Keeping Up the Good Work

To create one’s own world takes courage.” – Georgia O’Keefe

Before I got married to my former husband, I would throw all the clean Tupperware into one big cupboard. But my ex had a great idea that if the tops and bottoms were matched when it was put away, it would be way easier to use the Tupperware.

The problem was, he liked to have the Tupperware like that but he didn’t want to do the work to put it away like that. I’m not really dogging on my ex-husband (well, not much) because I think there’s always a big divide between knowing what to do and doing it.

For all our human knowledge and experience, the hardest part is implementing it.

I know I need to get 7-8 hours of sleep at night. But it’s still hard to get out of the chair at night and go to bed.

I’m completely aware I need to eat more greens and less sugar. But then the Easter candy is left out and I’m helping myself.

I want to teach the kids to put their coats away in the proper place when we come in but I often find it easier to just pick them up and put them away myself instead of tracking them down.

All this thinking about systems came up for me because I recently bought my daughter some socks that show the day of the week and she spent an hour devising a box in which they can be neatly stored. It’s delightful. I’m laughing because I’m the one that does the laundry and therefore it reminds me very much of putting the Tupperware away for my ex.

Maybe, in an effort to instill part of the DOING for her, I’ll wash them – but she has to put them away. 😊

How about you? Any tricks to narrow the gap between knowing and doing? Does anyone remember the scene in the RomCom where someone tells the funny break-up story due to day of the week underpants?

You Have to be Present to Win

I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.” – Vincent Van Gough

When my nieces were in middle school, they went to a charter school that had a lot of fundraising events. At one auction event they invited me to, the older of my two niece’s was selling raffle tickets that were $50 each. That was really expensive but I didn’t have kids at the time, it was for a school and of course, it was my niece selling them so I bought two. The clincher was that, as if often the case with raffles, you had to be present to win.

I think of that phrase a lot in parenting – you have to be present to win. When I bought the raffle tickets I knew I’d never make it to when the raffle was announced, I wasn’t the type of person to stay long enough even before I had kids. Now I don’t have any choice but to see to the end of each day with my kids but I can choose whether or not to be present.

I know that I must not the only parent that takes an extra long time to roll the garbage can to the curb because I’m pausing in the quiet and looking up at the sky. My central nervous system gets overloaded from the activity, amplitude of emotion and state of vigilance so it feels like I can’t stay present one more moment. I just want to check out because I’m spent. My daughter is a master of asking open-ended questions right before bedtime like “What mistakes have you made, Mama?” so my strategy is to just keep things simple with one or two word sentences so I can get to the finish line. But the other night, while I was racing to the end of the day so I could have some grown-up time where I could check out by having a glass of wine or mindlessly scroll through Instagram, something reminded me of “you have to be present to win.”

My daughter was snuggled next to me in bed as I was reading Harry Potter and it was a section where Hagrid was saying that his dad taught him not to be ashamed of who he was and she asked what ashamed was. I explained it’s that feeling of not wanting to talk about something because it makes you feel yucky inside. And she said, “Like Ahti [her aunt that used to nanny for us] taking a job and not being with us any more?”

[Wow, wow, wow] I told her that I was so proud of her for telling me that she felt that way. Then she asked why Ahti had to do it and I explained that it was because she found a perfect job. And she said, “It isn’t because we were too bad and she didn’t want to be with us?”

There are moments when I absolutely need to check out and breathe and I’m trying to learn to give myself grace when I do. But I’m also trying to practice staying present so that when I’m with my kids, I’m truly with my kids. Because unlike when I bought a raffle ticket for my niece’s school, I do care about winning the prize. Not two hours with a lawyer to do estate planning or a wine tasting with five friends, but to be the person my kids trust to help them unpack the burdens they don’t need to carry.

The Practice

One filled with joy preaches without preaching.” – Mother Teresa

My mom’s church has been doing these Wednesday night park programs for kids. It’s a little like Sunday School where there’s singing, a short message, some games and then Otter Pops at the end. You come with your family and can picnic there and then all participate in this hour of fun. It’s been lovely and my kids have loved it – it’s a fun way to return to being together. One of the songs we’ve been singing has gotten stuck in my head:

I’m inright, outright, upright, downright
Happy all the time
I’m inright, outright, upright, downright
Happy all the time
Since Jesus Christ came in, and saved my soul from sin
I’m inright, outright, upright, downright
Happy all the time

So as it’s been running that circular loop, I’ve realized that as a Presbyterian minister’s kid, this was exactly the messaging I grew up with. Jesus Christ = happy. And there’s a lot more of those kid songs with a similar message (like When You’re Happy and You Know It). I’m a pretty naturally happy person so there was no inherent conflict there as I grew up. But now, as I’ve pondered why I can’t just be a traditional church-going person, I wonder if I just outgrew that message as life got more complex and had to find my own practice. For me that has become listening to the quiet within every day on a meditation cushion. I also love a great sermon in church or fun in the park finding community but it’s the personal practice I always come back to.

It reminds me of the dance of falling in love. We lead with the message that we think is going to make us most attractive – that we are happy, successful, strong or sexy. But any relationship that goes the distance exposes all the facets of who we are. In that same way, religion (in my experience) uses happy, fun songs to get kids to listen and then for it to take root, they need to incorporate the message into the depth of what they believe. In this way both love and faith are a practice, not just a belief.

This ear worm of a song is leading me to realize that I want to support my kids in the incorporation of what we believe. To practice seeing that in the beautiful mystery of life and time as humans, we get to celebrate being here every day. And that God, in whatever way we conceive of him, is in each part of this experience whether we label it as happy or not.