Birth of a Blog

I have spent a large portion of my life in fear of speaking up. Despite being raised among very proud, outspoken women, being open or bold was frightening. I’d learned to bite my tongue until I was simply too full to stay silent another minute, and this would lead to one of the few but significantly transparent moments I had as a young person. Whether it was a conversation, or a poem, or any other artistic endeavor. But typically? I’d keep quiet. My heart aching and bursting with my truth. I am emotional even typing this blog, because I can see a clear image of myself as a teenager: heart full of so much, but terrified of being bold. Who would listen to me?

A fortunate part of this struggle, is that I had tons of time on my hands to do a significant amount of inner work. I grew in self-awareness and emotional intelligence. I lay in bed for hours pondering on, not just how I felt or believed, but why. I imagined instances where someone would turn and ask me what I thought on a particular subject, and mulled over what I’d say. My fantasies placed me before crowds, in board rooms, and in coffee shops or parking lots, sharing and conversing with all types of people. I think a part of me wanted to learn to be ready to give an answer if I were asked. Not to win a debate, but to gain access to someone’s heart by revealing a part of mine. 

Even though I did not know the term to describe it, it was even then, I knew I wanted to be an advocate. In my young mind, part of the reason why so many people were being mistreated, oppressed, and overlooked, is that the allies or the helpers were too timid to say something. And not even for the purpose of fighting the oppressor, but to open their mouths and shout out sort of a call to freedom for others to stand and speak up for themselves. 

I hadn’t yet learned it, but I knew I’d needed to know how to speak up for myself.

I relapse at times into that old, familiar timidity. It rears its ugly head when I have a desire to advocate. The question of “Who’d listen to me?” a whisper echoes inside my mind. I focus on gaps in my knowledge; consider my age, race, and any other characteristic that may disqualify me in someone’s eyes. I feel myself start to retreat into myself again; preferring to have an hour or two to myself to think – and log that thought session away safely with all the others. “It’s better I keep this to myself.”

There are times when relief follows and I can go on with my day.

…other times, the energy turns into restlessness. It doesn’t dissipate. And restlessness turns into anger. I feel angry with myself and with the system that drags vulnerable people for sharing their truth. Anger that we cannot hold our attention on another person’s story without fear of ours losing center stage. I am angry that we refuse to listen and lack the ability to give empathy. 

“This is just so unfair. It isn’t right!” 

So, I give an exacerbated sigh, and get out my laptop…

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Compliments & Such…

This Easter holiday, my family and I trekked to NJ to spend a few days with my husband’s family. It was wonderful. The day before we left we were able to catch up with dear friends of ours who the husband happens to be one of my husband’s closest childhood friends. We laughed, shared recent events and news while our children ran and play. After a diligent attempt at getting a group photo, a relative of my husband’s friend gave me a warm hug, pulled away from me and said, “You are just so beautiful.”

Almost like an automatic reflex, I shook my head at her statement. 

Everyone short of paused and looked at me; their faces a mix of intrigue and humor. My sense of self-awareness quickly caught up with me, and I could feel blood rushing to my cheeks and neck. Once again, as if it were on impulse I decided to be honest:

“I’m sorry. I don’t do well with compliments.”

We all shared a quick laugh and finished our goodbyes. 

I’m sure, if you are reading this, you’ve had at least one of these moments. The squirm up your spine when someone gives you a compliment. As if a harshly obnoxious spotlight casts a bright bullseye on you while you stumble through a few seconds for a way to respond. I admit, I feel that I struggle more than most. Wanna know where my mind goes?

I do this weird “before and after” set of images of myself. Present me and a Future me. Flashing from one to the other. A panic and confusion sets in because I think “No, no! I haven’t done anything yet. I’m not there yet.” 

I would rather receive a compliment when I feel that I have truly earned one. And Present Brittney has not earned it yet. Future Brittney will be skinnier, so then you can call her beautiful. Future Brittney will have written that second book, so wait until that time to compliment her writing. 

I’m waiting for a future glory; one that I feel that I am still so far away from.

…but here is the thing about waiting…

I am sitting in anticipation of a future that may never come. Desiring a glorious “leveling up” that may not be a part of my story, on this side of heaven. There is only now. Truly. 

I am worthy now. 

Beautiful now.

Already a great writer.

Like a ray of light that reflects from a massive sun, I am a reflection of an already present Glory.

Made in the image of God. Made to reflect Him past, present, and future. Whatever form or version of ourselves we are in currently, we can still see God in one another. No need to wait until we are a certain weight. Or until we have accomplished a dream. Or achieved a life milestone.

Right now. As you are. As I am. 

I am already beautiful.

Missing my Jack Pearson (From A Girl Without a Father)

While sitting and rocking my youngest to sleep tonight, I sneaked in an episode of “This is Us”. I’m seriously behind, mind you. Catching up, was the episode where Randall waited for the results of his election, Kevin and girlfriend Zoe were fighting about commitment, and (most notably) Kate and Toby decorated their nursery in preparation for their unborn baby boy.

In an expectedly beautiful grand gesture, Toby found an old Steelers stadium replica (one that Kate’s deceased father made for her as a child) to place in their baby’s nursery. I bawled. I’m sure we all did. My mind gravitated towards my dad.

And, ….I had an unkind thought that made the tears flow even harder…

“You weren’t that close to him. Why are so still so sad?”

I expect that few people had a Jack Pearson as a father. I understand that he is fictional; made into a golden image where even his drug abuse history still afforded him with redeemable qualities. I mean, if you watch the show, he was an incredible father and husband.

His children’s grief are constantly center-stage; backdrops to almost each major life event….Kate and Toby’s wedding, tumultuous holiday celebrations, life transitions. It’s as if Jack Pearson remains a character on the show, even without the flashbacks.

I often close my eyes and try really hard to insert my dad back into his “place”.

I long for him to be “here”.

…until I think about where “here” was before he died.

Monthly phone calls. Quick visits on the 1 of 2 trips to SC we could make a year. And conversations with my grandmother and mother, asking “How’s my dad?”

In the 33 years as my dad, our history was inconsistant. Far from a Jack Pearson and Kate. My dad did not leave behind an heirloom for me. I don’t have a precious keepsake of his. Only photos, old text messages, and memories growing greyer with each year that passes. If anything, my grief would mostly involve keeping the old things alive. I squeeze my eyes tightly; hoping that the pressure would jolt a hidden image from my subconscious.

It’s only when I see pictures like these that I remember:

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I see this and my heart remembers; swells with joy because I can clearly recall this moment. And other moments like it, although they have great distance between them. With all of the quick visits, phone calls, and text messages scattered across my life; strung together with longing, I can still say with assurance that my dad truly loved me.

So, I guess this is why my heart was broken watching Kate cry, standing in the middle of her nursery. I guess that’s why I understood her tears.

I long for time that we will not be granted on this side of heaven. I close and squeeze my eyes together tightly again and wish for moments that have not happened. My grief is surrounded by a longing for the future we could of had, rather than a past that we did not.

I wish we had more time.

 

Give + Take

A reposted meme on my Instastories said the following: “This is your daily reminder to ask for what you need.”

Isn’t that interesting? This is one of the simplest things, in practice, yet I am admittingly awful at this almost all of the time. I remember a day last week, for example, which began with an accumluation of little sleep from the night before. I managed to get through a very full day of work seeing clients as a therapist, pulling into my home’s driveway at around 545 pm. I park behind our other vehicle, the one my husband drove. I know that inside he was wrangling with keeping our three kids entertained; probably praying it wouldn’t be long before I got home. I come inside to happy salutations from my oldest two and a quick grin from the baby. I’m only able to sit my bags down and focus on dinner — there’s only 2 hours left until my husband needs to nap before working third shift.

I bee-line to the kitchen to throw together a meal.

…the baby will probably want to nurse some first though…

Then there is bath and our bedtime routine.

What’s sad is that I had actually forgotten to eat that night. Once my husband kissed me and the kids goodnight at 730 and the 2 older kids were in their room, I walked through the kitchen to place their cups in the sink to quickly rinse.

And there sat my dinner, on its plate, cold.

How did I forget to feed myself?

I know it is a joke between mothers about the cold cup of coffee. Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve had coffee and tea turned cold, soda lose its fizz, and juice become room temperature.

But, how is it that I had suppressed my hunger enough to not choose to stop and eat? And how often does this happen? I bet I’ve even gotten all the way to my daughter’s first overnight feeding at around midnight, before sitting up in bed with strange hunger pains; struggling to remember if I had actually eaten that night.

Or did I settle for the taste test from my children’s plates to see if their food had enough seasoning. Did I settle for that spoonful? Did I trick my mind to believe that was all I needed?

And if I do this constantly with food…what else am I going without? How many days do I go without prioritizing my own needs? How long has it been since I told my husband I needed a break? An hour to myself that had nothing to do with work or a meeting?

The same question applies: How did I forget to feed myself?

And “feed” here means sustenance of the soul.

So, memes like the one I posted on my Instastory are necessary to jar myself awake. Awake from the ongoing marathons of caregiving and love for my family and my community that have become trapped in my muscle memory. My days are full of doing and giving without thinking twice. Scattered with missed meals and quick showers and IOUs I’ve written to myself.

And I do owe myself, big time.

 

(Un)rest

I cried today and could not explain why.

Ever have one of those days? There is a mile long disconnect between you and a single insightful thought. My guess is this has just been a long week and I’m feeling a bit backed up, emotionally.

Oh didn’t I mention? I went back to work this week after being on maternity leave for almost three months. Back to a very demanding job where there is both stress and purpose intermingled into a single day. I thought I was ready to go back; counting down the days that I would be free of the endless succession of hours filled with mothering. I lay out my dress pants and blouse that Sunday night with a relieved sigh.

Fastforward to Friday night, though, and I am left with one glaring thought, demoted to an exhausted whisper:

“How am I going to be able to pull this all off?”

…and by this, I mean working (two jobs), taking care of three children, being a good wife, serving my community and church, and pursuing my professional dreams. Meanwhile, not looking like a hobo, trying to stave off heart disease, having a daily quiet time AND some semblance of a social life so that I do not lose my mind.

HOW?!

My husband handed me a tissue (well, it was a folded napkin inside a utensil eatery package from a fast food restaurant — but to his credit, it’s all we had) while we drove to a birthday party this morning. I know he was/is concerned. I just did not know how to communicate that I am already tired.

Already in need of a vacation, but currently do not have enough paid time to take a day off yet. Already past the point of turning in by 8 pm and needing that 3rd cup of coffee. I already feel behind and I just started. I am already ready to turn down any opportunity presented to me.

This has been a life changing three months. Forgive me if that sounds dramatic. And even as I type this blog, millions of women around the world are doing what I am doing — and so much more. And often alone. While still managing to have smile lines placed there by laughter and not just by the hours they devote to working or nurturing. I am in good company and am blessed to have a village of my own.

So, yes, I do have respite.

Sometimes found in a scripture or a song.

In the wide, toothless smile that my infant daughter gives me every morning, no matter how sleepless the night before. In the laughter my other two children awaken in each other. In the spontaneous moments my husband entwines his fingers with mine. In the laughter with a friend at a birthday party while we watch our children run around and eat pizza.

I guess the point is to find rest wherever it can be found. Pray it can be found at all. Embrace it when reveals itself and not be too heartbroken when it does not.

 

Aye, Must Be the Money (A Lament)

Don’t worry. There will not be a Gofundme link attached at the end of this blog.

I am one of the fortunate ones, in that I have not tasted true poverty. I don’t know what it is like to go hungry or wonder where I would lay my head at night. I am blessed to be typing this blog on a personal laptop, while my children sleep in their own beds. My two vehicles sit outside a warm home toasty with heat on this frigid, January evening.

I am aware of my blessings.

And in the same breath, I remember when my mother worked double shifts for years just to take care of my brother and I. The soles of her nursing shoes worn from standing in them seemingly days at a time. I swore she slept in her scrubs and those shoes. Even still, I don’t remember her sleeping very much, as a child. And I can recall her being a blessing to others, but working herself to bare bones. Even today, I have that same vision of her. And my prayers are full of hopes for her to rest.

I’m aware that I have inherited this burden.

I call it a burden, because others who are familiar, will recognize its weight. The load of the “working poor”. Never quite poor. Hardworking people that work way too hard but don’t seem to have much to show for it. Folk who are judged as being “bad with finances”, when truthfully, they give too much and settle for little — meanwhile attempting to enjoy life on this side of eternity.

I have made bad financial moves. Oh yes. I shudder at my credit card debt and the amount of student loans tethered to my and my husband’s dreams. I wanted to be a counselor. I wanted to go to school. And loans were available to me. Scholarships were not. And yet I dreamed. And I was given an offer.

Small town girl raised by a working poor mother, offered a chance at achieving a dream? Of course, you take it. We did not have the financial advisor or a Dave Ramsey course at our disposal. Only a double-wide trailer that my mom made into a home and her worn down nursing shoes that made me want to be somebody.

I am now teetering between middle class and the working poor. Straining to reach toward a dream, yet weighed down by debt and lack. One really expensive car repair away from “maybe not really being able to take care of ourselves”.

Recently, I wished I’d made a different choice back in 2004 upon recieving my acceptance letter to college. I was standing at a fork in the road, metaphorically. I took a right back then, and decided to pursue a meaningful, potentially fulfilling career. Today, I thought, “What if I went left instead? What if I pursued the bottom line — getting as much fiscally as I possibly can? I will leave this institution as a vibrant, educated woman. How can I GET THIS MONEY?!”

I’m sure I would have been in good company, right?

I am aware that most of us are living paycheck to paycheck (whether we want to admit it or not). It is not something to boast about. And we all laugh to keep from crying (it makes for some funny memes, am I right?). Holding out until tax refund time; grown and still longing for the days when the biggest worry we had was whether that cute boy was going to sit behind you in English class or whether you would make the baseball team.

One thing is for certain, I am tired. Today, I feel so fatigued with the entire thing. Providing, arranging, rearranging, balancing, hustling, paying, borrowing, canceling, purchasing, saving, spending.

All of it.

I wonder if my mother was this tired. I wonder if she is still tired. I wonder if she’s found rest ever. I wonder if my husband’s mother ever finds rest. Rest in the fact that their calloused feet and weathered hands actually help their family get ahead. That the hard work ever adds to the pot, not just breaking even and never subtracting? Do they feel free of this burden? Do any of us? Do you?

Season of Surrender

I shared on my Instagram a week or so ago that I (along with my 1 month old daughter, Nora) had left Virginia to be with my family in South Carolina for two weeks. It may have came as a shock to family, friends and loved ones in VA and NJ; and many of you were undoubtedly concerned. In an effort to be transparent, here’s a little backstory:

After my second child, Noah, was born in 2016, I suffered from Postpatrum Depression. It lasted for the first three months of his life and I suffered in silence. His reflux and colic has forever eclipsed that time in our lives. I recall underplaying my symptoms when completing a mental health screening at my 6 week postpatrum checkup. My poor infant son cried most of the day and slept very little. My husband and I spent those first few months sleeping on seperate levels of our home; him downstairs on our worn recliner in the living room and me upstairs in our bedroom (in order to be within ear shot of our 2 year old daughter’s room next door). The “fog”, as I referred it as, was so thick…and my husband and I are finally able to blithely joke about having PTSD from his newborn days.

Fast-forward to the day Nora turned a week old. It was as if she woke up and demanded the world from me. Although I loved her small face and hands, cute button nose and soft curly hair, her cries pierced through a deep part of me. And I could feel a bulding panic rise inside everytime she cried.

At the time, she wasn’t taking a pacifier or a bottle, and could not stand being held by anyone other than me. I was chained to this child. And the only thing that seemed to soothe her momentairly was breastfeeding. So, in an attempt to keep my anxiety at bay, I nursed her every single time she cried. (For any mothers or persons with knowledge about breastfeeding…you are aware at the issues doing this causes.) I was, unknowingly, binding her tighter to me, just so I would not hear her cry. Nights were awful. She cried from 10 pm to 2 am for the majority of the next 3 weeks. My days were spent holding her close to my chest, ready to nurse whenever she woke up. I felt that as long as I kept her happy, she wouldn’t need to cry.

I am unsure of the exact number, but I am almost certain I got 2-3 hours max of sleep each 24 hour period. This went on for 4 weeks. I knew that this was not as bad as things had gotten with my son, but what my body was enduring felt entirely different. My brain and body ached all day long. I was not recovering as quick as with my first two children and I struggled to process responses to questions. Conversations with people and reading comprehension was difficult. I could not write. This alarmed me.

The night before I left Virginia, I had begged my husband to stay home from work to help me do overnight care for the baby. Once 10 pm came around, she naturally began to cry. Between 10 pm and 4 am, she slept in 10-15 minute intervals. At 3 am, Nick took her into the living room to try and rock her while she cried, so that I could try and close my eyes and rest. I can still vividly remember what happened when he brought her into the room an hour later….

He opened the door to our bedroom and whispered, “I think she’s asleep now.” Looking down at my sweet daughter’s face, she started to squirm in my husband’s arms. I felt panic creeping up my throat. I asked to hold her and tried to nurse her before she started to wail again. Against my better judgement, I looked over at the clock, which dimly lit our bedroom. It read “4:08 am”. Something in my heart unhinged and I sobbed.

“I can’t do this anymore.” I repeated over and over to my husband.

I reached for my phone and called my mother; she answered before the second ring.

“What’s wrong, Brittney?” she asked softly, before I could say anything.

It was 7 hours later that I was on the road to SC.

I was scared of the path I’d found myself on and full of anxiety of how to be a mother.

For the next two weeks, I not only hit the restart button on being a mother, but I was mothered. My family (mom, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) took care of us. My mother, not only helped me with that dreaded night shift, but I had company during the day, numerous arms available to hold Nora while I rested, showered, walked, prayed and ate. They made sure I got adequate sunshine, laughter, and food. My mother held my hand as I cried and took Nora when I needed a break. I know I had an entire support system at my disposal in Virginia. Up until that point, my wonderful church family had already provided meals and much needed adult conversation in those very early weeks. But it was being with my family, particularly my own mother, that comforted an innate part of me.

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It was very hard to leave my older two children behind with my husband. And it was only my level of trust in him that settled my heart while I was gone (Extra special thanks to our friend Shauna that helped in a major way). I facetimed with them almost every day and recieved lots of pictures and videos on my children enjoying playdates, playtime at home, and the Winter season’s first snow. My heart ached considering what all I was missing, but I knew that sacrificing those weeks would mean more in the long run.

This time around, I have dealt more with Postpartum Anxiety — brought on by extreme sleep deprivation. After a few days in SC, I was getting at least 4 hours a night straight of sleep; I felt the fog begin to clear. I started to see this season, and the lessons attached, through a much clearer lens. I was able to read my Bible and write. I recieved spiritual counsel from trusted sources almost on a daily basis while at home. God spoke to me through the obvious and the strange. I started to see what artist Emily McDowell wrote, “The darkness is not a dead end. It’s a hallway.”

In retrospect, my hands still clung to many aspects of my life that I needed control over; motherhood included. Speaking honestly, I do not enjoy the newborn period. Because I am at the whim of a little being; having to forfeit my schedule, my priorities, and my preferences. I do not see myself as an entirely selfish person, but I had not yet surrendered to my weaknesses and frailities. I was at the point where I secretly boasted in my Superwoman complex:

  • Mother of two small children.
  • Wife of a man who started a nonprofit.
  • Worked two jobs, averaging 50 hours a week.
  • Multiple volunteer and community interests.
  • High career prospects.

I took pride in these things; attaching my identity to how sucessful I am in my roles. So, when I enter probably the most vulnerable period that a woman can face, despite it being the third time (ha. amnesia?), I tricked myself into thinking that I could handle the postpartum season just fine. I would have time to study for my LPC exam. I would make sure all the other pieces of my life stayed neatly in place; even things that are put on pause would only stall for a moment.

But the more that I have boasted in my weaknesses, the more I have found strength. I need the daily reminder, still, to let go of the need to be strong every second of every day. Just last night, my infant daughter went the entire day without crying — I had fed and cuddled her to sleep by keeping a close eye on her cues. She didn’t fight any of her naps and happily cooed at me and her siblings when awake. I felt the day was a huge success….until I placed her in her swing to take a shower that evening while my husband watched television. She started to cry without warning…and I fell a part.

My husband reassured me that her crying is not hinged on my presence, or my abilities. That often she will cry despite what I do and will be comforted by others.

It is okay that I am weak.

And tired.

And need a break.

And get angry.

And not have the answer.

Being in those spaces….surrendering to this season…has meant finding a strength that does not originate with me. Thus, giving me permission to be imperfect. To not just be a safe space and rest for others, for my children and husband, but to find rest for myself. To seek to be filled as much as I give out.

How are we doing now?

Nora is slowly starting to sleep better at night (averaging 7 hours broken into a 4 hour and a 3 hour stretch). I am not exhausted throughout the day anymore. I have a month left before I go back to work (which I’m looking foward to) and we are enjoying the daily smiles and glimmer of personality Nora is giving us. She will be 8 weeks old tomorrow; 2 months old on January 6. The days feel long but also go by so quickly… Where it used to be we could watch a  movie from start to finish cuddled on the couch, now there are sitcom episodes playing in loops in the background. My quiet time is usually traded for monitoring arts and crafts time and listening to my kids’ happy squeals. I’m okay with that, because I know that we are finding a rhythm; this new normal that will eventually include getting more sleep. Until that time, I will rest in the midst of the busy. What’s important is that I have peace now in my home, where anxiety had full reign. But not anymore, and not in 2019.

This is our #yearofjubilee .