Upon the First Day of My 38th Year

Today I am thirty-seven years old.  This used to be a scary-sounding age to me.  Probably because it was the age of my father when he had his first heart attack.  Until recently, getting older, in my mind, was synonymous with failing health.  So thankful I took control of my health and now I actually feel better at thirty-seven than I did at twenty-seven or even seventeen.

Usually I make goals for the upcoming year on or near my birthday.  This year is no different.  I have a few goals to set/changes to make.

*Work on an inventory of art projects so by that this time next year I could have a booth at a craft fair if I wanted one.

*Consider hosting classes in my home for other homeschool children in exchange for money.

*Finally write that play I have outlined in my legal pad and continue to work on my book.

*After a couple weeks off Facebook, with an exception of dealing with things I need to deal with, I’ve decided that removing myself from the constant flow of information has been very healthy.  So, I intend to keep using Facebook the way that I’ve been using it since I started my semi-Facebook fast… post links to my blogs, say hi to friends every few days, send an event invitation, check in on important matters.  I’ve spent about ten minutes on Facebook every three days or so.  Otherwise, I’m logged out.  And I kinda love it.

Mostly, however, today I feel like focusing on the accomplishments I’ve made in the past year.

My marriage is better.

I’m writing.

I’m working out.

I’m eating well.

I’m happy.

I’m joyful.

I have healthy wonderful friendships that mean so very much to me.

My life is full.

A few years ago when I started these birthday goals, I struggled with feeling joyful and fulfilled.  These goals have given me focus and helped me to evaluate what really brings me happiness.  I can honestly say that right now, there is very little in my life that I want to change.  If anything, I just need to buckle down and be more intentional about doing more of what I’ve been doing in the past year.

Isn’t that amazing?

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Do You Like Me? Check Yes, No, or Maybe

I’ve been taking a bit of a Facebook break.  Originally I’d planned to deactivate my account until after the holidays but circumstances made it to where I really could not do that… I needed to be able to get into my account to deal with a few things related to upcoming field trips/events.  So, I logged out.  Normally I stay logged into Facebook all day long.  I’m not sure it’s an “addiction” as much as it’s something I do out of feeling obligated.  The bottom line being… “If I don’t keep talking to all of these people they will think I don’t care about them, they will forget about me, they will think I’m rude.

What I’d hoped would happen as a result of my withdrawing from Facebook were the following items:

  • I would stop obsessing over what many people who aren’t actually a part of my life thought about me, my children, my writing, and the things I say.
  • The folks who really matter would still be around, helping me to better define what a friend truly is to me.
  • There would be more time for things like needle felting and blogging and drawing.

So far, all of these items have come to pass.  In the past eleven days, I’ve felt myself changing.  I’ve been to Facebook a few times to deal with some of the outstanding matters I needed to deal with, but for the most part, I have no idea what is really going on with the people who are my “friends” over there.  Instead, I’ve remained connected with my nearest and dearest outside of Facebook.

Three of my closest friends texted me while I was at the hospital with my son… just checking in.  Two of those people continue to text me, email me, and keep in touch via Instagram. As I said to one of them, removing myself from Facebook has helped my vision become clearer.  The people who are my actual friends have come into crisp focus and the rest have sorta faded into the background.

Now let me be clear… I don’t think it’s necessary for me to keep “everyone else” out of focus permanently.  A lot of these folks who don’t take a front row seat in my life are still people I like, love, care about, and enjoy keeping in touch with.  But what has happened here lately is that I have become overwhelmed, overstimulated, and overly obligated to WAY too many people.  Taking a few steps back to gain some perspective on what are true friendships and what are not can be very helpful, especially for people like me.

People like me who have a very hard time knowing who their friends are.

I’m taken back to first grade.  I had a sweet friend and she had a friend.  I guess you could say that she had two close friends and the other girl, well, as an adult I can see she was scared of losing her friend to me.  Probably she was feeling threatened.  No doubt she was jealous.  At the time, though, I didn’t see this.  I just experienced everything as it was presented to me.

The threatened girl convinced our teacher to let the two of us move our desks behind hers so that we could be alone.  During class, the girl clawed my arms until they bled.  I believed all of this was normal and just let her do it. I remember thinking that I wanted to be her friend and I liked the attention she was giving me so I would have let her do anything to me.  My mom talked to the teacher and my desk was integrated into the normal classroom arrangement once more.

During Christmas break, my friend called me.  She was having a sleepover with the arm scratcher and I was being accused of having called my friend a bad word.  A word so bad I’d never dare to even utter it.  I still won’t say it.  The dreaded “n” word.  I remember crying and crying, begging my friend to understand me, to believe me.  I loved my friend, dearly. I’d never dream of calling her anything like that.  In fact, I’d never spoken an ill word against my friend.  I’d never even spoken an ill word against the scratcher either.  The last words I said before she hung up on me were, “Why would I even call you that?  You aren’t even black!”  I was so desperate for her to believe me.  I was so scared. I was so broken.

My dad yelled at me and told me that they weren’t really my friends.  I would have no more than five real friends during my life and I’d better get used to it.

I suppose it is experiences like this one which took place in my formative years that make it so difficult for me to know if a person is truly my friend.  Then there are the people who seem to be my friend for weeks, months, even years and then, when things are hard, they disappear.  That’s confusing.  I never know if a person likes me or not.  That is my reality.

I mean, I pick up on signs.  They text me, ask me for advice, come to me when things are hard, depend upon me for help, like my posts on Facebook… I start to assume that a person likes me.  Then, sometimes that stuff will stop and I don’t know if it’s something I did or if the person is going through something… I just know that I am not so sure anymore if they still like me.

The past week or so I’ve been mentally making a list of all of the times I failed in interacting with people.  There are the times when I now, as a more mature adult, know exactly what I did wrong and I’m kicking myself and feeling ashamed that I was ever so idiotic.  But there is this other set of interactions, however, where I have no idea what I did wrong.  Like not being asked to teach Bible class anymore, losing a major customer for our chocolate business because of a phone call I made with the sole purpose of trying to help, and the friend I wrote about recently who unfriended me, stopped following me and my kids on Instagram and still hasn’t told me why other than that I hurt her feelings.

A whole lifetime of feeling hurt, scared, confused, worried, and betrayed.  Is this an aspie thing?  Because I trust and love too easily?  Because I can’t read the signs that this type of behavior is coming?  Because I doubt myself so much that, when I do get that gnawing feeling in my gut, I ignore it and assume I’m wrong or, worse, just crazy?

I remember years ago, on my old blog, writing a post about my trouble with friendships and receiving an anonymous comment about how I’m too critical of my friends and that is why I can’t keep friends.  Am I?  I don’t mean to be.  And if this person was willing to make this statement, they should have been willing to tell me their name.  Maybe it was a person who knew me and had  felt criticized by me.  Maybe it was an internet troll.  And maybe it was the opinion of a person I don’t respect anyway and I could have thought to myself, “Consider the source.”  I will never know.  But the comment haunts me.

New friendships are a gamble to me.  I invest time and energy and 9 times out of 10, they don’t work out and I end up scratching my head.  It’s happened again… people I thought I’d become friends with just kinda dwindling out of my life.  It’s okay.  I’m okay with it.

Honestly, life would be so much easier for me if I could give every person I befriend a note.  On that note it would say:

Do you like me?

Check Yes, No, or Maybe.ckhi1ry10w4hhjzil0at603jd.300x180x1

Because really, those notes were so useful when we were kids, weren’t they?  Once you got the answer, there was no question.  The person liked you.  Or they didn’t.  Or maybe they did and you could work with that.

Why did we ever stop writing those things exactly?

A Season of Sacrifice

Lately, I’ve been feeling… stuck.  I wake up, exercise, take my vitamins, make breakfast, do school, make lunch, do more school, make dinner, take whichever child to whatever activity, work on school plans, watch a little Bob’s Burgers if I’m lucky, collapse, pass out from exhaustion, and do it all again the very next day.  This is my life.

It’s a good life.  It’s the life I’ve chosen.  However, it doesn’t allow room for anything else.  Once in a while, I can carve out a minute to write.  Occasionally, I get to work in my sketch book because I sneak it into our school day.  Every now and then, I happen to be inspired to write a blog post at the same time I have a spare ten minutes to type up my ideas. (I type this as there are three minutes left on the timer before my dinner is finished).  I am an artist.  An artist who is aching to create, day in and day out.  My head is full of ideas.  My problem is certainly not lack of ideas.  No, my problem is that, frankly, this ain’t my time.

These are my times of sacrifice.  Seems unfair since I spent the first twenty-plus years of my life sacrificing myself, my creativity, my desires for school (and for living in an area where the opportunities for young artistic types like me were rather lacking).  I finally have my arms free from babies.  My mind is free from academics.  I’m swimming in artistic ideas and inspiration… in every medium.  But there is just simply no time to make much of it happen.

Earlier this week, I had to make a difficult decision.  Last year, I submitted the play that recently I wrote for consideration to be presented in a monthly Nashville series for local playwrights.  I was delighted and flattered to be offered a spot in March of 2015.  Unfortunately, I had to turn down that spot.  My children are all planning to take part in a local production of Winnie the Pooh.  My oldest has his heart absolutely set on playing the role of Christopher Robin.  As much as I’d like to present my work in this series, I know that I don’t get to do that.  I know that it’s just not my turn.

Maybe I’ve already had my shot.  Maybe I’ll get another chance again when the kids are older.  But this time in my life is about being a mother.  A taxi driver.  A cheerleader.  A teacher.  A facilitator.  If I can sporadically slip a writer’s group meeting in, assuming I’ve had time to write at all, then great.  If not, who could blame me?

I struggle with feeling useless.  Unemployable.  Lacking in marketable skills.  I freak out when I think about ten years from now, trying to find a job while competing with those who are more recently educated and who have real work experience under their belts.  My back up plan is a full time job at Whole Foods.  Okay, I admit.  It’s my only plan.

One day, my children will be able to say that, because of the sacrifices my husband and I made, they were able to spend a considerable amount of time pursuing their passions.  It is my prayer that they will look back upon their youth and feel gratitude.  They will surely know that we gave them our absolute best and that we didn’t spend our best on other people and endeavors.  And maybe they will be a little bit in awe of their cool parents… ones who found a little bit of time to use a sword and pencil during tiny breaks in responsibility.

Surely they will know.

 

The Selling of the Crib

This morning, my husband sold our crib.

It was about eleven years ago when my mother-in-law and I went shopping for furniture for our nursery at USA Baby in Franklin, TN.  She and my father-in-law agreed to buy our crib and changing table/dresser.  They weren’t a set but they had a similar wood color.  The crib was a good investment, we thought, because one could convert it into a full sized bed.  They bought the attachments for the conversion as well.

The crib was built in the blue nursery we’d created and eventually use only once for our first child.  I remember the night vividly.  I’d not slept in months.  He was a fussy baby.  He would only sleep if he was nursing.  Literally.  This one particular night, I was determined to get him to sleep in his own bed so that maybe, just maybe, I could sleep without pain in my neck and side.  Night nursing was killing me.  After forty five minutes of listening to his horrifying screams, I took him out of the crib and he never used it or the nursery again.

Once my daughter was born, we moved across town to a smaller house that never had a nursery.  We knew better.

So today, we sold a crib that was eleven years old and barely ever used.  My daughter used it some when she was a toddler.  My youngest used it a little as a newborn for naps.  But basically, it wasn’t used more than a handful of times and, well, I’m thankful for that.

We don’t have any babies anymore, though my five year old still insists daily that he needs to nurse, despite being weaned more than two years ago.  All of our children are “school aged”.  Our oldest is even in the double digits now.  We don’t own diapers.  Nothing in our house is baby proofed. All three of our children frequently make their own meals and are relatively independent.

We’ve been married for nearly twelve years now.  We’re closer to 40 than we are to 30.  My marriage has miraculously survived the loss of my mother, a mental breakdown (mine), a midlife crisis (his), and a child with leukemia.

It’s not like I planned to have any additional biological children.  We “took care” of that years ago.  But I must admit that this selling of the crib has left me emotional.  I don’t find it easy, here in the last week I’ll ever be 36 years old, to swallow the realization that things are happening so quickly, that time is going by so fast, and, most of all, that having babies is a thing of the past for me. While I do hope to adopt one day, I’ve already said that any child I adopt had better be six or older.  Plenty of people want the babies.  Not me.  I don’t really even like babies.

This selling of the crib.  This passing of the torch to some other family expecting a new addition.  This feeling that I’ve crossed a finish line.  It’s intense.

Last night my nine year old daughter was very ill with a stomach bug that seems to be ravaging my family.  My ten year old, who worships the ground his sister walks on (she did save his life after all), was her caretaker.  He cleaned her up, got her changed, held her hair back like a best friend after a keg party.  He wiped her face with a wet wash cloth.  He slept with her on the sofa so that if she needed him in the night, she could wake him easily.

Watching this, this loving, this kindness, this care, this big boy behavior… it dawned on me what this next stage has in store for us.  Built in baby-sitters, more time together as a couple, finally showing the kids some episodes of South Park and Dirty Dancing, hikes, day trips, their first phones, their first loves, learning to drive.

And so as I shed a few tears for what is lost, what has passed, what will never be again, I smile as I reflect upon the amazing people my kids have become and I can’t help but feel excited.  This next stage is already pretty fantastic.

Here’s to a full night’s sleep!

The Surprises Brought By the Past Year

Every November I evaluate the previous twelve months.  I reflect upon the birthday goals I set, I think about the last time I made a promise to focus on various areas of my life, and I think about whether or not I accomplished all I set out to do.  What I do not do, however, is pull up the blog post where I wrote about the goals I set because I find that causes me to stress about what I didn’t complete or pursue.  Instead, I simply look back at what I believed was important to me, think about what all I did in the previous year, and kinda compare the two lists.

I remember that last year I wanted to keep exercising, I wanted to keep working on my writing, I want to pursue comedy at some level, and I wanted to focus on my marriage.

Today, as I began reflecting upon the past year, I could honestly say that I do feel as if I accomplished all of my goals.  And that is great.

But what is really cool is that so many more amazing things happened this year.

Surprises.  Things I couldn’t have planned nor predicted even if I tried.

Here are some of those things:

  • About a year ago, a person I’d encountered on a rainy field trip five years ago happened to move to town.  We reconnected upon that move.  But in the past year, she has filled this empty space in my heart that I so desperately needed to fill.  This space was left open for a friend who totally understands me, validates me, appreciates me, and forgives me when I’m not perfect.  My dear friend has filled this vacant spot in my life and, as a result, I’ve managed to grow in other friendships too.  Beyond the friendship I’ve developed with her are the relationships our children share which have been life-changing for my oldest son.  God’s fingerprints are all OVER this situation.
  • Not only have I continued writing but I’ve joined a local writer’s group. I’m not nearly as active as I imagine I will be one day when I am no longer homeschooling and driving kids to a thousand places every week.  They are forgiving of my circumstances, however, and encourage me to attend whenever I have a chance.  It’s pretty awesome.  I’m proud of the work I’m producing when I get around to working, that is.  The most surprising bit of information I’ve gained from being a member of the group, however, is that, apparently, my greatest strength is in writing for children.  I also have another play in the works.
  • Miracles are happening in my marriage. I won’t divulge details but I’ll just assure you, reader, that I never thought things would be good again but they are.  Never give up.  There is always hope.
  • Another shocking change that happened this year was that I started painting and drawing.  I’m not awesome at it but it’s fun.  I’ve always known I was an artist but I never let myself pursue that before because I didn’t think I was any good.  What I learned, however, is that you don’t have to be good.  You just have to do it.  The rest will come.
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This is a Halloween piece I worked on in my sketchbook.

Additionally, I’ve been amazed to find myself admitting that I am not a gardener and I don’t even want to be one. I really enjoy planting stuff during the late spring.  Beyond that, it sucks.  I hate the heat, the weeding, the watering, the bug bites on my tooshy.  So, I’ve decided to just admit that I am much better at being a CSA member, supporting local agriculture and feeding my family well as a result, than I am at gardening.  I will not pretend any more!

And finally, I was shocked to learn that I like breaks.  Breaks from people, breaks from media, breaks from screens, from the internet, breaks from the demands placed on me by myself.  I have had several opportunities this year to simply relax, read, watch tv, and not do much else.  In other words, I’ve given myself permission to take some time off from the constant THINKING.  I like the breaks so much, in fact, that I’m going on another hiatus.  This doesn’t mean I won’t be blogging or writing… it just means that my first priority is good food, silly times, board games, glasses of wine, Bob’s Burgers marathons.  And I can’t wait.  Any plays, chapters of books, and essays can wait to be written next year after the chaos of the holidays is over.  Right now, it’s survival mode.