September 10, 2013

How do you change without change?

As a kid, I never moved. My mom had moved a lot so when she got married it was a big goal to buy a house and stay in it forever. And so far they've been in the same house for almost 39 years!

I have a little bit of a gypsy spirit, however, and always wished we could move. But I figure that is mostly because I had the privilege of having a stable home that I could always be sure would be there. That security helped me feel more safe with exploring. Plus, I'm just an exploring type of person! (My mom can give many details of this in me from the earliest times of my life.)

When Jim and I got married, it was really cool getting to be in our own apartment. After three years we wanted something different, and moved. That began a series of many moves all over. The biggest move, to Colorado, was partly inspired by a sense of stagnation and fear of never getting to try new things and be different people. I know part of me hoped that by changing location I could change the things I didn't like about my life, myself, my marriage, etc. In some ways I suppose it worked. Being in a new city without the ease of family to fall back on and familiar places does make life different. Plus we lived in a very different type of climate/environment. There was no way to mistake Colorado Springs for Illinois! All you had to do was look up at the mountains.

But, there was still a degree of unhappiness there. I realize now that it was mostly due to the fact that I was pregnant, had a baby and a young, difficult child and therefore life would have been hard no matter where I was! At the time I assumed that moving closer to family would fix a lot of the challenges because I would have help in a way that I didn't with my friends in Colorado.

So, we left. Some issues had been resolved while we were there, we grew up a lot, we made some smarter choices with our money and lifestyle, we got closer as a couple. But, we weren't ready to come back to Chicago. In part because we feared we weren't yet past the things that had been tripping us up the last time we lived there: driving too much, spending too much, not having enough close friendships, schedules being overly devoted/hijacked by jobs and family.

In Ohio, I learned what it means to not have much of anything you want. The country life was NOT for me. It was boring and devoid of culture. I liked our duplex apartment and when we moved into our own place in town it was better than being in an old, overly full farmhouse when we lived with my in-laws. But it was practically impossible to make friends (the country is quite the insider's club a lot of the time). We couldn't find a church where we felt really at home. Jim's job was awful and soul-sucking. I was still alone with a toddler most of the time. We made some very hard choices in order to save money and live on Jim's mediocre salary. So, we had no internet, no TV, and spotty radio and phone reception. We didn't go many places because there was both no place to go and no money to go anywhere. Again, we learned a lot about living, sacrificing and focusing on what we wanted in life. As well as accepting a life that literally had so little of what we wanted for our family.

When we came back to Illinois, we lived with my parents to save money and get in better shape before trying to find our own place in the more expensive housing market out here. We had to adjust to two (then later three) different family units living in one home. We had to ignore nagging feelings of failure and perceptions of I don't even know what when a married couple in their 30's with kids live with their parents.

Now we've been in our own apartment for over three years. All we've learned from our moves and growing pains has been wonderful and helpful.  But there are still so many changes we'd like to see in our lives and our family. We found that a lot of the problems we had before we left are still here, and causing the same troubles as the first time around. (Which is super depressing because we really hoped to be at least a little older and wiser by now!) Add in the desire to be more environmentally friendly, socially conscious,  healthy, budget conscious, and less materialistic and it's enough to have my head spinning. It's so hard not to feel like every decision I make could wreck my kids present and future. I'm working on letting go of the fears and accepting life as it comes. The worry about today and let tomorrow worry about itself plan. But, of course, that is really, really hard.

This apartment and these jobs are now officially the longest we've ever lived and worked in one place as a couple. We lived in our first apartment for three years, but neither of us has held the same job for longer than two years. So, we're fighting the desire for flight right now. We're working on stability and the maturity that comes from working through problems instead of leaving for something new, exciting and potentially better.

But we wonder how to make the big changes we want to make without a physical marker.

Recent sermons at our church have been helpful. We need to learn to empty our selves of self, be less inward focused in order to be more effective Christians, as well as spouses, parents, and workers. It's amazing how quickly personal desires can take over and overwhelm other aspects of life. How quickly we can feel trapped and uncared for or unfulfilled when we start giving too much thought to our own comfort.

We want to have dreams and then strive for those dreams. We want to be people who care for others and for the Kingdom of God. We don't want to build up our own, safe little life and/or try to live out anyone else's idea of what is best.

So, we are trying to listen more. To be more open to change (especially internal/behavior change), and open to what others may need (whether inside our family or not). We want to live the life we have now and not keep wondering or worrying about what should or could be. Life feels like it is moving faster now that we have kids. As we age, we see more and more what everyone has always said about making the most of the now because it does move fast. We'll have a kid going to college in about 11 years!!!!

I still have very little of any practical sense of what to DO. But I'm trying none the less to be more and do more. And I'll keep praying for guidance.

School update, and life in this town

A little over two weeks have passed since K started school. And it has been a whirlwind.

He started on August 22nd in the second grade. The first day was so good! He was excited, only a little nervous and really ready to get started in this new world of school that wasn't at home. We had rain that morning, but decided to walk anyway. Jim went to work late so he could be there for K's first day. The kids had their umbrellas and raincoats and we had fun joining in the throngs of other families walking to school.

On the front stoop.

About to go in for his first day.

First day was a success!

Side note about our neighborhood: I LOVE the mindset/habits of the people here! And the way people participate in the goings on of the neighborhood. There are always tons of kids outside playing, walking, riding their bikes. Families go for walks in the evenings or on the weekends. Men, women, teenagers are always out jogging or walking for exercise. Whenever anything happens weather related (snow, storm, etc), there will be at least five people outside as soon as they can be to shovel, clean branches off of the street, etc. I would say about 40% of the families and kids walk to school. And a lot of the dads participate in the walking, many of them doing drop off AND pick up. 

When we were ready to move, we had certain things we wanted from a neighborhood. As a one car family for most of our marriage, being able to get around even without a car is important. Not to mention a priority as a cost saving and environmentally sound way of life. So, we required a place that would allow us to walk to activities and necessities. Our current apartment is 1/2 mile from the Metra train station, library, a local grocery store and numerous shops and restaurants. There are three parks within a short walking distance. And the best things is that the rest of the people in the neighborhood take advantage of the proximity to all of these things as well, so we aren't the "weird" ones using sidewalks and bringing a stroller into the library and grocery store.

Anyway, after a few days, the principal called about K's reading and writing skills. I met with her and with K's teacher and was able to see quickly that the high standards they have for these subjects, and the fact that he was also not quite up to par with some of the math expectations, meant that he would really struggle if he continued in second grade. I chose not to take it personally that he needed to go into first grade, because our standards for K's learning these past years have purposely not been the same as institutional school's standards. We wanted to allow him to gain character, mature emotionally, have time to play, enjoy learning about areas that appealed to him, gain spiritual knowledge and slowly take on more responsibility for himself. Often school messes up all of those areas, especially for kids who aren't ready for it.

So, after Labor Day, K moved into a first grade class. He was really sad for one night at the prospect of leaving the kids he had just met and the teacher he really liked. It was so hard to have to watch him go through that. (Especially since I've contacted the school about once a month since last January to try to get them to test him or show me their first grade curriculum so we could determine where he should be academically. Arg!) But, as Jim said, in the scheme of things, this is a pretty minor disappointment. Plus, since we've home schooled, K doesn't have the same stigmas about grade level that come from always identifying yourself that way. He doesn't see second grade as inherently better than first, or that first graders are dumber than second graders.

The new teacher isn't as good as the second grade teacher, so that's a little hard. But he seems to mostly like the class. He's learning all the rules of the school and expectations of a classroom very well.

The biggest adjustment is spending so much time away. Last year he was tired of being home and this year he is really missing being home! We're also seeing some real attitude problems when he gets home from school that we have to work on. We had some with him anyway, but I think spending so much time having to follow rules and not get into trouble and being around a lot of people all the time is wearing him out more. We might have to institute a little quiet time when he gets home each day to help him reset or something. But the time crunch is pretty intense now. School, work, Awana, church, errands, etc. We will definitely be a lot busier this year!

But, my sense of freedom feels very good. I've gotten overburdened by the feeling that I'm the sole person in charge of his learning. It was hard not to second guess, get frustrated with myself, give up when he raised lots of resistance to new things, etc. I'm very comfortable helping him with homework and stuff, and we still read and learn in other ways together. But it's nice to have the bulk of his academic life in someone else's hands for now. And the time alone with S has been so nice. We've gotten very little of that in his three years, so we're both enjoying it.