying Over Spilled Champagne: the guilt and struggle of 2020

Crying Over Spilled Champagne: the guilt and struggle of 2020

Years ago, when my husband was on a long deployment and my kids were little, I recall a civilian friend comparing our seven month deployment to her husband’s short business trip. “I know how you feel”, she said. I politely smiled but in my head I said “Umm…my situation is MUCH WORSE.”

Later, when my husband changed jobs and never left town I grew accustomed to his presence and almost panicked when he told me he had to travel for seven days. IN A ROW. I remember eating my words a bit and realizing that both situations presented some anxiety for mothers of young children, even if one scenario was more intense. Noted.


Fast forward to 2020. Admittedly, my life during this pandemic has been pretty easy. Since March, my family has not worried about unemployment or paying the bills. We have not worried about groceries or healthcare or a safe place to quarantine. My husband’s job continued as always, I had time to help my kids with online school and our stay-at-home orders found us watching movies and completing puzzles within the safety of our house.


On paper I have zero reason to complain. I have a large backyard in which my children can play, I have a community of friends around me who offer support. Plus, I am an introverted person who prefers to be at home above all else. Isn’t this what I always wished for? More time with my kids, more time at home and less time in the carpool lane? Haven’t I always valued the slow life? Haven’t I wanted time to stop so I can savor this stage of parenthood? YES!! EXACTLY!! So… what is the problem? Why am I feeling… down? (Is that something I can even admit without sounding like a complete jerk?)


Things could be so much worse, I tell myself. People’s businesses are going under, people’s loved ones are dying, people’s homes are being foreclosed and you are feeling down? Your husband isn’t deployed, your family isn’t sick…pull up your positive pants and make the best of this year! STOP CRYING OVER SPILLED CHAMPAGNE!!

But…I can’t. And I am consumed with guilt over it. I feel sad and… (dare I say it out loud?)…a little depressed. I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to snap out of it and distract myself and focus on the positive… but I am still struggling to maintain status quo. And I haven’t wanted to tell anyone because it makes me sound shallow and ungrateful for the ease of my life.


But might this be similar to the example above? If another person has a more intense experience than me, does it void my own? Someone could say “I have it worse than you” and I would agree 100%. No argument. But does that make my struggle unworthy of addressing? (This is my own self-talk here.) What if I stopped ignoring my feelings and actually dealt with them?


See, I haven’t been sleeping or eating or feeling well. My stomach hurts. I have found myself uninterested in doing much besides eating chocolate cake. (Maybe this is why my stomach hurts.) My best analogy is that I am living in a never ending holding pattern with no landing strip in sight. We circle around and around every day, on the same route, watching the same scene below, hoping somehow we will return to Earth.

We will invite friends to our house when COVID ends.

We will return to school when COVID ends.

We will attend church again when COVID ends.

We will travel to see our families when COVID ends.

I won’t be teaching third grade math when COVID ends.

But when is the END?? We don’t know! And that in itself is mentally exhausting. As a military spouse I can say that anything is possible if you have an end date. The unknown is what wrecks the mental game. So here I sit, admitting that my mental game is a bit haggard and disheveled. (Is yours?) Our short term survival-mode has turned into weeks, months and seasons, taxing our adrenals with its nebulous timeline and making us mentally tired. (And I haven’t even mentioned the stress of racial justice, wildfires or our nation’s upcoming elections. God help us.)


For the very first time in my life, this vague timeline feels more like an absence of a timeline. Every year I have progressed from one step to another, into another phase, another journey, another season. But in 2020, I am doing the exact same thing today that I was doing six months ago (just in a different state) and I am unsure when my movement will again begin. My kids are still schooling at home, public venues are still closed, activities are still cancelled, we are social distancing with all of our friends, and still not seeing our families. Our mental states are not only weary, but perplexed. And therein lays the root of my “problem”.


So how do I continue managing my mental health in an era of time that doesn’t seem to move? In my rational moments I do know that our world will eventually get past COVID-19, just like we moved forward from the Spanish flu and other pathogens. (And if not, Jesus is coming back y’all, so start investing in His heart and yours!) But the question remains- what do we do in the meantime, the “down” time, the never ending home quarantine? I’ve been thinking about it.


— We need to honestly acknowledge our feelings and talk with a trusted person about them. Maybe even a counselor. Are you aware of the common signs of depression?

Hopelessness

Lack of interest

Anxiety

Sleep problems

Changes in appetite

Irritability

Fatigue

*BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.*


—We need to try to focus on the here and now, rather than three months down the road. We only know what life is like this week. Or this day. Or this hour. (And hasn’t 2020 taught us that the future is unpredictable?) Make today count!


—We need to try to find small ways to boost joy and keep the time moving forward. Maybe it’s a new soda every Thursday night (true story), decorating your Christmas tree three months early (considering it), Zooming with your best friend every week, leaving your house/ isolation unit for a day in nature or finding ways to volunteer and help your community. Make it happen!

— We can continue to give ourselves the same Grace in Quarantine Land that we offered to our souls in March. Have we forgotten this already? Admittedly, I needed a refresher.

Although I have days where I feel stuck in a never ending spin cycle of kids yelling at me over Google Classroom, I am trying to continue moving forward. One foot in front of the other, one more breakfast prepared in the kitchen, one more morning logging into our computers, one more afternoon reading with my sweet kids, one more evening kissing those precious faces goodnight. I have successfully passed much, much harder challenges than this. Truly, I am grateful for all that I have been given.


But if I feel a little downcast some mornings, I’m learning to be okay with that, too. 2020 is an entirely new sport and the former rules don’t always apply here. Some days I may win and some days I may lose, but I will try my best to make my plays count. And if not…well…there’s always more chocolate cake, right?

Good luck to us all,

Before and After: An Ode to Quarantine

Before and After: An Ode to Quarantine

Dear Quarantine- our nation has many different thoughts about you, as do I. You presented different types of challenges to different people and we will grapple with those facts for years. In the midst of your historical debut, you somehow managed to weave goodness into neighborhoods like mine. We had it better than most, but there were still lessons to learn. Here is our story and here’s to you…

*

BEFORE you came, my neighborhood was loud, Type-A and fast.

We waved hello and waved goodbye as people shuttled past.

Kids stayed quiet, off to school, then sports, Chinese and dance;

Something happened every night, do not neglect the chance

To fill the schedule to the brim with busy plans and games;

Weekdays, weekends, doesn’t matter, every day’s the same.

“Nanny she will pick you up, your mom and I are working.

Not sure when we’ll have the time for dinner, we are searching…

Life is busy, that’s the truth, but someday we’ll slow down!”

The hamster wheel spins faster still, around, around around.

*

BUT THEN…

Life went silent, all of us were slammed flat on our backs.

Staring wide-eyed at the world, we start to see our cracks.

Tunnels underground are where we lived within your rules,

There we worked and there we played and there we did the school.

Forced together, burrowed in, we held each other tight,

Mom and dad, they worked from home and teens were here each night.

*

Months they passed and days they flew then slowly we emerged,

Blinding light punctured our eyes and thoughts began to surge.

All the things that held us fast and tight within their grips

Let us go and pushed us back and took away our ships.

No more passing in the night, but stuck home altogether,

We found joy in simple things, like puzzles and the weather.

*

Families they went on their walks and played games in the street,

All at once six blocks of homes had found the time to breathe.

My neighborhood of fast and loud became a time of slow;

Kids found jump ropes, bicycles and other things to tow.

It’s like somehow we all returned to childhood in the 80s,

When kids played outside, families talked and girls made chains of daisies.

*

We also found that we had time to care for all our neighbors,

Checking-in and buying food and reaching-out with favors.

And we realized other friends were also very near!

A simple Zoom-call conversation gave us time to hear

And wonder why we didn’t contact all these friends before?

(Because our schedule always called for more and more and more.)

*

So thank you, Quarantine, for stopping time for just a spell.

Thanks for showing me what matters- love and time spent well.

But now we’re called to move on through, this year has more to say;

Important issues face us, maybe the biggest of our day.

But don’t forget what we just did, what we had time to feel!

Don’t forget what happened when we all jumped off the wheel!

*

I know that…

Sometimes life is full of choices, but sometimes it is not.

Sometimes fate hands us a card and that’s our given lot.

(But) if you have a choice to make ’bout where to go from here

Think about this Spring and what you’ve learned so far this year.

Do you long for busy? Or do you long for slow?

Two roads diverge in the woods- down which one will you go?

If we do not ponder it, the wheel will just spin faster.

And though some might prefer BEFORE.

I’ve decided… I choose the AFTER.

Grace for Everyone in Quarantine Homeschool Stay At Home Land

Grace for Everyone in Quarantine Homeschool Stay At Home Land

So here we are, three weeks after my last blog post about COVID-19 and most of the country is staying at home and homeschooling in quarantine. Well this isn’t what I thought I would be doing when we rang in the New Year! Damn. Have we ever quarantined? When was the last time our entire country educated at home- when George Washington was President? This is crazy.

I don’t know about you, but in a matter of days I went from a quiet house to my husband working from home indefinitely and all my kids here 24/7. A week later, Virginia closed its schools for the remainder of the school year (hello five months of togetherness) and then the Governor declared stay-at-home measures though June 10th. So like a tornado in Tulsa, this virus just blew the roof off my house.

With all my own commitments blown away, I am now parked at my kitchen table every morning coaxing my children through hours of online school- helping one kid with Virginia Studies and the migration of Scottish-Irish immigrants while another continues acrostic poems and parallel segments (“Is it snack time yet?). I am searching our house for quadrilateral shapes (what’s a quadrilateral?) and listening to my teen talk about acids and bases. Again, not how I predicted 2020!

For my friends and family in the healthcare industry, who figuratively had their entire houses blown away, I know 2020 wasn’t what you predicted either. Please know how much we appreciate you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your work and dedication and sacrifice. ❤

For the emergency responders and essential workers who are bearing the stress of providing our basic needs, I hope you know how much we appreciate you, too. By managing our cities and stocking our groceries you are stemming chaos and providing the heartbeat for our modern lives. My contribution of staying home feels petty in comparison but I will do my best to follow the rules and protect the health of our community.

While history unfolds in our laps we cannot know how this will ultimately affect us all- culturally, financially or psychologically. Unknowns loom before us. But I do know that we can choose our thoughts right now, or at least harness them in a mindful direction. And my own thoughts keep circling back to the concept of grace. How can we offer it to ourselves and others in this dark time?

While the word “grace” can be defined in different ways, I view it today as a temporary exemption, a reprieve, a kind of mercy or pardon. (Thank you Merriam-Webster.)

So to whoever needs to hear this:

You are temporarily exempted from your normal life and your normal self. This never-seen-in-our-lifetime event has crushed our normalcy. It’s okay to be winded. It’s okay to feel like the rug suddenly pulled out from underneath you. It’s okay if you don’t feel like your normal self. We are all struggling because THIS IS NOT NORMAL.

Give yourself an exemption, some grace, when your emotions get the best of you. Every day is a new day and another chance to adjust our attitudes and appropriately manage our stress. I was a manic-depressive monster during our first week of quarantine until my husband finally told me to get myself together. Roger. I knew I could do better than that.

Give yourself grace to process what could have been in 2020. Maybe missing sports seasons, graduation ceremonies, weddings and other life events are first-world problems, but their cancellations still bring real and legitimate feelings of grief. We had anticipated so much joy but instead sit crestfallen and utterly shocked. Or maybe you saw your career shifting into high gear but now find unemployment and mortgage payments looming before you. Even if we are fortunate to have our health, 2020 will be heavy with personal loss. It’s okay to release your waterfall of tears.

Give yourself grace when your quarantined friends on social media start to peck at your core. When everyone starts bragging about their self-improvement plans, their exercise regimens, their sudden interest in learning three languages or another instrument, or their homemade organic spelt tortillas that their four year old loves to make, know that you don’t need to compete. That is their life, not yours. Don’t let them steal your confidence.

Additionally, give yourself grace as you see the Online Joneses homeschooling (oh my, have mercy upon us.) As they infiltrate the internet with their glorious plans to produce Harvard graduates, let me say loud and clear that YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO ALL OF THAT. Your kid doesn’t need to be able to speak Mandarin Chinese when we emerge from our caves. Log out of Facebook and Instagram if you start feeling inadequate. Right now, life is stressful enough without the burden of comparison.

Take a deep breath.

We also need to extend grace to people around us, many of whom might be processing/experiencing this pandemic differently than you or me. Telling the mother of a graduating senior that she shouldn’t be sad because you grew up during a Lebanese civil war is not helpful (thanks but no thanks, Facebook lady.) We don’t need to play the “who has it worse” game. Likewise, telling someone to “praise God in all circumstances” when that person has a loved one in the ICU, minimizes people’s feelings and negates their emotions of the day. Join your friends where they are. (Emotionally, not physically, stay home!)

Give your kids grace, too, as they process all of this, especially teens. Remember, their friends are their tribe, even moreso than their families. Friendships are one of the MOST important aspects of their life so when that slice of the pie is suddenly stolen from them emotional chaos ensues. They need time to adjust and mourn in their own way. (And by the way, screens will happen now, more than ever. It’s just the way of the world in quarantine. Boundaries are still good but this isn’t normal life.)

It goes without saying, but give grace to your littles, too. They didn’t choose to cancel school and uproot our social systems. While we gaze upon our shredded calendar, they are simultaneously trying to make sense of this scary, ever-changing world. We can do our part by being a shield of peace and protection over them. (Meaning, turn off the damn news when they are awake!) With God’s mercy upon us we can get them snack #1,373,938, cuddle on the couch and help them find a new, temporary normal.

As we go about our days, let’s give mercy and grace to our whole society- to our government officials, teachers, co-workers, neighbors, spouses, and everyone else in this shocked world. Change has touched EVERYONE.

As the famous saying goes- “This, too, shall pass”… eventually. 🙂 Our Earth has seen hard times before and has managed to continue spinning. So to all the people in Quarantine Homeschool Stay At Home Land, keep calm and press onward. It’s all we can do. Grace will see us through.

Original photo by Leon Biss on Unsplash

**If life has become difficult to manage, please know that resources are available to help you. There’s no shame in seeking to be your best self.

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) 24/7, free and confidential

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255

Substance Abuse and Mental Health National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

MilitaryOneSource Free counseling 1-800-342-9647

The Greatest Opportunity: thinking beyond ourselves and COVID-19

The Greatest Opportunity: thinking beyond ourselves and COVID-19

The world will always remember the tragedy of September 11, 2001. We recall the heartbreak and fear but also the tremendous community spirit that blew across the United States. I’d like to think the true American spirit shined through in those months that followed. We opened our hearts to strangers, stood in line for hours to donate blood, and loved each other through the shock. We selflessly gave ourselves away.

The past few years have been strange for America. We have been divisive and angry and unable to find common ground on much at all. We say “Never Forget” September 11th but sometimes I think our memories have dimmed. Nowadays, it seems like many Americans are out for themselves- claiming “free speech” but using it recklessly and hypocritically, not really caring how their words hurt others. We claim our “rights” to do this or do that, not really caring how our individual decisions affect our neighbors. We have made it all about us. Or all about “ME”.

I’ve often thought of my grandparents’ generation, the Greatest Generation, who sacrificed life and luxury and individual liberty for the sake of our Nation. Are we capable of such a thing now? Are we capable of acting on behalf of the Greater Good, instead of our individual selves? We managed to use our inner-compass after September 11th. Can we find it again??

I believe we still have this human decency in us and COVID-19 might be our shining moment to prove it again. And for the people out there who weren’t yet adults when the World Trade Center fell, this is your chance to join the Nation in a larger quest. It might be our Greatest Opportunity to think beyond ourselves and act according to the Greater Good.

How can we do this? We can put our community above all else and work together to keep America healthy.

We can stop fretting over the television and take action of our own. The facts are clear- the virus is rapidly spreading- and we can take responsibility as mature adults. Is this whole thing over-hyped or under-hyped? Does it matter? Certain segments of our population are in danger and we can put a protective wall around them because it’s the RIGHT THING TO DO. Current evidence suggests that older individuals and those with suppressed immune systems have the highest risk of death. Love your older parents and grandparents. Love those who are suffering from diabetes or undergoing cancer treatments. They are depending on our shields so let’s sacrifice some of our luxuries and put up the armor. Is this too much to ask?

We can temporarily alter our activities, knowing that we could be germ-carriers. Even if the virus doesn’t typically cause harm to our own age groups, we can protect our vulnerable populations by not silently spreading COVID-19 all over town. That means canceling concerts, canceling unnecessary travel, respecting social-distancing and staying home as much as possible. Sure, flights to Mexico are probably cheap, but keep the big picture in mind. Compared to the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, is this really too much to ask?

We can learn to be flexible. We can take orders from our companies and set up shop at home, even if it seems like a paranoid plan that makes our jobs a little more difficult. Even if there is no evidence of the virus in our workplaces or companies. Do it for the Greater Good. Is temporarily working from home in your pajamas really too much to ask?

We can have patience with our schools and find ways to help our kids. Believe me, I’m not interested in home-schooling, but if extracting my kids from the public will slow the spread of this virus through our town, SEND THEM HOME RIGHT NOW. And how can we help the other kids in our schools? If both of their parents are working, can we help with childcare? Are they dependent on school meals to combat their hunger? Can we deliver food? Work as a community? Is this too much to ask?

We can stop hoarding toilet paper and supplies for ourselves. This isn’t Armageddon, nor a call to live off the grid for six months. Why not buy your weekly supply and leave some on the shelf for your neighbors? (Diarrhea is not related to COVID-19 and families still need these items on a continuing basis.) Why not buy a giant pack of disinfectant wipes and distribute them to the other houses on your block, rather than stocking your own basement? Is that too much to ask?

This isn’t going to last forever, the pandemic will eventually end. How wonderful would it be to look back upon 2020 and remember that our inner-compass steered us in the right direction?! That, together, we Americans took care of our neighbors, friends and strangers and kept our local communities healthy and strong! WE CAN DO THIS!! It is the Greatest Opportunity!!

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Searching for a Nativity

Searching for a Nativity

I’ve spent the last five years searching for a Nativity scene to display at Christmas. I see them in catalogs and stores every December but none of them feel right.

Blond Mary and blue-eyed baby Jesus. Nope.

Joseph and Mary dressed like royalty. Nope.

Blank faces which scare me a little. Nope.

Darth Vader, who wasn’t invited to that party. Nope.

And so I keep searching. While I long to have a visible symbol of Christ in my Christmas decor, ultimately I am desiring a symbol of peace in the middle of this busy season. Tacky chihuahua ornaments glare at me from the tree, neighborhood lights blink on-and-off, music blares all day long and my shopping list never seems to disappear. Sensory overload! But Nativity scenes sit there quietly, oblivious to their surroundings, focused on one solitary thing: Jesus. They symbolize the space in which I desire to live- the space of peace and quiet and stillness, in the middle of chaos. I feel like having a Nativity would remind me to slow down and focus on that one thing, too!

BUT THE SEASON PULLS ME. I resist the Online Joneses as much as I can but my December days still seem overly busy and overly scheduled. School concerts, work parties, white elephant gifts… where can I find my peace??

One night last week my family was tucked in bed (while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads) and I was wandering around our home, turning off lights, locking doors and shutting down the house after a busy day. I felt like I hadn’t sat down since breakfast. 

I came to our living room where our Christmas tree glowed in the darkness and I stood transfixed, staring at it. Then I sat down and stared further, mesmerized at the lights, like flames in a fireplace. “Silent Night” started playing on my phone and I finally found it: the Spirit of Peace. The room felt holy because I was finally quiet and still enough to sense it. I wasn’t moving, I wasn’t running around or making more notes on my to-do list, I was just sitting. The stress of waiting on military orders dimmed, the dining room table covered in unfinished Christmas presents was forgotten and the Nativity was Real. Like Mary, I finally found I could focus on that One True Thing: a God who loves me. 

The obvious answer is that I didn’t need a Nativity Set to find peace; I didn’t need to cut out activities and lighten my holiday load to reach this goal (although that definitely helped). I needed to simply slow down for five minutes and sit in the presence of the REAL Nativity, the One who gives me hope and perspective. It’s here in this meeting place that my life feels peaceful.

Are you looking for peace in your life, too? A place of stillness in the middle of chaos?

Do you feel burdened and overwhelmed?

Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

James said: “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:8)

Did you notice the verb? When we take action and COME, He responds and gives us REST. Oh how I love that word and long for it in my life! Don’t you??

Is there something unsettled in the depths of your heart?

Is it possible that you have been searching for peace in the wrong place?

Then come closer to the Real Nativity. Take a deep breath, ignore the lights & distractions and approach this place of stillness. Maybe your peaceful meeting place isn’t a Christmas tree, like mine. Maybe yours is behind a closed door or inside of your car for a few extra, quiet minutes each day. Maybe it’s returning to church after a long absence (or visiting for the very first time). Maybe it’s a pause at the top of the stairs, to think about the point of Christmas. Whatever it may be in your life, commit to this habit and make it happen. I pray that you will sense God in your stillness. As the New Year beckons, I hope that all of us will take the time to search for and FIND the Nativity of Peace. There is hope for us yet. 

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, PRINCE OF PEACE.”  (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

Merry Christmas everyone,

p.s. If you don’t know where to start, sit silently in front of your tree and play this song. MAGIC.

We own this ornament. Thank you, children.

Happy Holidays from the Online Joneses!

Happy Holidays from the Online Joneses!

It’s here! Do you see the Christmas trees in the stores? Do you smell the cinnamon pinecones at Michaels? THE HOLIDAY SEASON HAS ARRIVED. People often think of this season as November-December but most parents know that it actually begins in October and extends into the summer. (Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout Willis?) Are you on social media? Do you see how American holidays require our constant attention for months on end? At least, that’s what Pinterest tells me. Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram tell me many things and it’s hard not to bow under the pressure.

In America we often talk about “keeping up with the Joneses,” but instead of walking around the neighborhood and envying people’s houses, we can now feel the pull every time we go online to these social media networks. During this time of year, they display tremendously creative ideas for our holiday celebrations, but they make parents feel woefully inadequate.

According to the Online Joneses…

In October we are supposed to decorate our entire house with spiders and cobwebs, “Boo” our neighbors, then grow and harvest cotton to make our kids’ costumes from scratch. After the Halloween treats are collected, we are supposed to coordinate an Almond Joy drug deal with “The Switch Witch” who will trade the candy for a toy. (Can’t we just tell them to stop eating candy? No, says Pinterest, that’s not the “creative” way to handle it.)

In November we are supposed to make paper maché thankfulness trees that stretch across our entire living room. If we don’t find time to construct these masterpieces then clearly our kids will never learn to be thankful. (Or will they?) After the tree is finished, we can prepare a ten-course Thanksgiving meal for our thirty closest family members. And make it organic, people.

In December the expectations are very clear: I am supposed to introduce Elf on the Shelf to my children and help coordinate twenty-five days of activities and entertainment. It’s endless fun to do in the midst of countdown calendars, Christmas cards, sugar cookies, Jesse trees, gingerbread houses, Operation Christmas Child, random acts of kindness, holiday parties, matching pajamas, homemade gifts and Christmas dinner for twenty. And I can’t forget to roll out the welcome wagon for Santa Claus by blanketing the backyard in fake, glittery snow to rival Arendelle. Zippity-do-da! Not overwhelming at all! 😉

In January, while laying on the couch in our post-Christmas fog, we must leave room for the Tooth Fairy. She comes throughout the year to leave glittery trails of encouragement on our children’s carpets or gifts under the pillow, like tickets to see Yo Yo Ma. (Whatever happened to twenty-five cents? Child of the 80s here.)

In February, we must follow Pinterest’s lead and shower our families in Valentines Day Love. We should decorate our entire house in pink and red and serve every food in heart shapes. Normal-shaped food will not do unless you are a bad parent. (*Sigh*…I’m feeling tired. What if I just want to whisper “I love you and I am glad you are in my world”?)

In March, the magic continues as I am told to dye my pancakes green and build a St. Patrick’s Day Leprechaun trap with my child. Linking an oatmeal container to an Amazon box, painted green and sprinkled in gold glitter will prove my motherly devotion and warrant another treasure for my kid. (Whoa, Little Patrick, can we give it a rest? This is four months of gift-giving in a row!)

In April (are we done yet??) it’s time to coordinate pastel-colored clothing and buy Jelly Beans and Peeps to prepare for the Easter Bunny. Candy-filled eggs shall be hidden around the yard, but wait…there is also a basket full of gifts! (For the fifth month in a row!? Isn’t the miracle of Easter a gift in itself??)

By May, all good parents should be 100% focused on summer birthday parties. Turning our backyards into petting zoos with koalas and unicorns is the least we can do for our children. If we transport our guests via hot air balloons then we will be guaranteed some Instagram-worthy photos. (Or maybe we order pizza, buy some plastic cups and play Minute-To-Win-It games?)

W-O-W. Are you exhausted from reading all of this?? I am! This feeling hits me EVERY SINGLE YEAR.

Do some of you coordinate all of these activities? Does this bring you joy? If so, I think you have an amazing gift for hospitality and party planning and people like you make the world fun. Being friends with you is exciting and I would love to ride in one of your hot air balloons someday!

For me, on the other hand, this holiday schedule is OVERWHELMING! My family does acknowledge many of these dates but I simply cannot keep up with my Facebook friends and the Instagram photos. I use the holidays to help pass the time and acknowledge the changing of the seasons but our traditions remain more simple; I have yet to find an affordable herd of unicorns and all my searches for homemade snow machines have been fruitless. (BTW, if anyone has actually done this, please send me photos.)

The truth is, I want my kids to have magical memories in their childhood, but engineering wow moments every six weeks is TOO MUCH…and an incredible amount of pressure! So while I occasionally battle “mom guilt,” I am trying to acknowledge my limitations, let go of the outlandish expectations and focus on what the holidays are truly about. These social media networks have benefits, but they don’t need to dictate my family’s celebrations.

Recently, as I was thinking again about my course of action during this holiday season, I happened to hear one of my children complaining that school was dumb “because it isn’t fun.” That night I began to wonder if too much of their lives have been centered around magic and entertainment. Do they realize that school, jobs, paying bills and other monotonous activities aren’t going to be magical? Have our American traditions created high expectations here? Food for thought.

Maybe there isn’t a direct correlation but I am wondering now if bringing down the holidays a notch might benefit both me AND my kids. I might be less exhausted and able to more easily enjoy the holiday season; they might learn that magic and gifts come at very special times, rather than every month.

So as you enter into this long season, let go of the Joneses and your mom guilt and go forth. Know that you have permission to go big, go small or just stay home and hug your kids. (And don’t forget to send me fake snow photos or selfies with your birthday unicorns.)

Happy Holidays!! 🎃 🍁🎄🧚‍♀️💕🍀🐰🎈

Living the Messy Life

Living the Messy Life

People say the kitchen is the lifeblood of a house. It’s where family and friends congregate and eat; it’s where parties linger, conversations flow and occasions are celebrated.

I spend a significant portion of my day standing in my kitchen, which usually doubles as a home office because Mama needs a command center! As a military family we have lived in many houses but rarely have these floor plans offered a work space close to the kitchen. Consequently, I usually commandeer a corner and claim it as my own.

What happens then? Clutter. Some chaos. An endless stack of school papers and bills residing next to the bowl of bananas. It’s enough to make Mrs. Marie Kondo weep. So the reality is that my kitchen is usually a bit messy!

While I am definitely capable of sanitizing the space for the public eye, if you spontaneously pop over for a visit, you will definitely see clutter and maybe a half-eaten piece of peanut butter toast which my kid insists she will finish after school. (Truthfully you will see clutter in other areas of my house, too, but that’s another story.) As my favorite letterboard quote says: “My decorating style is ‘There appears to have been a struggle.’” **Sigh**… housekeeping is just not my strong suit.

Years ago I had a new acquaintance who often spoke about her tidy home. The subject weaved itself into our conversations over and over again until I began to grow suspicious. As she spoke about her wonderfully organized house and her constantly well-behaved kids, I sensed her need to project an image of perfection but wished she would simply RELAX.

Desiring to know her better, I invited her to my own house for a last-minute cup of coffee (this is another word for “mom-speed-dating”). Immediately after coordinating the date, I thought about this woman’s spotless house and began tidying my messy kitchen, fearing judgment for my housekeeping failures.  Halfway through the process, I stopped. What was I doing? Was I trying to prove something to her? Was I also trying to project perfection in order to be her equal? Man, it was contagious!

In a moment of clarity, I realized that if I desired to know this friend better, we needed to push through this façade. So I decided to leave the clutter. I don’t recall the exact state of affairs but surely a stack of mail cavorted with some school papers, children’s drawings and dirty dishes. While the scene felt slightly awkward, I hoped that in revealing my imperfection, this new friend would feel more comfortable revealing hers and we could move forward on equal turf. No competition here.

Did she notice? I will never know. But later that evening I confessed to my husband that I had intentionally left our kitchen in chaos for this woman’s visit and said “It’s my ‘Messy Kitchen Ministry’. It’s my way of subtly telling people that perfection isn’t important to me.”

From then on, “Messy Kitchen Ministry” became a catch phrase in our conversations as we marched forward, striving to be transparent and authentic with the people we meet. We learned that showing our “weaknesses” went a long way in making people feel comfortable. Our real lives involve unfortunate mistakes, unflattering photos and untidy corners…the messy stuff… and I have learned not to be afraid of it. (And frankly, there is usually humor to be found in much of it.)

The truth is that life is a bit messy for everyone, is it not? I’m talking beyond the kitchen walls now. And yet…

Do we ever choose to reveal a little of our mess or do we wrap ourselves into a pretty package and project the perfect life? Do we shove our weaknesses and failures into cupboards with the hope that no one sees them? Do we only post the best parts of ourselves on social media to convince the world that we have it all together? It’s tempting to live this way.

I’m not saying we should showcase our mess, plant our flags and marinate in it forever (our end goal is not to live in a state of chaos), but rather, wouldn’t it be nice to end the charade and be our honest selves? Can we all admit that we are works in progress, striving to be better? Can we all admit that sometimes our homes don’t look like magazines, our kids don’t always behave and our lives don’t always go the way we planned?

I have an idea….

What if we collectively raised our hands and said “I am not perfect and I don’t expect my friends to be”?

What would happen to us then?? I think we would find great community, intimate friendship and a more grace-filled perspective! I think we would stop comparing ourselves to Pinterest and start laughing with our friends about our failures (crafting and otherwise). Maybe we could finally admit to some of our struggles without fearing judgment. Perhaps we would be more honest, more relaxed, and feel more accepted.

Because when life boils down to the basics, that’s the way I want to live- leftover peanut butter toast, crumpled utility bills and all. Let’s start a new movement. Let’s choose to be honest and messy and find friends who do the same.