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.

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.

Win the Day

The other day I experienced a joy so rare and indulgent that I had forgotten its power: I took an uninterrupted shower. The boys were being tended to, the work day was done, and there was nothing but me, some hot water, and a soapy pouf. I started to sing and realized that it had been months since I had last done so. Songs that I used to know forwards and backwards were sung with big pauses and made-up lyrics.  It was like I was getting to know myself again through those words in the steam and it felt strange and unnerving. I’m starting to see, with my oldest only 2 1/2 years old, why empty nest syndrome is a thing.

I am starting to search for the new owner’s manual for my life. Not knowing where to start or which direction to take, my evening moved from solid intentions to walk on the treadmill to serious thoughts about doing some yoga. So, I decided on watching Weeds on Netflix and munching on chips and salsa while downloading a food diary app on my phone, instead. I start every day with new, good intentions mixed with a dropperful of anxiety; today I’m going to get my 5 servings of fruits and vegetables and not eat junk food, but I’ll only be able to keep that up if the boys cooperate and take it easy on me. Inevitably, I end up with my hand in a bag of chips. Thing is, they are rarely more than I can handle because I love them. They are my heart, my family, and the main reason that I do what I do every day. They are the cause for my highest highs and for every inch I move closer to an anxiety attack. They are the universe in two, diaper-wrapped, frenetic bundles. God love ’em.

It’s silly to think that I can write my owner’s manual without including myself in it. I’ve always struggled to be complete, to feel like there are no voids or holes that need patching up or hiding.  If I did notice any imperfections I couldn’t stand to show the world, I would try to cover them up. It all left me feeling like no one knew me, laughing everything off as a diversion from my lack of strong political views or my love of High School Musical 3 (hello, Zac Efron). But, every day I work to lay down one more true, honest word in my life’s story.
imageSome days you’re Ike, some days you’re Connor

I love to laugh, but the only worthwhile laughter is the real stuff, not the empty giggles of fear and discomfort. That must be one of the many reasons I love hearing Connor laugh; he doesn’t do it to please or hide, he laughs out of pure enjoyment. That seems to be of the utmost importance lately – enjoying what I do, and if I don’t, searching out what will bring that happiness about me. Funny how searching for contentment can get the dishes done and the mail sorted with nary a resentful huff. Why do I so often forget the motivating power of being able to restfully lay in bed after a day won? The thing is, every day can be won just by laying down a worthwhile word – or letter or piece of punctuation – in the story that you write of yourself for yourself. I think I’ve won today.