Danger: hormonal surges in action. Enter at your own risk.

I’ve had a really shitty couple of days. I wake up cranky, I drink too much coffee, my house is a disaster, I yell at my kids, and I’m behind on everything.


And I can’t say that I have any circumstances to blame this on. Yes, Bryan has been working a lot, and yes, we have some personal stress brewing on the back burner, but in all honesty I can’t really blame it on those things.

I’m just being one mean bitch about everything.

You know how it goes when you’re in this mood: every wrong twitch of an eyebrow, every hesitation in response, every nuance of tone triggers you into a rampage. “WHAT?! WHAT WAS THAT LOOK FOR?! WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?! WHAT DID I DO NOW?!”

And the person with the twitchy eyebrow runs for his ever-lovin life.

To punctuate my irrational mood, a bookshelf just fell on me. Yes, a bookshelf. And yes, JUST. All the books fell on me, the shelf hit me on the shoulder, and the lamp broke its fall on my back. It’s not a very big bookshelf, and the lamp didn’t break, and there were only a couple dozen books to clean up, but still.

Even my house is conspiring against my foul mood.

I quit what I was doing and went straight to my computer to complain to all of you about my day being so crappy that even a bookshelf fell on me. And you know what? I’m giggling just a little bit right now, because it’s all so silly, and I’m so incredibly dramatic. And spoiled.

I think I would do well to turn on some lights in this cave, put on some Jesus-is-my-boyfriend music, and pop some vitamin-B pills.

Laughing – even if at yourself – really is the best medicine.

exercise withdrawals

Wow. Who knew? I am completely addicted to working out. I was talking to a friend last night about all the exercising I’ve been doing, and how my whole new daily routine has been fantastic, and how I’m actually accomplishing MORE even though I added an hour and a half to my day by going to the gym.

“You know what?” she said. “You don’t sound depressed anymore.”

And then Today happened. I hadn’t planned to go to the gym on Fridays, but I may have to change that. Today I was back to rushing around trying to get me and the kids ready so we could get Ruthie to preschool. I was packing her snacks and getting Thomas dressed at the time we should have been walking out the door.

I felt rage-ful to my core.

We rushed, I barked orders, I was impatient that they wouldn’t move fast enough, and we were 10 minutes late to class. Once I get worked up like this, there are only a few things that will bring me down again: liquor, deep breathing, and kicking the treadmill’s ass.

The contrast of today was a big eye opener to the success of exercise in my life. Here I sit in the dark, unmotivated, lurking on my computer and wasting time, while all week I’ve been a machine of accomplishment all day until I collapse into bed (at 9:30!).

Mostly a good day

Day One of new Staying On Track Schedule is complete, and I’m tuckered out. I was productive, I was not swayed by distractions, and it was kind of nice to move through the day with purpose: make grocery list, work out, fill crock pot with dinner, go to grocery store, scream immaturely at my daughter, eat dinner, clean the kitchen, and fall onto the couch at 9.

And yes, you read that middle part right: I had a small breakdown in the middle of my day in which I screamed at Ruthie for her to stop screaming so she doesn’t wake up her brother. I think that was mature, don’t you?

0709allhysteria-thumb.jpgI recovered well from that breakdown, thanks to a husband and a friend who both talked me down. Lack of calories played into that fit, as I ate a light breakfast right before working out, and hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Low blood sugar = very bad mother. I also realized the last time I threw a fit this bad at Ruthie was about this time laaaast month.

Hmm… methinks I should start tracking my cycles a little better. When I was in college my best friend once told me that in certain cultures women who were pms-ing would live out in a separate hut behind the family hut. I think she may have been hinting to me about something.

Rough Drafts and Incoherant Thoughts

I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of habitual sin. We all have sinned, and we all will continue to sin until we are perfect in death with Christ. But we also have a responsibility to turn from our sin, to repent, and to stop doing it.

So what to make of these habitual sins we enter into? What to make of my anger and its expression? Should I be able to just decide that I’m not going to act out in rage? Where does my effort end and God’s miraculous power take over? Or do they work in tandem?

So many questions, and I cannot work out my thoughts coherently. The whole thing seems like a paradox. So for now, I have collected a bank of scripture to draw from, and I pray the Holy Spirit will bring me clarity.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
– Romans 8:26 (NIV)

…for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
James 1:20 (NIV)

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!
– Romans 6:1-3 (The Message)

From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.
– Romans 6:11 (The Message)

Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.
– Romans 6:14 (The Message)

All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!
– Romans 6:18 (The Message)

I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
-Romans 7:14-25 (The Message)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.
– Romans 8:5-9 (NIV)

Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death. It’s obvious, of course, that he didn’t go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed.
– Hebrews 2:14-18 (The Message)

…the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness…
– Titus 1:1 (NIV)

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.
– Titus 3:3-8 (NIV)

Sin is no longer a NOUN that I am identified by, but a VERB, and action I DO.
– Pastor Bill Clem, MHC

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
– Ephesian 4:17-24

Grace, as given by a four year old.

I just gave Ruthie a time out for ignoring me (a frequent happening in our relationship). After her time out, when I spoke to her about what she’d done, she seemed flippant and more concerned about getting back to Dora than she was about repenting and telling me she is sorry.

So I sent her to her room.

After THAT time out was done, we had another talk. Well, it was more like I lectured her. But the end of my lecture we dialogged, and she said she was sorry.

We hugged and kissed, and as she walked away she turned back and said, “Mommy, can you smile at me?”

And I did, and she skipped happily down the stairs.

I look forward to the day when I don’t have to go into robot mode while disciplining my children – when I can let my emotions run freely because they are healthy emotions, when I can switch more readily from a righteous anger to a loving forgiveness, when I can take myself less seriously and offenses less personally.

Please secure your own mask before assisting others.

I have flown in a lot of airplanes in my life as my family has always been scattered around the country, and this particular instruction regarding the oxygen masks always confused me. For some reason I always thought it made more sense to help the person next to you first. Aside from the fact that it just seems like the nice thing to do – looking out for someone else’s needs before your own – it seemed logical that someone who can’t help themselves might panic if you don’t assist them right away.

Then one day it hit me that I would be of no use to anyone near me if I passed out for lack of oxygen because I didn’t have my mask on.

As a wife, mother and home manager I have a lot of balls in the air. Sometimes I can keep them all going effortlessly with various tricks and twists, but other times I drop a few. The problem is, all the balls are important, so when one of them drops it moves the Earth and leaves a giant crater. Many times this leaves me feeling stressed and overwhelmed because, in reality, this gig is 24/7 with no deadline in sight.

I wrestle often with the notion of self-care, especially as an Introverted mother of two energetic children and the wife of a busy entrepreneur. Motherhood is a sacrifice, for sure. But to what extent? When does the sacrifice become detrimental? And when does self-care become selfish?

happydanceI brought this up with my therapist recently, as I have been unable to see through the issue with any clarity. I feel it is important for me to have pockets of time alone to recharge my energy – sometimes only twenty minutes is all I need to be at peace again in my head, after which I can deal with all the demands of life. This means sending the kids outside while I unload groceries, or running a quick errand to the store alone, or stepping outside to weed a patch of garden for fifteen minutes. Most of the time it doesn’t take much for me to bounce back from The Crazy, but the trick is I need to be alone in order to recharge.

I find that when I’m not getting small pockets of time to recharge my energy, I start obsessing about being alone. I get grouchy with my kids just for standing in the room, I show disappointment that they are awake from their naps, I’m gruff as I rush them off to bed, and I find myself wishing Bryan was still in San Jose. I scratch and claw at anyone who asks something of me.

I’m not excusing my behavior, but I am becoming more aware of what triggers it.

Yesterday, as a long six-day travel week still looms in our recent past, I mentioned to Bryan that I would like to leave the kids when he was done working and run to the garden store really quick, as they close at six. Why don’t we all come with you? he suggested.

The disappointment on my face hurt his feelings.

He misses us when he travels, and keeps us close to him when he’s home. And when he’s home I like to take advantage of the dual-parent household to get out unattached, even if just for an hour. We bickered for a few minutes, strongly defending our individual cases, until we each adjusted our expectations. In the end, he was fine with me going, but after the kids both took good naps and I enjoyed an adult beverage on the deck for half an hour after cleaning the kitchen, I didn’t feel the need to get out anyway.

So I guess I’m learning the importance of securing my own mask first, of taking care of myself so I can be a better mother and wife – knowing that when I’m obsessing about being alone, it means I’m not getting the pockets of time I need to recharge my energy.

Rage Deferred

Bryan has slowly been making the switch in our household from PC’s to Macs, and my laptop PC was one of the last to be switched over. He finally ordered me a new one last week, and spent time this weekend setting it up for me. I’m excited about it, and love all the cool programs that come on a mac. But, as in all new transitions, I’m also a little discouraged. There are certain things I was able to do on a PC that were as easy and effortless as breathing, and I will be able to do them on this Mac once I learn, but I have not yet learned.

So now, as I am staring at my screen, trying to figure out how to access the memory card on my cell phone so I can download a video, I am feeling a little stupid that I can not just click the buttons I’m familiar with and make it happen. I know this is only temporary, and that it will all be once again as it was (maybe slightly better!), but for now I am on the edge of obsessing.

This is what I do, and this is what kicks in the rage, and this is what defines my insanity: staring at this screen, becoming more and more frustrated that I don’t know what to do, my heart quickens, and yet… I cannot back away.

It’s as if my life depends on downloading this video.

Isn’t that just the silliest thing you’ve ever heard?

I think so, too. And so I’ve decided to stop obsessing, drink a shot of vodka to calm the looming rage (because I am, after all, a blithering drunkard), and move on to something more important, like vacuuming.

Learning from the Little Things

There are days when Ruthie teaches me many things. Like the days when she pretends to mother her purple teddy bear – feeding it, wrapping it in a blanket to sleep… and disciplining it. I often find her setting the bear in a nearby chair, cheerfully explaining to it the reasons for a time out, and when the whole thing is over she gives the bear hugs and kisses and moves on to the next thing.

I am in awe of this. And usually quite relieved.

I am in awe that, despite all my dysfunction, it is the healthy forms of correction that she imitates in her play. It is something I had always attributed to luck, relieved that she did not point an angry finger or spew swear words or speak harshly.

But the other day Ruthie taught me something else.

Bryan was out one night at a business dinner, so I was on my own with the kids at bedtime. I tend to rush the process, as by that time I’m emotionally spent and need to retreat into my introvertedness. Shortly after I came down to the kitchen, Ruthie peered through the door and asked me to do something. I was rude. She started crying. She asked for it again. I was rude again. She cried more and begged. And like a bratty twelve-year-old, I said “FINE!” and stomped upstairs to do what she had asked, and stomped back downstairs, saying something completely ridiculous like, “ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?”

Yeah. I did that.

After a few minutes I, of course, realized how ridiculous I had behaved, and how rude. Love is not rude. So I hung my head, and quietly went upstairs to apologize. When I snuggled onto her bed and came nose to nose with her, she popped her thumb out of her mouth and said sweetly, ‘Did you come to say you’re sorry?’

In that moment I knew luck had nothing to do with the way she interprets her mother. It is about grace.

I have often lamented over why God would give a control freak like me a daughter who is equally stubborn. It seemed to make better sense to give me someone more willing to comply with my shortcomings, who doesn’t do things that naturally draw out the ugliest parts of me. But it is becoming clearer to me how God is connecting me to my daughter through the connection of our personal journeys. She is teaching me as much as I am teaching her. She is part of my journey, and I am part of hers, and we are learning together. One without the other would leave nothing with which to challenge, and we would remain as we are – selfish and depraved.

As I am prompted by God to apologize to Ruthie, he is teaching me humbleness, and she is learning the process of reconciliation. She gets it. She is understanding, as seen in her pretend scenarios, the graceful way to correct. And she is understanding, as seen in her prediction of my apology, that mommy is not always graceful. She is understanding sin and redemption, even if she doesn’t know the language.

I find comfort in this, in knowing that I am not alone in this journey of motherhood because God is with me, in knowing that God takes even the broken parts of me and uses them to make something beautiful.

This is only a test. If this were an actual emergency I would be using all caps.

My babysitter is sick today (poor thing, she’s fighting something ugly), so I am without my afternoon of writing. I hate how this makes me feel, and I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with lost expectations. I’ve had many meaty things in my head this week, and I was really looking forward to having some space to flush it all out. Now I just feel deflated.

Ruthie slept for an hour and a half, so I took the time to figure out how to make a linked ‘button’ for my home page – something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. And now that Ruthie is awake we are watching Peter Pan, and I will read a book. I find that I cannot steal away these short moments during naps to write through my most burning thoughts, for if I am interrupted by a waking child I become angry and bitter at her presence for intruding on ‘my time.’

I’ve learned that there is very little ‘my time’ in motherhood, and often the lines defining ‘mine’ are blurred by compromises and interruptions. I used to resent this, but I am adjusting – though not seamlessly. I recognized early on in my Recovery that I mother from a foundation of selfishness, and the whole house suffers if I am not happy. We all need time to recoup and re-create – to sabbath, as we call it in the church – but the purpose is to give us energy to do the work we have chosen to do, which in my case, is motherhood. I sometimes hold on to the method of my rest too tightly, hence the disappointment when things do not go as expected.

I have not discovered the balanced tension of being a writer and a mother, and fear the two are not compatible. Kyran at Notes to Self touches on this topic. She writes:

This is the central paradox of my life, for that matter, of any life that tries to encompass motherhood and art simultaneously. It is what I am usually trying to work out in my writing here. The writer belongs to no one, while the mother and wife are willingly indentured. There is never equilibrium, because life is never static. Just a lurching kind of motion between one truth and the other. This stagger that is my life.

Even as I try to write this essay, which has turned much more meaty than I intended, I find myself racing against the duration of Peter Pan, and it literally makes my head hurt. The writer/mother multitasking I do makes me tense and distracted, so now on top of everything else, I’m feeling tired and irritable. Where has the time gone? Is it really that late? What the hell am I making for dinner? Three hours I normally spend re-creating so I can be a better mother, I have spent thinking bitterly about being a mother instead of accepting What Is and embracing the afternoon with my daughter.

That is a sad place to be.

The Low Rumble of Things Lying Deep Within

This morning I ate my breakfast while locked in the bathroom because Ruthie would not stop bugging me about giving her a bite of my eggs. I kept asking her in a calm way to please back away (she was literally in my face, hovering over my plate, with her fork touching my food), that mommy needed to eat, that she had just finished her second breakfast, blah blah blah. She was not listening to me, but instead kept insisting, “BUT YOU HAVE TO SHARE, MAMA!”

This is an aspect of parenting in which I have not yet formed a thesis – do I share to set an example of sharing? or do I eat my own meal because it is in the best interest of my blood sugar level, which in turn makes me a mommy who won’t tear your eyeballs out? For this reason I was hesitant to put her in a time out, though in retrospect I probably should have because she was not listening to me when I asked her to stop. So in that moment, as I felt my adrenaline building toward rage, I excused myself, told her that mommy needed a time out, and locked myself in the bathroom to finish eating. At which point she screamed, began to cry for her daddy, and went downstairs to bang on his office door.

Great, I thought. I’ve denied her basic sustenance, hurt her feelings, AND dragged Bryan into the drama. Way to go, jen.

My day has not gone much better since, at least in respect to the tense feeling in my chest and the Twisted Spine of Stress.

This is a battle that is fought with Ruthie on a daily basis – mostly at breakfast. She rises at the crack of dawn, at which point she has one or two bowls of cereal. Then when Thomas wakes up and has breakfast, she has something else to eat, and I try to make it something more substantial than cereal. While the kids are sitting at the table eating, I make breakfast for myself and for Bryan, which usually involves eggs, because one can never have too many eggs in my opinion. By the time I sit down to eat said eggs, Ruthie is in my face asking for a bite, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER I HAD JUST GIVEN HER EGGS OF HER OWN TO EAT. There is something about MY FOOD that she insists upon wanting, and I’m coming to the conclusion that it may not have anything to do with food, but with control, because by the time she gets to my breakfast, she’s already eaten more than she will eat for the rest of the day.

Part of it is that I think she is interested in the shared experience of things. For instance, she won’t play with any of her toys by herself, but if Thomas or any of her friends is around, and THEY want to play with toys, then she is happy to play along. And this goes for anything else like play-doh and coloring. There is nothing that I have discovered in the last four years that she will do alone – even the amazing Polly Pockets have lost their dazzle and are no fun unless I’m sitting on the floor with her.

Why is this a problem?

Because my brain literally hurts from being turned on all the time. Just now, as we snuggled in bed before her nap, I had to place a lavender eye pack over my eyes because it was too painful for me to try and keep my eye lids closed independently. Ruthie is at an age where everything is a question, a conversation, and no subject is dropped until Veronica Mars learns the truth.

‘Why is that man standing there?’

‘I think he’s waiting for the bus.’

‘Where is he going?’

‘I don’t know, honey.’

‘Tell me!’

‘I really don’t know, honey. Maybe he’s going to work.’


I can’t even make up an answer because she knows when I’m bullshitting her.

But I digress. This is not a post complaining about my lovely daughter, because she really IS lovely, and I know all these things I’ve just complained about I will probably adore about her tomorrow. The post is more about me, and what to do with myself when I am feeling so sucked of energy and brain cells that I threaten my children with dismemberment if they will not go play in the damn Ikea ball pit so I can get one hour of peace to myself.

The last time I felt this stressed and trapped and like I never had a moment was a week in which I was not able to spend my Tuesday afternoon writing because the sitter didn’t come. And yesterday? The sitter was sick so I was not able to spend my afternoon writing again.

Herein lies the common thread – the expectation of three hours alone every Tuesday not being met.


That, my friends, was an epiphany. I just discovered this by bitching on the internet.

Please disregard this post as I figure out a new way to deal with failed expectations.

Grace Sneaks In

Lately I have been struggling with guilt and condemnation. We are working through Grace in our recovery group, so of course it draws up all the nasty reasons in my heart of why I shouldn’t be worthy of God’s grace. Today is a particularly bad day as I have struggled all week in my relationship with Ruthie. In referring to the list I have on my kitchen cabinet, I am ashamed to admit that I have been self-important, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, and a holder of grudges.

I am an unpredictable parent – I will be loving, patient, and attentive, then out of the blue I respond to something Ruthie says or does with anger and irritation that is way more exaggerated than the offense calls for. I take it personally. I am irritated that Ruthie does not always do the right thing. I am exasperated at being inconvenienced by her disobedience.

But not all the time.

Many times I respond correctly: I am patient, I am kind, I shepherd, I correct. But other times I am not, and it kills me that Ruthie cannot count on me to be consistent in my response to her. I have failed in all the ways that Love Is, and feeling this way after being in this damn recovery program for over a year, it seems like crawling into a dark hole with a bottle of gin is the only real consolation.

[blink. blink. blink.]

Now that I have written these words, and stare at them in front of me, and ponder them for several minutes, I begin to feel a wash of peace. These are irrational thoughts, I know, but sometimes it takes me getting them out of my head to see them for what they really are. I am no longer sobbing ridiculously, and I can see a glimpse of the flip side of this coin.

I am no stranger to the dysfunction of a parent/child relationship, for I’ve had my own troubles and insecurities with my biological father. I struggled throughout my childhood and teen years, wondering what my place was in his life and doubting that he really cared about me. And today, after many difficult conversations over many years, we are reconciled, and I am at peace in my relationship with him. And more importantly, I am able to see how my journey through those issues (and my continuous maintenance of them) matured me and shaped me. They are part of my DNA.

I find that when I have days and weeks like this, I see every false move I make in direct proportion to the number of hours Ruthie will spend in therapy or in an unhealthy relationship or hating me or contemplating her own demise. I blame myself for all her future dysfunction before it even happens, and therefore I walk under a cloud of guilt and condemnation because the story is over before it’s even begun.

I have not allowed for Grace.

Ruthie will have her own journey to walk, and her mother’s dysfunction is part of that DNA. I have to trust that God’s grace will extend to her, as well, and shore up her strength to spend many long hours over many years in conversation with me so that we can maintain reconciliation.

That is not meant to give me license, but to give me peace. God began writing her story in my womb. He knew her before the stars were made. Trusting him is how grace sneaks in.

Good News / Bad News

Sleeping on the CouchThe good news is, Ruthie is no longer screaming for half an hour when we put her to bed – a revolt that began after our camping trip in July.


For some reason, after that trip she refused to go down without a fight, and every nap time and every bedtime included a half hour to forty-five minute battle of screaming and getting out of bed.

The situation, you have to admit, is frustrating in and of itself. But as a rage-er and control freak, it felt like I was fighting a twice-daily battle on two fronts – that of my strong willed child, and that of my own demons. I tried every good parenting method I could find to make the routine go more smoothly, but in the end I most often gave in to sheer threats and intimidation to control the situation. I was so emotionally drained, and felt so guilty, that the rest of the afternoon or evening was shot as far as me being productive.

Finally one day a couple months ago Bryan suggested we try putting Ruthie to bed later, which leads to the bad news: it worked, and the screaming stopped.

Why is that bad news? Because I value the evening hours as greater than gold. I need the time to recoup, to vegetate, to Get Things Done, and on occasion, to write. Delaying bed time one hour seemed like a lot to ask at the time since I was assuming the usual amount of screaming would still apply. But we’ve been in that routine for several months, now, and Ruthie crawls in bed with very little fuss.

I have to say it makes the rest of my evening much more relaxed, even if it is shorter.

I typically put Thomas to bed at the usual time, then spend that last hour with just Ruthie (- when Bryan is out of town. He does the bedtime routine when he is in town). We read books, or she takes a bath and I play with her, or we watch Emeril on the Food Network and talk about what he’s making. It’s the combination of one-on-one time with me and the later time that helps her settle in.

So I guess in the end it’s not really Bad News. I tend to look at any disruption of my will as Bad News. NOT screaming is definitely good news. And specially set-aside time with my daughter has turned out to be GREAT news.

The Level Ground

It’s interesting to me how many areas of my life are intersecting during this season – one of the side effects of so much introspection, I suppose. I’ve been reading a book that Kristin recommended, Writing from the Inside Out, by Dennis Palumbo. As a former Hollywood screenwriter and current psychotherapist, Palumbo has a unique insight into the writer’s life, and I have found this book very useful on many fronts.

He talks a lot of going the distance with writing, of not being in it for the rewards, but rather, for the craft itself. In a section he titled, “Inspiration,” Palumbo paraphrased author George Leonard from his book, ‘Mastery’ –

Leonard contends that the peaks of achievement, whether in the arts, sports, or any area of endeavor, come from a love of the day-to-day practice of the thing. Because the truth is, in any consistent endeavor, you spend most of the time not on the peaks but on the level ground, where you rarely see any noticeable improvement. If you just live for, or get pleasure from, the peaks, you never grow. Love the craft, the practice of your art, and the peaks will come.

There are many monotonous aspects to being a stay at home mom. Many days my time consists of coloring, cartoons, time-outs, and poop – things that don’t exercise the brain, but definitely exhaust it. Sometimes – even though there are more bright moments to being a mom that I can count – it’s difficult to stay motivated under piles of laundry.

Three weeks ago I wrote about a new routine I was trying out, and so far it’s been going well. I think it’s the perfect ratio of tasks to white space, because I’ve had busy days where I’ve had to shuffle things around but I’ve still managed to get it all done by the end of the week. Busy days and projects are my biggest distractions to the mundane tasks because I’d rather re-organize a closet than wash that same damn pair of pants again.

When I read the above passage in Palumbo’s book, it resonated strongly with me concerning the day to day chores of my life as well as with my writing life. It is true that life is lived on the level ground. Sometimes we despair, and sometimes we soar, but we always come back to level. At least we hope.

Having my work defined has freed me to live more in the moment, to have fun, and to adjust for spontaneity (yes, Bryan, I can hear you laughing from the basement – you can say you told me so). It has even allowed me to find a little bit of joy and sense of accomplishment in the mundane. Having a vacuumed rug, a clean bedroom, and a pleasant smelling bathroom is very rewarding.

And it means that when Ruthie, who has turned into a chatterbox overnight, relays stories and memories of her trip to the children’s museum on a bus with Bryan (because she sees a bus driving in the lane next to us), I am amused and in awe of her memory and vocabulary and ability to communicate her thoughts and make connections. I don’t turn up the radio and ask her for quiet time, but I engage. Because I’m learning to embrace the level ground, I am discovering peaks in places I once dreaded.

And even now as I’m writing this essay, I recognize the significance of this passage in my Recovery – especially when it says that the level ground is ‘where you rarely see any noticeable improvement.’ It’s like spending every day with your children, not realizing how much they are growing because you have no perspective. Then one day their pants are too short, or you stumble across an old picture, and you suddenly see them differently, and you realize they are bigger.

Recovery is a lot like that. Just when I think I haven’t changed a bit and I will always live in a funk of bitterness and anger, I read an old post or some notes in my recovery journal or a friend reminds me of how things used to be, and I suddenly have perspective. I see that I have changed.

The level ground is where it’s at, people. I’m convinced of it. The sturdier the ground you’re standing on, the stronger the rush when life peaks.

Rage Worked Out

Monday was a bad day, and I knew it from the moment my ears opened to the sounds of my daughter crying when Bryan attempted to get her back to bed again at the crack of dawn. She would not have it. As a compromise, he let her sit in the recliner in his office, watching Dora on his video i-pod, like he has done so many times.

On one hand, this is a nifty arrangement for me, as I am able to either sleep in until a normal hour or get up and have my coffee in peace. The problem lies in the aftermath when the video must be turned off and the rest of our day is to be tackled: the screaming, the wailing, the flopping, the kicking of the wall. Bryan’s attempt at integrating his daughter into his work-at-home life backfires every frickin’ time.

It definitely set the tone for our Monday, because right from the get-go Bryan and I were both the bad guys, forming a united front against Ruthie’s head turning into a t.v. screen. The difference is, he can lock the door to his office and I still had this kicking and screaming little munchkin to deal with – a fair trade-off for not having to work outside the home, I suppose.

So as Ruthie’s bad attitude continued, and my stress level in dealing with it continued to rise toward Red Alert, I decided to drop everything and get to the gym for a good, sweat-inducing, stress-relieving work out.

And here is where the story gets interesting, because Monday dropped record amounts of rain in our area, causing mass flooding everywhere, including the parking lot of my gym. So when I stepped out of my car, already irritated, and stepped into ankle deep water, I nearly grabbed Ruthie’s pink umbrella and started smashing some windows. My feet were soaked – shoes, socks, and all ten toes, and there was no way I could work out with wet feet.

I got back in the car, slammed the door, and headed for home to change my shoes so I could go to the grocery store instead – bitter and angry that my chosen method of working off some steam was stifled. But as I drove to the store in my Keens, I remembered a quote from the book I am reading: All anger is related to the question, ‘Is life (God) just’? …. Anger attempts to rectify God’s passivity by empowering us to act instead of waiting vulnerably for God to do something. It is not only a protection against harm and an energizer for battle; it is a taunt against God for apparently refusing to act on our behalf.

I felt Step 5 kicking in again (Am I willing to change? Or do I just want to talk about it?), and the tunnel vision I was experiencing began to broaden. I remembered that God is not out to Get me. I realized my Keens were made for hiking, ergo I could try running on the Monotonous Machine of Monotony with them and hope I didn’t break out in blisters.

I took a deep breath and pulled an A-Team-like u-turn back to the gym (and took care where I parked the car this time), and ended up pressing through a forty-minute workout in which my adrenaline was so high I actually sprinted full speed for the first mile and a half. My chest caught on fire and sweat soaked through every inch of my clothing, but my feet were happy and dry and I actually wondered if my Keens weren’t a better shoe for me to work out in.

I once viewed my anger like a train leaving the station – it chugged on down the line, stuck on one track until the whistle blew – and I was a helpless passenger. But now it seems more like a race horse to me – bursting out of the gate with great force at the sound of one shot, hooves pounding in the dirt toward the finish. I am not a mere passenger on this horse, though. I am a petite jockey on the back of this powerful animal, holding within my hands the ability to simply pull on the reigns and stop or redirect the horse.

God has empowered me to Change.

Rage Interrupted

Ruthie is digressing. Or relapsing. Or rebelling. Or whatever you call it when a perfectly normal potty trained three-year-old starts pee-ing herself several times a day. Oh yeah. I’m angry. And I’m not just irritated-angry or inconvenienced-angry. I’M ANGRY. In fact I’m REALLY REALLY angry. I was already angry that this was happening, but then the proverbial cherry on top was when she just now pee’d while SITTING ON MY LAP. It soaked through my pants to my underwear, and through the chair fabric into the cushion.

I wrote the previous paragraph earlier today when I was, well, angry.

I was tempted to continue on with my rage of words – the bitterness, the stabbing, the indignation – it was all fueling my adrenaline. My heart was pounding, my eyes were narrowed, my lips were pursed –

And then I stopped writing.

I just knew where it was heading – a lamenting post about what a bitch a three foot tall Dora-lover is for pee-ing in her pants. I was taking it personally. And though I believe her potty rebellion is a declaration of control and not merely a series of accidents, my response to her in recent days has, I’m sure, fueled her flame as well.

Step 5 kicked in.

Step 5, as they say, separates the boys from the men. Am I going to talk about overcoming anger? Or am I going to make a change?

(As I wrote this last sentence, it sounded eerily similar to yesterday’s post.)

As Ruthie soaked in the bathtub, I found myself cornered in the kitchen – sobbing, grieving, ashamed. I am the fat kid from Mean Creek, shaming others and making them feel small, delusioned that this will win their respect or somehow satisfy my need.

Every day that goes by, every hour, every second, every time she laughs or dances or begs me to sit with her I am aware that my time with her is fleeting. I have a narrow window to get my shit together and it better happen soon because Ruthie is smart – scary smart – and one day she may stop giving me hugs and kisses when I ask her to forgive me.

Sometimes this reality drives me to action and motivates me to change. But there are times when I believe a Lie, the one that asks, “Did God really say – ?” And I project twelve years down the road to a teenage Ruthie who hates me, who rebels, who feels unloved by me, and this makes me certain that I will never change and there is no hope.

I keep my Love List from I Corinthians taped to one of the cabinet doors in my kitchen. I refer to it often, and continue to pray that God will change my heart to reflect more of what love IS than what love is NOT.

I checked that list as I stood in the kitchen crying, and I spoke the words out loud, “Patient. Kind. Unfailing.” I was falling short on all accounts today, and I asked God to forgive me.

It was a small victory, though it seems twisted, in a way, to declare victory from within the ruins of nuclear annihilation. But the Word stepped in and set me free to move on and let go. My pulse retreated and my tightened chest released – the physical tension dissipated without being satisfied.

I was interrupted.