do one thing every day that scares you

Or in my case, do it twice a week.

If I call my family or best friends on the phone, they usually answer with a panicky “IS EVERYTHING OK?” This is because I do not like talking on the phone. I hate it. Once, my voicemail was borked for like 6 months, and I didn’t realize it. I was just delighted that everyone had finally realized that texting is my love language and stopped calling me.

But, my kids recently started preschool, and I signed up to volunteer for the Hillary Clinton campaign in my newfound free time. And you know what they needed me to do? Phone bank. Yep. I go in, and they hand me a flip phone and a list of names to call. Thank God they’re at least people who have supported Democrats in the past, because getting yelled at by Trump supporters on the phone isn’t something I want to deal with– seeing them pop up in my Twitter mentions is bad enough.

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This is me, awkwardly making calls on a flip phone.

So yeah, twice a week, I go do a thing I utterly hate. I actively dread it before I go. But I push through the awkwardness and anxiety because I think winning this election (and electing Democrats to the House and Senate) is SO IMPORTANT. I want to be able to tell my kids one day that I did everything I could to stop Donald Trump and elect our first woman president. The idea of a Trump presidency gives me actual nightmares. Knowing that I’m helping stop it helps me sleep at night.

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Channeling RBG helps me be brave.

Do you have any free time at all? Does the idea of a Trump presidency scare you? Then push through the awkwardness with me and sign up to volunteer. Go to hillaryclinton.com, click ACT up top, and sign up. An organizer will contact you (mine’s an awesome guy named Cortrell) and get you signed up to do whatever you can in whatever time you have. You might end up phone banking. You might register voters. You might canvass your neighbors. You might do data entry. But you’ll be helping America avoid a Trump presidency, and that is a BIG FREAKING DEAL. It’s worth doing, even if the idea of calling strangers on the phone makes you break out into a cold sweat. We can do this. After all, we’re #StrongerTogether.

i hate april fool’s

I hate April Fool’s Day on the internet. Some pranks can be funny, but mostly they just make me feel frustrated and annoyed. Plus, I always feel kind of Debbie Downer-ish on April 1st. Four years ago, on a bright, shiny, April 1st morning, I almost died.

On Easter morning, my pastor mentioned in his sermon that he had never had a near death experience. That he had never felt outside his own body while teams of healthcare professionals worked to save him. He went on to talk about how he had felt life-less, though, had experienced darkness, despair, depression, and how this life-less-ness is something we all can relate to, a reason we all need to experience the Life Abundant that Jesus offers. I appreciated that message.

But as I sat there, I must admit that I missed a lot of the sermon, because I have had that near-death experience. I have felt suddenly all too aware of my body’s own frailty. As my heart failed and my lungs filled with fluid, my body became a prison. As respiratory therapists, nurses, and doctors fought to save me, I felt helpless and panicked and irrational. I pushed masks meant to help me breathe away because they felt suffocating. I fought the people trying to save me as I fought for my life. And in the middle of it all, I remember thinking, they’re going to have to sedate me, or this is never going to work. Flashes of lucidity in the middle of sheer panic and terror. I remembered all of that on Sunday morning, and so I distracted myself grinning at a small boy in front of me wearing a seersucker suit instead of going there in my mind.

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This is actually a picture taken during the girls’ delivery, not of me when I was intubated.

It’s a weird thing to be a person in the world after something like that. Around the first year anniversary mark, I was having panic attacks and intense anxiety, because I’d been so busy keeping twins alive, I never really got a chance to process what happened to me until a year later. Now, four years later, I mostly forget about that time I almost died. I can tell the story in such a way that it makes people laugh, even. Or I can shock even healthcare professionals as I tell it in as vivid a way as possible. Somehow the process of turning an experience into an anecdote has placed some distance between me and the intensity of the feelings I have about that trauma.

Also, though I take pills every day to keep my heart from every doing THAT again, I mostly don’t think about it too much. But sometimes I’m reminded unexpectedly, or something brings it up– someone asks if I’m going to have any more kids, for example–and then I remember that time I almost died. I’m usually sorry I have to mention it, like I need to spare the other person from the news of my trauma. I worry about becoming That Girl Who Won’t Stop Bringing Up That Time She Almost Died. Do people want to avoid me in case it comes up? I can’t imagine it’s really what anyone wants to hear about over cocktails. I’m even wary of writing too much about it for fear this blog becomes That Downer from that Girl Who Almost Died Once and Can’t Seem to Get Over It.

But I can’t avoid this day. It’s a marker of time for me. I was a different person before April 1, 2012, and I’ve been a different person ever since. Sometimes I think my experience made me fearless, because nothing short of death itself can ever be as scary as that day was. Other times I think it made me feel more fragile, a little too aware that it could all be over in a blink, more than a little afraid that it will be. On this anniversary, I’m not much of a person who can take a joke. I feel a little bit raw and a little bit fragile, though I am also pretty sure each year will lessen those feelings as I put more distance between myself and the trauma of that day. I hope so.

 

don’t talk about my kid that way

“Raging Sociopath.” “Little Criminal.” “Corrupt.” “Depraved.” “Demon Child.”

If someone said those things about either of my children, they’d be facing a very angry mama bear. Imagine my surprise to find them littered throughout an ostensibly Christian parenting book (Parenting by the Book, by John Rosemond) my Sunday School class has started studying! I had so many issues with the first lesson of the study that my head almost exploded, but this is one of my biggest issues with the author’s entire view on parenting, because the way he speaks about children, I think, has a lot to do with the harsh manner in which he advocates treating them.

Can you imagine the Jesus who said “Let the little children come to me,” and who encouraged all of us to have faith like a child speaking of his beloved little children in those terms? It’s hard to imagine a Bible that says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen,” (Ephesians 4:29) seeing such terms as “building up” or “beneficial” to children.

I gather that in order to understand “sinful nature,” some people must force themselves to believe that children are basically depraved sinners. I just don’t think that in order to accept that all humans have a capacity to sin I must see my children in only those terms. While my children have their periods of selfishness (which it seems to me is pretty much the root of all evil, even in my own heart), nearly four years with them has taught me that kids have great capacities for love and empathy. They genuinely want to please the adults in their lives. They genuinely want to show love to the people around them. One of the highest compliments I can pay my girls is to tell them what loving hearts they have, and how happy my heart is to see them being kind to others. When I do, I can see them radiating joy. They have a capacity for selfishness, too, but the answer is not to tell myself or them that they are basically monsters. The answer is to encourage and nurture their naturally loving little hearts, and to learn from them.

I am often quoting author Thomas King, “The truth about stories is, they’re all that we are.” I’ve also read that our voices will one day become the voices in our children’s heads. The words that we use to think about and talk about our children shape the way we treat them and the way we speak to them. They will do their best to live up to the selves they see reflected in our eyes. I want them to know that I see their best selves, that I feel privileged to know them and to be their mom. Imagine my surprise to find a Christian parenting expert speaking of children in terms I'd sock a stranger for using about my kids!

Ever South

Indigo Girls at South on Main in Little Rock, AR

Last night Jon and I went to a concert that celebrated Georgia music with the Indigo Girls and Patterson Hood. The music was amazing, and though we bought the tickets mostly to see the Indigo Girls, I can now count myself a belated fan of Patterson Hood and will likely spend today listening to him and his band, the Drive By Truckers. He especially won me over with “Daddy Needs a Drink,” and I really loved a song he played called “Ever South,” that he said he wrote just a few days ago about moving from the South to Oregon. The line “Everywhere we go, they hear the drawl that leaves our mouth, so no matter where we go, we’re ever South” reminded me of how many of my fellow native Southerners don’t think I have much of an accent, but when I visit my husband’s family in Colorado, they all seem to think I do! I also really loved the song “World of Hurt” about the crazy mix of beauty and pain that is life and love, and another song, where he sang “I can dance on my own grave, thank you,” which is exactly how I feel about my near-death experience.

Patterson Hood at South on Main in Little Rock, AR

At one point in the night, we were discussing Southern identity with a friend who’s from California. I said I think Colorado-born Jon has been naturalized as a Southerner at this point, after over a decade in the South and two Arkansas-born daughters. Jon said, “Well, I have a daughter named Etta Jane, what more do I need?” True. Poor guy didn’t want our kid to have a double name, because he thought it sounded too Southern, and then the little peach went and insisted on having one anyway. “NAME ETTA JANE,” she’s been insisting for at least a year now. Just Etta is apparently not enough to cover it.

It was interesting to think about, though, because I don’t think people from other regions obsess quite so much with the idea of regional identity. Are Midwesterners tortured or haunted the way so many Southerners are (or at least those of us who really love Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor)? Do people from other regions have the same experience of wrestling with their regional identity and deciding how much it influences them and what parts of it they will keep and what parts they will reject–not so much a coming out as a coming into a type of identity? I suspect not. We’re a weird sort, ever South.

I’m already obsessing about Advent

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.comI’m the first to gripe about “Christmas Creep” and how people keep trying to make Christmas happen before its time, which, in my opinion, should absolutely never be before the day after Thanksgiving. (Mostly because Thanksgiving is one of my favorites.) However, I spent the last week obsessively working on finishing the Advent calendar I started making for the girls in 2013. It was a bit more than I could achieve when the girls were one, but now that they’re three, not only do I have more time to craft, I really think they’ll enjoy incorporating this tradition and get something out of it. And I’m writing about it now because if you start soon, you’ve got time to make one before Advent starts, too. But not if you have two one-year-olds — take it from me and take it easy on yourself.

Celebrating Advent has always been part of my family and faith tradition, a way to focus on the “reason for the season” as my dad loves to say. Growing up we had an Advent wreath and candles, and I remember doing family devotionals sent home by our church. Through friends, I heard about the Jesse Tree tradition, which uses the whole “out of the stump of Jesse” prophecy from Isaiah to tell the story of Jesus’s family tree through ornaments and a tree. Each ornament corresponds to a Bible Story about one of the members of Jesus’ family tree, so each day leading up to Christmas, you take out an ornament and read the corresponding scripture. One friend even hosted a Jesse Tree ornament party a few years back, where everybody was assigned one ornament and made enough for everyone, so each guest left with a complete set but only had to make one type of ornament — fun and efficient!

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Lots of people put the ornaments on their actual Christmas tree or on a smaller table-top tree that they use just for the Jesse Tree. I had seen many beautiful felt and fabric Advent calendars, so that’s what I had in mind. I love the idea of making a normal Advent calendar slightly more scriptural, so I started looking for Jesse Tree Advent calendars. I wanted to make something that my family could use for years to come and remember fondly, so I bought a kit from an Etsy seller that included patterns, instructions, and all the supplies. My kit was $60, but it looks like my seller is no longer selling the kits, just fully handmade calendars for $390. While I love my kit, I can’t imagine having paid nearly 400 bucks for a completed calendar, though I know that it’s worth that with all the painstaking work that goes into it. So painstaking, in fact, that I modified my calendar– I used puffy paint on the felt to make the ornaments instead of hand-sewing tiny layers and appliques, and I machine-sewed the body of the calendar. I have come to accept that I am just not a fan of embroidering. It’s beautiful, but tedious and frustrating.

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

 

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Still, I didn’t want to write about finishing this beautiful thing for my family and then be like, sorry, folks, good luck to ya. I found a few felt Advent calendar patterns that I think you could fairly easily adapt into Jesse Trees by swapping out the ornaments, either by making these felt ornaments, by trying one of these other kits, or by buying a set of alreadymade Jesse Tree ornaments. There are also lots of free tutorials for making felt Jesse Tree ornaments online.

Is a Jesse tree part of your holiday tradition? Do you celebrate Advent in other ways?

i took a walk

My girls have fallen in love with “the puppets,” by which they mean The Muppets lately. No, this isn’t some sort of tie-in with their new show that apparently premiered this week, because I haven’t seen it, and I’m not on the Muppet payroll. (Although, Kermit, call me!) We have a few Muppet movies on DVD, and they’ve been watching those, particularly the newer one with Jason Segel that came out when I was pregnant with them, which Jon and I saw in the theater, which I totally SOBBED through because I was hopped up on double twin hormones and feeling very nostalgic. Anyway, one funny thing that the girls have picked up on from the movie is a song Amy Adams’ character sings while eating alone about “having a me party.” When we were out to lunch the other day, they saw a woman dining alone, and asked me if she was having a “me party.” And I’ve heard them say to each other when they feel like they need a little space or alone time, “could you please leave me alone? I need to have a me party.” I kind of love it. Both the phrase and the fact that these tiny people are self-aware enough to know that they need some alone time once in a while. And I love that it’s phrased positively, like a party, instead of negatively, like loneliness.

As a mom of three-year-old-twins, I don’t get a lot of me time. You know how society is always making us think we need to “do it all” and asks us how we “do it all” and creates a lot of insecurity around “all” and even though we know it’s a giant, soul-killing lie, we just keep buying into it, anyway? We all know this, and yet we keep on tap dancing, juggling flaming swords, just praying that we don’t get maimed too bad when it all falls down.

I’m tempted to say something like “Can I be real?” and make a candid admission, but here’s what I’m really going to say: you don’t need to ask permission to be real. You don’t need to sneakily confess that you’re not doing it all. Because deep down you know no one is, and you know that’s just life, and there shouldn’t be guilt there. I can’t even figure out how to do MOST OF IT, let alone all of it, in one day. I can be a few but not all of the following in a given day: a good mom, a good wife, a good friend, a good cook, a person who exercises, a person who writes, a person who took a shower today, a person with a clean house, a person who makes time for her spiritual wellbeing, a person who gets enough sleep. Which is why I just love love loved this post, “Limiting All” by a woman whose voice I have really come to love lately, Amanda Magee. In it, she writes, “Unclench your hand, let everything fall down, if for no other reason than to give your arm a rest and to regather the things so they fit better in your hand. We are all sitting precariously on towers of our own making. They don’t have to reach the sky or carry the world, they just need to hold us and that starts with us accepting that ‘all’ is not something we even want.”

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So, a great gift my husband has given me the last three days is he’s given me some “me party” time. I know that we both want each other to take time to nurture ourselves, but work schedules and actually taking advantage of the time we do have doesn’t always work out. But this week, it has. Namely, for the last 3 days, I’ve gotten out for 45 minutes to an hour to just take a walk in the lovely finally starting to cool off weather, basking in the sunshine, earbuds and a podcast in my ears. Because while I love doing Zumba in my den, it’s just SO FREAKING NICE after basically being cooped up in air conditioned spaces for the last three months, to get some fresh air in my lungs and just be by myself and listen to stuff that feeds my mind.

The view halfway through my walk.

The view halfway through my walk.

Taking care of my mind/body is something that often ends up on the back burner, because I am taking care of small people, trying to nurture relationships, and also trying to squeeze out time to do the thing I love the most: write. But the thing is, a lot of the time, I feel like all my creative energy gets used up in the course of just trying to create my best self with which to interact and parent my children every single day. I mean, I’m literally writing the character I inhabit all day every day, trying to put affirming, patient, peaceful words and thoughts in my mind and my mouth, trying desperately to construct the reality I want them to live in. And since I’m a person who writes about my life, sometimes being actively in it makes it hard to also observe it and package great insights wrapped in words. I know it’s hip to talk about living your life as if you’re writing a story these days, but man, that’s how I see my world. I’m writing a story with my life all day, and sometimes that leaves very little headspace or energy for actual writing. Which then creates guilt because my writing is this big key piece of my personality and sanity and wellbeing.

So, anyway, these last three days, I’ve walked a total of 8 miles or so, and I’ve been listening to interesting things along the way, and today as I was trucking along, I was straight up moved to tears listening to Elizabeth Gilbert talking to Rob Bell on his Rob Cast (episode 36). You should really listen to the whole thing, because it’s super special, but the part that made me cry as I walked was when a mom of a young child asked Elizabeth about finding the time to write in the midst of motherhood and all the fatigue and busyness that comes with it. And she basically told the woman that she needed to give herself permission to not be writing right now, and to take care of her “animal body” as much as she could, by getting enough rest and being kind to herself. And at that moment, the piece of me that feels guilty that I don’t get to do more writing, guilty that I so often open this page up with empty hands and nothing to offer, guilty that I can’t even do MOST OF THE THINGS in one day, that hard little piece of me broke open a little bit, and some light and some air got into my soul, the same stuff I’ve been basking in on my walks.

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Intellectually I know I can’t do most of the things in the same day. And I need to let that be OK in the season I am in right now. I will write when the planets align, and when I have something I need to say, I will fight to make the time to do it. And when I need to take care of my animal body with a long walk in the sunshine and something inspiring in my ears, I will accept with pleasure the gift of time to do it. Today, because I have accepted that gift, my legs are a little sore, and my heart toward myself is a little softer, and I found the time to write way too many words about it, and there’s banana bread cooling on the counter. That’s not ALL, by any means, but it’s enough. And I’m so much more interested in enough.

the grownups ain’t coming


I was having a chat with a friend the other day about being vs. feeling like a grownup. I have realized something crazy lately, mostly since becoming a parent, but also since turning 30: the big secret of being an adult is that almost no one actually feels like one a lot of the time. That and the fact that the only major perk of being an adult is getting to have ice cream or popcorn for dinner if you want to. But mostly the thing about not feeling like a real grownup.

At least I don’t. I find myself, 30 years old, mother of twin three year olds, married, homeowner, scheduler of important things, manager of some serious medical issues, meal planner, writer, friend…and feeling like I’m playing house. I look around at all my responsibilities, which I usually handle just fine, and often wonder, “Who the heck decided I could handle all of this?” It’s like I’m waiting for the real grownups to show up and take charge, only to realize, the grownups ain’t coming. The grownups are us.

I’ve even realized that I seem to think of “adulting” like others might think of playing video games: I’m earning or losing points along the way, and occasionally leveling up. Remembering to pay a bill: points. Actually calling and talking to the insurer or medical supply guy or specialty nurse about something: points. Doing all the steps of my skincare routine for more than three days in a row: points. Exercising, even with kids underfoot: points. Eating the recommended servings of vegetables: points. Remembering the paperwork for the kid thing: points. Not getting sunburned or allowing my kids to get sunburned on the beach vacation: points. Not letting the clothes get funky in the washing machine before switching them to the dryer: points. Hosting actual adult parties: points.

Getting married? Leveled up. Buying a house? Leveled up. Moving halfway across the country? Leveled up. Dealing with loss? Leveled up. Facing my own mortality in a major way? Leveled up. Becoming a parent? Leveled up. Twins? Leveled way up. Having a kid with a disability? Leveled up. Managing my own chronic health issues? Leveled up. Realizing what I do or DON’T want to do with my life? Leveled up.

It’s like I think that if I collect enough points or get to a final level, I’ll stop feeling like I’m pretending at being a grownup and actually feel like an adult. This probably makes me a stereotype of a Millennial, but what can I say, I graduated high school in 2003. My generation allegedly feels like adolescents forever. Guilty as charged. The thing that really lets me know that I’m a grownup is that I now know it doesn’t matter if I feel like an imposter, because I still gotta get shit done. It turns out being a grownup is a lot like being brave: it’s about feeling one way but doing the damn thing anyway. Brave people are still scared. Real grownups still feel like kids playing house a lot of the time. You just don’t tell anyone you’re secretly earning merit badges in your head and move along your merry little way.