Talking her off the ledge

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

I remember the first semester of my freshman year of college. After a whirlwind week full of orientation activities, including dances, parties, receptions, matriculation, and workshops, I settled into my tiny dorm room with my roommate who had a real love for brewing beer and listening to opera music. I wanted to make friends, do well in my classes, work part-time to pay for necessities, and spend time with my boyfriend. But finding the time to do it all was difficult. Ultimately, I spent most of my first semester holed up in my dorm room or a study room on campus, cramming and memorizing and reading and writing. Having graduated from a less than stellar itsy bitsy high school, I knew I had a learning curve if I planned on maintaining a good GPA at the difficult, private, liberal arts college I’d selected to attend.

I couldn’t find the mean between extremes my first semester. I made all A’s, but I didn’t meet many new people. I didn’t have much time to relax. I don’t even recall going to many events on campus or watching a movie.

Second semester was a different story. The pendulum swung back toward the middle. I hung out with people on the weekends. I danced my heart out. I made friends with new people, sat around doing nothing in the quad but eating apples and watching grass grow, and skipped class a few times. I still kept my grades up, but I stopped obsessing about having a perfect GPA. I just lived my life as a college student and enjoyed it.

This morning I talked to my favorite college freshman. I heard my 18 year-old self in her desperate voice, trying to balance work, campus life, friends, family, and course work. I remembered the overwhelming feeling of having too much to do and never enough time to do it. I remembered the constant stress of feeling that my life could not possibly get busier.

This morning while my 9 month-old baby napped, I shared a little of what I have learned about balance, eating the elephant one bite at a time, making a budget and living below my means, learning to ask for help when it’s needed, prioritizing long-term educational success over short-term employment, lowering expectations, and making new friends.

But I tried to bite my tongue, too.

My experience has taught me that advice is ample. Ultimately, though, the lessons I have learned were learned by doing, not listening or talking. “Show, don’t tell” is not just a great writing tip I procured from Dr. Tebbetts in Advanced Composition. It’s a way of life.

Talking to someone who really listens is good. Praying with someone who loves you and lets you fall helplessly into the arms of a loving God is priceless.

Sometimes talking someone off the ledge doesn’t require many words.

Just outstretched hands.

I never thought I wanted children.

* Big thanks to my best friend, MeLissa Horseman, for today’s post. She may have never wanted children, but she’s become one of the best moms I know.*

I never thought I wanted children. I barely thought I wanted to get married, let alone bring kids into the mix. This was a definite sore subject between me and my future husband when we were dating. He wanted a whole football team.

One day after dating for about a year and a half, I randomly told him that I would CONSIDER having children some day. He was shocked by my announcement, and we were engaged a couple of months later (must have been just what he was waiting for). After six years of marriage, a move halfway across the United States, and the passing of my mother when I was 25, and she was just 47, after we recently had the opportunity to begin repairing our very broken relationship, I told my husband we should start this family thing.

Dailen and Lexa, 2013

Dailen and Lexa, 2013

At that point, I don’t think I was fully behind the idea but I felt something was missing or that I needed to start a new phase of my life. It took almost a year and half to get pregnant, and nine months thereafter, we had our son. I had an overall good pregnancy and delivery. Some people know after they have their first child that they are content and happy with that one and only child. I feel that is an awesome and wonderful decision they have made. Me, personally, a few weeks after having my son, I just knew I wanted more. I was overwhelmed with emotion at the miracle of life and how much love I had for this tiny human. I could hardly wait for round two.

My husband was ecstatic with my enthusiasm to have another child so quickly. When my son turned one year-old, we started trying again and got pregnant right away with our daughter. Through no fault of her own, we endured some very stressful times with her as a baby. We dealt with seven months of colic. She cried all the time, at all hours, and nothing calmed her. Not riding in the car, sitting atop the running dryer, rocking her, gas drops, pacifier, Tylenol, even putting a bit of Jack Daniels in her milk (per my grandma’s suggestion). She would not ‘cry herself to sleep’. She could cry for hours, and I felt so bad for my miserable little girl. I spent my nights in a recliner with her lying on my chest because it was the only way I would get an hour or two of sleep.

My husband began to hate her. (No worries–she is wrapped around his finger now for sure–or as she would say, her thumb.) I would not leave her alone with him because I would come home to find him playing video games downstairs while she was crying upstairs because he didn’t want anything to do with her. It caused a lot of tension in our marriage that took a lot of time to work through. I don’t say all this to elicit sympathy or make my situation out to be worse than anyone else’s, only to illustrate how difficult that time was for us and that my husband went from wanting a football team of kids to being adamant about having no more. He closed that book.

I was not as convinced. As stressful as it was, I loved my little miracle and was protective and even probably defensive of her and still wanted the opportunity to have another child. She got over her troubled early months and is now a cute firecracker, four year-old who loves to tilt her head and smile at her daddy until he laughs and wraps her in a big loving hug. After she turned three, my husband brought up the subject of having another child.

This time I was the one who was shocked. I had finally accepted that we were done. Our car was too small to physically fit a third child. Our two kids were somewhat self-sufficient; no diapers, can dress themselves, can express their needs and wants. We were in a routine, and it was working for us, and I didn’t want to give that up. And, I could not emotionally go through another situation similar to my daughter’s (although during that time I couldn’t imagine not having more kids either).

After much thought and prayer, we felt God gave us the go ahead to have another child. Our son or daughter will be born sometime this May. My son is six and my daughter is four and a half. This pregnancy has been much more difficult in many different ways, and I am certain it will be my last, so I have moments of being very sad knowing it will be the last time I feel a baby kick or have the hiccups inside me, the last time I will hold my very own newborn child, the last time I can gain weight without too much guilt :).

The Horseman family, 2013

The Horseman family, 2013

But I am so thankful for the blessing to be able to carry another child and bring a life into this world that God so lovingly created. I am blessed to have two beautiful children with very different personalities who teach me something new all the time. They remind me to keep my promises (because they remember when I have told them I would do something!). They remind me to relax and have some fun. Because of them my personal relationship with God has grown and my prayer life deepened. I can’t wait to see what this third child has to teach and show me.

I worked until my daughter was over two years old. Then I was laid off, and we took it as a blessing in disguise, or maybe it was really in plain sight. After much rearranging and rebudgetting, I have been able to stay home full-time since then. I was talking to my dad a couple of months ago. He called and asked what I was doing. I said ‘coloring pictures with your granddaughter and getting ready to make lunch’. He kind of chuckled. I asked what was so amusing. He said he never would have pictured that 10 years ago.

He’s right. I never thought I would want kids. I definitely never thought being a stay-at-home mom was for me. But it has worked out the way it was supposed to. Things are not picture perfect. I don’t feel I am the best mommy most days. There are days I go to bed feeling like all I did was yell at them all day or tell them ‘just give me another minute to do this or that’ and never got around to what they needed or wanted. There are days when one will ask me why I was so upset with them that day or one will yell that I am a mean mommy. But when my son gets up one more time from bed at night to give me a kiss on the cheek and say ‘I love you mom’; or my daughter climbs up into my lap and asks 20 random questions, and by the 21st I want to say WHAT NOW?, and she says ‘I want to be a mommy like you when I grow up’, I melt and I’m overwhelmed with awe about how much love I have for them and am so thankful I did not miss out on this experience.

Gaining by losing

After a decade of two failed marriages, a whole lot of enabling and rescuing by yours truly, and poor financial decision making, I found myself in the same sad boat as many people do in America–I’d planned my mortgage, bills, and expenditures based on two decent incomes, and suddenly I found myself with one. Even though I made more and more money as time went on, I found myself on a tighter budget than ever before and wound up filing bankruptcy after foreclosing on my house. I decided then that I wanted things in my bank account–not to mention the rest of my life–to permanently change. I wanted to ensure that I’d never wind up paddling upstream again.

But how?

I thought I was already pinching pennies, and at times, I was. The problem was I’d go for six months without spending money on myself, and then when I got a huge commission check or finally had some expendable income, I’d blow it on new clothes for myself or gifts for my family rather than saving it for the rainy weather I knew would return. I never learned–at no fault of my parents, mind you–how to find a balance between living excessively and being a total tightwad.

Thankfully, with a lot of help from my frugal boyfriend and as a result of my decision to take a job making 2/3 less than my salary at the time and to relocate to my hometown, I learned how to find that balance. I willingly gave up my cute little red car in exchange for an older, gas-saving, more purposeful vehicle. My payment was cut in half, as was the car insurance. I went without Internet service at home for nine months, and I survived. I’d already gone without television for a year, and I made it through that, so I knew it wouldn’t kill me to lose my connection to the outside world. We even went without home phone service (there’s no cell service at our house) for several months, making it pretty impossible to reach us while we renovated our home. And we jointly decided to select a home that provided just what we valued most and nothing more. While renovating, I selected finishes, fixtures, and surfaces based on thrift, not on fancy. I learned that cooking at home really does provide more nutritional benefit while saving lots of money. I sacrificed several habits and indulgences, one by one, and eventually came to the conclusion that I’m happier without all the stuff I had to begin with.

I’m not claiming to be an expert on saving money or a guru for minimalism, but I will testify that when you wean yourself from most of the things you think you need, you realize you never needed them in the first place. And oddly enough, you might find yourself with more extra income than you had when you worked twice as hard and made 2/3 more money.

You might, as I have, gain by losing.