What I Learned in 2016

What I Learned in 2016

‘Twas the day after Christmas, and without skipping a jinglin’ beat, we’ve all moved on from our candy canes and mistletoe and holly and turned our focus to the coming new year. I love New Year’s goals and a fresh start as much as the next blogger, but before I dive into a new year, I’d like to reflect back on 2016.

This has been a big year for me: with the exception of 2015 (which saw my becoming a mother), this has probably been the most transitional and transformational twelve months of my adult life. In 2016 we left our friends, family, and the only life we’d ever known and embarked on a brand new adventure. It was a hard and scary transition, but at the time we were so focused on the practical details of the move that it took a while for the ramifications of what we’d done to fully set in.

The shift has proven to be the absolute right decision for our family, but we are still trying to get our heads around the fact that we are Texans now. The move, combined with my coming more fully into my role as a mom, has rendered me a very different woman than I was last December. Luke and I have both grown up a lot this year, and I sense God working in our lives and our family in some painful but also wonderful ways.

Each month I take a mental inventory of what I’ve been learning, but those monthly What I Learned posts focus mostly on things I’m learning in the moment. In composing this post, it’s been insightful and humbling to look back at some of the big-picture things I’ve learned over the past twelve months. There’s so much more, of course, but I’ve compiled a non-comprehensive list of insights and lessons that God, circumstances, and some personal soul-searching have taught me in 2016.

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In Parenting Charleston This Year, I Learned . . .

1. Children have a way of speeding up life.

I feel like having a child automatically presses fast-forward on the passage of time. It’s true that the days can be long and monotonous, but the weeks and months and milestones seem to pass by in the blink of an eye. I want to savor and preserve every moment with Charlie while he’s little, so I take an insane amount of pictures and keep detailed notes to help me remember; but none of this record keeping can stop him from growing up. He’s not even two, and already I feel nostalgic for “when he was little.” It’s exciting and unspeakably, gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking.

2. I don’t seem to know what to call my son!

When we named him Charleston, we planned to call him Charlie since it seemed more fitting for a little boy. But over the course of the year we’ve gradually started referring to him as Charleston, to the point that I never directly address him as Charlie any longer (it’s always Charleston or Buddy). It’s not that I don’t still love the nickname, it’s just that Charleston feels more natural. But for some reason, I still tend to refer to him as Charlie when I’m talking about him . . . which is why his name comes up in both forms here on the blog (and in this very post!).

3. Having a routine is crucial.

We don’t follow a strict schedule, but I’ve found that having a general structure built into our days is the best prevention against meltdowns (from child AND from Mama). On those days when something about our routine is off, I’m sure to hear about it—either because Charlie tells me at the time, or because he is throwing a tantrum about my selecting the wrong shopping cart (or maybe making a funny face or parking in the wrong spot or . . .)—all because we went to the grocery store two hours later than we should have.

4. An afternoon walk is the best way to combat the witching hour.

Regardless of how well our day has gone, the hours between Charlie’s afternoon nap (or, more often, his skipped nap) and dinnertime are always rough. For most of the year we would rescue these hours with a walk to the park or to Chick-fil-A to get ice cream*. Now that it’s dark and cold during that time, we’re struggling to keep the witching hour sane.

*2016 will go down in history as the year that I learned about the amazingness that is Chick-fil-A ice cream!

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5. Extended breastfeeding is awesome and also a little weird.

My initial goal was to breastfeed for a year. We blew threw that time frame and are coming up on two years of nursing. This has its drawbacks, of course: it’s not always convenient, and it’s quite embarrassing when Charleston attempts to disrobe me in public. But it’s rewarding, too: I love that we still have this bonding time together, and it cracks me up that we can have conversations about “his milkies” while he’s nursing. It’s also much easier to breastfeed an older child who needs no help latching on or staying in position. (Seriously, the gymnastic moves this kid does to stay attached to a boob never cease to impress me.) For a number of reasons—none of which is Charlie’s desire to say goodbye to the milkies—I have a feeling our breastfeeding days are numbered, and I am experiencing a mixture of relief and melancholy about the prospect of weaning.

6. Charlie does things on his own timeline.

With the exception of his arrival (which was almost a month early), Charlie has been a little delayed on everything from crawling to sprouting teeth. I’ve worried about each missed milestone, but he always pulls through in a big way. At nearly fifteen months, Charlie went from not walking at all to practically running across a room in the span of just a few days. He also got a late to start to talking, but once he’d uttered his first word (“salsa!”) we couldn’t get him to stop talking, and now he’s using full sentences. I’m realizing that I need to stop comparing and worrying and just let him do his own thing; he’ll be just fine!

7. I LOVE parenting a toddler.

I’ll be honest: I adored parenting a baby (especially a newborn) and I’m excited to be a parent to an older kid, but the toddler stage had me worried. However, Charleston has taught me just how fun a toddler can be. In some ways, he’s more challenging, but the rewards are so much greater: his funny antics and turns of phrase keep me laughing all day long, and my heart just melts when he smothers me with kisses and exuberantly cries, “I love you Mama!” Toddler-Charlie is simply the best . . . I just hope I’m singing the same tune when we hit TWO! Whatever is ahead, I know that God will continue to give me the strength and skill set to conquer the challenges as they come.

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Through Our Move to Texas, I Learned . . .

8. California and Texas are further apart than I thought.

They look so close on a map, but that drive is killer. It’s also been harder than I expected to stay in touch with loved ones from afar. I am thankful for social media, texting, and FaceTime which help us stay connected between in-person visits.

9. Building a new life in a new place is possible, but it takes time.

When we first moved to Austin I was worried that we would never feel at home here. Several failed attempts at forging relationships with other moms at the park or library had me wondering if living in Texas meant having no friends, and everything about our new home state felt foreign and uncomfortable. But within the past few months, we’ve gotten plugged in to churches and community groups that have introduced us to some wonderful new people. And as we’ve grown more familiar with our surroundings, we’ve gotten much more comfortable in our life here. Less than a year later, Texas feels a lot more like home.

10. We really like having Luke work from home.

This was a huge shift for our family life this year, and we knew we would either love it or hate it. Thankfully it has proven to be a huge blessing. Luke doesn’t require silence from Charlie and me (which was my biggest concern), and Charlie and I love getting to see him throughout the day. It’s also so nice to be able to take occasional family outings in the middle of a work day, which wouldn’t be possible if Luke worked in a traditional workplace. And of course I appreciate having Luke’s assistance during nap boycotts, explosive diaper situations, and other mid-day parenting challenges.

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11. Living in a house is great; living in a two-story house makes it a little less great.

Luke and I had only ever lived in an apartment until this year. In fact, one of the primary reasons for our move was that we knew we could afford to rent a house in Texas for less than an apartment cost us in California. For the most part, we love our current house. The extra space and lack of shared walls has been nice, having a designated play area is AMAZING, and though we don’t use it much, we do enjoy having a yard. However, stairs with a toddler are tedious, and the gates are really annoying. If at all possible, we plan to stick with single-story homes in the future.

12. Austin is a lot like Orange County, and also completely different.

Depending on the day, my impression of our old home and our new one is either that they are exact twins or that they are polar opposites. Aspects about the two areas are the same: the hipster vibe of Austin proper resembles the general vibe of the OC, and the suburban feel of our town of Cedar Park is a lot like our previous home town of Yorba Linda. The stores and restaurants are mostly the same, and the clothing, values, and friendliness level of the people we encounter is comparable. But then I hear the word “y’all” a dozen times in a conversation, or find myself in a construction zone without any warning signs posted, or—the biggest difference—experience a REAL lightening storm, and I realize what a very different world Texas is.

13. Texas is gorgeous.

I’d been told that the Texas landscape was pretty but was skeptical when we moved her in February and the trees were all bare. But then spring blew me away with its flowers and stunning skies and previously unfathomable abundance of GREEN. I am now a believer in the beauty of this great state!

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On the Blogging Front, I Learned . . .

14. I like to mix things up with my post topics.

For a while now, I’ve felt like I should try to find my niche with blogging. Am I a mom blogger? A book blogger? I don’t really know, and for now, I’m okay with that. I recognize that not every post will resonate with everyone in my audience, but I’m not ready to let go of the lighthearted posts (which are fun for me to write) or the deeper ones (which are a challenge for me but are also where I do a lot of my personal soul-searching). However! I am open to feedback, so if there is something you’d like to see more or less of here, please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment or shoot me an email to let me know!

15. Blogging “ahead” is tough.

In my early days of blogging, I didn’t start writing a post until the day before it went live. This year I’ve been writing posts at least two weeks in advance (with the exception of my Lately and What I Learned posts, which are written in real time). I like that this keeps me from feeling rushed to get a post out on time, but it also feeds into my perfectionism by giving me (too much) time to go back and change things. I also don’t like the feeling of having my blog slightly delayed from my real life. In the future, I plan to decrease the window between writing and releasing a post, even if that means that I might occasionally miss a day of posting because I didn’t finish on time.

16. Posting more is easier for me than posting less.

Another change this year was that I added an extra post each week. It’s counterintuitive, but I’m spending less time on the blog than I did when I was when posting less frequently. The more rigorous writing schedule forces me to be efficient with my writing time, and the knowledge that I’m putting out more content reduces any personal pressure to make each individual post perfect.

17. It’s difficult to find the balance between being too much of a perfectionist and being lazy.

My altered approaches to blogging have been designed to keep my inner perfectionist at bay. However, I have a hard time distinguishing between the times when I’m refusing to listen to the perfectionism, and when I’m simply putting out inferior content. I want this space to be something I can be proud of while also being okay with my shortcomings as a blogger, and I don’t know that I’ve found that balance yet.

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About Myself, I Learned . . .

18. I am an extraordinarily slow processor.

It takes me a long time (we’re talking years) to work through my thoughts and feelings about an experience. In the past I’ve let things go without fully proccessing them, but lately I’ve been practicing sitting with my memories, even when it hurts. I’ve also grown more okay with letting things marinate for a while instead of trying to find immediate mental or emotional resolution. In other words, I’m learning how to be patient with myself and my process.

19. I am deeply affected by the content I consume.

This might be a new thing—attributable to becoming a mom (hormonal shift is a real thing!)—or it might just be a new realization I’ve had given that I’m allowing myself to be more reflective these days. Whatever the reason, I’m finding that books, shows, movies, and podcasts have a very strong impact on my feelings and my thought life. I don’t want to live in an echo chamber or force myself to view the world through rose-colored glasses, but I am trying to be more conscientious about my entertainment and educational sources so that they are mostly positive and in line with my personal values.

20. I am a big picture person and details are tough for me.

I used to think I was a detail-oriented person, and while that is sometimes the case, it’s not my natural forte. I wrote about this in last month’s What I Learned list, and its an instance of my Myers-Briggs studying leading to practical personal development. Becoming aware of this aspect of my personality has freed me to embrace my strength and encouraged me to adopt systems that will support me in my weakness.

21. It’s totally okay to rely on Luke; we are a team.

Because Luke is the bread-winner in our family, and I am the stay-at-home parent, I sometimes feel guilty for allowing him to carry so many of the parenting responsibilities. I am learning to graciously accept his help without keeping tabs on who is doing more. This attitude also keeps me from feeling resentful on days when I am pulling more than “my share” of the daily parenting duties.

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22. I am okay.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling like I didn’t measure up to everyone else or was irreparably flawed in some way (beyond the shortcomings inherent to the human condition). I might be a late bloomer, but I feel like I am finally growing out of this awkward stage and accepting that I’m not that different from everyone else. I’m not broken. I don’t need to be fixed. And I don’t need to hide my flaws or pretend I’m someone I’m not in order to be an acceptable human being worthy of love and belonging. (Thanks, Brené Brown, for this one!)

23. Increased confidence doesn’t translate to a better body image.  

Despite the personal acceptance I’ve experienced in almost every other part of my life, the area of body image continues to be a huge and often paralyzing struggle for me. God and I still have a lot of work to do with this one.

24. Vulnerable transparency is totally hard and completely worth it.

This year I’ve had a few opportunities to be vulnerable with people in ways a younger me never would have considered. I’ve also been the recipient of a other peoples’ vulnerability. These soul-bearing conversations were challenging in the moment, but ultimately they led to deeper and more authentic relationships and have given me courage to be more open about my personal life in the future.

25. Being loving is more important than being right.

This insight came to me courtesy of Mike Eere and it was probably my biggest takeaway of the year. I’ve gradually begun to recognize that my rigid adherence to personal values and my own self image were preventing me from adopting a loving attitude towards the people around me and even towards myself. Since having this realization, I’ve been working to make Being Loving my number one priority. I am lightyears away from being perfect at this, but the paradigm shift has affected everything from my political views to my daily interactions. It also played into my selection for my Word of the Year in 2017 . . . but more on that in a few weeks!

26. The older I get, the less I seem to know.

This is a cliché that resonates more deeply with each passing year. As 2016 draws to a close, I am less sure of so many things that I thought I knew a year ago. I am recognizing how little I know and understand about God, the world, and even about myself. But instead of feeling frustrated by this, I am thankful for the few things I do hold true and that serve as my guiding light when my world seems murky. My lack of knowledge also makes me excited for all of the growth and learning opportunities that lie ahead!

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Phew, that was quite a long list! One thing I did not learn this year was how to write a short blog post! If you are still reading—thank you for sticking with me through the end of this post, and also for being a faithful reader of this blog. Much of what I learned this year is directly linked to the processing I do here in this space, so thank you for trusting me with your time and your listening ear. And I’d love to hear from you: what is something (or perhaps 26 things!) you learned in 2016?

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