It all started with The Great British Bake Off.
Let me explain…
About eighteen months ago now, (yep… about two months before the real “baking incident”); Husband and I got to a stage in family life where we actually began to feel… human.
It may just be a glistening memory now, but there was a time- I’m sure of it- in which Toddler was steady on his feet; my breasts had been made redundant from the catering business and had started to look on what was left of the bright side; and, most significantly… everyone was sleeping.
During this time, I not only found that my brain had room for other things; but that it also began to have space for other people too. Well, one person in particular, actually…
Around this time, I started studying, planning and imagining the future… as well as paying a little bit more attention to the long-neglected present. I dabbled in jogging. I made smoothies that closely resembled beer-sick. I even created a rather optimistically named Pinterest board that I called, “Quick Looks”.
“Woman”, I told myself one morning in the mirror; “you are in your early thirties. Damn it, you are going to look it now or forever hold your peace!”
And thus I went forth; following very specific instructions on how to make my hair look “effortlessly cool” with only 137 kerby grips and a sponge; as well as tuning into some very clear signals from Husband about what floats his boat.
Whoa… Say what now?!
We are a wholesome Christian couple, married almost a decade. Surely, as his wife, I am the only wave in the world that can raise those sails?!
If you believe that, float on…
We, on the other hand, prefer to be completely honest (and, of course, mercilessly mocking), about what we like the look of. (Now, don’t worry. This is not like the time he decided, rather absentmindedly, to save our single male guest the bother by pointing out everyone in our Church who was “hot-but-married” ! That was a long time ago, and I think we have just about moved on… )
As it’s worth the embarrassment, (and only because it’s relevant to the story, you understand); I will explain that we have not moved on from “The Staceys”. By which, (according to our Dictionary of Weirdness), I am of course referring to: any brunette with a filthy London accent!
Which is where The Great British Bake Off comes in.
Which is where opinions differ, tastes clash, and mockery ensues; as one barely-anonymous blogger reveals that her Rev. Husband well and truly popped his collar for 2016 winner Candice Brown.
And so, in my sweaty, sludge-drinking, post-baby-stage crisis; I decided that if a bit of bold lippy and a stroke of liquid eyeliner was all it took then flippin’ heck, that was achievable!
(Why is there always an however?!)
I had completely underestimated what an arch nemesis liquid eyeliner could turn out to be! Turning to chapter 101 in The Gospel According To Pinterest, I discovered that there were hundreds of different strokes one could use and that also, more significantly; not one of them was fool-proof.
For about a week, I took a good half hour out of our morning schedule to look down my nose at a mirror; creep along my eyelashes with an increasingly shaky hand; half-squint away jet-black tears and then curse under my breath as I blotted myself in the eye! Attempting then to “gently dab away the evidence with a stick of concealer”, I would eventually give up and start again, as that “simple trick” turned out to be about as useful as trying to cover fresh dog turd with Tippex!
Like singing, I guess, some people are inherently created with the ability to line their eyes… others are not.
The added glamour, once achieved, did give me an odd sense of capability as I rocked the daily rhythms of Mum life, and so I didn’t actually give up straight away. Nope. I waited until one dreaded morning when Tinker called to me from the bathroom, and I followed the accosted-make-up-bag trail to find her standing there; liquid-liner in hand, and a beaming, black smile upon her face.
“Look at me!” She squealed proudly; two big black puddles underneath her eyes, streaming determinedly down her rosy little cheeks.
“Now I’m pretty like you!”
“Oh lovely girl!” I gasped, hugging her and removing the offending item from her grasp. “You are beautiful! So, so beautiful… but not because of this!”
I didn’t know what to do or think.
“I mean, it’s not as if a grown woman wearing make-up is bad!” I expounded to Husband later that week, as I wrestled once again with the unforeseen dilemmas of parenting real-life children. “I was doing it for me. It made me feel good and that’s OK, right?”
“Right,” he agreed, as he always does when I start these conversations at around 11pm.
“Except that I don’t want my young daughter to see me painting myself everyday, and for her to think we need make-up to feel good about ourselves, you know?”
“Because we don’t. But then… I do feel better when I wear it, so… I don’t know. Do I sacrifice what makes me feel good for the sake of her development? Is that the right thing to do?”
Too late, he’d gone to sleep.
But he suffered for it the next day!
“We need to have a Vision Meeting.” I told him, as if that was a thing.
“A what now?!”
“A Vision Meeting. For our family,” I explain. “My Facebook and blog feeds are full of parents who seem to know what they’re all about, you know?”
No. He didn’t. He’s a very lazy Facebooker. But they were. Everywhere I looked, it seemed people had very set ideas on how to raise their kids; the Evangelicals, the Vegans, the Gender-Stereotype-Offenders; those awful memes that tell you to call your daughters anything from geniuses to war lords, so long as they’re not beautiful. And yet. Despite having all the ideas before they were born, here I was again: winging it.
I wanted to know what we were about. I wanted us to know what we were about, and to review the things we were already so busy doing, in order to make sure they had purpose.
And so we did.
We sat down at the table with a giant piece of paper and some marker pens; and Husband rolled his eyes for the umpteenth time in our marriage, as he wondered once more why on earth he’d married a teacher- and then enabled her to stay at home.
Until, that is, I explained the rules. Which went a little something like this: you each take turns to write down something- a value, priority or activity- that is important to you for our family, our marriage, or for yourself. If it’s that important, if it makes the list, then we agree together to prioritise it. To intentionally allow our time, our money, our conversation and our parenting to reflect what we have agreed to prioritise together.
“Huh.” He sits up. “So I’m allowed to write down football?”
“If it’s that important to you, yes.”
“Even though it’s on my day off?”
(I might have moaned about that the week before!)
“If it’s something you really want to prioritise then yes,” I shrug. “Write it down and I won’t nag you about it again.”
Well… that did the trick!
We ended up with a pretty comprehensive list; which not only helped to unify our approach to all aspects of life, but also encouraged us both about the things we were already doing well, without even realising it. The list was so helpful, in fact, that I ended up pinning it to the wall and going back to it every time I was having a bad day and feeling a little bit lost!
Fast-forward a year or so, however, to around June this year, and you will find us in a completely different location. We have different roles, responsibilities, friends, and colleagues; we have interrupted sleep, re-employed breasts and extra children. To cut an already-long story ever-so-slightly shorter… we are no longer feeling human.
This time around, post-partem life has been somewhat frantic. I have expended all of my remaining energy on various different projects, with alarming degrees of unhealthy, hormonal intensity. A couple of months back, only one thing was clear.... We needed a new list!
Given the aforementioned hormones, however, the first attempt at this ended with a small amount of bickering, a large amount of disagreeing, and an awful lot of tears. I looked at the resulting list and hated it. It was shallow, forced and without faith. It did not reflect who we are.
So… We took a couple of weeks to cool off and then we tried again.
This time we prayed; together and individually; and came up with something that felt significantly different. We had unity; it had purpose; and the new list felt inspired. I looked at each priority we had set out and felt it reflected perfectly our love for God, each other, our family and those outside of it.
Which was interesting.
As, when I turned it over to compare it to the first one… they were exactly the same.
See, when I looked back at that first list, there was nothing wrong with any of the things that we had recorded. Nothing wrong with the things we were throwing our time, money and energy into. Nothing, that is, except the heart behind it.
We – or more specifically I– was obsessing over things out of an unhealthy sense of duty; religion; pride and desperation.
Including, let’s be honest, this blog.
And so, as I’ll explain further in another post, at another time; that is largely where I have been.
And what I’m attempting to do now.
To revisit our priorities, one at a time, and realign their purpose, and my heart, to God.
To re-approach all of the things that I was doing, and still feel are worth doing, only out of the love of God.
And so, of course, that’s up to and including,
– “let’s be honest”-
Thanks for sticking around!