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Saturday, February 8, 2014

F-A-V-O-U-R-I-T-E

*after publishing I noticed some formatting issues and corrected them, but if you already read this and it didn't make sense, it's because it somehow got scrambled and should be readable now.*

When I was in first grade my first grade teacher got pregnant and took some months off for maternity leave. We had a long term substitute for a while. We'll call her Mrs. S. I am not sure if she was a new teacher or just a substitute who hadn't had a long term assignment before, but I do think she was still fairly new to the profession and experimenting with what worked.

Me, just a tad younger than me in the story
We had a spelling test and one of the words was "favorite". I "misspelled" it "favourite". I say misspelled it because that's actually an accepted spelling in other parts of the English speaking world. But this was New Jersey and it was not the way it had been spelled on the spelling list, so I'd gotten wrong. To be creative, my substitute thought she'd have all the kids who misspelled words run around the school building yelling out the words they missed. So for me I ran yelling, "Favorite! F-A-V-O-R-I-T-E! Favorite!" etc over and over. Most of the class was laughing at the end. But me and another sensitive girl who also happened to be my closest friend at that age, Maeve, were both sobbing from the humiliation. I was mortified and felt destroyed. Obviously, because I remember it in such vivid detail over twenty years later.

I never did forget the spelling of favorite again, but for years every time I thought about that, I flinched.

God doesn't make us all the same. The truth is, for Maeve and I the situation was humiliating, but perhaps for her the incident is lost in memory by now. Perhaps one or two of the kids who were laughing also were humiliated but chose to laugh to not show weakness, I don't know. But I do think most of my classmates just thought it was a fun excuse to get to run and yell, and probably don't remember the incident at all this many years later.

With my pregnancy I have been having fun diving into the world of Mommy-ness. It's a world I'm familiar with as an outsider. As I've said on this blog before years ago I remember discovering the genre of blogging called "mommy blogs" and realizing that I felt I was a mommy blogger, I just didn't have any kids yet.  And like most people in their late twenties, my facebook feed is filled with parents who often are jumping on some soap box or another, sharing articles or photos that affirm (or sometimes challenge) their parenting choices and causing debates in the comments.

I've watched but rarely been able to be a participant and if I choose to engage, it has always been as an outsider. Which is fine, but it's a world I always figured I'd join. Not that I wanted to go to war, that's not that point, but that the modern parenting dialogue has always been of interest to me ever since probably even before I graduated college. And even with the single or childless, the real "war on women" has nothing to do with politics or a media sensation but instead with how quick we are to judge each other. All that's been in my heart for a while and the reason I am talking about it now is because I think God's brewing something in my heart to talk about the way we attack each other. Not quite there yet, but I know it's related.

In the meantime a few weeks ago I was gearing to be vulnerable and talk about my own struggles with keeping house. I prayed and started with what I thought of as an intro post to show people where I was coming from, since I'd noticed that other bloggers blogging about the same topic pretty much never seemed to come from my position. This way when I launched into more posts about the efforts I was making, despite my struggles, and to ask with help on things I was having trouble with, like meal planning, it would be from a place of context. And actually I had so much more to say on the subject. My post was getting really long and I remember thinking, "Eh, that seems like a good place to stop right now. I'll re-read it to get into the flow and write the rest of it next week." I thought that maybe I'd get some people who didn't understand exactly what I was trying to say, since obviously I didn't even personally feel like I'd explored it thoroughly myself, but anticipated that my continuation the next week would be enough of an answer to any commenters who didn't "get it." But I didn't anticipate the amount of comments or my own emotional reaction to them.

Me in my tap dance recital costume
I got negative comments for really the first time as a blogger. Well, second if you include when I talked about creationism a long time ago and got random hits from people who'd obviously never read my blog before but came to rant about the heated creationism v. evolution thing. And here or there I'd get a comment on a post that wasn't really like friendly or cheerful, but was easily ignored. But this was different, these were obviously regular readers (at least for the most part). I told myself I'd read years ago when you get negative blog comments you'd "arrived". It didn't help though. I'd opened myself up in a way that I don't know if it was apparent in the writing or not, but my struggles emotionally, physically, and psychologically with my inadequecies as a housewife have sent me to bed crying before many nights and so the "suck it up" attitude of the comments just was like rubbing salt on my wounds. I totally lost any spark of motivation to take my tales of efforts on that front into a regular blog topic. My blog didn't feel safe anymore. I tried to get past it for a few days, but was really suffering and ended up talking to Ryan about it.

While I cried about it, Ryan looked at me with love and pity and told me to forget them and he could see the improvements I was making. Which meant the world. I talked it through with him. Talked about the missing pieces of the story I can't talk about on the blog. Talked about how it felt like betrayal because I've not really adjusted socially in India yet and so I turn to my blog the way I'd turn to a girl friend in the US and I felt attacked by a close friend. Opened up about how it just didn't feel safe anymore and how I'd envisioned that post as a intro into new posts about trying to be a housewife, but I felt too vulnerable contemplating it now and I think I'd just keep those things to myself. Ryan told me though that that wasn't the answer and encouraged me to pray. And he was right.

At the end of the day, I don't really write for my readers or even myself. I write for God. So I took my pain and prayed about it. And I will, eventually, write more about my housewife-ness. Maybe sooner or later, I'm definitely approaching such posts with more caution and will be praying and revising them closely before publishing.  In order to give my wounds a little room to heal I purposefully backed away for a few weeks, blogging only about the less controversial subjects of scripture, my pregnancy and stuff like thankfulness. I kept mulling it over, praying here and there, trying to figure out how to re-approach this topic. And interestingly, I feel like I have lots of puzzle pieces about inter-connected issues I wouldn't have put together before.

Me with my sister for Halloween. I'm the brunette, here portraying
Belle
A few days ago I was reading this post where a mom was writing to give advice to moms of newborns that basically it was okay to not "get anything done" during the day because the bonding and learning and healing of that time period is invaluable. She was speaking to women's feelings of inadequacies and perfectionism and basically the message I got from it was that the value of those first days and weeks can't be measured or appreciated, but they are immeasurably more important than more noticeable but less eternal things like doing dishes. And in the first comment I read below it, I saw the same kind of "gah suck it up" attitude that I'd seen in the comments of my own post. That is, a woman who is probably very accomplished and had no choice, had watched several other kids and worked from home while watching her newborn, so she hated seeing laziness encouraged in others. I wanted to thunk my head into my keyboard.

I am sure that woman is fairly amazing. But just because she's been gifted with the energy and attention span of a super hero doesn't mean that everyone who falls below her standard is a failure.

And so as I was reflecting on that and also thinking about how to re-introduce this topic of my own inadequacies on my blog, God reminded me of my little six-year-old heart sobbing in humiliation over F-A-V-O-U-R-I-T-E while the other children laughed at their own flaws. Was there anything wrong with the other kids taking it in fun? Of course not, and it's an admirable trait. Actually I'm sure Ryan would have been one of those kids and it's part of why I love him. But was there anything wrong with me being that sensitive? I also think the answer is no. The truth is God did not make us all the same.

He reminded me he made me more sensitive than other kids. Something that people have tried to "toughen" me out of all my life, but He has always purposefully stepped in and corrected that. For me, in me, the times when I've gotten "tough" have been the times when I've risked being "mean." Does it hurt less to be calloused? Yes. But remember what the Bible called it when the pharoah refused to listen to God and Moses? His heart was hardened. For me, being less sensitive is to have a hard heart. I've learned that's not always how it works in other people.

Trees are coming to mind as a metaphor. Some trees grow strong by being tall and thick and wide and reaching out in all directions, like an oak tree. Some trees grow strong by being withered and shrunken so that they can withstand great winds (like on a cliff side or in a desert.) And some trees grow strong by staying thin and comparably softer wood, so that when storms or gales come they can bend with it, then bounce back to height to reach the sun. Maybe you could measure and argue about which trees method is best, but you miss the point: each tree has a different purpose. They all are trees, the provide shade, and all that. But ask any carpenter and different wood is suited to different applications. Some are more ideal for different conditions.

My sisters and I on the porch. I'm in the center. I think this is Easter,
due to the fuzzy chick toys we're holding.
And so it is when we approach these "inadequacies" in people. The person who struggles to be tall and reach the sun may very well be less likely to explode during a snow storm (yep, that happens to trees.) The one that struggles with staying flexible might have deeper roots. The one who bears the most fruit might have the shortest season. And so on and so forth. We people aren't so different, we're all "trees", but we're not all alike because God did not create all of us to accomplish or struggle with the same things here on earth.

Now this isn't me saying "you meanies, stop making rude comments". In fact, from replies I got I know that those who commented probably didn't think they were being mean at all. I came home distraught after that day at school and my mom called my teacher, upset, and my teacher was aghast. She'd thought it would be a fun thing. She herself was the kind of kid who would laugh and love an excuse to run and yell, so instead of being the harsh disciplinarian my brain saw her as, she was really just trying to make learning fun. But kids are different, and it hadn't occurred to her that there would be a kid like me who would find the experience so traumatizing. She was sorry and said she wouldn't use that method next spelling test. She'd never meant me any real humiliation or pain. Regardless though, the pain I felt was real, despite her intentions. I don't blame her at all at this point in my life, and I even forgave her back then right away. But just because I know she didn't mean harm didn't mean I hadn't felt harm, my reaction to the experience was a genuine reflection of my more sensitive than most heart.

The other metaphor that came to my mind along with the spelling story was coaches. That is, I've never been a sports person. Part of that is I'm a klutz and had inner ear issues, so I never found sports fun. But part of it also was watching coaches made me flinch and made me definitely never want to join sports teams. People screaming in my face? Um, no. Definitely not my kind of motivation. That would deflate my spirit, make me feel horrible, and have me in tears feeling like I could never do anything, be good enough for anything, or achieve anything. I have always only responded to gentle and loving encouragement or correction and so most team sports or say, the military, always make me flinch away with a "never, ever, ever, ever, ever ,ever" mindset.

Ryan and our friend Shushant and I were talking about that the other day. We were talking about how God corrects us when we fail. I forget how the topic started but I'm sure Ryan said something like how God says to him "You punk, why are you doing that again?!" or something equally harsh, but Ryan said it with a laugh. And I said God doesn't talk to me like that. Now note, I wasn't saying Ryan wasn't hearing God, I'm sure he is, God has been a lot harsher with other people in the Bible itself. But truthfully, God doesn't talk to me like that. Most of the time He's soft and sweet, saying stuff like "Beloved." Sometimes when He's very stern it'll be said in a low, "I'm disappointed in you" matter of fact way. But that's as harsh as it gets. And I respond. If God ever called me a punk I'd be in despair, and He knows it, so He doesn't. But Ryan knows if he's been a punk, God can call him a punk, and Ryan won't collapse about it. Because Ryan's not as sensitive, in that way, as me. And God knows, of course, exactly how to speak to each heart. Look at Jesus. With the money changers it was whips and yelling, with the Pharisees it was "You Vipers!" and with Nicodemus it was an intellectual exchange that transcended into spiritual truths. With the woman at the well it was frank and matter of fact speech. With the adulterous woman it was a calm "I don't condemn you; sin no more." With so many sick, it was merciful healing. And on and on. Look at how he approached everyone, with each it was different, but with each it was still out of a place of love because He knew what each needed to hear. He could not act without love, He's Jesus. But yet with some He was stern and with some He was soft and with some He was somewhere in between... and the truth was in the end they killed him for it.

I'm not saying anyone is getting killed here. I'm just saying that sometimes being loving still means you'll get hurt. Actually I think it's very hard to love without getting hurt.

So I'll continue to put myself out there blog and now I think I had this experience so I can try to take this perspective onward not only to housewife type blog posts, but to talk about the perspectives and adventures of mother and womanhood, topics I've veered away from often. And I'm telling myself I'll probably get hurt again.

But for my regular readers, I do ask you think about the six year old who cried on the playground and who never, ever forgot the difference between favorite and favourite again. Not because I deserve special treatment or am perfect, but just because the reason I can be hurt by you is because I care. I obviously cared way too much about being perfect on a spelling test, and I'm sure I care way too much about what you comment or don't... but the truth is, I do care. And while I think caring too much about what others think is definitely a flaw of mine, I ask you to keep it in mind when you reply. But regardless, still reply. I'm not trying close the dialogue at all, and thank all the commenters, from the other day and from today.

One of the amazing things about having a blog like this is I can let strangers in. I can let them get to know me, at least a little bit. So I guess in many ways this post is to just let you know what's going on since those comments and yes, to be an intro again to future posts which probably won't be so introspective and will focus more on practical stuff... but will still come from a place of struggle for me. Just.. keep it mind?

Love to you all. Seriously.

12 comments:

  1. You come across as a very sensitive person. Hasn't living in a place like Gurgaon cured the sensitivity? :)

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  2. Ahhhh throw-back pictures.. :) I love seeing past and present photos.

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  3. I have been a regular reader of your blog for awhile now. I was also surprised by the number of negative comments you got in response to your housewife post.

    I think the reason why that particular post got such a strong response is because it came off as sounding a little victim-ish, if you know what I mean. I know that you did not mean the post in a "poor me, I'm just not made for housework" kind of way, but for readers who do place a high importance on housekeeping, it may have been hard to fathom why you can't simply make yourself develop good housekeeping habits. Also, by comparing yourself to Mary, it seems like you are comparing people who put more of a priority on housekeeping to Martha. Again, I'm sure that wasn't your intention, but it could be an unpleasant analogy for people who place a high importance on housekeeping.

    Anyway, I have really enjoyed getting to know you as a writer, and learning more about your story, especially not that you have a little one on the way! I think that blogging more about housekeeping in the future would be entertaining to read. It takes courage to put your thoughts out there for the world to see, but just keep living and writing for Jesus :).

    P.S. I thought it was really cool when you started vlogging a little while back. It would be neat if you tried it again in the future!

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  4. I'm not going to slam your housekeepiing skills. I'm just going to say that when you look at having to clean the whole house it can feel overwhelming. While you are still experiencing the adjustments and isolation that come from an international move into a new culture I get the feeling you may be experiencing a slight depression which makes even simple tasks seem even more overwhelming.

    I'd like to make a suggestion and you can do with it what you will. If you break down what needs to be done around your home into tiny chunks and do a little bit each day you will find them much easier to manage.

    For example - on Mondays you sweep the floors - on Tuesdays you dust - on Wednesdays you scrub the toilet and sink in the bathroom.

    The reason I make this suggestion is because I feel it is important that you make some kind of a small schedule you can stick to, because housekeeping will only become more difficult once the baby arrives.

    Best of luck to you.

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  5. If you worked at McDonalds and stunk at making burgers, wouldn't you find another job? If you worked as a secretary and struggled with typing, wouldn't you find another career?
    Maybe it is time to acknowledge being a housewife isn't your thing and get a different job.

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  6. @Tomichan- Haha. Yeah, no. But I also hope it doesn't!

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  7. @Damita- Thanks. :) I have thought about doing throwback posts here or there but never get around to it.

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  8. @Anonymous 1- (the one starting 'I have been a regular reader)

    Thanks for your comment! It made me smile.

    To be fair I think I *was* comparing them to Martha-- but Martha is awesome! I referred to it but I do know it's the lesser known story but while in the first Mary/Martha story Mary comes off better, in the second it's Martha's faith that shines through. Both are excellent example of godly disciples, they're just different. I didn't think of it as an unpleasant analogy because they're both admirable women.

    Thanks for your kind words and saying you'd like to hear more about housekeeping in the future, it's encouraging!

    And I never planned on stopping vlogging. The dengue cut it short and then I've just procrastinated starting it back... I've actually planned out some videos it just hasn't made my to do list to actually do them. lol. But thanks, that might be the kick in the butt I need to get regular about it.

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  9. @Anonymous 2- (the one that starts "I'm not going to slam")

    Thanks! I've been trying that. Due to my sleeping disorder (both the practical aspects and the long term impact of having it for at least a decade undiagnosed) schedules are very hard to maintain for me, but I am trying different methods. I was actually going to blog about that. Maybe still will. I'm trying to a "this day is for the kitchen, this day is for the bedroom" etc style but truth is staying home what day is what often gets messed up. But yes, thanks for the encouragement and that is what I'm trying. And I'm making improvements though I've still not figured out a method that works for me totally.

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  10. @Anonymous 3- (The one that starts "If you worked at McDonalds")

    Actually legally I can't do anything else. That is, the visa I'm in India on doesn't allow me to work formally. I'm not even allowed to regularly volunteer anywhere. And since Ryan is therefore the sole provider it's certainly not fair to make him do the housekeeping! lol.

    But yeah, I know. While I'm not really made for this, I also do think it's my duty and responsibility now so I need to persist. Additionally, I *do* want to be a stay at home mom, always have wanted that. Ultimately I want to be a homeschooling mom. So while I think I will be a WAHM in that I plan on pursuing my writing more aggressively in the future, I may never have a career outside the home so maintaining the home is more on me. Maybe later we'll be affluent enough we can get a full time maid, but for now I think it's better to have me flipping burnt burgers (using your metaphor) than to have us not have food at all or to make Ryan do both jobs while I do nothing.

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  11. Rather than set a schedule (Monday for kitchen, Tuesday for Baths, Wednesday for laundry, etc.) why not put an album on, either a cd or through iTunes and clean for its duration. I do that when I clean. I can get my bathroom clean, and sweep and mop my floors in the time it takes may favourite albums to play.

    Sometimes for me, when things have gotten out of hand the only way to be able tackle the problem is to clean for a set amount of time each day. But the next day I start the cleaning time by straightening what I cleaned the day before -- so if I have to tackle a messy kitchen one day, I start there on day 2, by wiping the counters or putting away the dishes. I find it helps to have one clean spot to start from.

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  12. I've been reading your blog for a while and I can't say I was shocked by the comments on your original housewife blog post. I doubt that any of the commenters expect your flat to be spotless or for you to spend all your time cleaning. How much cleaning you personally do and how clean your flat you keep your flat is something that you will have to negotiate with your husband. No reader of your blog can solve that issue. However, if his standard of cleanliness is more than you can or are willing to do, then maybe one compromise is that the two of you do less socially so that Ryan can stay home and clean (as referenced your previous post).

    Additionally, I don't think anyone really expects you to prioritize cleaning your flat over spending time with your newborn baby. But, eventually, laundry does have to be done, dishes (and potentially bottles) have to be washed and the flat will need to be tidied. I think what a fair number of commenters to the previous post were reacting to is (1) the sense that you haven't found the balance or identified the difference between doing what you want to do and what you need to do, and (2) the sheer number of excuses you gave.

    I think if you had been more straightforward and just said that you weren't good at cleaning, that you were struggling to find a balance and did anyone have similar struggles and/or tips to share, you would have gotten a very different response.

    Additionally, I feel that your continual reference to so-called Marthas as superheroes is starting to come across as a bit condescending. I would guess that many of us "so-called" Marthas do not enjoy doing housework and don't actually mind a bit of mess. I certainly don't. However, my kid needs to eat so dinner gets made and his bottles get washed everyday. This isn't because I enjoy washing bottles (I hate it) or love to cook. It is because it needs to be done. My kid shouldn't starve just because I don't feel like cooking. Imagine if Ryan were to decide he didn't feel like going to work or felt too tired to go to work. How long would he still have a job if he kept not going?

    My advice to you would be to break-up cleaning your flat into smaller tasks and pick one or two to do a day. If need be, do it first thing in your day and don't allow yourself to do anything else until that task is done so that what you want to do becomes a reward. Can you two purchase a new indoor drying rack so that laundry can be done faster? I only got a dryer this past year and, prior to that, found that clothes and sheets dried much faster indoors. Barring that, can you stretch rope across the ceiling to hang laundry on? We still use our rope drying racks. Last, if you don't already, I would try to get in the habit of making enough for dinner that it lasts for two nights and maybe a lunch or two. Doing this is a life-saver for me since it means I only have to make dinner 3-4 nights a week instead of seven.

    Good luck!

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Thanks so much for comments, they delight me! Please keep your comments civil and while I read every comment, I reserve the right to delete ones that are especially negative. Thanks!

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