How Does Your Garden Grow?

When I feel myself getting too caught up in the minutiae of parenthood, I harken back to the words I have often repeated to Z: Promise you’ll tell me if I stop being me and get too caught up in the parenting thing. I don’t know if those words are foolish or genius.

When I was pregnant with Connor I was petrified of losing the tenuous identity that I had worked so hard and long to cultivate. I was also terrified that something as seemingly soul-sucking as parenting – something I deliberately and willingly walked into the mouth of – would chew me up and spit me out, leaving a weakened, schmurp-covered, unbathed wreck on the other side. And there have been and are and will be times that I get so suffocated by kid routines and toddler diets that when I come out gasping for air it sounds like I’m arguing with Z about (insert topic here). In those moments I am an overworked parenting robot – the data keeps piling up on me and I just can’t process it all so I react automatically and thoughtlessly, spitting out a register tape of responses or performing a similar list of tasks because I don’t have the time or energy to think any of it through. This always leads to overheating, though, and in general is not the way I’d prefer to function.

It’s that exact this type of scenario that I was afraid would strip me of my individuality. Parenthood is a collection of familiar stories that are met with knowing head nods and “you just wait” admonitions and I imagined myself becoming part of a nameless collective of sleep-deprived zombies who would not be caught dead without at least two packets of fruit snacks in their pockets/purse/car/tucked into the cup of their bra upon penalty of death. And this seemed like a bad thing.

The thing is, aren’t we all trying to live a meaningful life? The way we make our journeys unique is to find that meaning in our own way. And for me, that meaning can be found by connecting with and helping others. Many times my gestures are small, but I’m working up to something big all the time, just as we all are. That next big thing could be your child’s next birthday party, looking for a better job, trying to eat more vegetables, changing careers, or gearing up to clean out the inside of a neglected car. With a mystery smell that refuses to be found. That’s been there for over a month. Not that know anything about that first hand…Parenthood at its finest is exactly that; it allows us to find others who understand the struggle while appreciating their personal approach to it. It is also a constant gearing up for the next big thing, which can be both exciting and dreadful. As parents we are tasked with caring for each other by forming deep connections with a tiny being. I can’t imagine a greater source of meaning for myself, and to think it was given to me (luckily) so easily and without years of schooling or work seniority.

16 - 1

Parenting has christened me into the church of early morning trucks in the face and the sweetest little voices to run through the house. That isn’t such a bad group to join. And its not a personality-less cult. If anything, I find I have become a stronger, occasionally more patient, more creative individual with a striking fashion sense (snot-smeared jeans with a yogurt-coated sweater, anyone?). So I will allow myself to get caught up in this parenting thing and grow in more ways than I could have imagined and I’ll try to do it while maintaining my mature sense of self. And I’ll still rely on Z to call me out when necessary.

P.S. This isn’t to say that people without kids can’t don’t mature and grow and become equally as awesome as those with children. I’m just not one of those people anymore so I can’t speak to how their lives further develop. I love you all, though!

A Little Make Believe

My struggles with self-esteem and confidence are no secret, especially since I’m the first one to rat myself out when it comes to feelings of inadequacy. I’ve tried to tackle these issues from the inside out by reading inspiring tales of women who have transformed their lives, subscribing to motivational Instagram feeds, and talking it out with those close to me. I have definitely made strides, but here I am again tonight, writing about the same issue that remains an issue of mine still.

16 - 4

The other day I bundled the boys up and we took Blue outside. It was a sunny weekend day and my body had been urging me to get some fresh air, no matter how cold. As the boys pretended to forge their way through an unknown land in stiff boots, I played fetch with Blue. Now, I don’t have what people call “good aim”. Oftentimes when I throw a stick or the frisbee for Blue it ends up hitting the power lines that cross our backyard or it lands on the roof with no meteorological assistance. As I was throwing the stick that day I noticed myself expecting each throw to be a bad one. I kept waiting for it to hit the power lines or at least the gutter.

But it didn’t happen. It kept not happening and so I kept anticipating it. After several successful throws my anticipation waned and I began to wonder what it would really feel like if I threw confidently – if I just was confident and that came through in how I did something as simple as throw the stick for Blue. So I did a bit of my own pretending and started to imagine what it would be like if I just was confident. In those moments the air didn’t feel cold and biting on my face as much as it felt refreshing and invigorating. The stick felt lighter and I found myself throwing it more purposefully without being intercepted by the roof or the power lines.

I started to think about how people who truly are confident feel when they’re doing the laundry or loading the dishwasher. Unlike me, they probably don’t worry about choosing the correct wash cycle or second guess themselves about needing to pre-rinse that dirty casserole dish (The malignancy of self-driven second guessing cannot be overstated). I may be exaggerating here, but you get the idea. If all confident people felt the way I felt in those few cold moments of visualization in the back yard, they must feel ’round-the-clock awesome. I’m alive and breathing ’round-the-clock, so feeling awesome during that time would be great!

As an over-thinker, I believe I may have been approaching this issue from a completely wrong angle. Could it be that confidence isn’t a cerebral issue but one of feelings and intuition? Instead of forcing myself to think even more about an issue that has weighed on my mind for years, my best bet may be to fake it till I make it – to stop thinking and to just do. To soften and just be. Yeah, that may be the ticket. Groovy.

You Get a 10

Give it a 10 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about ratings, about how I rate myself as a mother, wife, and full-time human being. These ratings aren’t usually written down or assigned a number – they are acknowledge by how I’m feeling about myself … Continue reading

Some Q & A

A picture of the boys just because. Got your attention!

A picture of the boys just because. Got your attention!

At the end of June I quit my job to focus on studying for the MCAT full time. I cleared the old mail and neatly stacked piles of junk from the desk in the office, plugged in the dusty, unused lamp, and proceeded to cram as much knowledge into my brain as possible for 6-7 hours a day, 5 days a week. The judgmental part of me has been berating myself for not gaining more ground last month in spite of the holiday and family gatherings, and the frantic part of me has whipped herself into a froth of anxiety over how much there is left to learn, how little I’ve retained, and how unprepared as a student and a human being I am to take such an important exam. I have less than a month left until test day and I’ve barely scratched the surface of physics and am starting to believe that all of this studying is actually making me forget more than I remember.

At times of intense pressure, I find myself cycling through different coping mechanisms to find the right combination that allows me to feel stressed, feel important for feeling stressed, feel self-righteous about how other people just can’t understand the pressure I’m under, and feel holier-than-thou for (outwardly) handling it so well without getting to the heart of the issue. It’s a very difficult balancing act, suited only for those with advanced “Look at me, I’m important!” skills. But these “coping mechanisms” are akin to plucking a few spots of mold off an entire loaf of bread while proceeding to choke down said loaf with a smile; they are superficial ways to deal with real problems and ultimately lead to a gut-full of bad feelings.

This past month I have tried to choke down my feelings of inadequate self-worth while attempting to learn the intricacies of oxidative phosphorylation and the Lympatic System, but they continue to constitute a lump in my throat that has grown to undeniable proportions. It’s no longer a question of if I can learn the material well enough with my remaining study time, if I am smart enough, studious and disciplined enough, if I am capable of doing well. It has metamorphosed into a question of if I am worthy of doing well and succeeding.

I attended 4 different colleges before earning my bachelor’s degree, started and stopped taking classes towards a dietetics degree twice, and have been plodding through pre-med prereqs at a rate of 1 class a semester or less for the past 3 years. To give myself some credit, I have been busy with other life events during that time like getting married; having kids; moving states 3 times; and taking care of houseful of boys, some who ask me if I’ve done laundry after they used their last pair of underwear. However, there’s part of me who feels like she’s given up her chance for further academic success. If I had quit quitting years ago my professional life could be on an entirely different level.

But I stopped and started and stopped and now I’m starting again. I tell people almost nervously that I am on the pre-med track because I feel their judgement come down on me maybe even before they have time to assess the situation. All of that schooling will be hard on the kids, on your marriage, on your entire life, they say. A good mother wouldn’t willingly volunteer for so much time away from her young children, the voices in my head confirm. These are hardships that I haven’t ignored and that make me question what I’m doing every day even though I have no doubt in my path. However, studying for the MCAT has been slowly teaching me to embrace the questions – scientific and otherwise –  and ask them of myself before anyone beats me to the punch. The questions are the easy part. It’s giving, understanding, and sometimes believing the answers that can take time. I’m working on some of those answers.

The Week of Ugh

As far as weeks go, this one suuuuucked. Not only did it last for forever, the damn thing isn’t even over yet. It is the week that refuses to die. I’m not sure what brought it to this distinguished level of baditude, but what makes me feel so horrible about it is my inability to control my frustrations around the boys. They have seen me clench my fists while forcing deliberate and dense groans from the back of my throat. They have seen and heard me slam doors (in the very unsatisfying way that pocket doors “slam”), berate the dog at high volumes, yell, and walk away in several forms of huff. I have been set off by the dog eating granola bars and crackers right out of Ike’s hand as he raises them to his mouth for a bite. I have had absolutely enough of Connor’s aggressive obsession with everything that is Ike’s head. I’ve been worn thin by requests of “Just one more” and “Mommommommom” and “Not yet” from a 3-year old who may only be a quarter of my weight but who’s incessant pleas to be held are just as taxing on my patience as they are on my biceps.

But, probably more than any of that, I am worm out by the fact that this week the boys have probably seen more anger and frustration come from me than love. I remember being praised for holding my emotions in check when I was younger, and while I don’t glorify shutting emotions into a closet to fester and mold, I don’t often let my “more unseemly” feelings reach out and affect others. This week they did and the unfortunate victims were Connor and Blue Boy. Those emotions reached right out and lectured Connor up and down about practically everything. They shot down many of his requests to play, to be held, to be read one more story, to sit in my lap. They caused me to scold Blue about barking and eating Ike’s food and scratching at the door to be let out just so he could be the neighborhood pest – the dog barking into the silent night as people were turning off their lights and locking their doors for bedtime. They left me with no patience, no insight, not a moment of pause to think about what I was doing in that moment until it was over and I immediately felt bad about it.

And all week I’ve been collecting that guilt, packing it into a ball that I held in my pocket until it filled up that space and I needed to put it on a leash so we could keep track of each other. Tonight that ball of guilt is sitting in my lap, waiting to jump up and follow me to the kitchen for a snack or roll onto my pillow in preparation for bed so it will be the first thing I see in the morning. The thing about guilt though, especially when it’s on a leash, is that am the one who put it there. No one else tethered that guilt to me.  I did it all by myself, and keeping it there means that I’ve chosen each day to carrying it alongside me, to let that guilt grow and keep doing the jerky thing that guilt does best: make me feel guilty and bad about things that have already happened that I also need to unleash and set free.

So right now I am choosing to unleash the guilt – to stop walking it with me down the hall or to the kitchen or into bed. When I wake up tomorrow and open my eyes it may still be there because I’ve fed it and made it such a cozy home. But if I stop feeding it, it will realize that I’m not a good owner. Guilt isn’t meant to be owned but acts as a reminder, and once it’s done it’s job it should feel free walk out the door and get swept away with the breeze. This week I got caught up thinking that the guilt and I kept each other company and I built a cocoon around us that was nice and warm and full of self-disgust and frustration. But no butterflies came of it. And since I’ve gone as far as I care to with this metaphor, bye bye guilt. I already have a pet, haven’t you heard me yelling at him all week?

Affection, Reflection, and Receiving

Affection is sometimes the only thing I have to give. When money, patience, and time have run out, love never does. When I have had it uptohere with Connor, I can still always muster a hug for him, a hair ruffle, a kiss on that sweet, soft cheek. My voice may be rough – grated and chopped up through a tight-set jaw – but even in that state I can’t keep from giving him a squeeze or kissing him on the head. It’s like a compulsion to feel the curve of his 3-year old head, to brush his peach fuzz cheek, to ruffle his soft hair. Am I sending him mixed messages or reinforcing my message by backing it up with an unwavering wall of love and affection? Is this more fodder for the “Mommy Issues” vault? The more I think about it, the more I feel frantic, like I’m knowingly creating a monster, a preschool-aged ball of frustration and confusion not just at a world built for adults but at a parent who has no idea what the hell she’s doing. Oh what a tangled web we weave.
image

If I stop thinking about it, though, if I just feel about it, I think I’m doing what feels right. I write “think” tenuously (and ironically in conjunction with “feeling”) because feeling isn’t something I do as well as thinking the hell out of things, even if no answers come if it. I’m trying to feel this one out because thinking it out has gotten me nowhere. I’ve often written about how I’m going to let go, to just feel my way through things because that seems more natural, more intuitive. But that’s not me. I would like it to be, but there seem to be more setbacks than steps forward on my way to being an all-feeling earth mother love angel music baby.

My voice of feeling and intuition is small, like a little nagging tap in the back of my brain, like me in grade school. It is a voice that is mindlessly railroaded when it’s time to make a decision, and many times after that decision is made I see the wisdom that my subconscious held, a wisdom that is often and quickly ignored. A friend recently quoted me Dr. Spock (not that Dr. Spock), “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” The good doctor is asking me to do something that I have trained myself to not do. I rarely trust myself. I probably mistrust myself most out of anyone in my life. My decision-making process is made up of often shallow yet compulsive thinking, followed by a tentative decision, always rounded out by a hefty round of second guessing. It’s a three-course meal of guilt and uncertainty. It’s foolish to think that such an empty diet would sustain me and enable me to provide and care for my family, yet I continue to gorge on it daily. Mentally, I’m done with it. Really. These bitter pills need to be flushed down the toilet to rest forever with Connor’s trusty yet moral blue fish Dirder.

The irreplaceable G of Momastery talks of the need to be receiving mode. When giving gets to be too much, when it starts coming from the wrong place, it behooves us to move into receiving mode. As mothers and parents, receiving mode is probably one of the hardest modes to move into out of boss mode, chef mode, chauffeur mode, or drill sergeant mode. These latter modes are ones of control and sources of dark frustration, like being stuck in an unlit closet, banging on the door that you’re in control while someone outside has reign over the lock. But receiving mode is one of the most beneficial modes to embody. We often feel that we give as much as we can and more than we can to everyone but ourselves. We drain ourselves, sometimes exhilaratingly so but more likely exhaustingly so. But receiving mode, receiving mode is where we can be replenished, refreshed, and open to what the world has to offer. It makes our world feel bigger, and acknowledgment and recognition of a bigger world leads to a bigger, more receptive mind. Forget losing 15 pounds or whittling away love handles, I want to grow a big, beautiful mind, heavy on the chocolate sauce.

From Band Practice to Being Vulnerable

I’ve been trying to change my mindset. Please don’t call it a New Year’s Resolution. Instead, I like to think about it as a long-overdue change in my perspectacle prescription. I’ve made the choice to soothingly bathe my brain in gratitude-filled love juice instead of pickling it in ire and self-pity. I haven’t been doing too well.

Tonight, Z left for band practice at 4:30 p.m. He expressed what a monster rehearsal it was going to be; likely a 7 hour fingerprint-shredding, song-hammering, beer-drinking, socializing grind. Ok, maybe he didn’t mention the beer-drinking and socializing part, but that’s all my abandoned mind latched on to. “Let’s just say I don’t feel sorry for you,” I thought snarkily but conveyed softly. When he leaves for band practice all I think of is how I’m “left alone” to take care of my own kids. God forbid. But I also think about how band practice signifies that he has a life away from the boys, a very important thing to have. He has band practice and I have friends who live multiple zip codes away. He has to practice his base guitar at night and I have to switch the laundry over and wipe down the dining room table from Ike’s dinner-turned-food-finger-painting-project. He has bandmates to kick a few back with and I have a cup of tea at night as “something to do.” I am leaving quite a bit of the big picture on the cutting room floor, but my big picture also feels very small sometimes, when I allow it to.
image

Parenthood is such a time and mind warp. In the heat of trying to get a 1-year old strapped into his car seat, it feels like a 10-minute battle (which it actually could be). But in what feels like a few months that same child is climbing into the car on his own and going maverick by unbuckling himself as he sees fit. It may feel like a huge deal to not let a 13-month old watch any tv, but when child 2 comes around he’s hanging out while his 3-year old brother watches his second (ok, I’m lying, probably his third) movie of the day because mom and dad have no idea what to do with him on a single-digit degree weekend. Time doesn’t move the way you’re accustomed when you have kids. And your mind can have a funny way of warping around the smallest details or, worringly, glazing over something that may become a big deal down the road.
image

The thing is, working too hard at being a parent almost feels like the wrong thing to do. Raising kids is crazy hard work, but when I feel like I’m working too hard to raise “good” kids I feel my temperature rise, my patience shorten, and my sensitivity to guilt become uncomfortably high. When I try to feel my way throught it, when I use my instincts over my brain, that is when things feel more natural. Things aren’t necessarily any easier and the battles don’t always lessen, but the guilt goes down and I can maintain my patience more when I don’t feel like I’m fighting against a 3-year old. Because, let’s face it, then can win. They may be tiny, adorable warriors but they know how to fight.

So I’m going to try to use my instincts to replay Zach leaving tonight: I still feel that jealous sense of abandonment, but I am also seriously happy that Z gets to do what he loves best – play music. I want to hold it over his head that I’ll be spending all night alone with the boys on a Saturday night, but I also know that that is just a mean thing to do and the beginnings of an internal and marital fight that I don’t have a need for. As much as I try to feel out my parenting, I need to try to do the same with my wifering spousering being with other people, including those over 3-feet tall and who can run the DVD player on their own. I’ve been reading about vulnerability and how, according to Brené Brown, it is a sign of strength and not weakness. It seems like if we really care about someone, we should allow ourselves to be vulnerable to them. If we can’t open our hearts and hurts to them, then who can we truly lay ourselves out for? I often feel that my beating, bleeding heart is laid out for Connor when he does something that hurts or disappoints me. It isn’t up to our children to mend us, but we owe it to them to see what being vulnerable is and how real and human it is to be open and exposed. It’s an emotion that should be shown in times of great happiness and those of sadness, too. Vulnerability is easier with kids than adults because kids haven’t felt the shame that comes along when one adult bears themselves to another. Guilt is something that we often put upon ourselves and struggle with daily if not from moment to moment, but we have the power to not shame others. We put enough on ourselves, why try to throw another chip onto someone else’s shoulder? They may feel like they’re carrying the weight of the world without your help.

How to Raise an Ivy-League Child

image

Ikey will be hitting the big 0-1 this month. As an extremely successful parent of two young children almost both over 1, I’d like to share with you my secrets to child-rearing the Ivy-league set:

1. It’s ok to not like your kids sometimes. I mean, really not like them. They smack you in the face at night, act like gobs of jello when you try to dress them, and spit mouthfuls of water out around the house in “secret” spots. Some people refer to them as drunken little people, but I’ll come right out and say it: they can be real assholes sometimes.

2. It’s ok to love your kids for the exact things about them that drive you crazy: They climb into your bed at night only to repeatedly kick you in the back, but you get those few minutes of warm, soft, kiddo cheek to snuggle with before the next barrage of roundhouse kicks comes along. They repeat everything you say, good or bad, but damn is it cute no matter how inappropriate. They make you late for work because they dawdle and delay, but it’s because they’re doing important kid stuff like playing with dinosaurs or hiding from Cheeseburger spiders. They live in a land of creativity and pretend that kids should get to revel in.

3. It’s ok to cry along with your child once in a while: I’ve had a few explosions that have left both Connor and I in tears. Some moments he needs to cry it out on his own. Other times, it has been better for both of us to cry in each other’s arms. Kids don’t fight with words like adults do, they fight with wide open, heart-beating emotion.

4. It’s ok to give your kid food off of the floor: I’m not talking about giving Ike a Cheerio found on the bathroom floor of the women’s room in Wal-Mart or giving Connor a saucy meatball coated in dog fur. I’m talking about non-fur coated dry goods like an untouched yogurt puff that might have hit the floor at the Corner Cafe. Hey, baby food is expensive. PLUS, half the stuff Ike puts in his mouth is germ-coated anyway. The kid crawls around with used (or as Z calls it, “strange”) socks in his mouth for godssake. We’re building the next generation of super immumans (super immune humans. I just made that up, my creativity is that good) people, gotta start ’em young.

image

5. Get mad, but know what you’re getting mad at: It probably isn’t worth getting mad when your kid leaves their toys in the middle of the hallway, but the reality is that we get mad not at the toys but at being overwhelmed, exhausted, and not respected. Your kids aren’t purposely overwhelming you, though, and they’re not usually purposely disrespecting. Now, if your 7-year old thinks throwing a hot iron at the back of his sister’s head is a good idea, well, then, rage on, mama, rage on.

6. The choices about how you raise your child are yours, own them: I used to get self-conscious about using the cry-it-out method until I realized how well it worked for my boys. It might not work well for someone else’s kids, though. I used to feel guilty about sitting Connor in front of a movie and Ike in the middle of the play room while I did something without little eyes watching, little hands grabbing, or little voices hassling me. Now I know I’ve earned those minutes and the few extra I get thanks to YouTube. You’re not a bad parent for trying to maintain your sanity even if it is with the aide of smartphones, inorganic food, and non-developmentally aimed toys.

This list comes with no guarantees and is not all-encompassing. I hate when lists guarantee things and pretend to be all-encompassing. The only guarantee is that you are now a parent and that it is awesome at times and horrid at times and while love is a lot of it, work is the name of the game. Love is work, beautiful, glorious, exhausting work.

Hello, Tomorrow

I’ve been looking at a lot pictures of myself when Connor was 6-months old. If I wasn’t already, shortly after he hit that age I was jogging every day and feeling good and surprisingly well-rested.  Around that time my sisters, Mom, and I went on the trip of a lifetime to Rome and Florence and life was light, promising, and bright. I no longer felt like a rookie mom, Connor was in the loving and capable hands of Z and my father-in-law, and I had weaned Connor off of breastfeeding just before leaving. I’m all for breastfeeding, but I was happy to retire the nipple pads, breast pump, and be traveling without anyone or anything attached to my boobs.

Eleven months into Ike’s entry into the world I feel exhausted, aged, lumpy, but no less optimistic. I haven’t run in months but try to suck my gut in when I’m not slouching in front of a computer or over a notebook. I look forward to weekly trips down the road to the houses of different family members,  but with two kids in tow and a lifetime’s worth of school in front of me any trips overseas would be solely credited to Santa or a miraculous lottery win. The sleep I get is often punctuated with kicks to the back, face smooshes, and is short-lived thanks to a short kid, that 6-month old who is now a full-fledged 3-year old. God save us.

Still, I often wonder what life will be like when Ike is Connor’s age, when there will be two pairs of little feet wrestling in our bed, kicking our backs in tandem. I think about what it will be like to have two boys running around together, talking to each other about dinosaurs, eating the parts of a sandwich that the other won’t touch. I try to quell Connor’s overly rough housing with Ike with promises that in just a year or so his little brother will be up and running around with him, better able to handle the head knocks, face squishes (Connor has a face-touching fetish), and pokes that he doles out. He doesn’t realize that I’m also soothing myself. I don’t imagine the exhaustion going away in my visions of the future, but that’s never a concern because they excite me. The love is there, the joy is there, and a never-ending pot of coffee is there.

Life today was a little rougher. Connor’s face squishes were done exceptionally hard with suspiciously sticky hands and his “Spiderman jumps” involved my unknowing stomach a few too many times. I was running around in the afternoon, trying to squeeze in a quick hair cut but worried that I wouldn’t make it to Jean’s house by 5:00. Ike was happy to see me but clingy in his witching hour, crawling and whining after me around every corner. I was filled with guilt, frustration, and happiness within an hour and a half of getting home. But now today is coming to a close. I will be forever grateful for new days, clean slates, and a few child-free hours of sleep. I will also be forever grateful for those hours with Connor in our bed snuggling, and yes, even face squishing, before the sun comes up and we all roll out of bed one by one. Another day soon I’ll be grateful for both boys in our bed in the morning. I’m trying to let go of the day’s guilt although it inevitably follows me into the morning. Sometimes we have off days. Sometimes we all have off days at the same time. Sometimes we all just need to surrender and try again tomorrow. Hello, tomorrow.