Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Confessions of a Recovering Control Freak

This is hard. I have trouble admitting I'm a control freak.

No, not because I like to imagine that I'm not. I know I am. Even as a kid, I was pretty high strung. I liked things "just so," and I was willing to put in a crazy amount of effort to make a vision reality. I am driven and committed and passionate, and that's a good thing...until it's not.

The reason I hate to admit that I'm a control freak is because it's vulnerable. Because, at the core of me is a fear that I am not enough. That's why I control.

As a first time mom, I really began to notice my tendency toward control. I wanted to be organized. I wanted to have it "together." I wanted to be fit and happy and showered and well-dressed and creative and energetic and exactly what I'd been before I gave birth and more. I wasn't ready to admit that life had just flipped upside down and things were never going to be the same again.

And then my dad died, and my desire for control became a need. An obsession. 

I felt alone, thousands of miles from my nearest family member, my childhood friends. I was an only child who had just lost her father. And I had two young children depending on me for everything. I was so overwhelmed by that responsibility. I felt inadequate. I was quite certain I didn't have what it took to be so completely responsible for something so important. And I had no one to help.

Yes, I have an amazing husband. Who is awesome and devoted and incredibly helpful. But for much of the day (and for a very intense 18-months at work, most nights and weekends), he wasn't there.

I wanted a friend, a sister, or my own mother so badly it was like having a constant stomachache. I needed someone to see me. Not just in the evenings or once in awhile, but on a daily basis. To tell me that what I was doing mattered.  That what I was sacrificing was worth it. That what I was losing was nothing compared to what I was gaining. To tell me if I was doing it right or how to do it better or how to let go and let good enough be good enough. 

But I didn't have that. And it scared me.

That's when I had my first bout of Postpartum Depression. That's when I started to control, well...everything. 

Meals had to be planned out months in advance, preferably frozen in large batches. Because I was quite sure something would happen and then how would we eat? Ordering in? Fast food? I didn't give myself those options. Too expensive, I told myself. Not healthy. Frosty + French Fries = Failure.

School needed to be streamlined and planned out in it's entirety. I had to have every lesson plan done, books on hold at the library, and we could not get off track. Sick days? I don't need no stinkin' sick days. If for some reason my brilliant agenda did get derailed, I was reduced to tears. I had convinced myself that if we did not make it through each day's math lesson, then the next and the next and the next would likewise go undone until we reached the point where the government was ordering me to place my children in the local public school.

I had to keep the toys, laundry, and house cleaning under control. All the time. If anything went off track or off schedule, I was certain I would never manage to get it back together. Spilled milk was a very legitimate reason to cry. Like a baby. I felt like I was waging a one-woman war against entropy. Against utter and complete chaos. And I felt like no one saw, no one understood, no one cared.

It took years--literally years of prayer, reflection, and conversations with good friends for me to realize that my attempts to control were never going to stop the chaos. 

Life with four little kids is messy. Homeschooling is messy. This big, beautiful life I live is messy and intrinsically disorganized. I think I am finally at a point in my life where I'm okay with that.

These days, I'm taking it day by day. No, scratch that. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. When the world is caving in and everything is off course, I have to stop and say to myself, "Give it twenty minutes. In twenty minutes, it will be better." And, nearly always, it is.

These days, I'm waking up later if I need to, and if school doesn't start by 9:00...or 10:00...or 11:00, I don't give myself a hard time. I just sit down in the middle of our mess and get started. And you know what? We finish the work just fine.

These days, I don't plan my meals out weeks in advance. Just a day or two. Some nights, I have to scrounge around the cabinets and see what we've got that I can toss together. It's been fun, actually. I've been less "with it," but I've been more creative. We have to go to the grocery store more often, but when I forget something, I don't beat myself up, because I know I'll be going again in a couple of days. I serve dinner later than I used to, but I do it with a smile.

These days, I'm baking more cookies, playing more games. Yeah, the windows are streaked with fingerprints and the bathrooms only get a quick once-a-week scrub, but we're hardly on the health department's hit list. The house isn't spotless. I never vacuum as often as I want. But it's good enough. And the joy that's going on under this roof? Bigger and better and noisier and more than it's ever been.

These days, I'm happier than I've been in years. Don't get me wrong, things aren't any easier. I'm just more accepting of the fact that, no matter what I do, this life wasn't meant to be easy. And hard can still be good. Hard is full and challenging and, yes, messy, and that's not a bad thing. More important? Hard is the path to holy.

I still have to fight the fear, the compulsion to control, but I am getting there. Because the fact is, I don't need to be in control. I just need to stay close to the One who is. I can't possibly plan around what He will send each day, but I can choose to accept it, humble, broken, and open-handed. Day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, I can choose to seek him in gratitude--in joy--in the midst of my mess. Fearless and free and smiling.

P.S. I wish I had some cute kid pics to go with this post, but frankly, my hands have been too full for a camera the last couple weeks. Rather than wait until I have the photos to make this post "perfect," I've decided to go with "good enough." But, more pictures coming soon! I promise.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blackberry Buckle

Round about these parts, blackberries aren't a fruit so much as a weed. They grow wild in every ditch, along every highway, and if they're not in your backyard, there's a bush in your neighbor's threatening to invade by next year. Blackberries are nothing if not pernicious.

They're also delicious. Who can resist those plump purple orbs, bursting with wine-y juice? Tempting and troublesome - a combination that may have contributed to legend.

An old story relays that when St. Michael cast Lucifer out of heaven, the ousted angel-turned-devil landed in a blackberry patch. To this day, it is tradition to pick the last of the blackberries (and gobble them down) on Michaelmas in honor of this notorious if unceremonious Fall.

I've always loved this tradition, and I've been serving blackberry desserts on Michaelmas Day (now the Feast of the Archangels) since I was married. I've tried a few different recipes: sorbet, cobbler, pie. My favorite has always been a scrumptious slump invented by Bainbridge Island baker Geraldine Ferraro. I may be biased, but in my opinion, nobody knows blackberries like the cooks of the Pacific Northwest.

According to tradition, you're supposed to finish off the last of the blackberries on the night of Michaelmas. Take my advice and see if this tasty, slightly tipsy cake doesn't help you do just that.

Blackberry Buckle
adapted slightly from Geraldine Ferraro via Epicurious

The original for this dish was entitled Blackberry Slump, but for a couple of reasons, I decided to rechristen it. First, slump just doesn't sound tasty. Second, blackberry buckle is cute and alliterative and blackberry slump is just, well, not. Third, according to my research, a slump (also called a grunt - really, people? The names...) is actually more of a cobbler, with a biscuit dough rolled out over fruit filling. A buckle, however, is exactly what this recipe calls for: fruit either mixed into or sprinkled on top of a cake batter then covered with a sugary crumb topping. 

For several years, I made this recipe as written to get a good feel for it, but I always sensed that a little tweaking (a very little, mind you) would improve it. As it turns out, adjusting the ratio of cake to topping to berries was what helped this dish to finally sing.

3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. flour
6 T butter, cut into 12 pieces

1 stick (1/2 c.) melted butter
1/3 c. dry white wine
1 large egg
1/2 c. sugar
3/4 c. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla extract
4 c. previously frozen blackberries, thawed and drained.
  1. Combine 3/4 c. sugar, 3/4 c. flour, and 6 T chilled butter pieces in a food processor. Pulse until crumbly. Chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375F. Butter a 9x9'' baking dish.
  3. In a large bowl in  microwave, melt the butter (you can also do this in a pan on the stove top if your microwave isn't good at melting butter without splattering it everywhere, then transfer the melted butter to the mixing bowl). Whisk in the wine to cool the butter slightly before adding the egg and whisking well. Add 1/2 c. sugar and whisk to combine. Add flour, baking soda, and salt and combine thoroughly. Stir in vanilla extract.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Spread thawed blackberries evenly over the top of the batter. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the blackberries.
  5. Bake until cake is set and golden and tester inserted in the center comes clean, about 40 minutes. Cool at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, with or without ice cream. We like it all ways.

Monday, September 22, 2014

You Should Get a Cat {or Why I Shouldn't Be a Mother}

I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for online quizzes. "Which Disney Princess Are You?" -- "What City Should You Live In?" -- "Which Hogwarts House Would the Sorting Hat Put You In?"

I don't know what it is about them. Maybe I'm just egocentric and I like answering questions about myself? I hope not. Actually, I think it has more to do with me testing the test. I like to see what kinds of questions they'll ask. Will they be obvious to the point where I can skew the result simply by plugging in the answer I know the test writer was looking for? Will they just be silly? Or will they be probing enough that the results are, in fact, scarily accurate?

So, the other day, I took this quiz: "How Many Children Should You Have?"

My friend posted it on Facebook. It told her she should have 11 children. I couldn't resist. So far, she's only on her second kid. I've got four! I figure if she got 11, I should wind up with 22, right? Wrong.

This is the result I got. And I quote.

You should get a cat.
Trust us, you should not reproduce.

Well, shucks. (And sorry, quiz writers, but too late x 4!!! Booyah.)

Honestly, I was a little surprised by the result, but mostly I laughed about it. I mean, it's true. I should have a cat. I do have a cat. I have a cat because I think a dog is too much work. (Is that horrible?) In Seattle, this is tantamount to saying I like clubbing baby seals with mutilated elephant trunks for kicks. Seattlites love and I mean luuuuuurve their dogs. (Sorry, Seattlites. I'm just keeping it real.)

Now, if this is how I feel about dogs, what does it say regarding my suitability to produce and care for children? You see where the quiz writers were going with this, right?

The truth is, by their standards, I'm not just not "mom material." I don't like carrying 20-30 lb. weights around all day. I don't do well on starvation rations of sleep. And, as one quiz question put it, I have only two arms and am not, in fact, an octopus.

But humorous as the quiz was, and as easily as I could have dismissed it, it got me thinking: What qualities do you need to be a good parent?

According to the quiz, you need to enjoy hard labor, drudgery, discomfort, vomit-spattered clothes, and driving an enviably fashionable and yet functional frumpy minivan. That's it! If you answered yes to any and all of these, you win the chance to be deemed worthy of reproduction!

If you answered no, don't worry. You're just like the rest of us. (Except maybe my friend who got that 11 kid rating.)

The truth is, you don't have to be a "kid person" or in any way extraordinary (like a mutant octopus-woman with an extra set of eyes in the back of her head) to have children. You don't need to excel at handicrafts or relish changing diapers. You don't have to like wearing yoga pants and ponytails every day of the week (although, if that's your thing, that's cool).

You like a good political debate with someone of your own intellectual capacity? Cool! You don't enjoy listening to Raffi on repeat for 12 hours straight? Me neither! You actually prefer having at least one straight hour a day where no person, art supply, toy, bodily fluid or other ooey-gooey substance is touching your body without your permission? Join the club!

You don't need to be perfect parent material (whatever that is) to be open to life and let God work wonders. Need proof? Look right here. I'm your case in point.

I'm lazy. I'm overly sensitive, and I don't like being touched when I'm stressed out. Speaking of which, I get stressed out. A lot. I'm easily stressed. I'm not very aware of what's going on around me (which is why I never take my children to a playground that has open water or is located near a road.) I like to sleep. Also a lot. I like quiet. I like calm. I derive not only a great deal of pleasure but also a large portion of my sanity from having a clean house. I don't like playing peek-a-boo for more than 60 seconds at a time. I'll admit, I enjoy the occasional Sandra Boynton book, but not the five hundred and seventy-first time.

I am not wonder mom. I wasn't born good at this stuff. (Though I like to think I'm getting better with each passing year and each new kiddo.) There are plenty of things I do in a day that I don't particularly enjoy. So does everyone. That's life. There are lots more things that I do enjoy, and I write plenty of posts and take boatloads of pretty pictures of that stuff, but that's not what I'm talking about right now. Right now, I'm admitting that this mom thing isn't only for the "kid people."

Somehow, somewhere along the contraception express, we forgot that having kids isn't a "choice" reserved only for the gifted, the martyrs, or the insane. Parenthood is grace. It's an undeserved gift, but too many times, we are so preoccupied worrying about whether the gift is our "thing" or whether we're "ready" for it that we forgot it's a gift at all. We're like Sally Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas, so fixated on getting exactly what we want out of life that we give up on the gift thing all together: "Just send money."

Can I tell you something? If I planned my life just the way I wanted it, I would be living in New York City right now. I'd be a {struggling} actress. In all likelihood, I would be single. I definitely wouldn't be hitting up Mass every Sunday, and I'm not sure I'd think too much about God, except when things inevitably get tough. I'd think about Him a little then. I would have taken the quiz's advice. I'd own a cat (not a dog, as previously discussed). I would not be a mother.

Can I tell you something else? I am so, so, so infinitely, immeasurably, awestruck-stupid glad that God had other plans for me.

I adore my husband. I love my children to the ends of the earth and beyond. I love Seattle, and I love being a homemaker and a homeschooler and a sometimes-writer. And don't even get me started on where I'd be without this amazing God who conceived of crazy, beautiful plans for me and delights in turning my life on it's head.

Don't get me wrong: it's hard. Because I'm not naturally good at most of the things I'm called to do. Selflessness, generosity, forgiveness, humility, hard work, discipline...? These are not virtues I was born with. Yet every day, I'm asked to dole them out in spades. I'm asked to be these things that I am not, that I would not have chosen on my own. And can I tell you something?

I am better--infinitely, immeasurably, awestruck-stupid better--because of my "choice" to let God take control and work wonders in this less-than-perfect woman.

I'm not saying that every woman is called to motherhood. Or marriage. Or any particular walk of life.

I am saying that every single woman is known and loved by a God who does have awesome, hand-crafted, so-far-from-cookie-cutter-it's-unbelievable plans for her life. And it's by living into those plans, no matter how insanely different they might look from the ones she started out with, that she will find her truest peace, joy, and purpose.

I am saying that if motherhood is in those plans, don't be afraid. You don't have to be anything specific or spectacular to do this and do it well. You just have to accept the gift with open hands and a willingness to learn and be led by the One who gave it to you.

* One final note, because I think the situation warrants it: I am also not saying that any woman who wants to be a mother and isn't (or isn't yet) is somehow lacking. Quite the opposite. What I'm saying is that there is no list of skills that makes one worthy or unworthy of motherhood. It's not about being worthy--it's about joyfully following the One who is.