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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I Want to Be a Really Useful Engine

I said that to my husband today. Why? It's a combination of feeling creatively impotent, earning very little money (since I quit my full-time job over a year ago), and watching excessive amounts of Thomas & Friends episodes and movies with my train-obsessed toddler.

Sure, I feed and clothe and clean up after my two little guys (and myself, too, if I'm lucky). But if that's all I get done at the end of the day, I tend to feel a little deflated. Discouraged. I feel inefficient. Unproductive. And often, unmotivated to do anything to improve.

I hate that feeling. Type A person that I am, I need to feel like I'm getting stuff done. And I don't just mean, it makes me feel good when I accomplish things. (It does.) But I seriously NEED that feeling of accomplishment. It's a drug. Checking off those boxes on the to-do list. Getting that "productivity high." It's euphoric. A rush of relief. A validation of my worth. Demonstrable evidence that I'm not totally useless. In fact, when I get stuff done - really plow through my schedule, bang bang bang, like a sniper picking off targets - I can almost feel the pat on my back, almost hear the reassuring voice of approval... and lately it sounds a lot like a certain rotund top-hat-wearing gentleman.

As Sir Topham Hatt would say, "You're a really useful engine."

But then sometimes... okay, a lot of the time... I don't get stuff done. Sometimes it's because I literally have one or more children hanging off me, making even a 45-second solo bathroom break feel like a vacation. Other times I'm emotionally spent and have nothing left to give when I finally do have the free time available to actually accomplish something outside of the feed/bathe/clothe cycle of child-rearing chores.

And in those times, when I've gotten nothing done, when I can no longer feel the pat on my back, can no longer hear even a whisper of approval... that's when the Devil creeps into the void. And he glides his reptilian hand around my shoulder, comforting me with a false sense of entitlement and pride. And he drizzles my empty ears with all-too-logical lies... about how I've failed at last... about how my true self has been revealed... about how I'm really worthless after all, no good at anything, probably never was.

I know enough to recognize these as lies. I can even summon up the bright, clean words of Scripture to contradict them. But I'm shocked at how appealing it remains to believe the lie (even when I know it's totally untrue!) and wallow in the resulting despondency.

That happened today. And frankly, it made me feel like crap.

Tomorrow... here's my plan to do better.

  1. Hear a lie? Speak the truth! Don't just remember the verse haphazardly in the back of my head. Go open my Bible, find it, read it out loud, and for good measure, write it down! It's a lot harder to believe the lie when you're seeing, hearing, and writing the truth.
  2. One and done. Skip the to-do list. Instead, just pick one thing to get done - one and only one. I read somewhere that the ideal number of items for a to-do list is 3-4. More than that, and it becomes so discouraging/overwhelming that you give up halfway through. So rather than tempt fate, make it easy. Do just one thing. As a bonus, this should make it easier to do that one thing thoroughly and well, rather than racing through it on the way to the rest of the list.
  3. Be purposefully unproductive. By this I mean, be intentional about relaxing or "being lazy." If you plan it, rather than fall into it, you feel more in control... and less guilty about slacking off. That's the theory at least.
So, that's my plan to be a really useful engine. One that Sir Topham Hatt would be proud of. And hopefully one that can be proud of myself too.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

4th of July in Higginsville: The Tradition Continues

(Alternate title: 1 Minivan, 500 Miles, and 2 Kids Under 2... What Could Go Wrong?)

Tomorrow we embark on our first family road trip in the new minivan. We are driving 500 miles (one way) to visit my family in Missouri. It normally takes 8 hours. With two kids? We'll be lucky to make it in 10 or 11. I'm already dreading/yearning for the journey.

For this is not just any road trip. This is the annual 4th of July family reunion and fireworks extravaganza! This seminal event is older than I am. And I desperately hope it outlives me too.

This is my pilgrimage, and Higginsville is my Mecca.

Numbers have ebbed and flowed over the years, but the tradition remains. Food, family, and fireworks. What could be better?

My boys are 7 months and 22 months old. C experienced it all for the first time last July, while little brother V will soon have his turn.

What am I most excited about? (Aside from the fact that this is the first summer since 2012 that I haven't been pregnant over 4th of July?)

There are fireworks, of course. The city ones and (arguably better) the ones we set off in my uncle's backyard. Don't worry; nobody's lost any fingers (yet). Prickly sparklers that you can use to write your name in the sultry summer air. Colorful smoke bombs that warm your heart (and burn your eyes). Black "snakes" that curl and hiss on the pavement. Parachutes that the kids chase and fight over. Towering fountains of color. Patriotic explosions of gunpowder and rainbow-colored streaks of sparkling light.

There's all manner of unhealthy and undeniably delicious food. Watermelon and chocolate pie. Fried chicken and corn/tomato/onion salad with vinegar so tart it makes your tongue tingle. Freshly grilled burgers and fat, sizzling brats. Coolers full of slick ice water, frosty cans of Pepsi, and glass bottles of cream soda.

There are cousins galore - first, second, third, twice removed... we got 'em all. People who share the same great-grandparents. And that's enough.

There are pallet nights. Bodies of uncles and cousins and brothers all stretched out on the floor side by side. A mound of blankets and pillows, popcorn and chocolate bars, ghost stories and family legends.

There are late-night walks around town, down side streets and through the city cemetery, or down to the local Sonic for curly fries and half-price milkshakes.

There are walks on the railroad tracks in the midday heat, the summer sunshine blanketing you in tangerine heat, the metal rails burning through your rubber shoe soles, the heat sapping your energy, making you dizzy and giddy and beautifully weak.

There are trips to the small blue house with the white porch on 23rd Street, where my great-grandparents and their nine kids lived the bulk of their lives. The house where eleven people once lived, sharing three bedrooms and one bathroom. The house, now in sad disrepair, where my grandmother was born, along with all but the youngest of her eight siblings. The house my mom would park her pickup truck in front of in the blackness of 2 a.m., after driving all night to get there, with my tiny girl self asleep in the back. The house that, despite the passage of time, still feels like "Grandma's house." Still feels like home.

There are drives out in the country, the gravel roads crunching and spitting and smoking with white dust, just as they did when my great-grandfather drove them and honked to the imaginary men out there picking corn (in the river), or fishing (in a cornfield), or to the cows who somehow "managed to get a square meal out of a round bale of hay."

What am I most excited about? The passing of the torch. The glory of tradition. The fable of the past. The whisper of the future. The names of my loved ones etched in cemetery stones. The laughter of my sons trickling over the green grass.

Happy 4th of July.