Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Writer's Block Unblocked

Writing takes exercise, like little childhood legs that appear small and weak, but have great strength beneath the surface, from hours and hours of use.

When I was young I could write for hours on any subject. I was full of wonder about the smallest details of life.

For instance: Hurricane Hugo came through my town back in the 90s. I couldn't have been more than 10. I remember walking through my neighborhood, contemplating the destruction. Tree after mighty tree lay across the road, debris had exploded everywhere. The day before the hurricane, I'd gone to my secret place-my retreat from the world. A church that housed a swing set in the yard. If I sat in one particular swing and looked very closely at the ground, I could see tiny, white wild flowers hiding in the shadows of the grass. I had watched the bees busily working, buzzing from blossom to blossom, and admired their tenacity; after all, a hurricane was coming. I expected those flowers to have been thrashed, just as the trees I'd seen groaning and swaying, then finally giving in to the power of the wind the night before.

I climbed the long hill that led to the church where my favorite swing set sat, my thin yet strong legs accustomed to the steep climb. I began to quicken my stride as I neared the place, hoping there was at least something of those flowers left. One flower I was particularly worried about; a flower that, the day before, had only three petals hanging on by thin strands. I felt protective of my little friend. Who else would appreciate her simple, fragile beauty? I was certain she had been destroyed. I didn’t know why, but I grieved inwardly.

I retreated to my spot at the crest of my thoughtful hill, and marveled at the difference in scenery from the day before. I slumped on my favorite swing, listened to the wail of fire engines, and watched the bruised land with broken limbs and the adults trying to splint them. I took a break from the complicated world of grown-ups, and trained my eyes to look closely at the grass once again. There, in the shadows of rain-bent grass, standing as straight and small as ever, was my weakling little flower. All three petals still hung firmly to their staff. I imagined those ripping, watery winds of the night before, and all the grand structures they’d destroyed. Yet this tiny flower, too small even to be noticed from afar—the smallest of all, bending and whipping through the wind, those little petals deceivingly delicate, proved themselves mightier than the 40-foot oak trees laying on their sides.

A voice spoke to me: "That flower is you. You are small, but your tiny strength will someday shame the grandest trees." A seed was planted. As years went by, I did not seek the approval of the world. I didn’t try to show off and become a great tree because that was not me. Gradually, my spirit would flex and firm, ever so quietly, and no one would see it, perhaps not even me, until a hurricane tested that strength.

I remember this event with clarity because I wrote about it with detail in one of my many childhood journals. Today, I have children and a husband to distract me, and it is easier sometimes, to simply survive, and not write, not marvel, not wonder. I went several years without writing. I looked around at my life recently, and it seemed dull and uninspired. It had begun to lack beauty, and I had begun to dry up, whither, and die inside.

And so I decided I must write, because the richness of my life depends on it. But after sitting in the attic of my mind for so long, the muse was stiff and dusty. All the childish wonder and excitement for the little things seemed to turn to sand in my fist. I looked at my distractions. My crying baby, my complex children, my needy husband; the very people I cared for-were they at fault for this? I looked at the laundry and dishes, the floor that needed mopping, and the rugs that needed vacuuming, and I rebelled in my heart. These were ugly to me. I wanted beauty! I wanted meaning! I wanted innocent wonder! I wanted ... my childhood back?

This last thought nearly made me laugh out loud! I wouldn't go back to my childhood for anything! Along with all that wonder was confusion, fear, inhibitions, and powerless frustration. How much had I learned since then? How much had I grown? My muse may have been dusty from years sitting in the attic, but that attic was busily collecting things just waiting to be cleaned up and polished. I gazed into my innocent children's deep and exploring eyes, and realized that there was poetry looking in as well as looking out. I looked at my husband's beautiful glow as he watched our children, and saw a portrait of true art, living, breathing art, that would someday be forgotten if I didn't record it. Even my home and its laundry and dishes seemed to cry out to me, "Make me beautiful! Make me your canvas! I am the backdrop to your portrait of life!"

Now I write, with my bed stand filled with page upon page, of mostly fluff and nonsense. But every now and then, I find a truth I hadn't before, or discover the ability to step back and wonder when I might have otherwise just trudged on. My English teacher Mrs. Yosafat used to tell me, "A true writer writes, not because he loves to or wants to, but because he has to--for to not write would be to die." I experienced this death. Now, by the grace of God, I carefully tend a freshly tilled garden of talent, full of the chance for rebirth.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Saturday Evenin' Jamboree

So THIS is what the country is like! We attended our first Jamboree as a family on Saturday. What fun! We brought our own chairs, water, and zero expectations. I had read about this, I'd seen it on TV, but I'd never experienced it for myself. My 3-yr-old immediately picked up a stick and started hitting the ground and drawing in the dirt, and then pretended it was an instrument, and blew on it, keeping time with the band. The band was a guitar, Ukulele, a large stand-up bass, a "fiddle," and a banjo. The songs were old folk songs, some of them I'd heard before, most I hadn't. My daughter loved the music, but was shy about dancing. My son pulled me up there and we danced until he dropped, then I danced with the baby until he spat up, and then my daughter got into it finally, and copied the flat-footers, and eventually, we lost all inhibitions and had the time of our lives, dancing together! Even Grampa got up and danced a little. The flat-footers, cloggers, and tap-dancers were excellent, but we just kept time and had fun.

Next to me at one point was a couple dancing a slow dance with some complicated foot-work, together. They must have been in their late 60s or early 70s. I noticed they were up there for every slow song. The man gently led his wife with a soft hand on her back. They were in jeans, but to me they looked like a prince and his princess.

At one point, much to her embarrassment, she lost the rhythm; I looked at her husband's face; I looked for annoyance or frustration; he didn't so much as flinch as he maintained his own rhythm until she caught up, which she was able to do by relaxing into his his never-faltering rhythm, and gentle embrace.

I learned something about marriage from their example. After all, marriage is very much like a dance, is it not? A still small voice spoke to me. It said: "When your spouse stumbles and loses his way in life, even when he has no one but himself to blame; instead of judging, giving up on him, criticizing, or scolding, you just keep time on your own, with a soft hand on his back, he will learn to trust in your rhythm. Let him see your unfaltering eyes, and gentle embrace. He will find his way back quickly."

The goodness and humility in everyone's eyes, whether they were friendly, stubborn, held-back, or outgoing; told me that this is a wonderful place to be raised. Universal morality, simplicity, self-confidence, caring about others; this was the sort of town that would pitch in and help the 'So-N-So' family build a new home after it burned down.

This is the sort of town that shuns Wal-Mart and big movie theaters, yet has about 20 natural food stores. If I could describe Floyd in one word, it would be "ORGANIC." If they could describe me in one word, it would probably be "naive."

I feel as though I have come home to this place I am completely foreign to. My children drank in the country experience, and embraced it with an expression I have rarely seen on their faces-- relieved, almost giddy relaxation. Something about this place is healing to this once materialistic, rushed, anxious family.

Embrace Tantrums (Even our spouse's)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More profound words from Kirk Martin

These words have made such a difference:

"This isn't the life you expected. You have turned into someone you never thought you'd become. You used to be this carefree person who had such great hopes for the future. Now you find yourself staying awake worrying about your kids; you are constantly getting on your children; it seems the only time they listen is when you are yelling or screaming. Instead of enjoying your kids, you are frustrated, stressed and angry. Sometimes you don't like them very much. And the truth is that you don't like the person you've become. "

OUCH, but true. That is my confession right there, the confession that many moms rarely admit to themselves or to one another. IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY!!

"The purpose of relationships is transformation: Relationships cause friction...That friction can either result in us being worn down, resentful and irritated; or the friction can strip the crusty, gritty exterior off of us and leave us shinier and better than we were before. So if you have a difficult child or spouse, be thankful. I promise that loving and liking that child or spouse is going to result in you becoming a stronger, more patient, more gracious person than you were before."

That hit me hard, and has struck me over and over again many times as I've thought back on it. This new perspective got me to stop resenting my own spouse and children. This perspective got me to let go of wishing they were different; saying within myself, "If only I had a more patient husband," or "If only I had more obedient children..." This kind of thinking was destructive, and it was inhibiting my own progress and growth.

"Begin by changing you. Let's not even think about our kids or our spouse right now. Because the most powerful person in the world is you. You can either be worn down and shaped by others, by society, by the school system-or you can choose today to begin shaping everyone else NOT by controlling people or circumstances, but by controlling yourself (your anxiety, your emotions, your moods, your choices.) "

That concept has been the hardest one for me, as Kirk would tell you, since he's had to remind me more than once. I am not choosing to be calm to change and control my family, I do it for my own peace. I have to remind myself over and over because looking at everyone else as the problem is a very difficult habit to change. I now have a written note for myself that I keep as a reminder that says 'Control yourself, and ONLY yourself.'

"No matter what anyone does to me, I can still choose to bless them. No matter what my son says or does, I still have the power to decide how I am going to respond (or not respond.) No matter what society says, no matter what the evening news says, I have a choice...Instead of waiting for everyone else around me to change, I am going to be a better person."

This subject is spoken about frequently in many different genres. Man's Search for Meaning, and, The Hiding Place are two books that talk about this principle in the extreme, based on nazi prison camps. I read them years ago, and was touched by the examples I read about, but I had no idea that I could be like that!

"Celebrate your kids' strengths and watch them flourish."

It takes practice to say outloud the talents and strengths of our kids that we see. It takes constant effort for me to continuously compliment and point out the positive, but it gets easier with time. I find that sometimes compliments just roll off my toungue without even thinking about it now, and as we keep looking at our kids' positive attributes, we see more and more, and we see them deeper and richer, and eventually, they see it too, and it's a beautiful cascade that leads to blessings you can not imagine!

"After you read this, take a deep breath. Resolve that YOU are going to be a different person, that YOU are going to change yourself, that YOU are going to see the best in your children and students. And watch your family and classroom begin to thrive."

Catch the YOU. YOU cannot, as I have learned, resolve that your spouse is going to be different; that your relatives are going to change themselves; and that your children are going to see the best in you. YOU can only (and it is enough) to change and control ONLY YOU.

This does not mean you can't invite your family. Once I had some time to practice, we had a Family Home Evening and discussed the family we have been vs. family we want to be. We set goals as a family, and the children and Kevin have all agreed that this is a good goal to work on as a family. It is really liberating and healing for the kids to get to talk about their feelings. It was hard at first, to hear the painful truth from their tiny lips, but it was wonderful to see the healing start to take place as we apologized for the past, and promised with our whole hearts to strive to be better, and we have. We now have a more open, loving relationship with the kids, and they feel like they can come to us more. I say we, but Kevin is in complete control of his path, and I am in complete control of mine. We are growing at different rates and speeds, and sometimes each of us slip back, but we never stop trying, and now looking back, we seem to be a completely different family!

One last note from Ginny: My family has been brought closer by this, and it has brought me closer to my own faith. I am able to pray without inner conflict, look at myself in the mirror and genuinely smile, because I can see the woman God created me to be begin to emerge. I am simply following Christ's teachings of being slow to anger, patient and kind, and loving others as well as myself. Christ's teachings, when acted upon with consistency, heal all wounds, change hearts, and allow people to blossom no matter what age they begin to live them.

“If a woman wishes to control her children, in the first place let her learn to control herself.” –Brigham Young

Happy Birthday, my son

Dear Son,

You are 1 year old now. At this time 1 year ago, I was gazing at your perfect face, wondering what your name was going to be. You changed everything. Your birth, your personality, your smile, your love changed me, your dad, and your brother and sister. Some people thought that after we had a boy and a girl that we didn't need any more kids, but I always knew better. We needed you. Thank you for coming to us.

The day you were born my love for your dad deepened, my commitment to him strengthened, and I felt a peace and happiness I never knew was possible in this life.

You were born in our bedroom with a midwife, on the very bed that your big brother was born on with the same midwife, and your big sister was nursed on. Your dad was sitting behind me; he was my strength and comfort. He prayed with me, he cried with me, and he laughed with me, encouraged me, and believed in me. He was everything and everyone I needed right then.

Instead of complaining about the pain of labor, I looked forward to each step closer to meeting you. Instead of wishing it were over, I savored each contraction as an opportunity to draw closer to God, and to your dad. Near the end, when it was time to push you out, I had to overcome some fear, and our midwife helped me by telling me scriptures, and I hugged your Daddy's legs as I cried just long enough to get my feelings out. Then I felt a wave of excitement and happiness come over me, and I told the midwife and your dad, "I want to hold my baby so much!" Finally, you were born, and I got to hold you with Daddy's arms around my own, in our first loving embrace.

You were perfect and beautiful. You were tiny, snuggly, and soft; and loved to be held all the time. Your brother and sister loved you so much! Sometimes they fought over who got to hold you. You were "Peter's baby," but you were also Kaylee's baby, because she didn't remember when Peter was her baby. Peter would often say, "Mommy, will you please feed my baby?" Kaylee would say, "This is my brother-sister."

Mommy nursed you, but you were the hardest to nurse, and we went through 4 weeks of pain to get it right. I'm grateful now that I went through it all, and with the help of Roxanne, our wonderful lactation consultant, we never gave up till we got it right. Now you and I enjoy a bond that fills both our souls with happy calm and comfort. I am thankful for that struggle because it forced me down to my knees, and my love for God grew as I spoke with him earnestly day after day.

You changed everything. You changed my heart and softened it toward things I needed to be more open to. You were the 3rd and final reason I needed to have the humility to grow, the faith to look for a better way to be, and a softer way to love and teach. I love you my son, and I remember this as a changing day for all of us, when you were born one year ago, today.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Bad Advice

I am a people pleaser by nature. I am learning that the more one tries to please others, the less others are pleased, and all you have to show for their disdain is emptiness. So it is with advice giving and taking. I have so often allowed mysef to be pushed around from one idea of thought to another, and allowed others to convince me to do all sorts of things, because I just wanted them to be happy with me.

In short, I am wealthly with experience in taking and experimenting with BAD ADVICE! If you want to wade through bad advice you've taken, please feel free to join in! I hope I can save someone from taking the same advice iI did.

Take this afternoon for example. I tried to eat a hotdog. I pulled one out and heated it up. My daughter insisted on having it. Even though I knew she'd had breakfast and mid-morning snack already. I gave it to her and pulled out another one. The baby squalled until I gave it to him. Then I pulled out a third one, and Peter insisted on having it. After that, I had to peel the baby's hotdog, cut up the kids' hotdogs, and get them ketchup. (One of the few High Fructose Corn Syrup foods we still keep in the house.) By the time I finished helping them, I'd lost my appetite, and guess what? Not one of them was actually hungry. None of them ate their hotdogs. If I had denied my daughter when she'd first asked, the whole pointess ordeal would have been avoided, and I would have been full and satisfied. She would've been a tad disappointed, but would have gotten over it. The children spent the rest of the morning asking for things every few minutes until finally I said NO. It was like a test to see how many times they could get me to jump. A test that I failed early on today.


One bit that I was desperate enough to follow for a little while: "Hit your kids. No, don't beat them, but slap the hand that offends, the mouth that offends, etc." Bad, Bad advice. If you want your kids hitting you, their siblings, grandparents, friends, go ahead. It only took a few days for me to see that one blow up in my face, and weeks to repair it.

The BEST advice: Listen to your heart!
There were precious few times in my life that I refused to listen to anyone. Each time I was glad. The advice: "Get an Epidural" was one of those. I didn't make a big deal about it, but I just turned inward instead of listening to others. "Go back to work so you'll be happier and feel more like your own person." I didn't do that either, and I know it would only have stressed me out more, and let me hide from problems that needed addressing in my family.

Wrong Advice: "You can only get pregnant 2 days out of the month." WRONG WRONG WRONG!! We have three children that prove otherwise!! I will leave it at that.

Bad Advice: "Let your house go after you have a baby. Don't do anything but nurse the baby and yourself back to health." The time I followed that one I suffered from the worst post-partum depression I ever had! I couldn't get caught up with the housework, and I kept sinking deeper into despair. I never really did get caught up until I weaned Peter at 16 months!

Dangerously Bad Advice: "Get ANGRY!! Don't let yourself get pushed around by being docile and quiet. Get mad, stomp your feet,; assert yourself by being scary!" Wrong. Calm is assertive, getting angry IS getting pushed around. Following this advice hurt me and everyone I love, especially my little ones.

Dumb Advice that is very tempting: "Every time your husband spends money, you should too! It's not fair that he gets to have all the fun. Just use the credit card, and let HIM figure out how to pay it." Doesn't that sound good to us SAHMs? It's so annoying when our husbands go and spend our money on themselves, but debt will just make things worse.

Advice that just makes more probems: "Sleep when the baby sleeps." Especially when you have other children, get ready for crayons and permanent marker all over EVERYTHING, and to live in filth. That is exactly what that advice leads to.


Monday, June 01, 2009

A move, kid updates, and more

Our family has moved to Floyd, VA. We're now enjoying the great outdoors and a slower-paced life. I don't have to do anything but take care of my family. Kevin is busily looking for work, but it has also been nice to have him around more.

Family Traditions

We now have two traditions. A Family Home Evening night, when we will sing songs, talk a little about our religious beliefs or family goals, do an activity of some sort, (The kids like to put on shows for us, and we ALWAYS do the Hokie Pokie followed by a big family hug,) and have a treat afterwards. On Thursdays we have Pancake, Popcorn, Movie night. We offered a standing invitation to Kevin's family to come enjoy it with us. Kevin's parents have faithfully come just about every week. It is guarunteed no-agenda time together, and the kids absolutely love being able to count on it. Those nights we will not discuss disagreements, there are no offenses taken, and we do not discuss problems.

On a lighter note: Beware the Vaccuum

The night before moving day, I was trying to vaccuum under the couch. I had my back turned away from the vaccuum, using the wand. Sounds innocent enough, right? As I was doing so, Baby Kendon came crawling up, and stuck his hand underneath the brushes. I heard crying, but assumed it was just the baby crying as he frequently does, because I was not paying attention to him. I ignored it at first. Kaylee shouted to me, "MOMMY! The baby has BLEED on him!" That got my attention, and I looked up. To my horror, his hand was almost completely skinless! I could see veins and fat deposits, and surprisingly it wasn't bleeding all that much. But I knew it was going to hurt. Thankfully I had swiped some of my dad's old wound dressings, and Kevin's mother brought over some triple antibiotic ointment. We wrapped it the best we could with him squirming all over. Each day I changed the dressing, and finally after about 7 days, the skin grew back. It was just in time, because Kennie lost what little patience he'd had for it. Now it is scarred, but even the scar is fading from his resillient skin. He did NOT learn from it, though, he is still fearless, and crawls after the vaccuum, often with hand outstretched, no doubt wanting to see if the same thing will happen again. I have to be on my toes, and quick! I never, ever turn my back on the vaccuum anymore.

Speaking of Fearless

The baby can go up and down stairs now, because he never stopped trying for a minute. He took a huge tumble from the top of the stairs, and one tumble from the middle of the stairs. He cried, took a breath and did it again and again over the course of a few days, and now he's got it. What a great life skill, (even if it does scare mommy half to death!)

Family Goals:

The other day we were having Family Home Evening, or rather afternoon, and I wrote on large pieces of construction paper, our goals. First: Be Calm--Calm is Power; Calm is Strength. Second: Be Clean--Make Your World Beautiful. We discussed them for probably 30 seconds, and signed our names to our goals. Kevin and I helped the kids of course. Then we went out for ice cream. Later, my daughter was starting to demand something, and I gave her a choice and a consequence (without getting emotional,) and she stopped herself from escalating into a tantrum. She paused, took a deep breath, and said aloud, "Wait...I needa be calm. Okay mommy, I'm sorry I yelled like that, I will not do it again." Then she calmly asked if I would be willing to remove the consequence. I lessened it, though not removing it completely, and she actually said "Okay, Thank You." Then this morning the kids made their bed without being asked, and were so proud of themselves! They are only 3 and 4 (almost 5) years old, but they are excited and invested in our family goals! Is this REALLY MY family??? WOW!!