Friday, August 22, 2014

End of the Innocence

Note: I wrote this post back in May.  I just haven’t had the guts to post it.  Even though my blog is anonymous, it just felt too personal.  But it also has not felt right to post anything else (hence, the looooooooong silence on this blog), so I’m going to just put it out there and move forward.

Back when I was young and naïve (or, ahem, about 6 years ago), I had this tremendously idealistic sense of optimism and freedom when I considered my future.  Grandiose visions of my future family, marriage, career, and children—all lived out in perfect line with my fledgling, newly reverted Catholic faith—danced in my head.  Pondering the possibilities breathed such freedom and hope into my life.  The prospects and potential was intoxicating.

At that point in my life, I had been out in the working world for about 18 months.  My relationship with my future husband was celebrating its seven month anniversary; and although we had begun talking about marriage, my left ring finger remained bare.  My days were spent working and lunching with a collegial group of attorneys who I loved (and now miss dearly), dating my husband, socializing with a very dynamic young adult church group, and volunteering with LifeTEEN after Sunday night mass.  As a young, single adult with little in the way of responsibility, I had control over how I spent virtually every minute, every second, of my life.  My only real obligation was to make the monthly mortgage payment on my condo.  And, when I could, to keep my younger brother-turned-housemate from getting into too much trouble.

Little did I know that the passage of a year would find me married, pregnant, living in a new city, and working for a new law firm. 

Hindsight is a funny thing.  In the moment, you can feel like life will always stay the same.  And then the moment is gone, and nothing is the same.

For those of you who have been reading along the last couple of months, you may have noticed that “something is up.”  When I began this blog, I had this grandiose vision (apparently I am prone to them -- see above) of using this blog to explain how I navigated the precarious balance of faith, family, and career.  However, over the past several months, my posts have become fewer and farther between.  In some ways, I feel a bit ill-qualified to offer anything that resembles “advice” on “balance”, particularly when I feel like I am struggling like a fish on a hook just to get through each day and figure things out myself.  The posts that have appeared here have been a bit (okay, a lot!) more melodramatic than I would prefer otherwise.  Funny . . . I am not normally a melodramatic person, but you sure wouldn’t know that here!!!  Then, there is the reality that I have been doing a lot of reflecting about my life (always a ripe ground for the melodramatic to breed) over the past few months, where it should go, what is working and what is not working, and what God might want from me during my time left on Earth.  So, pretty heavy stuff.  Then, there is the normal balancing act of being pulled in a thousand different directions, all while trying to balance and carry my plateful of responsibilities, which lately has been taking a much heavier toll than normal. 

I have come to the conclusion that my perception of what my life would be does not match well with the reality of what my life is.  (Groundbreaking revelation, I know.)  I have realized that I have two choices: (1) Accept what my life is and work towards improvement, or (2) Continue screaming at and lamenting the rain.  Now, I have to admit that there is a certain appeal to option 2, but I know I need to wend my way around to option 1. 

I look around me to the very secular world in which my career lives, and I notice that the most common denominator of interpersonal interaction is a “culture of complaint.”  It is fashionable (not to mention, very easy) to get hung up on everything that is negative, wrong, or undesirable in life.  Complaining or, worse, whining is really quite trendy.  When I think of it that way, it is actually kind of sad.  But I find that it is very easy to get caught up in that kind of thinking, in the complainer mentality.  It is something I need to work on.

Back to option 1.  It starts with acceptance, so I am starting there.  Because I like lists (thankfully a heck of a lot more than I like complaining), I have put together this “Master O’ List of Acceptance” or, really, just a list of the youthful disillusions that I am working through.  Here goes nothing:

What I Thought Life Would Be:

What It Actually Is:

I will always have incredible control over my destiny and future, without any limits on my ability to change direction and achieve great things in life.  My “Type A” approach life will inspire great achievements and accolades.  The sky is the limit!
With motherhood, marriage, and responsibility has come unexpected constraints on my mobility, financial wherewithal, and ability to change direction at a moment’s notice.  This means that my personal goals and aspirations (and, yes, even my career dissatisfaction) have to take a backseat to the needs of others.  I can’t just pick up and move across the country to take the perfect job or to move to the perfect Catholic community.  I can’t quit my job without another one in place or change jobs without considering the profound effect such a change will have on the family budget.  I can’t even move across town without considering whether the location will work for my husband’s job or my children’s school, whether we will have to change pediatricians, and how much traffic there will be in rush hour between our home and the daycare. 

My family will always come first.  Always!  I will never miss any of my children’s important doctor’s appointments or school moments.

My family will come first most of the time.  I will try to make most doctor’s appointments and school moments.  However, sometimes putting my family first means spending more time in the office (ugh!) to keep my partners and clients happy, so my career can continue moving forward and I can provide for my family.

The only thing that will come before family is my faith life.  God is #1.  I will always make time for mass, prayer, confession, and adoration.  My shining example will inspire profound faith in God and devotion to Catholicism in my husband and children.  My children will always behave perfectly in mass.

Sometimes, just making it to Sunday mass is a struggle.  Actually, that’s most of the time.  Resistance comes in many forms – misbehaving children, the regular “daycare illnesses” that take over our household, sheer exhaustion, and lack of enthusiasm from my family, etc.  Regular prayer?  Gosh, I’m lucky if I can find the time to read the daily Gospel reading.  Most days, the only true “prayer” comes in the form of bedtime prayers with the kids.  Because can you even count those hastily made, selfish “God please help me with XYZ . . .” that I dash off to heaven a few times a day?  And confession?  Seems like it only happens before major occasions, like Easter and childbirth.  I can’t remember the last time I have been to adoration.  Suffice it to say, my “example” is hardly shining.  It saddens me.  And my children behaving perfectly in mass???  Only Jim Gaffigan makes me laugh harder.

My marriage will be a shining beacon of love and happiness, a constant source of fulfillment and contentment, free from conflict and harsh or thoughtless words, and a testament to the beautiful sacrament established by Christ.  My husband and I will always love one another unconditionally, without rebuke, criticism, anger, or hurtful words.  We will not hurt each other.  If we do argue, it will be civilly, logically, and with ready willingness to apologize if one of us wrongs the other.  We will desire each other and never be too tired or not in the mood for sex.  My marriage will be a daily blessing for our household and a profound source of stability and hope for our children.  After all, all we need is love, right?

As much as I might wish otherwise, my marriage is not a Disney movie.  It is real and it is wonderful and it is loving and stable and good and strong and true --- it is solid and happy and fulfilling and I love my husband dearly and have no doubt that we were meant to spend our lives together --- but it’s also not perfect.  We have our struggles.  We have our conflicts.  We hurt each other.  Three children under 5 and two more-than-full-time jobs sometimes make the stress on our relationship unbearable.  Suffering is redemptive, right?  So hard to live out though!  The more overwhelming our life feels, the harder it is to approach the relationship as a true partnership and the easier it is to descend into a tit-for-tat mentality where anything less than a 50/50 division of labor is tantamount to the spark that ignites World War III.  Then, there are just those “exhausted moments” when it is easier to throw out a selfish, mean-spirited criticism or rebuke designed to shut down any genuine communication in favor of watching more TV, instead of trying to focus on each other, hear each other, and work together, or instead of taking the time to work towards a place of shared empathy where we can recognize that we are just in a tough period of our lives right now and it is equally hard on both of us.  Being thoughtful and understanding is work, and it’s hard to apologize, even when it is due (especially for me --- I’m the worst at this).  Sex in marriage is awesome, but, gee, it can be hard to navigate, especially with the challenges of NFP, the hormonal changes experienced during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and three kids so close in age.  Some days are just tough.  Gosh.  So, yes, our marriage is a blessing, but it is hard too.  And, in the nitty-gritty moments, I question whether I am living the vocation in the right way, whether my example is anything close to a testament to the beautiful sacrament established by Christ himself or a daily blessing for our household.  But I do think it remains a source of stability and hope for our children.  At least I hope and pray so.

I will enjoy spending every second of time that I can with my children.  We will do fun things together and constantly laugh and giggle in delight on our adventures.  We will never cease to find new ways to spend time, have a good time together, and treasure our time together.  We will eat every meal together as a family (and every meal will be well-balanced, healthy, and nutritious) with the television off, and even the mealtime, bath time, and bedtime routines will be fun, happy, and carefree.  We will read books together every day and say prayers together every night.

Often, when I finally get to see my kids after a long day or week of work, I am exhausted, over-stressed, short on time, and short on patience.  All I want to do is turn the TV on, eat my dinner in peace, and veg out.  This is a far cry from treasuring my time with my children.  I rarely have any good meal plan.  I usually throw together the fastest and easiest meal I can manage for my children (e.g., chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, pancakes, pasta, etc.), stick them in front of the TV, and sit in another room to decompress while I eat whatever I can find in the refrigerator or pantry.  On the off-chance that I do take the time to prepare a decent meal, my kids usually refuse to eat it, and my husband (who is used to me not having a good dinner plan) will have eaten a big lunch or be in the mood for something else.  So, why try?  After dinner, I rush through cleaning the kitchen and the dining room; making up the snacks, lunches, and bottles for tomorrow; and getting the bath and bedtime routine done and behind me so I can finally sit down, turn on the TV, and escape into a world of fictional life.  God forbid if one of the kids dawdles, gets distracted, or tests my patience when I am in “task-master, get-it-done, get-the-kids-to-bed-fast-so-mommy-can-veg” mode.  I am lucky if I can pull myself out of this mentality long enough to spend a few minutes laughing and talking to my kids.  But I do try.  Even if it’s only for a few minutes, I try to spend some time focusing on each of them, talking to them, listening to what they are saying, giving them hugs and kisses, and being silly with them every day.  It just makes me sad how few-and-far-between those minutes are in proportion to my entire day.  Reading books together?  Sigh . . . maybe on the weekends.  At least we pray together every single night.  That rule is hard-and-fast.  Sometimes I feel like it is the only good thing I do for my children each day.  The weekends are better in the sense that we usually do at least one family activity per day, but sometimes that activity simply consists of going to the store or going to church.  Not exactly the kind of “fun” or “adventures” I had in mind.

I will be able to use my career to really help people on a daily (or at least weekly) basis, whether it is through pro bono work or employment with a non-profit or government organization.

I love doing pro bono work and will always do it in some capacity, but I cannot do it on a daily or weekly basis and still be present for my family.  Every moment I spend doing pro bono work is another moment I miss out on being with my family.  Moreover, my family cannot afford for me to take a non-profit or government job at the moment.  So disheartening.

I will never let my law firm or any partner or client down.  I will always be fully prepared and ahead of the game at work.  I will do great work and make partner ahead of schedule.
I let my firm, clients, and partners down.  More often than I would like.  And, lately, on a daily basis.  I fall behind on my billable hours.  Every year.  Come the end of the year, I will have to kill myself to just make my minimum hourly goal.  I have to give up vacation days and holidays because I have not hit my hourly goal.  I do not qualify for a bonus.  I miss work deadlines and am forced to ask for extensions (much more frequently than I wish).  I come to work every day with the full knowledge that my familial obligations and priorities prevent me from being a superstar in the office.  I make less money than my peers, particularly the male ones, most of whom have already made partner.  I am not prepared enough most times, and I can do great work, but doing so is usually too expensive for the client and too time-consuming for me.  At best, I am mediocre.  At worst, I am sub-standard.

Money will be secondary, and I will never require much money in order to be happy.  If I need to cut back in order to take advantage of a good opportunity or achieve a higher good (or stay home with my kids), there will always be some way to cut back in order to do so without ending up in the poor house.

Every fiber of my being wants this to be true.  But it’s not true.  At least not entirely.  I have a mortgage on a house that has stolen my heart.  It is a perfect family home for us, and I want to stay there.  I want my children to go to Catholic schools; it is really important to me.  And I like my cable and Internet and cell phone.  I also like being able to eat out on occasion.  And taking quarterly or bi-monthly trips to Disney World.  And I like being able to go to the grocery store or Target without a calculator in hand to keep me on budget.  Then, there are the car payments, the utilities, the insurance, the taxes, our tithing, and the charities that I like to support.  I look around my house, and I realize we kind of have a lot of “stuff”.  I want to simplify.  I want to cut back.  But it is hard to do so.  Especially when life is already so hard.  Sacrificing is hard, even if it is right.  And, even if I sacrificed all of the extras, I just don’t see how it would be enough to allow me to make any significant change at work.

I will always be able to control my children’s behavior, and they will always stay in line.  In the unlikely event that my children act out, such actions will be reined in through the institution of strict disciplinary measures.
No matter how much I discipline my children, they are who they are.  That’s who God made them.  Most of the time, I can’t control them.  Over-disciplining them because they aren’t doing exactly what I want them to do every minute of the day just breeds unhappiness (for both them and me), resentment, low self-esteem, and less motivation for them to be a “good kid” because that goal seems unreachable.  Discipline must be tempered with encouragement in order to breed confidence and self-esteem.  Sometimes this means letting the little things go.  And picking my battles.  And letting certain bouts of obnoxiousness work their way through my kids unhampered (even if it means taking a trip to the crying room in the middle of mass).  And loads of patience that I mostly do not have, but need to find.  People will and do look down upon my kids when their behavior isn’t perfect.  It kills me inside.  But there is nothing I can do about it.

I will always be involved in my Church and my community.  I will give of my time selflessly in service of causes much greater than me.  I will serve strangers.  I will participate regularly in fun Church and community events. 
My church and community involvement is abysmal.  I can barely manage my own daily responsibilities in my home and at work.  I have no time for much in the way of these types of “extras.”  I am exhausted in the evenings and on weekends and am forced to spend precious hours recuperating.  What little time is left over goes to my family.  Evening events that I once did without a thought (e.g., client dinners, Church social events, Bible studies, etc.) are rarely possible when there is dinner, bath time, bedtime, and a nursing baby with which to contend.   People ask for me to attend events, conferences, and gatherings, but I say “no”.  Almost without exception.  When I do say “yes”, my family pays the price.  I am on one board for a Catholic organization.  That is it.  Even making the bi-monthly meetings of that board throw a giant wrench in my schedule and stressed me out to the max.

I will show my children the world.  I will give them as many advantages as I can, albeit in moderation.  In exchange I will require my children to give back and to serve others, so they can appreciate the advantages they do have.  My children will have age-appropriate responsibilities at home.  My children will clean up their messes every day.  Beds will be made on a daily basis.  My children will eat what they are served.  They will not complain or have the option to eat something else or something they like better.  They will grow up without an “entitlement mindset”, happy with what they have, and motivated to work hard to get anything else that they want.

If showing my children the world means jogging over to Disney World and on the rare vacation to our favorite resort in Cancun every few years, then I guess I could check this box off.  Ha!  For better or worse, my children are sheltered.  They have the advantages that our lifestyle and extremely generous grandparents have afforded them, but they appreciate none of it.  They don’t know anything different, so they don’t know how to appreciate it.  They want more.  As much as I want to, I can’t give them my experiences or make them appreciate the things we have.  I also can’t tell the grandparents not to spoil them rotten (I have tried, and it didn’t work and just hurt everyone’s feelings).  I also have no idea how my children, at their young ages, can “give back” and “serve others.”  Are there volunteer opportunities for kids under 5?  How can I ensure my children do not grow up with an “entitlement mindset”?  How can I instill a good work ethic?  It saddens me that I am struggling with these issues as much as I am.  I should know better.  I should have some idea.  Moreover, I deserve a great deal of the blame for failing in this area.  Just as I have not been truly able to make money secondary (see above), the same mindset has trickled down to my children.  And I am also at fault for not requiring more from my children.  Sure, they bring their dishes to the sink after meals and wipe the “dribbles” from the toilet bowl after a visit, but why do I let them opt out of making their beds?  Why am I not teaching them to sort laundry?  Why do they get a “free pass” from cleaning up their toys at the end of the day?  And, why, oh WHY, can’t I get them to eat what they are served?

I will have a clean, organized, orderly house.  Everything will have a place.  My husband and I will pick up the house on a daily basis.  Laundry will be done, folded, and put away in a timely manner.  The dishwasher will always be emptied once it is finished running.  All meals will be cleaned up as soon as the food is eaten.

Hahahahahaha!  ‘Nuff said.  Oh, wait . . . my husband and I are forced to pick up the house and put everything away at least bi-weekly.  But only because the cleaning service comes through bi-weekly, and they can’t clean the house if it is covered with toys and laundry.   We are spoiled.  And somehow our house is still always a mess.  It’s the worst of both worlds.
My happiness is within my own control.  Every day, I will choose to be happy.  Each morning, I will choose to be gracious and thankful for the day ahead and will make the most of the moment at hand.  I will not waste my life by sacrificing it to depression, despair, or meaningless activities. 

I still mostly believe in this notion.  But I am light years away from living it out. 

So, there it is.  That’s about as honest and real as it gets.  The end of the innocence.

Does anyone else remember the band “Nine Days”?  Gosh, I’m dating myself here, but they had a number of hits when I was in college in the early 2000’s.  At the time, they were my favorite band.  (Aside: I just Googled, and, apparently, they are back together and working on an album!  Oh happy nostalgia!)  Anyway, they have this great line in one of their songs.  Check it out at 3:16 – 3:26 (because the music just really helps to “hear” it if you know what I mean):

The answers we find,
Are never what we had in mind.
So we make it up as we go along . . . .

~ Nine Days “If I Am

Gosh.  Yes.  Really, really, really, yes.  Making it up as I go along.  That’s me, my life, what I’ve been doing.  That and trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

Granted, some of “What I Thought Life Would Be” was probably unrealistic, even very unrealistic.  But I guess I have always been one for high expectations.  After all, if you don’t expect a lot, how can you ever achieve a lot?

Now on to Step 2: Working towards improvement.  In the end, that’s really the anti-climactic bottom line.  And the difficult part.  Very difficult.  And time-consuming.  Hopefully, it will go better than my New Year’s resolutions did.  But, with God’s grace, there will be beautiful with the broken. 

And I will find the beautiful days amidst the “hard” and the “difficult”.

Life may be “brutiful” (yes, I am stealing that term from Glennon Melton --- it’s ironic that she is not Catholic because her concept of “brutiful” is probably the most Catholic thing I have ever learned from a non-Catholic), but it is the brutal and the beautiful combined that make life worth living.  The journey ahead of me will be both brutal and beautiful.  May God guide me, strengthen me, and hold me in the palm of His hand.

I will keep you apprised.

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