Gumberries

My love for crimson clover started my senior year in college. I’d never really paid them much attention before then. Every spring since, I’ve waited expectantly to see them blooming on the side of the road and in yards all over Arkansas in April. They have never failed to appear. Their grassy, earthy smell reminds me of everything alive and good in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we added two small rooms onto our house last year and repaired septic lines, the dirt work necessitated ruining most of the grass on one side of the house. My husband’s ingenious solution was to spread crimson clover seed across the area. His solution not only covered the muddy, ugly mess in the side yard; it also created a blast of color this spring for me to enjoy.

I’m not the only one who’s enjoyed the clover. Maggie loves learning names of plants and animals. She asked for the name of crimson clover, and then quickly rejected it, dubbing it “gumberries” instead. Gumberries it is. Maggie has frolicked in the gumberries almost every day since they appeared, chasing butterflies, listening to bumblebees buzzing, and picking select gumberries to share with our neighbor’s horse, dubbed Mr. Gray, when we walk down the road on sunny afternoons.


If the video isn’t playing properly click here.

I recently recorded her chasing butterflies in the gumberry patch. While watching the video later, I expected to be mesmerized by the clover brightly swaying in the breeze, the birds calling to one another, and the yellow butterfly gently resting atop tiny gumberries. Instead, I was captivated by one short moment in the brief video when Maggie clutches her belly in rapture, squealing in glee, “Dragonfly!” The joy in her heart took my breath away.

I watched this moment repeatedly. I felt so lucky to have been there to see my daughter amazed by something so small, something I rarely even notice. Almost immediately, I simultaneously wondered how many times I had overlooked magical moments like this because of my obsessions with being on time, minding our manners, learning the alphabet, or crossing items off my own to-do list. Don’t get me wrong—those things matter, and running a business while staying home with Maggie is more than a full-time job. The laissez faire approach sounds great, but at the end of the day, if no one’s being the Mama, Mama’s business, Maggie, and the household are pretty amuck. I have to be quite the juggler to manage work projects, keep in touch with clients, and provide Maggie with a fun, balanced, semi-educational day. Oh, and keep the house moderately uncluttered and clean, too; my expectations of perfection long since vanished. Then there’s the list of things swimming in my head that simply never get accomplished… exercise, grocery shopping, vaccinations, painting my nails, etc… :).

But nothing matters more than living.

I needed 60 seconds recorded–so I can watch them every time I fret over the list of things I never get accomplished–to remind me to open my eyes, turn on my listening ears, and dig in the dirt. To notice the dragonfly, the beetle, and the eight kittens growing stronger every day, which we’ll soon share with other families. To be where my hands are with my own little kitten, who is four-and-a-half-and-don’t-forget-the-half-part, while she’s here.

Treat yo’self

Bethany,

I gotta hand it to you this year. I’m really proud of you for following through on the decision you made last year at this time to “treat yo’self,” as Donna and Tom proclaim on one of my all-time favorite shows, Parks and Rec.

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You deserve to be treated well. After all, Mother’s Day and your birthday always fall within a few days on the calendar each year (if not on the same day). You’re a mom. And you inevitably grow one year older each year, unless you’re not reading this since you’ve already died (*crossing my fingers that’s not the case*).

Your husband is a great man who loves you, protects you, ensures your safety and well-being, and would literally take a bullet for you. Holidays, however, aren’t really his thing. You should have accepted this the very first Mother’s Day you celebrated together when you were pregnant, when at 9 p.m. he admitted to having completely forgotten about the holiday (and your birthday), with a deer-in-the-headlights expression on his handsome face. But you’re always hoping for the best and expecting better things might be around the corner; holidays are no different. Last year, three years after that first Mother’s Day you celebrated together, you threw a miniature pity party, yanked on your big girl panties, and made a list of four things you’d do every Mother’s Day/birthday henceforth.

Here’s why: expectations are premeditated resentments. If you sit around waiting for him to treat you in a certain manner, you’re going to grow to resent him if he doesn’t.

11836789_595568329992_4649913107534984823_nLife is too short to live that way. And why expect someone else to do for you what you can do for yourself? You know your worth—you’re the best mom you know. You bend over backward (sometimes literally) for your daughter on a daily basis. You make sacrifices in every area of life for her. You think of every moment as a teaching opportunity. You pray for her continually and seek to guide her in the best way you know how. You give her all the love she could ever want.

You’re rocking the mom thing.

Of course you should celebrate Mother’s Day.

And life? Don’t even get me started…

I think we’ve established that there are a myriad of reasons you need to treat yo’self. And here’s how.

  1. You shall bake your own cake.

This cake is for you. It is not a Mother’s Day cake to share with the other moms you love. You are to bake a cake you like (or pie, because sometimes pie is better than cake) and eat as much of that fattening, sugary piece of work as you darn well please. And you are not to make excuses for it, feel guilty about it, or allow other people to talk you out of it.

2. You shall go out to dinner or lunch on the day of your birthday.

You deserve good food, regardless of the price, and you deserve a break from both cooking and cleaning up from other people who do the cooking (which inevitably happens if your husband does the cooking, even if he’s trying to be nice).

3. You shall purchase a gift for yourself.

You have to purchase something just because you like it. Don’t buy something you need and call it a “birthday gift.” That doesn’t count. This is treat yo’self time, Mama! You don’t have to spend a certain amount of money; it’s about purchasing something that makes you feel appreciated and a little extra special.

4. You shall write yourself a kind note or buy yourself a card and send it to yourself in advance.

Say some kind words to yourself. Force yourself to dig deep and express gratitude to yourself in the same way an outsider might. If you can’t acknowledge, appreciate, and enjoy yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?

I’m glad to see that as you write this blog post, you have a little dab of chocolate cake batter under your fingernails; this means you’ll be able to mark two of these items off your “treat yo’self” to-do list after today.

Remember: you’re stuck with yourself for the rest of your life. You better like you.

Happy Mother’s Day/birthday, my friend.

 

Doing motherhood like a dude

My closest friends may snort laugh in agreement when I admit that I’m a bit of a dude. I’m not just referring to my somewhat crude sense of humor or ability to belch with the best of them. I’ve also been accused of being cold and calculated when it comes to communication, choosing the content-only approach in terms of listening response styles, and often deferring to my analytical and critical nature, not just in the classroom, but in relationships as well. I will admit that I’ve been more in love with jobs than with men in the past and have found more fulfillment in climbing the ladder, corporate or not, and have thus poured myself into becoming smarter and better.

About eight years ago, my life took a turn for the worse—but ultimately for the better—when I faced challenging personal obstacles while going through marital and financial problems. I chose to become better, not bitter, and embarked on a journey of personal growth and recovery. Part of that journey involved me letting go of some of my die-hard defects of character which I’d never identified as defects—including that desire to run faster, jump higher, and fix every problem in the workplace. But old habits die hard, and I still find myself adopting that mindset in the here and now.

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Maggie savoring a cupcake from Mama, April 2015

A few days ago, I found myself scraping gunk from our hardwood kitchen floor beneath Maggie’s high chair while she ran back and forth between the kitchen and living room, pushing and slamming her huge yellow dump truck into the furniture and front door. I use the term “gunk” because I have absolutely no idea what the gunk consisted of. Yogurt? Maybe. I don’t know, and I don’t care.

After about two minutes of scraping gunk off the floor with a plastic putty knife—I’m not joking. It is the only tool that would remove the stuff.—Maggie decided I’d had enough of a break from play time. She grabbed my arm with her pudgy hand and forcefully demanded that we play together. I am sure there’s some fool in the world who would sigh and deny requests made by my precious princess, but it’s not going to be me. I give that baby what she wants.

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Maggie with one of her baby chickens, April 2015

So off we go to Maggie’s room, moving from books about rainbows and chickens to Melissa and Doug sound puzzles to pretending to blow bubbles from Easter eggs (I have no idea how she came up with that game, but it’s a cute one) to cooking potato chips in a skillet on her little kitchen stove… all in a matter of 20-30 minutes. I try to smile the whole time, come up with ways to insert little learning activities and lessons about life and emotions and God and the alphabet into conversations, and feel exhausted almost the entire time we are playing.

I am beginning to think I suck at this job of being Maggie’s mom; I used to think I was so good at it.

I remember when I worked at McDonald’s in high school, standing at the counter on a slow Friday night, our only customers choosing to use the drive-thru lane aside from a few families who’d come in to eat together. I remember wiping off the tables every 30 minutes and cleaning the bathrooms once an hour, only to have something to occupy my time and keep myself busy. For some reason, that feeling of killing time and staring at the clock in McDonald’s and waiting for the next shift to roll around reminds me of the feeling I often have as Maggie’s mom when I’m here alone with her—just waiting for her dad to get home from work, or waiting until nap time, or waiting until bed time so I can unwind and go to bed myself. I feel guilty writing this, but it’s the truth.

And then it hits me—I’m allowing the dude in me to be Mom.

Therein lies the problem.

I’m applying my analytical and critical, fix the problems in every workplace, run harder and jump higher and be smarter and better, lean in and dig my fingernails in and grit my teeth and work work work mentality to my RELATIONSHIP with my daughter. I’m approaching my relationship with my daughter as if it were a job.

But it’s not a job. It’s a relationship.

God did not interview me and hire me to be Maggie’s mom. I’m not being paid a salary to do the millions of things I do as her mom. I don’t undergo performance reviews, and no one manages me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaggie is not a product of my hard work or an end result or trophy for me to put on a shelf or parade around in Facebook photos. It’s not my job to ensure brilliance before she attends Montessori Christian Academy so the staff will be super impressed by my ability to educate Maggie while also working full-time.

I’m going to try to remember that I’m not on the clock. Every second I have with my daughter is a blessing, but if I’m viewing my relationship with Maggie as work, I’m going to approach it with a tight jaw and will most likely place ridiculous expectations on both of us. And life is too short for that.

Better

It’s a good thing we live in the middle of absolutely nowhere, wild-looking woods surrounding our home; otherwise, I might have worried that I’d be seen circling an invisible platform in the middle of our road, doing the Rocky victory dance after jogging 1/4 of a mile non-stop a few days ago.

My too-skinny self a few years ago

My too-skinny self a few years ago

Yes, I said 1/4 of a mile. I understand that the real runners and athletes reading this may scoff at my milestone. But I’m not a real runner. I haven’t even attempted to run–except to chase after my dogs or to catch my husband as he backs out of the driveway to tell him to pick up a gallon of milk–in about five or six years. Back in the day, I somehow mustered up motivation to train for and run a 5K with an athletic trainer/friend of mine. I met my goal, and then all of my running skills slowly atrophied. I began running two miles at a time instead of three. Then one. Then none. Then I sold my treadmill. Then I discovered the divorce/cigarettes/beer-and-wine/stress/migraine medication/worst-job-in-the-world diet, I lost 30 pounds in about six months, and I didn’t have it to lose.

But don’t worry–I gained most of it back after regaining joy, meeting the man of my dreams, and finding a much less stressful job. When we moved into our small old farmhouse in the woods, I decided I’d be a fool to forgo the opportunity to get fit by hiking on the trails behind our house. So I forged ahead and got back into great shape and made my two dogs pretty happy along the way, taking them with me on daily hikes.

Pregnant at about 32 weeks. I stopped taking pictures after that--it got too gross.

Pregnant at about 32 weeks. I stopped taking pictures after that–it got too gross.

Then I came down with the worst flu ever, and it lasted for five months. By “flu,” I’m referring to what others sweetly term “morning sickness,” which is the greatest misnomer since it occurred without fail all day long every day for five months. Needless to say, my love for hitting the trails was derailed. I tried walking on the road instead and kept that up halfheartedly throughout my pregnancy, but after gaining 60 pounds, and suffering from pretty serious edema and other hellacious symptoms, I found myself in the worst shape of my life after bringing our lovely daughter into the world.

I have read all the advice-laden books, and I know my body won’t immediately snap back into shape like a taut rubber band. I don’t expect it to. But I don’t want to sit on my laurels and pray for the fat to dissolve, either. So while my husband holds Maggie and plays his harmonica for her, I haul myself out of the recliner and hit the trails, huffing and puffing like the little engine that could, barely topping the highest hill before beginning the breath-catching trek downward.

A few days ago, after my hike, I decided to jog. I don’t know why. I honestly hate running, and I’m not good at it and never have been. I did run a 5K once, but it was hard and hardly worth the effort. I never experienced runners’ high, and I’m not sure I want to drop that experience into my bucket of accomplishments, either. But I jogged, nonetheless.

Me two days ago. Good enough for today :).

Me two days ago. Good enough for today :).

I wanted to stop after traversing roughly 50 feet. But I told myself to stop being a weenie and to keep going, even though my pace was perhaps slower than a brisk stroll. Somehow, I managed to jog 1/4 of a mile without stopping and without feeling completely miserable. So I celebrated, did the Rocky dance, and walked back home.

As my heart rate returned to its normal number, I wondered why it felt so much easier than it had in the past. It definitely wasn’t because I was in great shape–I already confessed that I’m in the worst shape of my life, hands down. The weather was a bit chilly, which always makes breathing while running a little challenging for me. And I was wearing my old Adidas running shoes–and by old, I mean old enough to be relegated to the shoe rack by the back door and repurposed as lawn-mowing shoes.

So what was my fabulous secret to success?

My guess is that I ran more easily because I wasn’t trying too hard. I wasn’t thinking about reaching a goal. I wasn’t setting impossibly high expectations for myself as I’ve done countless times in the past. And I wasn’t paying attention to the pain, either. I was just putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again.

And that was enough.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been somewhat–okay, truthfully–a complete and utter perfectionist about most things most of my life. Whether obvious to others on the outside or not, I have always struggled to accept my best as good enough. I have punished myself mercilessly for the same screw-ups I’d pardoned others for. I have pitied myself for making poor choices rather than picking myself up, dusting myself off, and starting all over again.

About five years ago, I started turning that sad wagon around. With the help of the greatest 12-step recovery program and my fellow fabulous members and sponsor, I learned to be easier on myself. I dropped my expectations and just let God surprise me. I began forgiving myself for the list of sins haunting me and began making better choices.

I learned to pat myself on the back for progress, not perfection.

As I rounded the last curve in the road a few days ago after joyously celebrating my mini-jog moment, I remembered sitting in my bathtub about three years ago after ending a relationship that was tearing me apart for sundry reasons. My tears swirled amidst the bath water as I replayed my mistakes in my head and mentally beat myself up with a pretty big stick.

Then I heard God’s silent whisper in my heart.

“You did better today.”

And that was good enough.

It still is. I’ve got to be easy on myself and easy on the people I love. We’re all just doing the best that we can with what we have right now.

And I think that makes Him smile.

Best year ever

Tomorrow is my 33rd birthday. It’s not as significant as turning 16, 21, or 30, at least not in the eyes of the average American, but this is a huge year for me, maybe my best year ever.

Many of you read and commented on my 2012 bucket list. Amazingly, it seems that I might just accomplish every item on the list this year. When I wrote the list, I hoped to cross off as many of those items as possible, but realistically, I didn’t expect to accomplish everything. Turns out, I have exceeded my own expectations.

Well, I guess I haven’t.

But God has.

I have grown to believe that God always goes ahead and plans in love. Notice that I said that I’ve grown to believe this; I have spent the majority of my life seriously doubting, questioning, or tentatively hoping this were true. I’ve discovered that not only does God go before me and plan in love, but He also loves me more than I will ever comprehend. He answers my prayers in ways I find baffling and miraculous. And He brings clarity and light to the most confounded and darkest of times.

“Behold, I am making everything new.” –Revelations 21:5

He wasn’t joking. He’s doing this in my very life.

I will have completed all but two courses toward my Master’s degree by December. I’ve been getting more involved as a volunteer for the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project. My Daily Dose of Gratitude blog has given me an outlet to express my gratitude and has motivated me to maintain a thankful attitude despite shifting moods and changing circumstances. I’ve managed to keep walking and enjoying nature around me even though I’ve been battling multiple pregnancy symptoms that encourage me to park my butt on the couch.

And–I know you guys will be just as excited for me as I am for myself–I may even get to make my spinny truck dream come true this year! We’re hoping to add on to the house soon, and I am determined to pull the lever to release the concrete :).

Best of all, James and I got married April 14th, and we are expecting our brand new spanking new baby in November 2012.

The latter item was not on the list for 2012.

But the mysterious and wonderful thing about God is that He goes ahead and plans in love. He knows exactly what I need when I need it and ensures that I have it.

He really has made everything new for me–and some things from scratch, too :).