Checking Out and Pressing In

I’m going to be really honest.  Lately, I’ve been playing a computer game and I hate myself every time I do it.  I blow time and potential doing it.  I find myself drawn to it when I go down the road I shouldn’t go down.  It’s like beta time but I’m not doing anything creative, so I feel guilty.  I could knit or quilt or sew or anything else but I rebel against production and waste my brain instead.  But that road, that painful realization that you chose a more challenging adventure, is what I think about.

I feel like I’m checking out, but it doesn’t feel like I’m taking a break.  Instead, I tend to consider the what-ifs of my life. 

What if I’d said that to this person or done this instead of that?  Maybe I wouldn’t be dealing with the harsh reality of…oh, it’s too much and it’s too personal.  If I’d only realized the limitless potential hidden within when I was a little younger!  Don’t go there.  Don’t go there.

Sometimes it’s hard to deal with the minutae of every day when much larger problems loom.  A few years ago, I remember getting hammered for not writing thank-you notes in the midst of grieving the loss my job and death a friend.  In that life moment, writing thank-you notes was the last thing on my mind.  Especially, when, at six months pregnant, somebody had to remind me to eat more than one meal a day.  On some days coping seemed impossible.  But I was chastised for not holding it together.

I’m gonna cuss.  Fuck that.

So that’s where I am right now.  I feel pressure for not holding it together.  I feel the need to be invincible and strong and motherly and wifely and nurturing and completely satisfied.  In short, I feel compelled to be everything to everyone.  I drown it all in this stupid game.  Where is it coming from?  I’m not sure.  But it comes from somewhere and I’m irritated. 

Those who love me most tell me I hold unreasonable expectations for myself.  My recent descent into self-loathing stems from not working.  For example, I feel guilt when I spend money while not working.  Specifically, when I am not working, I feel guilt when I spend money on myself.  The irrational reasoning is that I attach my self-worth in my family to the amount of money I make.  I feel guilt.  This week’s battle surrounded paying for a class to keep my license to train.

It’s absurd.  Apparently, I don’t feel worthy of the cost to continue my education.  It’s probably why I sold things on Craigslist to pay for school.  I didn’t feel like I was worth the time it took to earn the money it took to pay for school.  That’s it.

I sobbed my way through this dilemma yesterday with Dave and my bestie.  Both of them said the exact same thing.

“You are worth it.  It’s not even a question.  You have an obligation to continue and study and learn and get better at what you do.”

Sometimes it’s all you need.  But this wasn’t one of those times.

When I really gutted my soul to Dave, he simply said, “I know what you’re feeling.  I feel it often.”
I also needed that.  In addition to hearing the words, I also needed to hear empathy.  I didn’t just need a fix-it.  I also needed somebody to tell me I wasn’t crazy, that my feelings are within the realm of normal but self-defeating and that I wasn’t alone when I felt them.  Misery loves company?

This time around, being a stay-at-home is terribly humbling.  Going back to not working after I was on a career path, bushwhacking my way into a secure position as a well-respected trainer, is more challenging than I thought.  I wasn’t making a ton of money, but my paycheck was steady and I was fulfilled at work.  I was independent.  I felt good every day when I went to work, and I felt better when I came home.  I gave that up (voluntarily!) to stay at home and raise my kids.  Now that we are well into the demands of school-homework-schedule demands, I am less enchanted with my role.  It’s demanding and exhausting.  It tests my patience and I haven’t fought hard enough for my own needs.  I’ve given myself no wiggle room for growth (remember when I told you I wasn’t worth the time?).  I’m fighting to retain a bit of myself while meeting the demands of a changed family dynamic.  No longer do I have my own social circle, my own experiences, my own life.  It’s tied up in everybody elses.  I’ve spent time and energy ensuring everybody else is comfortable, yet I failed to take care of myself.  And, to top it all off, the past two years have been so crazy and tumultuous that I’ve barely had time to focus on meeting the demands of retaining my license.  I do not recommend procrastination.  It sucks.  Not only do I feel unworthy of the money and time it takes to keep my license because I am not making money doing it, I am now about to be unable to do it because my license will be expired.  Yes.  It’s where I am.  My current job title is to be my kids’ parent and Dave’s wife.  I am the picker-upper and dropper-offer, fundraiser, get up, get dressed, make breakfast, get your teeth brushed, we’re late, let’s go harpee.  I’m not a trainer, so why try?

It’s possible that I’m not cut out for stay at home mom-ing.  I admire women who find satisfaction in staying home and devoting their entire lives to their children.  I don’t think I’m one of them.  Much of the time, it makes me crazy.  I don’t hate it, but I’m not necessarily thrilled with the person I’m becoming.  Some days, I am bitter and resentful and unfulfilled.  Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my dimensions.

I come back to the words of my husband and closest friends.  Clearly, I have to get past my self-worth issues.  Hallelujah!  I am worth every penny it takes to keep my brain and soul intact!  I am worth the effort others need to exert to ensure my happiness.  I spend countless hours giving to others to fill their souls, and I deserve the same.  I must get past the guilt.  It’s not fear.  It’s re-evaluating my worth.

What I find crazy is that I don’t hold ANYONE else to this standard.  To my friends who stay at home, home school, go to school, and volunteer, I think, “Man, she is really doing it.  She is really contributing to the wholeness of the world.”  Yet, I am unable to grant that grace to myself.  Why?

Actually, I don’t care why.  I’m not particularly interested in sifting through my great childhood to figure out who went wrong where.  Identifying the culprit in my over-emphasis on money accomplishes nothing.  I just have to get rid of it.  Emphasizing money over love is stupid and self-defeating.  I am a supportive wife and mother.  Oh, I’ve also neglected to mention that I’m a great friend, too.  Although not as much as I’d like, I engage in active learning.  I enrich myself through avid reading and engagement in creative pursuits.  I am a writer.  Yet I am not satisfied because I am not making money?  I am a basket case!  I’m crazy!  As I play this stupid online game, I literally run through all of the people who are doing more than me and are contributing more than me.  It’s the worst thing ever for my mental health!  Yet I resist it about as well as a moth can resist a bright light.

Through this continuing season of self-examination, I come back to the words of pastor Bob.  “Press in” he likes to say.  If you’re struggling, lean in to the challenge.  Engage it.  It’s God challenging you to trust Him more.  I envision a football player pushing though a wall of linemen.  Put your head down, crouch, and press your shoulder in.  Press in and push through.

Despair is a false blanket covering real blessings.  I am supremely blessed, yet I choose to see things I don’t have instead of all that surrounds me.  Each night this week, my boy has asked me to cuddle with him while he falls asleep.  I want that time so badly to just check out of life.  I want to be quiet and alone so badly and I want to just think uninterrupted so badly, but he needs me so badly too.  I refuse to raise a tough boy.  I refuse to raise a boy who wants to be held yet is afraid to ask.  So, I run a quick calculus of the value of his needs versus the value of my desire to check out.  How satisfied am I going to be if I know he’s in there, wanting to connect with me, and I’m out here doing some mindless activity in an effort to suppress the frustration of my own false take on reality?  I hear Bob.  “Press in” he says.  I press in.  I meet my struggle and walk in to my boy’s room.  I lay down with him.  I sing him a song.  Then another.  And another.  He gently pulls my hand over his body so that I am holding him very close to me, and he says, “I love cuddling with you, mommy.”

I don’t want to fight anymore because I’m the one creating the struggle.  I must be what my family needs me to be, but I also need to be what I want to be!  Carving out space for me in the midst of the Most Demanding Job on Earth proves a Herculean effort.  I fail often, but a good friend tells me he just tries to “fail better.”  I’m going to fail better and guiltlessly.  Playing an absurd game is a fail.  I’d like to fail better.  Admitting weakness is the first step to building strength.  I’m not sure where I’m going.  I feel a little lost, frankly.  But I’m loved and worth it and the people who love me most unconditionally want my heart and mind and soul to succeed.  And they don’t believe that success is attached to a paycheck.  My kids love me for me.  They don’t have any idea what money means, except that when I don’t have any in my wallet we’re not getting any frozen yogurt.  I am not associated with a dollar sign.  To these people, I am associated with unconditional love.  I give it, and whether I feel I’m worthy of it or not, I get it.  I ask again and again, “Why are we so blessed?”

But I don’t need to ask why we are blessed.  I need to lean into reality and let my heart be still.  I realize that I don’t need to check out.  I need to log off.   


The Rules of Engagement

This political season was nasty.  Name calling, false accusations, and fact-free assertions ran rampant across the interwebs.  As a long-time political junkie, I found this trend particularly disheartening.  I love a hot-blooded political fight as much as the next guy, but I also love shaking hands afterwards.  Social media has drawn more people into the political process, which is great because involvement makes the whole system thrive.  However, if social media is the new venue for political discourse, let’s lay down some ground rules.

1)      No name calling.  Insulting your fellow Americans by calling them crazy, uninformed, stupid, sheep, wackos, and even Nazis simply because they share different beliefs than you is disrespectful and unnecessary.  Petty name-calling weakens your argument.  Save it for the playground.

2)      No generalizing.  All Republicans don’t believe the same thing, nor do Democrats adhere to the same beliefs.  Each of us comes to the political fray with personal experiences that shape our world view.  Respect your opponent’s life experience by NOT putting them in a box.

3)      Separate politics and religion.  The internet is not a bar, so politics and religion are up for discussion, but they are two separate debates.  All conservatives are not Christian and all liberals are not Jews.  In a political debate, attacking another person’s faith, especially in a country whose Constitution guarantees both a secular government and religious freedom, accomplishes nothing.  In politics, religion is a non-issue.

4)      Check your facts.  Nothing ruins a great debate like a lie, half-truth, or a fabricated talking point.  Before you enflame your opponent with the morning’s latest accusation or something you read in an email, run it through one of the many unbiased online fact-checking machines.  Factcheck.org, politifact.org, Wikipedia.org, and national newspapers (excluding the opinion pages) may support or disprove your assertion.  If it checks out, use it.  If your assertion is false or mostly false, you may want to re-evaluate your position.  Facts are facts.  False declarations are lies.  Something that you think ought to be true, but is proven untrue, has no place in honest discourse.

5)      Facts are facts.  If you struggle to prove your point based on the facts you are finding, consider that perhaps the facts are correct and you need to modify your position.  It’s OK to change and grow, even as an adult!  Avoid criticizing the source of the facts, as well.  Finding a fact distributed by the Congressional Budget Office or the Bureau of Labor Statistics that disproves your assertion is a red flag – you may be wrong.  Admit it, adapt, and move on.  You’ll find peace.

6)      Cite non-partisan news sources.  Rush’s point about global warming being caused by sheep farts in New Zealand might be factually spot-on, but there’s a pretty good chance your liberal opponent thinks Rush is a pompous gas bag.  If Mr. Limbaugh’s facts are correct, you will be able to find them in an unbiased source.  Factcheck.org, politifact.org, Wikipedia.org, and national newspapers (excluding the opinion pages) are great sources for information.  MSNBC, FOX News, Huffington Post, Daily KOS, and Andrew Breitbart are biased and sometimes opinion-based sources.  Remember that, although the information from these outlets may be factually true, we are living in a time when the media has lost objective credibility.  In many cases, the line between real news and entertainment is hopelessly blurred.  Respect your opponent’s skepticism of political news sources and simply avoid them.   Cite your facts from unbiased sources and you’ll enjoy hard-won credibility.  As a credible source, you’re more likely to sway your opponent to see your point of view more clearly.

7)      Avoid the “They’re all the same” trap.  All politicians are not sleazebags and all political parties differ.  If you are unclear about the positions of the various political parties, and how they differ, I encourage you to investigate their websites and read the entire party platform.  Democrats, the American Communist Party, Republicans, the Green Party, and Libertarians are all different.  Accusing them of all “being the same” does a great disservice to those who serve our country honestly and hold fast to their principles.

8)      Learn the terminology.  Learn the difference between a political system and an economic system. 

9)      Keep it in perspective.  When emphasizing the scale of an alleged scandal, refrain from quantifying it as “the biggest in history”, as in “This fiasco is the biggest in history.”  Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, September 11, and the Khmer Rouge are what you’re up against.  A politician makes a closed-door deal with a company he used to run?  Definitely lacks scruples, but not the worst move in history.  Keep it in perspective.

10)   Hitler was Hitler.  No current leaders come close to reviving the atrocities of Hitler.  If you compare any current world leader to Hitler, you lose the entire argument.  If your opponent compares any current world leader to Hitler, congratulations, you win!  Discussion over, log off, go outside.

There you have it!  Adhering to these rules of engagement ensure respectful online political discourse.  If you choose to engage, be prepared to learn, bend, grow, and change.  This is how we can mend the massive chasm between the left and right.  We must respect each other first.  Remember that the words you type are read by somebody just like you, sitting in front of the screen looking for a connection, trying to sort out something in the midst of work, parenting, homework, hobbies, and a dream of something better.  Be a part of it.  Be a part of making it better, smarter, and more respectful for everybody.