The Second Week of School, Oreos, and Rapunzel

A photo by Sonja Langford. unsplash.com/photos/eIkbSc3SDtI

We are two weeks into the school year, and I’ve come to accept some things about my daughter and myself. We are not highly structured women. Our free-spirited, gypsy souls thrive in the loose structure of summer days where schedules are flexible and planned activities are minimal. I am completely sincere when I say that it took the entirety of last year to feel halfway adjusted to the school schedule, but even during drop off of the last day I was thinking, “There has to be a better way to do this school thing”.

I was determined to have a better morning routine this school year, so I did some prep work during the weeks leading up to school starting. The long days of summer camp in the heat index of 110 concluded with my child losing her mind in the evenings; therefore, she slept in my bed quite a bit as it was a guarantee for a relatively peaceful going-to-bed process. Before school started, we worked on transitioning her back to her bed. We also did a little shopping on Amazon and purchased a Disney princess alarm clock that came with an impressive strobe light display. She loved it. She was excited about it. She popped out of bed like a Pop-Tart and cooed loving words to it.

We are now in the 2nd week of school, and the shine is off the apple. Twice this week, she has slept right through the alarm clock. I have let the infernal beeping go on for 7 minutes and 10 minutes, in hopes that it would eventually result in a child that was awake. It did not. Yesterday, I heard the alarm go off for 3 beeps and then it went silent. I waited and listened for the sound of child size 12 feet to hit the floor, but no such sound came to my ear. No child emerged from the bedroom with bed head and grumpy face. The battle of the morning time routine is rearing its ugly head yet again, my friends. Back to the drawing board!

I did try to get us in the habit of picking out her clothes the night before, and that worked great for all of 5 days. This week has been chock full of activities after work, and the outfit pre-planning has fallen to the wayside. The morning debates surrounding picture pants, princess dresses, P.E. worthy shoes and the appropriateness of wearing tiaras to school have added a considerable amount of time to our morning routine and created some less than stellar moments to start the day with.

Needless to say, the struggle with adjusting to a new school routine for May Lee and a new work routine for me has resulted in a consumption of all things Oreo that is unparalleled by all of my previous Oreo binges. It is a thing of wonder, really. It was during one such Oreo errand that I learned that I really might have lost my touch with the menfolk over the years. I ordered 2 Oreo milkshakes at a local drive-through, and please let me assure you that I did not eat both milkshakes. I had a partner in crime on this particular day. As I pulled to the window to pay for my order, a guy leaned out of the drive through window and gave me what I can only describe as his best Flynn Rider impression. You know the scene where he turns on the charm with Rapunzel? “You broke my smolder”? Yes, that is the scene I’m referring to, and like Rapunzel, my face must have reacted and betrayed my inner thoughts of “what are you doing? Is that, like, flirting? Because it’s kind of creepy…” I believe that my face must have betrayed me, because after he returned my change to me, he tossed a milkshake at me that did not have the delightful whipped topping that I had requested, nor did he provide me with a straw with which to enjoy my delicious treat.

I could have easily written off the neglected whipped cream and straw as a simple oversight. However, a young lady appeared with the 2nd milkshake, and the whipped topping was tall and proud and the straw was riding shotgun. The abrupt shift from the initial over-attentiveness to the curtness of the money exchange, the sloppy milkshake, and the young woman with the perfect milkshake had me convinced that Flynn Rider was a little upset that I found his awkward drive-through window overtures creepy. Also, can we discuss what a weird little power trip that is over some Oreo milkshakes? A girl doesn’t respond the way a guy wants her to, so he withholds small but noticeable portions of her order?

Maybe that’s just my trauma talking. Like my therapist said, maybe that is just my unhealed “wounds from being a woman” showing up, but it also wouldn’t be the first time that I would have experienced backlash from a male who didn’t get the kind of reaction that he was wanting from me. I’ve noticed that the more I accept the truth that this kind of thing has less to do with me and a whole lot more to do with what’s going on in them, the more likely I am to raise the situation to my standards. This means that I’m getting better at making sure that I don’t leave the interaction without what I entered the interaction to receive or what is due to me. I used to just run and hide and think awful things about myself and my worthiness, like I must somehow be messed up for someone to treat me that way. Now, I am much more likely to ask for what I need, to request that something be redone, and to expect respect in all interactions.

I’m far from perfect at this newfound boundary-setting skill, but I’m getting better every day. And no, I did not park my car, walk into the restaurant, and demand my whipped cream and a straw. That day, I didn’t have the mental or emotional energy to engage one more thing without completely losing my cool. But you know what, I know down to the bottom of my soul that if my daughter had been in the car with me, I would have done exactly that. It is really important to me that she is much better equipped to deal these situations than I was. I don’t want her to be in her late 30’s trying to recover her self-esteem like her mother is doing. I want her to be able to recognize when she is experiencing undeserved backlash and to be able to respond to it head on with a cool composure rather than reacting to it out of heated emotion. I want her to have enough insight into herself to be confident in her behavior when she is in the right and compassionate enough to extend grace to herself and others when their behavior falls short. Brene Brown discovered in her work, The Gift of Imperfection, that the most compassionate people were the most boundaried people, and that really sums up my goal for my daughter and myself quite nicely. Especially since we have a Rapunzel face that gives us away every time.

Girl Culture: Part 1

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This week I found myself in the high heat of a tempering process that culminated in a new and hopefully more mature perspective about women and female culture. The timing of the events that lead to this epiphany can only be by divine design, so let me preface this story with a brief synopsis of what has been stirring in my heart for the last few months.

Well, in actuality, the interest in taking a deeper look into what is going on with the female gender in culture, in church, and in relationships has been stirring in me for years. Giving birth to a daughter will do that, you know, and other things have come up at church or work, but my attitudes and relational styles have essentially remained the same. Over the summer, our church was doing a series on the minor prophets, so I was reading along in my morning quiet time. In fact, I was reading in the prophets and in the gospels at the same time, which was absolutely mind-blowing, and I was happy as a nerdy little clam.

But then an incident occurred that really stirred up some past trauma, and I discussed the incident and its ramifications on my mental and emotional state with my therapist. Being an older and wiser woman, she was able to brilliantly tie in my growing interest in women’s issues with what I was currently going through. She floored me with the undeniable truth of this simple statement “Well, your wounds are really a product of being a woman”. My awareness and perspective was immediately opened up to a higher level that allowed me to see a new and very real truth about the attacks on my life, and over the course of the following weeks some things really started to make sense.

With my interest in all things uniquely female now peaked, I found myself grudgingly leaving behind my nerdy love of those crazy prophets and hopping all over the bible. I started in Genesis, which seems like a logical choice for new beginnings and perspectives, and looked into the creation of Eve, the only being not created from the dust of the earth but from a piece of creation already animated by the breath of life. Eve was the first earthly being to recognize deception, which I found to echo beautifully in the proverbs where the voice of wisdom is the voice of a woman. The voice of the woman appears again as the voice of love in the Song of Solomon, a book that neatly parallels the proverbs. And if you really think about it, it is no mistake that the attribute of wisdom and the attribute of love is given to the same voice, the same being. Speaking truth in love is a theme echoed throughout the bible, because wisdom offered without love goes nowhere, whereas wisdom offered in love goes straight to the heart.

That is no small charge, to be the voice of wisdom and love. As I studied more and more deeply into what the female image of God really means, the responsibility grew heavier and heavier on my heart. Which leads up the events of this week, where in one day I found myself in the dead center of the crucible of female relationships. In the morning, I was rallying with multiple women who are battling in their homes a war that is common to all women. In the afternoon, I find myself in the middle of a group of women rallying against another group of women. I went home that day absolutely reeling from the effects of finding myself in the middle of those 2 extremes. My mind full of questions, I stumbled around in a haze for the next few days trying to figure it all out.

Here is what my eyes have been opened to thus far. As girls, we learn immediately what being in girl culture means. Not one of us passed through the early years unscathed from this battle. You were either “in the sorority” or you were in “the anti-sorority”. I use the word sorority here, because I can think of no other word that captures the idea of a group of women that have banded together as a closed group that allows new members in only after those members have been approved by a certain set of criteria. Anti-sorority refers to the group of women that forms in reaction to that group and the hurt it can cause. They may seem like the “good girls” in the scenario, but that group is often just as closed and just as hurtful with it’s own set of criteria as the sorority. (So not talking about Greek life here, so carry on unoffended, my Greek life friends)

And the truth is, those groups do not form and remain static. As I reflected upon how this dynamic has played out in my own life, I see now that there were seasons of my life where I slid into the sorority-like group and mentality, seasons where I slid into the anti-sorority group and mentality, and seasons when I was somehow able to rise above that dynamic and interact with all groups and all females as individuals without much static. A deeper truth about this dynamic is that it is often so ingrained in female culture that we don’t even recognize that we are sliding into those factions of femininity, or that we are being exclusive or reactionary in response to the dynamic playing out in female culture. We don’t see it and we end up placing blame and responsibility for conflict on people that it doesn’t belong to.

At least, that is how it plays out in youth. As girls, we can’t really see it. We know it’s there, but we really don’t have the first clue about what is going on. As we get a little older, we have a better understanding of the dynamic at play, and the social struggle gets real. As fully-grown women, some of us grow out of it and some of us never do. A great majority of us see it and bemoan it but continue to participate in it on some level because we can’t see a way out of it. Some of us stay bound to it as a result of the lies that our insecurities feed us and thereby blind us to the truth that will set us free from it. I can honestly say, that I have walked through all of those scenarios in my life.

What’s worse, is that the whole ugly thing ends up getting written off as being “just how women are”, and to that grossly false idea I shout a resounding “NO!” I am still sorting through the full impact and meaning of this dynamic at play, the whole idea of female culture, and what can change it to bring it back around to reflecting the female image of God as He intended it, but I do know that right now I am standing firmly on “NO!” I am officially rejecting the sorority and anti-sorority culture in all areas of my life- personally, professionally, socially, and spiritually. Finding a new way of relating and participating in female culture is going to take a place of top priority on my life overhaul to-do list. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be raising my daughter to recognize the sorority/anti-sorority dynamic, to stay away from it, to release herself from it when she finds herself in it, and to conduct herself in a manner that honors the female image of God. With that being said and publicly declared before my mom and the 3 other people that read these things, I must get busy figuring out how to conduct myself in a manner that honors the female image of God. Rest assured that you will be hearing more from me about this piece of my journey.

The End of Summer Recap

May Lee starts school on Friday, which means that the final days of summer vacation are upon us. Kindergarten awaits, and while my child is naively excited about the prospect of homework and is demonstrating this excitement through a daily practice of pretend homework assignments, I am a little more anxious about this new chapter in our lives. I, for one, am not ready for the freedoms of summer to be over, nor am I excited about the prospect of adding homework to our schedule. But really, all of that is the small stuff that I use to distract myself from the fact that my baby is starting real school. We’re moving up to elementary school where attendance counts and grades are issued. We are no longer in the safe, carefree embrace of the freedoms that come with babyhood. We are taking those first steps into the world of performance, work habits, responsibility, and future plans. And maybe you are rolling your eyes right now and thinking “Um, it’s kindergarten, pull back on the drama lady”, to which I would nod my head in total agreement with you.

In reality, however, this is a developmental milestone, and it needs to be given some weight. As a parent, it is my privilege and responsibility to thoughtfully guide May Lee and myself through this transition. I realize that this last statement may give you the impression that I have wisely considered this major transitional moment in our lives and have thoughtfully mapped out the golden path by which I will lead my little family through a garden of roses and under a rainbow arch that will bring us into the promised land of kindergarten glory. But while we are speaking of reality, let me assure you that in true Shelley style, I am just as unfocused, all over the place, and fly-by- the-seat-of-my-pants as I have ever been. Most days, I need my own baby-sitter to make sure that I don’t wander off too far and that I remember to eat a proper meal rather than snack on junk food all day.

With that being the case, I am grateful that I did a little bit of thoughtful planning and preparation for the spring and summer. If I had to name a theme or intention for the spring and summer, it would be restoring relationships, and I believe that is exactly what happened. Last spring break, May Lee and I flew to Colorado where she got to spend her birthday with her half-brother (who shares the same birthday with her) and her half-sister. I was able to reunite with old neighbors who have turned into good friends. At the same time, May Lee and I had many adventures in the snow, made some great memories, and learned that a Corolla is not the car of choice for driving on mountain roads that tend to ice over as the snow blows sideways onto them as the sun sets.

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As for the summer, we made a trip to Florida and spent time in both of the cities we lived in on the panhandle. Kicking off the trip by attending our home church in Panama City was just a blessing beyond compare. Until the day I die, I will always look for friendships that model what I saw between Mrs. Sheri and Mrs. Lori and so many of the women at Jenks Avenue. I will always know the people of that church as the people who spoke truth and love into my life, my daughter’s life, and my ex-husband’s life in some of our darkest hours. Through that body, I can say that I’ve seen the church in action and in the spirit by which Jesus desires the church to be in action, and it has changed me forever. Let me go all out and say that I saw what I believed to be impossible become possible. I think until that time, I truly believed that the church and the christians in it acting in love and not in judgement in response to “the things of the world” was a myth, a fairy-tale, a dream never to be realized on this earth. Jenks Avenue opened my eyes and proved me wrong, and I am forever grateful.

The panhandle of Florida is full of special people, and I was blessed to work and play with some of the best. I tell you what, my marriage may have been going down in flames, but in His infinite grace and mercy, the Lord provided me with an unbelievable church that changed my mind about church and an unbelievable group of professional women that changed my mind about women. This group of ladies and the ladies not pictured here (Deanna and Erica), they are the real deal. Individually and collectively, these women are the epitome of real beauty, wisdom, compassion, talent, strength, leadership, heart, and a very real ability to change the world they live in. I am a better person because of this crew.

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Shortly after reuniting with these ladies, May Lee and I drove over to Destin to spend the last few days of our trip with my childhood friend Jolie, aka JoJo. Maybe it’s because we met in 7th grade (was it 7th grade?!) that our inner child tends to come out when we get together, with all the spontaneity and laughter that implies. All of the sudden, staying up late at night then getting up the next morning in time to drive through McDonald’s for coffee and catch the sunrise on the beach seems like an awesome idea. In our younger years, it seemed like so much fun to slam ping-pong balls at each other as hard as possible, and I predict that in our golden years we will be banned from operating those electric wheelchair carts at the grocery store because of some shenanigans that we dreamed up on an ill-fated ice cream run. It restores the joy tank of my soul to spend time with JoJo.

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Upon our return from Florida, May Lee and I turned around almost immediately and took off for Kentucky. My family lived there when I was a teenager, but it had been over a decade since I’d been back. My mother’s siblings were meeting up after several years of being apart, and that idea snowballed into an event now known as the Dozens of Cousins reunion. It was so good to see the cousins that I grew up with and family members that I hadn’t seen in so long. We were able to take May Lee out to the old family land where so many memories live. Memories of my great-father’s horses and of piling into the wagon attached to the back of his green tractor with all of my cousins. Memories of picking and snapping peas with my great-grandmother in her long white gardening coat and large, wide-brimmed gardening hat. Memories of racing my cousins up the ladder to the hay loft of the old, red barn. That was good stuff, my friends. I can’t help but leave that place and those family members with a deeper sense of legacy.

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If I may compare our summer to an ice cream sundae, those trips would be the giant scoops of delicious ice cream. The cherries on the top of the summer sundae would be art camp at AJ’s and 3 weeks of day camp at Wyldewood. Art camp has inspired May Lee’s current dream of being an art teacher when she grows up. I can tell that Audra had a tremendous influence on May Lee, because gift-giving is my child’s love language and she made a bracelet for Audra and took it to camp on the last day. The relationship blessings continued by way of the counselors at Wyldewood. May Lee came home every week with stories of favorite counselors and almost no memory of the actual activities she participated it. Without a doubt, it has been a summer of relationships.

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If history proves true, I will not be as prepared for school as some of the other mothers. On the first day, we will likely be getting dressed by pulling clean clothes out of laundry baskets rather than off of hangers from our closets or from neatly laid out garments that form a human silhouette. Once dressed, we will proceed to the carport by way of a living room that is cluttered with yoga mats, stuffed animals recently procured from yard sales, and several art projects in various states of completion, so that we may convey ourselves to school in a vehicle that has acted as a greenhouse for a combination of toys, food, and trash for so long that it has now decomposed to the point of forming a unified mass where the original components can no longer be identified. Even though we will likely qualify as hot messes by all outward appearances, inwardly our hearts will be full, and to me that is a pretty great way to start a school year.

 

 

A Word About Grief

By trade, I am a therapist- the mental health kind- and I have spent many years studying, observing, and theorizing about human behavior. Since grief is an inevitable part of the human experience, it has been a theme of study and practice throughout my career. Every culture, every group, and every family has its own beliefs, rituals, and traditions surrounding loss, dying, and death, and they serve an important purpose in the survival of that group.

Grief and loss signal to a family or group that it is time to circle the wagons, to move closer together, to conserve and share resources, and to work for the benefit of the entire group. There is a kind of unity inside of grief that is not experienced during any other time. At least, that is what a healthy grieving process looks like. I think about the atmosphere of unity in grief that our country experienced during the days following September 11th with all of the amazing stories of humanity transcending one of its darkest hours with faith, resilience, and bold acts of generosity and kindness. People worked sacrificially to meet each other’s needs, because everyone knew instinctively that it was time to take care of each other. It was time to circle the wagons and people didn’t wait for instructions on what to do or worry about how others may perceive their actions, they simply acted.

September 11th was a trauma to all of us, and we are learning more and more that trauma is inter-generational. That means that even the kiddos that were born years later are subject to the repercussions of the original trauma. We know that in families, the effects of trauma often result in addictive behaviors, even several generations away from the original trauma. The addictive behaviors serve the purpose of avoiding the pain associated with trauma, and it blocks the natural and healthy process of grief and recovery.

When I look at our country today, I see unresolved trauma and a pattern of addiction. The trauma of 9/11 was so great that the stress still runs through our veins. At some point in our collective grieving process, fear was able to weave a destructive web around our hearts and minds. With each new tragedy, large or small, our collective nervous system was overwhelmed and unable to manage the heartache of a new loss. We retreated to whatever soothed us, to whatever temporarily numbed the pain. Then the next tragedy occurred and we again retreated to our self-soothing mechanisms, and this cycle has played out so many times that we don’t even need to retreat any more. At this point in the cycle of our collective addiction, there is no one left in the middle to retreat outward when tragedy strikes. Everyone is now permanently spread out, isolating in their sanctuaries of false security, and attempting to communicate with each other by shouting across the divides.

Friends, what happens when the wagons aren’t circled but are spread far and wide with no form of effective communication? The answer should make your blood run cold, because you know the cost is high and the loss of life is imminent.  If we want to survive, we can no longer allow our first response to tragedy to be debates over policy. Don’t get me wrong, the social activist in me loves a good policy debate, but I truly believe that our retreat behind policy is taking the human element out of the tragedy. It is our drug, numbing the pain and heartache so we don’t have to feel it anymore.

Like everyone else, I don’t have answers or fixes for the senseless tragedies that our country continues to experience week after week, but I do know that collectively we are trauma-weary and coping in an unhealthy way. I also know that without unity we will be devoured, either by our own unhealthy pattern or by an outside force that we are now too unhealthy to defend against. It could be that those first steps toward unity may lie in allowing ourselves to grieve together once again. If we grieve together as one nation, we will not be washed away by the sadness. We will transcend as we draw closer and are able to really hear each other again.

Friends, it is time to circle the wagons.

I Judge You if You Look Good

It’s true. I confess. I judge people by their appearance. You’re shocked, I know, because we never talk about people’s appearance in this culture. And after you wade through the thickness of that sarcasm, I am going to deviate from the usual conversation about media and women and the unhealthy standards that the larger culture throws out there and narrow the conversation down to my little world and my own weird issues. While I’m sure that is super weird to be worried about your appearance because people follow you around with cameras and plaster your picture all over creation, that is not my life and not my weird, so I’m going to stick with what I know.

I’m the type of gal that finds a shirt I like and buys 6 of them in different colors. True story. I’m sure you saw the Steve Jobs story about decision-fatigue and how he wore the same black turtleneck everyday rather than waste valuable brain power on deciding on what clothes to wear. I would like to throw myself and my 6-of-the-same-shirt in with the likes of Steve Jobs, but I really haven’t made that kind of contribution to society so I’ll settle for plain ol’ single-parent decision-fatigue. To be fair, it’s really a type of fatigue that is common to anyone responsible for dressing a small child. Once you’ve spent 30 minutes of your life trying to figure out what shirt your child is referring to when she says “I want to wear my garden shirt”, then abandoning that mission and attempting to sell her on wearing the very on-trend Frozen shirt with Anna and Elsa on the front that is currently clean and easily accessible only to land head first into a very confusing power struggle over pants with belt loops that are not jeans and can only be jeggings or leggings, you understand that sort of fashion-related decision-fatigue.

So, yes, when I see these other moms and single-moms walking around looking like they just stepped out of a magazine, I wonder what planet they came from and how on earth do they have the time and energy to do that. I have a little bit of that egocentric thing  that believes that everyone is “like me”and when faced with the task of putting oneself together for the day in a way that requires any real effort summons their inner Sweet Brown and proclaims “Ain’t nobody got time for that!!!”. But clearly, some of you do have time for that, and I hear rumblings that others of you actually enjoy it. Absolutely fascinating.

Then there is church. Do I really “come as I am” or do I break out the “Sunday best”, and how does one walk that tight-rope of appropriateness when there seems to be so many strong feelings on the subject. I must confess that when the “strong feelings” start coming out, a rebellious streak rises up in me and I want so very badly to show up at that church donning a bed sheet toga. It is, after all, similar to what one might have seen in the first century church. Just keeping it biblical, not to mention incredibly mature. But I have to imagine that in the crowds of 3,000 and 5,000 people that followed Jesus around, there were all kinds of fashion choices represented, and I highly doubt that any of them were thinking about whether or not they were over or under dressed. They were focused on Jesus.

So now that I’ve thrown in a Jesus Juke on top of scaring you with the inner workings of my brain, I have to flip the script a little and tell you about how all of that has changed a little bit over the last few weeks. You see, I have had to come to terms with some self-sabotaging that I was doing in relation to taking care of myself. I mean, who does a 10 week running clinic and gain 10 extra pounds by the end of it? And don’t try to make me feel better by saying it’s all muscle, because I wasn’t pounding weights people, I was running intervals for 30 minutes 2-3 times a week. I was, however, pounding Oreos and cupcakes and leftover chocolate cake from the mess hall at work, so you can see how that might counteract any positive momentum gained by the work in the running clinic.

Oddly enough, this week I’ve found that my new found “hustle” was mostly related to taking care of myself and not so much to finances. When I found myself sliding down the warm, inviting slope of apathy, hustle compelled me to change into workout clothes and do a Jillian Michael’s DVD while May Lee took a nap. Then it had me in the kitchen cooking up some recipes from the Daniel Plan so I wouldn’t encounter any “food emergencies” at work this week. I met up with my running partner and hit the running trail again. I even consistently wore a little bit of make up this week, and that my friends, is a big progress for me in the appearance department.

While I will never be the full make up, full hair, and designer outfit type, there is something to taking care of yourself and being happy with how you look. I’m still feeling the whole thing out and will always fall on the side of believing that you can never fully enjoy a Saturday without indulging in wearing yoga pants and no make up and pulling semi-dirty hair back into a pony tail, but there is something to be said for always giving your best effort and that applies even to the effort you put into yourself.