wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Soul Care

Some of us have a trump card that we try not to play very often, but we would like to mention that Grandma didn’t homeschool. (Thank-you for the prompt, you commenters from the last post. ) We keep this close because when somebody whines about something that is an obvious choice they made, people think, “Duh, you didn’t have to sign up for that.” However if you homeschool, you have chosen a challenging path and set yourself up for a lot of work! All the noble reasons for doing what you are doing will not make it easy.  The best thing about homeschooling is that our children are here all the time. The worst thing about it is that our children are here all. the. time. There is no substitute and very little wiggle-room, and it definitely has a way of turning your heart to your children! Unfortunately, it also tends to overload us with anxiety about our failures and their struggles. (You cannot outsource your relationships.) Sometimes you absolutely must get perspective, which means you have to step back, out, away, alone, and think, ponder, pray, cry, figure out how to make this work, how to get the white space you need to be healthy.

It’s not only mothers who have to do this. Nurses, teachers, nannies, cart-pushers, all of us, really… we all need to care for our souls. You know all those verses about fatness and leanness in the Bible? It may sound counter-intuitive, but you want a fat soul! A skinny one won’t be able to share anything nourishing with others.

Winter is coming. In this area that means staying inside most of the time. We end up with projects stacked on projects. As I write this in the living room, there is a Jenga blocks game on the floor, piles of books on the end tables, a Monopoly card game, assorted socks and shoes from church, and spilled popcorn on the floor. Someone was sculpting on the coffee table and there is a PBJ sandwich there as well. In the corner I just noticed a basket of clean blue jeans that got missed yesterday. I expect to feel rather famished by springtime when we can move outside again, but I also have some coping mechanisms that I sprinkle into my days.

  • Take walks alone, if at all possible. When the sun shines, I like to drop non-essentials and go out right then; I need the vitamin D. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook that is above the children’s heads. I pray about the things that trouble me, and once I astonished myself and managed to not think about anything at all for a bit. That is actually a thing- ask a guy! Even if I have to take everybody along, getting out of the house is therapy.
  • Learn to run to Jesus with everyday issues. If you need a little privacy, lock the bathroom door. Nothing is too small, nothing too complicated, nothing out of bounds to pray about. Sometimes I have no words other than a desperate, “Help me, Jesus.” He always hears.
  • Figure out your signature drink, the one that makes you feel like you are going to be all right. Craft it lovingly and drink it out of a great mug or one of those cute Pioneer Woman drinking jars.
  • Keep a secret stash. I don’t care if it’s chocolate covered almonds or tofu chips, it is vastly preferable to chew on something than to chew out somebody. Not like the two are mutually exclusive, but still… I might add that I have been known to hide my chocolate so well that I couldn’t remember where I put it.
  • Make time to read even if it is just a few paragraphs before falling asleep. I love to read the Bible in a different version and study the grand theme of Glory throughout the little lives of people. It helps me to step outside my world and think about other horizons, bigger pictures. (You think you have problems, lady?)
  • Take a touch time-out. We have a few members of the family who are sensitive to others in their space. In a family setting, this is inevitable. When things start going a little bonkers, I make them sit in separate places, no talking or touching each other while I read aloud. They may color or crochet or draw. Sometimes they listen to audiobooks or I read until I am hoarse. It has a way of putting us all on the same page and we forget about the way people were getting on our nerves.
  • Cultivate gratefulness. It will put pounds on your soul, and that is a good thing, remember? My personal challenge for this year is to be truly delighted with how cozy my house is. I will not dwell on the fact that we could easily use another 900 square feet. If you hear me grousing, call me out on it.
  • Teach the children to help with the housework. Few things trigger frustration faster than irresponsible people who will not own their messes or serve others. I am not supposed to do it all for everybody. That may seem spiritual, but in the end I am putting my children at a huge disadvantage by sending them into adulthood with that mentality.
  • Have a restful space that you can retreat to when you need a break. We do not allow our children to play in our bedroom. It’s simply off limits. Sometimes I go in there and lock the door and just breathe for a few minutes until I have lightened up and gotten over myself.
  • Learn to laugh; if you can’t see the humor in life, you might as well stuff yourself into a pickle jar. I have not quite learned to say, “That was a hilarious arc your milk made on its way to the floor,” but I look for belly laughs as often as possible. Recently I read a children’s story about a little African boy who wanted to make biogas from goat droppings. I pronounced it “by-OH-gus” and couldn’t figure out why I had never heard of this alternative fuel before. It has now become part of the hilarities in our family legend, I can assure you.
  • Try grocery shopping all by yourself. I have shopped at Walmart in the wee hours while the household slumbered. It is open 24 hours, after all. This can be very fun and relaxing.
  • Be as creative as you can. The act of making something with your hands is  extremely REcreational.  I have been having it out with pumpkin pie this fall. I grew up on my Mom’s version, where the pumpkin separates slightly from the milk/egg so that the layers are perfectly defined. I can use her recipe, but I can’t make her pie. It has become a duel: the perfect pumpkin pie against me… great recreational activity. My husband bought me a pottery wheel recently, so between that and the pie, I have plenty of scope for creativity.
  • Get help. I have a friend who is willing to come do large housecleaning projects with me. The last time she was here I worked in the kitchen, cooking, while she shampooed the carpets. I recommend getting help for the big stuff.
  • Schedule down-time. Sometimes my husband would notice a certain neediness and tell me to take a break, and sometimes he wouldn’t notice, so I have learned to ask. We try to schedule in a day every month where I can do whatever I need to catch up with schoolwork and shopping.
  • Plant flowers. The girls and I just dropped 150 tulips, 30 alliums, and 30 crocuses in the ground. It’s kind of long range planning, but the anticipation will give us happy thrills all winter. In the flowering season we take joy in regularly bringing in bouquets to lift our hearts.
  • Let go of perfection. It is an unattainable and fretful place to be.

There was once this lady named Martha who was doing all the stuff! She was really reaching around and serving, but she missed the most important thing that would have given her rest in her soul. Her sister just sat there and listened to Jesus. I have often puzzled over how to be both these gals, because the world needs to be fed, and some of that is my job. I feel a kinship with Martha, to be honest. My personal solution is to work hard and rest hard, if that makes sense. Someday you may drop in at my house and be a little shocked to see me messing with yarn and knitting needles while there is a general litter of life all around. It will just be me, tending to my soul.

Your turn. I would be so tickled if someone out there told me they go fishing or hunting. What refreshes you? How do you restore your soul when life gets too busy?

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Why Grandma Didn’t Need Me-Time

 

As one thoughtful commenter mentioned in the last post, “I wonder if the women back then would have appreciated some time off now and then or not?” As I thought about the advice from women in another season, I made a few tentative conclusions.

  1. They have forgotten. Do you think there is a possibility that a woman who declares after her children are all grown, “I loved every minute of mothering!” might have a memory lapse? Maybe she is remembering the confiding cuddles, while forgetting how one child pulled the other’s hair when they couldn’t see the storybook and the dismayed clench of her heart when her sweet child told a deliberate lie. Maybe the goo and poo recede with the years and she sees better the things that really matter.

Mom tells the story of one friend of hers who had a really fussy baby, crying and crying at the school picnic. When they had an auction to benefit the school, the lady jokingly held up her cranky infant and called, “Baby for sale!” Obviously they were human as are we.

  1. They had a strong a support culture, especially among the Amish, that was a tremendous blessing to newbie moms. It was normal to have a “maid” to come do the weekly cleaning or pick up the load when there was a new baby. Anyone in trying circumstances could depend on meals being brought in to feed the family. Many lived in very tight community where they babysat each other’s children when they needed to go to an appointment or grocery shopping. This sort of network can be the difference between sinking or keeping on swimming.
  2. They were focused. Our mothers were raised with one dream, to get married and become mothers and homemakers. They didn’t really have the array of opportunities for developing their gifts that our generation does.  While I have passionate views about people using their talents, I also know that honing in on one thing is what makes one a master at it, and this is why so many excellent homemakers result from the plain people’s tradition of training their daughters to pour themselves into this art. Imagine Grandma dashing around with a pricey camera, capturing her world while the children sniffled about being hungry. Nope. She fed her people first.
  3. They had grit. Somehow they didn’t expect life to be easy, which was how a pregnant woman could get up at dawn to milk cows, then come back into the house to cook breakfast and care for toddlers, sewing all their clothes, and keeping house all day. After all, her life was a lot easier than it was for her pioneer ancestors.

Acceptance. Realistic expectations. Support. Centuries of women who picked up their load and carried it with grace and grit would likely look at us with our labor-saving devices and thoughtful husbands who occasionally take us out to eat and say, “Girl, get over yourself.” And that’s probably why Grandma never heard of me-time.

I remember a day when I confessed to my husband, “I just want to give them all away,” then I quickly added, “for a few hours anyway.” It is not helpful at such a time to feel that one is uniquely wicked among mothers, that good mothers never ever need a break. Hear me… WE DO! Even animal mothers pass off the babies to an aunt occasionally so they can stretch their limbs without a pup instantly attaching to the milk bar.

When nobody is having any fun anymore and I am not finding pleasure in my children, I need to take a step back and ask, “How can I break out of this destructive pattern?”

This is where it gets really sticky sometimes, because odds are 10 to 1 that God will start dealing with my own heart and attitudes. He will show me whether my exhaustion comes from being depleted in my soul or from rebelling against the life I have been given. Either way, something has to give.

Often the thing that wears me out is my fuss about how hard the job is rather than the job itself. There is a decay in me, a soft spot that protests every time things get hard. “Wah! somebody save me from this mess of jello on the floor. Wah! somebody take my children so I can go shop the clearance racks! Wah! somebody clean my house while I drink tea and contemplate the meaning of life!”

It is like the little girl who wailed and wept when her cheat sheet of math facts was removed from her desk, because “learning the multiplication tables is impossible!” Then, when confronted with the reality that there was no other way, she started reciting times tables and learned them at an astonishing rate. (It’s just jello, after all.)

Whether I am being entitled or whether I am depleted of resources from having given without refueling, the first step for me to become restored in my soul nearly always involves accepting the circumstances that I am struggling against.

Ideally, I stay hydrated and strong through daily nourishment, but face it, some days I don’t drink my water or feed myself adequately and the consequence is some shaky living that isn’t going to stand the tests of life very well. I prefer to call this need soul-care instead of me-time.

This post started as a list of ways to find white space, ways I can restore my soul in the middle of a busy life, but Grandma hijacked it, so I am compiling that for the next post. Give me some feedback, please; my research tends to be Dorcas-slanted. (I hope you don’t expect it to be all spiritual and meditative. My list is extremely everydayish. ) I know how to refresh myself, but I don’t know how you refresh yourself.

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Seasoned Advice

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… not my seasoned advice this time. I hoped the photo from Pexel might be a subtle hint about that, seeing as I have not quite amassed enough wrinkles to be called wise on this subject.

Having now reached the age in life where I am often reminded of how little I know, I made it a point this summer to listen carefully to some older women who have raised families and are watching their grandchildren grow up. While it sometimes seems to me that raising a family 40 years ago would be much simpler than in our current day, some things remain the same through the centuries, and these are the things I want to pass on to you from what they told me.

Let’s hear from two women who each raised 13 children. Not surprisingly, quite a bit of their advice overlapped.

  • Do what it takes to keep yourself productive. Drink coffee if you need it. Eat chocolate. Take walks.
  • Take care of your soul. You really have to do that. Pray while you work. Write verses on post-its and stick them where you often see them.
  • Keep a song in your home. Get everybody to sing together when things start feeling out of control or when the attitudes get stinky.
  • Read lots and lots of stories. ( ❤ ❤ )
  • Play with your children. Do things on their level, even if you aren’t really interested in what they want to do. Have fun together.
  • Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself. You really don’t have time for that.
  • Let things go. You will not be able to do everything that you think should be done. You will have to prioritize whether you value your children or your house more.

See why I listened to them? Their advice is so homely and real. They have made it through more spilled milk and sibling squabbles and teen issues than most people can imagine and they are beautiful women, strong in faith. They have things to say that I need to hear.

We recently had a panel of older women who answered questions and shared from their life experiences for the ladies at church. The questions ranged from home/family, to keeping an eternal perspective, to making friendships that are meaningful. The one that interested me the most was this, in my own words: What do you think is the reason for younger women getting “burned out” or “stressed” and needing “me-time”? How did you deal with overwhelming seasons in life?

So… what do you think they said?

Apparently me-time is a fairly modern invention. Going to the spa or to the coffee shop with friends, getting away from the kids, taking a vacation with just your husband… all these things were not commonplace for our mothers and grandmothers. It wasn’t that they didn’t have pressures and problems. Nobody can pretend that having lots of  children in the home with hungry bodies and thirsty spirits is going to be a walk in the park. I am sure I was just as needy as a child as any of my children are. But when confronted with this question, the ladies on the panel said, “We didn’t have me-time. We did the next thing, and then the next. We learned to love having our children around us.” (Again, my own words, from my impressions of the conversation.)

I got the feeling that they leaned into the harness and learned to love the work. If you love what you are doing, you do not need to be rescued from it.

There is another thing they shared that I think honesty will compel us to cringingly nod our heads in agreement. They said they didn’t have the distractions of internet and the pressures of social media. In other words, they didn’t have all their friends and all the ideas trotting through their lives every day, distracting them from their main purpose. I am still mulling over this one, because I love people and the connections that are made possible by the web. Not going to lie, it would be hard for me to give up. This is a big one that everybody has to mull through on their own, but it isn’t one we should just shrug off.

 

Speaking for myself here: I live in this century. It’s a hyper-connected world, with so much potential to touch others’ lives and my obligations extend past my home. Learning how to live restfully is so important if I am going to have any influence for good in the world. Exhaustion is a thing, and needing me-time, as much as I cringe at that term, is a thing.

I hope to have a conversation here about things that breathe life into our weariness, so if you could please start thinking about that?

 

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