Sunday, January 24, 2010


Florida was lovely. Many stories to tell. Some of which will never be told. In the meantime, check out the blog of my new friend Karen.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Perfect Parenting

I read this article in Christianity Today a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been wanting to blog about it. Now that I’m on vacation in Florida, I have time. So here it is.

After I was diagnosed with depression last February, my younger daughter started having night terrors and my older daughter’s math grade dropped to a B. Of course I thought it was all connected. I had never been depressed before. Jenna had never had night terrors before. Julia had never made a B in her life. It took a therapist putting her face close to mine and saying in a clear, louder-than-normal voice: “Sometimes 4-year-olds have night terrors. Sometimes 10-year-olds make Bs. There’s a good chance these things have nothing to do with what’s going on with you” before I could start to believe that my depression had not somehow seeped out of me and wound itself around my children’s inner psyches and had contaminated their sleeping patterns and school performance.

Jenna’s night terrors eventually went away and Julia’s B went back up to an A before the next report card came out. I had fallen into a trap most parents find themselves in: I had given myself too much power over my children.

What parent hasn’t done this? My heavens, when you bring a child in the world and you have 18 years to shape them from helpless, cooing blobs into fully functional adults, you’re going to feel a crushing weight of responsibility. The question is this: What do we as parents do with this crushing weight? Do we let it flatten us? Or do we forge control over it so we can parent on our own terms?

The Christianity Today article mentions Judith Warner’s book A Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. I read this book when it came out several years ago. I didn’t agree with everything she said, but she did a thorough job of pointing out how obsessed American mothers are with their children. Warner became a mother herself while living in France before moving back to the U.S. Upon arriving in the U.S. as a mom, she could not believe how stressed out American mothers are – especially compared to the European mothers she had been around in France. American mothers homeschool. We put our children on special diets. We put them on waiting lists for prestigious preschools while they are still in the womb. We sign them up for loads of activities. We slather them with sunscreen and refuse to let them out of our sight. And there's a chance all of it is making us crazy.

While protecting our children is a good thing to do, and what we're supposed to do, isn’t it possible to go overboard? Will obsessing over our children’s welfare actually mold them into what we want them to be, or will they become whatever they want to be, regardless of our hand-wringing?

The answer to this question has been difficult for me to navigate because, believe me, I have been known to be a neurotic parent. When Julia was a baby, Chad had to drag me away from her crib on a number of occasions because I wanted to sit there and make sure she breathed all night. She’s 11 now and her sister is five, and I’ve formed a parenting philosophy that I’m still working on. But here’s the heart of it: I want my children to be who they are, and not necessarily who I want them to be. I don’t want them to vote the way I do if they grow up, examine the issues and come up with different convictions than the ones I have. Of course I want them to have deep spiritual connections with God and to accept Christ as their savior, but I believe they don’t have to stick to my own exact set of spiritual beliefs to do that. I want them to be happy and healthy and to make wise choices, but I know I can’t hand them those things. And to be honest, doesn’t growing up mean finding your own way, learning from mistakes and discovering who you are on your own terms? That’s what I want for my children.

It’s also personally important for me to have an identity apart from being a mother. And this one is tough. It’s something I sometimes have to fight for with every ounce of energy I have. But I see moms who completely lose themselves in their children and I just don’t think it’s healthy for anyone. I believe maintaining this identity gets easier once kids are out of the baby/preschool stages.

The reason I like the Christianity Today article and the Judith Warner book is because of their common message: Parents need to chill out. And as pointed out in the CT article, especially Christian parents. Of course, instill values your children. But know how and when to step away and let them grow. Read that last paragraph in the article. Its words hold more truth than I even want to admit.

Not that it’s easy. You know when I’ve had a vacation during which I got to spend five days with friends in an island condo? Never. But when the chance came up and it was time to leave this past Tuesday, I cried outside the airport because I had to leave my children. But I still got on the plane. I had to accept that they would be fine in a single-parent home for a week. I had to stop worrying that they might miss me. We should all step away from our kids once in a while. It’s good practice for later.

I still wander into worry over last year’s depression affecting my children. I still cringe when Jenna says, “Remember when you used to cry a lot?” But the truth is that I’m glad they saw me depressed. I’m glad I am unable to project an image of a perfect parent to my children. I hope it showed them that I am real. Because truthfully, that’s all I want my girls to be when they grow up. I just want them to be real.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Awful Library Books

From my new favorite blog, Awful Library Books. Go "check it out!" Ha!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Under a Spell

Julia has qualified for the school spelling bee, so we're spelling a lot around here. The event is Tuesday and she's nervous, but I think it will be a great experience for her. She's following a family tradition of spelling bee participants: My brother Brian was the runner-up in the city-wide bee in 4th grade and I got pretty far in the regional bee in 6th grade. (I came in 9th out of 33 after missing "consentaneous.")

Here's an interesting blog post on unhealthy social environments in churches. Youth ministers constantly fight cliqueishness among the teens, and the problem can seep into all age groups in a church. I especially thought the comments were insightful.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

It Might Get Loud

It happened in 9th grade. That’s when I got weird.

At least according to my friends. That’s the year I quit listening to the ’80s pop that was saturating the airwaves at the time and set my dial to the local classic rock station (KWIC 108 The Rock in Beaumont, TX). I got into Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rush (which my brother had turned me on to), Queen and other bands that my friends thought were just… weird.

I even started reading Rolling Stone magazine. (A habit that would have been stopped immediately had my parents thumbed through just one issue.) I got quite an education from that magazine. For one thing, rock stars cuss. A lot. But I loved reading about musicians and their music. I loved reading the stories behind their songs.

I used to fantasize about being a writer for Rolling Stone. A rock ‘n’ roll journalist. I still think it would be cool. To immerse myself in this energetic, toxic, ever-expanding art and find out what fuels it – what makes it tick. I’m fascinated by the fact that all music is connected. Sit down with a music history professor and he can trace any artist’s music back for centuries and across the continents. Music is an infinite science. It’s basic and complex at the same time. Only seven notes exist in the musical alphabet, but there is no end to the stories that can be told through those seven notes.

This is why, at Redbox the other night, my heart skipped when I saw that “It Might Get Loud” was available. This is a documentary featuring three musicians from three generations, three countries and three distinctively different styles of rock. Jimmy Page from Zeppelin, The Edge from U2 and Jack White of White Stripes. These three guitarists sit down and talk about the passion for their art and the factors that influenced their styles.

I hid away in my room and watched the film, hanging on every word. Jimmy Page telling about the house his family moved into when he was a child. The previous owners left a guitar behind and he decided to learn how to play. The Edge opening an old box of tapes, popping one into a player and an early sketch of "Where the Streets Have No Name" flowing out of the speaker. (That part got me teary.) How Jack White accumulated so much music equipment as a teen that he moved his bed out of his room and slept on the floor, surrounded by drums and guitars and amps.

And speaking of weird, Jack White is WEIRD. But he’s intensely creative – probably more creative than the other two combined. Out of the three, I’m least familiar with his music, but his voice and perspective intrigued me the most.

There are “artists,” many of whom exist in the pop genre, who produce music to fuel their own fame. But then there are the true artists – the ones who make music because they don’t know how not to. Page, Edge and White are three of these, and “It Might Get Loud” is an enlightening glimpse into the concepts, experiences and influences behind their music.

One more thought: I recall hearing rumors that Jimmy Page has basically been reduced to a slobbering invalid by years of drug use. Not true. The man’s actually looking pretty good. He’s one of the lucky ones.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

When I Was on WIC

It was a spring day in 1998. I only took the pregnancy test so I wouldn’t have to worry. I knew it was going to be negative, and then I could get on with my life. As soon as I took it, the control line appeared. I waited a while. Still one line.

“Just what I thought,” I said, and set the test down on the bathroom counter.

After taking my contacts out and brushing my teeth, I reached for the test to throw it away. But now there were two lines. A microscopic Julia was forming right inside my body. I nearly passed out.

We had been married almost five years, and I had wanted to get pregnant for a long time. But Chad was in the middle of grad school. I had a job that paid $20,000 a year. We needed to wait until Chad graduated and got a job to even think about starting a family.

But that second line changed everything. I wasn’t going to get to be a stay-at-home mom. Not when I was making our only income.

Julia was born in January. One Sunday at church, the wife of another graduate Bible student came up to me.

“You should get on WIC,” she said, and then, after noticing the look on my face, “We did it after Abigail was born and it was a big help. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”

WIC (Women, Infants and Children) is a federally funded program that began in 1972. It provides food, nutrition education and referrals to health and other social services at no charge. The program serves low-income, post-partum and breastfeeding women and infants and children up to age five.

I had never been on government assistance. No one in my family – except possibly during the Great Depression – had ever been on government assistance. I don’t like to think that I considered myself above such a thing, but I did.

But money was tight. My pregnancy had been fraught with complications and my hospital stays and time away from work had drained our savings. Anything I could get would help. So I applied at the WIC office and qualified.

I had to take Julia to the WIC office every few weeks for the staff to check her health and for me to take nutrition classes. I usually went there from work, which meant I was typically wearing a suit. To say I stood out from all the teen moms in there is an understatement. I saw them pass looks among each other – looks that said, “What is she doing here?”

But I never felt weird about being there. The staff was so sweet and they loved on Julia and were so friendly to me. Even when I discovered I had known one of the WIC employees in college, I still wasn’t embarrassed. I was just doing what I needed to do to take care of my family.

Money was still tight. I remember pushing Julia around the mall in her stroller, going into Sears, looking at all the pretty little baby dresses and wishing I had $15 to buy one. But WIC helped a lot. We never had to go without anything we needed. And even though we were technically living in poverty, I have the sweetest memories of that time. We never make a trip back to Abilene without driving by the little house we lived in back then. We didn’t have much, but life was simple. I miss it, in a way.

Chad spent his last year in grad school teaching biology at one of the local high schools. His income rescued us from poverty, and our WIC days were over. I’ve always been grateful to my friend for referring me to WIC and helping me change the way I viewed government assistance.

Friday, January 01, 2010

What I Learned in 2009

1) If there’s something I don’t like doing, and I stick with it long enough (like working out), I might actually start liking it.

2) I’ve known this for years, but I remind myself every so often: Spend all the money you want on mascara, but the best kind there ever has been and ever will be is Maybelline Great Lash (the pink and green).

3) When I lose too much weight, I start looking scary. Check out this pic of me from Jenna’s birthday party in August. I needed to be eating those cupcakes, not giving them to 4-year-olds. I’ve put a few pounds back on since then and I look more normal.

4) It’s possible, when you’re trying desperately to improve a situation and do the right thing, to really mess up a friendship.

5) How to make hummus.

6) How important it is to me to feel as though I am part of a church family.

7) I need to blog more.

8) How to make crepes.

9) Having a dog can be fun and provide a sense of comfort – especially if you’ve had a crappy year.

10) How to save tons of money grocery shopping.

11) My husband is a good, godly man. (I already knew that, but it bears repeating.)

12) I always want to be open to God bringing new people into my life, regardless of my stage of life or how busy I am.

That’s it for now.