Author Archives: Rachel

Don’t miss the party! (And other cleaning tips)

I’m messy.

This is my car:

car

This is my bedroom:

bedroom

And they are a mess.

I’m not cherry picking photos, either, to find the worst one to make my point. These were all taken today.

At a party with some friends a few months ago, I told my college roommates that I am finally coming to terms with the fact that I am messy.

My roommates felt vindicated. They had often bemoaned the fact that despite indicating on the freshman roommate preference cards they would like to room with someone neat, they instead got to room with me. I had also indicated that I would like to room with someone neat. Because I would. It’s not like I revel in filth. I just enjoy a lot of other things more than I enjoy tidying.

how i clean

I have spent a lot of time trying to make up for being messy. I go on clean/messy binges, I act really nicely toward my roommates when they look at me with disapproval, I’ve read self-help books about the whole messiness thing. (KonMari anyone?)

Therefore it was typical, but ill-advised, when I clicked on the video that promised a strategy for how to clean your bedroom in 30 minutes. But who can even blame me? It promised a free printable check list.

Watching the video sent me into a tailspin of inadequacy and shame, one of my typical responses. Another typical response is to go to Target and buy as many cleaning supplies as I can, returning home too exhausted to clean. Because shopping is a lot of work.

Let me pause here to say that I don’t dislike neat people. Well, maybe I resent them a little. But only because of my own deficiencies, not because of their amazingness. I look at their seemingly effortless systems of boxes and organization and sigh and fantasize…

About hiring a cleaning person. Because seriously, I don’t want to do it.

Anyway, as I was cleaning for a party or maybe just cleaning my car (turns out I do actually clean, it just never comes together all at once in a way that gives the appearance of “togetherness”), I remembered a story from another party, one that happened shortly after I graduated from college, a time when my life was messy in about every conceivable way.

The party was for my college bff and her husband, who were headed to West Africa to join the Peace Corps. In all the laughing and talking and joy and sorrow of saying goodbye, at some point someone asked if they could get a ride back to their apartment at the end of the party.

For all you neat people reading this, I’m sure there is nothing about this request that seems concerning. I’m sure your car has all of its seat and trunk space open and available for such requests.

But as I’m sure you can imagine, such was not the case for messy-ole-me.

Almost immediately I took to the street and started pulling a year’s worth of teaching stuff out of the trunk of my car. There I stood on a pristine suburban street, surrounded by paper, bins, books, markers, crafts, pillows, blankets, and other debris from the life of a first year teacher, frantically trying to get them into some semblance of organization.

After forty minutes one of my friends came out to find me.

They lovingly helped me put all my things away into the car, and guided me back inside.

Because the truth was that there was room for someone to ride with me. But my shame over my messiness filled the entire car.

And embracing that shame meant I almost missed the party.

I went to visit those same friends a few weeks ago. They have long since returned from the Peace Corps. As we exchanged texts to arrange details of our get together, my friend warned me, “Just so you know, my apartment is a mess.”

It was a relief, and it was a gift, because I got to see the mess from the other side. And from the other side, when it is my friend’s mess, it isn’t a big deal at all.

Maybe it’s not worth missing out on parties, be they real or metaphorical, because I’m so busy trying to hide my flaws. Maybe sometimes what my friends really need is to hear me say, “I’m a mess.”

And maybe by living our messy lives together, we give each other one of the greatest gifts that friendship can offer: permission to be our honest and true selves, without apology.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n Rachel

P.S. If you ARE a person who likes all things neat and tidy, check out my friend Brigit’s blog, Meaningfully Organized. She even offers free printables!!

 

Sometimes I don’t want to be your friend

True confessions: Facebook rants fascinate me. Like, I definitely get why they are problematic, but sometimes I just want to pull out the popcorn and read some comments. Kardashians step aside, my friends have your drama BEAT!

So a few months ago I was joyfully scrolling when I landed on a rant from one of my FB friends. I’m not close enough with him that I knew the context of his frustrations, only that he was annoyed with his friends for exclusionary behavior.

Here was his comment:

ross

And ever since, I’ve had a hard time getting his words out of my head. “You should never make anyone work hard to be your friend.”

Being a parent is a pretty great free pass. A get out of jail card I’ve used endlessly. For example, I haven’t been on time to anything in the past two years. When I give you an ETA, it’s really more of a window, a casual suggestion.

It also works really well as an excuse why I can’t participate in activities and events. For good or bad, a sick kid is the perfect answer to how to avoid the social event I’ve been dreading.

In addition, since I have been sick over the last year, I have had an even better excuse. I am a sick mom of a toddler boy (and I work full time). Sometimes I want to just tattoo that sentence to my forehead by way of explanation.

tattoo on forehead

And it gets really easy to operate out of this sense of scarcity. Because I truly don’t have a lot of free time. And saying yes to one thing usually means saying no to something else and if I’m not careful I can over commit and the whole assembly line shuts down completely.

Not to mention that right now it is tax season and my husband is a tax accountant, so we’re busy.

Which is why when my husband and I got an email recently from the pastor at our church, asking if anyone in the church would be willing to make treats for the time between our two church services, I deleted it.

But over dinner that night my husband said he was thinking we should sign up to bring brownies. So I said, “Why, we already do a lot for church. Let someone who isn’t doing anything sign up.”

My husband baked brownies anyway, and I was grumpy about it all weekend.

brownies

(Though maybe a little less grumpy once I actually got to eat the brownies.)

But it gives me pause. Because I think there are seasons of scarcity. But I can’t help but look around, at the incredible life I have full of friends and community, and see not scarcity, but abundance.

And I wonder if maybe, just maybe, there are times when I keep everyone around me at the fringe and margin of my life because, well, it’s just easier. I wonder if there are times when I hold all that abundance closely to myself, hoping that none of it gets away.

I wonder if there are times when I make it hard for people to be my friend.

So I’ve been reflecting on what it looks like to say yes. To live with a little less fear. To trust there is going to be enough for me, even if I share a little with my neighbor. To take a moment to stop dwelling on my own forehead tattoo, and glance up to read the tattoos of the people around me.

To bake a few extra brownies, just in case.

A few weeks ago I met a woman at the library. She was there with her husband and two sons. While watching our boys play together at the train table, with occasional commiseration about the typical mom challenges, she asked if I knew of anyone who was a good babysitter. I asked if she knew about the local mom group in the area. I found out that she didn’t, that in fact, she just moved to the United States six months ago and is still learning the ins and outs of our shared neighborhood.

And I almost left it right there.

But before scooting out of the room to chase my son, we exchanged numbers.

When I got home later that night, I sent a text:

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I’m not sure if the playdate is going to happen. And there’s still a part of me that worries I don’t have time for another friend, or that saying yes to her would mean saying no to someone else.

And I think that’s probably true.

But then again, why not? It would be a good excuse to bake some more brownies.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Pomegranates and Really Bad Bedtime Routines

My one piece of advice to parents? Get your kids into a good bedtime routine.

Just don’t ask me how to do it.

If the books are to be believed, I think there’s something about “consistency” and “same time each night”, two areas on the life report card that leave me hovering right around a C-.

Our motto for parenting is “do what works, until it doesn’t, then do what works.” And that’s true of the bedtime routine, too. We’ve done what works, which has sometimes included a swing, a crib, a crib mattress on the floor, a queen-sized mattress on the floor, a night light in the wall, co-sleeping, sleeping alone, a bath, a song, and always, of course, a book.

It has also included parent tears and children tears, vomit, tantrums that end in dirty diapers, and, well, you get the point.

I’m going to be honest, I work under the assumption that we are the only parents that have this problem. But I remind myself that, at least as far as I know, most kids don’t co-sleep when they’re in High School.

salad recipes

On the topic of things we’re trying to do better, my husband and I are working, or rather, eating our way through cookbook of salads. (Is it still called a cookbook if you don’t cook?) I bring it up not as a humble brag, but to both give the book a shout out, and to explain why a pomegranate was sitting opened, a fourth of its seeds taken out, on our kitchen counter.

My husband had commented that he didn’t think he was going to finish the pomegranate and, because we do have a tendency to get distracted and let fruit go bad, asked if we should keep it or throw it away. Playing my role in what has become a familiar scene, I insisted I would finish peeling it, or whatever it is that you call removing the fruit from a pomegranate. Shucking?

pom skin

I did end up peel-shucking that pomegranate, mostly because I enjoy any kitchen task that gives me an excuse to watch Gilmore Girls and still feel productive. As I watched Rory have her heart broken by Jess for the hundredth time, I pulled the skin away from the pomegranate seeds. And I realized for third time (since we don’t really eat that many pomegranates in our home) how beautiful those perfect red beads are, like jewels hidden inside their rhinoceros-skin exteriors.

pom seeds

So last night, while I was rocking my baby boy to sleep, or rather, rocking him, since there was no sleep going on, I looked down at his beautiful, perfect face and his tiny, George W. Bush ears, his long eye-lashes, and his dimple, and kissed his forehead.

“Sing, Mama?” he asked.

I sang. And then, we sang. First, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” and then “Give Yourself to Love”, and “Jesus Loves Me”.  And I listened as my two year old started, for the first time, to sing along with every word to the songs that I have sung him each night. He grinned as his tiny, high-pitched voice matched mine, recognizing my delight in his newly revealed ability.

And it was like peeling away the ugly rhinoceros skin of our lack of bedtime routine, and seeing the little gem of it stuck inside, just waiting for me to find it.

I imagine we’ll keep tweaking our bedtime routine, continuing to make it work. But even when it doesn’t, I guess it’s not always so bad after all.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

 

 

My wishy-washy goals for 2016

I made it into the new year, fingernails torn from clawing my way out of 2015. To quote Dickens, “It was the worst of times.”

But two days before the end of the year, after a visit to the ER for my son, shelling out several thousand dollars for a new transmission, and another damn death in the family, I went to the doctor and got a clean bill of health.

I cried most of the way home from the doctor, it seemed such an incredible, desperate relief.

I had a plan to make formal resolutions for this new year. I love ritual, and New Years is full of it. I had a plan to write a liturgy to share with my friends, complete with lighting a fire to burn away the past and welcome in the future.

candles lasalle(photo credit: Mary Rodriguez)

But I haven’t made my resolutions yet. Not in any formalized way. I’ve read enough soft psychology and business books to know that goals and resolutions should be actionable, quantifiable, audacious, yet achievable.

And what I have been thinking about is how to heal.

Healing from the absolute typhoon that was the past year.

Because the clean bill of health seems to be the first, not the last, step toward healing. And it has left me carrying a lot of baggage.

I was at Target several weeks ago, to grab just a few things, and slowly I found my arms filling up with more and more items. I had foolishly walked past the carts and the little red plastic baskets, thinking it would be only a quick trip, and surely I could grab everything and be on my way.

At the point when my third item hit the floor, I circled back to the entrance of the Super Target, getting in the lion’s share of my 5,000 steps for the day, and sighed with relief while dumping the contents of my arms into the shopping cart.

target shopping cart

I think I do that in life, too. I grab on to items as I walk past. Clean eating? Yep, I’ll take some of that. New solution for a perfectly tidy home? Make mine a double. Look sexy in less than 30 minutes a day? If I shift this around, I can squeeze that here. Take on another project for work? Well, I can’t say no to that. Squeeze in some time for friends? Check. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget the strategies for becoming a perfect mother.

None of those things are bad. They’re just, well, heavy.

My typical response is to throw up my hands, dropping the items, and exclaiming that I never really wanted this shopping trip anyway.

But that’s not true, and more often than not leaves me sheepishly scrambling for those items later, when people have stopped staring at the scene I’ve created. Because the truth is, I do want all those items.

So anyway, I’ve been thinking about what it might look like to put the items in the cart this year. To acknowledge that there are so many things that I want to be and to do, but they don’t all have to be held frantically right now. To give myself a little grace and celebrate getting to the gym even though it means eating takeout for dinner. To acknowledge that I can either do my hair or do my make-up, but not both. To go on walks and get some sleep. To ask if I really want to eat that second half of the chocolate cake, and if I do, to eat it, and if I don’t, to save it for another day.

To live with a little less panic and worry. To live with a little more kindness and grace. To let go of some of the baggage.

Because I’m healing, but I imagine I will always be healing.

So maybe my resolution this year is to always get a shopping cart at the front of the store. It’s seems like a good idea to let grace carry some of the load.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

I am a (needy, tired, sick) Strong Woman

I have been sick since March. It started with an infection that has lead to three surgeries, with at least one more on the way. I found out I would be needing those surgeries on the same day that I found out we would not be getting the house we’d been under contract on for five months. The house for which we had packed our belongings and listed our home.

It also happened to be the same day that I found out I was being summoned for jury duty.

It’s been that kind of year.

pain quote

I didn’t know what it was like to have chronic pain and discomfort until I had chronic pain and discomfort. I’m used to being sick until I’m not, taking time off of work or activities if necessary, stopping for a few days, and then resuming normality.

The problem with chronic pain is that there comes a time after which you have to resume normality without feeling normal.

It’s been that kind of year.

If I don’t think about it, then it’s easy to pretend that everything is alright. But then I catch myself sitting in front of the refrigerator, cutting off slices of cheese to eat, one after the other. Or sitting at my computer, clicking “buy” before the alarm in my head goes off to remind me that I don’t really have the money to spend. Because eating and spending are a really good distraction to feeling.

And the key to pain management is making it possible to stop feeling pain.

Two months ago I got a message in my inbox from a friend, telling me that she was sending me a t-shirt that said, “Strong Woman”. There have been a lot of moments in my life when those words would have resonated deeply within me. Like immediately after running my first ten-miler, or the moment my son’s perfect slippery body was laid on my chest after a day and a half of labor.

But it hasn’t been that kind of year.

Last week, on the same day, three of my friends reached out to me to check to see how I was doing. I didn’t know, until I knew, just how much I would crave this sort of help, while at the same time avoiding it because where do you start? If I think about what I need, it starts pulling the yarn until the whole sweater of need is unraveled, and I’m not prepared for that level of nakedness, and I’m not good at knitting.

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But to avoid becoming a hermit, and to honor two of the friends I truly care about, I went to a going away party last weekend. Many of my dearest friends were there, and I found myself sitting at a table with a fellow mom, one I’m still getting to know, but whose honesty I’ve appreciated. Her daughter is enough older than my son that she has good insights, but not too much older that she can’t remember. We started talking about potty training, and the diapers that leak in the middle of the night all over the bed.

She offered an idea of solving the problem, but I think she could tell right away that I was not in the mood. Maybe she could see the holes forming in my sweater. So she said, “But you’ll know when it’s the right time for you to make a change.”

It was so little, but it was also grace. Permission to not have to solve the problem. Permission to have this be hard. Permission to be needy. Permission to know when to heal.

And a reminder that this is just a moment in time.

What my friend didn’t know when she sent me my Strong Woman t-shirt is that it would arrive two days before my third surgery. I woke up the morning of the surgery and pulled the shirt over my head. It’s the kind of shirt people notice, and several strangers read the words aloud as I walked past them in the hospital. I didn’t know why I wanted to wear the shirt that day, only that it was necessary.

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Two months later, looking back, I think I wore it as a reminder. A reminder that it has been that kind of year. I have been sick, I have been in pain. I feel needy and I feel weak.

But none of those things tells me who I am. Who I am is a strong woman.

A strong woman with a beautiful, messy sweater of need.

A strong woman who, when it is the right time, will heal.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation Week: The Most Unsexy Jobs of All

You can smell Jakari from eight feet away. The combination of unwashed clothes and hair, shoes that have seen an extra winter of wet and dry feet. As if that didn’t already put her in the shallow end of the popularity pool, she weighs in at least forty pounds above the average fifth grader.

There is something so incredibly unsexy about any profession that gets an appreciation week. Teacher appreciation week shows up at the same time each year as nurses week, and quite honestly, both professions boil down to dealing with other people’s feces, literally and physically. Is it any wonder that Mother’s Day is only five days away? The role of mother falls solidly in the “dealing with feces” category.

This week is full of small gestures of thanks. Cups filled with chocolate, vases filled with flowers, boxes filled with jewelry. My cynical self can start to wonder if these appreciation weeks and days are lip service, a compulsory nod, the thank you we throw over our shoulder at the cashier as we take our receipt. As if that could possibly match the contributions our mothers and teachers have made to our lives.

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This past two weeks my sweet little toddler has learned that he can have an opinion, and that it is most exciting when that opinion goes in direct opposition to mine. I can’t blame him. That’s his job, to figure out the boundary lines of mommy and baby, to test the limits of my patience, to experiment with the rules until he learns them all, and then to experiment some more to make sure I wasn’t kidding.

But last Sunday morning was tough. It started with screaming and didn’t stop for almost three hours until he collapsed asleep in a pile, just in time for us to pack him in a car to head to church. He woke up, of course, right when we walked into church fifteen minutes late (also of course). The sermon had started and I knew his dazed cuddling was a ticking clock, no way it would last. Sure enough, the angry fish flopping started as soon as I told him he couldn’t run around in the pew.

I took the elevator up to our church’s nursery, my son upset, again, because he didn’t get to push the “up” button. I pushed into that deep inner resolve, the one I channel when I need to stay calm in trying situations. And maybe there was a little bit of self-pity. You know, the “I deserve a break” or the “somebody should be helping me right now” feelings. The “I deserve a holiday to celebrate my massive contributions to my son and society” feelings.

And at that moment, right as the elevator doors chimed and opened, my son turned to me, put his tiny, perfect, chubby hands on my cheeks, grinned with his lovely twelve teeth and his tiny dimple, and said, “Mama.”

He spoke the words with the awe and wonder that I so often feel for him. This incredible realization that we are part of one another, that our lives are forever entwined with cords stronger than DNA; that we are sewn together with love.

I had surgery recently, and I was desperate for help during the recovery that the doctor had misled me to believe would only last a few days and has instead continued for six weeks. Within a few days of the surgery my mom caught wind that I was struggling, rearranged her schedule and drove down to spend a week caring for me, cleaning my house, cooking my meals, and most notably: waking up with my son to spend the mornings with him. (Is there any greater gift than this?)

I often turn to my husband, when my mom is at our house and caring for our every need, or when his parents have extended some truly incredible gift of generosity, and ask how we could ever repay our parents for all they have done for us. We are disgustingly fortunate to have such loving and supportive parents. And he often will say, “We can never repay them. We can only pay it forward.”

And that’s what I keep thinking as I watch Jakari’s teacher sit down next to her and teach her to read, inviting her after school, allowing her to keep her siblings in the room during homework help, since Jakari is their primary caretaker. Jakari is still so often ornery in class, still bullies other students, still talks back. And yet her teacher comes back each day with a deeper resolve to help Jakari learn to read and write. Could Jakari ever pay her back for this?

That’s what I think when my mom works tirelessly to make sure that I am healthy, being willing to exhaust herself so that I can rest. That’s what I think when she insists I go to bed instead of helping her do the dishes or wash stains from our clothing. Is the card we send her, with someone else’s words printed inside a joke?

Maybe Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day (and Nurse’s Week) help us to remember that there is no way that we can ever repay the people who have loved us, who have parented us, who have shown grace to us. No chocolates or flowers, stuffed animals or crayon-scribbled cards could ever repay the mothers, biological or otherwise, who have nurtured us.

But maybe those sentiments are a statement, a reminder that there is enough grace to go around, that we are all better when someone loves us more than we deserve, more than we could ever repay.

And maybe these appreciation weeks and days are a chance for us to turn around with awe in our eyes and acknowledge those people who have loved us well. Not because we can pay them back, but because their love has allowed us to pay it forward.

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261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

My House and I Are Breaking up. Here are the Juicy Details.

So, I’m moving. Well, not just me, I think my husband and son plan to come along, too. But we are in the process of packing up all of our belongings from one house into boxes and moving all of those boxes into another house.

Along the way, I’m learning some things about myself. The loudest and clearest message is that I really hate moving.

Growing up we never moved. My parents still live in the beautiful brick row-house in St. Paul, Minnesota that has always seemed like home, and probably always will. A house has a way of accumulating stuff. Which is to say, people have a way of expanding their possessions to fit the space in which they live.

Which is to say, I have too much stuff.

Life-Changing-Magic-330x320

I’ve started reading this book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I want to hate it, but I don’t. Mostly so far I’ve cried when I’ve read it. It asks you to think about asking yourself what items you really care about, what items you want to allow to share your space. When I stop rolling my eyes, I’m wiping them.

It hits close to home. (Pun intended?)

For example, we have two rooms in our house that are filled with items from my past lives. Namely, the room in the basement and the entire attic. I like to think that my husband and I share our space an even 50-50, but I think it’s really more of a 20-80. Except when it comes to the bed. Then he definitely takes up more room.

Anyway, the eighty percent of the space that I am taking up in the attic and in the room in the basement is filled with stuff from my classrooms, stuff from my last apartment, stuff from my childhood, stuff others have given me when they’ve moved, stuff that may be of use to someone, someday. So. much. stuff.

And truth be told, if a hurricane hit our house and I had to itemize a list of what was in either of those spaces I would probably be able to name about a third of the items, and that’s being generous.

Case in point, our real estate agent came over and wanted to see the upstairs, and I said, “Oh, it’s pretty empty up there.” Then I followed her up to see piles and piles of my books, clothes, towels, sheets, and school boxes.

This is the point when I tell you how that moment made me realize that I don’t really need any of those things in the attic, and I gave them all to Goodwill.

That’s not what happened.

Instead, I went up there, and my stuff started grabbing at me with it’s long finger-nailed claws. I sat down and read through boxes of letters, throwing away one for every twenty I kept. Besides the fact that this is a much slower process than I have time for if we’re going to list our house in two weeks, it is also not very helpful in the whole “tidying up” regard.

So I haven’t given it all away to Goodwill.

But it did make me realize that those rooms are not empty. Not in my house and not in my life. There are a lot of rooms with a lot of baggage in my heart and the very physical act of cleaning out a house has given me a close up to stuff, physical and emotional, that is weighing me down.

Which brings me back to the whole thing about how moving sucks. And about how this whole process fills like one big break-up.

As soon as we found out that our bid was accepted and we had a close date for our new house, I did what everybody does. I started crying. I started apologizing to our current house.

I felt like I’d been cheating, looking at MLS in my free-time, fantasizing where I’d put the furniture in my new place.

“Sorry house, I love you, I really do, but I have to think about what’s best for me. I don’t know that I ever loved you the way you should have been loved, etc, etc, etc.”

All super normal.

Moving is supposed to solve your problems, right?

But now that we’ve gotten this incredible house, I’ve started to realize all the things I’m leaving behind. And some of the issues I’ve had with our house are my issues. Like the fact that it’s always a mess. The fact that I can’t figure out how to organize the kitchen. And suddenly I’m starting to see that those are going to be moving in with me at our new house. Unless I deal with them now.

Meanwhile, like a good spited lover, my house is starting to really pull itself together. While I’m gone on vacation in a week, it will have a complete rehab of the upstairs. The walls are getting painted. It’s getting in shape. Just to let me know what I could have had if I’d been willing to stick around.

There’s a lesson in this, right? About how our lives will teach us the lessons we most need if we pay attention. About being awake enough to let the piles of garbage in your life help you to realize the areas of your life that most need tending. About how leaving isn’t always the easy thing, even when it is the right thing. About how you can run away, but your baggage is really good at keeping pace.

Or maybe a box is just a box, a cigar is just a cigar.

Here’s what I know. Each box we take to Goodwill makes me feel a little bit lighter. So as much as moving sucks, maybe my house isn’t the only one that is coming out of this breakup better off.

Also, on a happy note: We’re buying a house!!!

pieces of her life

 

“She left pieces of her life behind her everywhere she went. It’s easier to feel the sunlight without them, she said.” -Brian Andreas

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel