(Some of) My Friends with Kids

On a recent Monday, a young woman was walking up and down the halls of a hospital holding the hand of a toddler. The woman was a fair-skinned Caucasian. The child had even fairer skin. The woman had dark brown hair; the child had light brown hair. The woman’s eyes (obscured by glasses) were dark brown; the child’s (unobscured) were blue. It’s the sort of thing that no one would think anything of. They might smile at the child’s curiosity or her eagerness to walk, but it’s totally normal for a mother and child to walk hand in hand like that.

Except the child and the woman aren’t related. The woman was me; the child is my friend’s daughter.

To explain what I was doing in a hospital with my friend’s kid, we have to back this story up about a year.


Last spring, my friend (who is married and has two kids) came up to me and told me that any time that I wanted to come over and play with her kids or hang out with her, I was more than welcome. Any. Time. I just had to let her know before I came.

It took me a while to get that she really meant it. I really could just come over. But I got it. I get to come over and play with her kids. (I once took her kids out for a walk so she could do the dishes.) If I’ve had a rough week and I need baby cuddles, I get to go cuddle babies. If I need to go kvetch to an adult about my life, my friend lets me do that AND see her kiddos. (I’m currently telling her the story of an experience in my life in chapters-one chapter per visit. Right now, we’re on chapter three. Honestly, the drawn-out telling helps me to think through the whole situation more clearly. It also means that she only gets the parts that I remember well.) She likes having adult contact, I enjoy spending time with her, and her kids mistakenly think I’m cool.

(Honestly, that’s kind of the short story of how I ended up walking up and down the halls with Little Miss V. I’d had a rough day and needed baby cuddles. Her mom needed someone to keep an eye on her for a bit during an appointment.)

Now I’m not the only one who gets something out of this arrangement. I get to babysit Little Miss V and her older sister while their parents go out together. I’ve helped work on the house that my friends were remodeling during the second half of last year-in exchange for food and coffee. (If you’re wondering, I don’t think that “marshmallow” is a good name for a really light shade of pink; marshmallows are not naturally pink.) But I’m focusing on my own experience here, so I’m looking at how I’ve benefited from this experience.

My friend once told me that she likes to make sure there’s an even balance between babysitting and “friend time.” I appreciate that. I love getting to spend time with the babies, but I also like knowing that I’m of value as more than just a warm body to chase children and change diapers. I like supporting my married friends by helping them spend time with their spouses without the kids. I like keeping my childcare skills in shape by babysitting. But I also like being treated like a peer by my married friends. (After all, despite what a young newlywed lady once told me, being married doesn’t make you better or more mature than your unmarried friends.)

By allowing me to see her family in more candid moments, my friend is giving me a clearer vision of what daily family life is like (yes, young children eat their own earwax), and she’s also giving me a better vision for what I want my maybe-possibly-someday family to be like. (I’m getting better at putting children in time-out-but not for the earwax eating.) I’m not just seeing well photographed moments or the times when they have it all together. I get to see a messy house and screaming children, and that gives me a more realistic picture of what life with littles looks like. I’ve had a moment (or half hour) in which I felt completely helpless because one child was refusing to go to sleep and the other had woken up abruptly and was screaming for her mama.

I get to see how families (that are not my home family) spend their time together. I get to see how they communicate. I can see them solve problems. I have experience from my own family, but it’s good to see how other marriages work. It gives me ideas for how I want my maybe-possibly-someday family to look. It gives me a more realistic picture of what marriage and family life look like. (And it’s not always clean and pretty.) It’s really helpful to remember that children are not always perfectly dressed or well behaved. It’s helpful to remember that marriage and children won’t solve all of my problems but will rather give me a different set.

Based on my own experiences, I think that it is really important for married couples to attempt to bring a few of their close single friends into their homes when possible. A while back, one of my friends apologized to me for the fact that since her son was born last spring we’ve tended to hang out almost exclusively at her house. Here’s the thing; I don’t mind that. Yes, I love going out and getting one-on-one time. (I really value time with adults to have adult conversation.) But I also think that it’s important to be incorporated into family life, to experience the ups and downs of daily life. (Sometimes I need to reminded that my current stage of life spoils me in a few ways. After all, I get to sleep through the night, and the loudest and messiest thing in my life is a cat who thinks he needs to be the center of attention all of the time.)

Married life, family life naturally looks very different from single life, but as a single woman, I have to say that I feel more valued when I’m allowed to engage in family life. It’s nice to eat dinner with a family rather than sitting alone with a book at the dining room table or on the couch. That makes me feel like I belong, like I’m not some sort of pariah. (Remember that I’ve been explicitly told that being single makes me less valuable and less mature than being married would make me.) It gives me a sense of connection and community in a time of my life that naturally has less connection and community.

I’m not writing this to hunt for dinner invitations or to make married folks feel guilty. But I want to encourage you to invite your single friends over even if you’re feeding them PB&J or your house is messy. We know that your life doesn’t always look like the “after shot” of a laundry detergent ad. But as your friends, we want to be involved in your lives and connected to you. We’re open to your messiness. Being your friend means that we love you and love is not determined by how clean your house is or isn’t.

And for some of us, baby cuddles and a listening ear can be some of the best wards against the stress or struggles of our own lives.

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Guarding Your Time

The last week of April 2016 was one of the worst weeks of my life. I was taking two difficult and intense graduate courses, and it was finals week-The Reckoning, if you will-for both those courses. I’d been a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding the Saturday prior, it was allergy season, and my mind and body were both struggling as the week began. By the time the week ended, I’d failed a large assignment and earned the first (and thus far only, knock on wood) B of my grad school career. I had massive chunks of time that I couldn’t remember, and while I’d done all of my work, I was a wreck both physically and emotionally.

In retrospect, I hadn’t done a good job of guarding my time. My time is one of the most valuable things that I have, and I hadn’t guarded mine. Heading into finals week, I’d allowed myself to be distracted by numerous things, and on top of that, I hadn’t taken good care of my health. It’s no wonder that I was run-down and became ill. I hadn’t practiced good self-care.

I’m heading into a seven week period during which I need to write my master’s thesis while working full-time and taking a three-week online professional development course. Looking at the requirements of my final project for my degree, I know that this is going to require an enormous amount of time and energy. So this time, I’m not taking any chances. I’m allowing myself to two “social” events in the entire seven week period. I’m going to a friend’s bridal shower, and I’ll celebrate Father’s Day with my dad. My own birthday can go fly a kite. Grad school ends the next day; birthdays are allowed to be celebrated belatedly if need be.

Speaking from years of wisdom, someone recently told me that if you don’t take care of yourself when you’re young, no one will take care of you when you’re old. This is a season in my life in which I need to take active action to take care of myself. It’s not that I don’t love my friends and family. It’s that I cannot allow my health or my mental well-being to fall by the wayside. I’m no good to my students or friends or family if I’m not practicing good self-care.

So I’m choosing to guard my time as a way of practicing self-care. I have ways of de-stressing. I can bake. I can watch Netflix. I can annoy my roommate. But I need to take care of myself. And I need to be able to put on my own oxygen mask before I worry about anyone else. I’ve read far too many articles about how women struggle with self-care and/or the results of poor self-care. I’m going to be proactive in this season of my life. I’m going to take good care of myself so that I can be a good friend/daughter/coworker/teacher/minion to others.

It’s all about balance.

Thursdays

It was the late, great Douglas Adams who wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “This must be Thursday,’ said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”

Thursdays and I don’t get along. The other day, one of my close friends and I were trying to figure out when we could get together, and she innocently proposed a Thursday. My response was that I’m horrible to be around on Thursdays. And it’s true; I find Thursdays to be really difficult. They’re not as hard as Mondays, but they are hard for me. See…Thursday is not Friday, but it’s really close to Friday. At the end of the day, I’m really tired, but I still have to get up at 5:15 the next morning. And after a long, hard week, I often just want to curl up with a lovely beverage and binge-watch Parks and Rec or The Great British Bake-Off. I don’t want to think deep thoughts or have conversations about anything more serious than whether or not Tom Haverford would be a good friend.

But if I actually had to spend time with Tom Haverford on a Thursday? Oh, God help us all; that’d be awful. I already have no energy on a Thursday. And in the course of one evening, I have to somehow muster all of my nonexistent energy to make it through Friday. But if I had to do all of that while spending time with Tom Haverford? Oh man…like I said, God help us all.

Thursdays are hard. Many people find Mondays hard, and I completely agree. Wednesday during the day can be hard because it is the hump of the weekly camel. But for me, Thursday nights are the worst. I’m just so tired by that point. I need to do my best to guard my Thursday nights so that I can be my best self on Friday.

Am I nuts?

Maybe, but that’s nothing new. What day(s)/time(s) of the week do you find to be the hardest?

Finding Your Spot

A while back (I don’t exactly remember when), a friend of mine recommended that we meet up at a local bar she likes. I agreed, plugged the address into my GPS, and went on my merry way. I parked my car in the nearest parking lot and started walking towards where (my darling) Google Maps told me to go.

And there was a dark wall. It was your standard dark exterior wall, just another wall of another building in my city. In the middle of this wall was a doorway, but at first glance I thought it was a service entrance to another establishment. Then I realized that it wasn’t; this more or less unmarked  door was in fact the door that I was looking for. (There’s a small, unobtrusive sign near the door, but I didn’t notice that until at least my tenth visit.) This isn’t the kind of place that you stumble upon. This is like a speakeasy; you have to be looking for it to find it. And you go looking for it because someone (probably someone you really like and respect) told you about it.

I tentatively went through this door, and the bouncer directed me to my friend. The bar is dimly lit and pleasantly decorated. (The speakeasy vibe created by the door continues inside the bar.) The menus are designed to look like book covers. The drinks menu is divided into “chapters.” I loved it, and I’ve grown to love it more each subsequent time that I visit it. The service is excellent. The seats are comfortable. The food is delightful. (Please let me tell you about the lamb sliders.) And the drinks…oh man…the drinks, they are amazing.

This bar (The Last Word) is one of my favorite spots. The ambiance suits my personality. It can be loud on the weekend, but it can also be a quiet place to read a book or have a serious conversation on a weeknight. For me, that’s a delightful option. I like having a place where I can go and read with a cocktail. Yes, I can do that at home, but sometimes it’s nice to get a change of scenery and do that somewhere other than my house.

In this particular bar, I’ve found a “spot” for myself. I’ve found a place that suits me, and I like to think that I suit it too. I think it’s important to find “spots” for oneself in life. It’s good to find places where you feel safe, comfortable, and wanted. There’s a bookstore in my city that I find to be utterly magical, and part of that is because it’s a place where I feel safe and wanted. I once had a great conversation with one of the owners of the store about books that we were supposed to read in high school but didn’t. Another visit found a salesperson telling me about the time she met Julia Child. These conversations have helped me to feel connected to the people in the store. They promote my feeling of comfort and ease in the store.

I recommend seeking out these sorts of places. Find places where you feel wanted and comfortable, places where you feel free to be yourself. Find places where you can curl up with a good book or a have a random brilliant conversation with a stranger. Find places where the barista or bartender or waiter can give you beverage recommendations that might take you out of your comfort zone-and you trust those recommendations.

Your spot might not look like mine. The speakeasy thing might not be your style. Maybe you don’t want to go curl up in a coffeeshop and read with a mug of tea. That’s fine. Maybe the places that you like will be places that I wouldn’t like. That’s great. You find your place, and I’ll find mine. The important thing is that you find your spot(s). We all need our little refuges from the craziness of life. Find yours and enjoy it.

Living with High Standards

I have high standards for myself. I’ve been told that I have impossibly high standards for myself, but I disagree about the impossible part because I don’t often let myself down. I set standards/expectations for myself, and I meet my standards.

I’m probably a perfectionist. I think that anything worth doing is worth doing well, and if I can’t do something well, I’d rather not be bothered to do it at all. I don’t hit snooze on my alarm. I respond to text messages, emails, and phone calls as quickly as I can. I get mad at myself if I don’t think that I’ve done something well enough. (Ask the secretary of my school how often I apologize for doing something “poorly” in my own opinion.) I apologize profusely if I’m late for anything.

There is, in my opinion, nothing wrong with having high standards for one’s self. I expect myself to do well professionally and academically. I have high expectations for my personal life. If I don’t meet my own expectations, I consider myself to be a failure, and I beat myself up.

The problem comes from the fact that I tend to take my expectations and standards for myself and hold others to them. For example, I expect others to be as punctual and time-driven as I am. I get annoyed with people when they are late or when they don’t reply to communication as punctually as I would like. This is a problem. I cannot expect others to do things because it’s what I want. I can’t change other people. I can’t make them live up to my standards. I have to change me. I have to change my expectations.

This is part of being human. We have to live in relationship with one another and treat each other with respect. It isn’t respectful of me to demand that others meet my standards. Yes, I demand these things of myself, but I cannot rightly ask these things of my brothers and sisters. It isn’t my place or my responsibility to get annoyed with others when they are late or when they don’t do what I want. I can’t change them, and I shouldn’t either. But I can change me. I can change how I react to others.

I need to humble myself. C.S. Lewis defined humility as “not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” I need to get over myself and not seek to force others to rise to my expectations. I need to accept others as they are, to love others where they are. I need to worry less about what I want and what makes me happy. Instead, I need to focus on loving others as Jesus loved them.

And Jesus didn’t sit around yelling at people or getting annoyed with people because they were late for dinner or they took more than ten minutes to reply to his text messages.

Gratitude

I was recently talking to a family friend about the concept of marriage being a vocation and not the default. It was a beautiful conversation, and we talked about a variety of things related to faith and vocation. In the course of the conversation, I found myself admitting that I am really grateful that I didn’t get married young. This is not something that my nineteen-year-old self would have liked to hear, but looking at my life, I’m really grateful that I’ve been single for all of my twenties.

Why am I grateful for my singleness?

Simply put, it has allowed me the freedom to do things that I probably would never have done if I had been in a relationship. Would I have gone to grad school at 26 if I had been in a relationship? Probably not, and I’m really glad that I’m in grad school. I believe that grad school is a part of God’s call for my life. I wouldn’t have done some of the traveling that I’ve done. I wouldn’t have developed as a cook in the ways that I have. Do you think that I would have turned into a bread queen if I’d been in a relationship? Probably not. Would I have learned to cook all of the different kinds of food that I’ve explored? Probably not. I’ve been the gift of time to grow and explore during this season of my life.

I may not have grown in my faith in the ways that I have the past few years. I’ve developed a stronger love of and a deeper understanding of my Byzantine faith in the past few years. I’ve actively made choices to be involved in my church that have dramatically improved my walk with the Lord. And I think that I’m better for these decisions. I think that I’m better able to function as a daughter, a sister, a friend, and woman because of these decisions.

I may not always love my singleness. I have days where I’m lonely. I have days where it’d be really nice to have a man. I have days (many, many days) when I very seriously wonder how God could ever provide for me a man who is open to both charismatic worship and the Byzantine Catholic Church. (I don’t know that such a thing exists.) I have days where it’d be nice to have a husband for household tasks and for company. But that isn’t my life these days.

But those days have taught me many things. They’ve taught me what I can do as a woman. They’ve taught me to rely on God for my needs. And while I may be called to marriage in the long-term, I’m not called to be married now. Now, I’m called to be a teacher and a grad student. I need to remember that. I need to focus on where the Lord is calling me in the here and now and leave the future to worry about itself. And right now, I have many things (friends, family, career, cats) to be grateful for. That should be my focus. I should focus on being grateful for what I have and not worry about what may come.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Philippians 4:6

Why I Killed My Pinterest Wedding Board

I joined Pinterest when it was still quite new-in early 2012, I think. Somewhere early in my Pinterest using days, I created a board that I named “Planning for my Maybe-Possibly-Someday Wedding.” It was where I stored all of my ideas that I could use if I ever had to plan a wedding. When I was 23 and single and whimsical, it seemed like a great idea. I was sure that I would be getting married at some point in the near future, and I was definitely going to need that Pinterest wedding board when the day of my engagement came.

Last night, three and a half years after I created it, I deleted that board. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, but it was an easy decision. Here’s why:

Whether or not you (my readers) like this, my singleness is a sore spot with me at the moment. I’m very single, and I’m very aware of my singleness at this point in my life. I don’t like how aware of it I am. In some ways, I don’t mind being single. I have a lot of freedom in my life that comes from being single. And I have sole possession of the remote control; that’s important. But I’m single, and sometimes, that bothers me. I’m discontent in my current state, and I’m also frustrated with myself for that discontentment.

I’m also having a hard time watching other people get married right now. I’m happy for my friends who have found their life partners, but I’m also dealing with a fear of being left behind or left out. I’m also being immature and having a hard time watching other people get things that I’d like to have.

Other people’s wedding planning boards can make me cry-for no real reason. I’m being incredibly silly and emotional about this. I’m not really at a place where I’m completely at peace with my singleness. (I pray about this. Often. I want to be at peace with my singleness.) And in being unsettled about my state of life, in being frustrated with where I am, I have chosen to un-follow other people’s wedding-related Pinterest boards. Maybe this makes me childish, but it helps me to remain calmer. It keeps me from becoming jealous of those who have what I want. It keeps me from being as discontent in being single.

But I’ve also come to realize that having my own dream wedding board isn’t helping me. It contributes to my discontentment in my current state of life. That might seem silly, but it’s true. Why am I dreaming about a wedding that may never happen? Why am I planning a wedding when I’m as single as the day is long? Why am I encouraging myself to look at things or think about things that make me discontented in my current state of life? All that the board does at this point in my life is remind me that I’m single and make me sad about what may never be.

I don’t need that that. I shouldn’t encourage myself to be unhappy where I am. I need to encourage my own peace of mind. I need to work to be at peace with this area of my life. And Pinterest wasn’t helping. As my friend, Katie says, you need to have a “pin-to-your-state-of-life policy.”

So I enacted one in my life last night. I got rid of my wedding planning board. If I ever need a wedding planning board, I can make a new one. And if I never need it, well, it’s not there to bother me. To me, the most important thing is that I find peace with where I am in my life. If that means that I don’t have a certain Pinterest board, that’s not the end of the world. I’m sure that if I ever do need to plan a wedding I’ll survive without that board I deleted last night.