On living my truth….

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Ever since we moved to southern Japan earlier this year, I’ve taken my yoga practice much more seriously.

I started practicing in earnest back in 2013. I was going through some really intense personal things, both good and bad, and yoga was a way for me to invest in me and wrestle through those things in a productive way. And I’ve chosen to keep wrestling through life via yoga.

A few months ago was Chinese New Year, which is when new prayer flags are traditionally hung. My first yoga instructor gifted a small set to me the summer of 2013 and it took me until this year to finally find a space worthy of them. When you hang new flags, you’re supposed to hang them where they’ll flutter in the breeze. This is because you’re also supposed to offer a prayer, a hope, a wish for the world when you hang them. And the breeze carries the prayers on its invisible tides. This year, my daughter and I hung the flags with the prayer of “strength of heart and flexibility of mind”.

And, boy, has my mind been flexing. Since moving, I’ve discovered passions in my soul that I never thought would arise. I’ve followed those passions with a fair amount of intensity and I feel good, really good, about that. Yoga is something I’ve developed, um, feelings for. I thought I was “in” to yoga before, but then I moved to Japan, to a new base, into a new house with space for me to s-t-r-e-t-c-h and everything started to feel really really  peaceful and natural.

I used to be really selfish with my yoga practice. I was very intentional about not letting anything onto my mat – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – that a) didn’t serve me and b) wasn’t 100% about me. Yoga is an intensely personal thing, I’ve always believed that. But this year, I learned that just because it’s personal doesn’t mean it has to feel selfish. I started to recognize my whole person.

For the first time, I think, I’m really embracing the “mother” part of me. I’ve spent the last nearly four years trying so hard not to get lost in motherhood that I’ve pretty masterfully failed at allowing myself to really feel what motherhood can be. So I’m flexing my spirit by being more open with my daughters about my yoga practice. I leave my mat laying out more often than I put it away. I let them run and play on it. It gets dirty (and I clean it with a homemade mat cleaner that smells like summer and happiness). But I allow them on my mat because they are me. They are part of me. They are often the best part of me. I don’t let just anyone run amok on my mat. In fact, I don’t let a single other person set their feet on my mat. Just me and my girls. I can be kind of bitchy about my mat when it comes to anyone else. I’ve spent over three years cultivating the smells and feelings and thoughts and hopes that are rolled up in that mat. I don’t want anyone stomping all over any of that.

So now my heart feels more open and my mind feels more flexible. By stretching new muscles in my body, I’m finding ways to stretch myself wholly and completely.

Namaste, y’all. Namaste.

On wanting what I have….

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I wanted to write yesterday, but never got around to it. My family took me for a long brunch after church (where the mimosa tureen never got refilled and, for that, I will never forgive the staff) then we came home and I nursed my youngest down for a nap before running to the grocery store in the rain and then returning in time to make my family dinner. Yep. I made my own dinner on Mother’s Day. It was a surprisingly perfect day, despite the 0600 wake up call (thanks, daughters), the lack of nap, and my least favorite weather of all time.

I didn’t get a massage. I didn’t get a nap. I didn’t get to go “fun” shopping. I didn’t get breakfast in bed (though, to be fair, my family did that for me on Saturday to celebrate my birthday so…I can’t complain). My girls woke up way too early and made copious messes (per the uszh). I drank cold coffee…twice. I was as exhausted as usual by the time bedtime rolled around.

And the whole day was perfect.

Sometimes, what I think I want and what I actually want are so diametrically opposed that when I finally realize what it is I actually want, I’m already in the thick of it, loving every second of it.

As a mom who was “born” in the 2010s, I’m sort of conditioned to bitch about life as a mother, about motherhood, about my children. And, if I’m honest, I do that. A lot. I think it’s healthy. I don’t like to sugarcoat my life. I don’t have a Pinterest-worthy life. I regularly take trips on the Hot Mess Express. I’m incredibly open about my struggles with Post Partum Depression and how hard being a mother has been for me. If I’m also honest, I can be pretty funny (albeit caustic) about my life and all its charms and tortures.

But more often than not, I love being climbed on and wrestled with and demanded “UP!” from. My youngest is nearly 15 months old and I still love nursing her to sleep for every nap and every bedtime. I love being asked to read, but “not that way! Do it the right way!” (What does that even mean?)

Being a mother is hard. Probably the hardest thing I’ll ever do. But I waited and hoped for these days for a really long time. So even when I complain about how hard it is, I wouldn’t trade it for a second. Not one single second.

On remembering the “me” I forgot….

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Around this time of year, I always spend a pretty decent amount of time thinking about how I’d like the new year to go for me. I’m a fan of resolutions. It helps me think about ways my life could be better or how I could better myself. This year is no exception.

I’m taking a lot more time for myself this year. I’m choosing to worry less about the state of my kitchen and more about the state of my mind. Admittedly, I’m attempting all this while my husband is home. He’ll deploy again this year and when he leaves, this all may very well fall apart. But for now, I’m focusing on the present…a skill that’s long eluded me.

I’m the person that’s always planning for the future. So much so that I have a budget planned out for our family for the next 3-5 years at any given time. I look around our house and while we’re unpacking for the next two years, I’m already trying to downsize and organize to make our next pack-and-move that much more smooth.

But all this thinking about and planning for the future has done me a great disservice. I haven’t ever been fully present in the…present.

My present isn’t anything I ever imagine it to be. I never thought I’d be a stay-at-home mother. I never dreamed I’d live in another country. I only fleetingly thought I’d be married to the military. And yet, here I am…hair constantly unwashed and in a ponytail, wardrobe consisting of cozy leggings and unworn stilettos, chasing after a toddler and an infant while we run all to hell and gone to activities and lessons.

I get to spend my days with my friends and do yoga and read and meditate and make delicious meals for my family and volunteer with the military. To be honest, I always knew I wanted to be a mother. I just never expected it would be my “job”. Ever since I got pregnant with our first baby, I always said, “I will not be ‘just a mom.’ I am not only a mother. It is just one facet of the whole person I am!” And it seems I’ve spent so much time trying not to be “just a mom” that I’ve forgotten to actually be a mom. I mean, yeah, I’m active and engaged with my children. I love them dearly and am constantly in awe of them. I just think I’ve failed to give myself the chance to really dive headlong into motherhood for fear of losing myself in it.

But what if that’s where my passions really lie? What if I’m spending so much time trying not to get lost in motherhood that I’m not ever really experiencing it?

So that’s what part of my new year’s resolution involves. Allowing myself the freedom to become immersed in the newest (and most challenging) facet of my whole person. Allowing myself to not feel regret or shame for being passionate about breastfeeding and babywearing and cloth diapering and holistic healing practices. Allowing myself to learn more about the things that really light fires deep inside my soul and my body.

I’m choosing, with the help and prodding of my husband, to see if those passions can develop into a professional realm. If they do, YAY! If not, at least I’ll know I tried…and learned new, cool stuff along the way

This year, I resolve to embrace the mother in me.

On clearing out the crap…

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I feel like I spend the majority of my days recently on the verge of crying, but never actually doing so. I just don’t have the time for it. There’s always something more pressing that needs tending to. Right now, it’s my eight-month-old and two-year-old daughters that will.not.nap.

I’m making every attempt I can to disengage from everything that “triggers” me and that has meant a significant downturn in the amount of news I’m willing to let myself read. Basically, I’m going all “konmari” on my emotional and mental health. If it doesn’t spark joy, it’s out. It turns out that my personality type (typically ISFJ, sometimes INFJ) gets really triggered by willful stupidity. So you can imagine how frustrating my life is right now, considering the current political climate we’ve thrust upon ourselves. It’s been quite some time since I’ve felt truly joyful or happy. It’s hard to feel that way when I’m constantly tired and stressed and sick and busy. That’s not to say I’m unhappy with my life. I have a beautiful life…my husband and my children are everything and, for sobbing out loud, I’m living in Japan! My life is everything I’ve ever hoped it would be in so many ways.

But my current life comes at a cost. I missing my partner in crime, my daughters’ father, my helpmate. When he’s gone, everything is harder. Obviously. Despite having “signed up for this”, it doesn’t ever get any easier. We’re nearing the end of this deployment and the tail end always feels the hardest. I get angry and frustrated more easily. My daughters lose their cool more easily. No one is sleeping well. We all just want something, but to be honest, we don’t really know what it is we want.

This whole year has been awash with incredible highs and overwhelming lows. It’s been hard to take the time to process all of it. My mind feels excessively cluttered and my heart is taking a beating from that. I’m sure that’s the reason I continuously want to minimize everything in my life. I look around my house and I just see STUFF. Everywhere, every surface is littered with things. It’s like I can’t get any part of my physical or mental or emotional space under control enough to relax into it.

We’re moving (yet again) in a few scant weeks and I’m already looking forward to the pre-packing purge. There’s just so much stuff in the house and I don’t want it anymore. But while I wait for my husband to return (and hopefully purge a ton of his stuff too), I’ll be spending time on my mental health and decluttering the crap from my heart and mind.

On the changing tides…

I’ve been talking to a lot of people recently about my mores, values, beliefs, politics…all that good stuff that tends to come up this time of year (election season), but seems to be at the forefront of so many of our minds in the last year or two (especially in the last ten months).

My entire value system has shifted fairly dramatically over the last twenty years, swinging wildly from one direction to the other and landing somewhere in the middle – for now, at least.

I grew up in a conservative evangelical Christian home. We said/say prayers before every meal and before bed every evening. We went to church every Sunday and you had to practically have a doctor’s note to get out of going. I was a part of every Wednesday night youth group at every church my family attended. I went to all the retreats. I sang in all the bands and all the choirs. I went to a disturbingly conservative Christian high school. So for a very, very long time, my beliefs about social issues mirrored that of my parents. I think that’s true for most of us. We repeat what we’re taught until our brains allow us the growth enough to think for ourselves.

So when I graduated high school and went to Bible college in Canada, everything I’d ever been taught was about to come under fire. That was the point of this particulare college: to challenge us and make us think about why we believe what we believe. It was an incredibly challenging and beneficial year of my life; a year that wouldn’t really see it’s full potential for several more years.

I stayed firmly planted in the “right” for many more years until my life went a little askew and I shifted my entire belief system somewhat maniacally to the “left”. I started compartmentalizing my beliefs. To this day, I am of the position that my faith and my politics can (and should) be mutually exclusive. That’s a benefit I’m granted as a citizen of this country. We don’t live in a theocracy, so I don’t behave as though I do. For many evangelicals, that’s not the case – faith defines politics and vice versa. It’s okay to disagree with me. Many people do. That’s also a benefit we’re afforded.

And with that shift has also come a shift in my faith. I have a hard time reconciling the harsh God of the Old Testament with the dirty hippie socialist Jesus of the New Testament. I’ve gotten a lot of backlash in the recent past for my views on terrorism and various terrorist organizations around the world. As far “left” as I may seem on many issues, I assure you I am firmly planted in the “pro-life” side of things, but probably not in the way you’d think. And it took being married to a United States sailor and becoming a mother to solidify my position on that. But because of how staunchly pro-life I am, pretty much every other aspect of my social beliefs are very very liberal.

I feel like that gets really frustrating for American Evangelicals. I feel like I am very frustratng to American Evangelicals. That’s a hard thing to come to grips with. Some of my closest friends (and much of my family) are evangelical Christians. A woman who I look up to and want to be when I grow up…I must frustrate the hell out of her.

I curse and get angry. I flip proverbial tables. I fight for the marginalized. I want everyone to be included and counted and cared for, no matter the background or reason. Everyone matters. That’s just the end of that statement. There’s no “everyone matters because..” or “everyone matters despite…” or “everyone matters except…”

Everyone just matters.
I feel like that’s the whole point of Jesus.

On being miraculously average…

 

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Photo Credit: Katie Supko

I’m old. Let’s get that straight right out of the gate. I’m old…on paper, at least. I turned 37 this year and shortly before my birthday, I gave birth to my second (and last) baby.

When I think about the fact that I’m never going to be pregnant again, I get a bit wistful. It makes me hold my infant daughter more tightly and for longer. I don’t (always) dread her seemingly endless nursing sessions. She recently turned six months old, which means she’s old enough for “people food.” I won’t lie…I’m not all that upset that she hasn’t taken to my homemade baby food as quickly as her big sister did. It means she still needs me.

I loved being pregnant. And I was damn good at being pregnant. Both my pregnancies were fairly easy and I was able to stay incredibly active and healthy during both of them. I felt alive and wholly myself when I was pregnant…like it was what I was meant to do. So yeah, I get a little sad when I think about never being pregnant again.

Because of my PPD medications, I don’t get all that emotional about much (I like to say that I’m dead inside, but it makes me a better mother). But sometimes I hear or see or read something that strikes me.

And that happened the other evening.

“Birth is the most commonplace of all the miracles.” 

I can’t remember the last time a statement resonated so deeply with me. So much truth in so few words.

Childbirth is something I always knew I’d experience. I’ve wanted to be a mother for as far back as I can think. But until I actually got pregnant, I didn’t think of pregnancy and childbirth as anything more than a thing I was physically capable of doing.

Then I got pregnant. And something changed inside me. My whole person shifted. I started to really love myself and not just love my body, but appreciate it. I was thankful for it. I valued it.

Pregnancy and childbirth is so common, so regular, so…meh.

And that’s precisely wherein the miracle lies.

Babies are born every minute of every day. Women were made with the ability to create life. Think about that for a minute. We.Create.Life. Entirely new persons (not to mention entirely new organs – the placenta) are created within the tiniest of confines.

There’s nothing remarkable about my babies (or my pregnancies) to you or yours to me. Not necessarily. But to each of us, the time we have with our bellies and our babies is breathtaking. I can look at another baby and think, “That’s a cute kid!” but when I see my babies? Oh, my god…I see perfection and possibility and beauty and strength and everything that can be good and right about life. And I know you see the same in your babies.

That’s the miracle. It’s that we can all see the same thing in our own babies. The miracle is knowing that it’s true. It’s feeling your heart on the outside of your chest every day for the rest of your life. It’s the strength in your soul and the ache in your body when your baby decides to make its entrance into your world.

The miracle is the strangeness of feeling completely alone in your experience, but knowing you are deeply connected to a sisterhood that runs deep…like, dawn-of-time deep. It’s knowing that your experience is somehow simultaneously brand new and nothing new at all. Someone, somewhere, at some point has felt everything you’re feeling.

The miracle is that the female body can be wrecked and torn and split in half and comes back together, not as it once was, but as a shrine, a testament to what now is. It’s in the weakness of body and strength of soul the moment your baby is placed in your arms. It’s feeling your heart grow and grow until it nearly explodes, but never actually does. It’s walking around with that deep, deep ache for the rest of your life.

The miracle is that mothers the world over feel the same way you do, but are completely incapable of describing to you how it feels.

The miracle is that you are magically common.

On proving myself…

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Photo Credit: Laura Kasper Photography

As a mother, I do a LOT in one day. Sadly, there’s often little to show for it. Every time I get one mess under control, another has appeared. As soon as the dishwasher is unloaded, it needs to get loaded again. One load of laundry goes in the dryer and two more suddenly need washing. And the diapers. Oh my god, the diapers. It’s endless. By the time my husband gets home or the girls are down for the night, I look around our house and wonder, “What in the world did I do all day?!” It’s a good thing my husband thinks I look good in sweats, without makeup. Because as I sit here typing this, I can’t remember the last time I showered. He took me out for dinner for our anniversary last week and I didn’t even get a chance to shower for that. Being a mom is gross.

But what you can’t see, what my husband can’t see, what even I can’t see are the moments that kept me from the housework. The memories I made with my daughters that created the chaos.

The half hour long dance parties with my toddler.
The tickle fights with my baby.
The snuggles during a movie when I’m just too tired to think up another activity.
The long walks to the gym, listening to Disney songs.
The trips to the park.
The splash wars in the pool.
The USO concerts in the park.
The lunches at Taco Bell because I forgot to pick up more Kraft dinner.

I do SO MUCH in one day and there’s very little hard evidence of that. All that’s left at the end is laundry, dishes, and an exhausted mommy.

We moms talk a lot about how there are billions of photos of our partners with our children, but very few of us with our children. It’s true. And we lament that we often have to ask our partners to take the photos where we’re so quick to pull out our cameras or phones to snap photos of them with the kids.

But what about us? Not as mothers, but as friends. Friends who know and experience the longing for photos. See, my husband deploys a LOT so he’s hardly ever home. And when he is home, he’s still working 8-12 hours a day. So when he finally gets time away from work, the girls are either asleep or we’re trying to create family memories. Yes, I wish he’d take more photos of us without being prompted, but he misses so much of our lives as it is, that he’s more concerned with taking it all in while he can.

What I’m really getting at here is this: maybe it’s not entirely up to our partners to catch those moments. Maybe we should depend more on each other – our tribes, our friends – to capture those moments. As a stay-at-home-mom, I tend to have almost entirely stay-at-home-mom friends (especially while I’m living overseas with the military). I’m with them a LOT.

A few weeks ago, there was a luau party on our base. I took both the girls and while Godzilla was splashing in the toddlers pool, Mothra had fallen asleep on my chest. I just sat at the edge of the pool, blissfully watching one baby while cuddling the other. A friend quietly walked up to me and asked to take a photo of Mothra and me. It was the sweetest thing. I wanted a photo, but I also didn’t want to disturb Mothra to get my phone out and hope for a decent angle without waking her. Ah, the trials of a sleeping baby selfie.

And now I have this photo. All because another mother saw something that maybe I’d want a memory of. I didn’t have to ask her. I didn’t have to pay her (although I’m not above paying for a photoshoot. I also did that recently because  I do what I want!).

So what I’m suggesting is that maybe we stop putting all the onus on our partners to help us capture the in-between moments. After all, they’re very rarely with us during those moments. But our friends and their babies are with us. And we are with them. Stop to snap a photo or two of your friends with their babies. No one is asking for professional portraiture every time they turn around. They’re asking for photographic evidence that they did more than laundry.

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Photo Credit: Allie Houston