A Page of One's Own

Three Years

Oct
07

I have been thinking about this post for the last three months. To feel safe, I have wanted to write a list of what I learned in the past year of marriage, like I have in previous years. Lists are clean and neat, and I certainly learned enough this past year of marriage to make a substantial list.

But every time I thought about the last year of my marriage, a list seemed too cheap somehow. What I actually learned cannot be synthesized in numbers and phrases.

So here goes my best attempt to express this year in a series of paragraphs and pictures.

When Branden and I began to date, I had a severe eating disorder.

For the first year of our marriage, I succumbed to the eating disorder. For the second, I dug as hard as I knew how. I clawed my way out. For the third, I healed.

I say this because Branden and I never really experienced the “honeymoon phase” of marriage and dating that many people do. Our early days together were full of the push and pull that addiction brings–the balance of fighting against deceit but feeling too broken to put my heart completely on the line. I was afraid of being loved and was afraid of loving openly.

For the first two years, I said I was sorry, a lot. I said I was sorry for being a handful, for being “too much,” for having such a multitude of issues. He didn’t bring up his “stuff,” because he was busy taking care of my apologies.

This year, I started to say “Thank you for understanding,” when my impulse was to say “I’m sorry for being myself.” I began to realize that the burden of my journey away from maladaptive coping skills and towards self-love was mine to own.

When we started to date, Branden and I struggled to communicate. I needed to talk about everything, all the time. My idea of closeness has always been communication, while his has been creating memories through quality time. When two people differ on something so fundamental to a relationship, I think there often is a long stream of questions: “Who is wrong? Why isn’t this working? Is it you or is it me?”

I asked myself and Branden this for the first two years. If my way of communicating was wrong, his must be right, I thought. Or if his was right, I must be wrong.

This year, I began to accept that maybe our methods can co-exist. And as soon as I considered this, we began to accept each other. He stopped trying to quiet my passion and I stopped trying to pull rawness out of him.

As I gave him space to be unapologetically himself, he started to tell me his story day-by-day. Almost the moment I committed to let him be himself without questioning that this somehow threatened who I was, our communication problems became almost non-existent.

I have learned that Branden is not responsible for me, and I am not responsible for him. And as soon as this started to click, as I began to heal from the scars of my past, we became much more of a team. I can now honestly say that I love Branden exactly in this moment of who he is. I love that he loves smoking meat and working with wood, that he gets emotional about inspirational music auditions, that his way of being vulnerable with me is soft and thoughtful. I love that I know his struggles, which ones came out to me when I stopped pushing him and started loving myself. And I choose to believe him when he says that he loves me, really loves me, and that he thinks (at 9 months pregnant) I am the most beautiful woman in the world.

I cannot begin to describe how much I appreciate him. When I see posts about people in love who are “best friends,” I always wonder what that really means, especially when they seemed to have met only yesterday.

But Branden has earned that title for me and I hope I have earned it for him. He chose to marry me when we didn’t know if I would ever recover, or if I would ever be able to have kids or lead a “normal” life. He demonstrated so much confidence in my ability to fight and overcome that I couldn’t help but try. He inspired me to do what I thought could not be done, and he sat with me through counseling and encouraged me through despair and prayed for me through sleepless nights. He sat with me on many bathroom floors and talked me through many panic attacks, and he loved me and never shamed me in moments of relapse and struggle. He is the best friend that I have.

So what have I learned this year in marriage? I learned the richness that comes from loving someone without trying to change a thing. I learned the depth that comes from believing I am lovable, scars and all. I learned how to really love.

More than anything, I learned what a wonderful man I married. 

 

Epiphany

Aug
05

The last few months have been vulnerable for me. And as much as I say that I’m an advocate for authenticity and taking risks for connection, I hate being exposed.

I was very excited about a job opportunity about two months ago, but I tried to not let myself get too excited. I wanted to protect myself from being disappointed or hurt. With the second baby almost ready to party, Branden traveling for clinicals, and a busy 20-month-old, my options for employment right now are limited. Two months ago, I thought that I had found something that was a perfect fit. Anxiety followed the interview, along with self-doubt and the stress of trying to balance the needs of everyone in my family.

That day, I took Charlee to Petsmart to watch puppies. Her eyes lit up as she raced to the dog pen, planted herself in front of the cutest puppy, (who only wanted her for the graham cracker she held) and giggled and giggled. I watched her, untrained to mediate emotion and reaction, unaware of social norms like not getting too excited, too sad, too happy, too fearful, too much of anything–and I felt inspired. She let herself be joyful when she was happy, and tired when she was tired, and sad when she was sad. It seemed like a much better practice, the feeling what you were feeling out in the open, than protecting and faking. I watched her interact with the dog with pure joy, and I decided to lean into the discomfort of being vulnerable.

I decided to let myself be excited, joyful, disappointed, confused, or whatever else I needed to be, with the entire process of job hunting. 

I ended up getting the job and turning it down. I ended up having another offer and turning it down. I have interviewed for multiple jobs, been excited about a few, been disappointed a few times, been plenty stressed and overwhelmed, and felt extremely vulnerable the whole process.

Vulnerability is selling myself to a job.

Vulnerability is saying “I’m worth more than you are offering,” or “That’s a lot of money, but it is too much time away from my kids at this point of my life,” or “Thank you for the offer, but it isn’t going to bring me the fulfillment that I’m looking for in employment.” 

Vulnerability is saying “no” when I really want to say “yes.”

Vulnerability is telling people I am smart enough to do what they are asking.

Vulnerability is being rejected.

For me, vulnerability is a lot less about opening up, exposing myself through words, and a lot more about navigating myself. I have a husband who will probably be away when my second baby is born, and then I’ll have two kids, and I’ll be trying to make enough money for us right now, while attempting to remain sane and make time for myself–for my desires of personal fulfillment and growth.

I let myself feel this vulnerability, thanks to Charlee and her puppy friend, and it has been emotional. Self-doubt has arisen for me in interesting ways: Am I worth this amount? Am I being selfish for being picky? What if the best thing for me right now is to say no, to not work, and to trust that everything will work out?

A job recently came up that honestly would be perfect. I won’t go into details, but I have let myself feel thrilled with the prospect of doing the work that this job entails. I have gone through an extensive interviewing process. I have met with the owner of the company in person in Salt Lake. I have asked for a job to be open specifically for me, although they weren’t looking to hire. I have spent hours proving that my skill set will be an asset to their project. I have done my best.

Two nights ago, I sent in my last test after the last month of ups and downs working on different projects for this job, and I felt absolutely nothing.

After I hit send, my emotion was flat, and I had the epiphany of all epiphanies.

Although I will be blessed to get this job, I don’t really care. After hours of work and anticipation and hope, I am going to be fine either way.

Because no matter what I do, nothing will compare to the fulfillment I get from a moment with my daughter or my husband. Nothing could even touch it. 

And I don’t say this to be preachy, because I’m aware that each of our situations are different. Maybe that connection for you will be through employment (which I hope can one day be the case for me) or maybe it will be through loving on your pets or caring for some cool plants.

But as I woke Branden up at one in the morning to try to figure this out, I realized that human connection, for me in this moment with the people I love most, is infinitely precious in ways that no external achievement could be. My moment of realization came when the internal, finally settling in, became more important than the external.

I said out loud to Branden, “This right here is as good as it gets.” And as depressing as this realization could have been, it actually felt light and joyful. The day-to-day is difficult, and nobody cares, and being a mother and a wife most days leaves me doing all my nervous ticks and not sleeping well. I am tired. But this is as good as it gets.

I realized then that one day, I am going to miss my daughter waking up screaming “MOMMY, MOMMY, MOMMY” and then constantly saying “no” to everything I offer.

I’m going to miss Branden driving 30 minutes both ways to retrieve her “lamby” that I forgot, while I rock Charlotte, way past her bedtime, and she asks me for songs until my throat is hoarse.

I’m going to miss Branden falling asleep with exhaustion everywhere he sits down, and I’m going to miss buying everything we own at a thrift store and making homemade mac n’ cheese in an already-trashed kitchen, because that’s the only thing that sounds good to me.

I’m going to miss Charlotte’s irrational fear of the sound of running water, and that her favorite color is very apparently green, and that her curly little hair is thick and wild and impossible to control.

I’m going to miss not being able to afford a gym, and I’m going to miss going to exercise classes every morning at a nearby church. I’m going to miss teaching myself to dance while 32 weeks pregnant.

I’m going to miss meeting Branden for lunch on days I have completely had it. I’m going to miss the inability to keep my house or car or self clean.

I’m going to miss date nights where we are both too exhausted to do anything, so we ask each other questions for hours with 20 fans blowing on us because we don’t have AC.

I’m going to miss him awake at 1 AM listening to me talk about this, when he has to get up at 5 to study for his test the next day.

I’m going to miss the little MMA boxer in my belly trying to break its way out, and I’m going to miss trying to craft a nursery out of things we already have, and I’m going to miss good friends helping me more than I can thank them.

Because one day, Branden and I are going to have kids all grown up, and we are going to have money and a comfortable place of our own, and it’s still going to be as much about connection then as it is now.

So I am relieved that I let myself feel uncomfortably vulnerable the last few months, because I let myself feel all the excitement and build-up, and then at the end, it wasn’t what I thought.

This is as good as it gets.

Good Enough Parenting

May
22

If I could go back sixteen months to the night my baby was born, when I had no idea what I was getting into and every idea of how to perfectly parent, I would tell myself only one piece of parenting advice, and it would be this: You are going to mess it up.

You are going to completely mess it up at some point and in some way and in some facet of your child’s life, so give up on perfection. Give up on not making mistakes. Give up on being the ideal parent and completely tune out the million things your kid should be doing before age one and shouldn’t be doing before age five. Give up, and let it all go, and accept that your kid will probably be in counseling one day because of something you did or didn’t do.

That’s what I would tell myself. I would tell myself that I am enough being me and being a mom. I would tell myself I am a good enough parent, and that being a good enough parent is exactly what is needed. I would tell myself that being a good enough parent is actually enough despite the mistakes I will make, constantly and for the rest of my parenting life. I would tell myself that being a good enough parent is enough.

So since I can’t go back sixteen months, I’ll tell you all that instead.

(Except for the people who give talks in church about parenting whose kids never rebelled, forgot to brush their teeth, talked back, threw a tantrum, etc…Just don’t talk to those people.)

I wrote this in my journal a few weeks ago, about my own enoughness as a parent. Your version of this will be different. We all bring our own fight to the table.

“I’m a damn good mom.

I’m not a squishy mom, like when Charlotte trips I don’t gasp or react–I let her get up because I want her to be tough. I don’t buy her all the toys. She can imagine.

But I notice things about her and I write about her. I think about her constantly. I choose her to be my person, my number one. And sure, I would do anything for her, but I don’t think that’s what makes me good.

I am very concerned with being the best version of myself possible. I work at it. I choose to be self-aware even when it is excruciating and I change when I need to. It has been and still is the longest journey.

But I am more concerned with being a better me than the best mom, and that’s what makes me damn good.”

I think that this is my biggest strength in parenting. I am an excellent communicator and empathizer, I am self-aware, and I want to live a life focused on the values I believe. But still, I have plenty of reasons to not feel good enough. We all do. I could write an entire book on the million things we could feel bad about as parents–ruining your kids’ lives and chances at happiness, for instance.

To illustrate, let me tell you about this week.

Branden had a conference in Las Vegas where he met interesting people, made meaningful connections, and participated in the political side of his profession.

Meanwhile, Charlotte and I almost died. She fell down cement stairs about an hour after Branden left, leaving her face scraped and bruised. She cried, almost non-stop, for five consecutive days. The only time she stopped was when we were around other people. Then she was adorable. I have tried everything to help her, to no relief or avail. I will save you the stressful details, but I had a pediatrician tell me this week that in his twenty two years of practicing, he has never heard of some of Charlotte’s symptoms and honestly isn’t sure what to tell me.

I am five months pregnant, without a husband, working, entirely exhausted and emotionally frustrated. The job I care about most in my life–the job I would give up all the others for–the job of taking care of my daughter–I often feel I am failing, or flailing through. So this week, she ate graham crackers (seriously) whenever she wanted them, I haven’t done her hair, and we have worn pajamas all day the last few days. I have chosen to let go of the expendables in order to save our sanity.

If there is one universal theme I have noticed with parents, both young and old, it is the feeling of shame that hits, almost initially after becoming a parent, that they are not parenting good enough–they let something go, lost their temper, let their kid fall down cement stairs (ahem), should be teaching them how to put puzzles together at six months, teaching them Mandarin by age two, teaching them business strategy by age four, creating competitive little humans in a competitive world, and feeding them only organic crap.

With everything we are supposed to do as parents, it is no wonder that shame is universal. Most parenting books, podcasts, talks and advice is laced with the message: You’re not quite doing enough. You’re not quite caring enough.

Well I’m calling that out. Because to be honest, I would have to hire a small army–at least twelve people–to help me raise one child doing all the stuff I should be doing. And I would have to have a mind-reader on hand to come in and tell me at any given moment what is wrong with my kid and exactly how to fix it.

I absolutely love this quote on “good enough” parenting.

Good enough parents do not worry too much about their imperfections. They strive to do [good] things, but they recognize that they will not always succeed as fully as they might wish, and they forgive themselves for that. Good enough parents recognize that even love is never perfect; it is always at least somewhat fickle. In Bettelheim’s words, ‘Not only is our love for our children sometimes tinged with annoyance, discouragement, and disappointment, the same is true for the love our children feel for us.’ Good enough parents accept this as part of the human condition. Good enough parents understand that nature has created children to be quite resilient. As long as parents don’t mess up too badly (and sometimes even if they do), the children will turn out OK, and OK is good enough. -Dr. Peter Gray

To me, this means that it’s okay to pick your battles. It’s ok to prioritize. It’s ok to say that you are sorry, to mean it, and to show willingness to change as a parent. It’s ok to not be an intentional parent 100% of the time, or even 50, depending on the day. It’s okay to try.

I believe in good enough parenting. I believe that it’s messy. I love my baby so much I would move the world for her, and I also was so frustrated with her this week that I was writing KSL ads to my friends (half kidding) about taking a free baby for a few hours (or years.) I believe that the reality of loving a child is hard, and giving up control slowly, constantly, is painful more often than rewarding. I believe that we all feel bad for being as frustrated as we sometimes are, and we all believe that we should be handling parenting with more patience, love, and general enjoyment. (Once again, except for some people who give the talks in church about parenting. Because they’ve arrived. Or they don’t actually have kids.)

So I don’t buy into the shame, and you shouldn’t either. It’s exhausting. You are a good enough parent, no matter what phases your kids are going through or what mistakes you have made. You are a good enough parent, and so am I.

And if you’re about to become a new parent: You are going to mess it up. Give up. You are good enough.

 

Being A Mother//Being Myself

Mar
09

There is a natural progression to what life as a middle-class, religious, conservative woman looks like: elementary school, middle school, high school with a boyfriend and a sub-par job, college, adventures–a medical or religious mission, a study abroad–, dating around, settling down with “the one,” a job or career, and finally, then, motherhood. Finally, then, you’ve arrived.

At least that’s what I thought. I have been taught from religion or society or something that motherhood is the grand destination to life. Once you have become a mother, you’re there.

A good friend said to me today, “Kaylee, you know there’s nothing wrong with being goal-oriented and ambitious?” and she said it like that should be the most obvious statement in the world, but it felt so good to hear and also so surprising that I have felt…lighter…all day. It feels like a strain has been lifted off of my shoulders.

I have been thinking all day about why this statement surprised me and have reached a conclusion, or rather, a question that might lead to a few conclusions: what if being a mother, arriving at what I thought my destination would be, does not “fill” me completely? And that question led me to another: why do I feel so incredibly shamed for still trying to be myself–one who desires achievement, who is rarely content but always hungry, starving for creating and trying and experimenting with  my talents– after getting married and having a baby?

I know that this is a touchy subject for probably every woman, so I want to make something clear: I believe that women are unique. I believe that many women find complete fullness from motherhood, from the very moment they first hold their first child. And this is not lesser in my mind. We are all different, with different needs and desires and ambitions and disappointments. This is not an argument against stay-at-home mothers or for working women. I anticipate being “filled,” being completely fulfilled as a mother in some future moment of my life. I admire and respect women who choose to stay at home–my mother was one such, and the blessings of what continuously come from her sacrifices are unparalleled.

And if what fills you the most is cooking dinner, doing crafts, creating beautiful gardens, meditating, reading, or focusing all efforts into your children–how wonderful! I appreciate that you are different than me. I need friends who can cook me dinner and teach me how to be organized and help me craft.

This also isn’t an argument against working mothers. I know incredible women who balance beautifully their many roles.

I wish as women we could recognize and truly appreciate that we are different, and what a relief, because we need Pinteresty women and lawyers and surgeons, humble, giving women and cooks and yogis and talkers and listeners. We need all sorts. We need workers and watchers. We don’t all “fit.” Maybe none of us fit.

I am a mother first and foremost. I would do anything for my daughter, and she brings me more joy than I can imagine anything else ever will. She is my world.

And I think it’s okay for me to be a mother and to still be myself, just like I think it’s okay for you to be a mother and be yourself, whatever that looks like. For the last year, I have been trying to “fit” and “fulfill my duty” to Charlee, to Branden and really to my culture. I have struggled with condescending comments from women like “being a mom is the best thing ever!” and “being a mom is enough; enjoy every moment!”

I know. I know it is. I love life with my daughter. I am a mother and I get it, and I would not trade it for anything. But how did sacrificing who we are as individuals, as women, somehow get wrapped up in our perceptions of what it means to be a good mother? (I can’t speak for you. Maybe it’s just me.)

When did it become black and white? Or is it? Why is it either a “stay at home” or a “working” mom? And why does it feel like there is a “versus” in between the two? It feels black and white.

But today I realized that it doesn’t have to be. I will be a better mother for chasing my dreams and filling myself daily, weekly, and monthly. I will be a better mother and actually, I will be a better person if I remain authentic to myself no matter what else is happening in my life. And the reality of what that will look like, I imagine, will fluidly move as I change throughout the years.

I’m an intense person who loves achieving and loves making and reaching goals. So that’s what I’m going to do, or at least, try to do.

I’m about 117 pages into my first book.

I decided today to become a health coach and teach people about intuitive eating.

I need room to explore how I personally can live what I believe.

I go to counseling every week because I like learning about myself, and I am passionate about self-improvement.

One day, I will get my Masters in Fine Arts and be a certified teacher.

And today I realized, for the first time, that this isn’t selfish. As a mother, I choose to sacrifice myself in certain ways and to hang onto myself in others. This isn’t selfish; it’s self-care.

I want to view motherhood as this forever journey in my life, not its final point, which at some times I will do full-time and at others I will share with other goals.

And that’s okay, at least for now.

 

 

 

Feeling Too Much

Feb
21

Being tender and open is beautiful. As a woman, I feel constantly shhh’ed. Too sensitive. Too mushy. Too wishy washy. Blah blah. Don’t let someone steal your tenderness. Don’t allow the coldness and fear of others to tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart. Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things. Whether it’s a song, a stranger, a mountain, a raindrop, a teakettle, an article, a sentence, a footstep, feel it all–look around you. All of this is for you. Take it and have gratitude. Give it and feel love. -Zooey Deschanel

Today: an walk in the wind, gold sprinkles on a cookie, butterfly kisses, an over sized floral bow, tiny footsteps upstairs, two dutch braids, creativity on a computer sheet of paper.

Yesterday: a nearby farm, a picnic blanket under a tree, a bird talking to everyone, sparkly fingernails, thrift store shopping, sweat pants, blaring country music.

Noticing and feeling everything.

Society favors extroverts. Job interviewers want their future employees to be social, good with people, friendly and likable. Understandably, many introverts feel a few steps behind.

I am an extrovert in every sense of the word. Let me tell you everything. Let me give you my heart and my thoughts and my observations and my days and my moments. I am yours, whoever you are. Despite the favoring of “my kind” of people, there is one caveat–it seems that I feel too much.

As much as society favors extroverts, it encourages a type of communication different from the one that comes naturally to me. People are more often careful and guarded and reactive, because people compete with people who compete with other people who compete with themselves. A never-ending competition of appearances advocates for a certain type of communication; a cautious one. And if I open up and listen like I always do, time after time I feel that I feel too much, that my heart is too big and guides my decisions more than it should.

There are many people like me. After asking many friends, I have discovered that even  people who are not exactly extroverts feel that they feel too much. The whole world feels quieted.

And in the middle of this world, I am vulnerable most of the day to most everyone I meet. I bubble up in every conversation. I crave connections and I feel it deeply when they are strengthened or broken. In the middle of this careful world, it would be probably be easier to shut it off and shut down, to close my mouth and heart. It would probably be easier to lay the vulnerability which I experience daily in many forms down to rest. The vulnerability sometimes gets exhausting.

When you feel too much by today’s standard, people sometimes crush it. But here’s the thing that I have learned about sacrificing vulnerability: it comes with a steep cost. Being careful does not allow me to connect with people in the ways that I love, and by sacrificing who I am, I lose parts of me that are irreplaceable, authentically me.

So if you are like me, an extrovert or someone who “feels too much,” here is some free advice from someone who has learned:

Feel it anyways.

If someone hurts you and blames you from their distance from people, feel it anyways. Allow yourself to be hurt without blaming.

Allow yourself to be human. Look at what others may call “weakness” as an incredible opportunity to empathize and validate others. Look at every feeling as a buy into humanity.

For those of you who feel for others too deeply: I know that it hurts, because you cannot fix the world. Feel it anyways; allow yourself to hurt for others, and then you will remember to be kinder and to try harder to be better. The pain is productive–feel it.

When you get too excited about successes, let yourself feel joy. I often protect myself from this one in order to prepare for potential future failures. Feel joy.

Feel sadness when you need to. Take a day or a week or a month to mourn.

Don’t let people silence you by telling you that emotion is weakness; it isn’t; it is incredible strength that makes you uniquely, beautifully connected. Feel as deeply as you can, and cherish the moments that it lends you.

Like a Girl

Feb
05

This morning, Charlee and I showed up at the church gym to cheer on daddy as he played a basketball game.

Branden’s team was down a player, and I can play basketball. Branden suggested that I join the team, and I watched as some of the men shifted, some accepted, and some grimaced. Playing with a girl?

One of the men, stooped over putting his basketball shoes on, said, “Well, if we can’t get five guys we might as well start trying to get girls to play.”

Oh, really?

I lifted my eyebrows, looked directly at him, and said, “might as well?” loud enough for everyone within the room to hear.

He caught on, laughing nervously and playing it off. I immediately said to Branden in Portuguese, “I don’t want to play with this guy,” to which he responded, “I get that.” There was an immediate assumption that I was going to play basketball “like a girl,” which phrase we can use interchangeably with “worse” in this case.

I ended up playing, because I wanted to play and I’m actually pretty good, not great but pretty good, and I played while my baby crawled around on the sideline. I asked the opposing team to play hard against me, and they did. I got swatted a few times, and I had a few great steals. I played good defense. And not that I was keeping score or anything, but I scored more points than that guy.

Women are as individual as men. Please do not make assumptions about me.

How does it make sense to assume that because someone is a woman, she cannot possibly play basketball as good as say, a middle-aged, out-of-shape man? And how does it make sense to assume that men can lift heavy things while women cannot? It doesn’t, but I’m still picked hesitantly to play for a team, and eyes still skip over me when looking for “strong hands” to help.

I am as individual as you, with strengths and weaknesses. Being a women does not make me weak and it does not make me strong. Let me decide what I am.

I am a mother and a creator and I like to play basketball. I can lift heavy things. I am a woman, a mother, a creator, an athlete, and I am strong.

In order to compete though, I need opportunities to compete–so give them freely.

And then if I am not keeping up, cut me from the team.

I want my daughter to hear the phrase “like a girl” and know that that phrase connotes strength and individuality, not weakness or inferiority. Because girls can do, well, pretty cool things.

See stats from basketball game today.

Sacred Space

Jan
26

I walk into the room with my hands shoved into my black puffy coat pockets, and I scan the thirty or so faces huddled in corners throughout the small cafeteria. Yellow lights blare off of the glossy, fake-wood counter tops. My head quickly turns back and forth, but I do not see him. I find an empty bench and sit down. Two more women shuffle in from the door I just passed through–they are wearing expensive clothes and heeled boots, and I catch a glimpse of a “Kate Spade” label. A woman around their age limps up to them; her hair has not been combed and she wears a loose-fitting, biker looking t-shirt. The Kate Spade lady hugs her, and then the other.

Pulling my hands out of my pockets and bringing them together, I look to my left. A girl with fake red hair and heavy black eyeliner sits across from a dark-haired, stocky boy her our–or rather, our age. He talks through thick emotion. She grabs his hand and looks so intently in his eyes that I feel like an intruder. My hands sweat, and I wring them together. I don’t know why I’m so nervous.

It might be that he stopped eating or drinking, and I feel personally responsible to bring him light in this sterile, bleak-looking place. It might be that no one has been allowed to visit him. I am the first.

I sit there for too long, and bored looking nurses shift uncomfortably and whisper to each other. “Who is she here to see?” I hear. “Joseph, I think.”

Actually, he goes by Kay.

After ten minutes, a tall man in scrubs wheels him backwards through the door. His eyes are scrunched shut and he drags his feet from the wheelchair where he sits. One of his arms is through a cardigan; the other is free. The man apologizes quickly. “He wouldn’t let me put his other arm through.”

I ignore him and grab my grandfather’s hand. “Grandpa, it’s me.”

His eyes flutter open and he smiles faintly. “Hello, Beautiful.” Tears fill my eyes; he talked to me, and he called me Beautiful. I take both of his hands in mine and although blurry, see bruises where they have stuck him with IVs for hydration and nutrition. We sit there holding hands in this moment for me frozen in time, and now everyone else is intruding. I see the nurses look down, embarrassed to be a part of this intimate interaction. “Grandpa, how are you? How are they treating you here? You know that I love you?”

His moment of lucidity has passed, and he mumbles a non-coherent response.

After a few more exchanges, he tries to stand up. I put my arm around him, still holding one of his hands, and we begin to walk. “Wow, that’s the most active he has been this entire week,” one of the nurses say. He tries to take grandpa’s hand, and grandpa pushes him away.

Throughout the next thirty minutes, we walk back and forth across the cafeteria. He leans on me heavily and I tell him about Charlee’s upcoming birthday party, about Branden’s PA school, and about how much we miss him at home. Responses are muddy–he doesn’t know Charlotte, or Branden, me, or himself. “Grandpa, you know that I love you?”

“Yes, I do. It’s apparent.” Another tiny burst of Grandpa.

We walk to the soda machine, and he asks me for a drink. We share Diet Cokes and talk some more. He is so drugged that he hangs his head, falling in and out of the disorienting conversation.

He drinks something, and I feel hope.

He gnaws on his hand and I ask him why. “I’m hungry.”

They ask me to come back into the psychiatric ward, to stay longer than visiting hours, and to feed him. We wait in a small room together and he falls into sleep. I bring a spoon to his mouth and he refuses.

He is a giant of a man trapped in a decaying mind. He is literally a giant among men, with an ability to love so purely I can only dream and aspire to feel a fraction of that someday. I miss him so much as I kiss his cheek good-bye that later that night, after Branden is in bed, I sit on the linoleum floor in my kitchen and cry. I pray, “Just please, let this end.” We have lived with him and my grandma for over two years, and we have literally watched the most painful moments of his life and my grandmother’s. We have watched him digress from slight recognition to confusion to anger, blackness. I think back to mere hours before, walking with him and talking with him, seeing the bruises on his hands and his scruffy cheeks and his sunken, fallow eyes still in his pajamas, drugged and hardly responsive, with less than 1% of his brain functioning at any level, and I feel everything. I did not want to leave. I pray, “God, take Him home to you and God, let him be whole.”

The psychiatric hospital was a sacred place, and the memory will forever hold a sacred space in my mind, because it was the Atonement of Jesus Christ in action. It was broken people, who needed each other and who have struggled and who were trying and more times than not failing. It was my grandpa, saying “Hello Beautiful” like some sign from God that he was still within himself somewhere deep and mostly hidden, and that angels were around him always, the ones that we can and cannot see. It was a woman with a Kate Spade bag taking time to visit a friend in an uninviting, prison-like place, and it was a twentysomething girl  extending her arm to her boyfriend, unafraid to love him. It was brokenness, but it was also this blinding light shining through the cracks of all the hurting people and connecting us with each other. It was a symbol of humanity to me, and of sacrifice and failing and one day hopefully overcoming. It was the closest I have felt to God in a long time, because scriptures and prayer do it for me sometimes, but sometimes I forget to really study and to really converse, and the connection comes in waves and bursts, sometimes too far apart. It was God in that room.

 

 

 

Soul Work

Nov
27

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetA year ago, I was stressed out of my mind. I was studying for finals, working on a heavy semester of school projects, tutoring 20 hours a week, going to 4+ doctor’s appointments weekly, and trying to keep a baby in my belly until I graduated college.

I had no expectations after graduation. I had no idea what the future held for either me or Branden. I literally didn’t think about what motherhood would look like for me. I was in survival mode until I had Charlee.

I have been pretty open with some of the struggles of motherhood. I haven’t, however, ever touched on the heart of these struggles.

For the first time in my life, as a mother, a college graduate in a creative major, and a wife, I could not do what I once did, and what I have done my whole life. I didn’t feel productive. I didn’t feel like I was contributing.

For the first time in my life, I lost all external validation. The performances that I had always been praised for disappeared. No one cared anymore that I graduated at the top of my class, that I could run fast, that I was smart, that I was capable, that I was (fill in the blank.) It evaporated into the air, and with it, my whole sense of being and worth.

This moment was a crucial one for me. I realized that I had never developed myself, absent of performance and achievement. I realized that I had been using busy-ness as a defense from feeling empty. This moment has lasted months. It has been my first real identity crisis. It has been an unraveling. All of the unwanted, hidden emotions and behaviors unraveled right before me as the next step of my life was no longer provided. How incredibly uncomfortable. What an opportunity. img_2134

I wanted to share with you all a few valuable things that I have learned, through months of counseling, relapse, and amazing joy–I wanted to share with you all the value in the soul work that I am undergoing.

I have learned that fulfillment comes through creation.

I started to paint a few months ago. I don’t do it super well. It is so good for me to do something I don’t do perfectly. I don’t get praised for painting, and I don’t want to–I do it for me. When I finish a painting, a painting authentically mine, I feel creative and fulfilled. When I start feeling depressed, I create.

I have learned that to feel joy, I must do things that fill my soul; things that make me feel.

Walking, running, reading, writing, painting, creating, playing, singing, talking, exploring, hiking–these are my soul-fillers.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetMy default is to numb–to watch Netflix so there is noise around me, to make a list and check things off, to clean and shop and do the things that must be done and take care of the people that must be taken care of. But as I have tried to let myself feel, to really feel what it is to be alive and to experience a day and a moment, I have felt connected to myself and people around me.

I have learned about rest.

Rest is this uncomfortable thing I do to take care of myself. I have been working on giving myself permission to take breaks. Emotions like guilt and discomfort always accompany the rest for me, but I keep doing it. In a culture that says GO, I try to rest. In a culture that says sacrifice self, I try to practice self-care. It isn’t indulgent; it is necessary.

I have learned that perfectionism is not a badge–it is destructive.

I am a recovering perfectionist. For years, almost my whole life, I used the word “perfectionist” as a shield against people who talked about self-love and acceptance. As I have worked to let go of black-and-white thinking, pretty cool things have happened. Relief flooded into my life in realizing that I am good enough, healthy enough; a good enough mother and good enough wife and a good enough person to live life well. Enough is my favorite word. I am not perfect. I am enough.Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

I have learned that I can feel joy when life isn’t perfect.

img_2094The word “joy” at its root means the good mood of the soul. As I have worked to let go of perfectionism and stop defining myself by that label, I let go of having a perfect life. I let go of trying to control the parts of my life that weren’t “fitting” the way that I wanted them to. Then, joy came. I feel joyful. I don’t always feel happy. I struggle with all the hats I wear right now–of mother and wife, financial provider of our little family, member of the community, bill payer and grocery shopper and laundry doer and cook and etc… Some days, I don’t feel very happy. Some days I feel sad, or mad, or disappointed, or empty. But let me tell you, I feel joy pretty often. I know that I’m okay and that I’m going to be okay. My soul is in a good mood about it.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI have learned that joy stems from gratitude.

Practicing gratitude in concrete, verbal ways has set the tone for what I see in my life. If I look for aspects of my life to be grateful for, they appear. I’m not one of those people who is grateful for everything. Some things make no sense to me, and I hate them. But I am grateful for sweet potatoes, because I love them, and mustard yellow, and Charlotte’s evil cackle, and baby pajamas. Tender mercies have started to flow, when I tried to find them.

I have learned that my validation has to come from myself.

This is hard for me. I know myself very well. One gift that I have been given is the gift of awareness, of myself and other people. I have a microscope of insight that allows me to really pick apart my thoughts, actions and words. Sometimes I don’t like what I see. Because of this, I have tried my whole life to get validation from other people. I don’t come across as an insecure person, but I have learned that I have been secure only because I have been liked.

Being liked runs out. Being pretty runs out. Being anything runs out, because we change. And then we are left with ourselves. So if I’m alone with myself, I better have enough self-compassion and forgiveness and understanding built up that I can still feel joy and gratitude in my life.

I have learned that humans can change.

Not just their behaviors, but their thought processes, their beliefs, their perception. Addicts can change. I can change.

This was devastating for me at first, owning every part of myself, because that meant that I couldn’t squirm out of my mistakes and wrongdoings. I struggled with the thought that I could really change my core.

I believe it now.

As I work to own my story, my body, my beliefs, my words, and my actions, I can then be empowered to own what I do today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. And you know what that means? I get to decide how I react, how I feel about myself, and how I treat others.

How cool is that, guys? How cool is that.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Election, 2016

Nov
10

13603258_1218904074816653_2650555217071578330_oBranden loves to teach me everything he is learning about in PA school. A few days ago, he brought home a blood sugar testing kit. (Sorry. I don’t know the real name.) He pricked my finger and tested my blood. Altogether, it was very dramatic, and I have increased empathy for people with diabetes.

Anyways, he also has been learning about sleep disorders. A big rule in “sleep hygiene” is to avoid screens in bed.

I 100% broke that rule yesterday.

Social media was on fire. The more I scrolled through my feed, the worse I felt. Still, I could not put my phone away. I read countless opinions on the United States of America electing Donald Trump as President. I read a lot of angry people venting, a few people stringing thoughtful observations together, some people trying to shine positivity or humor through the muck, and everyone, everyone, finding offense with whatever anyone else was writing.

I went to bed feeling sick. I truly felt awful.

This morning I woke up feeling exactly the same way. I decided to try to work through what was bothering me the most by running and thinking. I put on my jogging shoes, borrowed a really nice jogging stroller–wow, someone buy me a bob stroller–,  and ran until I had finally put my finger on it.

Yesterday, I felt afraid. I felt silenced.

I wanted to join the discourse on who our new president was. I wanted to give my input, my opinion, and my thoughts. And I was too afraid to say anything, because people are too busy blaming, shaming, and bashing whoever doesn’t think like them to stop for a moment and listen.

I ended up posting a picture of my baby with the caption “Just doing our thing.” I don’t generally experience high volumes of social media anxiety, but I wrote and rewrote that caption six times, each time thinking of how someone would find offense in what I was saying. Would someone take “just doing our thing” and make it political? Would I lose friends? Would someone call me names because of an unassuming post on a very heated day? It might sound ridiculous, but I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised.

I do not want to make small of peoples’ fears following this election. I cannot fully comprehend how minorities may feel with Donald Trump representing our country, but I think I have a taste after reading and re-reading comments he has made about women.

After a day of thought and struggle, I have decided that I do not fear Donald Trump. I believe there are enough good people in the world to stop him from doing irreparable damage. I fear what is happening with us, all of us.

Yesterday, I saw people bashing each other, people unfriending those who thought differently from them, people shaming each other for the way that they voted, and people hating democracy–and America.

I felt silenced. I felt too afraid to speak what was on my mind. As a straight, white, privileged female, I felt silenced from voicing my opinion, for fear of someone shoving it in my face that I was a straight, white, privileged female and thus had no understanding of what was going on in the real world.

And that, that, is what I’m afraid of.

When people stop discussing and start raging.

When we can’t stand for people to disagree with us because we are too angry to consider an opposing point of view. When we generalize, calling people bigots or liars or cheaters because of their point of view. When we base our friendships on if people agree and support what we hold dear?

I understand that disagreement is uncomfortable. It means that instead of pointing the finger at someone else, we take a hard look at our own deeply held, long-developed, even sacred beliefs and consider what adding or subtracting from those would like like. It’s uncomfortable. I get that.

But disagreement is what begets democracy.

Disagreement itself is sacred.

I have never seen so many of my friends polarized against each other. That is what I’m afraid of. Donald Trump will come and go, hopefully surprising me and doing a decent job. I pray that he surprises me. But either way, he will come and go.

I also pray that as a limited human, I stop to consider how I treat people who don’t agree with me. Do I dismiss them, or do I really listen? I will try harder to listen better. We all need to be heard.

Yesterday, I tried to take a little longer on articles and posts from people who have differing opinions from me. I deeply appreciated people expressing any opinion with respect and an earnest desire to put that out in the world. Expressing a sacred opinion is vulnerable. Bashing someone else’s is not.

I do not want to come across like I know it all. I don’t. Every time I have a political discussion with someone who disagrees with something I say, I admit that I get a little butthurt. I generalize and stereotype. I am a human, and I only have one life of 23 years to base my opinions around. They are constantly evolving as I grow and come to know different things. But despite my imperfections, I work hard to be kind and to fight against stereotypes, to respect people and to validate struggles that I feel are real, including racism, homophobia, and sexism.

I just don’t think that the way to treat one form of hate is with more hate.

This morning on my run, I vowed to take responsibility for my part in  (what I have seen) as the two worst candidates running up against each other. Next election, I will do more to be better informed and involved in the election process.

I don’t want to feel silenced, so there’s my two cents.

 

 

 

Brittany in Africa

Oct
14

img_1375From the time that my sister Brittany learned that the world was bigger than the Tri-Cities, she wanted to go to Africa. She wanted to deliver babies and give medical care in the most needy of places. She wanted to love people to life. While I was freaking out about the one word I missed on a spelling test in fourth grade (“immature”), she started hanging up pictures of Africa in our room.

Her room in Kennewick is still plastered with pictures and drawings of Africa. After months of searching for the right organization, she finally clicked “purchase” for a plane ticket.

That was a good day for all of us.

Brittany texts me everyday, sending pictures and stories of what is happening in the middle of rural Uganda. img_1436

Generally the tone of her texts are positive and excited, with a twinge of homesickness and an occasional “what the hell am I doing here.” Earlier this week, something was different.

She started the conversation with this: “Charlotte will not go to Africa. She will not get married. She will never like a boy. She will live in a closet knitting hats for the poor. This is how she will help society. But she will be in a closet doing it.”

This is when I knew that something was wrong.

She proceeded to tell me about her day.

I think I’m just seeing a lot of really hard things everyday. My heart is so sad. Today I interviewed three orphans who are trying to get sponsored so they can go to school.

Moses is 13 and his 18 year old brother takes care of him and he eats once a day. Both his parents died of HIV.

Esther is 8 and her dad was an alcoholic and her mom left her when she was 3. Every time she stands up ‘she feels bad’ and it is because she doesn’t eat.”

And then sweet little Patience is 3 and both her parents left her and her grandma takes care of her.

I was sitting there writing down the answers to different questions and I just wanted to cry.

The hardest part is because I’m one person and there are millions and millions of kids in this situation and when I start thinking about it I can’t handle it.

Moses’s favorite subject is “science” and his favorite hobby is “studying hard.” His siblings live in different homes so that they can each eat one meal a day. He was in school for years, but he had to drop out because he could not pay the tuition. “It’s been very difficult, but I try to make it easy.”

Esther is taken care of by her 11 year old brother. She loves school, except that she gets sick because she has no jackets for warmth. She collapses often from hunger. When asked what she needed, she said “Maybe if the sponsor is able to help, they could buy shoes, a uniform, and a sweater.”

Patience’s favorite things to do are to “play games, sing songs, and learn about animals.” Her hobbies are things that make her happy. She wants shoes more than anything, because there are chiggers in her toes, and they “bury themselves” and it hurts very bad.

The following videos are of the kids that Brittany has worked with, learning how to be frogs and butterflies:

So far in Africa, Brittany has helped deliver multiple babies, has been in the OR for multiple brain surgeries (one for a four month old and one for a six week old), and has treated countless people for malaria. Actually, the other doctors and nurses she works with diagnosed her with malaria last week.img_1598

Brittany is in the heart of one of the poorest places in the world. She travels from village to village by herself or with one other volunteer. She works primarily with orphans and vulnerable children.

I think that seeing this side of humanity has made her feel helpless. I felt that when we spoke a few days ago.

As she wrote me about her discouragement, ideas started flashing into my head of reaching out to get these kids shoes, and school supplies, and a jacket, and maybe even another year at school.

She isn’t one person; she is a long trail of interactions and services and friendships and differences. If you are reading this, you can be a part of expanding her little village in Uganda.

It costs $240 to sponsor one child for the entire school year. The link to the GoFundMe page is below:

https://_www.gofundme.com/_BushikaEducation Brennan Frost

If you are not able to give money, or you want to be more creative in what you send, please email me at kaylee1133@hotmail.com. I would love to send boxes and boxes of clothes, new or used, shoes, jackets, etc…

If you are not able to give, please share this post or this link.

I would love to see Brittany’s “one” expand and multiply.

Loves to you all!