Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Confessions of a Perfectionist

A year ago, I bought fabric to make the girls some curtains. Lovely purple fabric with sparkles--I even wrote a post about how I was going to organize and unpack and make those curtains.

Well, friends, I never did finish unpacking, and I never got organized, and I never made the curtains.

Now I'm in a new house, where I've been for seven months, and once again I have not finished unpacking, I haven't organized, and I hadn't made those darn curtains. I decided that I had to remedy at least one of those.

But. I don't sew. Not really. Oh, some of you may think I sew, because of the post I did about the Halloween costumes I made last year. But in reality, almost all of my sewing projects end up disproportionate, with crooked seams, and with countless other errors. Why? Because I'm a perfectionist.

That's right.

Take a look at how my process usually goes:

  1. Fall in love with a fabric or an idea.
  2. Buy stuff (generally with a couple yards of extra fabric, because I'm bad at estimating).
  3. Look at it over the course of several months.
  4. Consider trying to start, but decide I'm too scared to cut the fabric in case I mess it up.
  5. Feel guilty for having bought stuff.
  6. Work up my courage to try.
  7. Deal with whatever household/childhood crisis occurs the moment I think I might actually start.
  8. Pull everything out a few months later.
  9. Chicken out again.
  10. Convince myself that I don't actually care what the finished product looks like.--THIS IS KEY.
  11. Haphazardly, with little measuring, much guesswork, and a lot of crooked seams and starting over, rush my way through the project.
  12. Hold finished product, feeling both proud and sheepish--proud that I actually did it, sheepish that I did such a shoddy job.
The problem, I've come to realize, is that I have no balance with my perfectionism. It's either crippling, as in steps 4 and 9, or completely set aside, as in Step 10. I know there has to be some in-between area, where I can genuinely try my best on a project but still accept gracefully if I mess it up; but I have yet to find that area for sewing.

Perfectionism is something I've dealt with my whole life, and I have different levels of it in different areas. It can be a benefit, such as for helping me get and keep my scholarship in college, or when I'm copyediting a manuscript. But in things like sewing, it can be a real roadblock to personal progress. 


I made curtains. I made it all the way to step 12. And you know what? The girls love them. (I won't tell them that I royally messed up the valance because I didn't measure it--I'll redo that another day.) And maybe if I push through to step 12 often enough, I'll find my balance point. Meanwhile, I at least got that purple fabric out of my drawer.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Out of the Corner of His Eye

Yesterday, results were announced for this year's Air Force Staff Sergeant promotion testing. Out of over 36k people qualified for this promotion, they selected just over 9k--the lowest promotion rate in 16 years.

My husband's name was on the list.

Making this even more unlikely, it was his first time taking it, and he'd just barely qualified as having enough time in his job (you get extra points for time-in-service). So this was considered a pretty big deal, and a lot of people, including his commander, came and congratulated him and the couple others in his group who made it onto the list.

For us, though, his name being on that list wasn't just surprising or amazing--it was evidence of God's hand at work. Because there's more to our story.

Last Fall, Ryan encouraged me to sign up for the LDStorymakers writing conference, which was being held in Utah at the end of April. It was something I'd really wanted to attend, but decided I shouldn't do once I found out I was pregnant. Ever supportive, Ryan told me to just go for it. He planned for time off work so he could watch the girls for 5 days, and we made my travel plans.

By March/April, Ryan was in the middle of multiple classes and tests as part of his job training/qualification. When the announcement was made that promotion testing was being moved up, and would likely be in May, we sighed, but didn't worry too much. Then he got assigned his date to test.

April 29th. The morning after I got back from my conference.

No big deal, we decided, as he finished up his other testing; he'd just get a babysitter once or twice while I was gone so he could go to the library and study for the promotion test.

Then, on the way to the airport, Mari started throwing up. Looking in his eyes as I climbed out in the drop-off zone, I hesitated. "I'm so sorry. Will you be okay?" I asked.

He grinned at me. "Go be amazing."

I went. I had a fantastic weekend listening to wonderful writers teach me about the craft, learning from agents and editors about the business, and meeting other people who were the same brand of crazy as me. I pitched a manuscript to an editor for the first time, and met some potential customers for my own editing services. I also got to catch up with a good friend and meet my cousin's children for the first time. I felt rejuvenated, filled in places I hadn't realized were empty, and ready to be a better wife and mother because I felt like a better person.

Throughout, I got little texts from Ryan, wishing me luck before my pitch session, asking how it went afterward, rejoicing with me in this incredible opportunity. And when I asked him how things were going with the girls, he admitted that he'd dealt with lots of puke, gotten no sleep due to Mari crying and kicking him as he held her hand all night, and couldn't get a babysitter due to both the girls running fevers--"But we're fine. You just have fun."

It's really easy to make me feel guilty. I'm the type to feel guilty for things I didn't even do. And yet, he managed to not make me feel guilty at all for leaving him with sick kids for 5 days before his huge test. Instead he sent me pictures of the girls in diapers, grinning gleefully and smearing each other with fingerpaints. Brave, brave Daddy.

I got back Monday night. By the time we got home from the airport it was 10 p.m. He hadn't gotten much study time, and his test was the next morning. Though he's always made it clear that his family is more important to him than work, and he'd just spent the last weekend proving it yet again, I could tell he was stressed.

At that point, I wasn't even sure what to pray for. Was it fair to pray that he'd know information he hadn't studied? Even if it was because he'd been serving me and the girls? Finally I just prayed that he'd know what to look over in the morning before the test, and that when he was taking it he'd remember as much as possible.

The next night, he told me he had no idea how he'd done, but that it had been better than he'd expected. Turns out a lot of the questions had to do with leadership principles--and he has a B.A. in Organizational Communications. He also said that he'd been able to answer a lot of the questions just from what he'd observed of the military structure/processes over the last three years--which he was hyper-aware of due to the nature of his college degree. And then there were sections where he just guessed.

Well, two months later, it appears that was enough.

I'm so proud of him. It's a fantastic achievement. He's worked hard, and is good at what he does (performance reviews factored in after the test scores).

But you know, some of those college classes he took were 6-8 years ago. He's gotten two more associates degrees since then, filling his head with new principles and ideas while the others grew dusty. I have no doubt that there was some divine assistance in remembering those things when he needed them. Neither of us doubt that he was blessed for putting me and the girls first that weekend.

When he got home yesterday, we smiled at each other, and he shook his head a little. "It's like that line from "The Count of Monte Cristo," he said, "'Once again, Zatarra, God sees you out of the corner of his eye.'"

We still don't know why God wants Ryan in the military. We still don't know why he was supposed to go in enlisted instead of as an officer. We don't know if he'll stay enlisted or try to go officer in another couple of years. We don't know why Ryan was able to make this list when so many of our friends--good, hard-working, family-centered people--did not (yeah, a little survivorship guilt there). Maybe we'll never know.

But we know God sees us out of the corner of his eye. And we know where to place the credit.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Where I've Been

As most of you know, I had my third daughter last week. As I've held her and looked at her tiny fingers and sleepy eyes, I keep reflecting on how much has changed over the last few years. How much our family has changed. How much I've changed.

Six years ago we got married.

Four years ago we had girl #1

Two-and-a-half years ago our family grew again.

And a week ago, we added baby girl #3.

Looking at these pictures today, Ryan exclaimed about how young I looked. Apparently I'm looking around 16 these days--better than the 12 that I looked when my first daughter was born (surprise--I was 22). 

More than physically, though, I've changed so much in my feelings about motherhood, personal goals, and my own perception of what I can and cannot handle. I know there will be a learning curve when it comes to handling three children (especially when I start trying to leave the house), but I understand now that it's like adding weights to a machine while exercising--it's hard at first, but you get stronger, and then it's time to add more.

All that being said, I'm praying this baby sleeps through the night sooner than my last two. I can hope, right?

Funny note: Look at the picture of me holding baby #2, and then look at the picture of me as an 11-yr-old on the post "Feeling Beautiful Revisited" on the sidebar. I pretty much haven't changed...