Every year, I read through my journal from the previous year. This is one of my favorite things to do. I remember the victories and the struggles. I look for patterns and routines. I take note of those things that served me well and those that didn’t. It helps me set God-honoring goals for the upcoming year.
In 2016, I filled up three journals. THREE! It took me a week to read through them. Here are some of the things I learned last year.
1. I learned that setting annual goals for other people doesn’t work. At the beginning of 2016, I suggested to Jon that we focus on one parenting thing each month for the kids. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful parenting idea? I thought so, too.
January was “Speak Life,” where we helped the kids talk to each other in encouraging language rather than perpetual sarcasm and insults. (Thank you Disney Channel and Nickelodeon for teaching my kids that it’s “funny” to perpetually criticize your siblings). January was a success, so we continued.
February was “Clean up Your Own Crap” where, I introduced and implemented a new chore system. That was also good, though the weight of implementing the new system fell squarely on my shoulders. Whatevs.
March and beyond, the plan completely fell apart. I was constantly trying to pin down my visionary husband to help me set the next goal. Except for when I was reminding him to remind the kids to Speak Life and Clean up Their Crap. Then there’s getting two teens and a tween to implement goals. That was just a whole thing. So, in conclusion, I learned that my goals need to be my goals. It’s good to be intentional with the kids. It’s good for Jon and I to have parenting goals. But I do not have the energy to carry the whole family, including Jon, on setting and implementing said goals.
2. I learned that I truly cherish most the “daily-ness” of life: picking up kids, helping them do homework, making dinner, cleaning up. Because this is Rebekah’s last year before college, something about this normal, everyday, routine stuff was very precious to me this year.
3. I learned binge-watching all the seasons of Parenthood with Jon was one of the best things for our marriage. (I realize I’m a little late to the Parenthood Party. But like most parties, better late than never.) In many ways, it was like watching our lives played out on screen—except with much more attractive people. Some weeks we would have an actual situation at home and the very next episode would address that exact situation—super creepy/awesome! For a person who mostly hates TV (me) and resists jumping on the bandwagon of all popular TV shows (also me), this was a highlight of my year.
4. I learned that grains and sugar = exactly six pounds on my body. When I stop eating them, I lose six pounds. When I start eating them, I gain six pounds. Furthermore, sugar makes me awful. When I eat sugar and excessive grains, the days that follow are wrought with depression and crying. It’s more than just extra pounds for me, it’s about my emotional health. (I don’t want this to be true—I heart sugar and grains.)
5. I learned I can only do one “deep work” at a time. At the beginning of 2016, I set out to create and lead a Bible Study in my home, and also, write my first e-book. I did accomplish both, but I could not, for the life of me, do them at the same time. I had no idea how much time and mental energy each would require. This also explains why I hardly blogged in 2016—blogging is also a “deep work” which requires time and mental energy too. I just couldn’t do it. I tried, though!
6. But, dude, I learned how to write and publish an e-book! I learned that it’s way more work and way more expensive than I thought it would be. The whole idea of “I’m gonna write this e-book over spring break” is hilarious. Writing the actual material was time-consuming enough, but there is a whole technical side that I had to learn as well. And then I had to hire people to help me with the stuff I couldn’t do myself. But, now I know. And now there will be more e-books!
7. I learned Thursdays are my favorite day of the week, because it’s Bible Study Day! This is exactly how I feel every Thursday morning. (If you can’t see the image, click here to see on the blog).
8. I learned that teaching a Bible Study in my home has countless benefits. I’ve taught many Bible studies in my home over the years, so I already knew the benefits of connecting in person with actual people, studying the Word together, praying together, etc. But there is also the benefit of “Bible Study Prep Day.” This is the day before Bible Study where I go to the grocery store and clean the house. This may not seem like a benefit, but prior to this, I had been struggling with finding a regular rhythm to these essential household duties. Hosting weekly Bible Study created opportunity to do it every week on the same day. Yay!
9. I learned I need a Sabbath Manifesto—a list of rules to follow for my weekly Sabbath. Otherwise, my Sabbath becomes just another work day of laundry, monitoring kids’ weekly chores, and making them do homework. In many ways last year, it became a day I worked HARDER. After a few Sabbath meltdowns, I wrote out a list of things I would NOT do on my Sabbath—namely, laundry, monitoring kids’ chores and making them do homework.
10. I learned (again) that the Internet is everywhere and it’s almost impossible to stay on top of monitoring it for my kids. Y’all know I’ve tried. Just when I thought I had adequate parental controls and filters on everything, Santa (Jon) decided Elijah needed a PS4. Elijah played it for nearly 3 months before I realized
a) every gaming creep in the world has access to my son (!) and
b) Elijah had unfiltered access to the internet, including Rated MA (mature adult) games and movies (!!!!)
Thankfully, Elijah had not realized the latter before I discovered said issue and properly set the parental controls. (P.S.—I hate this part of parenting! This constantly trying to protect my kids from the dangers of the Internet! It’s probably my least favorite parenting responsibility. Sigh…)
In related news, I learned it’s good and important to protect our kids from all the dangers of unfiltered Internet, but it’s better and MORE important to teach them how to respond in the face of it. I spent a lot of time this year trying to equip my kids to resist the temptation to view things that do not honor God. This will carry them through the years I am not there to set parental controls.
11. I learned that everything changes when my teen and her friends start driving. In some ways, it’s good change: they can drive to school, drive themselves to activities, run a few errands—it frees up some time for me. In some ways, it’s sad: family dinners are rare. In other ways, it’s terrifying: Dude. Teenage drivers behind the wheel!!! Oh. My. Gosh.
12. I learned how to rid our entire house and three heads of hair of lice! (Special thanks to the School-Wide Lice Outbreak of 2016) I now know every natural treatment available, including heat, oils, and nit combs. I also learned that long after the lice are gone, I will have dreams that the lice remain. I will wake up on random mornings to saturate my hair in oil and run a nit comb through it, just to make sure. My head will itch while I’m writing about it months later. My head itches now.
13. I learned that as I age, I’d rather work out for longer periods of time, with breaks than I would shorter periods of time without breaks. I’m liking less and less “quick, hard, intense” workouts. Instead, I prefer the “longer, less strenuous, with breaks” workouts. I also love walking and yoga to be a regular part of my weekly fitness routine, even if they are not written into the program.
14. I learned I absolutely love yoga. But not just any yoga. I specifically love the P90X3 30-minute yoga, muted, and set to my own mix of worship music. I call it “worship yoga” because I’m a nerd. Worship yoga energizes my body and my spirit. And—bonus—I do it every Thursday morning before Bible Study, which makes Thursdays MORE awesome.
15. I learned that while being “Room Mom” is well within my skill set, I do not enjoy being Room Mom. I, Sandy Cooper, from this day forward, will no longer feel guilty for failing to sign up to be Room Mom. I paid my dues—Room Mom is not my jam.
16. I learned that my anxiety in 2016 was at an all-time high, was almost constant, and made me completely miserable. The five things that appear to affect my anxiety levels more than anything: sugar consumption, excessive caffeine consumption, social media consumption, busyness, and lack of planning. Each of these deserves its very own blog post. One of my goals for 2017 is to rid my body of this anxiety. And also, blog about each of these things.
17. I learned that excessive caffeine consumption can produce clinical anxiety in people who do not otherwise suffer with clinical anxiety. I learned that in clinical settings, doctors induce panic attacks in patients by giving them excessive caffeine. I learned I consume somewhere around 600-800 mg of caffeine per day—which is excessive. I learned I must greatly reduce or eliminate my caffeine consumption or I’m gonna scratch my eyeballs out.
18. I learned that taking care of Elliana and Elijah consumes approximately 95% of my time. I mean, I knew my kids were time-consuming–what with all the eating and laundry and all–but I didn’t realize how time consuming until they were both gone for a week of summer camp. I literally got bored. I cannot remember the last time I was bored, can you? With Rebekah driving herself everywhere and the two younger kids gone, the week of camp was like a glimpse into the empty nesting years…which, from my perspective, will be boring.
19. I learned that listening to podcasts is my new favorite thing. I listen when I walk, when I do laundry, when I cook, when I put on make-up and when I fix my hair. I think I would LOVE doing my own podcast. I want to try! I need the podcast fairies to set it all up for me so all I need to do is show up and talk. Can I interview you? If I start a podcast, will you promise to listen to it???
20. I learned I love doing Facebook Live recordings! I’ve only done two but I loved everything about it. (There will be more in the future! Stay tuned.)
21. I learned that on TV cooking shows, the people cooking are not in their actual home kitchens—they are in studios! That beautiful ocean view behind Giada on Everyday Italian? It’s a green screen! WHAT?! I am ruined.
22. I learned a better definition for the words “strengths” and “weaknesses.” Strengths are things that strengthen you—not things you are good at. Weaknesses are things that weaken you—not things you need to fix or overcome. You may be good at something that drains the life out of you…that’s not a strength. If you don’t feel stronger after you do it, it’s a weakness, even if you are really good at it (um…Room Mom?). Also, a better word for “strengths” is “responsibilities.” When we call them “responsibilities,” we use them for others, rather than ourselves. (All this I learned on the Entrée Leadership Podcast. This is why I love podcasts so.)
23. I learned that Facebook, Politics, and Sandy don’t mix. I can’t deal. My anxiety goes through the roof during election time (as if it needed any help). I want to block everyone from my feed. I start hating people I otherwise enjoy. This last election was the worst. I had to jump off the crazy train.
24. I learned that even though the teen years are not my favorite season of parenting for All The Reasons, I do really enjoy one thing: my kids friendships and dating! Yes, dating. I love having boyfriends and girlfriends around the house, friends around the table, and teens with us on special excursions. My kids are great at choosing friends. I love these kids. They are so fun. This year, Elijah (age 15) has his first girlfriend (At 15, “Girlfriend” is defined as “we text 2,000 times a week.”) Taking him to buy her Christmas gifts with his own money was the highlight of Christmas. It was the sweetest.
25. I learned that I have zero regrets for setting aside my writing and publishing goals to be here for my kids the last 18 years. As we get ready to launch our oldest into adulthood and onto college, I realize that I literally get one shot at this parenting thing. The season of having small kids at home DOES COME TO AN END. Some days, I wasn’t too sure about that, but it really, really does. I know many women need to work and want to work outside the home. I get that. I commend every mother for making the best decisions for her and her family. But, for me, as I struggled over the years to balance writing goals with parenting goals, often wondering if I was doing the right thing passing up opportunities to be published, I’m so thankful I did. Especially because I see how bored I’m going to be when they all leave. I’ll need something to do!
What did you learn in 2016?