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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Reframing: Like to, Want to, Choose to, Get to

I’m learning that small changes in thinking can reap huge benefits.  One way I have been learning to reframe my thoughts is by changing how I express what I would typically term an obligation, recognizing that I have a choice in my actions.  For example, instead of saying I have to do laundry, I say I want to do the laundry; instead of saying we need to go grocery shopping, I get to go grocery shopping.

I applied this yesterday at the pool, when I was saying to my son how much fun it was; I started to say, “We should do this as much as we can,” then amended myself, saying, “I want to do this as much as we can.”  Instant refocus on my enjoyment of the present moment, instead of on future pressure, guilt, or obligation.

So the mantra I’ve been repeating to myself lately is Like to, Want to, Choose to, Get to.  One day I was sharing this with my husband and kids, and my boys took this phrase as a fun rhythm to play with as they went about their games, which made me smile.  These are the kinds of things I want to be a part of their way of thinking as they grow.

Like to, Want to, Choose to, Get to.

It might seem insignificant, but it has given me a greater sense of peace and control to think that I’m not merely weighed down with obligations and things that are happening to me, as well as fostered gratitude for even the mundane and less pleasurable tasks.  I’ve also noticed it helps with my kids, who often ask, “Why do we have to?”  It’s hard to argue with, “We don’t have to.  We get to.”

What small changes in thoughts or perspective have made big differences in your life?

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.

Beautiful Things: May 12th, 2016

One of my most important purposes for homeschooling is to fill my children’s lives with beauty of all kinds. At the same time, I sometimes have a hard time noticing and holding onto the beautiful things that dapple our days. (To be fair, I just learned that there is neurological evidence that negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences imprint instantly on us, whereas positive ones need to be savored for a minimum of 15 seconds to attach).  So, I am keeping lists.

-a canopy of tree shade in our yard, sunlight softened as it filters through
-baby girl sifting mulch at the playground with her fine fingers
-my middle boy smelling the baby’s head, and telling me it’s a different kind of sweet than me
-first boy’s counting to 100 by I-Love-You’s at bedtime (I-love-you 1, I-love-you 2, I-love-you 3….)
-hearing each of my loved ones breathing in the still of night
-the poem Pied Beauty, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, taped to my bathroom wall
-reading Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
-a giraffe’s slow grace at the Zoo, and how I enjoyed the little train ride, with my arm around my boy
-second son asking me what my favorite part of the day was, and when I answered about his giving me a card and book, he said with satisfaction, “I thought you were gonna do that”
-dancing and singing with my kids and remembering when my mom did the same with my sibs and me
-how burying my nose in my kids’ hair can change me and the trajectory of my day in a moment

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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One Word for 2014: Joy

On one recent occasion when I remorsefully apologized for essentially blowing up at my four-year-old for being an annoying, over-tired, wired and immature little human boy, E. nodded and mmm-hmmmed as I listed my transgressions. Then he spoke soft prophet-words: the way to not be bad is to just relax (pronounced wuh-lax, in case you were wondering).

I’ve been turning those words over and over in my head the past couple weeks, considering them from different angles as I’ve reflected on goals and what kinds of changes I want to make. Relax wasn’t the exact word I wanted to focus on for this year, a’ la Oneword365, but it lead me to a few.  The word I keep circling back to, though, as I consider a central theme for this year is joy.

Some broad-strokes for how I want this word Joy to color 2014:

I want to not stress out so much, to relax into the joy of being with my little ones.

I want them to remember me smiling, rather than scowling, in their young years, to have a deep, abiding sense of being delighted in and loved for who they are.

I struggle with discontent; I want not only to find God’s grace in each moment but also take joy in every circumstance.

I want to clear away the extraneous, the clutter and dross–physical, mental, and emotional–that are obstacles to nurturing my relationships and doing the things I enjoy.

Taking care of myself is a challenge and sometimes, I hate to admit, a chore as a mama of littles. I want to revive some of the ways of self-care that have brought me joy in the past, as well as find new ones in this season.

Cooking and food has not involved much joy lately, a result of the combination of too much information, too many choices, and too little energy.  I want to worry less, and eat with joy.

Joy seems like a good antidote to perfectionism, and I want my goals to be process-focused as I learn, grow, and practice this year; however much or little I accomplish or produce, I will take joy in the process, knowing my Heavenly Father sings over me with joy.