Thursday, February 6, 2014

The War On Princesses: Please Just Let My Little Girl Be A Girl

Nearly every morning this winter I’ve had to convince my daughter that wearing a summer dress in forty degree weather is not a good idea. I’ve had to tell her that yes, her sparkly sandals are pretty, but they’re probably not the best choice for playing outside.

And she does enjoy playing outside. She doesn’t mind getting dirty in the backyard and loves ‘going exploring’ with her brother. She’d just rather be doing it in a frilly floral dress.
I was a tomboy as a kid, so I can’t really relate. Wear a dress? No thanks, how am I supposed to climb trees in that? Her propensity for sparkles and pink certainly did not come from me. I’d have chosen Batman & Robin over princesses and fairies.

This is how I know that her love of ‘pretty things’ – which was specifically what she asked for at Christmas – did not come from any encouragement on my part. I’m still that way – I don’t spend much time on hair and makeup, I’ve never seen much use in ‘bling’ (other than my wedding ring), and, apart from undergarments, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I own that is pink. And I think my daughter notices because she seems particularly excited when I wear anything other than tennis shoes. “Ooooh, you look so pretty, mama!”

Yet, despite my lack of girlishness, here I am with a child who sleeps with a stuffed pink unicorn (named Vanilla-Pea, which we think is her take on Penelope) and absolutely wants to be a princess. At first I wondered – should I discourage this behavior? And then I wised up.

As I see more and more about ‘gender neutrality’ popping up everywhere, I can’t help but wonder where this obsession with trying to squelch natural tendencies comes from. Why is it wrong for a girl to be girly? To prefer the pink and purple legos over the multi-colored ones?

If there was a gender study conducted in my living room, there is no doubt it would be concluded that boys and girls are inherently different. My little girl would rather tuck her barbies and mermaids into bed and say, “Shhh, they’re sleeping,” while my little boy would rather leap headfirst off the couch and barrel through the house with his trucks, ramming them into walls, all while roaring like a dinosaur.

I realize research in my living room wouldn’t be very scientific, but after speaking with many parents of boys and girls, I believe this scenario is typical in many households. The thing I don’t get is why people have such a dadgum problem with it.

Yes, I want her to learn about all the possibilities the world holds for her, but I don’t think her innate femininity is something to be attacked, as though it would hold her back. I’m not ruining her by allowing her to watch Cinderella. If you don’t think there are good lessons to be found in even the most basic of princesses, you’re not paying close enough attention.

Do you know what is awesome about Cinderella? She was able to find joy, despite her awful situation. She was stuck in a prison of sorts, and yet she woke up in the morning, opened the window, and sang with the birds. That’s epic, right there. That’s Andy playing the opera music over the loudspeaker in The Shawshank Redemption. It’s a rare quality we’ve forgotten about in today’s instant gratification world. And yet it can be found in CINDERELLA.

In the messages we don’t agree with, there are lessons to be taught. Cinderella falls in love with the prince at the ball, and it’s my opportunity as a mother to tell my daughter about the qualities to look for in a husband and tell her how silly it is to fall in love with someone you just met. Boom. Simple as that.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can’t make sure the world around our children reflects everything we want them to see. There are many types of messages she will face in her life, and it is my job as a parent to help her make sense of them.

Look, I get it. We don’t want our daughters to be bombarded with stereotypes and sexualization that could change the way they see their worth. That’s a valid concern and another topic entirely. And it’s honorable to question what is being put in front of our children, but if our biggest worry is how many legos are in the Lego Princess Castle, or what color they are, then we’re focusing on the wrong things.

My daughter already talks about one day when she is a mama. She values motherhood, family, femininity…these are beautiful values to cherish. But sometimes I wonder if they are falling by the wayside as success and worldly gain take the front seat.

It is so incredibly important to teach our daughters there is more to life than beauty, but sometimes we have a tendency to take a good thing so far into one direction that it becomes complete nonsense. And sometimes I wonder if I might have turned out differently if I hadn’t always been told that being ‘girly’ was stupid.

Part of the reason why this issue bothers me is because I get the feeling that some people out there just don’t like who my daughter is. She’s not supposed to be her gender – she’s supposed to be neutral, and I’m supposed to raise her as such. But it would be too easy for me, as a non-princess lover, to discourage her from her interests that are different from mine and different from others. So instead I’ll raise her to embrace the unique qualities she possesses – even if they don’t fit the mold, even if society doesn’t care for it much.

I think we’re making too big of a deal out of girls who want to be girls and boys who want to be boys. It’s our ability to choose that builds the foundation of our lives, and I will never ask for that to be taken away.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Pursuit Of Love In The New Year

My four-year-old daughter and I argue a lot – about who loves the other the most.

“I don't think so, Hannah. I don't think you could possibly love me more than I love you. A mama's love is the biggest.”

“No, Mama,” she says. “My love is the winner. I love you so's SO bigger...” She stretches her arms out in front of me. “It will take all day long.”

All day long. Now that's a big kind of love.

I have thought about the concept of love a great deal throughout this Christmas season. Those ideas of love and grace and peace that are tied in with our Savior just seemed to have permeated this year's holiday in particular for me – and led me to ponder 'what is love' in a deeper way than ever before.

It's no secret that I'm a Christian who believes that God's love is absolutely unconditional, but I could likely never fully convince you of that if you're reluctant to believe it. I do, however, understand why there's so much reluctance. We're not God, so we fail at love.
For me, the most beautiful and striking description of God's love in scripture is that it's unfailing:

“Love never fails.” - 1 Corinthians 13:8. “The earth is full of His unfailing love.” - Psalm 33:5.

It's constant. It's everlasting. It's incapable of fault. Without flaw.

It's perfect.

I have never experienced that kind of love from another human being. I've certainly caught glimpses of it in others, in the significant but fleeting moments of my life, but how could we ever make perfection everlasting when what we know of love in this world is so broken?

There's an eternity to God's love that most of us don't see in the human examples in our lives. That's why our concepts of love can be so vastly different from each other, and also why they can be so incredibly messed up.

Truthfully, I tend to get frustrated this time of year when I see how often God, who is love, gets rejected while other types of 'love' are so readily accepted and embraced.

Does 'unfailing love' mean getting everything we want? Does it mean always tolerating any behavior and never encouraging that it be made better? Does it mean it's okay to be abandoned or used and make promises we'll never keep? Does it mean giving conditional love and expecting unconditional in return?

You would think so, given how human beings treat each other and what we seem to expect from God. We're broken. And our own experiences are too deeply woven into our ideas about love that our past hurts prevent us from truly understanding what 'unconditional' or 'unfailing' love looks like.

There's far too much failure. We are not good enough examples of love for one another. And we are rarely looking to the right source for our example. It's patient and kind, not proud. Not self-seeking. Not keeping score. It's not the selfish mess that we see everywhere we turn.

He loves us all day long. Every day. No matter what. Until forever.

I truly can't imagine what life would look like if we learned how to love like that. Yet it's what we were born to dolove one another. We should pursue it the way that it pursues us, in an endlessly steadfast, unrelenting sort of way. Never giving up on finding it and learning how to truly give it. That's the kind of New Year's Resolution we should all jump at the chance to make.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Blessing of Busyness

I killed it yesterday.
As in, I totally rocked it out – this stay-at-home mom thing.
It was an errands-completed, groceries-purchased, house-cleaned, laundry-done, kids-fed, 30-Day-Shredded (Jillian Michaels, you ain’t got nothin’ on me!), bible-studied, words-written, dinner-prepped kind of day. Whew!
Today? Well, let’s just say…if only every day could be like yesterday…
But I’m still giving myself credit because, as I’ve said before, it’s about balance. We need the busy and the still…the hurried and the relaxed…the chaos and the quiet. I think it all has its purpose. 
I have been learning a lot lately about the difference between doing the ‘busy’ things and doing the ‘important’ things, so I’m trying to make a conscious effort to rid myself of distractions and focus on the essential. I think I’m doing better at weeding out those activities that only serve to divert me from those with actual significance. I’ve been adding more to my plate, that’s for sure, but I’ve been adding the more meaningful stuff.
Busy can be good, I’ve realized. We often talk about how we all need to slow down a little more and savor our moments, but there is good to be found in the productive days as well. Busy means ‘life as normal’ – we haven’t been derailed by something awful or interrupted by illness or suffering. I have before, and I don't enjoy that kind of 'busy'. Give me the contentment of a boring ol' routine any day.
When I have that perspective, it makes it so much easier for me to accept how ordinary my days are.  And boy, are they so incredibly ordinary. Bill-paying, cooking-and-cleaning, errand-running ordinary. Busy, but not so busy that I lose sight of why I'm doing the work.

I’ve kept a journal for years. In looking back at all my past entries, I’ve noticed an underlying theme that has plagued my thoughts – insecurity. Am I good enough? Do I measure up? For years I have tried to overcome my struggle of feeling like I am not doing enough. But it's not about how much I'm doing. It's not even really about what I'm doing. It's about why I'm doing it.
What Matters In Life SAHM
I am most effective when I enjoy what I do and feel that it has purpose and significance. When I’m busy but the tasks don’t feel meaningful, all I feel is a depletion of energy. Yet when I fill my time with worthy tasks, there is a sense of accomplishment, and with that, contentment.
And do you know what I've discovered? Sometimes even the most menial, ordinary tasks have an incredible amount of significance.
Even the tiniest conversation can have an impact. Even the shortest moment can last a lifetime. A little boy gets scared, and a big sister hugs him tight and says, “Don't worry, baby boy. I will always be with you.” And then it all makes sense.
It's not that every day is perfect. It's not that there aren't worries and frustrations that get in the way. It's not that those insecurities never creep back in, begging me to notice them and give them the value they don't deserve.
It's that I'm in a sacred place of knowing I'm right where I'm supposed to be, doing just what I should be doing. My days are busy, in quite the ordinary sort of way. But there's one thing that makes them uncommonly extraordinary – I wake up each morning knowing that today matters.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sharing My First Pregnancy: Hope, Loss, And Life

October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I've never shared my story on here before, so I wanted to today. It was healing for me to go back to this time in my life and write it out for others to read. I hope it is encouraging to those of you who know the pain of loss or are struggling toward motherhood.

I have always known I wanted children. It's the one desire I can trace back to my roots – ever present, never changing, never a doubt in my mind that someday I wanted babies of my own. I'd always felt that mothering was something I was born to do.

When Clint and I decided we were ready for kids, we wanted to just let it happen. No 'trying', no stressing – just letting it be. I had always loved the idea of holding a pregnancy test in my hand and letting the wave of shock and excitement rush over me as the second line appeared. I wasn't in a hurry. I truly believed it would happen in its own time, and there was no reason to rush.

Even though I'd read that it can often take several months, I still expected it to happen pretty quickly. After all, don't most people get knocked up accidentally? How hard could it be? Have sex, have a baby. BAM! One of the easiest things in the world, right?

A few months went by. No worries. I figured the wait was just giving me a little more time to be completely prepared. Then a few more months went by. And a few more.

I started to feel a little sick – not from pregnancy, unfortunately, but from the fear that had always resided deep within me. As a child, when I'd hear about women who'd never been able to have kids, I'd pray that God would protect me from that kind of pain. The worst thing I can possibly imagine, I'd think. The thought terrified me. It made me miserable to think that the one thing I'd always wanted – the only thing I'd ever felt as though I couldn't live without – might never happen.

More months. More waiting, more hoping. More pregnancy announcements, but never my own. I finally got to the point where I was no longer hopeful, but frantic. This needed to happen. Now.

I finally told Clint, “We need to figure out if something is wrong.” I couldn't fathom going another year with the possibility that there was something we could fix. Our relaxed approach was not working – it was time to take action.

Turns out there was no need. Even though I didn't want to see another negative pregnancy test, I took one anyway. As I waited for the result, I tried to suppress my hopes. I feared it wasn't meant to happen for me and prayed that I would accept the inevitable.

I sighed and picked the test up. Am I imagining that line? I thought. I squinted hard at the little window – one dark pink line and one very faint pink line. My jaw dropped. I stared hard, certain that it was a figment of my imagination, that all these months of waiting had truly driven me crazy.

I showed Clint. “Do you see that line?!” I asked excitedly.

“Yeah,” he said as he squinted at the tiny window.

“Do you know what that means?!” I said.

His eyes widened. “Scary,” he said.

I'm sure he meant awesome. In a big, scary, exciting, phenomenal sort of way. (Men react to these sorts of things a little differently.) Finally, I thought. I was elated.

We kept it mostly to ourselves, deciding to wait until after I'd seen a doctor before making a big announcement. We just told immediate family and a few close friends.

I felt great as we geared up to make a weekend trip out of town. We were thrilled to get away together and celebrate some time alone, knowing that those opportunities would not come as often once we had a little one. A sweet, perfect, cherished little one. I smiled inside, everywhere we went. Each moment of every day. Life was about to get so, so good.

I started bleeding that weekend. I tried not to worry – I knew that bleeding didn't necessarily indicate a problem. I had wanted this baby for so long – surely, God intended for me to have it. Surely, my patience was being rewarded. Surely, I was going to be a wonderful mother, and there was no reason to fear.

But the bleeding increased throughout our trip. Cramping set in. My assurance turned into concern.

I returned to work on Monday feeling uneasy. Everyone who knew about the pregnancy told me not to worry. I was told to kick my feet up and relax – all would be fine. I wanted to take their words to heart, but I knew I couldn't. I just knew. And by Tuesday morning the concern turned into panic.

I left work before lunch. I was a complete wreck. And yet everyone kept saying, “Don't worry. Everything will be fine. Just relax.” But I knew from what I'd seen and felt my body doing that everything was not fine. I just needed someone to tell me. I needed to know. I couldn't wait for the OB appointment that was still two days away.

So that evening I headed to the E.R. I was escorted to a room where I was calm as I answered a lady's questions while she filled out paperwork. She finally asked me my reason for the visit. “Possible miscarriage” were the words I managed to force out before I burst into tears. I wept while she forced her eyes back onto the forms. “I'm sorry...sorry...” I kept saying as I sobbed. She wordlessly handed me a tissue, her eyes glued to the paper as she wrote.

I don't know why she wouldn't look at me. I felt guilty for even being there because I knew it wasn't really an emergency. It was my own mental emergency, my need for closure in something I could no longer continue wrestling. I like to think that maybe she understood. Maybe she gave me space because she'd been down this road before with others, and perhaps she knew this pain all too well. These things happen so often, you know.

I was admitted to a room, poked and prodded and tested until I could take no more. I was there for hours before I was finally told the news I'd come to receive: there was no baby.

I went home, where the emptiness began to overtake the grief. Life continued as normal. Our plans were halted, and yet nothing had changed. To my husband, it was a disappointment. To me, it was devastating.

Just two days later I went to my scheduled appointment. I was there to have blood drawn to make sure my hormone levels were dropping, not to talk about my medical history and birth plan, like it was supposed to be. Instead of sitting in the waiting room, looking at all the swollen bellies with excitement, I looked with envy and longing. I dropped my eyes to the floor to keep from crying.

I scoured every article on the Internet about miscarriage. Every forum. Every blog post. I could not read enough to squelch the grief. I wanted to try again immediately. I wanted it back...the joy that had been ripped from me. And I wanted it desperately.

I became obsessed with learning all I could about fertility. I began taking my temperature every morning, charting my cycle, predicting ovulation. I turned it into a task to be conquered. I needed it to be something that I could make happen.

People started asking questions. So when are you guys going to have kids? How many do you want? Well, what are you waiting for?! They didn't know about our struggle – I couldn't share it. It was too deeply personal. On some level I felt responsible, as though there was something wrong with me. I felt embarrassed, ashamed.

I clung to my faith to get me through the pain. I tried to understand why I was not yet a mother, but I never received any satisfying answers. All I could do was go back to the truths that had always sustained me before: God's wisdom is infinitely superior to man's. I am ultimately not in control. He will give me the deepest desires of my heart.

But none of that made it fair. None of that helped me to understand why.

Then along came Christmas. I had hoped for a baby. Instead I got a stomach virus. Not just any stomach virus – it was the virus from hell. I saw several doctors, went to the ER twice, had numerous tests done, was unable to eat, and lost twelve pounds in two weeks.

I was scared. It was terrifying to be that ill and to receive no answers from the doctors. They told us it was most likely 'just a really bad virus', but we feared it was something much worse.

When your life is disrupted so much, you realize just how blessed you truly are. I realized I just wanted to be healthy. I wanted to spend many, many beautiful years with my husband. I was tired of trying to make my life perfect, tired of spinning my wheels to feel like I was in control. I just wanted to be well again. I was not a mother, but I could still live.

Gradually, my condition improved. It took a while to feel normal again, but I'm thankful for that illness. It taught me that I wanted life. I chose life. I no longer wanted to be consumed by fear and worry, plagued by that which was out of my control.

I let go. I was reminded to savor the present because we never know what tomorrow will bring – what illness...what blessing...what tragedy...what miracle.

My own blessing came about just three months later. Another positive test. And this one resulted in the most hilarious, precocious, beautiful almost-four-year-old that I enjoy today. She has a handsome little brother, too.

I know that for many women, their struggle to become mothers goes on for much longer on a road that is paved with much more pain. My heart aches for them in a way I could never express. My hope for them is that they know there is still life to be lived – that when they feel consumed by despair, they still know that joy is just a moment away.