Saturday, May 6, 2017

What I Learned in April

So, this month was different from most in that we were away from home for the entirety of it. I learned so much on our month long trip back to Brooklyn. This is one of my longest lists ever and that feels perfect because this was one of the biggest learning experiences of my life!

Home and Routines

1. I cannot have a really good productive school day and a major cleaning day (and have a baby) on Saturdays anymore. I know I can do two of the three because I did pre-Sallie. Sallie's not going anywhere (thankfully) and I really like having a solid school day, so I'm just going to try to figure out how to get more cleaning done during the week.

Voluntary Simplicity

2. Voluntary Simplicity has put us in a really incredible position. Sometimes I have a really hard time with it.  My current discontent is that the house I've worked so hard on and took such slow, steady steps with for near bout a decade now has got me self-concious again- I started wondering if our friends think "this is kinda cute but it's also kinda falling apart" because our chairs look TERRIBLE from when we had indoor cats. But when I think how fortunate we are to have this adventure and more than that to have all this TIME with P, I'm really grateful that he decided financial independence was something he wanted to pursue and work towards.  

3. It's time for another purge. I only brought my favorite things to New York and it was fun to have such a consolidated closet. I'm ready to get rid of some more stuff now that we're home!

4. Eating the previous guests' steaks at your Airbnb isn't a totally bad idea.
It's one thing to use the plates, utensils, bath towels, and bed sheets at your Airbnb. I mean, obviously. That's what you do. But it's a whole 'nother level of Voluntary Simplicity when you find unopened steaks in the freezer from the previous guests, double check the date, and then cook them for your fam. But it was damn delicious.


5. Month long trips with three kids are a rollercoaster. I'm not sure if it was the great weather or having the kids with us this time or what but the trip started out so great. It's funny because, for the most part, we weren't doing anything especially exciting but I love the vibe in the neighborhood so much. But we had some rainy days where I really struggled emotionally with a ton of stuff and it was hard. And then it ended on a high note and the last few days were really magical.

6. Flying doesn't work for us
I actually made an executive decision that in the foreseeable future any time with travel withing the continental United States (which is anytime we travel in the foreseeable future), we're driving. The kids did SO well on our big camping trip last Fall and the big ones did great when we moved home from BK. I love flying in theory- it's cool and fun and as bad a driver as I am, it's never scared me at all. But it does a number on me physically every time and on this trip I realized how much it effects Graves (he and I are so similar in our sensitivity to pressure changes). He was squeezing his eyes so hard in so much pain on the descent and trying not to cry because his ears hurt so bad. And I took Annie to the bathroom in Atlanta and she was in the stall next to me...until she wasn't. She had gone to wash her hands but I had such a panicked moment. I was terrified someone had grabbed a her and she was about a to be human trafficked. This is such a major anxiety trigger for me right now. And then when the car came to pick us up, Sallie's straps were SO loose. I was cringing the whole time but I barely had time to get Annie buckled before the driver pulled off. I just feel so much more in control of the situation when we're driving. And yes, it's important to let go of control and God calls me to do it often. But in this stage of the game, I feel like I'm letting go of it in so many daily ways and this was too much.

7. When you are creature of habit and a lover of routine, a month long trip is really, really difficult. 
I think Annie has definitely had the hardest time this month of all five of us. Many of my biggest flaws are her weaknesses- she can be inflexible and rigid and stubborn and entitled and she wants so desperately to be in control. But she's also really special and one of the most fascinating people I know. Quirks abound and I will always be grateful I get to know the intriguing little person she is. And ironically she also often reminds me what it is to be delighted by small, ordinary wonder. She told us her special day (the day that she got to choose what we did to celebrate her birthday) was better than she expected because she didn't know how fun the roller coaster would be, she didn't think we would let her take her shoes off and play in the sand, and she didn't realize that the F train would go above ground. I'm glad we're back to having a little more space and I know she is, too.

8. Outfits that are not pajamas but have footies are perfect for days where it's cool and Sallie is in the Tula all day because when she wears normal pants they ride up and there's a big gap between them and her socks. 
This was one of my favorite outfits for Annie because it functions like pjs but feels like real clothes. Basically the sweetest loungewear ever. AP wore it a ton. Sallie hasn't as much because she started pulling up so much earlier and it's gross to me when she's actually standing up. And also because she's so busy and two piece things just don't stay on her as well. 

New York

9. One of the things I've missed most about living in Brooklyn is the everyday banter on the street.  
I love how people will visit with strangers on the sidewalk. One of my most favorite things about Brooklyn is the murals. They are everywhere and when we lived here I loved finding new ones. I just think they're amazing and add so much color to an already beautifully vibrant place. I think ones depicting famous people are interesting but I'm often more drawn to the murals that represent the ordinary humans who together make a community. And I love that those two folks at the front of the truck got to be part of it again for a month.

10. Some things feel a lot easier here, some that I didn't expect and some are as hard or harder than I expected. 
Like laundry. I was REALLY dreading it but it's actually been easier doing it at the laundry mat. The second time I did it, I did a week's worth of five people's clothes plus the sheets from both beds. I was there for a couple of hours but I got to read and be by myself and I folded a bunch while I was there. So it was two hours plus thirty minutes of folding and putting it up and making up the beds when I got back. I spend WAY more than two and a half hours a week on laundry at home. All three times I fit everything I needed to take in our medium size suitcase. Another thing I was a bit terrified about was the housing. I didn't know what to expect. But I LOVE that we don't have much stuff. I just don't feel like I'm constantly cleaning and picking up like at home. Our apartment feels small but the park across the street feels provisional. But other stuff has been exhausting and anxiety inducing. Mainly transit, I guess. It still stresses me and taxes me mentally. Peyton actually apologized to me because the other day he was wearing Sallie and was way ahead of us and started to get on a train and I had the two big kids. I was holding onto Graves but Annie was just beside me. If I hadn't basically pushed her on the train, I'm not sure she would have gotten on it. Those situations are easy to replay in my mind over and over and it's a hard won victory when I can get my mind to rest.

11. In some senses I feel happier and healthier here. I'm still working on putting my finger on why but I think it's that I get out(side) more and exercise more and that our stuff and our commitments are VERY streamlined.

12. Here one more child feels like an exponential increase rather than an additional one.  
I'm also still trying to put my finger on the thing(s) that were so hard about this trip. One big component is that at home adjusting to three kids was a transition but it was it was not like this. We know a couple of families here that have three or more children so I know it's possible. But for us, I don't think it would have been sustainable. And honestly, I had the foresight to anticipate this would be the case. Even if we controlled all the other factors (grandparents, our yard, ect.), this was significant in and of itself. A large part of my motivation to move home was the desire for the baby who would be Sarah Lamar. 

13. There's room in my heart to *deeply* love two places and that it's very clear where our family will thrive the most right now. When we moved here, I had no idea that intense love was possible and when we moved home I had no idea that intense clarity was. This was probably the biggest take away from the whole trip. The trip was a lot of things. My friend Lauren said it so sweetly "you guys will always have a place here and can move in and out of this community freely, but it's great this trip solidified what you knew- that home is in Mississippi right now". Several other friends have shared similar sentiments and and Peyton and I have talked about it alot.


14. I'm gonna be real sad when Sallie discovers that I'm not the fun parent. She is SUCH a momma's girl and if I'm honest, she's kind of my security blanket in some ways, too. Both the big kids just adore Peyton so much and said a couple of things that made me feel like they were partial to him. None of it devastated me, which I'm really proud of, but both interactions did sting a little. And Sallie is becoming more and more of a papa's girl by the day. Peyton reminded me that their preferences will change a lot over the years and Minnie did the same- I think there were plenty of phases where Cookie and I preferred one of them and also many phases where they preferred one of us and I'm so glad that was a normal thing and not something any of us obsessed about. So I I'm just holding out hope for when the hormones hit and they need a sweet, sensitive parent more than a fun parent again. Cause I'm that one.

15. It's nice to feel confident about a few things and to be comfortable enough to do things in a way that's easy, and to be honest, very natural; instead of nursing Sallie on a toilet. 
 I certainly don't have it all figured out and here with my third baby, I'm more cognizant of that than ever, but it's such a joy to be able to serve her this way. And I'm so grateful I get to do it this last time. In the past few weeks I've nursed Sarah Lamar in so many places, many of which I never have before- probably at least six times on an airplane, in multiple airports, sitting on the sidewalk, on playground benches, while riding the train, and in a church service. I figured out how to nurse her in the Tula and Peyton thought she was sleeping when he came out of a store. I've nursed her in a crowded train and had to unzip my dress and pull it off one shoulder to do it. She had literally thrown her paci onto the tracks and was screaming so hard and Peyton suggested getting the little applesauce squeeze thing out of the bottom of her backpack which was full of the big kids' Easter eggs. Yeah, no. She was exhausted and hungry and there was a much easier way to take care of that. And one that I knew she'd find a lot more comforting than an applesauce pouch. She needed me and it didn't matter much that I hadn't worn the most accommodating dress or that the train was pretty full. Peyton told me later how proud he was of me. When he says that, it always means the world go me.

16. Having your own child on social media makes you much more cognizant about what you post. 
We decided to give Annie an old Android we had, mostly to use as a camera and we put a few apps on it. I told Peyton I thought it was inappropriate to call it a phone since it doesn't function as such (and also because I didn't want her to tell people she had her own phone). So, she started calling it her LC for "little computer". Then Peyton asked me if I thought it was a bad idea to set her up an IG account. I was hesitant at first, but I really couldn't think of a good reason not to as long as it was closely monitored and we established good boundaries. We're keeping the circle REALLY small and only letting grandparents, godparents, very close friends, and our own siblings follow her and she has to check if she has a request or wants to follow someone. She's had so much fun with it. She loves scrolling through (she follows lots of zoos and national parks and looks at accounts I used to let her check on my phone) and often sends us messages of her favorites that she finds during her hour of media time. We respond and tell her our thoughts. And of course I let her follow me. It's already made me think more carefully about what I post about her and her siblings, which is a great thing. I told her that I already tried to think about that but to tell me if something bothered her that I shared and she said "Is this kind of like when you ask my permission before you tell Minnie something bad I've done?". She's pretty unphased by most of that kind of thing, though. (I asked Peyton what we'd do if we did have a very private child and he said he didn't that someone could grow up with me as their mother and turn into a private person just because I talk about EVERYTHING and I've made him and them that way, too.) I love seeing what she thinks is work photographing and then of her pictures what is worth sharing. And (predictably) I most of all love reading her captions. It's all happening so fast and (this time unsurprisingly) I don't hate it.

17. I know that I could not have (healthily) given more of myself to Sallie or this season and that's an incredible feelingAs we get closer to celebrating a year with SL, I've been thinking about how different her infancy has been from her siblings'. I've mentioned it before- how much of the responsibility I took on myself. P said to me "you know you basically raised this baby yourself up until now". That's a gift itself but the bonus gift is that it has released me from a lot of "what ifs" and hypothetical regrets that I know I'm prone to. When I am tempted to say "gosh, I wish I had been more present during her babyhood" I can face myself in the mirror and say, with great sincerity, "well damn, if you had been any more present you'd have well been present at a mental health facility somewhere". 

18. Trips are a great time to repurpose things. 
Guys, if your janky eight year old stroller breaks at the handle sometime after you've checked it on the airplane, don't call it a total loss, it will still function as a perfectly good high chair for the baby who's been eating off the floor in your Airbnb for two weeks.


19. Motherhood in general, but specifically homeschooling, will never stop being full of surprises.  
In this activity, I read one of the the two words that are next to each other and Graves picked the correct one. He told me another halfway down the page that he didn't need to actually read both words he just knew that "a or whatever says it's long sound when there's an 'e' on the end". I really, really thought he'd more or less internalize all the rules and understand them but not be able to explain them whereas Annie would be the one who could describe why a word works the way it does. Honestly, I'm confident that when she was at this point, she could not have articulated this so well and certainly it wouldn't have occurred to her to save herself the trouble of actually reading the words by just listening for the vowel sound and looking for the silent e. Getting such a great look into how their little minds work is such a delight.

20. I'm not like huge Charlotte Mason aficionado (I just need more structure) but I think there's SO much merit in a "living books" approach. Several recent interactions with Annie have really confirmed this for me.

Doing Hard Things and Pain and Brokenness

21. Hardly anything worth doing is easy and often it's worth is in proportion to it's difficulty. And I know of things more important than keeping myself healthy.It's been a great month, but I've had some hard days. One day I just had a total come apart. All the ordinary things- I felt like I was going to blink and she'd be fifteen and I was so worked up about Peyton's disbelief (which comes in waves; it's always hard but some days I have a distinct peace and some days it threatens to undo me). My heart felt like it was literally breaking and my mind felt so sick. I had to think through the old list- am I sleeping enough? eating good things? getting exercise? enough water? am I taking my medicine? have I let myself get isolated? conversely, have I overextended myself? Self-care is so much more than lighting a candle. The checklist feels awfully long in the hard moments I don't really believe any of of it makes any difference. But I know that's reality even when I can't see it.

22. People's lives aren't always what they appear- there's brokenness under the surface just about everywhere. There will be a time when that's not true and I have great hope for it, but it's not this time and it's imperative we acknowledge it. There is beauty and there is pain and often they are intertwined right in the same moment. This trip was certainly a microcosim of that. And there are people who are firstly doing the work of paying attention and secondly taking the time to acknowledge the tension and encouraging the leaning in. I'm glad we've had this time and I'm glad we have those friends.And I'm glad there's sunshine and glad there's rain. They are both necessary for growth and we are the type creatures who don't notice the sunshine without the rain.
I've posted so many bright, fun pictures these last few weeks. And there was nothing forced or fake about them; they were very true to our experience. But this trip has also been really, really hard. Moreso than I was prepared for. I'm not totally sure why. But it's felt like every behavior issue, every mental health struggle, every source of contention has been right at the surface. And I felt a little bruised and raw. A friend I met up with that I haven't seen in a decade really affirmed me in acknowledging how hard something like this might be for a highly sensitive person with anxiety- to push myself so far out of my comfort zone. Her words meant so, so much and I've held them in my heart and returned to them over and over these last few days.

23. This trip certainly had it's dark moments, but it also had an abundance of rainbows and while it's so counterintuitive in some ways here is where I feel safest.  
Clearly MBird has been a huge tool God has used to help me "trace the rainbow through the rain" and this weekend I've felt that so strongly. I know I'm in good company- at the conference, I saw grown men I respect greatly weep over what God has done. I had decided not to go back the final day. But I realized Nicole Cliffe, co-founder of The Toast, was speaking. A friend and I used to message each other links and when I found out it was ending I felt pretty emotional about that, actually. Another relevant factor is that Nicole was not a Christian until recently when "God messed up her happy atheist life", which, for obvious reasons, interests me. It was extremely comforting. She shared how people email her asking "how to convert atheists" and how she tells them that God's going to do it or it won't happen and how one sweet, sincere young man told her he had been debating atheists on Reddit and that wasn't working. She said she doesn't argue with unbelievers because frankly, the story IS nuts. She said that what she did tell people is that she knew where to go when God began prompting her. She knew people who loved Jesus and loved her dearly and would be happy to talk. She said that when people tell you their deepest fears and doubts, work on your face and don't make this horrified expression like when Indiana Jones grabs the wrong chalice. I have no idea what that reference means but it resonated. Sometimes I get the impression that people- kind, well intentioned people- literally seem more distraught over Peyton's disbelief than if he had died. Which I GET and don't fault them for (it can actually an indication of how central faith is to them) but it's also...isolating. It's hard for me to feel like people can/do understand. That is NOT anyone's fault. I was telling a friend that sometimes I feel more comfortable talking to my friends who have (for example) addiction issues or spouses with them because it's easier to relate. But as I've​ said, we all have areas of our lives where there is pain and brokenness.

So, there you go! TWENTY THREE things. Holy moly. I was super, super introspective on the trip and I'm really glad I was. It was a great trip in and of itself, but I felt like I really payed attention and partly because of that, I learned a lifetime's worth of stuff about myself and our family and traveling and how we best flourish. I'm really, really grateful we had this experience. 

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