Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sinking into Chairs & Flailing in Water

I arrived at college very assured of my athletic abilities.  As a runner in high school, I was competitive and fueled by an insatiable appetite to improve.  My felt strength, both physical and mental, served as a great portion of defining myself.

And as fate would have it, I met one of the most wonderful girls my first year in college, Megan Smith, who would unknowingly humble my inflated sense of self.  She, like me, knew of her impressive capabilities as an athlete.  Only she wasn't a runner.  She was a swimmer.

I can't quite remember the origins of her teaching me how to swim, but I would bet it was a mix of late night hyper chatting so characteristic of college free time and my incessant, driving desire to learn.

On a string of Sunday afternoons our Spring semester, she dedicated time at the campus pool, teaching me how to breathe, turn, and carry out the form of particular strokes.  She played coach and I played a very convincing student.  The kind of work required in the pool offered little transference from that of the woods, tracks, paths, streets that I knew so well.  Our first session left me nearly speechless.  I admitted to her that I had underestimated the demand on a swimmer.  Dang, this is tough. I'm dying in there!

I think back on those memories and I'm very grateful Meg took the time to humor my fascination and patiently offer me a chance to learn something just because.  She fostered in me an appreciation of swimming and multiplied my desire to seize chances to learn.

Which is one of the million reasons I would get myself into the mess below [staring at a computer screen full of spreadsheets, data, and specifications for the two and a half hour drive to my parents' home for Christmas]

History repeats itself.  I jumped into learning something outside my comfort zone last year and soon after found myself miserably inept.

My drowning took shape inside of a cafe on a cold night this past Fall.

I sank into a leather chair in the middle of the coffee shop, laptop glaring at me from its perch on my thighs, while I tottered between shouting into the phone frantically and whispering statements of self-deprecation. My husband heard my panic, my scattered questions that started with stems like, "How the heck do I...?", "Well, how would I suppose to know...?", "And, really, I'm telling you I have NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING, SO HOW IN THE WORLD....?", and my need for a slap to get it together.

His patient response?

"Ashley, as long as you don't think you can do this, you won't be able to.  Stop saying that.  You can do this.  You are capable!"

The same dialogue I had given to my students so many dozens of times in the past.  Light bulb.  So this is what it feels like to fear you won't learn, to fear that there's no use trying, and to be embarrassed for being behind, lost, and so desperately confused.

I had taken on a second job grading assessments for my husband's company.  Essentially, I signed on to help ensure an individual can accurately and effectively write code as requested.  It pales in comparison to the complexity of what my husband manipulates, reads, writes, and/or manages.  Knowing that I would have a stand-by tutor, bolstered my confidence in picking up the work, but my enthusiasm for this new mental challenge dwindled quickly when I realized I had the computer skill set of a woman who has been hiding in a cave since birth, technology a pulsing mystery of machinery completely fuzzy, foreign, and frightening in her understanding.

And I say this because the questions I had to ask my husband in the beginning were not detailed questions or questions of divergent thinking or questions to affirm my accuracy.  They were questions about about how to capture a screen, manage documents efficiently, and questions about the map of code in front of me which read as some fragmented, nonsensical archaic language.

Months later and my hypothesis is playing out.  Learning something new, just because, is building new connections in my brain.  I'm feeling a new pulsing strength, even amid an apprenticeship in all things humbling.

My husband offered words of encouragement and once I calmed down and broke past the I-just-can't-do-this barrier, answered my specific and logical questions.  Despite adoring my husband, it is my trainer, Craig, that I owe the greatest bit of gratitude.  He has the gentleness of a saint paired with incredibly explicit instruction, clarity, and persistence.  Signposts of all great teachers! I'm indebted to these two wonderful men who have given me the chance to dabble in something new, allowing me to take a risk with time and resources we all work so hard to preserve.

*    *    *    *    *

I think it is important for all of us to consider what new ways we can challenge our spiritual, mental, social, and physical capabilities.  Our new journeys can be in things that branch from what we're already doing, or they can be in planting new seeds, unsure of what will exactly come of that.  It is never too late for us to learn something new, or too early.  It is never impossible.  And it is always fruitful.

I see all things connected even when they appear random.  When we push ourselves to dive into something new, we can be frightened that we'll sink, flap around in the water to the amusement of everyone else, or maybe the scariest of all, just prove mediocre, but there is something so exhilarating in having opportunities which we allow to surprise us rather than simply saving ourselves for those things wherein we feel so very safe.

What might you allow yourself to learn if you weren't worried of its direct usefulness in your life?  What hobbies do others engage in which intrigue you?  What is something you heard, saw, or read today which could serve as a springboard for further discovery?  Have you also found yourselves sinking into chairs or flailing in water but empowered all the same?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

It Feels Good to Be Me

It feels good to be me... again... because whoever I was during the first three months of this pregnancy [#2] was a whole lot of not me.

The first trimester was a frightening parade of nausea and fatigue.  I felt like I kept trying to climb out of a pit of despair, toward the light of a freedom where I wouldn't worry about opening the fridge or blacking out at 7:30 pm, only to fall back again and again.

I'm about three cups of coffee shy of appearing awake here. I'm also clinging to my husband  for support.

My second trimester has welcomed back so many happy facets of my life.

I'm ahead at work rather than behind.  My inbox has no more than two or three emails when I leave.    When a new need pops up in my classroom, I'm ready rather than reactive.  My work there brings me joy instead of dread and that means so much to me.

I can cook! To plan, buy, and orchestrate the happenings of the kitchen feels essential to my core.  My husband is a great cook, but I'm often home first and my inability to move or smell or live like a normal functioning human being during the first trimester meant a lot of me trying to scramble to find something not too expensive but also not too processed to pick up for dinner.  It was miserable.  I come alive in the kitchen. The colors, the smells--I'm so happy to be back!

Strawberry rhubarb coffee cake.  *Strawberries are the 1st and only pregnancy craving I've ever had.

I have the energy and focus to solve problems or make decisions with my husband. There were weeks on end when I would just beg Paul with, "Can we please just talk about this later?" Ugh.  I sounded so whiny and yet I felt that I had given over and over and beyond at work and didn't have a single iota of brain work to give at home.  Story of one "working woman" mommy who is also pregnant.

I'm working out! Someone suggested to me during the 1st trimester that I would feel better if I was exercising--which would be brilliant if I didn't feel like death warmed up. While she was very sweet and definitely right, I stared at her with some awkward not-sure-what-to-say-expression, but on the inside I was shuffling through very inappropriate responses [shouting, punching, shouting while punching] to choose.  Luckily, I didn't have the energy to carry out any of those urges.  But now? Now I'm working out! I'm hitting up the YMCA for a little baby bump on treadmill action, pulling double takes from my compadres who need to confirm that yes, indeed, that woman is walking for two.  My legs strut fast enough and long enough for me to sing praises of endorphins on Twitter like the drugged up on a good life momma that I am.

And finally, the ultimate end cap to the so-flipping-glad-to-be-in-the-second-trimester blog post ---I'm in a good mood!  I'm not sure what else to say here other than I'm humble and human enough to admit that I experienced a good dose of depression for the first couple of months.  Hopefully you haven't touched that darkness, the one which is so bad you will yourself to tell the people very closest to you to keep you accountable and keep an eye on you because you really, really [and you're grabbing their hand or looking at them straight in the eyes or you just sound like you've gone off your rocker a little because you want to drive home your point] don't feel like yourself.  My heart goes out to women and men who feel that burden as a typical, ongoing part of their life.  It was difficult for me to endure for just a very short amount of time and I think I will be dedicating much of my prayer time this year to individuals who carry that cross currently and/or continuously.

He does this puzzle every night and associates states with family members: Aunt Moira lives here,  Lizzy and Anna live here, and Daddy works here [there are a lot of those states].

And it's a very good thing to be yourself once again.  Everything is such an apparent gift.  The taste of marinated steak.  A clean kitchen.  Indulgence time that goes a little something like: bath + ice cream + homemade pedicure = 'I feel pretty' lyrics swarming up in my soul.

And time with my curious child who wonders, "Mommy, can you take the baby out right now?".  Hmm.  Maybe in a few months.  I'm happy right where we are!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Disappearing Act

The last half of last year was a doozy.  I was acclimating to my new job and trudging through a sorely fatigued and nauseous first trimester.

At some point with this blog forever ago, I had promised myself I wouldn't write until x, y, and z were done because writing is the cheery on top and all.  It's a loud sign of laziness to be writing when I've got dishes to do.  So for all the times you've visited here [have you??] or checked in to see if I was writing, you can just imagine that I was tip-toeing through my laundry room as if I were one misstep away from a complete collapse.

And while I do very much care to be a steward of my belongings and responsibilities, I see my wrangling of words as necessary a priority as flying into action as the default toddler-poop-on-little-curious-hand exterminator. Well, poop on anybody's hand is a bit of a trump card, but right after the poop and a large dose of hand soap---writing!

While I was flitting about far away from this blog the past six months, I would sum up my exciting life with the following unrealized blog titles. Enjoy!

Why Your 1st Year at a New Teaching Job Will be More Difficult Than Your 1st Year Teaching

The Isolation of a Christian Heart

Downton Abbey--What, What!!

My Rib Popped Out of Place And Now I'm Pregnant!

Sleepy Time

Oh Look! A Color Palette

Introvert Intervention

Popcorn, Chicken, Orange Juice and Other Mishaps On My Way to the Toilet
[A post about vomiting we should all be grateful I didn't write]

My Sister Sticks Around For a Month

It's Not About Me... I'm Free!

<among a smattering of other invisible posts about funny things my son says and my reoccurring revelations to rise up and live my best life.>

Here's to less unrealized blog posts in 2013 because I've gotta have some kind of pot of gold at the end of the what's-with-my-laundry-never-getting-fully-finished-rainbow!