Thanks so much for the kind comments, texts, and emails after my last post. It’s natural to become overwhelmed and feel buried beneath the weight of the everyday mundane sometimes, but we all forget to be kind to ourselves. Just hearing, “yes – me too” from a few of you plus the encouragement to take care of myself helps so much. Thank you.
This weekend picked me up a lot, and though it wasn’t restful with two kids and a busy schedule, it was a good reminder of what I’ve got. It’s more obvious to me in recent months that I am a part of a larger whole, a larger community, in a number of different ways. And a sense of belonging can make such a difference.
Friday afternoon brought Norah’s first soccer “practice” – or really soccer play time if we are being honest. She mostly wanted to do this simply because her brother does it as well. It’s a 6-week session for 3-year-olds, and it’s cute to watch.
They are both getting to these ages that are obviously still very young in the grand scheme of things, but feeling big to me in the immediate moment. We have real conversations and they are their own unique little people. Aside from that, I also see them developing their own relationship between the two of them as well. They know each other in a different way than I know them, if that makes sense. Their little world with their specific perceptions and observations. Sometimes I just try and stay out of the way as they feel that out.
When we got home, our neighbor was having an impromptu tea party that was decided the night before and casually mentioned in the driveway as the kids played. I’ve touched on this before, but I got so unbelievably lucky landing in this little spot. There’s no doubt in my mind that there was divine intervention guiding us here. Anytime I feel alone or overwhelmed in this parenting journey, I need to remember to open my back door or look out my window. It’s a village, and my kids feel the comfort of belonging here in the very best way.
Sunday brought a baby shower for a college friend of mine, and a few of us got to catch up over lunch just before the party. Including baby boy yet to arrive, there are ELEVEN (How did that happen!?) kids among us, I realized. We each have our own stories of triumph and loss and disappointment and new beginnings, and it’s created such a safe space free of judgment. I can tell these girls anything — and I often do. We talk parenting and life and nonsense when we are together. And we laugh a lot.
I ran across an Anne Lamott quote a week or two ago that I shared on Facebook that explains, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.” I’m gripping to this idea and knowing it has to be true, right? I keep doing the next right thing, and the next, and the next – as best I can with every move. And I know sometimes I miss the mark because I am human. But I’m trying hard.
I have no vision of exactly what my future will look like, but I assume if I keep stacking up all the good things around me, it has to work and all come together. Right now, I am waiting and watching and working, as Lamott says. The waiting is the hard part. It’s harder than the work. But sometimes I forget that I am not waiting for some blanket of grace and wholeness to cover my entire self all at once. It never works that way. It comes in tiny drops and little waves, and you have to keep your eyes open to see it.
Right now, I just have my finger on the pulse until the rest unfolds. I can hear that rhythm – thump, thump, thump. Good things are there when my eyes are open to see them. I’m still keeping up with my happiness jar and scribbling notes each night before I head up the stairs for bed. Sometimes I grab a handful and read what I’ve written. These tiny beautiful seconds I might have forgotten otherwise. How funny that they are what glimmers at the end of the day. August 23rd Clean house, rainstorm, midnight, in bed alone with a new book. // September 19th Grocery run with kids after dinner on a Saturday night. Both helpful, so sweet. Late summer sun perfect on them as they skip across the parking lot. // September 13 Kids back after a weekend away. Downstairs clean, soup in the crockpot, all of us home. // September 10 Jude drawing at the table while I wash dinner dishes. Quiet concentration, long eyelashes looking down at his paper. Last weeks of late daylight.
How strange that we all focus on the big things, those big moments of achievement. When really the pulse of my life – the moments that remind me I’m safe and alive – it is all held in the seconds we forget.
I’m not sure where I am going with this tonight – only that it has been more than a week since I’ve last written here, and I like to stay current in my journaling right now, so I want to check in for a moment and reflect.
The daily activities that make up my days leave so little room for breathing space. I’m not alone in this as so many working parents are in the same position. But it seems especially challenging in this past week when academic papers are flowing in and stacking up faster than I can grade them. Tuesday had us at the ENT for Jude’s appointment and Wednesday had Norah and I home for her school’s teacher work day, so I’ve missed desk time and the week has become disjointed and overwhelming. All the little things. They feel big this week.
We did make it to Jude’s school for lunch yesterday though. He was excited to see us, and they place you on the stage when parents come to eat with you. He felt special, I think. And Norah was fascinated with the experience of eating at “kindergarten school.” She walked in carrying her Frozen lunchbox and wearing a dress she chose for the occasion. Little things go a long way at these ages. I’m so grateful for that at a time when little things are all I can muster sometimes.
I’m fighting hard to rest in the good enoughs right now and stop demanding more more more of myself. But to be honest, I am failing miserably. I’m nearing the one year mark of when things changed for me, and things are finally settling in and smoothing out around here, and I’m feeling itchy. Feeling like I should be doing more than I am. I’m dancing on that line of comparison we all feel drawn to, and I need to work harder to fight that. I’m so tired of working hard though. I’ve learned immeasurable lessons and grown so much in this past year, but I’m tired. I’m ready for something to be easier, and I’m mostly talking about my relationship with that inner critic. I’m ready for her to quiet down for good. But I think maybe she never does for some of us. This is just life. Working hard to simply determine when to demand more of yourself and when to say you’ve done enough and rest in that for a while. It’s hard, right? To figure out when I need to push forward and when I need to take a seat.
I’m not sure this is making any sense at all tonight. But it’s been hard week. It’s been a hard year. I’m tired of hard. I know I’m not starting from scratch, but sometimes it feels like I am, and I’m exhausted at the notion that I am alone. I’m worried that the scars are too thick for anyone to see past them and I’ll be alone forever. Wouldn’t that be his final accomplishment to be proud of? I not only left you to begin again with two kids and married my new soulmate immediately, but I screwed you up so profoundly that you are too broken with self-doubt for someone else to deal with.
I’ve read that Rumi quote a thousand times The wound is the place where the Light enters you. I’ve felt the Light and I’ve seen it, and I know from the voices of my friends that I’ve illuminated that Light, too. That other people have seen it in me. But sometimes it just feels like a wound. This week it’s a wound, and it’s more dark than light. The smallest stabs still ache sometimes, and I want to know when that stops. When that skin thickens and the scars fade.
But I’m seeing – when I have the clarity to look without my distorted view – that I offer others so much more kindness than I offer myself. I’ll see the best in others, and never in myself. I give them the benefit of the doubt and not myself. I need to get better at this. It’s like the imposter syndrome I wrote about before, except worse because I inflate others and see the very best in them so much so that I often give them more credit than is due. And by contrast, I refuse to see myself without the faults screaming loudest.
I can learn so much from my kids sometimes. The way they don’t really care what others think unless you are in that circle they’ve come to trust and cherish. They don’t have an inner critic to silence yet. Past experiences haven’t given them a soundtrack of criticism on loop. They see only what is right in front of them. The start of a new day and all the chances that it brings to practice the very best of ourselves.
Norah was singing some song of her own Tuesday morning as I brushed her pigtails at the start of the day. It cracked me up, and I snapped a quick picture.
I’m so tired all the time – 5:30 am alarm, kids, work, life. All of it alone. It’s a lot. Some weeks it feels like more than others. But these little faces – their little stories and smiles and quirks – I can learn a lot from them. And I just want to see myself the way they see me, without the scars and baggage and doubts. Everyday new and worthy.
I spent time with old friends over the holiday weekend earlier this month, and they are both in the early stages of house hunting and preparing for a move. We talked a lot about houses and family life and why we make the choices we do to live as we choose to. Money is always the determining factor on this decision, of course. But I think within family budgets there’s always the question of just how much you want to devote to housing. And within the perimeters of each home, we choose what sort of things we want to surround ourselves with. Our conversation got me thinking about the choices and routines that make a house a home and how those things can differ for everyone.
I think one of the perks of single motherhood – if I am allowed to say that or “allowed” to see a silver lining here – is that you get to set the tone of the house on your own. You don’t have to ask someone else’s permission or opinion on decorative or practical choices. It’s something I didn’t expect to feel so liberating, but as I settle into our house and roots are beginning to grow five months after our move, I see how monumental this is to me as a mother in this chapter of my life. I can create the reality around me with intention and purpose without asking someone else – or the rest of society for that matter – what I’m “supposed” to do.
I was recently reading The Gifts of Imperfection (as I wrote about recently), and in that book, Brene Brown has a chapter on the importance of creativity. She reflects on her own childhood and sees it in retrospect as two distinct chapters: one with her family on a limited budget with her father in law school when they lived in New Orleans in a tiny duplex and the other when they graduated to a new lifestyle in Houston. I was struck so much by the simple description she gives that details how she remembers it through a child’s eyes. “In New Orleans, every wall was covered in art done by my mom or a relative or us kids… In Houston, I remember walking into some of my new neighbors’ houses and thinking that their living rooms looked like the lobby of a fancy hotel .. My parents were launched on that accomplishments-and-acquisitions track, and creativity gave way to the stifling combination of fitting in and being better than, also known as comparison.” Her description is much longer and more detailed as she explains the safety and comfort and encouragement she felt in the tiny New Orleans home (as her parents no doubt scraped together what little funds they had) and the more hollow feeling she absorbed in the Houston community when she was given a message to compete with others by striving for that shiny, unattainable perfection.
I’ve written a lot lately about how the comparison trap is losing it’s power over me as my life situation is not the “norm” anymore. The striving for a combination of fitting in and being better than? Not happening over here. In part because I’ve learned that comparison means nothing and you can turn yourself inside out to be as close to perfect as you can muster and someone will still deem you not good enough. And partly because I have broken the mold anyway. I know that I had the pressure before to create the pristine coordinated hotel lobby within my own house, and that pressure was coming from both outside my home and inside it as my partner wanted that life and prioritizes it so intensely. Like so many other things in my life, I didn’t realize the extent to which it was drowning me until I unloaded that weight from my back.
When I began reading blogs regularly, about five years ago as I was a stay-at-home mom, I stumbled on so many sites that detail how to create perfection in your home and what routines or purchases can achieve that for you. I now understand that it’s not that simple. Different things work for different people, and you have to decide what matters most to you and what routines bring the most comfort or benefit to your home. And the same goes for aesthetic choices. Like everyone else, I want my home to look nice. But I am beginning to see the difference between wanting it to look like a magazine because other people like that and wanting it to look like we live here – reflections of our own tastes and our own personalities in every room.
I’ve surprised myself at how quickly our home is feeling worn and comfortable, how these walls are already beginning to absorb and reflect the essence of my little family of three. The kids’ complete disregard for the “downgrade” in the size and newness and price of our home earlier this year speaks volumes. Much like the description that Brown remembers in her recollections, my kids clearly crave support and connection and space to feel a sense of belonging and a place to be creative. The rest is not important to them. It’s inspiring really. And a good reminder to parents and all the “grown-ups” in the world that the rest of it doesn’t matter. We are definitely not a shiny catalog over here, but it’s home to us.
Our house is busy and full of energy, and half the time it is also full of neighbor kids who run in and out as often as they can. The moment we walk in the door from school, my two are asking if they can head through the backyard to see what the neighbor kids are up to. Before long, they are into something here or somewhere else. Always imagining and always talking and always at play.
Jude woke up in the middle of the night last week and told me in a panicked tone that he had a bad dream. I did the usual shhhh and back rubs and asked him what happened so that I could soothe fears of imaginary monsters or catastrophes. He replied that “We were at the playground, and we came back home, and another family bought this house! They were living here! We had to leave!” It cracked me up. That was his nightmare. That I sold this house to another perfectly normal family.
And it is never exactly spotless in this house except for that one moment just before the kids come back from their dad’s house when I’ve had a day or two to catch up. But it never lasts long, and as soon as I’ve got them under my feet again, we just do the best we can. Each parent has her own routines that speak to her priorities. For me, food on the table and clean laundry in the drawers are the only demands I make of myself during the week. Beyond that it doesn’t happen, but I am okay with it. Bathroom counters are cluttered, and toys are strewn in the playroom a bit. But it’s lived in, and to me that feels better than a showroom. I want my kids to have memories of real life here. Moments when we are doing nothing at all or we are doing all the little things that regular life brings. No special agenda. Life moments as they happen in a house with two kids under six.
I make my bed before I leave each morning even if there’s clutter elsewhere. (It’s another routine that is a personal quirk and makes me feel better.) But by evening, it is crumpled as all three of us have piled on it to read and talk, and usually the dog joins us. This is my favorite part of the day. It might be a bedtime stalling technique, but it is definitely when Jude shares the most about his day and the details of school. We talk, all three of us, and even the most hectic of days can slow its pace a bit in that half hour or so before I turn the lights out and tell them to go to bed. The master bedroom in this house is ridiculously large, and it is sparse given that I don’t even have a headboard at this point. I’ve slowly added a lamp, an Ikea side table, repurposed some curtains from elsewhere. It feels like a safe spot despite the sprawling unused space. It’s lived in and comfortable.
I am fortunate that I was able to maintain a house in the town we were already residing in, with good schools and few worries about safety or peer groups for my kids. I am fortunate that I could purchase a house only ten years old with ample room for all of us. I understand this, and I can say with honesty that financial support from their father, combined with my own income, makes this possible (as it should, given that they are his children and we had a nearly ten-year marriage wherein I supported his demanding career). I don’t want to be dishonest in misrepresenting that, and I acknowledge that my situation is entirely different from single mothers who are given no financial support at all.
That said, I am still raising two kids in the suburbs on an income that is just enough to make this happen. And though I can’t spend money at whim, I am seeing value in this chapter and this lesson it is granting me. We live with so much more, on the whole, than what we truly need. We buy things to fill holes that can’t be filled with things. We see our worth in these material things, and I am not immune to this. It’s a lesson I am learning still. I am always asking myself why I want to buy something – if it is a want or a need. And if it’s a want, there is no shame in that, but I look honestly at why I want it. If we are honest with ourselves, the reasons are sometimes uncomfortable to admit. My restricted income has narrowed my purchases to only include things I really need or things I feel a connection to that I save for and consider for a while before buying them. It’s resulted in a home full of things I really love.
Necessity is the mother of invention, I hear. I am not at a place where I can spend volumes on making this house look like a magazine. But I’ve made conscious choices to do things with purpose and intention around here and create a space where my kids feel safe and valued and I feel inspired. I decided that a coat of paint that is far from professional but done is better than not done at all for fear of imperfection. I’ve asked the kids to weigh in on things along the way – what do you want here? do you like this color? what toys do you want to keep that you like to play with most? I want our home to be a place that continues to inspire them and make their friends want to gather here. A place that reflects who we are and also what we want to be.
I am human, and I look around and see so many things i want to replace or improve or touch up. My summer plants are waning, and the pine straw needs to be replaced outside. I have probably at most another two years left before I need to shell out money for a new exterior paint job. Sun has faded my wicker furniture and dried it out to chip away the paint, so I need to refresh that with the start of a new season. I still haven’t hung shelves in their bedrooms as I said I would. There are broken blinds that need to be replaced and curtain-less windows crying for attention. The table where we eat is old and scratched with stained upholstery. But I’m finding my kids don’t care at all. Not about any of these details. All they see is home and mom and friends and all the familiar comforts that come from belonging somewhere. We are making memories here. Special occasions and everyday moments.
I have moved three times in the past eight years. I am tired of it. Each time I move, I think this is it – this is where we are staying. But obviously it hasn’t turned out that way. This time, I don’t even know how long I will be here or if I will leave or what this house will be in my life path. I have no plan. Every day I wake up and do what needs to be done to keep the fires burning, so to speak. Mortgage paid, trash taken out, laundry done, school lunch packed, papers filed away, kids dressed, food on the table. I have no grand plan.
But as I wrote about earlier this summer, it’s liberating in ways. All that matters is here and now, and I scrape by with the routines that work for me and that grant us comfort and make us feel safe and cared for. I’m not sure where the story leads, but I know that home is where is starts, and this place is starting to feel pretty special. I look around and all I see is abundance – pictures on the wall, crayon art cluttering the fridge, plenty of food on the table, little voices always chattering. All I need is here and now.
Labor Day weekend is here, and though it is still hot in Atlanta, it somehow represents the beginning of fall. It’s weird the things you recall years later, the things that stick. This weekend marks four years ago that I found out I was pregnant with Norah. Four years is not all that long ago, not at all. Yet so much has changed since then. Everything.
I am here in this season with two kids and their own little personalities and quirks. Life is busy busy. Out the door each day at 7:30, all three of us dressed and breakfast eaten. Wave Jude on the bus. Drive in listening to Norah’s daily chatter. (And that girl shares A LOT!) Prep and grade and teach, pick up Norah. Head home. Get Jude. And sink into those glorious three or so hours between the end of our school day and bedtime. Bathe both kids. Bedtime stories. An hour to myself downstairs. Sleep. Repeat. A month into the school year, and we have a rhythm. It feels good – busy but comfortable. Weekends are a slow and easy pace when they are here, and even the smallest outings can become special. We have so much time just the three of us, and I’m grateful for the bonds it’s cementing.
I think back to four years ago and finding out I was expecting a second child and all the questions that I examined in light of that. Will I be a good mom to two? Can I handle all the demands of a second? Will my relationship with my first feel different? And even stranger to me is to consider all the questions I didn’t even know to ask. I never expected to be back at work when she was only fifteen months, and at the time I found a little plus sign on a stick, I saw a stretch of years in front of me as a stay-at-home mom. I certainly never expected that I would find the strength to raise these two as a single parent, nor did I know it would be necessary. What blows my mind more than this is that I could have a reality in another four years that is completely different from the one I’m experiencing now. We really have no clue what the future holds, if we are doing it right anyway.
I see now, as I look back, that I was so busy making other plans for my future that I didn’t allow space for the magic to happen as it could have. So many of my growing pains this past year are a result of my counting too much on the future I was planning with someone else. Listening to what the world tells me I need – a bigger house, a nicer car, vacations, expensive things – and not allowing my inner consciousness to play around a bit and unfold what can be. When Life issued an ax to all those plans and dreams, and I was left to start over alone, it took a little while to listen to my own voice again. I’m listening now.
Our upstairs a/c broke on Wednesday when I was at work, and I didn’t find this out until I walked the kids up at 7:15 for a bath, and as I neared the last step, I felt an almost nauseating heat wave. Obviously I knew immediately what it was and looked at the thermostat to see a reading of 84. A humid 84. Inside my house. An hour before the kids’ bedtime and after a long day that had us out until 6pm for speech therapy after school. It almost broke me.
And some people might be reading this to say shut up. It’s only air conditioning. Don’t be overdramatic and deal with it. But really, sometimes it is the little things that almost kill you. When I look back at my past few months, it is always the little things that feel heavy. The car trouble. The trips to doctor with sick kids. The broken air conditioner. Sometimes single motherhood can feel like a grand adventure, and as I said this week on Instagram, sometimes it can feel like a pile of shit. The daily grind alone.
But I plugged in a large fan that my mom brought over for us to use, and I opened a window. The kids came in with arms full of stuffed animals and flashlights and saw this as some fun adventure, a night out of the ordinary. We all piled in the one room with a fan and a bed, and I wished for just a moment that I could see this season through the lens of my future self looking back. When I know I will see the shimmers and adventures and not always remember the pain of daily struggles. One day those rough edges will smooth in nostalgia, and I will just remember the roar of an electric fan and the window open to the rain outside and the two little bodies breathing softly next to me. I won’t remember the sweat and tears and money woes and panic. I really see clearly already that this is the best of times and the worst of times. Sometimes all in one day.
I read or hear things everyday that work together with other ideas circulating in my head, and it gives me further assurance that there is a greater force at work here and that a new reality emerges when we have the eyes to see it. I hang on to every word, every idea. I’ve got things scrawled on paper and hanging on my walls. Pinned online, saved anywhere I can. The written word is a life raft to me. I ran across a Rumi quote this week that says, “You have seen your own strength. You have seen your own beauty. You have seen your golden wings. Why do you worry?” And I have seen it – my own strength and beauty. I have seen it in these months, and I am counting on it to lead me to some place new that I can’t even imagine right now. And I don’t mean a new house or a nicer wardrobe or a world where I don’t have money panic when things break – because I have seen firsthand how little that matters. But I mean that my entire reality is changing little by little each day to create something richer and fuller, and outside circumstances are losing their power over me. That well of stillness and joy inside is growing louder and deeper everyday.
I follow a couple of yogi Instagram accounts that offer inspiration to me, and I ran across a passage last week from Pink Roses Yogi that spoke to me so much that I couldn’t let it go. “I believe that your tragedies, your losses, your sorrows, your hurt happened for you, not to you. And I bless the thing that broke you down and cracked you open because the world needs you open. I believe that life lessons are less about getting it right and more about getting it wrong. I believe that you are more on track than you feel, even if you don’t feel it – especially if you don’t feel it. For the further you get off track, the closer you actually are to abandoning the wrong path and leaping onto the right one. I believe that you are closer than you think and more qualified in your message than you could ever fathom. … I believe that the darkness is a birthing process and that, in order to find your light, first you need to venture through the shadows of your ego. I believe that in order to be a light in the world, you first need to come home to who you truly are and then bravely show it to all those around you.”
I’m starting to bless the things that cracked me open. They’ve shown me my own strength in ways I didn’t expect. By Friday, I’d lined up an air conditioning repair service that luckily was not too expensive. We ventured to Jude’s first soccer practice of the season in the hot sun and followed that with a quick dinner out. Then on Saturday I nursed a sick kid yet again with cool washcloths and cartoons and kale smoothies. Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is just put one foot in front of the other, again and again. Doing what is needed this very minute and giving little thought to the distant future. But that is harder than you think in a world that tells us we should always be planning for something bigger and better. We should always be climbing some ladder to a more prominent place. Preferably one with new hardwood floors and granite kitchens and Tory Burch shoes and expensive purses. Because that’s what shows that you are worth something and you don’t have cracks and bruises.
Broken air conditioning and overflowing laundry baskets and feverish kids and exhausted moments are not what we show the world, but they happen. And sometimes I feel like I just want a break from the daily woes, but I see that this is where it happens. Where it gets real and where my strength is made. I’m waving my hand to you today to say that I’m knee-deep in all of these challenges everyday, but I am making it. And I can see the strange beauty in this season.
I’m reading Daring Greatly right now, and in the early chapters of the book, Brene Brown assures us that “the willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time. […] It’s daring greatly. And often the result of daring greatly isn’t a victory march as much as it is a quiet sense of freedom mixed with a little battle fatigue.”
I feel this everyday. Battle fatigue punctuated with little moments of joy and a quiet freedom that assures me that my path has already led me to something greater when I just do the task in front of me with love and awareness.
I can’t believe it has been well over a year since I last posted a recipe here. This blog’s content has changed so much over the past 5 years, and it’s revealing to look back and see that. But while I have been distracted with big things and heavy questions and major life changes, I have still been cooking as much as ever.
It’s important to me – as you know if you’ve been reading here for a while – that my family stays healthy and makes good choices at the table as often as we can. And I’m also seeing that there can be so much comfort found in the kitchen. A warmth and familiarity that is really helpful when other things can feel out of our control.
That said, I also have realistic expectations. I am the only adult in my house with two little kids, one large dog, a million tasks and activities to tend to, and a full time job that I love and want to do well. If it takes longer than 30 minutes to cook, it’s not going to happen on a weeknight. (On that subject, we are out of the house from 7:30am until 6pm on Wednesdays, and I’d love it if you post your favorite crockpot recipes in the comments. I need ideas!)
The weather is soon changing from summer to fall, and you can sometimes feel it even here in the Atlanta heat. I’m ready. Both Jude and Norah came down with a little mystery fever at the end of last week, and it has extended to me. (Thanks, kindergarten germs!) There’s nothing like soup when you feel under the weather, and both kids love this and gobbled it up last weekend. I’ve enjoyed leftovers for the past two days at lunch as well. It’s loosely inspired by a recipe my friend Laura passed on to me as Whole 30 compliant when I completed Whole 30 last year, but I have modified it a lot to suit our tastes, and it has become a favorite of ours. It’s one of those clean-out-the-fridge recipes, and it always turns out just a little different than the last time I made it, but it’s always reliably good. I’m convinced that the combination of garlic, coconut oil, homemade chicken broth, and 5 veggies can fix almost anything.
Thai Vegetable Soup
- 5 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
- dash of dried ginger
- spoonful of coconut oil
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 sliced red bell pepper (I often leave this out if I don’t have it handy.)
- handful of chopped or shredded carrots
- 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
- 1 chicken breast (or 1 cup of previously cooked shredded chicken)
- 4 cups of chicken broth (Homemade is best.)
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2-3 cups of chopped greens (bok choy or swiss chard is my usual choice)
Add the coconut oil to a skillet, and then saute the onion and garlic. Add carrots, mushrooms, red pepper, and ginger.
If your chicken is not yet cooked, boil broth separately and cook chicken breast while veggies are sauteing. Remove chicken, shred, and set it aside.
Combine broth and coconut milk in a pot and add your cooked veggies. Stir. Add shredded chicken. Let it simmer for 10 minutes or so. Lastly, add chopped greens and cook another 10 minutes.
Serve hot and save the leftovers! It reheats well. (I’ve also doubled this and frozen it, and I portion it in quart ziplock bags for a great lunch option straight from your freezer.)
*** As a side note, two of these ingredients are already in my freezer. About once a month, I use the method detailed here to cook a whole chicken in the crockpot. I then freeze shredded chicken to have on hand for tacos, casseroles, soups, salad toppers, etc. And I make bone broth the following day to freeze as well. Freezer options get dinner on the table during busy weeknights!
What a week. And it’s not yet over. It’s the first week of class at my university, and I tend to forget how much energy that requires until I’m doing it again. Jude has been a kindergartener for three full weeks now, and we’ve side-stepped all the sickness until suddenly today after school, he started feeling really awful and it went downhill fast. He ended up curled up asleep on the couch and feeling feverish. I’m venturing to guess I won’t make it to work tomorrow. My eyes are heavy and my brain half dead right now, but I’m pushing myself to write tonight.
Life. It’s so exhausting sometimes. Single motherhood is no joke.
I spent a lot of time reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection last weekend when I was kidless, and I’m wanting to take a minute and reflect on what she outlines in this book before life moves me on to something else. If you aren’t sure who Brene Brown is, she is a scholar / research professor at a university in Texas and has a series of books on what she calls “Wholehearted living.” It’s the culmination of many years of her own research as she collects interviews and details about people and discerns what the qualities are that enable someone to move forward happily after a trauma or catastrophe and what prevents others from doing that. In short, what qualities lead to truly joyful, well-rounded, fulfilled lives where one can bounce back from disappointment. And likewise, what prevents us from accomplishing that?
I relate so closely to much of what she writes about, and I can see common threads within her work and other things I’ve read – Wild, When Things Fall Apart, and even my writing workshop I attended weeks ago. It’s all essentially the same message: Life is messy. It sometimes hurts really bad. Ignoring the hurt won’t help. You don’t have to be perfect. Be honest and authentic. This pain will be useful to you one day, and you will be a fuller person as a result.
But I do love how heavily her message is bolstered with research, and that makes her stand out from the crowd a bit. It’s easy to question yourself – Should I stop being honest about my own feelings in the midst of all this? Should I soothe my pain with distractions or another relationship? Could I just take the easy way like everyone else seems to?
Her answer to these questions is a resounding no. Or more specifically that you will not live a full and Wholehearted life if you take the easy way. As she notes, “the new cultural belief that everything should be fun, fast, and easy is inconsistent with hopeful thinking. It also sets us up for hopelessness.” I find myself getting a little better about this in recent months, but when my life first exploded and I was doing all of the grueling tasks that were necessary, I couldn’t help but hope that it could just be faster or easier for me. And watching the fast and easy route unfold for my former partner made it especially hard. But Brown reminds us that nothing good ever emerges without some toil and suffering or at least careful effort and slow thought, certainly not where self-development and relationships are concerned. It’s hard when you are in the thick of it though. I know it would be easier in the short term to rely on outside distractions.
It was not long at all for me – soon after Christmas – when I was already beginning to see the difference between a happy life and a joyful life. And as the months have rolled by, I will say that is something I’ve been getting pretty good at. Finding the joyful moments amidst the chaos has been a lifeline for me. I’ve written about this before, and my happiness jar serves as a diligent gratitude practice for me to see the silver lining. (That is also something she addresses. Gratitude as a concept you say you uphold is entirely different than the transforming power of a daily gratitude practice.) Brown explains that “a joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith… The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” It’s the same concept Pema Chodron addresses in the book I read this summer; it’s only when we feel the sadness that we really feel the joy. And the most joyful (not surface happy, but truly joyful) moments of our lives are often tinged with the tiniest bit of awareness that it is all fleeting, all temporary. It’s that happy-sad that hollows out your insides as it makes you smile. Brene Brown explains that the people she studies who truly live Wholeheartedly “were quick to point out the difference between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that is connected to practicing gratitude.” I alluded to this in my bodhichitta post weeks ago, but the surface happy is not always tolerable to me in this season of my life. True joy is another story entirely.
Brene Brown steps out of the shoes of objective observer at moments in the book to explain that her research actually led to her own “
breakdown spiritual awakening” as she calls it. (That alone made me giggle as I see breakdown synonymous with spiritual awakening in my own life as well.) After researching her subjects and discerning what made them live Wholehearted lives full of purpose and resilience and promise, she realized that she was actually not doing any of these things they did and not living with the purpose she craved. Enemy number one, as she assures the reader, is comparison; “the comparison mandate becomes the crushing paradox of ‘fit in and stand out!’ It’s not cultivate self-acceptance, belonging, and authenticity; it’s be just like everyone else, but better.” That rang true for me in a number of ways. Fit in and stand out. The impossible goal and the exact command that is echoed to us from everywhere.
I think what has been so liberating about my past year is that I can no longer do that. I can’t fit in to the mold presented to me, and my family has a new shape. I am the only parent in my household. I am not creating some life that looks exactly like my old one, and I am unable to pretend my old one never existed. Things have taken a shape that doesn’t fit the mold, and it’s left me with two choices. I can hold shame and self-doubt and feel unfinished and broken, or I can look the world in the face and decide that I am enough on my own, and someone else’s inability to see my worth doesn’t dictate my value in any way. Brene’s reminder that “overcoming self-doubt is all about believing we’re enough and letting go of what the world says we are supposed to be and supposed to call ourselves” echoes so similarly to the major lesson I’ve learned in the midst of my changes.
I know for certain that there is a spiritual component to all of this – in whatever form you choose to swallow it. I’d read months ago about a researcher who studies resilience and discovered that there were two crucial components to resiliency after a personal tragedy: a sense of community (only possible by investing in them previously) and a belief in a higher purpose or power in life that is guiding your steps and unfolding your path. I can see the guidance of both of these forces for me. I don’t know how I would have made it without them, to be honest. And they continue to guide me. Brown illustrates, “Feelings of hopelessness, fear, blame, pain, discomfort, vulnerability, and disconnection sabotage resilience. The only experience that seems broad and fierce enough to combat a list like that is the belief that we are all in this together and that something greater than us has the capacity to bring love and compassion into our lives.” I can see this in my own life ten times over. Hopelessness, fear, blame, and pain pretty much summarize where this journey began, but I don’t feel them at all anymore. A belief in something greater is the only thing that releases those feelings, and as Anne Lamott says in another comment on spirituality that I love, “Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness, and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” You just have to wait it out, and eventually you see the light emerge a bit. But you only get there by holding space for all the other feelings and trusting the light will return eventually.
I think my favorite part of Brene Brown’s discussion of this was when she stepped out of the research to explain the challenges she encountered when she began to change her own life on a fundamental level to follow a pattern of one who lives Wholeheartedly. Foremost in that journey, according to her research, is showing your vulnerability and embracing that softness. She explains she was scared to take that leap of taking about her feelings and fears as “most of us have shame triggers around being perceived as self-indulgent or self-focused. We don’t want our authenticity to be perceived as selfish or narcissistic.” I felt a kinship reading her fears as I’ve definitely worried about that in the past few months. Finding a balance between knowing yourself and focusing too intently on your own self seems like a difficult place to achieve. And she warns us that “the truth is that meaningful change is a process. It can be uncomfortable and often risky, especially when we’re talking about embracing our imperfections, cultivating authenticity, and looking the world in the eye and saying ‘I am enough.’ It’s an act of rebellion, really. I’m finding that to be true every day. Not making excuses for yourself. Not hiding behind some vague attempt at perfection. Not working hard to “fit in and stand out.” It’s a constant battle that not everyone is going to understand.
Brene Brown warns us of the fallout that can happen in our own lives when we stop playing the perfection game and start embracing vulnerabilities and truthfulness. “As we struggle to be authentic and brave, it’s important to remember that cruelty always hurts, even if the criticisms are untrue. When we go against the grain and put ourselves and our work out into the world, some people will feel threatened and they will go after what hurts the most – our appearance, our lovability, and even our parenting.” Yes, a million times over. It hurts but it’s worth it.
There’s no time like now. As much as I want to smooth over these wrinkles to save my own face a bit and pretend some things never happened and some feelings never existed, I know I can’t. It’s hard work but it’s getting me to the other side, and I can feel it changing everything about who I am and where I will go in this lifetime. As Brown says in the closing chapter of the book, “You’re going to confuse, piss off, and terrify lots of people – including yourself. … You’ll also wonder how you can so brave and so afraid at the same time. At least that’s how I feel most of the time … brave, afraid, and very, very alive.” Is there any other way to be? I feel like my options are safe and small and trapped in the circle of blame and perfectionism or scared and transparent and alive. And it’s my life and mine alone. I’m voting for brave and alive.
Have you heard about “imposter syndrome?” If not, a quick google will show you. It’s essentially a fear that though you are accomplished or successful or admired, you are somehow a fraud and don’t deserve it. It’s especially common among high-achieving women, and I’ve read a good bit of commentary about it online in recent months. The term was first coined by two researchers who noted that women were often under the impression that they were not as intelligent or deserving as their position would suggest and they had somehow been over-evaluated by others.
I do this – as I think a lot of us do. I do it at work or when I am describing my job to someone else. I usually say I am an English teacher or “I teach English classes” at a nearby university. I hesitate to say “College Professor” as a title to someone in conversation. Feeling like an imposter or overblown somehow. I can remember being in graduate school at an excellent university with some challenging classes, and I’d think I was somehow an imposter. Like a “how did I get here?” feeling. Even in the days of teaching high school, I’d wonder if I was really all that great of a teacher. Do I really deserve the Honors classes? Am I actually succeeding in teaching them something? As a writer, I do this as well. I’ll hesitate to post something because I feel like it is boring or disorganized and difficult to follow, but then I’ll receive a kind email or comment praising that particular essay.
I’ve had so many outside confirmations that I am smart and capable and the real deal. Solid student evaluations. Recognition and compliments from bosses I see as far superior to me in intellect. I can remember when a particularly scary graduate school professor (He left one girl crying in the midst of her class presentation!) emailed me to ask if he could keep a copy of my essay as a sample for others who are lost or less inclined to write analytically. It was a compliment, yes. But I remember it was also a little confusing for me. Like he has to be kidding, right? It was just my essay; I’m sure there are better ones out there.
I’m not certain what it is about women that makes us do this. We are socialized in a million ways to always give someone else the credit for our accomplishments. We are made to think from a very young age that charm and looks are our currency, and I think it can make a lasting impact. We neglect to see what is in front of us and inside of us when everyone else sees it so clearly. I find I do this not only with professional accomplishments but with my personal traits as well.
I commented on this phenomenon a little when I wrote about the manifestation workshop I attended a few weeks ago — how we tend to focus on that one person out of 100 who doesn’t like us. It sucks so much life out of you.
On the list of a million other things I’ve learned in this season of my life is this: When someone tells you something about yourself that you don’t recognize, listen hard. Internalize it. And especially when more than one person says it and you hear that sentiment repeated, know that is is real. It is true. You are not an imposter or lacking in substance. Their reactions are valid and warranted. This is HARD for us as women. Admitting our faults? That’s easy. Taking credit for our positive traits? Not so much.
I’m open and honest in this space, but I am more tight-lipped on most social networks. Here you only visit if you want to and if you are interested in my life’s growth or the conversations happening in this space, but I feel like Facebook or Instagram followers are sometimes more surface level. I’m not going to bombard you with personal musings as you just want to scroll through cute kid pictures.
But this week, I was feeling especially challenged, and I opened up more than usual, and like always, people respond to honesty and vulnerability. (Another lesson that it has taken me far too long to learn.) As some heartfelt comments lifted my spirits so much, I started to think about all the other moments this has happened in my past year. It prompted me to go back and re-read emails and messages that pulled me through some very dark moments, and before long I found myself copying and pasting countless affirmations onto one document that I am printing and placing in my bedside drawer.
Some of these comments are long-lost friends from ages ago whom I hardly speak to much anymore as time and distance have separated us. The way you are handling this journey, in all of its weak and shaken moments, is so inspiring to me as a mother and a friend. You are stronger than you know. Or another old friend… I respect you so much for the way you’ve told your story. You’ve done so without painting her as a slut, him as a villain, or yourself as a victim. Your softness and wisdom comes through so honestly. As your sister from what seems like a lifetime ago, it is comforting to feel a feminist kinship with you from afar. Your children are so fortunate to have you shaping their lives. I admire your sincerity and grace.
Or for all of us, there are people we barely cross paths with, yet we make impacts we are not aware of. From the day I met you. I’ve always known that you were someone special and amazing, and it is no surprise to me that you have remained classy throughout this entire awful ordeal. I know that you are showing your children how to handle things with grace and dignity. — I don’t have anything worthy to say about how inspiring you are. The word “inspiring” alone doesn’t do justice to the way I actually see you through the little glimpses into the window of your soul that your writing reveals — I don’t know your struggles down to the details, Katie, but you’ve got grace and strength girl!! And you’re one hell of a writer.
I’ve got old college acquaintances and friends — I wanted to reach out and tell you that I think you are an incredible, fabulous, super smart, kind and graceful person. — Katie, you continue to amaze me in the best ways. Stay strong –– I know that real love is coming for you someday. So few people have the capacity for that kind of love (or friendship). But you certainly do, and I believe God/the universe wouldn’t prepare your heart like this and not answer. — Thank you for your willingness to express your pain and vulnerability to the world. Please know that you’ve helped other people by sharing your own journey. While our stories are different, I have found so much comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in many respects. Reading your piece has helped me understand so much about my value as a person and the beautiful self-awareness which often accompanies pain and growth. Thank you… — Darling, you are a BEAST….and I mean that in the best way possible. Bravo, Lady. So proud of you. Stand tall. I can feel your strength from 3000 miles away.
And even old grad school classmates from a decade ago who have reached out. You are smart and kind and strong. One thing that particularly sticks out about you is that you always approached life so gracefully. I’m sure this situation will be no different. — I’ve lived long enough to recognize rare beauty in the world. You are one of the rare and beautiful people we get lucky enough to meet in life. — You are one of the ones who thrives and doesn’t just survive. I was struck with how much growth and wisdom you’ve accumulated. … You will live a fuller and richer life because of it. You already are, dear. Breaking out of the molds others have made for us or the narrow minds of loved ones we once trusted is extraordinarily painful – and so necessary in order to become your best self. You have been saved. Keep going.
I’ve heard from former students I taught when they were so young, and now I see them as adults nurturing me with their words in the same way I nurtured their growth almost a decade ago. You’re a rock star and inspire me so much – I admire your positive outlook through the tough times. Thanks for being a wonderful mentor over the years, even if the last have been virtually. Norah and Jude are so lucky to have you as their mom! — You are an incredible human being, role model, mother, and friend! I have always admired you and know that there is no insurmountable task that can stand in your way of what you dream not only for yourself but also for your children. — You’ve always been such a role model for me and glad to say you still are.
And even distant family states away whom I never see anymore, but offer kind words and prayers and thoughts — I know that it’s been years since we’ve seen each other or even spoken, but I’ve always thought you displayed such strength and grace. Sometimes those two qualities are most obvious when we feel our weakest. I hope you can continue to see in yourself what so many other see as you begin a new path.
That last comment hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it? It’s so hard to see in ourselves what others see when they look at us.
And this is not an exercise in conceit or Katie-praise. Here’s the thing: if you are reading this right now, you’ve heard these affirmations, too. (Yes, you! I’m talking to you.) Somewhere, at some point, you’ve heard someone echo what is the very best about who you are. And though we have a hard time internalizing all that we are, I’m realizing that this many people cannot be lying to me or putting themselves out there on a limb after years of no contact to say something that is inherently untrue. These people span two decades of my life and do not even know one another. This many people cannot be wrong about who I am.
Say it with me friends. All of us: I have value. I’m strong. I’m capable. I’m loving. I am enough.
And this honesty and accountability? It works both ways. If I am doing something unkind or seeing life through some other distorted lens and a friend calls that to my view, I need to pay attention. If I’m in a relationship or engaged in habits that don’t serve me and a friend brings that to light, I need to listen hard. Let’s stop looking at ourselves through some weird distorted view and see our lives for what they really are in the faces of those who know us.
Your homework this weekend if you are reading this: dig up those comments and affirmations you’ve buried or neglected to give yourself credit for. Emails or text messages or Facebook comments or conversations in your memory. I’m not talking about someone’s compliment that you looked cute or baked a pretty cake. But the real stuff. Those moments of connection when someone has assured you that they see the very best parts of you. Dig that up, dust it off, and when you see a common thread, let me explain something to you. It is real. It is you. This is who you really are. Write those down. Hide them somewhere. And when you feel like you aren’t quite sure where you are headed or how to move on, take that paper out and read every single word. That is who you are.
And the best part of all of this is that the good traits just keep growing. When people tell you that you are strong? You just grow stronger. When people tell you they appreciate your honesty? You grow more honest and more accountable. And when people tell you that you’re loved? That one is the very best. You grow in every way. Bolder and bigger and more loving than the day before.