2016 Decision Superlatives

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(‘cuz it’s weird. and it makes me laugh.)

So…2016…that was weird, eh?

I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about how to encapsulate 2016, and I’ve got nothing. It was weird in our country. It was weird in the world. Our weather was weird. There was the zoo/Harambe thing. Kim Kardashian’s robbery. And, you guys! The Queen did not go to Christmas! I could go on, but I’m guessing you get the point because the general consensus I’m hearing out “there” is that it was pretty weird for everyone, not just me.

I don’t like to be all “good-riddancy,” though, because it’s not like everything happened to me. I had lots of opportunities to exercise my own sense of agency to create a future of my choosing. Rather than playing the victim card, I decided the best way for me to wrap up 2016 would be a critical review of the major decisions I made throughout the year. Which sounds entirely the opposite of riveting, but I promise it won’t be wholly revolting. Think more along the lines of “Senior Superlatives” than Public Television political analysis.

So here they are…my best and worst (and everything in betweens) decisions of 2016:

most fun decision || starting a bullet journal. For those of you who think I’m talking about firearm bullets, I’m not. 😉 You can read more here. It’s a fun decision for me because I like making lists and charts and I like doodles, but it’s also fun because it means I have a system in which to offload all the clutter in my head and get it organized so I can act on it. I’ve tried to be a planner person, and I’m not. The predefined pages and spaces just don’t suit me. I’ve tried to be an app person, and I’m not that, either. The physical act of writing does something in my brain that isn’t replicated by punching touchscreen keys. This has been my favorite solution by far, and the one I’ve stuck with the longest, too.

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biggest risk that paid off || deciding to homeschool Gabe. Oh my gosh, was this ever a gamble! Although I prepped all spring and summer, we didnt pull the final trigger until the last possible moment (i.e. we didn’t withdraw him from public school), and making that phonecall was positively terrifying. Because of the Wisconsin school system  rules, we’d been able to enroll him in a school that wasn’t in our own district. However, withdrawing him meant he lost his place permanently and if we wanted to go back, we’d have to reapply to the lottery system.  I cried the first week of school thinking about what we’d done. But it didn’t take long to settle into a comfortable rhythm, and I’ve seen such an increase in joy and peace in our family. It’s hard, hard work and I’m not sure homeschooling is the perfect solution (or the forever solution) for our issues, but it was a good choice for now, and it feels good to say that because I truly wasn’t sure I’d get to the end of 2016 feeling that way.

biggest risk that didn’t pay off || taking a low-interest loan to pay off some higher interest debt. I mean, that’s not bad in and of itself, but we’d decided to take it for a shorter term making our payments more aggressive. A few months later, I unexpectedly lost my job. Globalization…cheaper labor…<wah wah> The job loss actually ended up being an okay thing for me. For one–and a huge thing at that–I get so much more sleep. I am way less crazy and cranky and zombie-ish.  For another, homeschooling during the day and working in the evenings meant no time was my own, even just to read a book or catch up on a house project. But it was hard to lose the monthly income, especially in light of how we had structured our finances earlier in the year

biggest regret || this is a toss-up for me. It’s either writing or photography, both of which I hardly did at all in 2016. When I look back at the stories I recorded and the pictures I took of Gabe when he was a preschooler, I’m sad that I don’t have the same level of detail for Isla and Jude.

most surprising decision || I mean, it’s not totally surprising; it’s more surprising in the sense that we’d been talking about it for 12 years and we finally got around to doing it! And by “it,” I mean we bought a new mattress! We knew we needed one when Gabe was born because he’d lay beside me in bed and roll to the center on his own, long before he was ever capable of rolling over independently. After copious hours of (probably needless) research, we settled on a Tuft and Needle, and MY BED IS SO COMFY!!! And better yet, MY BACK HURTS SO MUCH LESS!!! I can’t speak for how it compares to other mattresses on the market, but when I compare it to a 16 year old mattress that was 12 years past its prime, it is a huge win!

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overall worst decision || wearing pyjamas too much. I know…it sounds lame. But there was a stretch in December where Tahd was gone for 2 weeks, and I think I got dressed less than 5 times. <insert blushing emoji here> When Gabe was little, I got dressed every day. In fact, that was one of the earliest lessons I recall learning about motherhood. Gabe wasn’t even a month old and Tahd had come home from work for lunch to find an anxious, crying ball of chaos–me, not the baby. Looking at me in my bedhead and bathrobe he pressed me, “Go take a shower. You’ll feel a hundred times better if you do!” He spoke truth then, and it’s still true now. If I run around in my PJs all day, I can hardly get out of my own way and I get nothing done. There’s something about getting myself ready for the day (even if it doesn’t happen until after lunch) that strikes a much better tone in my mind. I need to do that more often in 2017. Which also may mean I need to stay more on top of the laundry situation, but I digress…

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overall best decision || attending Making Things Happen. It’s quite an investment and I’d bought my ticket before I lost my job, which was a good thing because I never would have purchased the ticket had I known what was coming down the pike. But I’m so, so glad I did. I went to the October conference and have been trying to write a post since then about my experience, but the words elude me. Something happened down deep inside me, but I’m still not exactly sure what it was. All I can say is it was transformative, and the investment of that weekend still feeds my soul three months later. I’d love to go again this fall.

 

So that’s me and 2016. I guess we’ll see where 2017 takes me!

The Stockings Were Hung

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I’ve had it out for two weeks now, the red-and-green box declaring “Christmas” for all who step foot into our living room. Lights hang in our windows and our Christmas tree stands unashamedly, flocked and glittered and festooned with trinkets–this one from our first year of marriage, that one made by Tahd’s dad, this one from a coastal trip my mother and I shared, and so on. No one could rightly say we’re not in the Christmas spirit. But that red and green box? I just haven’t done it yet.

Because…the stockings.

Most of the time, I’m a busy mother of 3 kids, just clamoring to keep enough ahead of the chaos that it doesn’t overtake me. But there are certain things, certain places–the grocery store, for one; walking around at the state fair; Christmas concerts and nativities; the baby and toy aisles of Target–that produce a disproportionate emotional response in me that reminds me this is not who I’ve always been, and this is not who I thought I’d get to be.

The stockings are another one of those things.

I’ve been feeling especially tender this year. It’s hard to even write about this, and every time I sit down to the blinking cursor I’m surprised anew at how much I want to cocoon. Infertility was so hard. Miscarrying Mara broke my heart. After more than half a decade, I guess I just assumed I’d be okay. Because…well…I am okay. But I’m also not, too. There’s still healing, there are still layers, and there are still tears.

So the stockings.

Actually, I’ve written about them before. This is what I said…

“Six months after our failed IVF with no hope to do it again and little more than a flicker of hope of expanding our family, waves of heartache washed over me while I hung our three red and green velvet Pottery Barn stockings on our mantle in 2009.  This, I thought, is what Christmases are destined to be like for us forever…

Quiet.  Small.  Lonely.

No full mantles of stockings.  No siblings conspiring with each other to get Dad and Mom out of bed earlier on Christmas morning. Years later, no grandchildren eager to visit their cousins at Grandma’s house.  No eager waiting for housefuls of family to arrive for the holidays.

I tried to comfort myself with thoughts that three could be just as fun as a houseful in a different way, but my heart still whispered of the void I felt from our infertility and the family I’d hoped to build.

I could never have imagined that four years from then I’d be hanging six stockings on our mantle, hearts and arms overflowing with love and hope and babies.”

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Once again, my heart is overflowing this year. I’m profoundly grateful for the gift of these children, this family. I think it’s maybe more tender this year because we’re done. My years of bearing and nursing and baby-wearing and cosleeping are now glimmers from the past. But for divine accident, I look at those experiences in retrospect, not on the horizon. And I’ve noticed I’m forgetting…the smell of their skin, the feel of their peach fuzz, the sound of their first coos, the way they nestled perfectly into the tender place where my neck meets my shoulder, and so much more.

I watched an Instagram story today of a 2-month-old baby cooing adoringly at her mother and remembered, My babies used to do that! I adored those little early voices, how we’d reach that magical space between alert and overtired in which they became cam and would “talk” to me and I would marvel over the “stories” they’d tell.  “Oh, really?” I’d murmur back. “Tell me more! Tell Mama all about it!”

But I’d forgotten about those treasures until I saw Baby Adelaide talking to her mama. I’d forgotten one of my very favorite things.  And if all goes according to plan, the opportunity to do that with my own baby will never present itself again.  The distance between those days and my present will only increase. How much more will I forget?

The stuff of magic right now is when my kids play together, a rarity on most days and, I’m told, the holy grail for most families with more than one child. But it happened today, and I’ve been trying to have the presence to notice and enjoy my life as it happens, not just in retrospect. Onions and garlic popped on the stove while Josh Groban crooned to me over my computer speakers and laughter spilled over into the kitchen from the living room.

This is it! This is it! This is what I dreamed of and longed for! I thought, and I grabbed my phone for a short exercise in a little memory-keeping.

I know now how easy it is for me to forget these things, the very things I longed for and dreamed of when our arms were empty and our hearts were sad. The normal things, the regular things, they are treasures–treasures that are easy to miss when I’m distracted stirring onions and wishing for Daddy to get home and bedtime to come quickly.  (Which isn’t a judgment so much as a reality. Sometimes, just surviving the day is the best that can be had. But not always. I can do more than just survive.)

Tomorrow, we’re putting up the stockings, the final element of our living room Christmas decor. Our mantle will be complete, and our family is, too, even though I don’t feel right about saying it with such certainty.  I think somewhere inside, I’ll always be the girl  whose ovaries hurt at the sight of a swaddled newborn or the sound of their bleating cries and asks her cautious husband for just one more baby.

But I’ll also be the woman who remembers that this precise moment–even the moments with chaos or mess or dischord or imperfection–are precious and beautiful because they are real and were yearned for, and that I am still learning and growing and hoping and becoming as I enter this new season of life.

The Locusts

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It was almost inaudible between her sobs, a tender voice with her deepest fear.

She sounded tormented.

Anguished.

And why? Because she was a sweet mama with a challenging situation, a problem that complicated her children’s lives.  And like every mother would be in that situation, she was worried some difficulties in her life might be harming her children. Not inconveniencing them. Not disadvantaging them. Harming them.

I watched her weep and my heart broke, for her and with her because the pain was visceral and couldn’t help but spill into the room so we all felt it.

There was a familiar angst to her tone, but it took me a few minutes before I placed it, the story in my own life with similar concerns, albeit different circumstances.

“Can I tell you a story?” I asked. And when she agreed, I told her mine.

I told her of the substantial gap between our firstborn and second-born.  I told her of the infertility, of our agonizing loss.

I told her how depression and anxiety became a haze through which I lived, gradually blanketing my life, heavier and heavier, until I was nothing more than a wreck.

I told her of how it was hard to even shower some days, how I’d sit on the couch and hide in my head while I tried to manage my pain.

I told her of Gabe, his need for connection and my inability to meet him in that as fully as he needed.

I told her of his struggles–his anger, his anxieties, our conflicts and resulting chaos.

And I told her of my tears, of my shame, of how I felt like I broke my son–broke his heart, broke his behavior, broke his future.

She knew me. Our hearts met in that moment over the same deep fears.

But the reason I wanted to tell her the story…my hope.

I told her about a verse that has comforted me, a verse I claimed many times when I was at my darkest and most disconnected (and therefore most guilty) moments.

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.. (Joel 2:25)

It’s so beautiful to me, this image of loss and poverty and destruction being turned on its heels by the God who sees me and loves me and grieves with me and redeems me.

This, I thought, was the hope God wanted me to offer to her–these words and this verse. But as I spoke, I realized there was more, a completion to a story I hadn’t even realized had happened.  The story told itself to me at the same time I told it to her.

You see, the night before, after being out of town for a few nights, I’d called home to talk to Gabe. We hadn’t connected since I’d left and I didn’t want to let too many days pass.

I had several bits of homework to do that evening, but calls with Gabe are typically brief forays into the preteen mind, and by that, I mean I usually ask questions and he usually gives one word answers and then rushes to hang up.  No worries, I thought. I’ll have plenty of time to get to my homework.

That night, however, was different.  He sat on the phone with me for 15 minutes, eager to tell me about the random details of his ordinary day. This was epic. Innately private and more interested in how things work rather than how people relate, I expected to talk to him for about 3 minutes before he ran out of things to say. But, no. He shared. With me. The one who has wept fearful tears that my struggles had inadvertently harmed my sweet boy.

RedemptionIt had happened. And I hadn’t even realized it!

Lest you think my parenting life is perfect, it’s not. I was hollered at over dinner and one of my kids refused to eat and we’re going to have to have a group talk tomorrow about kindness and managing our own frustrations without taking them out on our siblings. <ahem> We’re getting ready to enter the teen years with Gabe, and I for sure don’t expect these next years to get easier.  But there has been a sweet restoration in the underlying fabric of our relationship that I didn’t even quite recognize until I started to tell my story a few weeks ago. And for that, I am so very thankful.

If you’re in the midst of a difficult parenting phase, I hope this encourages your heart. In fact, in the last weeks since I recognized it, I’ve come back to it several times myself when things were crazy and chaotic and confrontational at my house. Sometimes distress can be such a dark, lonely hole that seems never-ending, but this story reminded me that little by little, intentional persistence can lead to progress.

It’s the first of November, a month full of gratitude, and today I’m starting off the month feeling incredibly grateful that God restores the years the locusts ate…for me and for you, too.

Currently

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listening || to podcasts whenever I can. With homeschooling, we’re in the car far less than we were in prior years, which means I don’t have much opportunity to catch up on some of my favorites. So I squeeze in a little Happier and Sorta Awesome and Homeschool Snapshots and Read Aloud Revival and What Should I Read Next as much as possible!

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awaiting || eagerly, the start of our next read-aloud, The Phantom Tollbooth. We just finished By The Great Horn Spoon, and we all loved it! I didn’t expect to, either, which made it doubly nice. One of my favorite books, for sure!

weighing || the pros and cons of a hysterectomy. When I was pregnant with Jude and due to deliver at 35, they treated me like an old woman, with a kajillion fancy tests and a geriatric label of advanced maternal age. Hence, I’ve been feeling like an old woman since then. However, it recently dawned on me that in the spectrum of female things, 38 is actually kind of young and I could be more than a decade before I really hit menopause. Without an inordinate amount of oversharing, I’m not sure I can last that long on this monthly roller coaster. Apparently, I have suspected adenomyosis, and things are nutso around here. And yet, cut out an entire organ? That seems awfully extreme for something that will not kill me…I dunno. I don’t really have a lot of other options, though. They do in Europe. Maybe I should go to Europe…Advice?

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loving || our delightful fall. The weather is gorgeous–windows are open, blankets are up at night, and I rarely find myself lathered in sweat, which is a welcome change from summer. I don’t love Wisconsin winters, but its autumns are something to behold.

worrying || about finances. I recently and unexpectedly got laid off from my job. I wasn’t making money hand over fist or anything like that, but it was definitely money that allowed us to live more comfortably, and I’m a bit worried about making the adjustments we’ll need to make. On the other hand, however, not working until midnight for three nights a week allows me to get much more sleep, and that has already been very welcome!

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noticing || that I’m not sure I’ve worn “real” pants in…I don’t know, say, a few months? I’m afraid to try them on. It’s been all shorts and stretchy leggings all summer long. Will last winter’s clothes even still fit??? AH!

reading || Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin. It’s so, so good! I’m definitely an Obliger, and I think Tahd is an Upholder. Gabe seems mostly like a Rebel, but I think that will probably change as he gets older and less oppositional. I’ve had the book for a long time and always intended to get to it, and I’m glad I finally moved it to the top of my list.

wishing || I had the ingredients to make wassail. I suppose it’s technically a holiday drink, but I’ve always associated it with autumn. This weather feels perfect for it!

eating || a lot of chicken lately, which is unusual for me as I typically eat very little meat. But my kids like chicken, which means less complaining at meal times, and I’d far rather eat things that aren’t my favorite than deal with dinnertime battles. So, chicken it is. This was our most recent chicken dish, something we had at my inlaws’. Gabe clamored over it! And it was so easy!

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yes, he does, in fact, sleep with a disco ball on. we turn it off before we go to bed. he starts getting up after. maybe the answer is in leaving the ball on all night? party, party!

wondering || why Jude is still not sleeping through the night. We can almost put money on it–twice a night (at least), he’ll show up on my side of the bed. Sometimes, Tahd can head him off at the door if we hear the thump, thump, thump of his little feet. But he’s getting sneakier, and last night I woke up to a vague awareness that something heavy was on my leg. Turns out it was Jude’s head. Fun times.

I Didn’t Expect

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I did everything in my power to delay making a final decision, but when the calendar rolled over to Gabe’s school’s registration deadline, I begrudgingly made the call to inform them that Gabe would not be returning and we’d be homeschooling instead. I expected to feel anxious or to have to hold back tears, but I didn’t. I felt…okay.

The next week, I realized that I maybe needed to file the appropriate form with the state in advance of the district’s start date lest we somehow get caught in the truancy gray area. Our state requires homeschoolers to submit notification after the public districts begin, and I fretted that since this is our first year and we were previously out-of-district, we might fall through the cracks/get reported as truant/not have a clear contact person. So I went ahead and filed the form early, further finalizing our commitment, and that didn’t bother me much, either.

I thought I might be getting off easy on the emotional front, because it wasn’t until Tuesday night–the night when Gabe would have normally attended his school’s open house–that it hit me. And it hit me harder again on Thursday, the day our former school district started. We’re really not doing this! I thought, and not in a fond way. It was more of an isolated, lonely, oh-dear-god-what-have-we-done sort of way. My sister put it best, describing it as an entire plane of existence happening around us, but one in which we no longer existed.

It also felt heavy. I knew this to be true, but I hadn’t realized how comforting it is that my son was connected to a loving, caring community outside our family that looked out for him. I became suddenly aware that our “village” was (at least temporarily) getting much smaller–not classroom teachers to get to know him, no specials teachers to broaden his horizons, no playground and lunch monitors to help him learn to navigate different authority figures.  Tahd and I were all those things, and because I’m the one at home, mostly I’m all those things. And that felt like a burdensome load to carry.

I cried a lot last week.

Thankfully, the weekend brought with it lots of busyness and family visits and festivities to distract me from my melancholy. Granted, it also meant I didn’t get done half the things I wanted to complete before school began, but our weekend readied my heart, and I’m not sure heart readiness can be overvalued.

And now, we’ve completed our first day! I’ll write more about that later, but it…was good. This plunge seemed worth the effort. I’m sure every day won’t be so rosy, but today was, and I want to mark that down.

We did it. We are really a homeschooling family. And that is something I absolutely, positively never expected.

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