Monday, August 3, 2015

Our Stories

I hear a lot of stories.  I tell them, too.

Shared stories depend on the setting and the mood of conversation.  I’ve also been guilty of sharing a story in order to change the direction of conversation.  Stories I tell may involve others: my children, my husband, an old friend.  Sometimes, a story I share is just about me.

We all like to tell stories.  They help us learn from each other, and to figure out where we belong in time, space, and history.  They are how we relate to each other, how we communicate and exchange information, how we understand others and invite them to understand us.

For a story lover, an important thing to consider is if a story suits the time it is told.  Is it appropriate for me to share this story with you?  Is it relevant?  Will you take it the wrong way, will it cast a shadow on my character, am I going to get the details right?  Am I exaggerating too much, taking too much artistic license?  Is this story crossing over into fiction? 

Most importantly, is this story mine to tell?

I’ve heard quite a few stories from others about their own experiences that have stuck with me, ones that I remember well.  Some are laugh out loud funny, unbelievable tales that I couldn’t make up if I wanted to.  Some are gut-wrenching, tear-filled remembrances that are recalled in pain.  We can mention them in passing or to illustrate a topic, but a good story by itself is enough.

Photo credit: pennuja / Foter / CC BY

Some stories are so good that my storytelling bones ache from wanting to adopt them as my own. I’d love to tell about the time my dad came home on Christmas day with a real live monkey, when I met the president, or how our family vacation turned into an adventure.  I’ll trade any of these stories for the one I have about witnessing a diarrhea accident in the checkout line at the grocery store.

I make it my business to tell stories on my blog.  Sometimes they’re mine.  Sometimes they’re about my family and friends.  Toeing the line between what’s appropriate to share and what’s not is not a difficult decision.  I think about how I’d feel if someone else shared a story of mine, something private.  It could be a conversation or something I did that I’d rather not repeat.  I call it the cringe test.  If I cringe thinking that a story was being told about me, I keep it to myself.  I always ask if a shared story crosses the line over into someone else’s experience instead of mine.

Asking to share a story is a kindness.  I’ve never been refused when I’ve asked another person if I could share their story.  Usually people are willing and honored to be written about, or to be mentioned to others.  At our core, we all just want to be known and understood.  We all want to share our stories.  If someone else thinks our story is worthwhile to share, that makes us happy.  It makes us feel visible and valuable.  It connects us.

Stories, mine and yours, unite us all.  When we share them, we are seen.  We are heard.  They enable us to take a place in time and space and history, and allow us to feel as if we’ve made an impact, no matter the size.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Boss

It’s not my natural inclination to be the boss.

Despite this, I’ve been the boss for a while now.  I wasn’t hired for this job; rather, the position became mine by default.

My job description: to be in charge, to call the shots, to possess answers, to put things in motion.  To be the heart of our home, the one to whom the rest of the family goes with questions, issues, permission.  Everyone looks to you for guidance.  Everyone is playing follow the leader; you are the leader.

Had I been given the choice, I would have turned the job down.  Leading isn’t really my strength.  A good leader allocates work to others depending on their own skills and abilities.  She visualizes the work that needs to be done, and develops a team to do the work in the most efficient, harmonious, and productive way possible.  She knows everything; she thrills at the challenge at creating a hive of industry.  A boss is a taskmaster, but also the rule maker and judge. 

Some people relish these positions and rise to the occasion when offered.  In contrast, I am depleted by them; many moving parts overwhelm me, and I prefer solo endeavors.  Productivity is appealing, but I like the freedom to do my own work without interruption.  I’m not a good delegator, preferring to plug away on my own rather than explain the work to someone else.  I become impatient when people don’t understand or listen the first time around.  I don’t like questions, and I’m a little bit of a perfectionist.  You’re doing it wrong.  I’ll take care of it.  Find something else to do.  Please - someplace else.

In the past, they’ve ignored my pleas for solace.  They crawled over me, hands and feet and volatile and endless emergent needs in my way.  Progress seemed slow; my own work was easily derailed.  I questioned my qualifications.  The years since then brought them maturity, and with it mobility, independence, confidence.  More and more, they go away to lead themselves.  I feel badly; I miss them.  I don’t really need help – there’s nothing to be done.  Come back.  I want you.  Later, they say.  In a minute, tomorrow, next week.

It’s never right.  I want what I don’t have.  Chastising myself, I re-evaluate my position – what was my role, again?  To lead, but also to encourage.  To pull people in, give them what they need to succeed, show them the path, and guide them when they stray. 

I look at them, and realize my success; despite my natural inclination to shy away from the challenge of being in charge, I’ve done okay.  The people I lead are good quality people.  They do what they’re supposed to do.  Imperfect, yes, but there is always room to grow.  Today, I can see how they’ve bloomed under my guiding hand.  I feel rather acutely that my position is changing.  I look forward to their future. 

I’ve been a good boss so far.


This post inspired by:

Prompt #2: Write a post where the first and last sentences contain any form of the word “boss.”

Monday, July 27, 2015

And Nothing More

The other night I dreamed that I was pregnant.

I am not pregnant.

Likely I will not become pregnant.

I know this for several reasons: my husband and I said we wanted two kids, we had two kids, and we took measures to ensure that we would only have two kids.

I have been pregnant exactly two times in my life, but I dream of being pregnant often.  If I had a real child for each dream pregnancy, I’d need a bus for transportation and dormitory-style bedrooms.

People nod knowingly – smugly – when a woman shares about dreaming of pregnancy.  Ah, there’s something unresolved there, they muse.  Does your husband know?  You want more children!  You desire babies!

I loved my babies.  I enjoy other people’s babies.  Babies are part of who I am; I notice babies in the world because I’m a mother.  Each baby is a joy, his or her perfect little face a shining light.  I like babies, but that doesn’t mean I want another one of my own, despite the dreaming.

Being pregnant in my dreams is both familiar and new, a strange pairing of feelings that I remember from my own experience years ago as a mother-to-be.  Every feeling is recognizable yet novel – like I’d done this before, but knowing that everything will be different at the end.  It’s a combination of wariness and excitement, adventure and fear, power and vulnerability.

But in each pregnancy dream, there’s also an undercurrent of dread.  Dread of toting a diaper bag.  Dread of feeding, and bathing, and dressing, and immunizations, and little toys everywhere, and potty-training.  Of finding babysitters, and post-pregnancy body woes, and hormone-swinging, and starting all over.  Of living that life again.  My dream self may be pregnant, but she isn’t happy about it.

I don’t usually admit that I disliked being pregnant.

It’s unpopular to say you have an aversion for something that brings joy and life.  There’s nothing more natural and extraordinary about growing a human inside your own body.  So many people experience hardship related to pregnancy, whether it’s infertility or baby loss or birth complication or even old fashioned unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, as well as passing the stage in life where pregnancy is ideal or even possible, and having no children.  It’s downright ungrateful, to appear to disparage the name, the miracle, the institution of pregnancy.  It’s hard not to feel guilty when you had an easy time of something that others struggle with.  It’s hard not to feel inhuman when you admit you really didn’t care for it at all.

Pregnancy dreams are just that: just dreams, probably planted in my subconscious by the babies I see every day, their images prompting memories of pregnancy to surface later, when my mind is relaxed and unguarded, when I am asleep in my bed, during this stage of life when pregnancy is unlikely now.  My dreams are not longings for the future.  They’re recollections of the past.

A past steeped in warm feelings of nostalgia, but without the desire to relive it.

I was pregnant in my dream the other night.

That’s all.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Okay At Last

I was one of those girls who got picked last.

In our gym classes, the boys were usually chosen as captains.  Political correctness wasn’t a thing then; nobody cared about squashing girls’ spirits in favor of choosing a boy to be the leader every time.  Boys were bosses, presidents, and kickball captains.  Girls weren’t.

And the boys usually picked the girls last.

It didn’t bother me, really – I didn’t want to be a boy, anyway.  Any angst I might have felt at being overlooked as captain soon dissipated as I realized that the captain actually had to play a game I didn’t want to play.  It made sense that if I was picked last, there was a chance I might not have to kick the ball.  There was a chance I might be put in the outfield with a friend.  There was a chance I could be sitting on the bench the whole game with other girls while we conducted important business concerning Madonna, jelly shoes, and sleepovers.

If I was picked last, chances were pretty good that I could get out of doing something potentially dangerous, which was kick a plastic ball and run around a dusty schoolyard, dodging the ball as a stronger and more competitive classmate whipped it at my body in an attempt to tag me out.  Playground balls stung on contact, and they always left a mark.

Sometimes a kid would see me in the line, all arms and legs and tall and strong, and pick me first.  I looked the part, after all.  His hopes for victory would be dashed if I then got to pick the next teammate, and she would pick the next, and so on.  We’d have a team comprised of one bloodthirsty competitor and seven giggly girlfriends who screamed when the ball came near us.

Being picked last meant you got to hang with your friends instead of play a game that you didn’t care about.  Being picked last meant that nobody really cared if you played or not.  Being picked last meant that you could make your own rules.

beltz6 / Foter / CC BY

Sometimes a teacher or coach would regard me as a gym class troublemaker and I would be picked to lead a team.  Once, my best friend and I were chosen to be captains of opposing teams, just to keep us separated.

I always picked the people I liked and who were friends; their gym skills were secondary, if considered at all.

Occasionally the team I led would win; people who like each other and have fun playing together often do better than a team built of cutthroat competitors who are out for their own glory instead of working with others to achieve the top prize.

Those teams hated losing to us.

In life, as in gym class, good relationships count for a lot.  Rarely do we operate solo; our friends and family members and co-workers are our teammates.  Friends become enemies when they compete with each other, marriages fail when one partner insists on keeping score, and employees fail at their tasks when co-workers don’t work together. First-picked holds no importance in the long run if team morale is weak.  A person may be picked first because she’s tall and strong, but if the rest of the team has no interest in building a relationship together, success will be elusive, and the whole team will suffer. 

This knowledge isn’t why I suffered no permanent damage as a kid picked last – I wasn’t that astute as a kid.  But I also didn’t dwell in feeling left out or not as good as everyone else.  It just wasn’t part of my nature to worry long about things like that.  I liked feeling part of a team, but when there wasn’t a team spirit to be felt, I found another team to enjoy. 

And I learned that sometimes winning looks like not trying to win, or doing something other than the prescribed game, or making your own rules up with the people you enjoy.

Sometimes, winning looks like sitting on the bench.


This post is inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt 4: Write a blog post inspired by the word: last.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Absence Makes the Blog Go Quiet

If you noticed lately, I haven’t been around.

What I mean is, if you spy on my house and keep tabs on my whereabouts, you’ll know that I haven’t been here, creepy.

Because we were on vacation.

Well, vacation and a mission trip.  And dance rehearsal week, which just means that no one is allowed to do anything except dance rehearsal for four days until dance recital weekend, which has its own code of crazy.

Blah blah blah everyone's busy nobody cares.

So for three weeks, I stockpiled posts and distributed them on my blog over a three week period, dribbling them out one by one until they were all gone.

And now they’re all gone.

And nothing is left to share.

Except this Vine, which my daughter and I are obsessed with:

You’re welcome.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Open Boxes: The Gifts of Living a Full and Connected Life – A Review

“Keeping boxes isn’t all that helpful in creating meaningful connection, fining spiritual fulfillment, or living a full – a busting-at-the-seams full – life.”

“We have an inherent, almost primal, need to feel connected in a meaningful way to ourselves, to others, to our communities, to God, and to something bigger and greater than the separate aspects of our day-to-day lives.  We have a deep yearning to feel a part of something more significant than the daily chaos and more meaningful than the monotony of our daily routines.”

–Christine Organ, author of Open Boxes

At first glance, Christine Organ’s collection of essays that intends to show how we can find the meaning in everyday activities, see the daily miracles that pepper our lives, and fling open the boxes that hold the various parts of our lives to combine them into one simplified whole, seems like a feel-good love-thyself book that normally I would not gravitate toward. 

Far from having it all together, I like my compartments.  I like being a wife and mother and daughter and friend, and I like leaving the unneeded parts back when they don’t apply in a situation, or using the well-honed skills that I’ve cultivated in another when they are.

However, I crave connections.  I want the boxes of my life to have definite boundaries, but I want them to work together, too.  So I opened my heart and my mind to what Open Boxes was all about.

While I read this book, I found myself nodding in agreement to a lot of what Organ says about the general human need to find meaning in daily life.  She divides the book into three sections and fills each with essays that illustrate each: Grace, Wonder, and Everyday Miracles, three things that I’ve read a lot about during my tenure as a mother, or maybe just an adult who craves inner peace.

Raising children forces you to slow down, and I related to Organ’s essays in one way or another.  I have spent time appreciating gifts: the everyday miracles, the little moments and blink-and-you-miss-them blessings that fall into my lap each day.  Practicing grace is a much more personal endeavor, as it encompasses individual behaviors like accepting and giving kindness, paying attention to immediate connections, showing love, being mindful and present, letting go, embracing humility, belonging, showing hospitality, being patient, among other subjects that Organ’s essays are about.

Inspiring us to find meaning in the little things, Organ’s idea that every aspect of our lives can be spiritually connected if we open the boxes and live authentically has merit.  When we live in the present and appreciate what we have, we take time to know ourselves and the different parts of our lives better, and notice what is happening around us.  In short, finding connections in our lives brings us more in tune to what life is all about.

That’s not to say that I agreed wholeheartedly with Organ’s assertions about spiritual connections.  She writes of a Spiritual Breakdown that led her to look for – and find – God in everyday life, but the God of Open Boxes is not really the God I have come to know as a Christian.  As a Unitarian Universalist, Organ uses the idea of God to be the spiritual connector for all of us, which I can get on board with, but she also maintains that God can be whatever we want him to be – nature, stillness, music – to be employed in finding connections, instead of acknowledging that God provides these things to connect to us.  Her beliefs are not entirely mine, but close; as I read about her interpretation of God I couldn’t help but feel like she was almost there.

I can’t say that I needed to read Open Boxes to gain insight to the meaning of life; at this point, I'm neither suffering a Spiritual Breakdown or needing to slow down to appreciate what I've been given.  I appreciated Organ’s open style and conversational tone of writing, and her ability to be honest with her experiences.  I related to Organ's views in general – I marked up the book with notes and underlined phrases that I agreed with, even wrote “this is how I see life” in one particular spot  – but her idea of spiritual connection as solely individually-led instead of God-centered and God-led felt off to me. 

If you need inspiration in finding the good in the everyday, I recommend Open Boxes.   While I do not subscribe to Organ’s spiritual beliefs, I feel like it is a worthwhile read for those who may be struggling with finding meaning in monotony, or looking for connection between the compartments in life that we all experience.

Open Boxes is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Disclaimer: I was given a copy of Open Boxes: The Gifts of Living a Full and Connected Life to read and review.  I was not compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Things Are Looking Up - On Mamalode

Hi, friends!

Today is a special day for me - I wrote a piece that is debuting on Mamalode!

It's called "Looking Up" and you can find it (and me!) here.

Read to find out who else in my house is as much of a morning person as I am.  Okay, I may be exaggerating a little.  Nobody is as fun as I am in the morning.

Anyway, I hope you visit me on Mamalode today - meet you there!

I'm Published by Mamalode!