Thursday, March 26, 2015

The traveler's wife

Every once in a while this dumb thought pops up in my head:

"I KNOW about being the supportive wife to a husband who travels a lot. THAT'S what I should write about on the blog. Encouragement for women who do the same!"

And that's when I remember:

"Oh, wait. That would require me to not be a hot mess about him traveling. It would require me to actually, finally be the "together wife."

And that's when you might be thinking:

"Ashley, surely you aren't really a hot mess when he's gone. What's a hot mess anyway?"

Actually, a lot of you AREN'T thinking that because you are friends and family and know my faults. you!

I haven't counted the weeks in total, but let me tell you I've put in enough time at this point it should be my second nature to roll with the traveling all easy breezy like. Instead, it's somewhere fall down the list of my traits, falling even below my inclination to put on false eyelashes (once ever).

All things I've done while Paul is gone:

+ avoid the bed like the plague because I don't want to sleep alone, so I set up camp on the couch and do the only thing you can do to make your brain go so numb you completely forget about possible intruders: watch truly ridiculous amounts of reality t.v.

+ circle town evaluating which fast food place has options that are healthy enough that I won't feel mom guilt but cheap enough that I won't feel wife guilt and realizing every time that no such place exists so I go home and make pb&js and settle for just mom guilt with a plot twist of kids grateful for pb&js....again, fanciest of fancy feasts

+ desperately eager for adult talk, I invite a woman into my home for this thing called a "play date" where none of our kids play but insist on needing 90% of my attention, leaving just enough of my energy to start 30 conversations and not finishing one of them. At the end of the "play date", I say goodbye to my friend, close the door, and Thomas asks me why I am crying

+ woken up the next day (which is hardly a thing because when you just camp out at your house for 4 days the time just bleeds together) and looked at my YouTube history and felt that I truly did not know myself anymore

+ gotten into the car on a Thursday and smiled at the kids in the backseat and said "alright kids, to the grocery store!" [pulling out of the garage...into the driveway...looking at the house and the neighborhood...] "Guys, we haven't been out of the house since...Sunday. Oh my gosh, WE HAVEN'T BEEN OUT OF THE HOUSE SINCE SUNDAY!" <blank stares>

+ gone 4 strong days without a whiny text, a desperate call, or so much as yelling at the kids. Ha, 4 days of being some mom goddess of ferocity-- reading calmly, loving generously and laughing the days away only to fall apart on Friday with frantic texts that "I need to get out of this house. I'm about to LOSE MY MIND. Would you be opposed to me leaving the house the second you come home so I can walk around the mall and pretend I'm still normal?"

Just keeping it real for you. Easy breezy like. :)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Owning IT--our choices with how we work

Did you read this piece yet today? It's another defense of stay-at-home-motherhood that plays nice about both sides, for the most part, and urges us to reconsider this rising notion of a one-income family as a luxury.  It fired me up. The comments really fired me up.  And I'm excited to dig in.

For the 10% of my audience who isn't actually family or friends, I want to start by saying that I've been both a working woman and a SAHM.  For the purpose of making this short and to the point, I'll skip the whole argument that we all work and that the terms themselves are far too simplistic.  They are what they are though.  I dropped my kid off at day care for three years. And now I've been home for almost two years marking off the days as my own boss and changing a lot of outfits that were soiled by snot and pb&js.

This is all to say, I now have strong opinions when I read these blog pieces with impassioned women and men who want us all to know, to understand what it really is like, "working" or not.  The ones that make me cringe are the ones that are defensive. One retorting back an eloquent response to the offensive comment made in the grocery store.  One spouting back the real life schedule that displays how draining it is to be at home.  That angle in today's piece (really, if you haven't read it, go read that first) wherein the writer wants us to truly see that she sees essentials and values where someone else might quickly label those things as luxuries.

Man, we all sound a bit whiny don't we? In an effort to make ourselves be known, to be seen, I think a lot of us come off sounding a lot like a little kid: "You guys. It's so hard. It's so hard!!!"

I've done both for enough time to know. They are both difficult in very different ways. They also both have perks in very different ways.  And I am not the woman to read if you are looking for someone 100% convinced that one way is better than the other. In fact, I think that's a bunch of malarky.  I really do. Here's what I hope I am here for: Encouragement. And I'm going to try my best to give you some today. You up for that?

YOU, my friend or sister or previous co-worker or far away Internet friend, YOU do whatever you do.  You stay at home. You work part time. You work full-time. You stayed at home but now you work.  You worked but now you stay at home.  Whatever it is, you are here. HERE is where we start.

And here, you have difficulties and perks.  We already agreed on that above. (Okay, I said that & you probably agreed).  You have days that are long because you balance so many needs in your life. Your need to love on your family. Your need to provide financially (and not just in a paycheck sense). Your need to thrive as YOU. Your need to feel security, to find peace, to be free!

Some days really are hard.  I've been there, girl, more times than I can count. I have literally hung my head and cried. I have asked myself what in the world I was doing and where I was going and if I was ever going to make it there.  Not only have a hung my head and cried. I've woken up just to cry too. More than once. Mothers hardly get sleep anyway. Sometimes I don't cry. I call on Jesus. And it looks like this:

Two nights ago my 5 year old was angrily reading at the table, furious my attention was not 100% directed on him. I offered affirmations that I could hear him as one of my twins flung dinner, beans and rice, and the other was sobbing about something I couldn't begin to figure out.  My husband is traveling this week, so in the absence of our one-glance camaradarie I just stood up from my chair, leaned onto the table where kid chaos was bubbling up to a crescendo and I said, Jesus, I know you see this.

I did the same kind of thing when I was working though too. When I forgot to bring shoes to day care for Thomas.  When I got yet another call that I needed to leave work for my sick kid.  When I was so tired that I embarked on a game of testing my body's limits to digest coffee.

But things being difficult is actually not at all what I want you to know today. We already know there are difficult things about life.  Let's put on our big girl pants and deal. And then also laugh about it with a friend from time to time. (Tears are fine too.)

So what am I getting at? It's this.

There's one thing you should know about your choice, decision, or commitment to either work or be at home and it's just two words. I was just trying to be helpful. We already have enough to remember.  Here it is.

Own it.

Own it, girl.

I know the writer of the article I linked to wanted to argue that we are calling the wrong things luxuries, and to that point I want to laugh. Heck yes, SAHMs have luxuries. Are you kidding me? Imagine this hypothetical scenario. No one is allowed the option to stay home with their kids. We are on literal lock-down. All the peoples work. No choice. It's automatic. Then, bam. You can.  You can nap if you need to. You can walk over to your coffee pot and make more coffee. You can be your own boss. You can snuggle your kids ALL DAY if you want. You can read for hours to your kids. You can, and I've done this, shaved parmesan cheese onto your lunch. (Okay, yes, you can do that at work too, but it's just so darn convenient at home.)

Before you start throwing things at me, don't. I'm NOT picking sides.  I'm just saying this. We have little luxuries, all of us. You want to call them perks, call them perks. Let's not argue semantics. Let's just all agree that there are VERY GOOD and AMAZING things when you work and also when you stay at home.

Working women, I think of you gravely, jealousy when I go to the bathroom and all three of my kids are right outside my door. Usually banging.

This is where I want to lovingly grab you by the shoulders and say OWN IT, to shout it happily with you.

You owe NO ONE an explanation, a defense, a list of reasons, of examples, of excuses. You do what you do because you and your husband decided that it is best for your family. You need to own the good things too.  You can afford a bigger house? That is awesome! You get time with your littles? Yay! You have extreme peace because by you and your husband both contributing financially you have thisstinkingclose to having your house paid off. That is incredible!

You need to OWN the perks, the luxuries, because they really, really are there. Be grateful. Acknowledge blessings. And be proud. Hold your head up high. Choose joy in seeing all the good that is sprinkled throughout your day because of how you are specifically providing.

In all seriousness, you need to own the good for another reason. You need to own it because you will have to own the consequences as well. Sitting down at an interview with no experience for five or fifteen years.  Calculating what you need for retirement and realizing starkly how short you've come up. Saying goodbye to a loved one and wondering if your time really was spent as it should have been.

When we expend our energy in convincing others that they should see that what we do is good, we all too often usurp energy that would be better spent in fully owning the choices we've made. 

We don't get to be all things and dang if that doesn't frustrate me sometimes.  I'm sure as sugar missing out by staying at home right now. I'm not oblivious to that in any way whatsoever. I own it.  I see it. I acknowledge it. But I also am united with Paul in what we need to do for our family right now and I am happy to be doing that, perks and poopy diapers and all.

Can I urge you not to feel shame, ladies? Don't let all this defensive noise about stay-at-home-motherhood or working roles make you question what you do.  You know what you value, you know what you want, and you know how to love on your family. Go after it. Be happy about it!

When someone hints patronizingly that you have the luxury to have a really nice car or to stay at home tickling your kids, you should smile and think to yourself Heck yes, I do! 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Small Thoughts

It's already mid-March. I'm not sure how that happened.

I'm popping in today because I feel like blogging once a month is pretty lame. Then again, who cares.    I'm in another blogging rut and that should come as a surprise to no one.  Every few months I'm so bogged down by the demands of motherhood and simply taking care of myself that I don't have the energy to assert myself in any way whatsoever, even as a blog post generously sprinkled with humor.

I set 7 resolutions for myself this year.  One of them was to write, on average, 500 words per day. Paul made me a document to add up my wordy efforts. I write in the mornings, in the dark when I can hear the birds trying their best to wake up the rest of my family. Three months I've been at this, and yet the result has been downright dismal.

And here's why. Three months of going above and beyond my word count goal and I have written nothing of substance.  I've got weeks' worth of small thoughts on money and fitness and homeschooling.  For years as a teacher I would ask my students to "free write." Really, I would say, write about anything. Anything at all. Just write. Even if you're writing that you don't have anything to write about.

As a result of such thinking (that all writing counts for something) my laptop now houses over 60 documents of bulleted notes on shallow subjects such as: how relieved I am to join the Y, what percentage of our mortgage payment goes toward our principle, and how I don't have anything to write about.

Well, whatever. I generally enjoy the blogs that have little for me to chew on. I'm mostly just glad to know how they're doing. I don't need big thoughts. Maybe you don't either.  So, here are some of the things that have been on my mind lately, superficial and skinny as they may be.

+  We are finally debt free (not counting mortgage). It's been a long and complicated journey to get here. The relief is immense.  I want to share more thoughts about some things we've learned and maybe I will. Regardless, we are extremely happy, happier than I think we envisioned for reaching this place. Tomorrow, we are buying a brand new Lexus 330. Psyche. Never happening.

+ I was doing the Whole 30. Last week (I'll blame daylight savings death) it was all crash & burn. Or at least, it felt like it.  They say get back on the horse. Well, I got back on the horse so many times the horse started rolling his eyes. And I didn't even know horses could do that.

+ Mommy friends are the best. I feel immensely grateful for my friends, grateful that I can be REAL and HONEST and all that good, messy stuff with them. I frantically reach out to my friend, Allison, to an unwelcome degree for speech path support. I picked my friend, Krista's, brain last weekend for teaching tips.  I text my sister, Andrea, all the time to keep things real. We text things like: "hey, Luke just puked again." and reply back with "that's cool. Thomas just pooped his pants." I don't know how many times I've asked my friend, Susanne, for twin mom help. Then there's Elaine who has a son almost the exact age as Thomas (God send, seriously) and we have the play dates that ACTUALLY WORK and then there's my friend, Natahle, who is quite possibly the most peaceful, comforting soul I've ever met. I've started this. Now I can't stop. My sister-in-law, Jessica, is truly the 1-mile-in-front-of-me cheerleading warrior. I'm leaving out a thousand people and you know who you are but also know I can barely remember to get shoes on my kids' feet, much less remember more than a handful of my friends in one sitting. (Moira, Margery, my two moms who tell me it IS going to be okay).  All I'm saying is this. Dang. I'm so grateful. I NEED these women. I NEED their help. I NEED their honesty. And I need to tell them how much I love them because I do. Also, not sure what they are getting on their end. Amusement maybe. Sense of relief to know a messy mommy in the flashy flesh.

+ I'm typing out on our back porch. Thomas just brought out my coffee, gestured like a butler with a hand of presentation, and said "Coffee for my lady?" When boys aren't getting into trouble or angry about something, they are so stinking sweet I can't take it.

+ We had a breakthrough today. I read two books on the couch. In a row. All three boys stayed seated. No one hit or bit each other. Life is good.

+ Paul is the best gift giver ever. It kind've makes me sick. But also happy to be on the receiving end. But mostly sick that I keep buying dumb things for him: socks, ties, gloves. (Those are real gifts that I've actually given him).  For Valentine's Day he bought me 3 month subscriptions for that Amazon unlimited books service (that's surely not the name...moving on) and Audible.  I'm almost done with my first Audible book, Unbroken. I really love being able to listen to a book when I take my morning walks.  Do you have any Audible suggestions?

+ I changed my laundry system. I used to allocate Mondays for laundry. Now I limit myself to washing & drying one load and sorting, folding, and putting away for no more than 30 minutes a day. Life. Changing. And just in case you had any doubts about the excitement factor of my fabulous life, you now know I get a buzz off of slight changes in how I do chores. Doubt no more, my friends.

+ I'll leave you with a Thomas quote.

I was looking at clothes in Kohl's when an older woman steps into the store and is going for a cart.

Thomas: [with great concern] "Oh, um, ma'am....ugh.... I believe you've lost a tooth... I think you've lost a tooth...from the teeth sector of your mouth."

Bam. Motherhood. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

So long February

February is just the worst, isn't it?

Let me recap because doing so will just tie up this mess into something clean and done. I hope.

This February gut punched us with one big snow that lingered as ice on the roads for over a week. I tried to walk on the 5th & 6th days after the storm.  Navigating the neighborhood meant dodging cars for space on black ice and hoping I wouldn't have to call Paul to pick me up because I had foolishly fallen on a sprained ankle out of my need for fresh air.

And then there was another bout of snow just as the remains of the first storm were gone. The snow was all but gloriously melted. My view of the backyard was that of just a small number of bitty snow piles from storm #1 remaining as big flakes from storm #2 started falling.  It was so beautiful, truly.  Our charcoal gray sunroom frames the falling white and it is just stunning. But I also wanted to cry this-is-starting-to-feel-like-the-shining-tears.

Paul traveled two weeks in February. The second week being when the kids were sick and then I was sick.  And yeah, yeah, I'm not supposed to complain about kids because I chose to have them and all, but seriously. Taking care of three kids when you are sick and there isn't anyone else there. It's NO JOKE.  OH, AND DOING THE WHOLE 30 on TOP of all that I just mentioned. Everything from scratch. Everything planned. Everything careful and on time. All right alongside me trying to convince my kids that sleeping on Thomas's bed while they pile toys on me is a legit and totally normal game. All the moms do it.

Major props to Paul though for coming in from traveling and rescuing me from impending winter depression as a consequence of being stuck inside where I courageously used up every bit of medicine, diapers, and Kleenex within arm's reach and experimented with our kids' exposure to dangerously high levels of screen time.  I was so exhausted by the time Paul came home we skipped that often ventured and all too cliche do-you-have-any-idea-what-I-did-while-you-were-gone argument. I crawled into bed and slipped into sleep and thanked God one million times that I have Paul and I promised to never challenge Paul to think about what I do when he is away on business ever again.

I mean. December was great. Parties. Christmas. Excuses to buy festive clothing. January was pretty great too. I walked a ton. Cold but not trapping. New year!! And February seemed to be delivering more of the best winter has to offer (which is little but I'm okay with that), but no. It stopped being okay and went right for just terrible like a dagger to the heart. And why am I surprised? I always know February is the worst. I've lived in Missouri for 30 years and every year I am abhorred by winter, like this is my first time experiencing the cold. I act downright shocked that Mother Earth would ever dare disturb me with slopes of snow in my front yard. What is this stuff? I can hardly walk in it. This is ridiculous! Just asinine!

I let Thomas practice counting his numbers on our fridge calendar at the beginning of the month, and so I extended February's dates well past 28 and forgot to wipe them off. So this weekend as I was crossing the finish line of my sickness and realizing that those things called numbers on our calendar weren't in fact the real dates of February and that we were actually done... other than being sad two seconds that I hardly read anything and I got in even less walking... I was over the moon at the number 28. Best number ever. You're done, February. You're done! Go home. You got drunk and really embarrassed yourself, puking snow and ice all over the place and frankly, we don't want to see you again for quite some time.

Well. Here I am in March. Feet planted. And not only that but I'm waving my white flag.  Winter is that season that puts stay at home mommas to the test, and I'm just barely going to pass. But not before I take back what I said about the YMCA and run there real quick tonight to sign myself and all my sweet family members up for this-is-not-our-home-so-we'll-take-it fun!

See you at the gym, friends. Don't run away when I make eye contact with you, mouth "mommy break", and smile big enough to fall off the treadmill.