is this thing on? hunkering down + doing more.

ahem.

i haven’t been here in awhile.

maybe you’ve noticed.

maybe you haven’t.

either way, i’m okay with that.

i’m realizing, at age 30, that i’m more than okay with satisfying ME, with doing ME, with reporting to no one other than ME and MINE.

and even more than being okay with this…i’m realizing that all of this ME talk isn’t selfishness.

it’s called hunkering down, and i’ve been doing a lot of it.

* *

like many, many, MANY of you, i awoke to a world that i didn’t recognize on November 9 – which, coincidentally, was also my 30th birthday. i went to bed the night before in turmoil, living in a wine-stained haze that wasn’t even remotely enough to conceal my anxious hand-wringing, my insistent anger, my utter refusal not to say his name.

i likened him to Rowling’s Voldemort – i would not utter his name in my house.

how will we tell Lionel? i asked Jord, searching his pained face for answers.

we tell him that sometimes, the bad guy wins, he replied.

and so we did. and it was one of the most difficult conversations i’ve ever had with Lionel in his life thus far.

* *

i’ve made changes in my life since turning 30.

i got my nose pierced.

i now wash my make-up off before bed…most nights.

i now have big-girl make-up that isn’t from the drug store.

i drink more water.

i eat breakfast…and it’s healthy.

i’m entertaining the idea of joining a gym.

i’ve said goodbye to Facebook…again.

and i’m sharing my opinions, political or otherwise, more often.

perhaps not as much as i could, or as much as i should, but i’m trying to let go of the coulds and the shoulds in favor of silence, in favor of listening to what God keeps placing on my heart.

what’s God telling you?

here’s what he’s saying to me:

it’s just about love.

how best can we love one another?

sometimes, loving one another is about having the hard conversations, about challenging each other’s views, about asking questions that you don’t want to ask but you do it anyway.

why do you feel the way that you do?

sometimes, authentic, believe-it-to-my-core truth can be the opposite of other people’s truth, and i’m learning that this is okay. but i’m also learning to ask more questions.

are you open to other sides of the story?

where do you get your news?

are you informed?

sometimes, the answers i get to these questions are disturbing.

sometimes, i realize that in between all of the stereotypes and misinformation, there’s no room for agreement. i lie in my bed frustrated and angry that my words are not enough to change years and experiences and hearts to embrace what i feel is right.

and sometimes, i rise from my bed in the morning, and i force myself to recognize that God is sovereign – that God has this.

* *

if i’ve learned anything since waking up 30 in Trump’s America, it’s that i’m just so damn privileged.

while i may not agree with all that the current leader of this country does or says or thinks, i’m sheltered from the hurt of it all, mostly.

my kids will still attend a high-quality public school in our neighborhood, regardless of whether or not Betsy DeVos ruins it all. my husband will still go to work in IT for a local hospital, regardless of whether or not ACA is repealed. i will still teach English to students who immigrated to this country from war-torn nations like Iraq and Eritrea and Somalia, regardless of whether or not these students’ families – or my students themselves – are forbidden to travel.

there are innumerable levels to my family’s potential losses in the current political climate. it would take many, many chips falling poorly – many, many cookies crumbling – for my family’s reality to shatter.

and from my position of privilege, i recognize that for many, a shattered life is one chip away. or – even more startling – the crumbs are already on the floor.

* *

and so, here i am, striving to find out how to proceed.

it’s about love.

it’s about asking myself this:

how could i show up for others today?

how should i show up for others today?

i don’t have all of the answers, but here’s what i do know:

i need to do more.

you’re TWO!

Q-is-Two

dearest Quincy August,

you, our boy, are TWO today. you may have entered our world by surprise by showing up a few weeks early, but you’ve held my heart in your chubby little fingers since that day.

a few things that i love about your two-year-old self:

  • your uninhibited love for your brother. your best days are the ones that start and end with your brother Lionel, and you find everything that he does to be enjoyable. he has created quite the path for you to follow, and following him is exactly what you intend to do with your days, but with your own Quincy-Bug flair. my prayer is that your relationship, even though i know that it will ebb and flow, will always be tender.
  • your frequent utterances of “No, Bob!” oh, Rhyming Dust Bunnies, if the laughter that you’ve brought to our family paid dividends, this book would never leave the bestseller list.
  • your affection for rocking in the wooden rocker before bed. while your big brother’s love for the rocking chair developed quite early in his life, you were a late bloomer; you only grew to love the rocker when, desperate for you to go-to-sleep-already, we dragged it out of Grandma Patty and Grandpa Joe’s garage and used it to instill a bedtime routine. now, even on the nights that you don’t want to stop play-play-playing to go to bed, you relish your stories (usually Pete the Cat and Thomas the Tank Engine), your snuggles (we relish those, too), and your songs before you slumber. you even let me rock you all the way to sleep today before nap time, which was quite special – thank you.
  • your penchant for hiding when Mama and Daddy want to do any of the following: A) change your diaper, B) dress you for the day, or C) leave the house. even more adorable? your sheer incapability of hiding anywhere but Mama and Daddy’s bedroom.

there are not enough keys on this keyboard, tears in my eyes, or giggles in my belly to describe how much i adore you. i remark often that despite your stubbornness, that you are one of my favorite people on this planet, and it’s true – i couldn’t feel more proud to be your Mama.

xoxo, my loving boy.

you have my heart forever,

Mama

three things i say too often, and one thing i need to say more.

L-Cymbals-October-2016

this morning, i was walking out of my bedroom after getting dressed, and i see a blur of blue flying through the air.

i knew instantly that disaster was imminent.

as the blue ball throttled my coffee mug and sent it flying to the floor, sending raindrops of salted-caramel-mocha-flavored coffee literally EVERYWHERE, i took a deep breath, anticipated the terrified and shameful reactions of my oldest son, the ball-thrower…and i decided to smile.

he was expecting me to yell, to chide him for playing ball upstairs (a no-no in our house), for not being careful.

but i smiled.

looking down at the mocha-colored coffee splatters, his eyes grew even larger. “it was my fault, Mama – it was an accident. i’m sorry! i’m sorry!” he blurted out.

and then he looked up and saw my smiling face…and his mocha-colored eyes returned to their normal, inquisitive state, and he smiled, too.

“i know, buddy. it’s okay,” i responded, reaching for the paper towels. “can you please keep your brother out of the kitchen while i clean this up?”

“i will, Mommy. i’ll do it!” he said, a sense of pride in his big-boy voice as he readied himself for a big-boy task.

* *

as i was soaking up coffee with paper towels, my bare knees mocha-colored from my failed attempts to dodge the coffee on the floor, i thought about the way that i responded to this morning’s disaster.

i want to always be this kind of mama.

the one that understands that accidents happen, that kids are sometimes terrors that leave a mess in their wake.

the one who SMILES in the face of disaster.

the kind of mama that thinks about her response BEFORE SAYING ANYTHING to her sensitive and tender-hearted child who, with a swift kick of a ball (and excellent aim, mind you) broke the rules.

so, in this spirit, i bring you three things that i say too often, and one that i need to say more.

  1. “we need to be careful/gentle.” i’ll admit – i even uttered this phrase this morning during the coffee incident. but here’s the thing: sweet L is now four, as much as i hate to recognize it, and his uncontrollable toddler limbs are no more. in their place are capable, strong, focused, and (most of the time) gentle movements that take him to far-away places and that help him to achieve great things. in other words, even though accidents happen, or even though he may be doing something risky, like jumping from the second-to-last step or kicking a ball upstairs “where mama’s pretty things are,” he knows to be careful; we’ve taught him well.
  2. “your brother is smaller than you are.” just like L is aware of his own body, he is also aware of his little brother’s capabilities and size. even though i remind him often, particularly during moments of tackling and wrestling and rough play, to be careful with Q, i tend to forget that A) he is being careful, and that B) our Q-bug is, more often than not, the aggressor, the initiator, the culprit.
  3. “you’re a big boy.” i say this phrase in two distinct ways – A) to applaud him for excellent behavior or achievements, such as learning how many letters are in his first, middle and last names, or being kind to his friends, and B) to encourage him to behave better. i’m bringing up usage B) here as something that i need to say less often, though, because i’m noticing that i chide him for what i deem to be childish behavior with this phrase. for instance, last night as i was putting L to bed, he revealed that he wasn’t tired and that he didn’t want to go to bed. when i reminded him that it was bedtime, he began to cry (bedtime has been quite the struggle lately, which is a different post altogether…). my response to his tears was, of course, to snuggle and offer comfort, but i also uttered this phrase – “you’re a big boy.” however, in this moment, my use of the phrase seemed to emphasize (to me at least) that it’s not okay for big boys to cry, which is far from true. i don’t want him to think that having or attaining “big boy” status means that emotions need to be locked up tightly inside and not shared!
  4. BONUS! here’s what i need to say more often: “it’s okay.” it’s remarkable how much value i place in hearing these words myself – from Jordan, my parents, my colleagues, my friends, etc. – yet how little i utter or share this sentiment with others, and especially with my children.the phrase “it’s okay” offers with it a comfort and a reassurance that is unmatched by any of the phrases that i overuse above. what’s more: the meaning of “it’s okay” – whether it’s “i see that you’re struggling, but i’m here” or “your actions or feelings are not something that i’ll hold against you” – is exactly what i am trying to teach my children to offer to others.

after all, how can i preach kindness and teach grace-filled behavior without offering it myself?

weekend edition.

Sara-Selfie

i’m jumping in.

i may be a bit delirious, given that i’ve been awake since the wee hours of the morning – the darkness of the middle of the night matches the dark circles under my eyes right now – but it’s Friday, i just finished grading more than 70 (yes, SEVENTY) student essays, and though i have a sick babe at home snuggled in my hubby’s arms, i am ready for this weekend.

for the first weekend in a while, i’m leaving my teacher self at school and jumping in to my mama self, my wife self, my me self.

a few things i’m digging, and a few things i’m hoping to get accomplished this weekend:

  • Quincy and i had the pleasure of meeting the ladies of Joseph at Write: Doe Bay last year, and i’m loving their new album. must-listen: “White Flag.”
  • Spotify is rocking my world – the Premium version is 100 percent worth paying for. must-listen: Acoustic Covers playlist.
  • chilly temperatures mean scarves, plaid, boots, and gold jewelry. two of my newest fall-inspired purchases: this scarf and this necklace from Madewell (i’m OBSESSED and wish i didn’t have to drive all the way to the Twin Cities to try on – ahem, and buy – all of the things.)
  • on deck this weekend: get my babe well by indulging in many, many “nuggles” (snuggles); do a round of Powersheets for October…a week late; cheer on my biggest as he puts a cap on his very first soccer season; soak up girl time with my Mom and my brother’s girl; and hopefully, maybe, actually beat my husband – for the first time – at this board game that we’re loving.

xo,

Sara

on anxiety.

Troubled-Waters-Cleansing

this week, i’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety and depression, and how to normalize it, how to own it. these conditions, these afflictions, they are REAL, and they are something that so, so many people struggle with, and hide, and feel ashamed of.

i’m done feeling this way.

guys, i have anxiety.

and i want to share my story with you all today, in hopes that it will be a light in the often dark, dark world of mental illness.

* *

when Jord and i first moved to Vermillion, we were newly married (barely one month into our marriage!), and we were both embarking on new adventures: i was attending graduate school in English literature and teaching at the local university, and Jord accepted (literally a week or so before our wedding!) a new position in athletic development for the fundraising body for the university. we were living in a new city, an hour away from our families and friends, and we were navigating newlywed life together.

once graduate school began and the academic year ramped up, my perfectionist tendencies – that i was able to keep in check (for the most part) in my undergraduate years – heightened considerably. with each novel or reading that was assigned, and with each student essay that hit my grading pile, i lost more and more of my ability to endure what felt like (to me) falling short.

if i didn’t underline or annotate or seek to fully understand each sentence of each novel or critical reading that i was assigned in my graduate courses, i felt like i wasn’t qualified to seek a master’s degree. if i didn’t circle every grammatical error or imprecise topic sentence in my students’ essays, i felt like i wasn’t trying hard enough or doing enough to help my students to succeed.

as you can guess, these feelings – of failure, of doubt, of constantly seeking to do more, to be more – took a toll.

Jord was a first-hand witness to all of these feelings. he was the ear to which i confessed all of my stress, the shoulder on which i leaned, the face to whom i looked to for support, for comfort, for safety.

but i felt like i was failing him, too.

here we were – newlyweds! – and i couldn’t even muster enough energy at the end of the day to stay awake during a movie, to hold his hand in mine as we munched on popcorn.

my anxiety finally reached a breaking point in February of 2011, when, in the midst of teaching a new course and taking my own classes with seemingly even higher demands, i remember feeling helpless, like i didn’t possess any skills whatsoever to cope with my new reality – my teaching assistantship, my graduate coursework, my marriage. and in that moment, i remember Jord taking my hands in his and recommending that i seek therapy.

* *

Jord came with me to that first appointment, and he held my hands as i cried to the therapist at our local hospital about the way that i had been feeling, and the toll that these feelings were taking on my life. i truly feel that seeking help was the first step in managing my anxiety, for without my weekly therapy appointments, which i participated in faithfully until the end of 2012, i’m not sure that i would have been able to find the light in the dark tunnel that i was trapped inside.

the other tool that helped me then, and that still aids me now, is medication.

i take a little blue pill every morning, before i guzzle my coffee, and i’ve done this every morning since 2011.

* *

in the early weeks and months after i began my weekly therapy sessions, i also had what my therapist called my “emergency medication,” which was fast-acting and effective in quickly calming my anxious tendencies. i remember carrying this medication with me in my purse everywhere i went, and i remember reaching for this pill a few times, when often unexplainable feelings of overwhelm or failure would bubble up.

after a while, my emotions began to even out, and i felt comfortable and confident moving forward in my graduate studies, my teaching assistantship, my marriage – my life – without the emergency medication in my purse. Jord and i began to seriously discuss starting a family, and shortly after that, we were expecting our Lionel.

i took medication for my anxiety during both of my pregnancies, with Lionel and with Quincy. while my doctors placed me on a different brand of medication during these time periods of pregnancy and breastfeeding, i faithfully took my low-dose anxiety medication each morning of both of my sons’ entire existence, both on the inside and in the outside world. and i’ll do it again, should we decide to have another child eventually.

even in light of the emotion-ridden and utterly painful guilt of the doctor’s misdiagnosis for the reasoning for Quincy’s brief NICU stay, i know that the medication that i take each morning saved me many times over.

it allowed me to complete my graduate studies. it allowed me to re-engage in my marriage. it allowed me to even consider becoming a mother. it allowed me to cope with the guilt that i unnecessarily felt for Quincy’s short stint in the NICU. and it allows me, still today, to be the mother and the wife and the Sara that i want to be.

* *

anxiety is something that may have brought me to my knees time and again in my adult life, but it’s also something that i manage on a daily basis. i do so with the support of my family and friends, my colleagues, my faith, and yes, my medication. my anxiety is not shameful – it’s a point of strength for me, for if i didn’t endure such struggle, i wouldn’t feel such triumph.