Another Year Older

Y’all I got older! I am delighted each year to wake up on my birthday and find that I have made it another year. At some point I expect I may feel old, but it hasn’t happened so far. 34 seems ridiculously young. Am I old enough to be own a home, be married, have children? I’m not too sure yet here I am.

My body is the only thing that seems to show signs of wear. Some from age, some from use. I am still surprised to see how my body has changed from carrying babies. Such a strange thing I never understood growing up, how your body keeps morphing and changing as an adult. But another human lived and grew inside me- two in fact! How could I possibly be the same?

When I reflect on the last year, it reminds me of 2016. A year where everyone seemed to be saying, “politically a terrible year, though personally it was a good one.” Similarly, over the past year the world has seemed like a chaotic windstorm of events outside our home, many of which were hard to comprehend. But inside my home, within my family, we have grown stronger. I have grown stronger. My commitment to myself continues to waver but never falls away the way it has in the past. For once I can recognize the progress instead of focusing on where I am not, where I would like to be, how far I have yet to go. 

This past 9 or so weeks have brought to light just how incredibly lucky we are. While Tyler’s job was affected, we have not struggled and he’s back working this month. I will likely work from home for many more months and although I have not yet learned how to take regular breaks, I am getting used to this “work from home” thing. The slower pace of life has taken away my desire to always be productive. I threw the sourdough starter away. I put my embroidery back in its box. I’ll get to it again one day, but when I simply just want to. Not because I feel I have to be doing something.

Whether it’s due to the pandemic or my new super-healthy attitude, I find myself more in the present than ever. Not being able to plan trips or see friends does really help, but I’d like to give some credit to the work I’ve done to get here. I am still improving. I am still short tempered with my children and my spouse. I am still reminding myself to exercise and that m&ms and cheese is not a well-rounded snack  (but shouldn’t it be?). I’m okay with that.

I’m looking forward to celebrating another year with some takeout food, my sweet family and a little back porch time.

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Remembering Dance

Today I was listening to a friend’s podcast that he recently launched (because if you’re not going to bake sourdough, then you’re going to start a podcast during a pandemic). At first I was pretty skeptical as I knew the focus would be on dance and despite a love of dance, the topic makes me feel uncultured, uneducated. There is something about the topic of dance that feels unattainable, like I cannot belong.

But dance is not unattainable and this podcast reminds me of that each episode. We don’t all dance the same way, but we all experience its impacts.

Garth, podcaster extraordinaire, and I danced together at my wedding reception. Although my dance with my dad and my first dance with Tyler were wonderful, this is the dance that stands out to me during the night. In fairness, Garth is a trained dancer and one thousand times more talented than either of them, but that alone is not what made it special. As we were flying around the dance floor, I remember saying something along the lines of, “We’ve never danced like this before.” Garth clearly thought I was insane (just a little drunk) as we had danced together in college all the time. But what I couldn’t articulate in the moment was I had never felt whole, felt connected, felt strong, felt confident when dancing before, the way I felt then. I had never not cared with others thought. I had never danced with a dancer I admired and felt sure of myself.

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Photo credit: Chris Torres

I enrolled in tap class in elementary school. I was the only student who didn’t take ballet or jazz on top of tap. Ballet and jazz were too quiet, too subtle. I wanted to hear all the taps in unison, feel the shake of the stage with everyone dancing together. For me, dancing wasn’t about subtlety and grace, I didn’t have that. It was about living out loud. But I quit dancing in middle school after an obnoxious kid made fun of me for wearing a leotard. It didn’t seem cool anymore and to be honest, I wasn’t that good.

In high school and college, dancing was everything. It was being front and center at all of our friends’ shows, dancing even when no one else was. It was weekly house parties with crowded, loud living rooms. My senior year my roommates and I went dancing every week. My memory of this time is a blur of dark bars of slick bodies and cheap drinks. The problem was, by this time, my self-confidence was at an all time low. I loved to dance but I could never shake being self-conscious. I could never dance without comparing myself to those around me.

When I moved to Texas, dancing meant two-stepping. It meant dancing with a partner. This was foreign territory for me, but it was the social highlight of my new community so I jumped in. While I never lost the stiffness that comes from caring too much what others think, I learned to love sharing a dance with someone else.

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This past week I had one of my parenting dreams come true. Haines asked me if we could have a dance party. I put on some music (okay, it was Daniel Tiger songs on Pandora) and we danced around the living room. He danced his strange 3-year old dance moves (he holds one armpit at a time) to every song with intense joy and enthusiasm. Austin, in true toddler fashion, bounces his big diapered bottom around to the music and claps at the end of every song.

My first memory of dancing is swing dancing in the living room with my dad. I was ecstatic to be picked up and swung around. My dad is not a great dancer but he is an eager and enthusiastic partner, ready to accept my every dance invitation and as long as I wanted to listen to the “golden oldies” he kept the music coming. 

That little dance party has encouraged me to bring more dancing back to my life. To take more impromptu moments to turn up the music and dance around the living room. Is my family always on board? No, but I no longer care what anyone thinks.

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My Corona

In a land where every day is the same, I’ve been surprised to discover, I like staying at home. I even like working from home. I wouldn’t mind the casual workplace encounter. A run-in at the water cooler. Waiting for my turn at the microwave.

To my surprise, I am the kind of person who quarantines in jeans. Yes, I am trying to prove something- that I am not a lump on a log. But when a child doesn’t have to be dropped off at daycare, when I don’t have to drive to work, don’t have to dress nicely or even pack my lunch, it turns out I am a morning person.

In full disclosure, my childcare has had no interruptions. My spouse and mom take care of the kids while I work. This puts me in a very privileged category, I know. I would not feel quite so warm towards working at home if I was also responsible for two small children.

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The problem that has become clear, is actually how easy it is for me to melt into my couch, to feel content behind my house walls. I could easily pretend the world outside does not exist. Keep the news turned off. Binge TV all evening. Take my walks, wave to the neighbors from a safe distance and play with the kids.

Tune out. Separate. Distance. Build up walls. Believe my world is an island.

I never would have described myself as a homebody. I don’t go out much under normal circumstances, but I always felt a part of the world. But was I? Am I? I’m comfortable at home. Comfortable behind my laptop, stack of books nearby, no new hobbies on the horizon.

There is something to be said for having to leave your home each day, your creature comforts. To have to go out and be a part of your community, see the signs of poverty or wealth, interact with your coworkers, complain about traffic. Feel invested. 

And so I read the news. Shout at neighbors across the fence. Buy gift cards for local restaurants. Donate to the food bank. Text friends to check on them. Instant message coworkers. Write letters. Pretend that this is definitely going to be the night I make sourdough bread. Spend too much time on Instagram.

And enjoy my solitude a little bit too, in anticipation for the day we can all be together again.

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Raising Boys

Every time I imagined having a family when I was young, each time we got pregnant, I always thought I’d have daughters. I thought since I was one of two girls and my sister had two girls and I was such a damn feminist I was destined to raise girls. That sounds stupid, but if I am totally honest, that was my logic.

So obviously I have two boys (or children who are biologically male but may later identify otherwise). I am jealous of my friends with daughters who will get to pass on stories, advice, experiences that are specific to women. There is no relationship that is more powerful than that of female friendship, which can often apply to mothers and daughters.

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Sisters. I’m the one who can’t sit up by herself. 

Will I have a special bond with my boys that is totally different and equally wonderful? Yes, of course, but the story of uplifting women is the one that is most familiar to me.

This week at work we had a guest speaker talk for International Women’s Day. She was a bad-ass former CFO of a major pharmaceutical company and while she said many humorous/poignant/thought-provoking things, the one still with me is “Raise your sons differently.”

Exactly.

I am mindful of many things as we raise our children. I want them to be more resilient than we have been, with inner resources that they can rely on when they feel down, when a challenge seems too much to bear. I want them to be kind and have empathy for themselves and their fellow human, even when that person’s experiences are very different than their own. I want them to appreciate nature and music and the internal freedom those things can bring.

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Early on, I was more worried about addressing “this is for girls and this is for boys” topics. I don’t want my boys to feel limited from interests, hobbies, careers that society identifies as feminine. You want to sew? Learn it. You want to be a nurse? That’s a noble and important job, work hard for it. You want to be a stay at home dad. More power to you. Now I’ve realized it’s the modeling that we do as parents that is so much more impactful. It’s not just the targeted conversations we have, but our behaviors. 

Together I am hopeful that Tyler and I can model a partnership where my boys will see two people who treat each other as equals, both with valid opinions. Where we compromise and attempt balance. Where we are human and learn from our discussions, from our mistakes.

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So, here’s to raising boys that are feminists. Boys that believe their mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, friends, random female strangers are capable of anything and have never thought otherwise. Boys who give as much as they take. Boys who approach each situation with the idea of shared responsibility and accountability.

Happy International Women’s Day!

 

New Year’s Resolution #4: Make My Bed

Yes, I’ll admit it. I don’t make my bed. Sorry to out my husband as well but neither does he. We are not bed making people. We used to be repeat snoozers until we had children. Now we lay there complaining about the baby crying until it is clear that the baby has no plans on going back to sleep. Then we drag ourselves downstairs without ever looking back at our poor disheveled bed.

I don’t care that it is bringing down our bedroom aesthetic but I do care that it means our room feels messy. Our room always feels chaotic. We have piles of clean laundry on chairs and the dresser, heaps of dirty laundry on the floor and a bed with twisted covers and misplaced pillows.

It also means our day starts and ends with chaos. We leave our room a mess to go downstairs to our wildling children where the mess seems to erupt around them but when we climb the stairs to seek refuge from the chaos of the day, we are still met with the chaos of our room.

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New Year’s Resolution #4: Make the Bed Everyday

This is a joint goal. I’m not making the bed every day. It’s a joint bed and a joint issue and now it’s a joint goal. Plus sometimes I’m not the last person to get out of bed (although I would prefer to be and would be happy to make this an additional resolution).

We need to start our day with a small win. This is a small accomplishment that can be totally ours, separate from our kids, that can start our days on the right foot. It also allows our days to end well. By taking a moment of calm to make the bed, we’re taking care of future Kat and Tyler, who are going to be tired tonight. They will be so thankful to see there is a nicely made bed at the end of their day.

I am trying to learn that self-care is not a big thing. It is a million small things. And although my self-care goal is a separate resolution, this is one small, specific thing that I want to do regardless of what else happens in my day.

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New Year’s Resolution #3: Live Openly

For many years I considered myself an open book. No secrets were far buried for me. You could get to my deep thoughts without too much digging. An admirable way to live. Done and done.

Actually, this is a terrible analogy. An open book? The books I read often require much digging to get to its heart and some secrets are never truly revealed. Interesting literature for sure, but not healthy as a human. Despite constantly trying to crawl inside a book (I’m on my third book in 4 days), trying to emulate one is not a mental health goal.

Recently it’s become clear just how much I’m not living openly and what that does to my ability to connect with others personally and even advance professionally. I am hesitant to admit personal struggle unless I feel it might help someone else, even in my own home where I should be most free, most open, most loud.

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New Year’s Resolution #3: Live Openly

This year I want to say what’s on my mind. I want to speak up and be wrong and apologize and get over it. I want to be a burden at times. I want to get messy and embrace being messy.

This is the resolution that will be hardest. I honestly don’t know how to do it, except with as each small opportunity presents itself I will try to take a step closer.

New Year’s Resolution #2: Me First

Me first can sound selfish or it can sound obvious depending on where you’re at in your mental health, self-care journey. I always thought I did a pretty good job before I had kids. I had ample hobbies and interests, friends and social activities that my life felt full and rewarding.

Kids totally knocked that out. I did not have a routine. I did not have a stable, dependable habit or thing that kept me sane during tough times. I was just floating by.

Side note: the most important unsolicited advice I would offer an expecting parent is that you establish a meaningful, flexible routine that allows you to keep your sanity in check. Daily meditation? At-home yoga practice? Friend that you can call day or night? Get it before that baby arrives in your home. 

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Sometimes the only answer is to leave the house, rain or no rain. I wanted to go hiking but didn’t want to risk messing up his nap so just hit a nature trail nearby. Compromise.

Now that we’re two kids in I have learned that I really don’t have any self-care habits. I had things I did for fun, not really for calm and it’s really made it difficult to have any emotional resilience.

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Another rainy moment but we rode downtown for ice cream. Totally worth it. 

New Year’s Resolution #2: Me First

I’m going to do something for myself every day. Some days will be small. A cup of tea after the babies go to bed. A long cuddle with Clara. Saying no. Ignoring chores. Taking the kids for a walk even if it’s dark outside or sprinkling rain. Perfect conditions not necessary. I don’t know what this will look like (I’m learning after all) but these are my plans:

  • Hot baths
  • Baking bread
  • Get outside, with or without kids
  • Stating what I need, am feeling
  • Declining invitations
  • Ignoring chores
  • Writing blogs, essays, gratitude journaling
  • Watering the plants
  • Eating food when I’m hungry, not waiting until the children leave me alone
  • Take a pottery class
  • Go to yoga
  • Crafting