Posted by: Erica | June 3, 2010

Dirty-Flirty-Thirties

Dirty–(from life)–in need of an emotional dusting-off, mentally cluttered, philosophically disorganized, soiled from trampling through the trenches of life.

Flirty–(with life)–having the confidence to approach life with passion, not willing to make it a love affair; I am in this world, but not of it.

30s–(of life)–decade of age I’m currently in, when zits and gray hair coexist, it’s too late to start all over, but too early to call it quits.

Now that I think about it, maybe something did change when I turned 30.  I know it wasn’t my usual birthday.  I woke up on that day in a girl’s dorm room at a Southern Baptist youth camp in Ridgecrest, North Carolina.  I was far away from home, friends, and any prospect of a cake.  Martin and I were there as leaders, and he was too busy keeping track of teenage boys to have much time for me.  After a few members of our group gave him a hard time for not planning a celebration in advance, he did end up getting me a few presents from the campus bookstore.  I still have the little silver bell with the North Carolina state flag on its handle.

But, as nice as my souvenir-shop presents turned out to be, that was not the highlight of my day.  That afternoon, feeling as though I needed to plunge into life a little deeper—or perhaps in a desperate attempt to hold onto youth—I agreed to do something I might otherwise have never done.  I signed up for the Ultimate Relay event at the camp’s field day festivities and went body-surfing.  For strategic purposes, the adult’s team decided that I should ride atop a battery of burly men so that they could guide me along toward the finish line with their might.  As it played out, the adrenaline-filled version of “guiding” became “shoving” and “hurling.”  And so, when I walked back to our church group bloodied, bruised, and blushing, one of our youth declared me, officially, “Dirty-Flirty-Thirty.”

The label stuck, and has even been tweaked to accommodate my aging.  (The next year, I became “thirty-one-derful” and last year I turned “thrity-two-rrific.”) But, I don’t think I really understood the deeper meaning of my mood that day, that moment’s decision, until perhaps recently.  I was changing, and the concept of getting older was changing for me as well.

Actually, let’s go back a little further to a couple of years prior, if you will.  I think birthdays took on new meaning for me when I became a mother.  Having a child and then witnessing how much they can grow and learn in a year’s time probably has that effect on every new mom.  Birthdays become more than parties and presents; they become about memories and milestones.  But, for me, there was another layer of significance.  Having Ansley when I did drew me into a close parallel to my own mother’s life.  She was 28 when she had me, her first child.  I, too, was 28 when I had Ansley.  There’s something special about this coincidence–knowing that for every stage that Ansley enters, I face it from a similar circumstance as to when my mother faced these transitions with me. It enables me to glean an intimate understanding of her life, as I’m now living it out in this way for myself.  This year, when Ansley turned 4 on March 24th, I knew that I was the same age as my mother when I turned 4.  For every emotion I feel in regard to my life at this point, whether it be the strong bonds I’m forming with my daughter, or my struggle to forge an identity beyond the seemingly all-encompassing “mom,”  I imagine she felt them too.    We have viewed our children, dealt with motherhood from a common perspective.

Because of this, Ansley’s birthday is about even more than early childhood milestones, it is about my own as well.  I am my mother’s child, and I am growing and learning, still.  Now, every time a birthday rolls around, either hers or mine, or my mother’s, I can’t help but experience intense reflection on the cycle of life, how we are all connected, us mothers, us women.  And I examine how the choices we’ve made and the ways we’ve lived our lives have affected each other.

So, on March 24th, when my little girl turned four, I found myself sitting at work thinking about these things, trying to figure out just what kind of mother I wanted to be.  I thought about what I wanted to gain from my mother’s example, or ways that I wanted to be different.  And I realized that when thinking about my mother’s life, I never wish that she’d have spent more time with me.  Instead, my regret is that she hadn’t lived more of her life for herself.  I think about all the things I wish she’d have had the opportunity to do, and some things that she did have the opportunity to do and didn’t.

And this may seem a selfish thing, believe me, I’m the first to think it is, but this is not the kind of sacrificial legacy I want to leave.  Not that I think that my mother has–she lived a full life, it just ended way too short.  But, having studied a life after its completion, I know I don’t want to live a long life that wasn’t lived to the fullest.  I don’t want to be a martyr, I want to be a mother.  I don’t want to merely sit on the sidelines and cheerlead while Ansley runs the good race of her life.  Instead, I’d rather be running the lap before her, ready to pass on the baton and then be better able to coach her through the pace, having had experience with the task before her.  It seems to me like she’d have a better chance at going further.  And, just maybe, that will have an impact on how my grandchildren live their lives, as well.

March 24th of this year was another birthday of sorts–it happened to be the opening day for previews of Green Day’s “American Idiot” on Broadway.  The headlines were right there on my computer screen.  The irony was too much to ignore.  I picked up the phone and purchased two tickets for the showing on my birthday, June 5th.

As I sit here making these final edits to this post, I am aboard an Amtrak train heading toward New York City.  It is a full-speed ahead type of ride for this girl of rural roots, brought up in the slow-paced life of south-central Kentucky.  I can hardly hold back tears as I type.  The reality of my past, the hopes for my future, each mile of track puts one further behind me as the other surges ever closer.  In this life, there is little time for fear.  And so, despite my extreme phobia regarding heights, tonight I will look out on the world from the top of the Empire State Building.  And, regardless of the anxiety I feel in crowds of people, on Saturday I will be in Times Square when the ball drops on another year of my life. I somehow feel I must be there–that it is important for me to immerse myself in the vastness, the cold, unfamiliarity of masses–that is important for me to see what a punk-rock opera has to say about what our youth are experiencing.

I am ready.  I am ready to know the world in a new way.  To study it for what it is, to gain knowledge I can construct into wisdom.  To pass my experiences down.  To hand off the baton and be able to say that I ran, or that I body-surfed.  Or that I understand why you are disillusioned with all this worldliness, but that I know One who has overcome.   Thirty-thr-illing, I am ready.

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Posted by: Erica | April 29, 2010

Unplugged-Part III

Okay, I have a few minutes.  75 of them to be exact.  Let me see if I can get these words down in that time.  Right now, I just want to get this post out-of-the-way so that I can move on to other things.  I considered skipping it all together, but I’m a woman of my word.  I said there’d be three parts, so by golly, there shall be three parts. 

Overloaded Circuits

I find myself walking around with a lot going on in my head these days.  There’s the mommy stuff:  call to get Ansley’s shot records, pack a bag lunch for the field trip this week,  consider a new way to explain to a 4-year-old why they can’t drive the car, etc.  There’s the housewife stuff:  stop by the grocery for bread, vacuum the floors, shop for get-well-soon cards, you know that kind of thing.  And, there’s work.  Usually, I can rely on auto-pilot for science.  But, lately, I’ve been doing gene chip experiments for the first time.  And, well, when you’re holding the human genome in your hands and stand to lose thousands of dollars worth of reagents at the slightest mistake, you tend to try to set aside at least one neural route to dedicate to the task. 

That assortment is the usual mind fodder.  Now, throw in my thrisis.  I guess I’ll use that word.  I’m not sure it fits.  My age is certain.  Whether or not hitting thirty brought this on, I don’t know.  And, I’m not sure it’s a crisis.  That seems to imply negative consequences.  I think someday I’ll look back on this period of my life as one of major self-reflection, philosophical transition, lifestyle re-organization….kind of a mental spring-cleaning.  That’s not a bad way to describe it, actually.  I used to think of life as one drawn-out cycle of seasons, childhood being spring, young adulthood-summer, death-winter, fall-all the stuff that happens up till then to wind down your life to a close.  Now I think that was kind of a limiting assumption.  I mean, if mother nature renews itself every calendar year, why did I think I never would? 

Progress doesn’t always happen gradually.  It’s callow to think that growth occurs at a constant rate, sketching out a bell-shaped curve across our lifespan.  Don’t believe me?  Mothers, how many times have you went to dress your toddler and discovered that a pair of jeans that fit him/her just right last week were now a couple of inches too short?  It happens.  Growth spurts sneak up on you like that.  They stretch us out. 

But, I digress.  Whatever “it” is, this past few months my mind has been bombarded with rather heavy issues to sort through.  It might look something like this:  who am I?, how did I get that way?, was that my fault or someone else’s, or both? can I accept that? should I change?  do I want to change?  how does that affect my faith? are conclusions I made about my faith valid?  Is my questioning invalid? what does God want from me?  why am I in Washington, DC? what should I do now that I am? what is God’s plan? does He want me to know? does he want me to do something? does he want me to do nothing? what is the right way to wait? could I possibly wait too long? wait a minute–what do I want? does God not want me to want?…..

Are you exhausted?  I am.  And, those are just generalizations.  Details are more cumbersome:  If I want to be a writer, how do I get started?  Should I go back to school?  How can someone who hasn’t been in class in 10 years get letters of reference?  Do I need a journalism program?  Should I study for the GRE?  Is having a degree really going to get me much further?  Should I do an internship?  Can I afford to work for free?  If not, am I doomed to science jobs for financial reasons?  Am I being selfish?  Is all of this “me” thinking affecting Ansley?

And that usually brings me back to the shot records and bag lunches, and then I realize that it’s time to change the media on my cells.  Hours pass.  And I just seem to spin my wheels.   Heaven forbid I read what’s on CNN or think about politics or The Great Commission….or how CNN and politics and The Great Commission are all related.  And then I hear a Green Day song and I am convinced that CNN and politics and The Great Commission are all related.   

A few Saturday mornings ago, I woke up early to take Ansley to Ballet, but to my great surprise and relief, Martin volunteered to take her so that I could sleep.  After they’d left, the silence was almost too much of a temptation to bear.  I spent a few minutes spiralling into the brain drain–but then I caught myself in the process of doing it.  “Enough already!” I yelled at myself, “I will reclaim my self-identity!  I will write the book that is within me!  And, one of these days, I will get to tell Billie Joe Armstrong all about it!  And, if I don’t, I WILL have a lot of fun trying!”  And then I reached over, pulled the plug on the alarm clock, and got some much-needed rest.

Posted by: Erica | April 23, 2010

A Certain Bipartisan Agenda

Ansley’s preschool class has been studying about Washington, DC.  Next week, they are going to take a field trip to the National Mall.  This morning, I was talking with her, “Ansley, you’re going to see the monuments.”

“We’re going to the Washington Monument, the White House, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial,” she reported. 

I was impressed.  Wanting to find out how much she knew about them, I asked her, “What is the Lincoln Memorial?”

“He died, ”  she said, “Everybody in Washington dies.” 

“Oh, yeah,” I laughed, “Are we next?”

“No,” she explained, “Dying means your eyes close, and my eyes are not closed enough for that yet.” 

I still don’t know how much she has learned about history, but it seems she’s got the future pretty well figured out!

Posted by: Erica | April 22, 2010

Cool Website Alert!

I just stumbled onto this blog and I thought I’d share:  1000 Awesome Things

Check it out!  It made me smile.  We can all use one of those on a daily basis, right?

What would you put on the list today?

Posted by: Erica | April 21, 2010

Even My Happy Place is Sad

“Melancholia.”  They used a derivative of one of my favorite words last night on “Glee”:  melancholy.  I would say it’s my favorite, but how can anyone fascinated with words pick just one to love?  Anyway, on a related note, I realized the other day that even my “happy place” looms with sadness.

It’s true.  Every time the complications of life start to overwhelm me, my mind takes me back to a spot I was in 10 years ago.  At that time, I was dealing with the emotional aftermath of my divorce, my mother was dying from breast cancer, and I was quarantined from even being in the same town as her because I had mononucleosis.  I would go over to Martin’s apartment and literally sleep away the days.  (This should be my “Wake Me Up When September Ends” post)

His room was in the upstairs of an older house.  It was summer.  He only had a window-unit air conditioner to fight against the heat.  My vivid memory is of me lying in a half-conscious state, listening to the dull thump of raindrops splat against the leaves of the mature oak trees swaying in the breeze of a midsummer night’s storm.  I think he had a tin roof.  The hum of the air conditioner, the rhythm of the rain–white noise to screen out the all horrible thoughts that wanted control of my mind. 

At his place, in this room, I was unreachable–my family didn’t even know his phone number.  No one who knew me knew where I was.  And I was safe–Martin was just outside, guarding the door.  I suppose when I visit my “happy place,” I am transcended to a feeling of security amid whatever chaos lies in wait.  Yet, it’s pretty melancholy, wouldn’t you say? 

Those of you who know me best are probably not surprised to learn this about me.  So, those of you who know me best, I’m asking:  what the heck is wrong with me?

Posted by: Erica | April 19, 2010

Unplugged-Part II

A Loose Connection and a Blown Fuse

For the previous year, we lived in an oppressive environment.  Relocating to DC, I had fears about feeling overwhelmed by a concentrated population, so Martin looked for us a home that provided privacy.  We brought with us several years worth of accumulated household goods, so Martin looked for us a home that was spacious.  We also came with three dogs, so Martin looked for us a home that was pet-friendly.  And, we had to adjust to an inflated cost-of-living, so Martin looked for us a home that seemed to be a bargain. 

You always see things more clearly looking back, but what we settled for was a home that was so secluded that it exaggerated the feelings of isolation and loneliness we were already facing.  It proved to be a house that was in such a state of disrepair that pets could hardly damage it further.  And, the bargain price-tag bought us a year of dealing with landlords who treated us like we were less than worthy of their consideration.  The level of discomfort I felt in this environment surely hindered my ability to connect to my new surroundings, but I was in such a state of distress that I really didn’t realize it.

I became de-sensitized in order to survive.  I came to anticipate confrontation with our property managers on issues that should have been well withing the range of common courtesy–the acquisition of a functional stove, the repair of a broken dryer, for example.  By the time December rolled around and we received the nearly thousand-dollar electric bill in the mail, the result of a mal-functioning heating unit, I was already prepared for the possibility that our lease would not be renewed.  Martin’s emotions, however, became increasingly frayed.  God bless him, he held out hope that the situation could be resolved amicably.  He was disappointed, of course.  We are still awaiting their decision on the return of our deposit (Martin is also optimistic about that), and then we will have to decide whether to seek a return on heating costs through the legal system. 

In the meantime, we have nearly completed a move from that rental property to a new one in a nearby community.  I cannot tell you how much of a relief it has been to unplug ourselves from that situation and relocate to a neighborhood where we’ve found much better reception.  The people living in our new subdivision are friendly; some have brought over baked goods, others have offered their help with our move.  Our new landlords seem eager to help, as well.  I called to report a problem with the thermostat and the issue was addressed within the hour.  All in all, I have met more people in a week’s time than I have in the entire duration since our move from Illinois–a welcomed change! 

If there is an aspect of your life that keeps you negatively charged, my advice is this:  there is incredible power to be gained by letting go. 

I have been practicing this wisdom a lot in recent days.  We have downsized our living quarters by a stunning margin.  For the past 6 years, we lived in a 2-story house with both a full-sized basement and two-car garage.  We moved into a one-and-a-half story split-level with no garage or basement storage, excepting what we have re-claimed as such in a corner of the utility room.  We have, literally, parted ways with truck-loads of our belongings, either to the dump, Good-will, or yard-sale customers.  Squeezing into our new residence called for drastic measures–I threw my dried wedding bouquet in the trash. 

Like every cloud, our situation is not without a silver lining. A couple of months ago, I watched a commentary on CBS Sunday Morning.  Suze Orman had strict advice about the instability of the current economic climate:  no person should depend on any outside party, the federal government included, to safeguard them from financial tragedy–tighten the belt on your personal budget and prepare for the worst.  Folks, Martin and I just dropped a pant size.  And it is nice to have some fiscal breathing room!

Our decision to cut back on our possessions and living space will save us $500 a month in rent alone.  We also hope to save on utilities.  It was hard to let go of what we perceived as valuables, things I had collected and saved for years.  But, with those initial feelings of loss beginning to clear, I am already seeing the potential benefits in store.  We are growing our savings, cutting our debt, and have started a fund for Ansley.  Of course, we are also planning some indulgences–a trip to the beach, tickets to a Blues festival, those sorts of things.

With all this moving business going on, and my creative ambitions in tow, I have been thinking of Virginia Woolf’s advice that a woman must have “a room of her own if she is going to write.”  Well, we have barely fit our furniture in this house, with each room having to become multi-purposed.  So, I had already surmised that this prospect would be quite out of the question.  None-the-less, when Martin propositioned me out-of-the-blue the other day–must have been divine intervention–I was ready with my response.  “If you had a room to claim for your own,” he asked, “what would you use it for?”   

“You know what,” I answered, “forget a whole room.  I won’t even ask for one.  Just give me a new laptop and an hour of free time every day.”  And, you know what?  He agreed!  He suggested I purchase my own personal computer in the next month or so.  I think maybe this is the more empowering thing for our modern times, anyway.  No space, no quiet time volunteered from husband and child?  No problem.  I’ll just grab my MacBook and retreat to my car like they suggest in those “Mommy like” minivan commercials. 

Ah, it is good to disconnect from time to time.  Feeling over-powered?  Why not unplug from some stress, seek out some positive energy, and go wireless?

Posted by: Erica | April 5, 2010

Unplugged-Part I

March 19th, at sundown, marked the beginning of the first National Day of Unplugging, a 24-hour period of technological silence promoted by an activist group whose mission is to encourage people to ascribe to a modern-times Sabbath Manifesto:  the idea that we should slow down our lives and honor God by taking a rest from our virtual identities, cell phones, and other multi-media connections, and use the newly freed time to reconnect with family, friends, and perhaps the Holy Spirit.  I can support that notion.  It just so happened that March 19th, at sundown, also marked the beginning of our move from the old rental house to the new one.  Coincidentally, as it was the day our utilities were disconnected, when I left work on that Friday evening, I found myself facing an entire week without cable, phone, or internet at home.  I decided to take special notice of the impact that this would make on my life.  And, I found out that “unplugging” can indeed be a spiritual experience.  

I’m not yet fully up-and-running; Yesterday, I briefly found the box with our computer in it and moved it to our bedroom to set it up.  But, Martin, trying to tunnel his way to the bed, came behind me and moved the box back into a storage area, where I fear it is once again buried in obscurity.  Never-the-less, this post is the first of a three-part series to recap the time I’ve spent powered-down. 

Black-Out

Even before D-day (disconnection day), the idea of a week without cable television had me worried.  I didn’t know if our daughter could make it that long without seeing Dora, Kai-Lan, or the “Yo-Gabba-Gabba” crew.  Moreover, I didn’t know if I could survive her in the aftermath of their loss.  I should say, in general, I am careful with how much TV time that Ansley gets.  Just a few months ago, after feeling like both her and Martin were spending too much of our weekends in front of the tube, I instituted a “no TV until after 7 pm” rule in our household.  I took some static for it initially, but even Martin could tell the impact that it made on our family life.  One day, for example, we spent four hours decorating Christmas cookies.  Without the TV rule, there is no doubt that day would have resulted in a different experience–probably me, alone, spending eight hours decorating Christmas cookies.  Eventually, though, I caved under the pressure of Ansley’s whining and Martin’s constant attempts to break the rule.  We returned to our usual ways.  I don’t tend to watch a lot of TV myself, but act as a moderator of its use.  If I were more of a dictator, that use would be more severely limited.  Still, I’ll admit it–more than once, Nick Jr. has been the savior of my sanity.

Our time without cable went much better than anticipated.  It turns out that Ansley has a great imagination and I really enjoyed overhearing her using it.  As she gradually turned her attention to all of those toys we were unpacking,  I gained a new appreciation for her ability to create storylines and mimic the world around her.  At one point, she even asked me what I thought of a story she was telling through her Tinkerbell doll.  Honestly, I think she may be the writer in the family.   

Martin also displayed some rarely seen characteristics.  More than once, I found him with a book in his hand.  And, although it was a science-related one, he was reading for pleasure.  He shared our experience without TV with a co-worker the other day and came home with an interesting story.  It seems that this particular co-worker had also experimented with a no-TV rule.  After convincing his wife to commit to a month-long vacation from television (she had apprehension similar to mine), they were so pleased with the effect on the quality of their family time that they continued the rule for another 12 years!  Among other results, their son became the best reader in his middle school’s history. 

Martin is impressed by the potential positives of a television-free home life and his new mode of discipline is to threaten Ansley with turning off cartoons-forever! But, he’s still not willing to cut the cord.  The other night, as I was clearing a path to the laundry, he was busy moving the clutter between his easy-chair and the flat-screen, which happens to be about the only possession we have that made it through the move without dent or scratch.  Funny how that works, huh?

While I missed several episodes of “American Idol”, am severely behind the plot on “Brothers and Sisters”, and have yet to see anyone’s performance on the new season of “Dancing with the Stars”, I don’t feel the loss.  And I have never been a telephone person, so the fact that we still haven’t un-earthed our handset and re-established landline service is of no matter to me.  If anything, I do feel a little guilty at the thought of how many attempts my family has surely made to call us during this time.  Internet, on the other hand, that was a different story.  I had to face my addiction at the end of last week when, unable to upload any new messages to my Gmail account, I caught myself spending a half-hour on my iPod touch re-reading some of my old ones. 

And I am, perhaps hopelessly, behind with this blog.  The other day a friend commented that she didn’t know how I could just sat down to write and have the words all come out nice and easy-like.  I told her that my problem was the inverse–I have a hard time when I have to keep it in.  Although I have been a prolific note-taker on things I would have blogged about, once the moment is gone, I have a hard time getting back to the initial flow.    That creates writer’s block. 

That whole “don’t know how much you love something till it’s gone” phenomenon holds true.  Being unplugged from blogging made me realize my passion for my writing outlet.   I am also more sure that I wouldn’t have to worry about subject matter if I sought to write professionally.  I had so much that I wanted to write about, but little opportunity to actually do so.  The other day, while I was going through security, one of the guards told me, “You must have a lot of happy thoughts.  I always see you walking around with a smile on your face and it seems like you are someplace else in your mind.”  It’s true.  My thoughts are now on this blog.  While it makes it more of a chore to focus on science, it is nice to finally feel like I am figuring out where career-satisfaction might be found.

I can’t wait to catch back up on here.  Some of my recent motives have been down-right electrifying.  And, summer is looking to be full of potential energy.  Get your fire-wire out–I’m living at high-speed!

Posted by: Erica | March 15, 2010

The Proverbial Woman

When my great-aunt passed away a couple of years ago, the pastor who gave the funeral service eulogized her straight from the text of Proverbs 31: 10-31.  You probably know these verses that exemplify a “virtuous woman.”  If not, you can familiarize yourself at this link to the Biblegateway website.  As I sat there listening to the comparison between God’s standard for women and my Aunt Ella, of how well she had embodied the characteristics of domestic proprietress and loyal wife,  I couldn’t help thinking that the same thing could have been done for my own grandmother and, from my knowledge, most of her 8 sisters.  They were extraordinary women; among them were gifted musicians, vocalists, legendary cooks, expert agriculturalists, and talented artisans of various handcrafts.  But, all nine shared their two strongest traits:  devout love for the Lord and down-right stubborn will.  All in all, these aspects added up to a remarkable set of women who, not only became respected matriarchs of their own families, but also managed to create something of a legacy in my home community, known among friends and neighbors as the “Strong Thomas Woman” standard.  Surely if old age is a blessing from God, bestowed upon those who live in a manner pleasing to Him, “Follow the whole instruction the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, prosper, and have a long life in the land you will possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33), then He found favor in theirs.   All of them lived into their golden years, Aunt Ella passing at age 90, my grandmother, 92. 

Now, I wouldn’t say that I felt the “pressure” of living up to this standard as I was reared under my grandmother’s watch.  She was far too loving and forgiving for that word.  But, it’s safe to say that I felt its “presence” while I was growing up.  I was taught to make quilts for my dolls.  I was put to work in the garden as soon as I was old enough to pull a weed.  I had to practice how to properly peel a potato without shaving off too much of the vegetable and throwing it out as waste.  I learned that the men ate first at family gatherings, that “good girls helped their mothers,” and that watching TV “wasn’t getting anything done.”   

All grown, a wife with a family of my own, these are the things that have formed my inward moral compass.  And, when at times I”m feeling as though I’ve lost my way in life, I invariably return to Proverbs 31 for guidance.  I know that despite whatever woman it is that I am wanting to be, it would be a mis-step with dangerous consequences if not in line with God’s plan. 

Still, every time I read it, I come away frustrated.  I’m left wanting to go back in time and ask the women who led our gender into the workplace just exactly how they envisioned that playing out.  Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for women’s rights and equality.  But, I can’t imagine that they were bargaining for two full-time jobs whenever they sought freedom to work outside of the home at one.  Did they think that our fairy godmothers would show up to take care of the chores and the children?  Perhaps they still relied on paid domestic help.  I know that maidservants are mentioned in the home of the Bible’s virtuous woman (vs. 15).  Working the fields, gathering food from afar, weaving bed linens, making my family’s clothes….it seems like “mission impossible” in a modern society with an economy based on two-incomes per family.  In a conversation I spent lamenting to Martin’s grandmother my desire to have more time to make quilts, she let me off the hook, “Don’t worry about that.  You won’t have time until you are retired and your children are grown.”  But, even when accepting the need to provide financial assistance, today’s woman may still find herself in the paradoxical scenario of  having to define the fine-line between subserviency for her family and personal ambition when it comes to her career.   

Of course, in God’s eyes we are not justified by how well we measure up to worldly definitions of success, or to each other, or even to our husband’s expectations.  I am ever thankful that when I fall short of the purely Holy and good mark that He has set, Jesus has met me there with enough grace and mercy to bridge the gap.  Times have changed!  And, just maybe when the Bible quotes that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time,” (Genesis 6:9), we can take this as an indication that God realizes our plight and will still look favorably upon a new era of women who take strides to walk with Him.  So, here’s to my contemporaries!

It’s hard to be a good wife these days….

Such a wife is better “bling” than luxury-suite Superbowl tickets.

Her husband lets her drive his new truck, and wouldn’t trade her in for a younger model.

She has a job, bringing in more than she spends, so they can enjoy their retirement.

She works third shift and meets the kids when they get off the bus.

She carries in 30 plastic Walmart bags from the back of the minivan, in the rain.

She washes sippy cups on Saturday mornings, while her husband sleeps in.  She only dreams of hiring a maid.

She wants her family to have a nice home, so she spends her extra money on new curtains, to offset the expenses, she plants a garden.

She takes the job with the highest salary, instead of the one she’d rather have.  She works hard to earn a raise.

She takes night classes to qualify for a promotion.

She learns how to knit to make an heirloom blanket for her baby.

She stays up late to bake cupcakes for fundraisers and volunteers for parent committees when she doesn’t really have time.

She braves the chaos at the grocery store when snow starts to fall.  Her husband doesn’t worry about going hungry, she’s learned a few things from Food Network.

She does the laundry and, between loads, shops for designer clothes on E-bay. 

Her husband has a respectable career.  She’s left her home so he could climb the corporate ladder. 

She wakes before dawn to get yard-sale deals on kid’s clothing.  She resales those they’ve outgrown at consignment stores.  The extra cash comes in handy.

As she ages, she hopes her loyalty and love will outlast her beauty.  She only rolls her eyes when she’s promised that dream vacation.

She gives good advice, but lives with the decisions her husband makes to the contrary.

She comes home from work tired, but does the housework anyway.  After homework and dinner, there’s no time for TV.

Her children grow up and wonder how she did it all.  Her husband then realizes he should have done more. 

Our grandmothers lived hard lives, but a modern wife surely has her share of burden.

Seduction can be faked, and plastic surgery can go awry,

but a woman who works full-time and still makes it to church on Sunday is doing the best she can.

Give her the foot massage she’s requested,

and let her buy that new purse at the mall.

Posted by: Erica | March 10, 2010

Time to Get a Move on!

Depression can be as immobilizing as two broken legs.  Friday night, I surrendered Ansley to Martin’s care, turned a blind eye to the man-cave my whole house had become, and went to bed at 9:30.  Not only did I need to restore order to monumental domestic chaos, but I also needed to start packing our entire household for our upcoming move.  I figured it could all wait for another day.  Turns out, Saturday was not that day either.  I spent that time on the couch, with commercial breaks from TV shows inspiring an occassional glancing at all of the things I should have been putting in a box. 

By Sunday morning, the weight of the items collecting on my “to-do” list was growing heavy.  I’m not a procrastinater, but I have had this feeling before, usually when I’m at home from work with a cold and suddenly have the opportunity and time to notice the little things that need to be done, like clearing spiderwebs or dusting picture frames.  Maybe only women can relate to this, but for me, there’s no worse feeling than being bombarded with things that need to be done and not being physically able to take care of them.  It’s a kind of torture scenario you might find in a Greek myth.  Remember Tantalus and the grapes?

So, on that morning, bright and early, I got up out of my bed resolved to make some small steps toward functionality.  First things first, I went down stairs to let out Moses, my Yorkshire Terrier.  Turns out he was more ready to meet the day than I was.  As soon as I opened the door, he turned into a 5-pound flash of lightning and bolted up the hill and down the street.  Standing there on the front porch in my pajamas, I had a moment of clarity.  Small steps were not going to cut it; I needed my running legs.  I realized that if I didn’t take action, my life was either going to pile up and decompose, like our dirty laundry, or take off, like Moses, without me. 

After tracking down the dog, I returned home with a stronger determination to get moving–out of this house and out of this depression.  To tackle my feelings of isolation and loneliness, I called up our one set of friends without access to my Facebook account and invited them over for pizza and Scrabble.  I then spent the next several hours packing.  Maybe I wasn’t going to suddenly return to my 100% self, but I did my darndest to fake it. 

My efforts were rewarded.  I had a good day and managed to get a good bit of packing finished.  While I was filling the boxes, I was reminded that moving, though a lot of work, does have its benefits.  It gives you the chance to take inventory of what you have in your life.  It’s a great opportunity to decide what you want to hang on to and what you might be ready to part with.  After moving several times, I’ve learned that I also have things that, although hold value, are not worth the burden of continuing to carry along with me.  I have a great example of this. 

At my mother’s funeral, I inherited a green houseplant.  I am not a houseplant person.  My thumbs are black.  But, I have done my best to keep it alive, as if my mother’s vitality was somehow transposed onto it.  Friends have helped me out, watering it while I was away and such.  One good friend even had mercy on me and re-potted the plant when it had vastly outgrown its original container.  I hadn’t noticed until she pointed that out.  Still, it has barely clung to life.  There have been numerous times that it narrowly escaped death.  Sometimes, I think it actually crossed over and I willed it back into being.  For 8 years, we have been engaged in this struggle.  I find it wilted and begging to be put out of its misery, and I don’t have the heart to throw it out, so I do what I can.  Like me, it has lived in 3 different states in the last 6 years.  It was so tempting to give it away at each of those points, but I felt too guilty.  Bringing it with me to a new home required a special trip, as houseplants are not allowed on moving trucks.  We’ve been many a mile together, but at a great cost.  Sunday, I took one look at the spindly thing with browning leaves curling at the edges and decided that life was too short to be at war with a Peace Lily.  I promptly heaved it into the garbage. 

I think that moving out of this depression may be a good opportunity to de-clutter emotionally, to let go of some things that just cause too much stress, or at least pack them away for another time.  Being at such a low point demands action, it constitutes change.  A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine commented to me that “it is when we are in the valleys that we can see the mountain tops.”  She’s completely right.  From this perspective on your life, you see where you’ve been and where you are.  It’s okay to spend some time in that lull.  Sometimes it might be the healthiest option you have.  But, there’s something about reaching the time to get moving on–to look at those mountains you’ve been running toward and decide which ones are actually worth the climb.

Posted by: Erica | March 5, 2010

I Am One Of Those Melodramatic Fools

“Do you have the time

To listen to me whine

About nothing and everything

All at once”

My friends, you have lent me your ears, or eyes, rather.   But, beyond the gaining readership this blog is experiencing, much has happened since that fateful night in my bedroom closet when I decided to go public with my personal crisis.   At that moment, I was confused about many things:  Had I wasted the best years of my life on mundane housework and an unfulfilling job?  Had a series of wrong decisions routed me on a path toward an apathetic adulthood?  Was the master of the universe trying to send me a message through Green Day songs?  I had questions, for sure.  But let there be no mistake, at that low point, I never doubted God was with me.  In fact, I was sure one of two things was going to happen–God was getting ready to kick my butt back in gear, or He was going to soon send some provisions.  Either way, I figured, if you were to witness it, His presence would be revealed in a mighty way.   

So I wrote an edgy blog post, held my breath, and clicked the submission button.  Was it a bit of a gamble?  You bet!  But sometimes you’ve just got to go “all in” with the Lord and the cards He deals you.  I expected a response–something akin to the hard time we humans have with, say, looking away from a bad car accident as we pass it by on the highway.  But, the magnitude and diversity of reactions….well, that has been an interesting surprise.  I have received extensions of condolence, expressions of concern, sage words of advice, book recommendations, personal testimonies, many emails with offers of support, and, my personal favorite, a care package of homemade chocolate chip cookies and gourmet tea.  I have also endured awkward periods of silence from acquaintances that just didn’t quite know what to say.  And, I noticed that my 70-year-old aunt, who doesn’t know what “google” means, suddenly joined Facebook. 

The results came in, and the consensus seems to be that most everyone feels something similar at one point or another.  No matter what choices we make, or what level of success we achieve, we tend to fall victim to what one of my friends described as “the grass is greener syndrome.”  Even Billie Joe Armstrong, who in a 2007 interview expressed a level of regret about never attending college (1).  Imagine that, he’s just created the Grammy-awarded best rock album and, yet, is a little envious of the time I spent in Sociology 101.

A strange thing happened.  I kept writing.  Amid the stir I was causing, I started to feel an eerie sense of calmness, of control.  It felt like I had tossed everything in my life up in the air so high that it would have enough space to sort itself out on the way down.   And then I hit a wall. 

“Sometimes I give myself the creeps

Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me

It all keeps adding up

I think I’m cracking up

Am I just paranoid?”

Ah, the whirlwind of human emotion!  At some point between getting food in the mail and taking the time to return some of your emails, I started to remember just who all has access to my blog.  I started to wonder about the awkward silence people.  I started to worry over what might be whispered the next time I was with Martin’s family…and what would be said straight to my face the next time I was with my own.  I started composing my defense for “unfit mother” allegations.  I mean, I care about the reputation I have in the roles of “mother,” “wife,” and “Christian,” and I started to think that the possibility of finding a new aspect of “me” with this writing business was not worth the possibility of losing the old ones.  Some say you can’t have it all.  Maybe they are right.

Runners refer to “the wall” as the point when they feel they can run no more.  Sometimes it’s a physical thing.  Sometime’s it’s mental.  I think for me, as a writer (yes, I’m claiming that title now that I have my first publication…lol), it’s the point where I have to adjust to sharing my innermost thoughts and ideas and find a way to still maintain a separate identity from the art that it creates.  That’s hard to do when you are writing about real feelings and experiences.  But, those real feelings of hopelessness come and are then followed by a healthy dose of optimism that I draw upon from God, Ansley, Martin, or otherwise.  Just like everyone else.  Only, writers take a moment of hopelessness and turn that feeling into 600 words that don’t even get read until days, years even, after the situation occurred.  And, sometimes the upswing of the event is saved for another day, another blog post. 

“Grasping to control

So I better hold on”

So, where am I going with all this?  The short answer is:  I don’t know.  Here is what I do know:  On September 30, 2011, my contract with the FDA comes to an end.  And I think that’s it for me as a scientist.  I’m hanging up my lab coat.  I don’t know exactly what comes next, but I’d like it to include wordsI’m being vague on purpose.  For now, the beauty of this blog is that I don’t have to define it.  No limitations.  It is what it is.  The inferred suggestion in “find your voice” is that you have to start looking for it somewhere.  Well, here I go.  I’m going to work on breaking through this wall.  What lies on the other side-English professor, magazine columnist, editor of a small town newspaper–that’s kind of an exciting mystery.  Who knows, maybe I’ll find a way to make a living deconstructing song lyrics.  Anybody have connections at Rolling Stone?  (Wanna buy five copies for my mother…well, there I go again.)   

I don’t know what the deal is with this Green Day stuff, either.  It’s following me.  It’s in waiting rooms.  It’s the first song on my radio.  I suppose if “little voices in your head” come with the territory, theirs are not such bad ones to have.  Stay tuned!

(Title and block quotations are lyrics from “Basket Case” by Green Day)

1.  Fricke, David.  “Billie Joe Armstrong.”  Nov. 1, 2007.  www.rollingstone.com

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