Level 1

I love video games, have since I was quite young. The first video game I ever remember playing was called “Mixed-Up Mother Goose” and you moved your pixelated little character around a map, finding objects from Mother Goose rhymes and bringing them back to their characters. Then I got older and graduated to more complex games on PC and on consoles (N64 being my absolute favorite).

Something happens to me when I start playing a new game. I get completely engrossed, not just while I’m playing, but no matter where I am. I think about it falling asleep or at work or where ever I am and wish that I could be playing for five more minutes. It’s dangerous. I have to actively prioritize everything about playing a game or else I could end up surrounded by pop cans and bags of chips and fast food for days on end.

I’ve learned to prioritize better. I learned why games are so addictive, how they activate all the pleasure centres in the brain. They make you feel like you’ve accomplished things, like you’re important, while only investing fifty bucks. And a huge amount of time. They let you be someone else for a while and, let’s be honest, that’s attractive.

My life for the last year and a half has been solely focused on raising two little boys. It’s hard work and something that doesn’t pay off right away. I find myself sometimes just waiting for the days to end and counting down until the weekend. The selfish part of me found little joy in child raising.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about living deliberately and how the shift in attitude changed how much I enjoyed life. I kept that up for, like, a month. I know, it’s embarrassing. Some of the things I wanted to add to my life have stayed part of my life. I am still reading lots and I’ve been keeping up with this blog better than I thought, but I still park my butt in front of the TV and zone out until Brian gets home from work.

I’m not going to blame anything, but myself. I knew when I started making excuses and getting lazy that the end of my deliberate living was near.

But here I am again, feeling like life is simply being endured rather than lived. So, again, I’m looking to make my life feel more meaningful. Or at least like I’m an active participant in my life.

So I did some googling, as I often do when I have any kind of question, and I found Nerd Fitness. Now, it’s pretty much a guy who changed his perspective and forced himself to do the things that he’d always told himself he couldn’t.

As with any fitness/life guru, you gotta think critically about what he’s saying. The follow-blindly-and-I-swear-you’ll-be-as-successful-as-Robert-Branson thing is always too good to be true. The stuff that I thought wasn’t legit, I tossed aside, but I did find a couple of things that made me think a little bit.

1. You are the hero of your life

Steve Kamb, the creator of Nerdfitness.com, views life as if it were a video game. You are the hero and you live your life building up skills, exploring the world, completing quests, and leveling up your hero. Life does not happen to you, you get to decide what life is going to be like.

Because you are the hero, you get to decide what are priorities for you. Rather than seeing someone do something cool and thinking “Wow, they sure are lucky they can do that,” you think, “What are the steps I’d have to take to do that too?” You have to stop making excuses like having no time or no money or no support, and just step up.

2. You don’t go from level 1 to level 50 in a night

I love to play games like Pokemon and World of Warcraft so I totally get the leveling metaphor. You start the game as a level 1 nothing with a pot lid for a shield and a butter knife for a dagger. Your battle moves are either “Run Away” or “Cower in Fear.” So you kill a bunch of kobolds or spiders or what have you and suddenly you’re level five and you have a real dagger. Forty-five levels later and your dagger is enchanted and has a gem-encrusted handle.

Each level that you go up takes a bunch of baby steps. You may need to kill thirty kobolds just to get up to level two. You complete quest after quest and gain experience and skills, which then turns into levels.

It’s the same with life. What would your ideal life look like? What do you look like at level 50? For me, it’s a published novel and no mortgage. It’s writing full time and taking my kids to Europe. It’s learning new languages and being in shape. That’s level 50 for me.

But right now, I’m level 1. And it’s going to take lots of time and effort to get to 50, but right now, I’m just looking to get to level 2.

3. Let there be rewards and consequences

When you are rewarded in video games, the more valuable rewards are ones that are useful. You complete a quest where you had to fight a bunch of bad guys, you get a more powerful sword so that you can fight even more powerful bad guys. When you reward yourself, do the same. I’m not going to eat healthy for a month so that I can drink a 12-pack of Coca-Cola. I’m going to reward myself with something to make eating healthy easier, like a new cook book or a cooking utensil. When my German vocabulary is at 1000 words, I’m going to rent a movie in German and try to follow along.

And while it’s easy to reward yourself, you also have to be pretty liberal with the consequences of failing a quest. Kamb’s solution was that every time he didn’t exercise, money would go from his account to a political candidate he absolutely despised. He didn’t want to lose the money and he didn’t want to support a cause he didn’t agree with so he exercised. You need to hold yourself accountable.

4. Break down your epic quests

As a level 1 character, you don’t slay dragons. You slay spiders or rats. And sometimes they slay you. If your epic quest is to slay a dragon, break that quest down into smaller quests that you can complete short term to lead to that long-term goal. For example, I want to learn enough German that when we go to Germany in the future, I can speak it fluently for the entire trip. That’s too big for my n00b-ness so we break it down into smaller quests.

  • Quest 1: Research & download language-learning app (5 experience points, or “xp”)
  • Quest 2: Commit 15 minutes per day for six months to learning German (60 xp)
  • Quest 3: Teach the kids some German words (50 xp)
  • Quest 4: Download “The Hobbit” in German and read it (20 xp)
  • Quest 5: Watch a film in German (10 xp)
  • Quest 6: Find someone who speaks German and have a conversation (40 xp)
  • Boss Battle: Go to Germany and speak only German for the entire duration of the trip (100 xp)

By the time I ever get to the boss battle, I’m no longer level 1. Now I have a new skill (German fluency), I have helped others develop a new skill (teaching my kids), and I’ve experienced a trip to Germany. I’ve gone from “I wish I could speak German” to “I speak German and have used it to experience a country in a unique way.” By keeping the daily commitment small, it takes a longer time, but I’ve made achieving my goals more realistic.

5. Don’t travel alone

While some adventures require a sole hero, life is something best experienced in groups. And a lifestyle change needs lots of support. Brian and I are going to try some of these things together because we are both feeling like our lives need to be lived a little more deliberately and we want to be good examples for our boys. We also have family and friends who can keep us accountable. People who don’t think that we are taking on too much or that we are living our lives wrong. If you’re feeling like a change is needed in your life too, hit me up. We are officially lfg (looking for group).

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What do you think? What does your life look like at level 50? Let me know in the comments below!

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Desperate: A Book Review

Today’s post doesn’t really know what it is. Is it a review or an advice column or just a rant? I don’t know, but that’s okay. The confusion today is brought to you by joy.

Yes, joy. It’s been a really hard week in the world, especially for my LGBT+ friends with the shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. And I am grieving, but in the midst of the heart break that surrounds us daily, I’ve found a small glimmer of hope. Hope in the form of a book.

Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson isn’t a book that I would usually pick up on one of my book raids. I wouldn’t even glance down the self-help aisle. But circumstances brought this book to my house and to my heart.

You see, I moved back to my home town just over a year ago and it is not the same place that I left. The close friends I had here are all over the world doing amazing things (living in London, graduating from optometry school, saving lives, that sort of thing) and I found myself more alone than I expected. A dear friend of mine sweetly introduced me to a mom’s group from her church and I, too afraid of being impolite to say that I was uncomfortable going, met at the hostess’ house on a Friday afternoon. And it went really well. I was welcomed, something I didn’t expect. I wondered if I’d get side-eyed all afternoon because I went to a different church and what was I even doing there and maybe I should just leave.

But that wasn’t the case. I was welcomed and prayed for. They didn’t even ask me to leave when I had to change Monkey’s stinky diaper. I started going again and again. That’s what introduced me to this book. We didn’t read it, but we would watch a minute video where the two authors would summarize the chapter. Then we would talk about it and pray together. I was so touched by the kindness of these women and I thought that if this book had anything to do with why they were treating me so well, I’d better read it.

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So I ordered the book (I couldn’t find a physical copy of it anywhere) and when I got it, I burned through it in two evenings. Quite the feat if you’ve got two little ones. And it really spoke to me.

It’s divided into three sections: “The Dream Life… Altered,” “Getting Real About Mama-hood,” and “The Redeeming.” I found that it started out being really helpful, but kind of petered out by the end. The introduction spelled out exactly how I was feeling about motherhood: “I can’t be a mother today, Lord. I’m too tired.” I wish I could type out the whole intro because I felt like I had written it, but here is just a very small part:

I felt very alone, and very, very tired. Depression snuck up on me; there was a shell of a woman where I once was. My ideals, my hopes, my joy were snatched away before I had a chance to notice. Pleas for help aimed at heaven seemed to be met with silence. The message was clear: this was my life, and I needed to just deal with it.

Adjusting didn’t go well. Anger and resentment were living just under my skin. Exhausted, out of my mind, and still hormonal, every day felt like a fight. Feelings of desperation were like an ever-present shadow over the good in my life… Motherhood was something I planned for, something I wanted, so why was living it out so drastically different from my expectations?

Sarah Mae

This was me. Exactly me. The feelings of guilt and shame I was carrying around seemed to dissipate when I read this introduction. There was someone else out there who felt the same as I did. Someone who loved her children, but felt like she was living the wrong life. I read nearly the whole thing to Brian and saying, “This! This! This is me! I’m not broken!” It was such a relief.

Once the book proper started, I learned some things to help me make it through motherhood with a joyful, intentional spirit. It’s written by two women: Sarah, who is a mom of three young children, and Sally, who is a more seasoned mother and a mentor to Sarah. Each chapter begins with Sarah’s experiences, her triumphs and failings, before Sally’s passages, which focuses more on advice. Some of the chapters are helpful, some are not (I’m looking at you, housework chapters). The advice that stood out most for me were: find a community, make sure to rest, and decide what is important to your family and emphasize it.

Sally’s advice for finding your community centered on moms. She firmly believes that we weren’t meant to parent alone, but in large groups of friends and family. How to build that community? First, find a group of peers who are in the same stage of their lives as you. Find people that can commiserate, celebrate, and spend time together. These are the people you can rely on for play dates, heart-to-hearts, and accountability. Your kids can spend time together, which can equal free babysitting (both for them and for you). Second, find a mother or two who have kids much older than yours. These women will be your mentors, encouraging you when you feel like this stage will never end and helping you when you are overwhelmed. Third, find mothers with children younger than you for you to mentor. My mother explained why you need to mentor someone as well with this analogy: the Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River (North) and feeds the Jordan River (South). It is vibrant and gives life to the land surrounding it. The Jordan River (South) then feeds the Dead Sea, which has no output. Nothing lives in or around the Dead Sea. If you only take and never give, you will become like the Dead Sea.

I appreciated this advice. And I felt thoroughly chastised when the book told me that I can’t expect a community to find me. I need to go and initiate. Ask people to come for dinner. Have coffee. Offer (free) babysitting. Not just sit in my house and hope that someone would knock on my door and say, “I hear you’ve been looking for a community. Well, here I am!” Suddenly, I could take the responsibility rather than cry in the drive-thru at Wendy’s because no one talks to me at church (which is totally a hypothetical situation in which I was very emotional and irrational and it definitely didn’t happen).

The second piece of advice seemed like common sense, but at the same time, it wasn’t. Yes, we hear “treat yo self” lots from the tumblr abyss, but when mothers take breaks, how often do we criticize because “she should be with her family”? This book gave me permission to say, “I need a break sometimes.” Turns out, parenting is a huge amount of work and there is rarely any time to rest, not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually, creatively rest. It’s years before you get to consistently sleep through the night or get time to do something that renews your spirit. So get a babysitter or take time here and there to do something you love. Ask one of your community members to watch your child for an hour or two. Your child(ren) deserves you at your best and you can’t be your best when you are burned out.

And the last piece of advice that I really liked was about decided what was important to your family and incorporate in your family life. For example, Brian and I both love reading. Our bookshelves fill up a whole section of our basement. Before we had kids, we devoured books like bacon, but there is very little quiet time to read anymore. We would love to instill that love of books in our boys so before bed, we read them two books. And anytime they bring us a book, we try to put down what we are doing and read to them. This is also important when you are trying to cultivate traits in your children. Like gentleness. We want our boys to be gentle with those around them. So we have to include gentleness in our lives. Yes, we rough house with them sometimes, but we are working very hard to be gentle even when we are upset. So no spankings or slamming cupboards or raising our voices. I’m not saying that we do it every time. We are imperfect people, after all. But we are trying.

I learned a lot from this book and I can think of several moms that I think could use its advice. There are some duds in it, for sure. The authors don’t encourage women working outside of the home full time and there is a yucky little passage about feminism warping our world (*rolls eyes*). But like all advice, you’ve got to find the things that will work for your family and the things that don’t. You don’t have to agree with all of it to use part of it.

So I am going forward trying to live a little more joyfully with my boys. I’m going to keep building my community and taking time to rest. I’m going to love on the moms around me because we are all in the same boat, even if our Facebook profiles look like we are Pinterest perfect. Motherhood is really hard, so let’s be in it together.

A Letter to my Sons

To my darling boys,

I hope when you read this, you groan and roll your eyes. I hope to hear you say, “I know, Mom” because your father and I have spent your whole lives consistently delivering this message to you both verbally and in our actions.

Your body belongs to you.

No one can touch it, touch you, without your consent.

Ah, consent. A word that has been used quite frequently in our household. Consent means “to permit, approve, or agree; comply or yield” by the dictionary definition, but in our house, it means to “to permit wholeheartedly and lucidly, without manipulation or coercion.”

We have taught you about consent, my loves, because it is a concept that our generation seems to have a problem understanding, specifically those with privilege. Yes, another word you have learned very well.

You are privileged because you were born white males in a society that deems white males to have the highest worth. You have more social power than any other group, and we hope we have taught you the responsibility that comes with it. Remember, everyone is born with a cup of beans. White, heterosexual men were given the most beans. White women, people of colour, LGBT+ people, and disabled people have fewer beans, to different extents.

Because you have the most beans, you have a choice. You can decide that your beans aren’t enough, that because you have the most beans, you deserve even more. You can decide that your wealth means that you have power over those with fewer beans and can take from them. After all, they aren’t worth as much (bean-wise) as you are. You can take beans from other people. And some people will applaud this, thinking that it is natural and masculine.

Or you can decide that your beans are worth sharing. You lend your support to people with fewer beans. You decide to help change the world so that your children will have fewer beans, but live in a country that has bean equity. You can use your bean wealth to advocate for people who are bean poor. This is what your father and I hope you’ll choose.

Consent and privilege can intersect in an awful way, my sweet boys. If someone with privilege choses to use their social power to override someone’s consent, we have a tragedy like the one last year that prompted this letter. Rape is a despicable thing and occurs when someone with privilege believes they are entitled to consent. But let me tell you something:

No one is entitled to consent.

No one is entitled to your body and you are not entitled to anyone else’s. Even if you’re dating. Even if you’re married. Even if someone is drunk or high or incapacitated in any way. Even if you have more social “worth” than they do. Even if you’ve consented once or twice or a thousand times. Even if her clothes aren’t “modest.”

My boys, I’m telling you this to protect you, and to protect others. I don’t want to see you victimized. I also don’t want to see you the perpetrator of this heinous crime. I will always love you and because of that, I will always take this seriously. Because your body belongs to you, you are responsible for the actions your body takes.

So, please, my little loves, I beg you to take this lesson to heart. I want you to be safe and to be someone that others can be safe around.

In love,

Your mother