Sunday, July 17, 2016

So I guess I'm a stay-at-home-mom, now.


What comes to your mind when you hear that phrase, “stay-at-home mom”?  Joan Cleaver?  I used to cringe when I heard it.  You see, I fancied myself a feminist.  “Women have come so far to be degraded back to spending their days vacuuming, feeding their offspring, and fetching men their slippers,” I thought.  Yet here I am, years later and I am going to be taking on that title.  Is this a permanent change?  Something for a just a year?  A few years?  I honestly can’t tell you.  What I can tell you is that I believe that there is no one right path—working-mom or stay-at-home-mom—and that I believe this decision is what is best for my family.

There have been times when I believed that working was the only way, and times in my life when I thought staying home was the only way.  At various seasons of my life I would’ve passionately defended either of those opposing points-of-view.  Now, I see the validity of both options.  There are many paths.  Neither is right for every person at every time.  I view staying home as a personal choice to do without some of your income in order to invest extra time and energy in your family.  I also see that you can raise your kids well even if they are in daycare for a good chunk of their lives.  Some women become better versions of themselves for their families by having a career.  Some women find other ways besides working to change the world, utilize their talents, and express their passions.  I know good, healthy, joyful women who work and parent, and who stay home and parent.  When I realized that, the choice of what was right for me only became more difficult.

For the past three years I have been called “teacher.”  I love/hate my job.  Teaching is one of the most gut-wrenching, draining, fulfilling, enjoyable things that I’ve ever done.  There is nothing like that moment when you realize that you have built a connection with a student--you can see in their eyes that they feel cared for and believed in by you. When something you planned just works and you see students engaged, thinking critically, and growing it is magical.  I know that I’m good at teaching.  I feel like it is important work.  Yet it sucks my energy like nothing I’ve ever experienced.  Kids are so needy.  Try being in a room full of twenty five of them all day long.  Then getting a new set every fifty minutes.  Each with their own unique mix of burdens, needs, challenges.  Not to mention the pressure of knowing that what I do every day could have a profound impact on their futures—for better or for worse.  As a teacher, I often felt like I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off all day long.

 Let me paint a picture of the typical day for you.  I would start with my prep period: an hour during which I often had to finalize lesson plans, make copies, print visuals, cut strips of paper, create posters, set up manipulatives, enter grades, check emails, meet with colleagues, the list goes on and on.  Then, once class started, so began the dance of greeting and chatting cordially with students as I passed out/set up materials, explained activities, monitored activities, answered questions, cleared up confusion, watched timers, supervised closely, reinforced positive behaviors, redirected negative behaviors, gave consequences, assessed for understanding, adjusted plans, listened to their stories, picked up materials, all without stopping even to pee (teachers are trained in the art of bladder origami).  I would come home at the end of the day exhausted.  It was a good exhausted—like wearing yourself out on a battlefield.  But still, trying to listen to my husband talk about his day on our commute home felt like trying to diffuse a bomb in the middle of a rock and roll concert.  I needed an hour plus of zone-out time on the couch just to feel up to doing menial tasks like walking my dog or helping out with the dishes.

I’ve tried countless times to imagine the life I’ve lead for the past three years plus a crying, pooping baby who won’t let me sleep.  I can’t fathom it.  As it is, refreshing myself enough to take on the next day of teaching while maintaining my sanity takes a lot.  It is the reason I go to bed earlier than my grandmother.  I can’t seem to wrap my head around being a run-down, sleep-deprived mommy in the evenings and then trying to do school the next day.  I know there are people who do both of these jobs and do them well.  To them I say, “Kudos!”  I know it is possible.  But I really don’t even want to try to do it at this point.  I already feel like often all I have to offer my husband are my leftovers.  I don’t want to do the same to our baby.  I think it’s also just my disposition.  I give my whole self to everything that I do.  I don’t know how to jump into something without throwing my whole heart into the mix.  I feel things deeply.  I only have so much energy for the outside world.  I need time inside my head.  My stamina wears thin easily.  For these reasons, I think that a being new-mommy-Chelsea, and teacher-Chelsea at the same time would translate to more of a zombie-Chelsea than a thriving human being.

  So, I am making a choice—the choice to focus just on loving and caring for my husband, infant, and our dog for a while.  I’ll admit I don’t really know what it’s going to be like having a child.  Perhaps I am capable of much more than I can imagine currently.  Maybe after a bit, my mama instincts will kick in and I’ll be rocking this thing and ready to take on a job.  I’m leaving myself that option.  Maybe I will love what I’m doing and decide to have another baby and keep at this SAHM gig.  Maybe I’ll decide that the right balance is working part-time or finding ways to earn income from home.  At this point I can’t say.  All I can say is that, at least for now, I am hanging up my dry-erase markers and taking on child-rearing full-time.  You don’t have to agree with my choice, you don’t have to fully understand my choice, but I’d ask that you respect my choice.  Just call me Joan.  Or don't.  Because I am hormonal, sleep-deprived, and a former wrestler and I just might punch you.

When God uses a crappy situation for his glory.

*warning, this post not for the faint of heart.  If you can't handle talk about poop, here, watch this funny video about cats instead*

Sometimes God uses strange, even awkward things to bring him glory.  Even things like, say, pregnancy constipation.  Yep, that happens.  Can I just saying that pooping at eight months pregnant is the worst.  It feels like there's all this stuff--like a human child--in the way of your usual bowel moving muscles.  It's like your body is psyching you up for labor every time you have to drop a number two.  (Push!  Push!)  Whenever I have to go these days, I try to avoid it as long as possible, especially if I'm in a public place.

Anyways, I was at church (of course).  Philip and I had directed the Ross Point Camp Junior High Camp the week before.  I was reflecting on this, and thinking about how much I love being around Middle Schoolers.  Something about serving and loving them brings me life.  I felt a little sad in that moment, because I have resigned from my job teaching Middle School in order to stay home and care for our coming bundle.  I thought, "I'm going to miss being around them every day."  I asked God to continue to give me opportunities to invest in young people.  He answered my prayer quickly, and unusually.

We were half way through worship--which is my favorite part of church--and I felt the urge.  I had to use the bathroom, ahem.  I really didn't want to because A.  going while pregnant is the worst and B. I knew it meant missing a good chunk of the best part of the church service.  But, when you gotta go, you gotta go.  When I'd finally won the battle, and I was washing my hands this young girl walked in.  I recognized her because she'd been in my tent group at the church's middle school camp we'd served at the year before.  I'd formed a connection with her.  I specifically remember on a particularly moving night of the camp holding her, singing to her, and praying over her as she wept.  During this church service she'd run into the bathroom crying.  I asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"  She hugged me and then began to bare her soul.  She shared what she was feeling and going through.  I asked if I could pray for her.  She agreed.  So there I stood, in the restroom, of all places, ministering to a Middle Schooler.  The Lord had answered my prayer and was showing me that he will continue to use me to impact people in this stage of life even if I'm not teaching.  It's true what they say, "The Lord works in mysterious ways."


Singing with angels--in the shower.



I feel no shame in admitting that sometimes I like to sing in the shower.  The other day as I showered, I started singing Taylor Swift songs.  It reminded me how much I enjoy singing.  My voice isn't particularly beautiful, but something about belting out songs brings me joy.  That day, I felt like the Lord was nudging me. "Sing something to me," he asked.  I thought, "Ok, but what will I sing?"  The song "Good Father" came to my mind.  I began to weep as I sang. It's amazing how many times I have found solace in this song.  A good father loves, protects, provides, disciplines, guides, and cares for his children.  It is so encouraging to remember that God is doing all of those things for me.  No matter what I'm hearing, thinking, or feeling I need to be reminded that my identity is "Loved by God."

My husband, Philip, has some unusual spiritual giftings.  If you don't believe in that sort of thing, then you might just think he's crazy.  He is in touch with the spiritual realm.  At various times throughout his life he has been able to see things like demons and fallen angels.  He can discern darkness and often perceive the cause of it.  There was one time that he saw an angel, angel--like the good kind.  We took a trip to Las Vegas and the Lord showed him that an angel was present in our hotel room, watching over us.  That was very comforting because as fun as our trip was, Las Vegas is a city full of depravity and we could feel the weight of that.

This particular morning as I sang in the shower, Philip was in the room next door working on our nursery.  Apparently he was in ear shot.  He came in and told me, "When you were singing I could hear two voices."  Philip was convinced that what he heard was the sound of angels harmonizing with me.  Does that sound crazy to you?  That a hormonal lady with a swollen pregnant belly singing off-key in the shower could attract an angel to come and join in her worship to God?  I guess that I believe Philip.  I know that he has a sense for these sort of things.  And, to be honest, that sounds exactly like my God.  He would be pleased and glorified by something as simple as me crying and singing imperfectly to him as I shower.




Monday, May 23, 2016

The Ministry of Motherhood

I got to hold a newborn the other day.  Swoon.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I've never been that girl that oooohs and aaaahs at every baby she sees.  I'm not the first to run up and ask to hold somebody's baby.  Usually, while my other friends are all but fawning over any baby in proximity, I am looking from afar like, "Nice baby."  Things are a little different now.  I am excited about our son.  Sometimes just seeing a baby makes me tear up.  My hormones are telling me, "Must hold all the babies!"  So, my friend had a baby, and I held the sweet, two-week-old bundle.  

As I was holding the baby, I noticed a few things.  Of course, you always notice that newborns are tiny and perfect in a soft, pink way.  As a mama-to-be, though, other things stood out to me.  For one, babies are heavy.  Even though this sweet girl was so little, after holding her for a few minutes my arms were tired, my back hurt, all I wanted to do was sit down.  The problem was that she wasn't a huge fan of sitting down.  Or of me sitting still.  The second I sank back into my chair she seemed to notice and let me know by squirming or fussing.  I'd have to rock her or get up and bounce her.  It was kind of a reality check.  Perhaps my vision of sitting on the couch watching Netflix for hours with my son snuggled sound asleep in my arms may have been more idealistic than I'd realized.

Also, apparently babies cry quite a bit (who knew?).  Every few minutes baby girl's face would contort and I'd know the storm was coming.  She would make the saddest, loudest sounds.  Instead of tossing her back to my friend and running for the hills, I thought I'd give comforting her a try.  After all, I'm going to be caring for one of these full-time very soon.  So when she started to wail, I'd stand up and bounce her or rock her and whisper things like, "Shhh.  It's ok.  You're ok."  She'd calm down and soon be a cute, sleeping baby again.

 As I comforted her, I wondered what she was thinking.  This baby's needs were met.  She was fed.  She was changed.  She had on clean, cute, and temperature appropriate clothing.  She was well taken care of.  This baby had nothing to worry about.  Yet she still cried periodically for seemingly no reason.   Was she uncomfortable?  Scared?  Sad?  Perhaps she didn't know how safe and how loved she was.  Even though nothing was really wrong, every once in awhile she needed someone to encourage her.

I started thinking about the many times throughout the years that my own mother has done this very thing for me.  After a hard day at school.  Before an important wrestling match.  Even now, there are times when I call my mom crying.  I can't tell you how many times since becoming a teacher that my mom (a fellow educator) has been my solace after a rough day.  Now that I'm experiencing pregnancy and anticipating parenthood I often find myself calling on my mom for help.  She always knows just what to say to help me feel better.  I suppose she's had 26 years of practice.  Ever since I was a wee babe.  It's as if she's whispering, "Shh.  It's ok.  You're ok."

When I think about it, I feel overwhelmed by beauty of the adventure that I'm about to embark on.  Yes it is going to be extremely difficult.  Probably tougher than I know.  But God is gifting me the privilege of sacrificing myself to meet the needs of someone else.  I will wear myself out loving someone who gives me nothing but spit-up and poopy diapers in return.  Sounds a lot like the gospel--sounds a lot like Jesus' unconditional love for us.  Not only this, but I will have the mission of comforting and encouraging this little person through the years.  I will be able to calm and soothe him with just my touch or some gentle words.  Perhaps, someday he'll be calling me from college or his job or when he's having babies of his own and just need to hear, "Shh.  It's ok.  You're okay."  Motherhood, what a beautiful calling.  A sleepy, messy, beautiful calling.  I am grateful that it's going to be mine.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pregnancy Journey: Finding Out the Gender






When you're pregnant people always ask you, "Do you want a boy or a girl?"  This is a trick question, I tell you.  Because we all know the correct answer is, "I just want the baby to be healthy."  So if you have even just an itty bitty preference, you wind up feeling like a horrible person.  From the get-go I have kind of wanted a girl.  I tried not to care!  It's just that perusing through the baby aisles I couldn't help but be enchanted by the bows, tutus, and glitter.  Girl clothes are definitely more fun.  Plus, most of my strongest connections are with other females.  I felt that I could bond more with a baby girl.  Not to mention, I have liked our girl names better than our boy names.  So, hard as it was to admit, bad as I felt about it, I wanted a girl.

Despite my desires, all signs started to point to our baby being a boy.  My family all said they thought we were having a boy.  They said this because there are a lot of boys in our family.  One night, Philip and I both had dreams that we had a boy.  I tried to make myself okay with this idea.  Still, part of me was hopeful.

At about sixteen weeks I started getting crazy impatient about finding out the gender.  We had a big ultra sound appointment set up for a little after twenty weeks, but that seemed so far away.  You can't pick the name, design the nursery, buy any clothes, really, unless you know the gender.  It is sad that our world is so "gendered," but that's kind of the way it is.  Plus I was in one of the lulls of pregnancy.  Pregnancy can be a roller-coaster.  There are some really exciting points, like announcing it to your friends and getting the most Facebook likes of your life.  There are some really intense points, like when you can't stop puking and all you want to do is sleep.  Then there are some kind of boring parts.  Sixteen weeks was one of those for me.  

 My friends told me about this business in my hometown that just does Ultrasounds.  They can find out the gender for you as early as sixteen weeks.  I became obsessed with doing this.  Talk about instant gratification.  Instead of waiting another month, suddenly I could go and find out the gender--tomorrow!  Here's the catch:  it costs $75.  My very pragmatic husband couldn't see spending that kind of cash just to curb my impatience.  We had a doctor's appointment at eighteen weeks.  I thought, "If you can tell at sixteen weeks, maybe the doctor could just find out for us at our appointment."  At any rate, I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask.

So at the appointment I asked the doctor if she could do an ultra sound and maybe tell us the gender.  She agreed!  However, she prefaced it with this, "I am notoriously bad at this.  I have been wrong before.  I'll do my best, but don't buy anything or tell anyone."  She did the ultra sound and it was amazing.  The last ultra sound we had been to was like, "There's your baby!" *Doctor points to a small blob that resembles some sort of sea creature*  This time was completely different.  I could see fingers and toes.  Baby was moving around in there like crazy!  This was definitely a human, and it was definitely growing inside me.  Then, the doctor told us that she was 70% sure that our little one was a boy!  

I have to admit that I felt a mix of emotions in that moment.  I was so happy seeing the glowing silhouette of our child.  Honestly, though, I have to admit that when she said boy I was a little disappointed.  I was also scared.  I thought, "What do I do with a boy?"  I understand girls.  I know what it's like to be a girl.  I know what they need.  Boys are kind of a mystery to me.  A smelly, wild, hungry mystery.  I began to wonder if we would have a close relationship.  All of the people I'm closest to--with the exception of my husband and brothers--are girls. 

After these hormone-enhanced emotions faded, excitement began to set in.  I started dreaming about what our son would look like, what he would wear.  I started finding ideas for a woodsy boys' nursery.  I started narrowing down our names.  The beauty of knowing the gender was that I was able to begin to picture everything about my baby more clearly.

The day of the official ultra sound arrived--finally!  I was so eager and excited.  Thinking about it that morning, I actually hoped it was a boy.  It would have just been such a curve-ball at that point to find out the doctor had been wrong.  I had already planned a boy's nursery.  I had been pinning baby boy outfits.  We had told a few family members and friends that we were pretty sure we were going to have a son.  I was mentally prepared to hear the doctor say, "It's a boy."

Once we arrived at the hospital, we were kept in the waiting room for over half an hour, but it felt like days.  I checked my phone about every five minutes.  Then they called me in and the show started.  I got a full hour of screen time, just staring at my child.  For the first time in this pregnancy I felt such a strong connection to our baby.  Seeing the close-up profile of his little face, I could picture our baby so clearly.  I imagined holding him in my arms.  I didn't even realize I was emotional, but I had to keep wiping tears that were leaking down the side of my face.  About a third of the way through, we got a pretty clear shot of baby's junk, and the doctor informed us that we were indeed having a boy.  Surprisingly, I felt nothing but love in that moment.  

This transition into parenthood continues to be a journey.  I realize now that people are right when they say that the gender doesn't matter.  Sure, I'm going to have to learn a thing or two about raising a wild little man, but I have my husband, brothers, and fathers to help me.  Now, I guess I really am just hoping that our baby will be healthy.  One thing is for sure though, I will love him no matter what.  In fact, as strange as it is, since we've never formally met, I think I already do.

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