Rachel Heath

Intentional Living: learning to be fully present

Archive for the tag “Learning”

Sometimes

A few months ago, a friend asked me if I liked being a mom. I hesitated for a moment – just a split second – before offering the answer I knew was correct, the expected answer.

Yes! Yeah, I love it. It’s wonderful. Being a mom is great. A challenge, but really wonderful. Of course. It’s great.

I heard myself repeating the same words over and over, frantically racking my brain for something specific. The truth is, in that moment, I really didn’t. I’m supposed to adore motherhood, but that day, I didn’t. I left the restaurant troubled by my response, and over the last few months that little piece of conversation has come back to haunt me at every one of my lowest parenting moments.

You’re a terrible mother. You couldn’t come up with a single reason you enjoy being a mom! Why did you even have children? 
It’s certainly no secret that motherhood has been a difficult adjustment for me. Sleep deprivation, kind to no one, I think does an especially hard job on me, and neither of our tinies were (are) good sleepers. Isabella would wake infrequently but it would take us close to an hour to get her back down, and she didn’t sleep through the night till she was 1. Barrett had awful colic for 5 months, and at 13 months old, he is still waking up 6-10 times a night.

The night before Mother’s Day (of course) was a very rough one for Bear. After he woke 5 times between 10pm and 1am, Stephen finally gave in and got him up. I was too worked up to sleep, so I got up too. We sat on the living room floor in our robes, Barrett playing quietly between us, and had an awful conversation about our big doubts, disillusionment with God, and disappointment over unanswered prayers (the middle of the night is obviously the best time to talk about these light topics).

“If I had known what this would really be like, I never would have had kids,” I muttered, refusing to let the hot tears surface.

The desperation and rage when it’s 2:30 am and I can’t get baby to calm down and fall asleep; the trembling fear of finding out just where my line is and how close I can come to it in the dark hours of the night.

The inability to walk out of a room, or even move from one spot on the floor, without my child wailing because I am leaving.

The chronic sleeplessness, the chronic feeling that sleeplessness is making me a shitty parent.

The look of fear on my child’s face when I suddenly snap and lose my temper; the satisfaction of losing my temper; the immediate rush of guilt afterwards; the many broken items in my wake.

The loss of identity, loss of autonomy, slow death of untended relationships, sacrifice of career.

The constant demand for attention, the always being-needed.

The frightening realization of just how easily I can be worn down by whining, complaining, and backtalking.

The surprise of just how much a 3-year-old’s careless and ignorant words can hurt.

The tiredness in my very bones.

Being confronted by the ugliest parts of my heart; my need for control, my anger, my deficit of Every. Single. Fruit of the Spirit.

Yes, this is part of my parenting reality… but it’s not the whole truth. I got the chance (bless my husband) to go sit by myself at a coffee shop on Mother’s Day, and I took the time to write in the journals we keep for both kids.

God began to show me that I am indeed a different woman than I was before I gave birth… and that’s exactly how He intends it. He helped me see all the things I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t have kids.

The incredible gift of growing and birthing new life.

The indescribable feeling of being the one and only source of nourishment a newborn baby needs.

20 unbelievably tiny toes; 20 chubby fingers; the pattern the blood vessels make on the inside of Isabella’s ears; the faint birthmark on Barrett’s side.

Nursing smiles.

The glorious feeling of a baby breathing deeply, sleeping soundly, wrapped on my chest as I sing and worship.

The sweet feeling of a small head resting heavily between my shoulder blades, riding on my back as I hike.

Seeing eyes light up or arms flap happily, hearing gleeful shouts of “Mommy!” when I walk into a room.

First steps, first words, first everythings.

Hearing my daughter cheerfully, and of her own volition, recite to me the little incantation of love I have always said to her, “I love you higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, and bigger than the skies!”

The surprise of just how many beautiful, clever, hilarious, stunningly insightful things a 3-year-old says during the course of a single day.

Cooking dinner to a backdrop of the loud, joyful chaos of giggling, shrieking, chasing, and playing; a home full of wild happiness.

Being confronted by the ugliest parts of my heart; my need for control, my anger, my deficit of Every. Single. Fruit of the Spirit. Dealing with it, and allowing it to change me. Where I was inflexible, closed off, and stubborn, I am softening, opening, yielding.

Isabella and BarrettHad I not had children, I would never have had to deal with the tough stuff… but I never would have known the beauty I was missing, nor the power to become better, become transformed. The truth is that parenting is hard. REALLY hard, and messy. It is also dazzling and magnificent and FUN. Like any journey worth taking, parenting is made up of many small moments. Some of them suck. Some of them are amazing. Strung together, they are the stuff life is made of.

I suppose if I had the chance to answer my friend over again, I would say:

Sometimes. Usually I like it… sometimes I love it, and sometimes I don’t.

And that’s ok.

On My Most Urgent Prayer

Parenting is my crucible. How immensely rewarding and reworking and relentless it is. How huge is the responsibility of tending two tiny humans, day in and day out, again and again, without stopping, like the waves upon the shore.

I stand in The Here and Now, keenly aware of how my words and actions will ripple through days, months, years, decades, as these small people grow into big ones, complex and independent, with relationships and big plans and influence of their own.

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And I tremble at the massive weight of this. I live in fear that my lack of constancy should teach them more than my rare glimmering moments of self-control. After all, children remember what we said less that how we said it, how we lived it.

Oh, I tremble.

So when the baby is screaming, the toddler whining, the pressure building, when I feel trapped by the tedium of it all, this is my prayer:

Thank you, thank you, thank you for trusting my slipshod self with this beloved girl and beautiful boy, and help me, help me, help me do this right.

Though I feel laden, they are no burden; caring for these little hearts is a privilege.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Help me, help me, help me.

On Living in the Trenches

Our baby boy arrived on April 15th, nearly 5 weeks ago. It feels like yesterday, it feels like eternity ago, it feels like he’s been here the whole time. Our family feels complete, and my heart is full. Isabella taught me how to love unconditionally, and now I love without struggle.

Everything is so different this time. Where the first 6 weeks with Isabella were a fog of numbness and depression, I’ve felt (mostly) happy, present, and balanced this time around. I’m head over heels in love with this little boy.

So it’s hard to explain why I’m still ticking off the days till the baby stage is over.

When I go out with the kids, Isabella walking by my side and little Barrett snuggled on my chest in a sling or a wrap, people notice. And I grit my teeth every time they do.

I avoid eye contact with the little old lady at the grocery store who slowly wanders my way. I keep my eyes straight ahead on walks, ignoring the woman who looks towards me with congratulations on the tip of her tongue. I pretend I don’t hear the  bank teller’s hushed-but-loud-enough-I’m-obviously-intended-to-hear-them comments, “What a cute baby!” and “Aww, so tiny!”

Usually the well-meaning interluders are older women who miss having little ones, or younger women whose children are just old enough that they’ve forgotten the hard parts about having a baby. Or, maybe they just genuinely loved the baby stage. It’s been well-established on this blog that I am not one of those women.

When people look at me knowingly with a smile on their face, I think most of them are imagining that my day-to-day experience (though challenging, certainly) is an idyllic baby paradise that looks just like a Johnson & Johnson commercial, where my infant and I stare deeply into one another’s eyes and smile and bond, and soft light pours in through a window, and I have showered within the last 7 days.

But this is what it’s really like:

I’m living in the trenches. It’s warfare, and I’m just keeping my head down and trying to make it through the day. And yeah, it’s been a while since I bathed. At least I’m alive.

Don’t get me wrong- I couldn’t possibly love this little dude more. I’m crazy about Barrett and Isabella. Before I had kids, I didn’t know you could love someone – someone so little and helpless who can reciprocate nothing – so damn much.

Parenting babies is my refining fire, a blaze I cannot put out. It makes me better, stronger, yes. But the process brings my every heinous imperfection to the surface. It’s valuable but it’s also painful, ugly, and really, really hard.

We fought for a noble purpose in World War II, but the reality on the ground was muddy and bloody and perilous.

 

I genuinely appreciate congratulatory comments from people who actually know me, even if they don’t understand what it’s like for me. But what I appreciate even more is when fellow soldiers say “hang in there,” or “me too, mama.” I love when veteran parents tell me “you’re doing great,” and “keep fighting, it’s worth it, I promise.”

I don’t need pressure to enjoy every single second because it “goes so fast,” or stories about how much worse it will be when they’re teenagers. I need validation, commiseration, and the assurance that it eventually gets better.

I can’t be the only one. Caring for a newborn, working a terrible job, getting through the semester, going through counseling… Who else is in the trenches with me?

We’ll get out eventually. We will.

On Apples, Anger, and Choices

One evening, after a particularly long day along with Isabella, I was watching a movie I had started while she took an afternoon nap. When she woke up she started playing alone pretty happily, so I sat on the couch eating an apple, hoping to watch the last half hour of my movie.

Then she started getting restless. She went in the kitchen and asked for something that I wouldn’t give her or didn’t have, chocolate or cookies or something. She started to get angry. I started to get frustrated that I couldn’t hear the movie. She went into a full-blown tantrum, screaming and crying and stomping her feet.

I don’t remember exactly what she was upset about, but I remember with perfect clarity thinking how satisfying it would be to hurl my apple across the room at our front door.

I remember the way the apple, only 2 or 3 bites missing, burst on the front door when I acted on that urge.

I remember how Isabella, still standing in the kitchen and safely away from the door, fell suddenly silent.

I remember striding across the room, picking up the larger pieces, and throwing them against the floor, tiny pieces flying everywhere.

I remember Isabella peeking her head around the corner of the kitchen wall and watching, wide eyed, as I lost my shit.

I remember how she started to cry.

You know what? For a few seconds, it was satisfying to destroy that apple. But I’m never going to be able to forget the look on her face when I whipped around. My anger melted into shame instantaneously.

Even though it’s been nearly two weeks, Isabella remembers, too. She frequently remarks, “throw apple,” gesturing towards our entryway that was the scene of fruit carnage that evening. Sometimes she comments that the floor is sticky. She brings it up at seemingly random moments.

I apologized immediately after my outburst. I sat down with her and told her that even though I was frustrated by her tantrum, it was wrong for me to throw that apple and yell. I told her I was very, very sorry. I asked for her forgiveness, and she gave me a kiss, and we sat on the floor surrounded by millions of tiny apple fragments and hugged. After I finished cleaning up, we shared a piece of cheesecake and giggled and cuddled.

But she keeps bringing it up and I have to relive those awful moments every time. I realize that she needs to talk about it because it was a significant event for her, so I’m helping her process it by re-telling the story with her, and it comes up less and less.

But I’ve had a wake-up call. I realized today that, Oh God, it’s happened. Isabella is old enough to remember my mistakes, old enough to recount them to me. She’s old enough to have significant events etched into her heart. Oh, God, help me.

I don’t make a habit of throwing produce and shouting at my child, but I have my moments. And a time is coming very soon when I will be put back through the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced:  caring for a newborn. Only this time, a small child will be witness to my behavior. A child to whom I am the universe. A child that remembers my actions and builds her beliefs about her growing world around them.

I’ve struggled with anger as long as I can remember, and it’s clear that I need to deal with it, now, at any cost. I just don’t really know how. Yes, I believe God can change my heart, and I should take it to Him in prayer, etc, etc, but my behavior is my sole responsibility. In my reading of scripture there is a clear emphasis on self-control, and I’ve never been able to develop much regarding my notoriously quick temper.

I wrote and rewrote the ending of this post a million times, each one a variation of “I can’t control this anger.” But that’s a lie. I am not powerless over my power. I am not the Hulk. I am a human being with an option to sin or not sin.

When it comes down to it, I make a choice. I can talk all I want about my lack of self-control, about what feels like an overwhelming biological reaction, but I’ve always had the self-control to keep from physically hurting my child. Clearly, I make a choice not to act on certain urges, and a choice to act on others.

The fright and surprise I saw in my precious child’s eyes that day comes back to my mind, fresh and raw as if it had just happened, every time I start to feel the tension build and the heat rise in my belly. I scared her, and I won’t do it again.

On 2013: Finding Simplicity

For several months now, I’ve had a growing desire to simplify my life. I have felt overwhelmed by deadlines, overrun by housework, and overcome with tasks and meaningless activity that keeps me from doing what I need and want to do:

  • Be with my husband and daughter
  • Build meaningful relationships
  • Pursue the real Jesus
  • Complete my work on time and grow my business

balanceAnd for several months now, I’ve contemplated doing something – anything – drastic. I’m feeling the need to make major change. I’m feeling the need to overhaul my lifestyle in order to make room for my destiny and desires. I thought of doing something for a year, like a grand experiment, but I didn’t know how or what.

Then I read a book by Rachel Held Evans called “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.” It challenged me as a woman in the Kingdom of God, but it also delivered the inspiration I needed for how to structure my experiment.  In her book, Rachel explores what it means to be a “biblical woman” by taking the bible literally in her life. Each month, she chooses a different womanly biblical virtue and lives it to its literal extreme. I highly recommend it. I loved every word of it and can’t recommend it highly enough, but that’s worthy of another post.

My grand experiment began to take shape in my mind as I read Rachel’s book. A year, broken up into 12 different mini-experiments, is perfect for what I’m trying to learn and accomplish. Stephen and I started talking about it in October and have been brainstorming ideas since.

I’m excited to announce that: 2013 will be 12 Months of Simplicity for the Heath family. I will be blogging regularly about it here, and I’m guessing Stephen will write a few on his blog about the financial side of things.

We’ll be taking a close look at how we spend our time and energy and money, examining our consumer habits, thinking about how to reduce our waste, and figuring out how to organize our daily lives. We’re cutting back in some areas. We’re pouring into others. Mostly, we’re thinking about what we could change in order to make more room in our home and our lives for the most important things.

Our goal here isn’t to make you feel judged or impose some set of values that I believe to empirically better than yours. Our goal is to motivate you to an examination of your own lifestyle. I invite you to join me in asking: “Do my choices reflect my values?”

I’ve got plans for several months outlined (I’m not giving anything away yet!), but I’m still developing my ideas and am open to your suggestions. I posted a question on Facebook the other day asking what distracts or unnecessarily complicates your life. I received a lot of insightful and honest answers that I’m considering, and would love to hear more!

On Forgetting

Me and Izzy, 2 weeks old.

As I talk with Isabella about her new baby brother or sister, I find myself thinking often about when she was a newborn. I’ve written many times before about the struggles I faced as a new mom, and that wasn’t even a tenth of it. Many of my friends saw me during those days, soul splayed open, raw from the pressure, sleep deprivation having removed what little filter I normally possess. I talked openly about my on-and-off hatred of being a parent, how I would never be good enough, how I wondered if I really loved my child, and most of all, the horribleness of seeing how truly horrible I could be.

I was so angry with our parent friends because no one warned me. No one told me how frighteningly powerful your emotions can be at 3am. No one told me how maddening it is to listen to your child scream continuously in their car seat. No one told me how tired I would be. No one told me how powerless you feel when your child is crying and you can’t. figure. out. why. In the words of Chris Martin, “Nobody said it was easy… no one ever said it would be this hard.”

Me and Izzy, September 2012

Today Isabella is nearly 2, and while I still think I’m less suited to be a full-time mom than many of the incredible women I’m blessed to know, I love her dearly and would do it all again for who she is and what we now enjoy. When I think back on the first days and weeks and months with my little girl, what I remember most are the sweet and wonderful things. Not the frustration. Not the exhaustion. Not the guilt.

Now I understand why they didn’t warn me… they forgot. I wish I knew then what I know now: I will forget. I would have spent far less time struggling to be perfect, resenting Isabella, feeling ashamed. I would have more beautiful memories to look back on today. I would have gotten help. I would have held on to the good things and held my mistakes loosely. I would have been humbler, more merciful to myself.

I wish, I wish… but that season is over. I can’t go back and re-live those early days, but I can live today. And I get a chance to do it differently with a new baby.  I’m going to be happier this time.

This sweet tattoo isn’t mine. I found it on Pinterest.

On Trusting Yourself

I’m excited to be participating in the Preparing for Birth Series at A Little Bit of All of It.  This week’s topic is “Advice for the New Mom,” and Lord knows I had to learn a LOT when I first started doing this 17 months ago.

When you have a new baby, you’ll find yourself answering the same handful of questions over and over again, to the point that you develop short, scripted little answers for each of them.

“No, we’re not really sleeping. I guess you could call it napping, two hours at a time.”

“We’re not going to be trying any sleep training, but thanks for the suggestion.”

“I’m breastfeeding on her cue. She’s nursing around 12 times a day.”

“Oh yeah, she was born with all that hair.  My sister and I were both the same way.”

“It is fun! I just love being a mom… most of the time.”

But there was one question that I was never able to nail down my quick and easy answer for…

“What has surprised you most about being a mom/having a baby?”

I was asked this question surprisingly often, and it caught me off guard every time.  I never knew what to say.  Let’s see…

Breastfeeding, not sleeping, the power of my emotions, the number of diapers a baby can demolish in a single day, the stress, the love, the joy, the doubt, the exhaustion, the beauty, the hours we could spend watching her do absolutely nothing but simply BE.  Just all of it.

I was woefully underprepared for motherhood (though I think it’s fair to say that most of us feel pretty out of our element at first).  I was terrified, and couldn’t allow myself to consider the possibility that after childbirth (for which I was extremely prepared), I would be responsible for the care of an actual newborn human baby.  I had zero experience with babies.  They made me uncomfortable.  I didn’t like them.  Truthfully, I was afraid I wouldn’t like my own.

When Isabella was born I was overwhelmed.  I was in constant doubt, questioning myself at every decision, sure that I was doing everything wrong.  The Baby Book became my best friend, always nearby when I was nursing so I could look up all the startling or alarming or confusing things I was encountering every moment.  During those early days I spent a lot of time googling things on my phone and reading blogs and books and WebMD articles.

But as Izzy and I got to know one another, slowly, very slowly, I began to listen to my own instincts.  Instead of asking Dr. Sears what he thought, I started to focus on my daughter.  I was amazed (and still am) by how powerfully you can love someone.  I adore Stephen, but it’s different.  We fell in love slowly as our friendship grew.  We chose each other.  We share with one another, we give and receive.

I didn’t choose Isabella- she came to me, with nothing to offer but her small self, her new existence, her complete and total reliance on me for all her needs.  And I was head-over-heels, fiercely, and suddenly in love with her.  I didn’t have to try.  I didn’t have to conjure up motherly feelings that weren’t there the day before. One day she was in my arms, and I was irrevocably changed.

That’s what surprised me most about being a mother; it comes naturally.  We are biologically, physiologically, and emotionally hardwired with the instincts and abilities to care for our children.  Even if you’re terrified, everything you need to mother beautifully is already inside you.

My advice to new moms is simple: trust yourself.

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