Saturday, August 27, 2016

Comfort is overrated

I've spent the last 7 years of my life being uncomfortable.

(Wait.  It's not a sob story.  Promise.)

There was the living in San Diego and wanting to be in Michigan, forming independent studies while being pissed off my major didn't exist, living up to the demands of a grueling internship, the purposeful planning of taking classes that I knew would challenge me (shout out to Epistemology!), the cutting out of all wanted pastries and pastas to accommodate newfound allergies, the knowing that my loved ones wouldn't be able to make it to my wedding.

Then there was the getting pregnant a month after our wedding and not being entirely sure how we were going to afford a baby, the discomfort of months of dry heaving, feet swelling, the meal planning and perpetual budgeting, the holidays spent alone away from family, the 25 hours of back labor, the emotional and physical pain of breastfeeding, the taking care of an infant as my husband entered launch mode at work, the burden of student debt, missed bills, West Coast cost of living.

Then there was the discomfort of a postpartum depression diagnosis, anxiety, panic attacks, getting on and off medicine, opening up to therapists, and the absence of friends with whom I could put all of life on "pause" and just laugh. it. out.
Where being uncomfortable brought me.
// Photo cred: Francis & Louise // 

I look back on my time since I left Michigan back in '08 and think, "Wow.  Nothing, really at all, came easy." Even the pictures we eventually hung on our walls in our second California apartment, we carefully budgeted for.

I hate using words like "counter-culture" or "secular."  Usually, when I stumble upon those words, it's a flag for me to stop reading or listening.  So I'll say as is today, it teaches us, it grooms us, to seek comfort in all that we do.  So much so we've become completely adverse to discomfort.  I get it. Being uncomfortable sucks, real bad, even in the pettiest of ways.  The first time I had to look at my favorite coffee cake in the case at Starbucks after being told I could no longer consume anything of the sort, I wanted to punch the guy behind me in line (sorry, guy.)  Having to skip holidays so you can pay hospital bills sucks.  Spending your evening dealing with toddler tantrums instead of unwinding with your husband isn't a vacation.

But being uncomfortable is the only way we grow -- the absolute only way.  Our beings do not change through gained textbook knowledge or by pinning an inspo quote on Pinterest.  We grow when we've been exposed, challenged, made vulnerable, sacrificed, suffered, been taken out of ourselves and directed our focus to others.

I've only learned this because I've been purged over the last 7 years.  Prior to leaving Michigan, I sought comfort in all that I did, always eager to satisfy my own thirsts and rarely willing to step any further.  I was 18.  But since having been gone, I've learned better.  I had a baby without community, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, I developed agoraphobia.  Time and time again, I chose to face and walk through my discomfort and, because so, I'm residing here as a different Kaitlin than the Kaitlin who resided here in 2008.  The uncomfortable path is no doubt the harder one.  Our human selves want nothing but to sit on the couch, donuts in hand, and watch Big Bang re-runs. We've been groomed to satisfy all the superficial, but we deserve to be more than what's on the surface.

So, I have to say.  Shame on you, World, with your "do what makes you feel good's" and your "it should be easy's" and "follow your heart, not your head's."  You're wrong.  Your advice has stunted our growth and has taught us to settle for living in one, single moment when we could strive for living a wonderfully challenging and rewarding lifetime.

Getting uncomfortable was the best decision I ever made.  Four homes, 3 states, 2 kids, in barely 3 years of marriage has shaped me into a person who looks at the big picture, the long run, who, no matter how many times has a panic attack or consults the wrong therapist or experiences a failed medicine, keeps trying and then says, "what's next?"  And the fruits of these past 7 laborious years, I think, are a testament to just how rewarding discomfort can be.  The friendships I have are some of the best, I have a genuinely kind, compassionate, selfless husband as my teammate, and I have 2 kids that are chunky and adorable and the sweetest of duos.

To those who are currently as uncomfortable as you've ever been, finding yourself in less than pleasant circumstance, hang on and keep trying.  And to those who are constantly hopping from one satisfaction to the other, unsure of commitment or sacrifice, I challenge you to stay, explore, get uncomfortable.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Joy only, please

When I was 7 years old, I remember being at my grandparents' house, the news on in the background, and hearing their commentary on the current state of the world.  As it seems to be with anyone 50+, their take was along the lines of it's going down hill, and fast.  Hearing them, I distinctly remember thinking "that sucks.  I have to grow up in it."

And look.  Here we are almost 20 years later.  And the "world is still going down hill and fast."

I used to be an incredibly negative person.  Ask anyone of my high school friends or anyone who has known me long enough to reach back 10 years or so.  In my defense, I wasn't negative for nothing, I had it fairly rough as a kid and grew up faster than I should have.  And it left me pretty dark.

But as I've gotten married, matured, seen and have had different experiences, and most significantly became a mom of 2, I've come to learn being negative about life, your situation, and most relatively speaking, about the world, is damaging both to yourself and to the people around you.

In light of a pretty nuts election year, you may be flying your Dem flag high or running around thinking America can in fact become great again, or you might be packing up and shipping out to Norway.  Despite the situation and your cause, these recent months have brought out the worst in many folks, and they've left a lot of angry people in their trail, all of whom are convinced the apocalypse is coming.

One of those people you won't see running around calling anyone crooked or crazy (unless they publicly demean women *ahem*) is me.  Yeah, I get riled up when thinking about the student loan crisis (and I do think it is a crisis) and yeah, I'm passionate about increasing awareness for mental health, and yeah, I'm not too keen on the idea of either candidate taking that presidential oath come January 20th.  But...that's that.  I'll do what I can on my level, in my own circle to achieve what I think should be achieved, but nothing will be achieved by me or you succumbing to and spreading despair.

I should be clear.  I think you should know what's going on in the world.  I watch nearly all the debates (even if that means streaming them online), I regularly follow up on the news, and I've have watched coverage of both the DNC and RNC.  As a Journalism major, I find those who believe you don't need to know what's going on in the world a little annoying.  But there's a difference between being informed and getting active in the political sphere and being informed and running with "this sucks."  If you think it sucks, do something about it.  On a local level in your community or most importantly in your home.

My kids will either grow up with a Clinton White House or a Trump one.  And regardless of that outcome, I need to let them know they are safe, protected, and have potential in our (already great) nation.  As they get older, I won't shield them from the realities of the world, but I won't ever lead them to believe that those realities determine their future or safety.  And saying things like "this world is going to Hell" is exactly what makes kids question their future and their safety.  If it's like this when your 70, what will it be like when I'm 70?

It's easy to get roped into the theatrics of it all, to get carried away with one issue or another and dip down to name-calling, complaining, and hopelessness.  But despite what we may see, joy is always more effective and love is what wins.  So next time you see the candidate you can't stand, I'd invite you to remember the quote from the great, soon-to-be-saint Mother Teresa, Do not wait for leaders; do it alone person to person.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Getting uncomfortable in relationships

Before I had met Tim, it is safe to say I was looking to be as comfortable as possible when it came to relationships.  I wasn't really interested in someone who challenged and questioned me.  I was interested in someone with similar interests and someone who could make me laugh.  So when I met and started dating Tim, I was surprised I wasn't completely turned off when he challenged me.  I think his drive and passion were so attractive, I couldn't help but think when he said something like "what can you do about it?"

Aside from my slightly inappropriate taste in scripted reality television, my guilty pleasure sort of love for Grey's Anatomy, and my deep belief that people shouldn't take themselves too seriously, I'm a completely different person than I was before I got married.  And that's a good thing.

It's not like Tim "saved" me or that I've completely morphed into a she-Tim backing all his opinions (we debate politics all the time) and only watch anything that takes places in the world of fantasy (he's currently super into Gossip Girl), it's that through him asking me questions that I might not want to answer and purposing change that I might not want to enforce, I've found that voice that debates politics with him.  I've learned drive, determination, and selflessness.  I discovered my all time favorite book that I never would have discovered (due to a prior hate for fantasy).  I've learned I can learn anything if I simply pull up 'Google' and that I have an upper hand in the work place if I have that mindset.  I've learned patience and goodness, Tim always the silent one in a conversation that pops up that might aim to paint someone else in a negative light.

Tim's changed, too.  And that's a good thing.  This isn't me ousting my husband, either.  He'd gladly tell you what's different about him.  He more easily laughs at himself, he's learned to better see someone else's point of view, and he loves a good and ridiculous comedy.

They say you should never get in a relationship to change someone.  And, I'd say that's only half true. Of course, getting in a relationship to take on a "project", to "save" a lost soul, is never a good idea. But getting in a relationship to stay comfortable?  That's never a good idea, either.  If you were to tell me this when I was 18, I would have said, 'yeah, right.'  But after three years married and almost 6 years together of Tim and I consistently making each other uncomfortable, I'd say "best decision ever."  Growing next to each other and helping each other to grow is one of the most rewarding parts of marriage.  It's meant moving forward, developing character, and reaching goals.  It hasn't all been easy, some of it quite hard.  Growth pretty much guarantees pain of some sort, but without it our lives wouldn't be nearly as rewarding and fulfilling.  The one thing I ran from in previous relationships is one of the top things I cherish most in my husband, and that's he's never afraid to (lovingly) challenge me.  And now, I, him.

And I'm  we're better for it.

To 100 more years of asking "what's next?"  Cheers!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Working girl

Our kids are generally good sleepers and they more often than not occupy their own beds, but this is what many mornings have recently looked like as we get settled into our temporary home.
It was my fourth day as a working mom.  I had gotten home, tossed my heels to the side and immediately felt that I've-been-in-heels-all-day ache, confronted the boxes still stacked high, tip-toed over the half concrete, unfinished floor, dodging all remnants from that day's chaos.  I was going to calm Archie, who was crying, dealing with his own exhaustion from teething pains.  As I picked him up, he projectile vomited all over me, himself, and his bedding.

The demands of wife, mom, and employee hit me, mixed in with all the regurgitated Gerber sweet potatoes and milk.

As a mom, working full-time and trying to get her family settled from a cross-country move kind of feels like finals week in college, only the week is far longer than 7 days.  I've been running on little sleep, a lot of caffeine, and I rush out the door in the morning hoping I didn't forget anything and making sure I zipped up my pants.

I'm 26 with 2 kids and a salary, but I seem to be reliving a taste of those days stumbling out of my college apartment, juggling a typed paper and a Starbucks double shot.

You would think, based on my description of my first days back at work, that I'd be miserable.  But I'm not.  I am exhausted, yes.  But for the first time in a long, long while I can breathe.  The structure and schedule working has put into my life has helped leaps and bounds in dealing with anxiety and balance, not to mention being at work has thrown me into all sorts of uncomfortable situations, all of which I've had no choice but to face head on without hesitation.

Typically, when put into a new setting I'm painfully shy.  When walking by people I don't yet know well, I'd put my head down, I'd wait to be spoken to before speaking, but I made a promise to myself that this time, I would dive into the cold water head first and not have fear and worry dictate my days. Personally, that's a real challenge, but I have to say I've been succeeding thus far and for this one (out of many) reasons I'm happy to be returning to an 8-5 schedule.

The kids?  Yeah, I miss 'em.  Who wouldn't?  (Have you seen those cheeks?)  But after spending the past almost 3 years at home with them and rarely doing the whole solo mom outing thing, I think this transition has been good for all of us.  I deliberately chose a job where I know my kids could visit me for lunch and would be welcomed with "aw's" and big smiles, and if needed, they could hang around the office for a while without consequence.    Ella and A get to spend their days with the most wonderful, kind, hilarious, soul I know, and it's already been a joy to see them develop close relationships with others aside from Tim and me.  It's because the kids spend the day with this wonderful soul that I'm able to jet off to work at peace.  (Thanks, Bridgey!)  Also, Tim works from home, so the kids are able to see him if they need daddy.

The whole stay-at-home moms vs. working moms thing?  I've put it to rest.  Having made this transition and noting how all the pieces have perfectly fallen into place, I've realized dwelling on that issue is expending energy I need to love on my kids and do my job well.  Over the past 3 years, Tim and I have been through enough change to understand life is full of seasons, so maybe one day I'll be a stay-at-home mom again.  Who's to say?  As of now though, I'm working, my kids are babysat and everyone is still laughing come 6PM.

It ain't all pretty.  The respect I've gained for working moms and single moms has shot through the roof over the last week.  What a demanding daily schedule it is.  My morning has a routine from the moment my alarm goes off (buh-bye snooze button!) to when I walk out the door regardless of how many times Archie woke up crying throughout the night.  I pray that my babies won't be cranky come 6AM, and we'll be able to do breakfast and outfit changes without protest.  Earlier in the week, my prayers were answered in a different way when Ella screamed for 5 straight minutes not wanting to put her shorts on.  She was upset with me for going to work.  She yelled "Go!" right in my face.  It was one of the hardest moments of motherhood I've faced yet, but I realized that with this transition I'm being handed new and different ways to grow in patience.

Around 10:11AM every day, my heart reaches for my kids before my head even has a second to think about missing them.  And being a mom, I know that will never go away.  In three days when Monday morning hits or on a random day 30 years from now, my heart will ache in hopes that they are laughing and smiling and happy.  But I enjoy working.  I like the challenge and appreciate the opportunity to grow.  So while I miss them, I never feel guilty, because I've chosen not to.  This is a decision I've made while considering my well-being and the common good of the family.

There will be many more days with aching feet and tired eyes, maybe even another day like yesterday when I woke up with just a half hour to be out the door, and these days will teach me how to juggle it all. But I'm doin' just fine.

Now, please excuse me.  I need to look into if double shots come in bulk.