I made a pickle sandwich.  I’m not pregnant—just throwing that one out there.  I chose pickle because it’s a little late to eat and I wanted something flavorful but not densely caloric.  This thought process reminded me of my mother-in-law.

My in-laws remarried in their late fifties.  Shortly after their second honeymoon, my mother-in-law made herself a bowl of ice cream.  Being somewhat hungry, she made the wise decision of filling up on something less caloric first.   She chose pickles, a worthy option in my opinion.

Just then, my father-in-law walked into his home and beheld his bride holding a large pickle in one hand and a bowl of ice cream in the other.  With his calm southern drawl, he grinned and asked, “Is there something you’d like to tell me?”

Dear mind of mine, get organized.  Think.  You need to put thoughts in their places the same way that the kids’ toys need to be placed in the appropriate baskets.  When either is disorganized, negativity runs rampant.  Organize all of your thoughts and put the negative ones away so that you can see the obvious positive ones lingering.  There is an abundance of positive things to ponder.  Find them.

Math is pretty.  I’m not arguing the point.  I’m stating.

I’m a math teacher.  Why?  Math is so stinking pretty and I love academia.  Therefore, teaching is a way to indulge the puzzle-icious fun that is mathematics.  Also, I straddle the chasm between silly and articulate.  That helps.

One might consider a career change—but what?  Truly, honestly…with the math teacher hat off, what occupation would enable a nerd to do fun math?  The obvious answer is any career that has to do with physics, engineering, navigation, and research (those are math teachers’ go-to careers when explaining why students need math), but when I talk about math to people in those careers, they all recite, “Oh, I just let the computers do that.”  Then they submit, “I haven’t used any math in years.”  (Among the bubble-bursters are engineers, a master electrician, architects, and pilots.)

I want to walk into a job and find a new problem every day that requires a blend of trig, calculus, geometry, and algebra (especially trig…because it’s the prettiest…or maybe calc is.  I can’t decide.).  I don’t mean arithmetic operations in spreadsheets.  That’s not pretty math; it’s the labor of a drone.

I ask, what career is it that uses the upper high school and undergraduate math that we so desperately insist that students learn?

Let me be clear.  I’m certainly not criticizing the education of mathematics.  The understanding thereof alters the way that people process information.  The mental training spills over into other areas.  Yes, we should continue to educate in mathematics because the education breeds a generation who can conceptualize solutions on several scales.  I am not acquiescing and saying, “People don’t really use it so let’s forget it.”  I’m saying, “Where is that job?  I want it.”

Now, outside of number crunching in a spreadsheet, education, or researching for a university (that’s mostly the boring number crunching and education combined), where is the job that uses a person instead of computer to conceptualize and find solutions using a vast array of undergraduate disciplines?

I hear such an occupation exists, but the scientists keep telling me that it’s just a mirage.  That’s a dagger in the heart of a nerd.

My Macedonian-Canadian friend and I were discussing the appropriate age to marry.  She said that she is getting a little long in the tooth (to use an American expression) already because she is 26.  I said that’s absurd.  I chose to marry 10 years ago at the age of 19.  I said that that is much too young for most.  Most people need more time to figure themselves out before binding themselves to someone else for life.  She rebutted that people ought to marry when they are on the cusp of adulthood because they can “find themselves” together and form a unified plan instead of finding themselves separately and clashing over established individuality.  She has an interesting point of view.

To combat my own sour mood, I’ve been recalling some reasons to be optimistic. One particular story inspires my gratitude. In the middle of this story, some women at work asked me why I was so down, I told them that I didn’t have the Romans 8:28 story yet, and I’d rather wait to share when I found the good ending. I sure found that good ending, but it took a year and a half.
Four and a half years ago, what I believed to be chaos started.

We were supposed to buy a larger house (it was almost guaranteed that we would get the house at a great discount), so we put the majority of our furniture, most of our clothes, family pictures from the wall, and our dishes in storage to stage and sell our house. Though the house that we were going o buy had been on the market for a year and a half with no one else interested, it received its first offer the night before ours. So, even though we didn’t get the house, we had put all of the time and expense into storing so much of our stuff.

My husband called me at work and told me that he was standing in ankle deep water in the kitchen. Both cars were broken. While I was sitting in the waiting room with my mother while my father had colon surgery, I was enumerating all the things that were piling up that we couldn’t pay for. I listed that I had some sort of health issues and I couldn’t afford to go find out what it was. She asked, “Are you pregnant?” I said, “That’s highly improbable. I’ve tested negative and I haven’t exhibited the good health to make that possible.”

After my dad was out of surgery, I went home and sat in my living room next to my refrigerator and my stove (they were in there because the kitchen had to be gutted). I opened up the list of financial burdens that I had made. I asked the Lord to take away this burden list. I could at least take solace in the fact that we had a lot of undamaged furniture that was still in storage.

The next Sunday (Easter morning), I used the other pregnancy test that came in the two pack. I used it with the intention of talking to the midwives (preferable to drs) the next day and telling them, “See? I took another test. Since it’s negative, can you determine what is wrong with me?” It was positive. As a side note, at church that morning, we told my husbands’ family one by one as they sat down for the service that someone on the pew was pregnant. The rest of the row was men. We followed each person’s eyes all the way down the row and back up before they settled on me.

A couple of weeks later, I told my husband that I couldn’t scrub spots off of the linoleum on the bathroom floor. Maybe the spots were underneath. The restoration (pre-reconstruction) crew was finishing up the last little bit of work drying out the kitchen. They came back to assess the bathrooms. Long story short, both bathrooms had to be gutted. There was mold from pipes that had leaked. Shortly after revealing the mold I was a pregnant woman with a 104 fever. We had to stay at my parents’ house and at my in-laws’ house because our insurance company said that our house was perfectly livable (no kitchen, no bathrooms, toxic mold) and we should just put a porta-potty in the front yard. That sounds reasonable for a pregnant woman and a potty trainer, right?

The insurance adjuster was back. We were now on a first name basis.

I had to put a new transmission in my car.

By summer, we missed having our own home and our own space. We had worn holes in all of the welcome mats. We tried to stay at our own house. We left the made a nightly trip to Target or Wal-mart or Publix to get a little something to eat, and use the restrooms. Our son (then 3) would run outside yelling “potty!” no matter where we were. I apologized for him several times insisting that he was not accustomed to running water.

Our insurance company and our reconstruction company had a verbal disagreement (understatement). So, the construction company left our home (unknown to us because we had gone back to living with family) with the floor missing from the master bathroom for a week. A family of rats moved in during our absence.

We were now coming up on Thanksgiving and I was great with child. We finally settled with the reconstruction company. Our house was reassembled. Then, we started working with pest control to remove the rats. Between us and the pest control, we caught 5 of the 6 rats. After our daughter was born, I heard scurrying in the kitchen. I turned on the light just in time to see the tip of a nasty little tail run behind the dishwasher where there was apparently a hole that never was completely sealed. Then, I heard it scream as it happened upon the neighbor’s cat that was waiting for it. It was the most repulsive and pleasing sound! I love that cat! The next morning, we sealed that hole and never had that problem again.

We spent the next several months trying to dig out of the financial hole that the reconstruction had created. I told my mother on the phone that I had prayed about it and I had a peace about the house. I said that the Lord said that there was going to be something that was unexpected, but all-encompassing—something that we never would have seen coming.

On June 2, 2008, I finally had a chance to return an item to a friend who lives close to where I work. I couldn’t meet my husband to pass off the kids before work, so my mother agreed to watch them. After work, I got a frantic call from my husband. “There’s been a fire. Please come quickly.”

There were several fire trucks and neighbors piled in the yard. My husband fell asleep while writing a paper. He didn’t intend to fall asleep, so he was in the living room away from the fire instead of in the bedroom next to it. He woke up to the sound of the master bathroom’s mirror exploding. He gathered picture albums and the box with birth certificates and passports and ran out of the house.

My husband didn’t have to get the children because it just so happened that they were at my mother’s house. He wouldn’t have been able to get them.

We saw the fire start again three more times. The house was a total loss. The Red Cross was called into help. They were phenomenal.

In the aftermath, the insurance adjuster said, “The fire trashed your house. It’s a good thing that I have all of these pictures from when your house flooded. I can recommend that you get the total value of your policy.” Bless that wretched flood!

The insurance company who had been so unpleasant during the flood was merely tired of us and didn’t question anything.

We put in an offer and had it accepted for our new home that was a brand new foreclosure hours before it was on the market. The realtor said that our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. When we moved in, we unloaded our undamaged furniture and put the family photos on the walls. Between the generosity of our church, the school district where my husband works and our storage unit, all of our needs were met.

I was confused, but God was omniscient. I was powerless, but God was omnipotent. Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

In the last three years, when I’ve developed a bad attitude or tried to usurp the control over my life again, He reminds me, “Haven’t you figured out that I can take everything from you and still take better care of you than you can by yourself? You’re as foolish as the children of Israel who had the audacity to complain and worry even after I parted the Red Sea!”

 

I decided that I needed the homemaker satisfaction today.  My toddlers didn’t get the memo.

I shuffled them into another room so that I could steal a few moments to bake some things from scratch.  Baking from scratch has a wholesome feeling—the kind of feeling that I might have if I were good at this mommy/homemaker stuff.

I baked the banana bread and did a load of laundry.  I shredded apples and put them into the crock pot to try out making apple butter (so far, so good!).  I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher.  I put the butternut squash in the oven while it was still hot from the banana bread.  I did another load of laundry.  I scrubbed the kids’ bathroom counter.  I folded laundry.  I made the butternut squash into soup.

Then, I was frustrated.  In the middle of preparing the 7,458th cup of milk/V8 fusion/water (as in “You’ve already had juice…you get water…I know that was your sister, but you’ve had juice too…Nope, you’ve had milk too…if you’re thirsty, drink this water…you’ve already had your almond milk today…well, I’ll just put this cup of water over here on this counter…oh, you want it now?…you’re welcome)/carrot sticks/ banana bread/granola bars/etc., I realized that I was STILL far from being done.  I’m looking for that gratification that comes from completing the task of homemaking for one more day and I sit and with my laptop and a cup of tea (and hopefully, my husband) and concludes that I have accomplished something.  I’m only home one night a week, so, I need to get in my jollies while I can.  I was frustrated that my satisfaction felt so unreachable.

There were glimmers of hope.  My daughters asked if they could vacuum.  Bless them!  Well, they sucked up something.  I still haven’t had time (I mean energy.  No I don’t.  I mean patience.) to identify what exactly…because I don’t  want something else to clean up.

Also, my two-yr-old gleefully skipped through the kitchen repeatedly.  She was announcing her existence.  I thought that I needed to stop and acknowledge her.  I held her and played with her.  I told her, “You smell good.  Why do you smell like peppermint?”  She replied, “My hands are sticky.”  That was accurate.  Apparently, her sister had found a stash of peppermint candies and she was kind enough to share with her sister.  How thoughtful!  The entire media room is covered in peppermint slime.  Great.

No problem.  I’ll just mop.  Uh, huh.  Why is the vinegar empty?  I’m not really sure why, but I’m really glad that I chose something natural to make a mop solution!  It looks like the little stinkers got into that too.

Yesterday, I found the two-yr-old (same one who smelled like peppermint) using anti-frizz serum instead of soap to wash her hands.  Really, how do you mistake those textures?

Sometimes, I just want to yell, “Mommy has two part time jobs and she really needs you to pause the destructive behavior because she doesn’t have time to fix these things and find the solace that comes from completing the homemaking tasks!”   I doubt that my 3 ½ yr old and 2 yr old would see my point.

There were a lot of good moments.  Reading a chapter of Farmer Boy with my 7 yr old, hearing my daughters request bedtime songs, hearing them giggle, making plant based meals from scratch, and completing the kids’ laundry all go on the list of good things today.  No satisfaction of being all the way done, but that’s okay.  Not really.  It bugs me, but I sound really neurotic if I don’t say that I’m settling for “good enough” despite circumstances.

When I was a teenager, my father and I had a football-watching understanding.  He would grade papers while watching the game and I would busy myself with something productive in another room.  When something interesting happened, he’d holler, “Hey, Courtney!  Come watch this replay!”  I’d pop around the corner and watch and exclaim appropriately.  When a play was especially phenomenal or excruciating, he’d add his own sound effects. Then, I returned to my tasks until he filtered out another good play.

Then, when my husband and I were dating, he would ask me to sit and watch football with him.  Sit? Sit and watch football?  Certainly, there was a better use of my time than sitting during a football game.  He eventually got me to oblige at HIS house because I didn’t have an everlasting to do list there.  But at my house, I resumed my task list and let my dad alert me to the good parts.

Sometimes, I fell asleep on the couch next to my husband (then fiancé) while he was watching football.  That seems natural.  The productive girl falls asleep if there’s ever too much sitting.  He’d help me by slapping me awake (not intending to be violent, just excited) when something noteworthy happened.  I barked that I preferred my father’s method.  :)  One of his parents would inevitably tell him, “Drive her home and let her go to sleep!”

However, even then, sitting was false advertizing.  Poor guy.  After we were married, his house was my house.  Therefore, I didn’t want to watch football with him because I now had the chore list to keep up with.  I asked him, “Why don’t you get off your duff and help?”  He responded, “Why don’t you act like you like me and sit down and watch the game with me?”  Sit? Sit and watch a game while there’s a load of dishes to wash and floors to mop?  Sit?  I could be using this time to get my running done.  I have calculus homework.

Let me clarify that I still don’t mind watching the game at other people’s houses.   I don’t play a matriarchal role there.  I don’t have a chore list there.  I also like going to a game or two a year.  That’s a whole different experience.  In fact, about 4 years ago, I begrudgingly had to lay down in the stands during the 4th quarter until the Braxton hicks slowed down enough for me to catch my breath.  I heard other spectators laughing when my arm would pop up for the fight song or in sync with the crowd yelling “1st down!”

Ten years into this marriage and I’m finally learning.  We just finished watching the second game.  The floors that I just mopped yesterday are sprinkled with toddler debris.  There’s a load in the washer that needs to be put in the dryer.   I hear these and other things calling to me.  But I’m busy leaning on my husband.  He doesn’t notice the things that are calling to me.  I like him and he likes that I want to lean on him.

What’s this?  Apparently, we’re watching the end of a third game.  Bless wifi.  That would have been useful ten years ago too!

I have long described myself as missing the “girly” gene.  I mean, I am female, but I’m missing that innate desire to exhibit “girl behavior.”  I still don’t understand the draw of it.  I don’t understand the desire for behaviors that other women seem to be born with.  It’s like those posters at the mall that look like a bunch of squiggly lines and if you stare at it long enough, a picture will pop out at you.  But there’s always that one guy who stands there saying, “I just don’t see it!”  I’m that guy.  I’ll see women doing things that they feel compelled to do and it never would have occurred to me to exhibit that behavior.

When I was a child, I didn’t want to play with dolls.  I understood that I was a girl and I was supposed to want to play with dolls, but I couldn’t figure out why.  Dolls didn’t DO anything.  Other little girls carried dolls around with them, but it just seemed like arm clutter.

I remember once asking my mother how to swaddle a doll.  She very sweetly and slowly relished the opportunity to impart her motherly knowledge (which is natural for her).  I think I disappointed her, though, when I replicated in super speed, handed her my swaddled doll, and ran off to play with my blocks and matchbox cars (neither of which I believe are masculine toys, by the way).

My family compares my teenage years with my sister’s (my sister also has the innate girl gene) when they say, “We told Alison, ‘Go wash off some of that make up!  We are not going into church with you looking like that!’ But we told Courtney, ‘Young lady, you had better go put on some make up!  You look awful!  We are not going to church with you looking like that!”  I must also point out that my sister’s teenage years were in the mid 80s with all its neon glory and mine were in the 90s during the grunge era.

My husband’s aunt always has a clean house and ample seasonal trinkets.  I am baffled how she can do that and everything looks clean and cohesive, but if I attempt the same thing, my house looks cluttered.

My friends have the girly gene too.  My friend, Lauren, has been trying to dress me and give me hair instruction for years.  My family truly appreciates her efforts.  I still need lessons.

My friend, Hannah, is the perfect hostess.  Hannah reminds me of a “Cathy” tv special (at 2:45 - but without the judgement) I saw when I was a kid.   Cathy’s mother comes over to see her, grabs a plate out of the fridge that holds only three peas, waves her hands wildly, and reveals a beautifully dressed turkey.  That’s Hannah.  I see her moving, but I have no idea how she makes things materialize.  I can identify that everything she touches turns to gold and I can usually follow her logic, but sometimes she says things that baffle me.  For example, she said, “I’m really into white pumpkins this fall.”  I understand that one can change preferences over time.  I understand that one can have different preferences seasonally.  What I don’t understand is the implication that she will like something this fall and know that she will like something totally different next fall.  I’ve seen her wave her hands wildly in front of my sad centerpieces and wall décor and the end result looks so much better with the same set of materials.  How?  Okay.  Thanks.   Do it again.

Though I get “girl cred” for a lot my behaviors, none of them are really motivated by my inner girl.

For example, I crocheted a hat (with a big ol’ flower) while I was talking to students yesterday.  Crocheting is regarded as a motherly skill.  Really, it’s just fidgeting and patterns.  I like fidgeting.  I like patterns.  Crocheting is a way to keep my hands busy (instead of taking the students’ pencils and doing their homework for them) and to keep me patient.  I’m not really crafty.  

I prefer skirts.  This doesn’t stem from any femininity, but from the conundrum of why men choose to wear pants all the time.  Truly, a full, long skirt is a tent of freedom.  Men have NO IDEA what they’re missing.  Togas and kilts.  I’m just sayin’.

I birth at home instead of going to the hospital.  Two reasons.  1) Hospitals are for sick people.  Having a baby doesn’t make me ill.  So, I don’t need to go to the place for sick people where it’s more likely that I’ll end up being sliced and diced.  It’s just not logical.  2)  Why would I want to PACK a bag and GO somewhere?  I’m already having a baby.  Isn’t that enough doing?  Can’t you come to me?  Healthy birth – there’s no place like home.  I also exclusively breastfeed.  It’s the healthiest thing I can give my human infant.  But there’s a better reason.  IT’S FREE.  Yes, I know that it’s bad that I rank the reasons in that order, but I do.  For these two things, I’ve been called “Granola Mama” and “Earth Mama” at work.  Nope.  It just seemed to be the reasonable things to do.

Furthermore, I love my children, but I’m not partial to every child.  Moms (assuming that I possessed the every-child-is-wonderful-I-just-love-being-around-children-so-much gene) have asked me, “Don’t you want to hold the baby?”  Nah.  I’ll hold the baby so that the mother can go do something, but I don’t understand holding someone’s baby for the sake of holding a baby.  If there are enough people around who truly want to hold the baby for fun and this gives the mom a break, I’m not vying for my chance to hold somebody else’s kid.  I don’t get it.

I wear lipstick to work.  If I don’t, I hear my mother in my head telling me that it’s unprofessional not to.  Frankly, I don’t keep open containers of makeup in the house.  There’s only makeup in the car.  If makeup takes more than 3 stop lights, it’s taking too much time.  Efficiency is a preferable professional skill.

I bake, but that’s because I can bake cheaper and better than store-bought.  I’ve also learned to compensate for my poor hostess skills (dinner is ALWAYS late) by setting out a tray of veggies/fruit or a crock pot of soup.  I’ve been credited for serving multi course meals, but I’m just too unorganized to get dinner done on time.  My dad said of my food, “Haven’t you ever heard of cornbread and collards?  I’ll probably like your food, but I can’t ever pronounce it.”  So, I cook, but that’s not the same as being a good hostess.  It helps to mask the insufficiencies though!

Sometimes I do girly things, but I have concluded that I am really just a poser.  I’m okay with that.

After teaching my night classes on Thursday, my car wouldn’t start.  (I’m going to interject a mini-story.  My thoughtful husband put jumper cables on the floor of my passenger seat when he jumped/drove my car.  After a week, I told him that I didn’t appreciate his slovenly behavior and I fixed it myself by putting the jumper cables in the trunk.  He responded that he was concerned that my battery might be SO dead the next time that I wouldn’t be able to open my trunk using the button.  My key does not fit the trunk.  Who ever heard of such??  My key resembles the graph of f(x)=x^3  and the keyhole resembles  f(x)=-x^3.  Weird.  Anyway, I told him that the likelihood that my car wouldn’t even have enough juice to pop the trunk with the button was slim.  Well, it was SO dead that it lacked the energy to pop the trunk with the button.  He is completely authorized to say, “I told you so.”  I had jumper cables…but I couldn’t get to them.)

From the outside of the building, I called to the custodian in the third floor of the breezeway (the doors were already locked to all of the entrances) that my car wouldn’t start and would he radio security for me.  He tried.  Security was not available.  He came down stairs, got some cables from another custodian (with the warning that they may not be functional), and drove over to my car.  He started his engine and attached the cables to his battery.  He couldn’t make the two free ends spark (actually, I assume that’s what he was doing).  He said, “It’s not working.”  He pondered.  He took the cables off his battery.

THEN, he unstrapped his battery while his car was running, flipped it over, pressed it against my battery, and told me to start my car!  It worked!  Not only was I humbled by his concern for my safety, but that was a cool trick!  It’s logical that it would work, but the execution was very impressive.

My children resist me.  They reject my maternal wisdom (insistence).  Why?  Supposedly, I’m requiring them to alter their behavior exclusively for my own benefit.  Allow me to explain some things to them.

1)      Rehearsing a spelling list while meandering through the neighborhood for an hour and forty-five minutes is not for my benefit.  I would much rather be alone and have time to process the thoughts inside my mind than to have to deal with your attitude (Yes, we’re all aware that this has much more to do with your attitude than your aptitude.).  After that alone time, I intend to sit on your father.  Furthermore, insisting that you correctly practice whatever you do not know is not for my benefit.  Really, I get no pleasure from this.  Also, it’s not too much to ask to expect you to remember WHICH word you intend to spell.  My claim that you aren’t even respecting my time by paying attention is warranted.

2)      Signing you into computer time that will lock you out after one mere hour is not for my benefit.  Frankly, the one hour that you get is heavenly for me.  It means that I have intermittent interruption instead of the normal constant interruption.  I know you’re not sneaking off into another room to destroy the property of another family member because for that one blessed hour, you glue yourself to the multimedia apparatus.  Then, the bliss ends and I have to spend the majority of my day preventing the demolition of my home.

3)      Insisting that you clean up your messes is also not for my benefit.  I can do it faster.  I have to take the time to teach you that it’s disrespectful to your space to make messes and leave them.  Here’s the scenario that would be the most to my benefit: I have a pause button for all of you (so you don’t create further destruction while I’m busy) and I can clean it myself in a fraction of the time.  I may keep you all paused for a little bit so that I can enjoy the fruit of my labor.  I’ll use the play button when it’s time to do something fun.  I don’t think you realize how much more time we would have for fun if you would agree to the cleanliness I expect of you.

Taking the time to help you develop the habits of scholarship, cleanliness, and a positive attitude (Follow my lead in the first two.  Emulate your father’s pleasant disposition.) is not doing me any favors for the time being.  Requiring these behaviors from the three of you gives me no immediate gratification.  As aforementioned, I’d rather be sitting on your father.  Comply.  When you’re older, maybe you will be better equipped to achieve your life’s calling because you are not held back by the frustrations of substandard academics, orderliness, or a negative outlook.  I will sit on your father then.  Maybe by then, you will have children who will not allow you to sit on your respective spouses.

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