Back in America. What Now?

Today I’m linking up with some brilliant writers I met through the book launch team I’m on. The theme this week is “What Now,” and we’re sharing about transitions and changes. This is a good one for me to start with since I get to do a lot of transition and changing in my family.

So here I am, almost 10 months after moving back to the States from a three-year tour in the Middle East. It’s just enough time to feel like the major areas of transitions are mostly stabilized.

My focus for the first few months after moving into our new place was to get the kids settled. Find them beds, friends and routine and help them process all the changes from the only life they knew previously. The kids are by far the most resilient of us, but we couldn’t overlook what their little hearts and bodies go through.

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At one point, this was the furniture in our living room. Got iPad? Kids’ll be just fine!

As they were getting settled, I also worked to get our house set up. We received all our earthly goods in three shipments over the course of four months, so it was (is) a slow process. I took full advantage of neighborhood sale groups, Craigslist and rediscovered an old love-thrift shops-to furnish and decorate.

My husband jumped pretty quickly into his new assignment, a fast-paced job that requires long hours and frequent travel. These are not new facets of his job, we just had to get used to the differences of living in the D.C. area while dealing with them.

We had maintained a close connection with our church in D.C. and the transition to going back has been sweetly easy. Our kids are loved and thriving in the children’s ministry. John and I have found areas to use our gifts to bless others in the church, but mostly have been in receive mode for others’ gifts during this re-entry time.

Through all this, there was a pretty major area I mostly ignored in the way of being intentional about the transition. Me. Maybe this is something we do as moms or as women or humans, but I know I’m not alone in putting myself last.

Oh sure, I read plenty about putting the oxygen mask on yourself first and self-care and filling my tank so I have extra to give, but it’s much easier to read than do. I’m the last person who’s going to tell you how important all that is, because I’ve done a pitiful job of doing it.

Until recently.

I explained it to my counselor like this: I didn’t have much margin or resources to handle some of the hardships of being in the desert, so I stuffed them down to deal with “later.” There were babies to have, toddlers to raise, jobs to struggle with, home-preschools to start, husbands to support, home churches to run, Bible studies to lead, trips to take, bomb threats to wait out, sand storms to weather, and groceries to buy (a much harder task than you’d expect when you factor in scheduling drivers and stores closing for prayer).

Look, there are some good, beautiful things in this list. My kids had a wonderful time there and still talk about how much they miss it. They had a charmed life. My husband had a different kind of wonderful time, with an engaging job and living in what can absolutely be called “a man’s world.” So, I absorbed most of the “suck.” (I also had a very good life there, but that’s a different post).

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In a world where only men can drive, you have to start them young.

Now I’m here, in the land of the free, with so much goodness and green grass around me, but I’ve got all this stuff compressed inside.

My compressor is at capacity now. My “stuff” is leaking out and I’m flinching from my bursts of anger and stepping in puddles of depression. I don’t recognize my thought patterns and don’t trust my instincts anymore. It’s “later,” and I need help dealing with it. I need someone else with their oxygen mask on to help me with mine.

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To prove my point, here is a screen shot of a Google Image search for “airplane oxygen mask.” I GET IT!!

Help for me looks like this these days: Healing Prayer appointments, professional counseling (can I get a Hallelujah!?), membership at a gym with free childcare, and permission from John to take a morning every week to write and ignore the dishes.

What’s next? With the support of my family and dear friends, I’m going to get my Self unpacked and healthy again. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), there’s no time table for that, so who knows how long it will take. I’m sure it will give me plenty to write about, so hooray for you!

If you have a moment, please check out the other blogs linked here to see how others are writing about transitions and changes. Thank you!

Of Musical Geniuses and Laminations

The copy machine at my daughter’s school turned into a time machine the last time I used it.

What’s really weird about it is that it took me to two different places at once, a parallel universe within a time warp, if you will.

It was parent-teacher conference day and I had accidentally arrived an hour early for my appointment. Earlier this year I volunteered to be on call for lamination projects, so I put the extra hour to good use to help clear out the task basket.

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Instead of the school hallway though, I was suddenly 17 years ago and a few hours down the road. I worked at a big office supply store as one of my many jobs in grad school. I loved working there. You wouldn’t guess by my messy desk, but I love organization. I might actually love the idea of being organized more, but just working in that store allowed me to live in an organizational fantasy.

Life got even better when I transferred to the copy center, or should I say, “heaven.” I really did enjoy making copies (ooh, do you want that double-sided, collated, color, on cardstock?), binding documents, laminating, and helping design business cards and banners. I mean, I was Leslie Knope before she was.

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For someone like me who likes to check off boxes and have something pretty to show for a day’s work, the copy center was my happy place. Don’t even get me started on the thrill of being able to clear a paper jam without needing the manual. Give me that work order, sir or madam, and I will give you your completed project.

As I copied and clipped little clock worksheets in my daughter’s school so the children could learn to tell time, I easily settled back into the sweet rhythm of my copy center days.

The other place the time machine took me was a not so distant time, but a very far off place. When we moved to the Middle East almost four years ago, I had a hook-up for a job at an international preschool teaching music to the little ones. I’ve decided to do a whole separate post about this job, but for now I’ll say it was one of the worst I’ve ever had.

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They did give me a cake on my last day there, so it wasn’t all bad!

I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I didn’t know how to manage the classes. I had so many students in so many classes at different levels, with no training for either teaching music or teaching children. Doing both in an international setting with language and cultural barriers, being pregnant and enduring culture shock and a 2-year-old who was also adjusting to all these changes just about did me in. I looked forward to the semester ending almost every day from the first one.

As the end of the semester loomed, I learned that I had to fill out report cards and do parent teacher conferences. I had over 70 students on a bi-weekly basis and had to fill out a report card for every one of them!

Then, to do parent-teacher conferences? Thankfully, I had only three kids’ parents sign up to meet with me, and only two showed up. I asked for some guidance on the meetings, which was that the parents usually just wanted to hear that their child was a musical genius. If I was under-qualified to be teaching these classes, I was negatively qualified to make the “musical genius” determination. I ended up telling these parents that they should pursue individual lessons for their children if they were interested, and keep them exposed to all kinds of music, which would help them in all kinds of learning. They heard what they wanted to.

Stepping back into the present, I shuddered as I waited for Ayla’s teacher to tell me what a genius she is. I’m so glad I’m not on the other side of that little classroom table anymore! I’m more than happy to do my part by the laminator.

(In the final approach to my 40th birthday, I’m contemplating my past, present and future. You’re likely to see more posts like this and I hope you stick around!)

 

 

14 going on 40

Oh good, you’re just in time to hear one of my embarrassing secrets about my past.

When I was in high school, I was sure that once I got my ears pierced, my life would be instantly, completely and permanently better (or, using the lingo of the day, “rad”). My mom’s rule for all four of us kids–boys and girls– was that we could pierce whatever we wanted after we turned 16. Before you think she was a complete prude, I’ll have you know that we could dye our hair any color we wanted starting at 13, but piercings had to wait.

So you can better appreciate my naiveté, here’s some background. I returned from a two-week trip to India with my church’s youth group in late summer of 1992 to learn I was starting my junior year at a big public school. I was 14. And #ohbytheway school started the next day! Talk about culture shock! Up until then, I’d always been either homeschooled or in small private Christian schools. Fourteen is young for 11th grade, yes? Because of my home/private schooling, I’d completed all the requirements for 10th grade without knowing it. I turned 15 a few weeks into my junior year, but I was still pretty young and lost in that big school.

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Pretty young and lost .But great hair.

It didn’t take long, though, to determine who the popular, pretty girls were and where I fit in (or didn’t) with the different crowds. I studied those pretty girls and figured that if I could have earrings like they had (early 90s=big, glorious hoops), I’d be 90% on my way to getting a boyfriend. (The rule that I also couldn’t date until I was 16 was an obstacle, but I had a plan.) Once I had a boyfriend, I’d have the self-confidence to be popular and good at everything, and also successful for the rest of my life. The other 10% had to do with my hair and glasses, but with cool earrings, a popular girl would take notice of me, recognize my potential and give me a makeover. I had seen the movies.

I’m laughing at little Anna right now, but also want to give her a big hug and present some realistic expectations. Today, though, I’m not all that different than her/me.

I’m turning 40 this September. I’m one of those people who doesn’t mind getting older. Maybe it’s because I was the youngest in the class my whole life, but especially from 11th grade on, that I’ve valued aging. As those numbers go up, so has my appreciation for life and understanding of what I contribute to it.

The “earrings” of this stage in my life is my long-held belief that by 40 I will have It All figured out. I’ll know what I want to be when I grow up and be on a steady track toward it. I’ll be in the greatest shape of my life, still able to fit into my wedding dress and look great in tank tops. I’ll be a patient, joyful mom, and a sweet, selfless wife. Faith won’t be a struggle and I’ll be able to express it perfectly in words both written and sung (both of which will be publicly validated and in high demand).

(Are you laughing, too?)

So 40. Yeah, 40 is where it all comes together. Questions are answered and self is done being formed. I’ll know who I am and where I’m going.

Fifteen-year-old Anna is shaking her head at me with her newly pierced ears still throbbing. Even though Mom let me get my ears pierced a year early because of my skipped grade (and she loved me), I didn’t instantly get a boyfriend (shockingly), self-confidence or life success. I don’t think anything even changed! I was still little nerdy me.

Fifteen-year-old Anna is suggesting that my dreams of being 40 are probably not very realistic. My immediate retort is that maybe we can bump the “dream age” back to 45, since I got married and had kids so much later than initially planned. 18-year-old newly drivers-licensed me is probably going to knock that idea down, too, though.

Now you know my secret. I’m almost 40 and I don’t have my life together yet, and may not get there in the next few months. (I do still have awesome hair and black and white striped shirts, so there’s that.)

Did you have an age or stage you anticipated in your life that turned out differently than you planned? Or not? Has anything in life gone as you planned? Can you look back and see that you did get “there” eventually, just not the way you thought? Or you never got there and that’s ok? Is that too many questions? #okIllstop

Love in the Preschool Drop-Off Line

 

To the caregivers:

The Grammas and Grandpas,

The Dads and Moms,

The Nannies and Aunties,

Who fight the good fight every day or three days a week to drop off their precious little monsters at preschool.

img_0646I see you lugging your preschooler and their even younger siblings in for drop-off, getting that stroller and car seat and diaper bag and school bag out, and holding on to all the wiggly, sticky hands as you cross the parking lot full of anxious drivers wanting to use up every quick minute of the short preschool day.

I see you braving the wind and rain and ancient elevators and narrow hallways, herding those little explorers past water fountains and coat racks to deliver them safely to the wonderful hands who will teach and entertain them (and be entertained by them) for a few hours while you do other important work.img_0647

I see you there in the hallway, negotiating with a tantruming toddler who is wearing the wrong shoes (even though they were his favorite yesterday) and acting like this is the first day of a life sentence to hard labor instead of a Tuesday in the fifth month of school.

I see your faces as you are nearing the end of probably the 17th task you’ve had today, at 9 am, to leave that wee one with someone else. You can’t help but smile at the other little sweeties making the same trek. They’re so cute when they aren’t ours, aren’t they? You make eye contact with the other caregivers, and you speak without talking, “We’re almost there! We did it! They’ll be fine. Let’s get out of here!”

I think of how simple it was for our ancestors; just plopping the toddler down in the mud or field and going on with their work. They knew the other people in the village would help keep an eye on them, as all the children were all of theirs. Even though our society has evolved and now we have a complicated system of car seats, traffic laws, background checks and classroom rules, we’re still essentially plopping them down and going on with our work. We know that all the children are all of ours.

So, cheers to you caregivers dropping off. This is a good work we do. We may or may not miss these days when the tots get old enough to make their own way to a longer school day, but we can know they’re meaningful now. The important work we do on these days isn’t just what we “get” to do while our kids are in their brightly decorated classrooms.img_0648

It’s good work to get them out of the door at a tortoise’s pace and to handle one hundred questions or protests from the back seat. It’s good work navigating the obstacle course of crowded parking lots and hallways. It’s even there in the “been there” smiles to our fellow caregivers.

It’s this way we’re demonstrating to these little ones that we belong to each other, and it’s well worth the hard work to be together. It’s showing them that we aren’t their only caregivers worthy of trust, and that this is a good world for them to be a part of. As slow as they move to get ready for preschool these days, they’ll be flying out of our nests tomorrow. It’s good for us to see that we’re not caring for them alone, and it’s good to practice the handoff.

I’m proud of us, preschool drop-offers! Good work!

(See you at pick-up!)

 

 

“Holding All The Elephants”- I’m published!

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Hi friends!

How’s your December going so far? Fast? Mine is!

December for us is not only the celebration of Advent as we prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas, and the finish line of the year, it’s the ramp up for our kids’ birthdays. Judson turns 3 (THREE!!) a few days after Christmas, then Ayla turns 6 (Also.. SIX!!!) the second week of January. We’re doing a combined party for them for the third year in a row, which we’ll continue to do as long as we can get away with it!

I don’t know if you’ll remember this, but way way back in March I mentioned an article I submitted to Thryve Magazine. It was supposed to be published online in June, but it was delayed until just last week. So, reallyquickdrumroll, it’s out now!

Here’s the link: http://shop.thryvemag.com/pages/the-harmony-issue

Right below the picture of the laptop, it says “View Harmony Here,” so click on that and then it opens the magazine in an app called Issuu. My article is on page 106.

I wrote about a time when I was drowning in anger and didn’t know it, how much I don’t trust God and also about elephants. It’s a fun piece.

This is the longest and most spiritual and serious piece I’ve had published and I’m feeling both excited and vulnerable about it. I’d love for you to read it and give me some feedback if you have time. The format of the magazine doesn’t allow for comments, so please come back here or email (annasjoy at gmail) me. I can take constructive criticism and I’m always looking for ways to be a better writer and communicator, so I could use more than just “likes.”

My friend, Brandy Lidbeck, who just published an amazing book for survivors of suicide called The Gift of Second, is on page 130 with an article about the lies we believe (but shouldn’t).

Thank you for your love, encouragement and support this year. I’m planning to post a few of my Advent/Christmas related writing in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what you’re up to.

Guest Posting: Dear Daughter Letters

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Bre and her husband Ian (who took this pic) are some of our original people and they finally got to meet my happy boy on a quick visit to town today.

A few years ago, I wrote a letter to Ayla trying to describe the richness we had in our lives due to our people. I intended it as a blog post, but whenever I opened it to post, the timing didn’t feel right.

A few weeks ago, my For The Love launch team buddy, Lauren Flake, requested entries of letters to daughters for a Dear Daughter series on her blog, For The Love of Dixie. I submitted mine and now it’s published! Hooray!

Here’s the link: http://loveofdixie.com/dear-daughter-people/

Please pop over to her site to read it and while you’re there, leave a comment and look around at some of the other great entries.

(Speaking of comments, if you leave a comment here, I do my best to respond. You have to check the “Notify me of new comments via email” box right under the comment box to see my reply.)

The post you should probably just skip

I’ve been wrestling with this post for about 25 days, but I think it’s time I publish it so I can move on. I’m taking a firm stance against something many people hold dear. I’m sharing negative thoughts and feelings on an issue in a way that I usually just keep to myself. I’m standing in stark opposition to many of my friends and neighbors, but it’s really nothing new about me, y’all just didn’t know it before. Once this is out there, it’s out there. No going back. I’ll probably instantly regret clicking the publish button, but here goes.

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October is not my favorite month. What I want to say is that I hate October, but I tell my kids “hate” is a very strong word and should be used sparingly. So, I’ll just go with I really really really dislike this month and use hate a bit later.

Now, some of my best friends love October, and I can respect them for that. I’m not trying to say that everyone should feel the way I feel about October. I’m happy for you if you love it. I may not understand or agree with your reasons, but if you’re happy, I’m not trying to take that away from you. Please don’t take it personally, unless your name is October, then of course  you know I love you. Even if you love everything on this list, I still love you and I hope you can still love me when you hear all my grievances with the 10th month. (Or you can stop reading now and save some shred of your admiration for me.)

1) Football. It’s on some channel every night of the week. And baseball is still on for most of the month, so there is no escape from sports on TV. Take me out to a ballgame, I’m a happy girl. Sports on TV, not so much (Olympics are the exception! And maybe now the World Series since Cubs.). In our current home, we don’t have an actual TV, since it has been in transit from the Middle East to Virginia for the past five months, so we watch TV on our computers and devices. So that’s multiple screens being watched. By the same person. In the same room. Three games at a time? No problem. Except, yes problem. Can we fast forward to the Super Bowl and be done with this sport for the year?

awareness-ribbons-and-their-meanings_55ca34a839f96_w15002) Awareness Months. According to Wikipedia, October is home to no less than 25 awareness causes. And they’re big ones, too: Breast Cancer, Down Syndrome, Bullying Prevention, Pregnancy and Infant Loss. Every year there seems to be more. Each and every cause is dear to someone’s heart and all month long my social media feed is crowded with fundraising and awareness posts. Ok ok ok, I’m aware, I’m sad, I’m heartbroken, I see you, I’m holding a place for you, but my little ol’ heart just can’t hold it all and I just want to crawl into a hole until November (only 7 causes there). I’m already overwhelmed with the broken state of the world anyway and October’s awareness month bonanza about does me in. Why saturate October? I’m sure January, February, March and July could all hold a few more causes. At least October is also National Pizza Month, so I can eat my feelings for a cause!

3) Election seasons. Do I even need to expound on this? 2016 is especially bad, but every year this is the last lap for politicians to do their best (worst?) to get votes and I just want to mute everything.

4) Pumpkin Spice. Everything is pumpkin spice, which is bad enough, but then all the people crazy about pumpkin spice everything never ever stop going on and on about it. Stop the madness and give me my peppermint everything!

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5) Columbus Day: We get one official day off this month and it’s to commemorate someone terrible. I love that in some communities, they’ve changed the name of the holiday to celebrate something else, but come on, it’s 2016! Can’t we do better?

6) Halloween. First, there is one and only one thing I like about this holiday. Cute and clever costumes. I love it when families wear theme costumes or work together to make homemade costumes. I’ve had fun dressing my own kids up as our last name, but I think we’ve reached the ages where that’s not going to work anymore. Sigh.

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Ayla on left, Judson on right (twins 3 years apart)

I hate the glorification of everything scary, gross, slutty, demonic, death-related, and gory. People here start decorating early in the month and it’s inescapable by the end. Everywhere in my once-sweet neighborhood there are ghosts, corpses, bloody heads and hands and zombies. If it were just spiders and skeletons, I don’t mind. That’s nature and science! But this world is hard and scary enough as it is, I don’t understand the need or desire to spend money on making it worse.

Here’s another thing. I have a problem with candy. I don’t like having candy in my house, I don’t like people giving my kids candy, I don’t like my kids asking for candy constantly when they know we have it, I don’t like the expectation that I’m going to give someone else’s kids candy (or whatever healthy or non-food alternative is suggested). I have this problem every holiday that involves candy (which is all of them), but Halloween is the worst.

I realize my issues with this holiday are very personal and American culture is not going to let Halloween go away, so I’ll just have to continue navigating my way through the blood-soaked headless corpses that line the way, but I don’t have to pretend to like it!

I have social anxiety about this, too, because I don’t want to make other people feel bad if they do like Halloween. I don’t want to miss out on the opportunities to get to know people in my community by avoiding events. I don’t like feeling like the weird one for not wanting to spend money on costumes, decorations or candy that serve a purpose that I wholeheartedly disagree with.  I thought we’d avoid Halloween when we moved to a Muslim country. Halloween is forbidden there, so we’d be safe, right? No! The Embassy went all out to decorate the halls and even outside public spaces, so for the entire month of October I had to take my kids through a haunted hallway just to go to the pool. It was out of control! I’m seriously not trying to take away anyone’s right to celebrate or decorate for whatever reason they choose, but there is no space for me to not have it in my face. November first can not come soon enough!

So, there it is. All my soul vomit about October, released to haunt cyberspace forever. But vomit is gross, so that’s in the spirit of Halloween, right?

All month-shaming aside, I know plenty of good things happen in Octobers. Wonderful people are born in Octobers and many good times ensue. I, myself, have experienced God’s new mercies every day so far this month, spent time with people I love and, for the most part, enjoyed life. It’s just a month and I can get through it, having many meaningful and enriching experiences. November is one of my favorite months, so if I have to pass through October to get there, I will. Every year. (Unless/Until I figure out a way to skip it.)

How about you? Want to correct me on why October is absolutely the best month ever or commiserate with me on why it’s not? Do you have any coping strategies I could use to get through it or referrals to a therapist who could help me work out some of my issues (but not all of them, I still want to be funny)?