Monday, March 25, 2013

Planned Parenthood

When I was a little girl, I often played house as most little girls do. I would be the mommy and all of my little stuffed animals would be my babies, and we would spend the day feeding bottles and playing dress up and napping. All of my “babies” were named Sarah, and all of them were always perfectly well behaved.

When I was just about fourteen, my mother gave birth to my little brother. She was a bit older, of course, and since she wanted to make sure there were no complications (and because she was a true champion) she delivered naturally without an epidural. I learned two new things that day that my Sarahs never taught me: childbirth was painful and I would ask the doctor for drugs.
As the weeks went on, I learned a few more things from my little brother. Babies cry a lot. Babies poop a lot. Babies tend to sleep when you are awake and wake when you are asleep. Babies mean you eat a lot more takeout.

But I loved my little brother. And even though he smelled a lot worse than any of my Sarahs, he was so interesting to be around. I always volunteered to dress him. I would help feed him…sometimes. I could cheer him up when he was inconsolable…occasionally. I would change his diapers…when absolutely necessary. But at the end of the day, I was a fourteen year old girl wrapped up in my own little world with my own selfish ambitions. I was only doing a fraction of the work I actually thought I was, and I was gaining way more confidence in my ability to rear children than I should have been crediting myself with. My little sister had claimed that our brother was her temporary form of birth control. But for me, having him around only solidified the fact that I wanted my own little Sarah one day.

I remember planning out so many phases of my life by age. I would graduate high school by eighteen. College by twenty-two. Of course I would be marrying straight out of college. We would spend a couple of years together as man and wife and start trying for children by the time I was twenty-four. I would be a mom by twenty-five. I would want the second baby no more than three years after that. I wanted to be done having kids by thirty. Three kids might be nice. I knew I didn’t want to have any babies after thirty, because then I would be fifty before they left the house—and that would mean I would be too old to do things apparently. Somewhere in there I would find my husband. Somewhere in there I would pick a field of study. Somewhere in there I would build a career... minor details in the major plan.

Somewhere between “graduate college” and “find a husband,” I discovered I was with child. I was twenty—a bit ahead of the schedule. Suddenly my plan went out the window. I was scared. I was overwhelmed. But at the same time, I was comfortable. I knew that having a baby this way wasn’t ideal, but I had always wanted a baby so badly that I figured motherhood would come naturally to me. As if my maternal instincts would be awarded to me strictly based on the amount of “house” I played as a young girl.

I didn’t name my daughter Sarah, (chalk it up to burnout) and it is a good thing I didn’t, because she was nothing like my stuffed animals. But my previous exposure to babies had already taught me that she might be a little more work. However, she was nothing like my little brother either. (So it probably was a good call giving her a different name than him as well.)

Some things I was prepared for: I made the right call asking for the drugs, I was ready to embrace the stink, and I was aware that there was going to be nighttime crying. What I had yet to learn was exactly how much there was about parenting that I didn’t know. It took me about three prenatal visits to start to grasp how expensive babies actually are. (I’m a quick learner, I tell you.) Diapers cost a lot of money, and you burn through about twelve a day—more if your child’s father has “Magilla Gorilla hands” and keeps ripping the little Velcro tabs off the sides on accident. Those cute little outfits that you think are worth spending extra money on are going to get poop stains on them just like the six-pack of Gerber Onesies. A nursery set only stays cute if your baby refrains from spitting up/peeing on it every other night. Your baby will need a new set of everything as they completely outgrow it all every six weeks. A person who is supposedly immobile can get into more places than you ever thought possible. Your baby will always find the one place you forgot to baby-proof. Babies are apparently naturally drawn to things that will kill them, like a bug to a light. Your baby will always be hungry or wake from a nap a mere five seconds after you sit down. Babies will leave you constantly debating what is more important—sleep or showers. Babies grow up way WAY too fast.

Probably the most challenging part of motherhood for me has been the last point. When you are little and play house, when you dream about becoming a mother one day, you always imagine yourself with babies. But babies don’t stay babies for long. They don’t stay toddlers for long either. Nor do they remain preschoolers. Eventually, you are snuggled up with a kindergartener wondering how she grew so tall. Eventually, you hear her talking about how she wants to get married when she turns eighteen and have six of her own babies. Eventually, you watch her primp her hair in the mirror and realize that she doesn’t see the baby that you still see.

Hardly any part of my life’s plan has followed the route I had mapped out for myself all those years ago. I will have all of my babies out of the house before I am fifty, so I guess didn’t totally lose out. And I did have my babies no more than three years apart—though I sometimes wonder why I thought that was such a good thing. (That was a lot of consecutive diapers.) But sometimes the best plans are the ones that get ruined. It helps you refocus on those fleeting “minor details”…

Monday, March 18, 2013

Gestalt

It was the famous psychologist, Gestalt, who told us that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Without forcing you to relive my Intro to Psych class, here’s a brief lesson in case you need a refresher…
A lot of people use Gestalt’s principle when they are talking about holistic health. There’s the body, the mind, and the spirit. No one link is greater than the others, and when one link is neglected then the whole person suffers. Likewise, if each part is nourished, then the person is wholly satisfied.

I have been feeling pretty piecemeal lately. There’s Liz the wife, Liz the mother, Liz the student, Liz the housekeeper, Liz the runner, Liz the blogger, Liz the Army spouse, Liz the Texan stuck in the Midwest, Liz the girl who has owned her guitar for four years now and still can’t play it…
(I will stop there because I assume you get the point…)

There’s a lot to me. And while I would like to argue with Gestalt that some pieces of me are definitely more important than others, I am certainly feeling like the neglected parts of me are wearing down the rest.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I love LOVE Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. I am so outwardly excited to get my issue every month that even my kids shout “Woo Hoo!” when it comes in the mail. I am not for a moment knocking BHG, (did you not catch my love LOVE?!) but I do think it has warped me a little bit.

At some point between the time I open the magazine and the time I close it, I start feeling really discouraged. How am I supposed to make my house look amazing AND cook a prize winning dinner at the same time? How am I supposed to grow a sustainable garden using succulents AND create an English rose garden in the same space? And how can I do it all while simultaneously being trendy, stylish, and healthy?!?!

I can’t. One area or another (or all of them) will not get done. And, theoretically speaking, if those are all of parts of the home and some of those parts are not being attended to, then doesn’t the whole home suffer?
More importantly, if all of the parts make the Liz and some of the parts are not being focused on, then does the whole Liz suffer? Well Gestalt…does it?!

I think my problem with this Gestalt business is that I often confuse wholeness with perfection. And unfortunately, we live in a society that calls for us to be perfect…at everything. We can no longer settle for being perfect in just one area—oh no. We must be masters of all trades. (Our Pinterest boards say so!)

We must have the perfect job, and live in the perfect house, and wear perfect clothes that sit on the perfect-sized body, and make perfect dinners, and have perfectly exciting social calendars, and have perfectly well-behaved children, and must somehow take perfect pictures of all of it to use as evidence on Facebook.

Well, I won’t let myself buy into society’s view that I have to do it all in order to have it all. I know that balance comes from pairing down excess instead of tacking on extra. Furthermore, I have come to accept that my quirky imperfections are what make me wholly “Lizzish.” But some imperfections leave room for improvement. I just have to be sure to focus on the Liz’s that matter most to me.

So, with a little help from Gestalt, I have officially established some goals for myself for the rest of this year. (Nearly four months late—because lateness is a definite part of the Liz whole.)

Mind: I WILL learn to play my guitar…finally.
Body: I will complete my first half-marathon next month. (Yikes!)
Spirit: I will blog at least once a week.

Of course, there are like a bazillion other things that I would like to learn/improve upon. And with any luck, my paired down approach to goal-setting may lead me on to quick success and you could see more “Gestalt goals” before the year’s end.

Just don’t expect photographic evidence of my goal completion on Facebook. I am a horrible photographer…Don’t tell society.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bloom

I think the hardest part of being a military spouse is the moving…

Not the constant separation. Not the fear of things you can’t control on the other side of the world. Yes, those things are incredibly hard. But I don’t think they are the hardest. Somehow, in the wake of those moments, this fighter you never knew you were emerges and you scrap your way through those obstacles. You survive the broken toilets, the single parenting, and the sleepless nights. You form solid friendships that anchor you in your craziest moments, and you build confidence and acceptance in who you are and what you are capable of achieving. When you are reunited after a deployment, you can actually hear the “happily ever after” music playing in your head…

And then he gets reassignment orders.

The funny thing about moving is that, as stressful as it is, it is always exciting at first. I grew up my whole life in the same city and a large chunk of it in the same house. When I went to college, I was only a few hours’ drive away from home. The prospect of moving all around seemed like an adventure to me. And even though our orders have never been to places that people consider “highly desirable,” I am always happy to move forward into something new. It must be the overly optimistic part of me that does that. I should really give that part of me a stern talking-to.

It’s not that I consider it a bad thing to be overly optimistic. It’s actually a wonderful thing to be genuinely happy most all of the time. But I do need to remember not to let that part of me daydream a place into something so impossibly perfect that all it does is disappoint me when I come back down to reality.

I remember the first time we moved on assignment orders, I had this really naïve notion that I was going to walk right into about six lifelong friendships. I guess I was watching too many episodes of Army Wives or something, I don’t know. (By the way, that show is SO NOT real.) In reality, it took a solid five months before I had even one person reach out. I also thought that I would be able to come into a new city and walk right into a job. That didn’t happen either. I also didn’t live in the house of my dreams. My husband was never home for dinner. And I didn’t know of anyone who could babysit my children so I could go to Roxy’s bar. I literally hated that place for like a year. And then… I bloomed.

The Army uses the expression “bloom where you’re planted.” I think it’s just a nicer way to say “suck it up and make it better.” One of my friends simply refers to it as “embracing the suck.” However nicely or literally you phrase it, it is still hard to do.
I am no gardener. (In fact, I think I am more like the gardener you should seek out if you want a plant to die.) But I do know that a plant needs three things to bloom: good soil, sunshine, and time.

The first trick to blooming is to pick the right soil to establish your roots in. I am finding that just as soil varies from state to state, so do activities. I can’t “root” myself in the same activities in different places and always expect the same results. Every day I spend in my “new soil” seems to further prove this fact. Groups that I used to find fulfilling in my old home are not creating the same fuzzy feelings for me here. I haven’t changed, but my environment has. The good news is that every state has its own hardy state flower. And though they are different from one another, they are all equally beautiful. (And I just know that whatever springs from the soil here will make me equally happy…I just gotta find it!)

Once the roots are established in good soil, the plant needs sunshine to feed it. Just as different plants grow better in different soil, they also require different amounts of sunshine. I like to think sunshine is happiness you get from your outside sources—the people, the scenery, the weather, the local attractions, the food, the shopping, your church, your career (or lack thereof,) the amount of available family time, and on and on and on. Sometimes, I need all of these things to feel well fed. Others, I need just a few. If I am being honest, I could use some more sunshine here in the Midwest to keep me going. Lucky for me, spring is just around the corner—and hopefully a bunch of sunny days are too.

All good things take time. A seed doesn’t bloom overnight. And despite my very best efforts, a home isn’t built in a day. Trust me—it isn’t built in four months either. Unfortunately for me, time isn’t exactly on my side in this duty station. But I do intend to make the most of the time I’ve been given. As much as the over-achiever in me hates to admit it, I will not have it all here. I will not make a chain of lifelong friendships here. That doesn’t mean that I will be a hermit, but it does mean that I will not beat myself up if month five rolls around and no one has reached out. I will not reach the level of community involvement that I had in my last home. That does not mean that I will force myself to remain unattached, but it does mean that I will take advantage of the opportunity to focus on my family first and foremost. In fact, the signs are indicating that I will not actually like this place as much as I loved the one I came from. But I refuse to waste what little time I have wallowing in what I’m missing and wind up missing my chance to bloom. And I really do believe I can bloom here. (I just might need a sprinkling or two of Miracle Grow to help me out a little.)

When I do bloom here, I hope it’s as a bluebonnet…just so people never question where my true roots are found. :)

Friday, March 1, 2013

How Flattering

I submitted an article to Blog Brigade about three weeks ago that didn't get selected. C'est la vie. Then, this week, they posted a blog with a near identical premise from one of their regular bloggers. Either I am not as creative as I think I am (which is not so awesome,) or I got BLOG-JACKED! (You know, because my ideas are totally worth copying.) Yes...for my self-esteem as a writer, I will choose to believe the latter.

Regardless, I decided to post my original composition that nobody wanted right here, because I am proud of it. (And considering my family is a one income household with two kids, two vehicles, six separate college degrees and certifications, and ZERO debt, I feel like it is solid advice.)

Just for fun, I attached a link to the one they chose to use this week. Hers is better, maybe. No, hers is definitely better. But she is very welcome for the free access to my awesome idea. ;)

Copycat Blog
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Genius Original Blog:

Saving Tips from a Shopaholic
I’m going to come right out and say it. Even as I write this, I feel a bit silly soliciting financial advice. I am by no means a money expert. If left to my own devices, I can burn through a paycheck faster than you can say “storewide clearance.” In fact, practically every single money lesson I’ve ever learned has been learned the hard way. But hard knocked or not, I have learned. Perhaps my mistakes can help teach you too.

Here are five simple tips to tame the shopaholic in us all.

1.Shop your own stuff first. Move after move, the one thing I am reminded of when I see those boxes strewn about the house is how much stuff I actually have. If you are anything like me, there are about five or six boxes that are never opened from point A to point B…or D. If you find yourself in want of something, start with what you’ve got. Unless you’ve taken a real inventory of what you have, you will never truly know what you need. Now I’m not saying that everything you ever need will magically pop out of those boxes. Occasionally, you will need to get inventive. But that is where our “military wife life” will give us a leg up every now and then. One of the perks of moving all the time means you have mentally and physically rearranged your furniture and décor about a bazillion different ways, so the inventiveness should come naturally to you. Sometimes, finding the perfect piece means that you simply repurpose what you already have. A nightstand can make a perfectly good end table and vice versa. Doesn’t match the room? Break out the spray paint. Same thing works for meal time. Remember what your pantry looked like when you were five days out from clearing a house and you refused to do a big grocery store shop? That’s when the “Iron Chef “in all of us comes out. I amazed myself with what I could do with five manicotti noodles and some buffalo sauce. (Sounds gross here, but I promise it was good!) Explore your options with what you’ve got first, and you can save some big dough.

2.Know what you need. I used to be a list-free shopper. Thinking back on it now, I don’t know how I did that. But I do know I would wander the grocery store in search of food and come home with spaghetti sauce and no noodles. The magic of a list is that it not only keeps you from the frustration of forgetting those spaghetti noodles, but it also gives you a visual plan of what you are going to buy (and spend) before you even go shopping. The more specific your list is, the better. On more than one occasion, the sheer length of my list has led me to cross off items that weren’t truly necessary and has saved me some money in the process.

3.Stick to the list! If it is not on your list, don’t buy it! If I had a nickel for every time I got sucked into that shiny dollar section near the checkout aisle at the superstore…I would still be missing 95 cents of the dollar I spent and didn’t need to. Be wary of those impulse buys. Just like stores keep light up, whirling candy sticks at the side of the checkout counter to lure children, they strategically place discount bins full of pretty junk for momma to peruse. Step away from the shiny things. Your wallet will thank you.

4.Sometimes sales don’t help you save. I love clearance sections too much. While I think that buying most things at regular price is foolish, I also know that shopping the clearance aisle haphazardly can be just as foolish. I don’t want to tell you exactly how many times I have come home with 4 or 5 items I didn’t really need just because they “were such a great deal.” My favorite part of getting the receipt after shopping at any store is looking at the bottom where it says in big, bold letters “YOU SAVED $xxxxx ON THIS TRIP.” It briefly postpones the pang you feel when you look at the tiny printed section marked “Total” directly above it. I am not suggesting that you should pass on every deal you see. My point is that markdowns like these can make you lose your self-control and focus. Make the discounts work for you. Get one great deal on the one item you actually need and avoid stockpiling items there is no earthly way you can store, let alone use. Put frankly, if you buy something you wouldn’t necessarily buy just because it is discounted or you have a coupon for it, you just wasted money instead of saving it. (I am still waiting on this lesson to sink in, myself. The discount shopper in me is in denial!)

5.Shop around. The way I see it, the Internet can either be a blessing or a curse for the shopaholic. It can easily become the source of product overload or lust if you are shopping out of sheer boredom. However, it can also be a wonderful resource for researching big ticket items before you buy them. When using the Internet for the latter purpose, take into consideration all of the following: Is there a military discount offered if you purchase in store? Are there deals available to help offset/eliminate the cost of shipping? Is the item tax free? (And is there a similar item available on post that would be tax free?) Are there any printable coupons/coupon codes online? Spending the extra time to research all of your options before you buy can save you bookoos come checkout time…and possibly earn you a little wiggle room in your wallet to score the item that caught your eye when you were shopping out of boredom. (Just saying.)

Happy shopping, everyone!