Trying, not failing

I’ve wrestled with all the feels this summer, and related to our decision to try out school, albeit a private, non-traditional one, I’ve struggled to fight off feelings of failure. Failure to do it all myself. Failure to impose a structure on myself. Failure to be able to meet everyone’s needs and my own, on my own.

But what I’ve come to see—through many sleepless nights and the tear-cleared sight that comes after a good cry—is that trying something different is not failure. It’s trying something different.

And something not working is something that can be worked on. I’m still exploring why I even frame so much of life in terms of a test to pass or fail in the first place, and why I so often feel like setbacks–even simply changing direction– mean I am failing.

A recent episode of the TED Radio Hour highlighted how one company incentivized failure, giving bonuses and vacations to teams who ended their projects instead of bullheadedly continuing along a path that wasn’t working and wasting time and resources. The message they were given was, come back fresh and excited to try something new.

We’re shelving full-time homeschool for my oldest for now, and trying something new, offering him and our family new experiences to grow. I don’t know how long it will be for or how it will go, but I am confident that we will learn through it, and whenever we need to, we can always try something new.

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Buddy Breathing

When my husband was in the military, one of the trainings he had was in what was called Buddy Breathing. Recruits were paired up for a pool workout where they had to share an oxygen tank while swimming underwater. Quint figured out quickly the best way to stay calm and in control was to push the oxygen over to his partner right away, letting him fill up and keeping both calm. Other teams would end up fighting over the oxygen as they grew panicky about getting enough air, which only created more stress and made them fight harder to get the tank.

We have been reflecting since our most recent family trip about what made it successful (in other words, relaxing, peaceful, and enjoyable), and one of the things we did was to practice what we have come to call Buddy Breathing. This stage of parenting three young children requires a lot from both of us, and resources such as time and energy, much like that single oxygen tank between swim partners, are often limited. And while I absolutely believe in “putting on my own oxygen mask first” through self-care, my husband and I have identified a few ways we can look out for each other, contributing to both of us feeling a greater sense of peace and well-being. One way we do this is to encourage each other to get at least a few minutes of exercise in while the other watches the kids. On our trip to the mountains, this meant a few times a day, one or the other of us would say, “now’s a good time for you to take a walk.” Sure, we still often ask each other for what we need, but looking for opportunities to let my partner take a deep breath of air calms me too.

More Questions than Answers: Tuning In, or Tuning Out?

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I’m thinking a lot about asking questions lately, about certainty, doubt, what I know that I know, what may stand some adjustments.  Some of this has to do with my lifelong habit of thinking in terms of What If? (This is both a blessing and a curse, a subject for another post).

So I’m trying to keep track of my questions, and one of the things I’ve been reflecting on is the nature of Self-care.

So many times, when I’m especially tired, I restlessly seek a quick fix–a scroll down Pinterest, a bowl of chocolate ice cream, magazine fodder.  Escape.

But what I really need, what actually nourishes, takes a bit more time, more intention.  It requires marginAnd it’s tuning in, rather than tuning out.  It’s taking the time to notice why I’m feeling depleted, and ask myself what I most need at this time.  So many times, though, I am like a caged animal anxiously seeking any escape possible.  Escape is not the same as self-care.  Escape is about tuning out my feelings, my circumstances, the ones who need me and only leads to further retreating, and further selfishness.

I’ve found that true self-care, though, leads to care of others.  When I choose things that are truly renewing, that refill my emotional, physical, and spiritual reserves, they contain the common element of tuning in: to myself, to others and to God.  From the simplest of activities–a walk in nature, a hot bath, reading a good book; to the most luxurious, say, a massage– silence and space are often involved.  The opportunity to inhabit my body, my emotions, my circumstances, and relationships.   Space to question, listen, and receive.  When I take the time to notice the true need beneath my restlessness and anxiety, I can better take care of myself.  And once I’ve helped myself recharge, I can tune into those around me and help take care of them.

Along these lines, for me, watching a television show, for example, is usually a way of tuning out; it leaves me more depleted than recharged, and results in my being more selfish as I grasp at anything that seems like an escape, unwilling to relinquish any more of my already dwindling energy and time.  Like getting caught in quicksand, thrashing about to get out of the discomfort as quickly as possible only results in more sinking and more panic.  But if I find the strength to slow down and relax with intention, I can slog out of the pit.

So my first line of questions when evaluating whether an activity is actually self-care or an attempt to escape:

Does this tune me into my self, to my relationships, and to Christ?  Or does this attempt to tune out those voices and needs?  What is the underlying need for me to address here?

The second question that I want to ask:

Is this what I want to teach my kids about taking care of themselves, the example I want to set for them? 

I want them to learn healthy ways to take care of themselves, to take time for being outside, for resting and exercising, for getting their cup filled so they can continue helping others.  So, in practical terms, if exercise, for instance,  becomes a way to escape my family and responsibilities–going to the gym every day by myself for hours, for example–then maybe that’s not the example I want to give them.  Getting us all out the door for a walk in the neighborhood when tensions are rising, on the other hand, is always a good choice.

And so, a question for you:  What qualifies as self-care for you?

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Changing Plans

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A few weekends ago, we headed out for a drive through the country, looking forward to open vistas, an extended conversation, a walk in the country.  We passed a small stone church on the outskirts of the county, one that seemed anomalous in our corner of the southwest.  I’d like to get a picture of that, I mused aloud, and, careful what you wish for, the next thing we drove over a jagged piece of metal that planted itself in the front tire of our van.  So we pulled off into the parking lot directly across from the little chapel where all three boys assessed the damage and proceeded to change the tire.

In his book Margin, Richard Swenson, M.D., talks about having the space and time to be interrupted, particularly by God, in our lives; that sometimes the most important thing that will happen in the day isn’t on our agenda.  This was one of those times; our outing didn’t go as we had planned, but it was quality time together, all of us learning, and I had the opportunity to record it.

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Donut grin.

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This takes serious effort.

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