Tonight the house doesn’t seem so bad. The floors are swept. The living room area is picked up and vacuumed. The mud room is overflowing with blankets from the track meet, that were dropped there as soon as everyone walked in the door. The downstairs carpet is pulled back where the boys stuffed towels against the cracks in the wall where the rain comes in. There are rooms and corners that have way too much clutter, where I don’t even know where half this stuff came from. For supper we had the beef, chicken, and leftover taco shells and toppings we were gifted after last night’s Lenten meal.
Everyone is here. Another baseball game was cancelled this evening. Again I was relieved, as that opened up an entire evening for everyone to be home. I’ve been in one of my cozy homemaker moods today, taking time this morning to do the dishes that have been piling up for the past one or two evenings. Usually this is the kids’ job, but I wanted to do it. I’d tried to sit down to work on homework this morning. Ideally it’d be me and the boys in the living room in the morning, everyone working on their various school things. Sometimes that’s how it is, but today I couldn’t quite concentrate knowing there were other things around the house that could also be getting done.
I did about four loads of laundry washing boys’ sheets and blankets. Something about having boys, especially as they get older, makes me worry about things like making sure they’re at least somewhat prepared for living with any people they might live with in the future, or just living somewhere else on their own. I want them to know how to at least do basic things for themselves. I tend to think one of my jobs as a mother is to teach my boys the concepts and skills of being competent in the areas of women. The thing about that is that women are different, and are going to come with their own backgrounds and personalities.
In other words, they can only learn so much from me. Another downside to this is that sometimes in the big picture of wanting to make sure people are learning things, now that they are older and sometimes doing more, I forget sometimes myself still to find joy in the doing for them. Like, I forget that it actually brings me joy to do their laundry for them, that sometimes it’s just nice to be taken care of so well to the point that you don’t even realize someone is doing it. Clothes just magically wash themselves. Blankets and beds just magically become fresh and clean. Somebody loves you no matter what.
I asked if he’d disown me if I wore sweatpants to the track meet. I don’t remember what he said, but it was something that communicated to me in a quick and believable way that he wouldn’t. We were on our way out the door, and I was readying myself at the last minute making sure I was wearing the proper apparel for the weather. I layered up, with my black leggings underneath, and my grey sweatpants on top for added warmth.
My choices were limited. I could wear jeans as my outer layer and look normal, or I could wear sweatpants as my outer layer and still look just as normal. The difference would come in how comfortable I’d be. This prolonged period of inactivity is showing itself on the bathroom scale. I’m hoping to go shopping this afternoon with the goal of finding some clothes that fit better while also conforming with society’s public fashion standards.
Our friends are still separated. There was a time when I thought that a marriage in crisis was the equivalent of a medical emergency, that the marriage itself was the thing that was needing to be targeted, restored, and worked on. URGENT URGENT URGENT. LETS GO THIS NEEDS TO BE DEALT WITH NOW SOMEBODY NEEDS TO DO SOMETHING.
I’m not sure how many others would agree with this, but something I came across last year while reading was the saying that God does not care more about the marriage than he does about the people in it. I tend to think there is merit to this. She was specifically referring to Christian marriages, where we uphold and care about the institution of marriage as something God ordained as right and good, something holy to be preserved at all costs.
There’s still some kind of tearing, shredding, violent tragedy going on. This goes beyond what human doctors, human lawyers, human therapists for children and grown-ups can repair or revive. I think this is the part where I’m supposed to turn my eyes back to the cross, where the Lord, in one death, somehow makes these situations redeemable. I tend now to think that whether it’s a marriage in sickness, health, near death, or recovery, that God remains dedicated to the good and flourishing of all involved.
The name Lincoln Christian University is deceiving. It’s actually a very small, remote, and cozy feeling campus (in my opinion). It used to be Lincoln Christian College, and being only an hour away from my parents, this was a college I wanted to go to after high school. I visited Moody, Mequon, Lincoln Christian, and Seward. Chicago was too big. Olivette Nazarene where Susan was going didn’t appeal to me. Mequon had the gazebo next to beautiful Lake Michigan, but that didn’t seem like a good enough reason to go there. Josh was in Seward and loved it there. I felt torn and unable to discern what God’s will was. Was I supposed to go to Lincoln or was I supposed to go to Seward?
About this time Josh had taken Psychology 101 with Professor Moulds. From him he learned there was no such thing as God’s will, at least not in the way that I was trying to find it. God didn’t care what college I went to. I could go to Lincoln and God would be happy. I could go to Seward and God would be happy. I remember taking the same class and having my mind blown. I sometimes felt like Dr. Moulds took too much pleasure in disrupting his students’ former ways of thinking. You don’t just go from seeking God’s will to suddenly believing God would be happy with me no matter what.
All that to say, I’m glad I still get to come here. Due to longer standing financial reasons, the school recently underwent drastic changes. They cut nearly all their undergraduate programs, got rid of athletics, and as of next year will no longer have on-campus dorms or student housing. I don’t think I realized at first how serious and devastating this was for some people. Much of the faculty and staff have lost their jobs. Many of the students lives have been upended. As of right now, they say the MAC program isn’t going anywhere, and remains one of their healthiest and most-enrolled in programs.
Last night in class we talked about PTSD and anxiety disorders. I found myself sitting in the back shaking my head along with much of the lecture. My professor specializes in Family Systems Therapy and acute trauma therapy (different from complex trauma, which is trauma extended over period of time as opposed to a major one time event). She said when you first start working with clients who’ve been through trauma, their story sounds more like a box of pictures that’s been dumped out all over the floor. As she works with them and listens, the story begins to make more sense, to where they can tell it in a more coherent way. She says that’s how you know they’re getting better.
A local pastor’s wife friend came over yesterday morning. It was cold enough that we stayed inside, but early enough that we talked for nearly two hours in the living room while the rest of the house was still asleep. She told me I didn’t have to clean for her, so I didn’t, not too much. I did make sure the bathroom was at least presentable and wiped down. I also cracked a window in the mudroom to air out any heavier or more obvious shoe or cat smell, as the family collection of shoes is the first thing the front door opens right into, and I’m never quite sure who can smell the cats or not.
Later I could see where Ghost had been. I took some of my citrus and basil all-purpose cleaner and wiped up his dried sneeze remnants. I love Ghost, which is why I let him come inside in the first place. I told the kids to put him back outside. It’s been chilly, but not frigid, and it’s good for him to get outside in the fresh air and sun. While cleaning the floor I started thinking about how so often I have felt this sense of my living space being “unclean”. Like, it’s this place no one really wants to come to, that I feel is never quite good enough to invite people into, at least not as much as I would like to.
I saw a post on Instagram that said “Perfectionism is often shame in disguise.” I took a screen shot of it. Perfectionism is something that has come up pretty regularly in counseling. I’ll make a passing comment about the house and then she’ll dig deeper. What am I getting or wanting from a cleaner house? Satisfaction. Evidence that I accomplished something. Something I can point to and say, “See? Here’s what I did.” This came up a little bit yesterday too, to which the probing went deeper. “What about attention?” I had to think about it more. The need for attention is associated with negative images. Needing attention is for the slutty girls with daddy issues. Needing attention is for the vain, the prideful, the ones whose fleshly sins need to be mortified.
“Ah, yes”, she said. “You’re a Christian, which means you think everything is your fault.”
I was seen again in that moment.
“Thank you”, I said. “THANK YOU.”
I have thought through these years, that by the time this season of life is over, I surely will have been purged of every sinful need for praise or admiration. I was doing some reading for my abnormal psychology class and came across a section that stood out to me. It was talking about depressive disorders. This isn’t the time to go into every possible reason or contributing factor with depression, but this particular section spoke on behavioral explanations. There were three things which made up the section (taken from Understanding Abnormal Behavior, 11th edition, Sue, Sue, Sue, Sue, p. 241):
A person participates in few events or activities that are potentially reinforcing.
There are few reinforcements available in the environment.
A person’s behavior and social skills result in limited reinforcement.
This reminded me of my stay-at-home mom days in Hoyleton. This morning I went back and read a post I’d written during Lent. It was slightly amazing to me to see something I’d not remember if I hadn’t written it down: “We haven’t made a single Lenten service this year. It’s too hard to get out with the kids this time of night. I attempted the afternoon service with the three boys. But going during nap time didn’t turn out well and we ended up leaving about a third of the way through. The older two kids go. Their dad comes over before church and gets them. I’m not even sure where we are in Lent. I would guess we’re maybe half way through? I don’t pay attention to the calendar.”
I go on to say, “If there’s one thing I’m learning about mothering, it’s that this is not a life of immediate gratification. This is a life stretched out. A slow and steady walk toward the eternal Prize. I look around and if it weren’t for the fact that I actually remember doing things, you’d never know I did anything today. I guess the kids are alive and sleeping in their beds right now, but that is only by the pure grace of God. But I am in this for the long haul, or for however long God gives me.” I have also been thinking recently, “What if I really do end up dying? Like before I can have my forties decade of art, music, and dance? Before I get to my fifties where I will finally write my books?
(Man makes plans…)
I rarely ever think this, but the other day I felt like I’d be okay if I died. Like if God would take me home earlier than I would personally ask or want for him to, I would be okay. The world would go on spinning. My family, in the Lord’s hands, would also be okay. I’m not looking to die. That’s another thing about this in-person class I’m taking. Every week our teacher wants us to practice asking a classmate, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” She says this is the equivalent of a life-saving skill, a basic question in counseling care that we need to get used to asking. The question sounds too harsh to me, too blunt and direct. I keep wanting to soften the word “killing” with “harming”.
People talk about the need to be seen and heard. There is nothing sinful about this, but is in fact, the way we were made by God to exist and live. This is, ideally, one of the things that makes the person-to-person relationship therapeutic: It gives people a chance to be seen and heard, which gives people a chance to be known. I’ve recently started having the boys write more in their journals again using whatever writing prompt I come up with. The eyes of a child made it all come together. I might be daily being purged and cleansed from sin, but every so often there come along these shining moments that seem to affirm for me that yes, the long-haul was exceedingly worth it.
The neon stage of the spring grass came and went without me noticing. I guess I’ve been preoccupied with the rhythms and daily windows of life. Due to rain, the kids have yet to have a track meet. We’re going on the fourth cancellation of a baseball game, which means they’ve cancelled more games then they’ve played so far. The kids don’t seem to mind too much, and I don’t either. They still keep busy with their after school practices and come home with sometimes hours of homework. This is one of those things in life that never made sense to me. If you’re already at school for 7-8 hours each day, why isn’t that enough time to teach or learn everything that needs to get done?
My sister-in-law, a Lutheran school teacher and assistant principal, says it’s more about giving students the opportunities to practice. If they can learn something once in class, and then go home and practice it again in a different setting, it helps cement the concept or skill in the student’s memory. When she puts it that way I can better understand, though it still doesn’t change this awareness I have of feeling like I’m rarely seeing my kids. Tonight, minus the younger boys, we’ll all be at the high school for a trivia night. This is counting as one of our twice-a-month date nights we started this year. For one we go with just ourselves, and for the other we try to meet up with a couple.
I had another counselor appointment this week, these continuing to be a joy and blessing. I told her I often feel like a chaotic wind blowing into her office, disrupting the peace, calm, and serenity with no intention and no direction. We end up laughing a lot as she ends up mirroring my emotions. I like being able to ask her about school, knowing I can name the assignments without even having to explain what I mean when I say “the 4-R paper”. I told her when we started that I didn’t see this being so much of a time for anymore figuring out what’s wrong with me. Instead I saw it more as a time for building back, for helping me to become myself again. I feel like these goals are being met.
It was the homecoming dance of freshman year. We’d been going out for about a month, which back then felt like a lifetime. Leading up to that night we’d had several dates, only one of them being official. It felt weird to have a boyfriend, and I was embarrassed when people started finding out we were “going out”. Most of my friends thought it was funny, but were supportive. My ex-friend, Kelli, who was one of my best friends all through 8th grade, would never call me friend again.
He and I had a code word, and the code word was “bored”. At the freshman bonfire, this is the word we’d use to describe what we were new then to feeling. It was our way of saying we no longer wanted to be there on the haybale with everybody else. We eyed each other, nodding toward the trees. There were too many of our classmates to just walk away into the woods. There was nowhere else to go, so we stayed there.
It happened again the night our class was working on the freshman float. We left the garage and walked around the back. It was dark by now, though the streetlights made sure we could see each other easily. He was already 6-feet tall by then, 5-10 at least, to where, standing that close to him, I had to look up at his face. Matt came looking for us and awkwardly ruined the moment. I liked him too, but our nights would be different. He’d invite me over to watch movies with his brothers, but never anything more.
His family raised cattle. We’d broken up not long after the day we kissed in the empty hallway after school, but here he was again, and there I was with him. I spent half that summer riding in his parents van to go to his basketball games. They’d bring food and an extra chair for me, and I’d spent the whole day talking to his parents and Matt’s parents during hours of basketball. I was mostly over the embarrassment at this point, but I distinctly remember a time when before I left for one of the games, my dad asked me a few more questions. It’s been a joke in our family for years, how dad would always ask about our lives when we were leaving. He was never one to hold back his deep life advice. “Just remember”, he said, “no guy has the right to touch you.”
I appreciated that, and never forgot it, though I didn’t feel like that was my problem. What I didn’t know how to tell him then, what I had nowhere near the courage or even remotest first idea how to express or ask, was that it was already too late. My dad knew nothing about the times in this boy’s van, not far from our house. We’d park beside the empty basketball court. My sister knew something was going on, and would dress up in hilarious disguises with sunglasses, letting me know with her hand-motions that she was watching me, and also watching out for me. I never told her then about the details, and because I felt like getting pregnant would be the worst thing I could ever tell my dad, that I could never and would never be able to do that to him, all through those days, in any other times of engagement, he was my reason not to.
I threw out every year book, every dance picture, and most of my pictures from high school one day. The oldest two kids were little and I was going through boxes. Most people probably wouldn’t have thought it was all that big of a deal. Compared to what others were doing, it wasn’t that bad. But I’d crossed something, to an extent I didn’t realize until after he was gone. No one knew, or seemed to notice the depth of the depression I fell into for years. He’d brought me with him where his family was set up for cattle showing. For the entire day we hung out with his parents, scanning the exhibits, petting the fair animals, riding the rides with our unlimited ride wristbands. Unlike the night of the bonfire, or the float construction, there were no friends or sisters keeping an eye on us or keeping us nearby. We disappeared into the night sea of farm trailers. That night, after his dad dropped me off, I woke up at 3AM and threw up my Pepsi.
“I need to be honest with you”, he said. I’d finally found him after searching through the halls of my old elementary school, looking for his name on every name plate above the doorways. I don’t know what I expected, but I thought that he would’ve been more excited to see me. I’d missed him terribly, more than I could’ve ever put into words in that moment. These are the dreams that you wake up remembering. “You need to be done with this–we–need to be done with this.” I felt ashamed to hear him say that, like what did he think I’d been doing this whole time. He told me I was beautiful, that what I had written was beautiful too. That’s not what I wanted. I’d already told him, this wasn’t about him anymore, that none of this stuff is about him anymore, that I really needed him to understand that, to just let me have my space. He refused to hold me.
Everyone was well enough to go to the game today. Baseball season has started again, along with track, which is a new sport this year. I watched the first game from afar again this year, not because I couldn’t be close to people or walk to the bleachers, but because I wanted to sit by the tree. Last year the kids had gotten me a rocking lawn chair for mother’s day, so I bought that along with a school book to read.
I read for about two hours with the sun on my face. A few times when I picked up my phone to text my tired husband from across the field, I’d catch a glimpse of my reflection in the screen. About a year after we moved here, I started to notice a line on my face, the kind that shows up between the eyebrows. For three years I noticed it anytime I looked in the mirror. The one got worse and other nearby lines appeared.
I still notice it, and saw the lines again today. For the first several years I’d see myself and think, “This isn’t my face.” It bothered me that my life was now being worn for all to see. My husband’s and I’s facial lines match each other’s, something that quiets me but also makes me sad. He says he can’t see mine, even up close, though there is no mistaking mine or his. In the shadows, when the light beams from the side, in brighter sun, when we’re sitting at the table eating dinner, it’s who we are. This is our face now.
It’s been a quieter day here. The big kids are off school for a week, not counting games and practices still going on. The boys are off for the week as well. We’d planned to have a sap boiling day with the kids, but as of this afternoon, three of us are down with a stomach bug. It started yesterday evening with one. By the time the sap was collected and brought back up to the house to start boiling, another one came inside sick.
My spring break was last week, which was nice to have. I ended up with an A in the class, which I was happy with. They don’t give academic honors for graduate students, which I was relieved to hear because it relieved me of a goal I didn’t need to reach. Basically my goal now is to pass the classes while learning what I can and continuing to grow in the areas of organization and time management. The next class, Abnormal Psychology, begins this evening. Our teacher told us this one has a lot more reading and less in-class role playing, as things can get sticky trying to act out mental illness.
I think this is something that’s been confusing for me as an adult. Growing up we were often told to reach for the stars. I don’t want to act like that was the overarching message of childhood, but the motivating messages almost certainly had to do with dreaming big. Once you get to adulthood, it’s almost the complete opposite. Often times the advice we’re given as parents and spouses is to lower our expectations. We go from reaching for the stars to suddenly needing to be realistic, which often takes years to figure out what that means. It used to drive me nuts, because what I thought what people were saying was, “You might as well accept reality now, sis. Don’t even try.”
Well, lowering our expectations, whether it be the expectations we have for ourselves or the expectations we have for others, doesn’t mean we don’t try or hold others accountable. It just means we don’t need to try too hard, particularly for things that aren’t all that important, or in the case of righteousness before God, things that are already ours as gifts. I guarantee I’m never going to fully understand this. To use a more constant and present-life example, I want my house to be clean. I simply cannot accept that this is too much to ask. My standards and expectations for what a clean house is will change and have changed depending on the season of life and motherhood I am in. As of now, clean means that there is more space that can be used and shared when guests come over than there is space that is unusable or kept behind closed doors.
I don’t know if this is realistic or not. Having just come up with this definition of clean yesterday, I realize this is something that might take months or years to achieve. But for every time it seems somebody else or some life situation is holding you back, there are at least a dozen times where that same person or life situation is the very thing in some way holding you up. God is the most obvious example of such a realness.
We got some more snow last night. There’ve been enough snow days in the school year now that schools don’t call snow days as quickly. Josh had another chapel service this morning, this one also being over two hours away. He called to let me know the roads were slick, and to have the kids drive slower and leave earlier. I left home about quarter to seven this morning to walk over and cook for the quilting group that is here this weekend. The big kids texted me around 7:40 to let me know they’d made it to school. The ladies began coming out of their rooms around 7:45. The boys came over around 8.
Dad had told them to shovel and salt the sidewalk, so that’s what they did. For breakfast the quilting ladies had scrambled eggs, bacon, muffins, yogurt, and fruit. I had all kinds of thoughts this morning about the food service industry, everything that’s wrong with our camp kitchen, and why I don’t cook for camp on a regular basis anymore. But at the end of the day, none of that seems important. My food manager certificate is good for five years. It comes in handy on days like this, when the other two cooks were unavailable. The boys came in for breakfast, went home, then came back for lunch.
I finished watching City Lights last night. I didn’t have much of a reaction to it. I was waiting for the woman’s reaction, which I don’t feel like we fully got to see as the audience. When I searched online to read some reviews, as expected, I apparently missed a key point to the story. Charlie Chaplin’s character is poor, but the woman mistakenly thinks he is rich. I hadn’t noticed he was poor. I also didn’t realize that the woman all along thinks the man who’s helping her is rich. I’d have to watch it again to find where exactly that happens. But overall I enjoyed the movie and am glad to have watched it.
The sap is still flowing. Monday afternoon we drove down and collected another couple of gallons. It does make me wonder how much more we could get if we tapped another forty trees (right now there are 12). Out past the giant sycamore there’s a grove of maples whose beauty takes my breath away. It made my brother gasp too in the first year we saw it. I don’t know if anyone else would find it incredible, or if my brother would even describe the grove as a breathtaking beauty. But it’s amazing to me to see the open wood floors, with the bare trees glowing with a tint of red from the sun.
It only happens in the evening. The photographers call it golden hour, which I find to be quite the appropriate name. The morning has one too, though it’s only a few minutes. In terms of color, March is about the brownest, muddiest, ugliest month there is, though I’d forgotten about the way the rising creek turns emerald green. And yet I still find it fascinating, still don’t care that it isn’t quite spring, when where I’m standing by the creek will be completely under water. In the summer, when it’s dry, the camp kids play here which is something I don’t enjoy thinking about. I’ve changed some way in adulthood, as creek-walking used to be one of the few camp activities I actually liked.
Months before Covid a man from church let me borrow a movie. A year or so before that, we’d been in a church book club together. During one of the meetings he somehow started telling me about a movie called City Lights. Anytime someone tells me something is amazing and that I’ve got to see it for myself, they catch my attention. I told him I’d have to check it out, and I intended to do so. Months later we ran into each other at the library. He asked me if I’d watched City Lights yet, which I hadn’t.
A few other times when I saw him in church he would ask me. He finally brought the movie to church, along with a typed-up note of interesting facts about it. This silent black and white film, which stars Charlie Chaplin, was also written, produced, and directed by him. The part that had caught my attention is when he said the final scene of the movie is said to be one of the greatest closing scenes in the history of cinematography.
I have never finished watching the movie. Through months of covid quarantines, countless free evening hours of reading, innumerable Saturdays with time where I could’ve watched it. I tried to watch it once and decided to try again later. The movie sat in our house, the cardboard slip-cover gradually becoming less and less new-looking. I put it in the place where the outgoing library books go, so I’d remember to bring it to church and put it back in this man’s mailbox. I came and went, day after day.
Today when we came back from gathering sap, I asked the boys if they could help me straighten the mud room. There was a bag of clothes and a pile of books that’ve been sitting there waiting to go to goodwill. When I picked up the book pile, there was the City Lights movie, with a dry yellow stain on the cardboard. I smelled it to see if it was something other than what I knew it was. There was cat pee on the cover.
It was bad enough when I would see him here and there throughout covid. It was even worse when we ended up in the same pew one Sunday. There was absolutely no reason for not having watched this movie. I finally just looked over and told him after church that I hadn’t finished the movie yet, and that I was sorry I hadn’t yet given it back to him. Again he told me that the ending was good and that he thinks I’m going to like it. But now that I know that there’s cat pee on the cover, that I still have not watched the movie, that now I’m wondering what I’m supposed to say if I don’t even get or like the ending, I’m not sure how much more this man can take.
I say I don’t care that it isn’t yet spring, and I don’t, though March is that month where I start to run out of juice. I’ve basically been loving every month since July. I got up at 5:30 when Josh’s alarm goes off. He had to leave early for a chapel visit a couple of hours away. This was the big kids’ late day, where they don’t have to be at school until 9. They left around 8:20 because they like to be there early. With the boys settled and working on school, I went back to bed and fell asleep. I woke up when Josh got back a little before lunch. We talked about a marriage situation happening with another couple we know, as everybody made and ate their lunch. After that we all went down to the woods to collect sap. I couldn’t hear the creek like last time. When we drove back over to look at the creek, it made us stop to not only hear but to see the difference. The rapids had become a calming green.