Monday, February 23, 2009

The look of love: Days 7, 8 and 9

After a disastrous Day 6, I finally had a couple of good days. For days 7, 8 and 9, I thought I would combine the challenges in one post as they all were closely related.

I've been thinking a lot about love and how people relate to one another.

I recently read the book "The Shack," by Wm. Paul Young, and in it, there was a particular passage that had a profound impact on me. The book is about a man named Mack whose youngest daughter is abducted and brutally murdered while on a family vacation. Several years after the girl's disappearance, Mack receives a note, apparently from God, asking him to return to the abandoned shack where the murder took place. While there, Mack comes face to face with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. They have taken on human forms--and not necessarily how Mack pictured them. The thing that struck me in particular was how Mack observed how the three communicated with each other--they thoroughly enjoyed each other's company and gave each other their undivided attention--they demonstrated pure love for one another.

This gave pause for me to think of the couples or people I knew who actually treated each other with the love and respect as the Holy figures demonstrated in this book. I recalled a time when I was visiting the Mennonite family who sold me my commercial embroidery machine. The husband and wife treated each other with such great love and respect and showed such pure enjoyment for one another, that I began to crave it (the it that is love) in my own relationships.

I thought back to the early days of my relationship with Steve--when we were so in love with each other that we overlooked each other's faults--before the trappings of life began to weigh heavily on our relationship. Why is it that we lose sight of the very things that brought us together and start to nitpick at behaviors or habits that have no relevance? Why can't we just cherish the true, beautiful gift of love? And it is a gift--one that eluded me for so very long.

I remember a time when Steve and I were engaged and we were at a party dancing and laughing with one another. Afterward, a friend of mine came up to me and gave me a big hug and kiss and said how much she enjoyed watching me enjoy my fiance--how our very apparent love had touched her. So I had it--we had it. Well, darn it if we're not going to get it back!

So, the challenge for the past three days tasked us with coming up with lists of positive and negative attributes of our spouse. The list of positives by far outnumbered the negatives. And the list of negatives that I came up with were so very minor, that it hardly was worth it to write them down, tho it did make me realize how inconsequential they were in the grand scheme of things.

I not only made sure that I told Steve how much I appreciated the fact that he always was in a good mood, but I also set about showing him how much I appreciate and love him--the ol' "actions speak louder than words" scenario.

We took the kids to a neighborhood restaurant and pub the other night to listen to a friend's band. I let go of all of the stress and irritants that seem to be constant companions of late and just really enjoyed my family. When Steve spoke, he had my undivided attention. We laughed and joked and kissed and held hands. I looked at my children with love instead of ire--the way they deserved. You might say we had it going on. It made for quite the enjoyable evening.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Day 6: The downward spiral continues

I'm a little behind with my writing due to a pinched nerve in my neck, but I have managed to keep up with my challenges--at least I have read them. It is ironic that my neck got hurt right when I was to address the issue of irritability and how it affects relationships.

I just erased a couple of paragraphs where I discussed how I've been under a lot of stress lately and tried to justify my bad behavior because I have not been sleeping well and I'm not feeling good. The truth is, I'm ashamed right now. I had been resting with a heating pad this afternoon while Max and Carly were playing with one of Max's friends. Steve left a while ago to go pick Sophie up from a friend's house. He told me Max was to clean up his room or go to bed.

Well, I made the mistake of going up and checking on him and I was sick at what I saw--his room looked like a trash heap. They had dumped out the hamper and all of the baskets I used to organize his toys, books were everywhere, a map of the United States was ripped in half, everything had been pulled out of the closet. I lost it and just started screaming at my little boy. It kills me when my kids don't take care of their things--perhaps my biggest pet peeve--but does that justify my bad behavior?

I consulted the book to see if I could parse some explanation for my actions and there it was: deficiencies. I have not been getting enough rest, good nutrition nor exercise and it's beginning to take its toll. I need to take time out for myself-- apply margin to my schedule--in order to relieve the stress and break the cycle of irritability. I am happiest when I am exercising regularly, sleeping well and eating right. I have not been taking care of myself, which translates into not taking care of my family.

I really thought I started out this challenge strong--I had a few really good days, and thought I would just cruise through. But I guess old habits die hard. I have a lot of work to do. I want to get to the point where I react to adversity with love, not anger. I'm not there yet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Day 5: Love is not rude

Today's challenge found me asking Steve the three things that cause him to be irritated or uncomfortable around me. I was really nervous to ask him this because, let's face it, it's hard to hear any criticism about ourselves.

I emailed him, told him I was working on a project. He told me he would email me when he got back into his office. A couple hours later he called to say he had emailed the list and said that it was hard to come up with three things and he hoped I wasn't mad at him for what he wrote.

I had not expected this response from him. I thought he would have a hard time whittling down his list.

Here is what he wrote:

Here's my response...this doesn't mean I love you any less!

1. You sometimes think that your priorities are my when you get into your house cleaning mode.

2. There are times when I call you to tell you I'm going to be late and you get this completely disappointed voice which makes me feel like crap.

3. I don't think you realize that golf is my release and I like spending time with just a few of my buddies. It would be great if you just told me to get out and play sometimes.

That's my 3.... LOVE YOU

I am not going to debate or argue any of these points. Reading this list made me realize that Steve loves me unconditionally--he accepts my faults and there are many--I know. And as I look at the list, those are examples of my selfishness--one of the key components of rude behavior. Number 1 - I want him to be on the same page as me. Number 2 - I am disappointed because it means I have to deal with the children and the house alone for that much longer. Number 3 - Why should he get to have fun and relax--what about me? So on the surface his answers seem benign, but when I delved deeper, his answers struck a painful chord. A real eye-opener.

Steve said he would be afraid to ask me the same question.

He also told me he knew what my project was. He asked, "What day are you on?"

I am somewhat relieved as I had been feeling like I was sneaking around or lying to him. Every time he would come into my office while I was writing, I would quickly turn off the computer as if I were hiding some secret correspondence with a lover when in all actuality it was my secret correspondence to him.

So now we are on this journey together--as it should be.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Day 4 marks the return of Mean Mommy

Today's challenge, had it stood apart from the others, would have been relatively easy to accomplish; but for the fact that I still was incorporating the previous days' challenges, I must admit, I failed miserably.

Today we were to contact our spouse and ask them how they were doing (Steve and I do this several times a day anyway, so this was no big deal). I knew he had dropped off a bunch of shirts at the dry cleaners last week, so I asked if he wanted me to pick them up.

"That would be great! Thanks, Baby," he said.

So, I went and picked up his shirts, no problem. This is an area of our marriage in which we excel. We've always talked several times day and are usually very courteous and helpful if one of needs the other to run an errand. My failure today came in the treatment--or shall I say mistreatment--of my children, especially Carly.

Carly is two and 3/4 and she requires a lot of attention. Unlike the other two, who are perfectly content to play by themselves without incident, Carly needs almost constant companionship and supervision--she commands it. If she doesn't get it, then she sets out to do anything and everything in her power to achieve it.

After going to the dry cleaners, I took Carly to the grocery store, where, of course, she wanted to ride in one of those awful carts that has the plastic car on the front. (Whomever invented these things needs some serious counseling because only a sick individual would put these contraptions out for public consumption.) I tried to shop quickly before Carly got restless. By the time we got to checkout she had five-fingered a bag of Puff 'n Corn, a box of Ho Hos and some tampons. I took a deep breath and returned everything, with the exception of the Puff 'n Corn which she clung to for dear life when I tried to pry it from her hands. When we wheeled out to the car, I opened the door to the minivan so she could get inside and she darted out the other side of the plastic car and ran out into the parking lot. I screamed at her to come back, but she just started laughing this sinister laugh and running away. I was fearful she would get hit by a car, but she was oblivious to any potential harm. I finally grabbed her and dumped her unceremoniously into her car seat.

Things got worse. All afternoon she was getting into everything and destroying stuff around the house. While I was putting groceries away, she was pulling crackers out of the pantry and dumping them on the floor. She got into the refrigerator and opened up container after container of yogurt which she proceeded to dump, half empty into the kitchen sink. I left the room for a minute and came back to find she had stabbed a banana with a paring knife--I don't know if I should have perceived that as a threat or not, but I was exasperated. At one point, she had gone into my sewing room and removed all of the spools of thread from my sewing cabinet and was stringing them around my bedroom. When I tried to get the thread from her, she took off running and dumped the evidence along the way, all with her signature semi-evil laugh.

By the time we went to get Sophie and Max from school, I had had it. Carly had taken off running around the courtyard at school (a no-no) and the other two were chasing after her. I stood defeated. After we got home it did not take long for Mean Mommy to emerge. I was putting lunch bags away and going through folders, when Max and Carly appeared in the kitchen without any clothes on. Little piles of clothes and kid funk started to appear all over the house. I started screaming. I'm pretty sure at one point that my head spun around and pea soup was shooting out of my mouth and nose. I yelled and yelled and yelled. By the time I was done I was exhausted and the kids were just ignoring me--it seems they have gotten used to my rants, even though I had provided them a few days of respite.

I felt horrible. I felt as if I had just undone all that I had accomplished thus far in the Love Dare Challenge. I apologized, but I'm not sure that was enough. All Carly had wanted was to spend time with me. I realized if I didn't change this pattern of behavior that soon none of my children will want to be around me. I don't want to live life that way. I really need to do better here.

I am praying for a good Day 5.

Being selfish -- Love Dare Day 3

Today I screwed up a bit.

I hadn't read the challenge completely and thought that I was supposed to do something nice for my husband and not be selfish. He had the day off for President's Day and we had discussed on Friday spending the day together since Sophie and Max would be in school and Carly would go to day care (she goes just one day a week).

Well, Sunday evening he had mentioned that he had to run to Baltimore for a side job he was doing and thought that I could accompany him and then we could go to lunch. I started thinking of all of the orders I had to do for my embroidery business and told him I didn't think I would be able to get everything done that I needed to if I went with him (it would have meant three hours in the car plus whatever time we spent at the job site and at lunch). I could tell that he was disappointed, but instead of making the concession, I stayed at home to work.

I vacillated all day, beating myself up one minute and then trying to justify my actions--it was the one day I could devote to my business without interruption from the kids. I had just about convinced myself that I was not being selfish, that I was being responsible, when I sat down and read more closely the chapter in the book for Day 3. I pretty much failed the questionnaire.

Do I truly want what's best for my husband? Well, of course. That's why I am doing this challenge.

Do I truly want him to feel loved by me? Again, a given.

Does he believe I have his best interests in mind? Oh, dear...

Does he see me as looking out for myself first? Uh, yeah...

Alright--so I blew it. I could have put my orders off (I was turning them around within a few days rather than the week to two weeks stated on my website), and gone with Steve--it should have been a simple challenge, but I complicated things by being selfish. I realize the purpose of this challenge is not to punish ourselves, but to show true love to our spouses and children. I resolved to do better the next day.

Then I looked at the challenge and realized I was supposed to buy something for Steve to show him that I was thinking of him. Shoot! It was already 8 p.m. What could I possibly buy and how could I sneak out of the house without anyone knowing I had left?

Without hesitation, I grabbed the keys to my car and snuck out the front door. Steve and the kids were in the basement cleaning up. I drove to the HandiMart outside our neighborhood and purchased him a Powerball ticket--he had just this afternoon told me he was going to win Powerball one of these days, "It shouldn't be too hard--I think they say the odds are 72 million to one." Good ol' Steve--always the positive thinker.

I snuck back in the house. Mission accomplished. I went down to the basement and handed him the ticket.

"Where'd you get this?" he asked.

"Oh, I had to run and get some aspirin for my hip, so I thought I'd get you a Powerball ticket," I explained.

"Thanks," was all he said.

That's it? I thought. Rather than say something like, "Gee, I thought you would be a little more grateful that I bought you something," I held my tongue.

Then I thought of how Caleb in the movie "Fireproof" could not believe that Catherine didn't even thank him for the coffee he had made for her or the pitiful flowers he purchased for her, once again, making it about him instead of his wife. Then I realized that it wasn't about me getting praise for doing something nice--it was about Steve--a small, small gesture to let him know I was thinking of him.

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).

Lesson learned. The day was not a total loss.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Kindness in a skillet

Today's Love Dare was accomplished with a skillet of Hamburger Helper, which my husband loves, but which I find barely palatable. I consider myself an above average cook and am always trying out new recipes or creating new dishes, and while Steve enjoys most of my creations, I get the most satisfied reaction from him when I stick with the basics.

Today I made an effort to stick with the basics of love--patience and kindness.

I have to provide a little background. I was in an abusive relationship for several years while in college. After escaping that, I found myself bouncing from one bad relationship to another wondering why I couldn't maintain one that was decent and loving. The reason (which I discovered after years of therapy) was that I didn't love myself.

I would make such an effort to please my partner that I became a doormat--never wanting to complain or give any reason to rock the boat. When my partners became bored with Little Miss Perfection (and it's inevitable when you don't allow someone to get to know the real you), they started to take advantage of me. Rather than sticking up for myself, I set about to be even more perfect--my rationale being they couldn't possibly leave me because I'm so nice and I do so much for them.


So after therapy, I began asserting myself, loving myself. I was looking out for number one. That's when I met Steve. He got the real me. But as our relationship progressed, I still was looking out for number one. More so after we got married and had the kids. I began keeping score, comparing everything I did for him as opposed to what he did for me. Why should I do his laundry when I have to do not only mine, but all of the kids' laundry, as well? Why should I have to do most of the cleaning when he contributes to the mess as well? But that is not an accurate depiction of our relationship, because it only takes into account the physical acts that we perform for each other, not the emotional ones.

Steve is a good man and an excellent father. He always has treated me with love and respect. He is rarely in a bad mood and he often times has reason to be. He is kind to me. I realize I am the one who needs to even up the score emotionally.

In "The Love Dare," the authors quote a passage from the Bible describing a woman whose husband and children praise her. "She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindess is on her tongue." (Proverbs 31:26) I want to be that woman to my husband and children.

And so, today, kindness was on my tongue, along with a little overly-salted Hamburger Helper.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love is patient, love is kind

I am participating in the "Love Dare Challenge," along with some other great women at I thought I would share some of my posts here.

I am not a patient person. So it stands to reason that I don't like to be late.

Several weeks ago, we were getting the kids ready for church and, as usual, the morning had slipped away and I was frantically trying to get the little ones ready and out the door so we would not miss any of the service.

I was standing in the foyer barking out orders, as is my usual routine.

"Sophie, put your shoes on!"

"Max--did you brush your teeth?"

"We're going to be late! Carly--where's Carly?"

"Let's go, guys! Come ON!"

"Steve, can you please help me get them ready?
Heavy sigh and overly-dramatic eye roll...

We made it to church, got the kids settled in their classrooms and went in to listen to the service. I was smiling and trying to look the part of Mother of the Year, when the Pastor started talking about how we present ourselves to the public as opposed to how we present ourselves in our own homes. How some people appear to be good Christians, always greeting others with a smile, giving of themselves, going above and beyond to lend a helping hand, and then turn around and are the exact opposite at home.

My heart sank. I realized I was a hypocrite. I was giving the best of myself to the community and saving the worst for home. I love my family, so why would I treat them so poorly? Love is patient, love is kind, yet I realized I violate those core principles on almost a daily basis.

When Steve and I got into the car after church, I apologized to him. I told him that what the Pastor had said really hit home. He, too, had been struck by the message and we both vowed to do better--to treat each other with the love and respect we as family members all deserve.

Over the next few weeks, I did better, but I still did my share of yelling.

So, on this, the first day of the Love Dare Challenge, it seemed only fitting that I had to address one of my biggest demons--impatience.

The day started out beautifully--Valentine's Day and Steve had surprised me with a dozen roses, fresh coffee and a pepperoni roll (my favorite West Virginian delicacy). The kids were bouncing off the walls, excited over their cards and eating way too much candy. The morning went by too fast as usual and pretty soon it was time to go to Sophie's basketball game, which meant getting all three kids ready and out the door.


I didn't know if I was going to be able to hold it together, but I did. I didn't yell or issue commands like a drill sergeant. Instead I was encouraging the kids to get ready, asking them if they needed help getting their shoes and coats on--it was oddly very pleasant.

Even at the game when Carly and Max were off being every bit two and four, I remained calm. If they started to do something wrong, I asked them nicely to stop. They didn't always listen, but at the times they deviated, I re-directed them or took them out of the auditorium so they could calm down.

I did everything the way a loving person should--the way my family deserved.

And it felt really good.

My hope for this challenge is that I will strengthen my already strong marriage and foster true love amongst my children. I'm hoping they will forget all of the times I have yelled at them and that they will feel secure in my love for them--that they will know that love is forgiving, understanding and patient.

It was a good day.

Day 2 -- bring it!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Basement floods again

I cannot believe it, but our basement has flooded for the sixth time since our home was built not even four years ago. I am sick over this and very angry at our builder (Richmond American Homes). This was our dream home and it has become a nightmare living here. Once again, Steve and I had to haul out the kids toys (the basement is their play room), mop up all of the water and dry everything out. Steve had put all of the towels and blankets outside to dry out and, as luck would have it, we got a big rain last night and are now being treated to wind gusts of 60 mph. This morning I had to run all over the yard and collect the towels and bring them inside. I'm washing my third load.

I do not understand why this keeps occurring. We do not live in a flood plain. We complained to our builder (Richmond American) after our Big Flood on Mother's Day last year when we lost all of our Berber carpeting and padding, our bathroom tile, hundreds of dollars worth of Suzi Homemaker inventory and most of the kids' toys. Of course, they said they were sorry for our loss, but not their problem since our warranty expired two years prior. We have a sump pump and a hung sewer. Richmond American encouraged us to use their insurance company when we financed the house. The mortgage company neglected to tell us of a little clause that stated sump pump failure was not included with our policy--we had to purchase extra insurance to cover that. Now, don't you think had we been made aware of that clause when we purchased our insurance that we would have purchased the additional coverage since we have not one, but TWO PUMPS?

The house flooded once before we moved in, twice while we were under warranty and now three additional times since we've been on our own. Can anyone think of a reason why this keeps happening other than that Richmond American built us a substandard, overpriced home?

I did a little research this morning (which I wish we would have done prior to building with Richmond American), apparently there are MANY other dissatisfied Richmond American home buyers out there, with issues ranging from flooding, to mold, to improperly installed roofing tiles, to the builder's failure to properly install passive radon removal systems, to improperly installed floor joists (this resulted in a bathtub falling through a ceiling), ... the list goes on and on and on. These are homeowners from around the country.

I need to move on to a happier topic--Sophie's birthday and all of the wonderful trappings that go with that. But I will leave you with a link to check out. Please do research on your builder before buying a new home. I wish we had--it would have saved us a lot of grief and money.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Honest Scrap Award

Regina from My Life With Little Girls was kind enough to bestow this award upon me. From what I have read, this award is given to bloggers who write from the heart.

The rules are as follows:

a) List 10 honest things about yourself.

b) Pass the award on to seven bloggers whom you feel embody the spirit of the Honest Scrap.

Here is my list of things (a.k.a. neuroses) in no particular order:

1. I cry at least once a day, whether I am happy, sad, angry or frustrated. I cry at commercials. I cry watching "A Baby Story." I cried during the Super Bowl, both during the "Star Spangled Banner," and then at the end of the game. There is nothing I can do about this--I am convinced it is hereditary.

2. I used to be painfully shy. I could not walk into a room without being totally self-conscious. Speaking to someone out of my small, inner circle of friends just did not occur without a lot of stuttering or blushing.

3. I decided to go to school at Arizona State University, way across the country where I knew not a single soul, to get over aforementioned shyness. It worked. My senior year, I was editor-in-chief of the campus daily newspaper and had made a lot of great friends (tho I still sometimes find myself feeling shy in certain social settings).

4. I secretly wish I was 30 again (tho I would still want to have my wonderful husband and three gorgeous kids). I just wish I still looked like I did and had the energy I did when I was 30.

5. I'm afraid to go to the dentist. I go, but not without a lot of anxiety. I'm always convinced my teeth are falling out. The dentist assures me they're not, but that I am brushing too hard. I don't even like it when they clean my teeth. The latex gloves make me gag. I'm gagging right now just thinking of it.

6. I don't like to play games--not card games, board games nor video games. I would much rather sit and have a conversation with someone or just sit quietly. If I go to a party where they are playing games, I'll sit on the sidelines and just chit-chat with everyone instead of playing.

7. I have a diaper bag fetish. I've been in search of the perfect diaper bag since I had Sophie almost seven years ago. It does not exist, although I came close with a bag I designed on 1154 Lill. My diaper bag days are nearly over and I am trying to come to terms with that fact.

8. I am an EXCELLENT dancer. I don't know how I acquired this skill, but people are always amazed when I start moving on the dance floor.

9. There are some kids at Sophie and Max's school that I don't like. If I hear of one of them being mean to my children, that's it. They're on my List. Some others make it just because they annoy me. Especially whiners. I know--I am horrible.

10. I have a foot fungus. I got it from sharing a shower with my husband. I keep treating it, but until he buys into the fact that he has the fungus (he insists it's dry skin), it will not go away.

Now for my seven Honest Scrappers: Amy from Mom Spark; my buddy, Dawn from D-Blogala; Angie from 5 Vinez Monkeys; Gina from A Wrestling Addicted Mommy; Kristle from Stir Crazy; Heather from A Daycare Life; and my girl Jen from Lost In Eden.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Day with Sophie

It is rare that I get to spend a day alone with Sophie, but this past Saturday I was able to do just that. She started cheerleading this year through the Upward program at our church (Steve and I secretly wished she would have played basketball, but she so wanted to be a cheerleader like her cousin, Megan!), and after her game on Saturday, Sophie and I went out to lunch with my parents, sister and niece. Then we had to go back to church because we had volunteered to work the concession stand.

She was SO EXCITED! She had such a great time getting people their drinks, handling the money and serving people their food. She didn't want to leave! When I finally managed to get her in the car, she told me, "Mommy, this was the best hour of my life!"

My sweet girl will turn seven on Feb. 12. I cannot believe how fast the time has flown by. I have a message for Sophie: This has been the best seven years of my life! I love you, Big Girl!