Monday, April 30, 2018

Scars Are For the Living or Nothing Worth Doing Is Easy

Happy birthday to me! Birthdays are always a time for reflection for me. There is nothing I love more than a new goal or an excuse to start something new. It’s also a time to look back and think about what worked and what just sucked. And honestly, these past two years have been doozies. So many challenges and so many scars.

Old news: Right after I turned 39 I went in for knee surgery. It ended up being pretty significant surgery that continues to impact my daily life. For example, today I canceled my spot in spin class because I’m having a hard time walking without limping. Why? Who the hell knows. Maybe because my knee is officially another year older and decided to remind me that I’m not 23 anymore. Knees are bitches. They act all nice and then take you out at the…knees.

My 40th year, that was going to be my year to crush it. And well, it turned out to be crushing instead. I thought I had done hard before. Nope. That is laughable compared to the year I am surviving. There were days where I just waved the white flag and acknowledged that getting dressed was going to be my grand accomplishment. I’m not going to lie – I’m still having those days – they are just thankfully fewer and farther between.

Over these past 730 days I’ve accumulated more and more scars. Some of them you can see and some you can’t. But they are all deep and they still sting. But I read a line in a book several years ago that puts things in perspective. It goes a little something along the lines of “Scars may not be pretty. But scars don’t form on dead people.” That is totally not exactly what it said, but you get the gist. If we are fully living, we are going to get banged up and bruised in this life. And we get to decide if we are going to walk around like a dead person, perpetually bleeding out of that wound. Let me say that hey, it’s okay to walk around bleeding for a while. You have to. The body doesn’t just instantly heal if it’s been hurt. But you have a choice to live too. And if you are going to live, then you are going to need to let that hurt heal, to stitch itself up, otherwise you are not fully living. No one wants to walk around spouting blood and guts everywhere. Does that mean that the stitches don’t open sometimes? They will. Living means joy and it also means pain. Sometimes a big wound will still get little cuts around it. There will be days it will swell up and you'll need to slow down physically and emotionally. But friends, please let that big wound start to heal. Have patience. You will want to feel better right away because feeling like shit sucks. You’ll have to just live in that garbage for a while though I’m sorry to say. It will get better if you let it. 

You are not going to be the same. Scars make us look different. That’s because big changes are just that – changes. You are going to be different as you heal. You are going to change. There is no going back to the way things were. You get to decide whether you want to wallow in that fact or if you want to live on with this new look, this new reality. You can be stronger if you choose or you can decide you want to live your life sitting on the couch watching Netflix all day. Of course if the new season of Stranger Things just dropped, you have my permission to binge watch that until you are done.

So despite all of the mess this year has been, it has been fantastic. Not fun, but fantastic. I have gotten to grow this year. I have been challenged to be a better person than I knew was possible. Am I happy? Um, I’m not sure I can say I’m happy. But the scars are slowing knitting together. I can see that and that makes me happy.

This year I’ve been able to grow in patience, tolerance, kindness, compassion and love. The Dalai Lama says the first four are the path to happiness. Maybe they are – who am I to argue with a religious leader? And those five things sound like amazing ways to live your life, right? But they are just words until you learn what it means to live them. From my experience, you don’t learn to live those words until you are challenged in ways that make it impossible to live them. That’s when you discover what you are capable of - this is the good stuff - when you get the chance to grow. Patience is taking a deep breath and tolerating situations that seem unbearable. Some things just can’t be fixed or at least not quickly. Living in the unknown and having faith it will get better - that is patience.  Tolerance is being around toxic people and looking beyond the outside crust and understanding their motives, which are never personal, no matter how much they feel that way. Kindness is giving grace when you feel like the person does not deserve it. Compassion is going beyond what you feel, no matter how deep, and caring about how the other person feels, even if they inflicted the wound. And love. Boy, aren’t we all loving people? Love is a great sentiment until you are asked to love someone who feels unlovable to you. Love isn’t reciprocal. You can love someone and they will not love you back. That’s their choice. But it’s your choice to give that love anyway. Because that is your power and that is in your control. 

It is so easy to be nasty, to take revenge, to say the spiteful thing. God help me, that is what I am so good at. Words are my weapons and I can take you down at the smallest infraction. Sadly, I can still be this way sometimes. But true control and power is rising above that and giving grace. It doesn’t feel as satisfying in the moment but further down the line, it is the wiser choice. I can’t control how others treat me or how they feel about me. But I can control my actions, basing them on who I am and who I want to be. I want to be patient, kind, tolerant, compassionate, honest, loving and truthful. I cannot grow in those areas unless I am challenged to be more than I am today. I have learned to say how I feel even though I know it will be scoffed at, ridiculed and stomped on. And it is hard to watch your true emotions be kicked in the dirt. But truth is one of my pillars – I know this now. I will not regret saying what I mean if it comes from a place of love, grace and truth.

So this year. It’s been a real bitch. But I’m better for it. The scars make me stronger and humble. They have taught me who I am and have given me opportunities to push myself in my humanity. It has not been enjoyable. But nothing worth doing ever came from easy. Here's to another amazing year! 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

8 Simple Ways You Can Help Me Take a Nap or A Memo to Management RE Nap Time


TO: The Management, Moose and Squirrel

FROM: Director of Operations, Mom


I would like to submit my proposal for time off. I would like to institute irregular nap times, in 60 minute intervals, on very occasional days. My rationale is that my usual work day is scheduled from 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. with a 24-hour on call commitment.  While I try to schedule my PTO between 4:15 – 6 a.m. daily, I am finding that in order to perform at my best, I would do best with a 60-minute nap twice a month, during a time when we are not running in circles. I would ensure that you are fed, entertained and not in a scheduled activity requiring transportation during this potential hour-long nap.

The benefits to management of granting these periodic nap times would be that I might finally remember school picture day, stay awake to watch a full movie with you, and be more enthusiastic for a 90-minute session of Chutes and Ladders after a long workday. Overall, I believe the ROI for nap time outweighs the lost productivity I’ll experience by taking these time outs.

I will need your support to conduct these nap times efficiently. Here are eight simple things you can do to help me execute these proposed nap times. While reviewing this list, please remember the ROI of this proposal as I know that some of these requests will be challenging.

1. Don’t talk to me. If you are talking to me, you will expect a response. A sleeping person cannot respond. I will get you a glass of milk in one hour. Or you may submit your request to the Assistant Director of Operations, your dad.

2. Don’t whisper to me. When I say “please do not talk to me” and you lean in and whisper instead, you seem to not realize that this is the same thing as talking. Even if you lean in REALLY close to my face and whisper. That actually makes it louder and harder to ignore, plus you are now breathing directly on my face. Whispering = talking. Please see item one on this list for an explanation of item two.

3. Do not invite your friends over. I know your personal pleasure is priority one in our organization, however, more people in the house usually increases the noise level. And I also feel that as the Director of Operations, I must be conscious and responsible if other children are in the house. Your friends are absolutely welcome to come over…in one hour.

4. Don’t turn the volume up on the TV. It seems that this would be an obvious request but somehow the reasoning is that if I am napping on the sofa, you think I want to hear the television in my sleep. This is an error on my side for not being more clear that I would like to sleep and not watch Sharknado 4…again.

5. Don’t snuggle with me to help me sleep. I understand that this one sounds like something you SHOULD do doesn’t it? Who doesn’t love to fall asleep snuggling? Even I think snuggling sounds amazing. And yet, your definition of snuggling means to wiggle constantly. And wiggling wakes me up. Especially if you are larger than me (I’m talking to you Moose.) If you lay down next to me, you must act like a statue. A nontalking statue if I’m making requests.

6. Don’t fight over who gets to sit next to me. Wrestling on top of me while I am trying to relax is actually counterproductive for me and inevitably I end of getting kneed in the ribs. We either need to schedule who gets to sit by me or institute a rule that I nap alone. I will leave this decision up to management. I just request that you don’t make this decision while physically fighting next to me during this nap.

7. Don’t start a new project that you don’t know how to do. No, I don’t know how to start your science kit. Yes, you should probably wear gloves – wait, what? Stop. Just stop what you are doing. You don’t have to try a new thing when I’m trying to take a quick time out. Just wait. You can do it. And if you do, I might have the energy to help you when I get up. I believe I mentioned this in my rationale in the body of my memo.

8. And don’t be TOO quiet. You and I both know that when you are too quiet, you are usually doing something you shouldn’t. Like playing on your iPad when it’s technology free day. Or mixing weird drinks in the kitchen. Just make a little bit of a rustling sound, like leaves in the fall. That would be perfect. I can fall asleep to rustling leaves. But pure silence will wake me up in a panic.

I hope to hear back from management soon regarding my proposal. In the meantime, I will continue to drink coffee and soda throughout the day to stay awake. We only have track, soccer and swimming on the agenda for today. I will start baking the tomorrow’s muffins later tonight, as soon as we finish your math homework.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Your Kids Aren't the Only Ones Who've Changed or Basketball Season Is Over

For the past seven years, I’ve sat in basketball gyms on my weekends October through the beginning of March. It started out with basketball league play, traveling to different gyms around the metro, and then we added in basketball tournaments. Tournaments are full weekend affairs if you are lucky, although I’ve always wondered if there was a way to make it so the winning team got to leave the gym first, instead of the losing teams leaving by noon on a Sunday. Also, can admission include just one drink ticket? These are just mere suggestions of course…

One of the best things about basketball league and tournament team is getting to know the boys and parents. We’ve seen the teams shift in players over the years, adding players and losing players. When you spend 10+ hours a weekend with people, they start to feel like extended family. Which is why it was so hard to see the boys play their last tournament ever this spring. How could these second graders have become small (and not so small) men – morphing overnight into hairy, sweaty teenage eighth graders? They are now all taller than I am and if they are like the Moose, they are stronger than I am too.

Of course we are going to look at the photos of when they first started – how could they have changed so much?! Time literally flies by when you have children. Because somehow I’m still 27, but my baby is almost 14. WE look the same, don’t we? WE haven’t changed over the past seven years. But we have. Nothing like a milestone to make you reflect on yourself. And being self-absorbed. That helps too.

When I think back seven years ago, I was such a different parent and person. I was naïve, thin-skinned, and in a way innocent of what parenting would be like. I was proud that we had grown up and made it through middle school, high school and college and look at us now – we are adults…with kids! We are so much more mature than we once were – we are responsible for other people now! But then you find out that being a parent is much like being in middle school again. And just like middle school, you have to find your place in the crowd, all over again.

As a parent, feelings are hurt if you feel your kid is slighted. You wonder who your friends are and who are your kid’s friends. There is a tender phase in parenting that for a new parent is so difficult to navigate. It will take you straight back to the 7th grade girls locker room. There can be years of hurt and resentment. Then there are years of learning that you don’t actually care. It is just like transitioning from middle school to high school to college all over again. You grow and rediscover who you are. It’s just harder this time because kids make things feel personal. And it’s never personal. It never was. It just feels that way.

I’ve learned what is important and what isn’t. I went through a few years of being chill (ha, who am I kidding!), followed by years of caring about everything to now being more nonchalant. I’ve watched the dance all of us parents do to shuffle for status. Who is talking to who? Who is sitting by who? What does this all mean today? Is this just happening to me? If you feel this way, find a seasoned parent that you really think is cool and respect. They will tell you they went through the same thing. I still cling to that conversation I had with some friends several years ago. What do you know – this phase of parenting is normal! After a year or two of dancing, you realize it doesn’t matter to you anymore and you gravitate to your people. And boy, those people are awesome. I genuinely look forward to seeing these people. You find your tribe. I love my tribe.

And I’ve relaxed. There were a few years there where things were pretty stressful, but then again, parenting is stressful. It still is. But the stressful stuff now is bigger and I’ve realized that a lot of the other stuff is small. And that probably benefits my younger Squirrel who won’t have a mom who flips out on every minor thing. Lucky for him. Perspective is my favorite. And I’ve learned that a good laugh heals so much. I’ve let go of a lot of control because if the act of parenting doesn’t wrestle it from your white gripped hands, nothing will. It’s easier to roll with the punches now. It’s easier to look at my kids and say, “No, it isn’t fair. But that doesn’t mean you don’t work your butt off.” I sugar coat less and real life more. I’ve learned that a well-timed F-bomb really does release tension.

Am I saying that I don’t care when I’m excluded now or feel that my kid is being left out? No. I want them invited to the birthday parties, bonfires, and put on the teams. But while it still stings, it doesn’t keep me awake for months anymore. Maybe I’m only awake with anxiety, anger and fear for a week now. But that’s progress. And if parenting wasn’t still hard, then I wouldn’t be doing something right. If we are growing and experiencing new things, then parenting will continue to be challenging. You learn (again) that it’s better to hang out with your people rather than always trying to fit in with everyone. And I’m oblivious a lot of the time and okay with it – not everything requires my attention. I don’t know how many times I say, “No, I had no idea. What the hell is juhling?” Or “Who is that? I don’t know them. They chased someone in the cafeteria with a fork??” It’s important to have friends who know the stuff you don’t to fill you in. I’ve learned I’m more introverted than I thought and I’m getting more and more comfortable with that. I’d rather have belly laughing tears with a handful of good friends than multiple light weight conversations in a party of 40.

If you are a younger parent, I’m just warning you, there’s a rough patch in there with braces, acne and secret notes again – yours, not your kid’s. But then it gets good. It gets really good. It’s still hard, but good. Hang in there. And I’m not naïve enough to think I won’t go through all this again with the Squirrel – each kid is its own dance. But at least this time I’ll know the music and I’ve seen the moves. And I know how to dance to my own drummer.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Here Comes the Son or I Don't Need to Know About Your Poo Anymore

It all started out innocently enough. I got the kids ready for school like usual, dropped off the Valentine’s Day box in the classroom and the kids off at their respective school. And then I snuck back home instead of going to work. Because I took a vacation day and didn’t tell my children.
I didn’t have anything to do. Usually precious vacation days are used for days the kids don’t have school or they have school activities like class parties or field trips or we are on a family vacation. Maybe I’ll take a day off for my birthday, but not always. But to take a day off for no reason? Unheard of.

It’s something moms daydream about. A day to do whatever we want to do – just like life was before kids. I don’t need to put the disqualifier out there about how much we love our children, how they are the best thing to ever happen to us, that we would love to spend every minute of every day with them. It’s all true. However. You know, we used to be people with interests beyond DisneyXD and basketball tournaments and school drama. We had dreams and goals and passions. And we still have them but maybe our time for those interests has diminished greatly. And can I also just say that we are tired, physically, emotionally and mentally? It takes a lot of energy to keep up with these little bundles of joy. In our house we have church activities, sports for both kids, music for both kids and regular school commitments. Oh, and we work full-time and have a house to keep up. So down time for personal activities just doesn’t happen often.

When my kids were babies, I daydreamed about days I could spend just sleeping. I had a fantasy about renting one of those by-the-hour hotel rooms and napping. Bedbugs and nasty sheets didn’t do anything to squelch this fantasy. These days I dream about quiet – time to read, watch MY shows, write, nap without interruptions or demands for snacks and meals. So when a day popped open on my work schedule, I took my chance and kept my mouth shut that Mom was going to have a free day. Because if I said something, I would be asked to do something with all of this free time. There are errands to be run! And if Mom has free time, she’d love to spend it doing these chores. Nope.

So I snuck back into my house. I went to the gym at a respectable time instead of at 4:30 a.m. I ate garbage food for lunch (cereal and Cheetos). I read books. I wrote. I napped. I watch Golden Girls. I practiced my ukulele. It was great. It was quiet. No one asked me to change the channel. No one woke me up from my nap so I could see something on TV. No one complained about the food being served. Ahh. Then I picked my kids up from school and put my Mom hat back on again and made dinner, worked on homework, and checked schedules (basketball games and swim practice had been canceled due to weather.) It was the perfect day.

And then over the dinner table, I made a fatal mistake. I opened my mouth and told the family about my day. Disbelief swept over the boys’ faces. You had a whole day off? But we had school. You were just home by yourself? What did you do? You didn’t go anywhere or do anything? And you didn’t do anything with us?

The Squirrel openly said what was being thought. “You could have had lunch with me! You could have surprised me at lunch and had lunch with me. I really thought you would have done that. Because you haven’t had lunch with me all year and it would have been a surprise. I really thought you would have done that. Because you weren’t working and you weren’t doing anything.” Oh the guilt. If the Squirrel could receive an Oscar it would be for a leading role in Mom Guilt. How dare I have a day off for just myself? And I didn’t DO anything. How did I not think of them and do something for them?

This is coming on the heels of three weeks of being a single parent while my husband traveled. Going to multiple swim meets and basketball tournaments and school ball games and doctor’s appointments and sickness in the house and school projects and Valentines and making lunches and cleaning and cooking and chauffeuring and working every day. Every Wednesday I get up extra early to make them breakfast for Wake Up Wednesday. Just the day before I spent a few hours in a gym watching basketball and then two hours building a Titanic Valentine’s Day box (which this child then cut in half to get his valentines out – because that’s how the Titanic looked when it sank. TWO HOURS of hot glue gunning!) But how dare I take a day off to do what I want to do when I could have spent it hanging out with him at school.

See, when my Moose and Squirrel were born, I jumped fully into the role of Mom. It is my favorite thing. It really is. But it is so easy to give give give and then find that you have done nothing for yourself in…months? Do you remember when they were babies and you considered self-care a shower? Yes, we have all been there. Some days that’s still the only “self-care” I get. Self-care for me now comes in the wee hours of the morning because I’d hate to disrupt these little balls of joy or take away from them in some way. Which is why I had to take a day off of work just to have a little down time.

I think when the Squirrel hears the word “son” he actually thinks it’s “sun” as in the world revolves around him. And I’m sure he’s not the only one. I’ve helped perpetuate this myth so I will take ownership. And it’s not just the Squirrel who feels this way. The Moose may be quieter, but I know he recognizes how much of our lives orbit him and just accepts it as fact. Two sports a season? Sure why not? Band AND choir? Yes! Weight lifting three mornings a week – of course! He is my gentle Moose who always says thank you and never outright asks for much, but mostly that’s because we just give it before it is asked. And of course we do. We love these boys and it is so easy to get wrapped up into everything they do and like. Right now, I am having intense conversations about basketball players and Sharknado. Do I care about either of these topics much? No, but I do now. Because what is important to them is important to me.

Where does this intense gravitation pull to the kids start? Naturally as soon as we pee on a stick and see that plus sign. I instantly went off coffee cold turkey (probably one of the hardest things I’ve done for my kids), skipped Subway and monitored every single moment they made. Then they are born and we are in constant vigilance. They had a dirty diaper – yes, but what kind of dirty diaper? Was it poo? If so, what color, what was the consistency and how much? Did they eat? When? Exactly how many ounces? Did they burp, cry or fall asleep afterwards? We are trained to notice Every. Single. Thing. about these babies because they could all indicate Signs (of something – we never know what.) And that constant vigilance never turns off. There isn’t a chapter in the baby books that says, hey, you can chill now. So this vigilance morphs into how many words do they say, how many friends do they have, how much exercise do they get, how many minutes do they read, how much quality time am I getting with them? And I’m not saying this stuff isn’t important. It is. But if you are like me, questions like these can keep you up at night and you kind of forget about the stuff that used to keep you up at night, like a good book, talks with friends or great sex.

It’s probably time to reclaim a little of ourselves again and teach our kids that they are SONS (or daughters) not SUNS. They are hugely important people in our lives. My babies have literally changed the person that I am today. They have taught me deep love, sadness, perspective and an ability to laugh in harrowing situations. They changed who I am for the better. But….I still need to be me. And I’m going to work on getting that back in just tiny increments. For example, one of my children is awake and yet, I am typing away at this blog, something I wouldn’t have done three weeks ago. Normally I’d be getting breakfast ready right away and maybe trying to cajole them into reading a book. But I really like to write and I’d like to do this for me right now. I’ve started adding things that I like to do to my to-do list – things like, take a bath, start a new book, text a friend, watch Great British Bake Off (I LOVE Mary Berry!) And those items are going to have a priority level like “pick up the Squirrel’s boutonnière for the Mother-Son Dance.” Because I’m important in this family too. 

And my sons will still be my suns – let’s be real, I do orbit them. But I don’t need to know about how big their BMs are anymore (seriously guys, I honestly DON’T CARE! Please stop telling me and just get out the plunger!) And I don’t need to cater to their every single whim if I’m on empty. And if I need a nap, I’m going to take it instead of watching Sharknado 3 with you because, well, I’m tired. I’m sure you’ll fill me in about it all when I wake up. I’ll be ready for the sun then.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Coming Out to My Kids Or There's Another D to Talk About and I Don't Mean Drugs

A few blogs ago I wrote about how I was adding love to my four Golden Rules. So now it looks more like five Golden Rules:

1. No drinking/drugs
2. No smoking
3. Always respect women
4. Always practice safe sex
5. Love everyone but the assholes – we don’t discriminate

Friends, there is another very important conversation we need to have with our kids and I’m guessing it’s one you don’t want to have because I struggle with it too. Nancy Reagan helped us with Just Say No, the NFL (tries to) promote respecting women, the Dalai Lama teaches us not to discriminate, and I’ll coach you with the sex talk. But shhh….notice the silence? We don’t want to talk about depression and mental illness. I watch the news and see babies committing suicide. It literally breaks my heart and I’m sure you feel the same way. Yet I have not really had a conversation with my kids about mental health and depression.

I have no excuses. I used to teach about depression when I worked in wellness. I work on a college campus and mental illness issues have risen at a rate college campuses cannot keep up with. I have had family and friends impacted with mental illness. I know there should not be a stigma surrounding depression and other mental illnesses. And I am silent.

Why is it so easy to talk about the dangers of drinking, smoking and drugs? I’ll admit, cracking the conversation on safe sex was difficult but now it’s easy. Heck, just the other month, I answered the question “What is a dildo?” barely batting an eye. I’m still working on talking about race and discrimination. Depression though? Shhh. We don’t talk about that. But we need to start. The time is now. We cannot waste another minute.

Have you lost someone – friend or family - to suicide? I have. As I watch the news, we are seeing children killing themselves for various reasons – bullying, drugs, mental health problems. It is devastating. It is frightening. We need to have open conversations about mental health with our kids. Just like the sex talks, I want my kids to feel comfortable telling me if they feel depressed or if they have questions about it or if their friends say something troubling. I want an open door policy and the only way to get there is if I open that door.

We are so used to knowing everything about our kids physically. How much they weigh, how tall they are, what they had for breakfast, how tired they are at the end of the day, if their tummies hurt after certain foods. Often we stop at the physical though and don’t want to ask about the tough mental stuff. It’s scary. Suicide completely frightens me because it is so final. There is no treatment after a suicide. Game over. No more tokens. If I found out that my child was struggling with depression or another mental health illness and I didn’t know and didn’t get him help, I’d be wrecked.

Are all suicides preventable? No. It’s no one’s fault. Depression and mental illness are diseases, sometimes fatal ones. We just want to pretend they aren’t. If you had cancer, we’d crowdfund you, throw you a benefit breakfast, start a meal train. We’d rally! You are a fighter! If you find out someone in your family is battling mental illness, you are going to take that journey with a lot less people by your side. There will not be a pancake breakfast. There will not be t-shirts made in your honor, no viral ice bucket challenges. Yet mental illness can be expensive to treat, insidious and long-term, and emotionally and physically draining on the caretakers, just like cancer, ALS and other illnesses that affect families. We aren’t going to mention it in the Christmas cards though. You aren’t going to hear those remission stories. In fact, chances are that no one is going to talk about it at all. That’s not okay.

How did we get here? Mental illness is scary. It causes symptoms we can’t necessarily see, like the way we can see tumors on an MRI. But if you talk to someone with mental illness, they will tell you it feels like one, the way it can take over your mind. Our society perpetuates this by providing inadequate mental health resources and benefits for mental illness. Access to care can be difficult for some, only further hindered by a population that is hard to treat. For example, it’s not uncommon for someone with bipolar disorder to go off their meds because they are feeling better – except it was the medicine that made them feel better in the first place. Back to the cycle. There are so many different depression medicines available now and it can take time and trial and error to find the right combination and dose, which can seem hopeless to group that already feels hopeless. Supporting our friends and family with mental illness can feel daunting and solitary.

So many in our homeless population suffer from mental illness and we see them in an untreated state, which can be disconcerting. If we are disturbed seeing their behavior from the outside, can you imagine the inner turmoil they are in? Or have you watched someone starve themselves intentionally? They "want" to do it. Now find them help. Even the best insurance plans will balk at providing adequate care.

It’s time to cut the stigma of mental illness. At our house we are going to start talking about mental illness. No one is immune. Personally I have dealt with an eating disorder since I was 16. I have been battling it for 24 years. I have been going to therapy for more than four years. I have not told my children. Therapy appointments are simply called doctor’s appointments in our house – not because that’s what they are but because I don’t want to tell my kids I go to therapy. Heck, I hardly tell anyone. I may say I have some “eating issues” – we all take dieting to the extreme sometimes don’t we? Just like we all have “bad days” or feel “blue.” I downplay it. But in reality, I have not had one day in 24 years where I did not have a conversation with my eating disorder. Some days are better than others. Some years are better than others. I’m starting to accept that I’m going to be dealing with this, possibly for the rest of my life. It impacts me every day. It is part of my history, it is a part of my present. It has shaped who I am. But shhh. We don’t talk about it.

It’s going to take some courage but I’m going to come out to my kids about this. If Mom can have mental health problems, anyone can. I happen to think that while I’m not perfect, I’m not doing a half-bad job most days (depends on which kid you are talking to.) My eating disorder impacts me but does not define me. There is no shame in being a survivor. It means you are a warrior. Trust me, I go to war with my eating disorder every day – I am a fighter, just like everyone else with internal battles. It’s time to stop hiding our mental health issues. If we talk about them, our kids will know that they can talk about them too. If one of my sons is feeling depressed or is hearing voices or having hallucinations, I want to be the first person to know. I want them to feel as comfortable telling me if they are depressed as they do telling me about a hang nail. And we will treat it with the seriousness and dignity it deserves. We will not hide in the shadows. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of – our attitude towards it is. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

When Is Intermission or The Ringmaster Needs a Break

If I had to pick one motto that constantly surfaces in my life it would probably be “The show must go on.” This is a phrase that I have repeated to myself for years, starting from when I was young, teaching group fitness classes and personal training. When you teach, no matter what you are teaching, you are putting on a show. And that show must go on no matter if you are sick, tired or hurt. And it better be a pretty damned good show. My boss and I taught through stomach flu, strep throat, sprained ankles and pregnancies. We didn’t miss a beat. I taught with a heart monitor hanging from my neck, I taught the day after an ultrasound to see if I had a pulmonary embolism. I was scheduled to teach the morning I delivered my first son. I taught the first day back from maternity leave.

As I’ve gotten older, the show has changed. I may not be teaching exercise classes like I used to, but my life has filled in with a career, a marriage, and two busy kids. There is never a dull moment. Every night is “something.” Sometimes it’s sports or music and sometimes it’s just the usual drill of homework and dinners. But there is always something that needs my attention and if for a minute I should forget that, I will hear the “MOM” call that we all know and love (?).

As life has gotten busier and more people depend on me to be a ring master, I’ve been thinking about that motto more and more. And I’m not unique in this. Every mom I know has done the same. We are like the post office – through rain, snow, wind, heat, the mail is always delivered, and Mom is always there. Too much is counting on us. Some of us are working full-time outside the home and full-time inside the home when we get off work. Some of us have the 24-hour job of working inside the home. All of us have jobs to do in one way or another and there is not an option to take a time out.

This, my dear friends, is bull shit. One Saturday I stole 50 minutes while everyone was awake (normally my “me” time is between the hours of 4-6 a.m.) and went to the gym. And I felt like I was on borrowed time – I had my phone on the console of the elliptical, prepared to take whatever need came my way. I had to still get groceries, unload everything, and get people ready for their next sporting events, where I would spend the rest of the day being the supportive ever-cheerful mom that I am not always. And I thought to myself the usual “the show must go on!” But this time I paused and had a thought that had never occurred to me before. “When the fuck is intermission?”

You see, recently I have been struggling with the toughest moment of my life so far*. And yet…the show must go on. I hide in a bathroom to take a deep breath so no one knows anything is wrong, because the ring master is always smiling and directing the clowns and dancing bears. I take 5 minutes in my car to scream at the universe and then smile at my children as I enter the house. Because Moms don’t get breaks. Moms don’t get intermission.

How many times have you been physically or emotionally hurt, sick, or exhausted? And how many times have you ignored what you need so that the circus that is our lives can continue on? We spin those worlds so that everyone else gets to be fulfilled with their activities, have their emotional and physical needs met, and still read books at the end of the day and we ignore what we need. Now sometimes we are sick enough that we have no choice but to lie in bed (for a day – you get one day). But I’m willing to bet all I have that there are constant knocks on that bedroom door asking math questions and “what’s for dinner?”

So when IS intermission? When do we get a break when we absolutely need one from our lives? When things are so bad that we can barely function, we still press on. After I had knee surgery and could barely get myself to a bathroom and had to have other people dress me, I rallied, took some pain medicine and dragged myself to my son’s school activities because I don’t dare miss them for something as minor as major knee surgery. I planned on going back to work immediately because I am not going to stop this show for something as trivial as my physical healing. Slap some ice on it, take some pain killers, dry your tears, hide your pain – people need you and the last one you will attend to is yourself.

What makes us resist the idea of taking a pause, a break when we really need one? There are times when we would heal so much faster if we would listen to ourselves for once and take an hour, a day, a week or maybe a month to just let all of those acts run themselves for a bit and just tell the world, “I need a moment.” And without apology too. Instead we push ourselves to still be that one person to everyone because that’s what is expected and what they demand. There are times in our lives that require us to put all of our energy into ourselves instead of into others, just to survive whatever tribulation we are experiencing. And those moments need to be honored and respected for their gravity by giving them space to breath and recover. Those moments require an intermission.

Right now I’m in a place where I just can’t always be there for the show. There are times I give up and admit defeat and take 10 minutes to fall apart, before gathering myself up for the crowd. And let me be honest; I need more than 10 minutes but it is all I can give myself permission for right now. It is humbling and reminds me that I am human and sometimes I just cannot. It’s a forced baby step towards something we all need to do for ourselves. It’s hard but it’s only fair. Sometimes the ringmaster needs to take off the fancy costume and let the monkeys run the show for a little bit. Because if we don’t take care of ourselves, the circus will drive us into the ground. I’m not good at it. I’m not going to pretend that I have the answers on how to go about it. But next time you are running in circles and struggling to hold it all together, and you think to yourself how much the show must go on, maybe take a moment and realize that even the greatest performers take an intermission.

*Not for public consumption. I only mention it so you know that if you are going through something too, you are not alone.

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” –Mary Oliver

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fly Your Freak Flag or Time to Live What I Preach

“Mom, they call me weird.”

I knew there was no way I’d get away parenting without having to deal with some name calling, teasing, bullying. And I guessed it would happen to my Squirrel, who has always marched to his own drummer. He’s someone we’ve had to defend against adults who thought it would be “helpful” to tell me how much he needs a haircut or should change his clothes. This always pissed me off because his appearance reflects his personality and telling me my son needs to cut his hair is like saying who he is just isn’t good enough for you. And while I may just gently tell you to mind your own business, in my head I’m telling you to fuck off. The fact that how he looks bothers you so much you think you need to tell me he needs to conform to your version of acceptable tells me more about you than him. So needless to say, I knew he’d be called names eventually.

How do I explain that weird is awesome? Inventions, art, music, science, books – all of those things come from people who think differently. If you act like and think like everyone else, you will do what everyone else does. And I have big plans for my kids. I need them to think about things differently so that they can change the world in ways no one else has before, because no one else has had those thoughts and ideas before. Weird makes change. Average does not.

But…that’s a pretty ten-thousand-foot concept. And when you are in second grade, you are thinking about what people are saying to you right now, not that being unique means you’ll invent the latest technology, solve world hunger, or write amazing music when you are older.

What is reassuring is that I’m not alone. Pink’s daughter is bullied for her looks. Her kickass mom made a speech to her at the VMAs, telling her she’s beautiful and amazing, no matter what other people say. If Pink is going through this, then I’m in good company. I don’t have an awards show to make a public declaration of affirmation so I’m going to have to go for frequency.

But frequency is just not enough.

What’s tricky is that as an adult, how many times have you talked about someone because they are different or “weird”? How many times have we spent time with someone only to turn around and gossip about their short comings to someone else? Can we get real? I’ll admit I’m guilty of this. I’m guessing you might be guilty of this too. What an ugly, shameful side of me. I want my kid treated with respect to be his own person and I am one of the people who judges others for being different. We share blogs and memes about how you should be unique and that one small act of kindness can change the world, and in the next moment, we are trolling someone’s Facebook page with our passive aggressive comments.

I have a friend and when she catches herself talking about other people, she stops herself and says, “That’s not fair. I’m just saying that to make myself feel better.” Oh my goodness, she is my hero. Because deep down, I’m saying things to make myself feel better about my own choices and when your choices are different than mine, I’m inclined to judge you because what if you are doing it better than I am? Time to cut you down! It’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s exactly what the kids on the playground are doing. And it’s time to stop.

If we model the kindness and love we want our kids to show to others, what would happen? Would they learn to treat others with respect, even when they are different from us? It’s so easy to tell our kids about bullying and how awful it is, but we forget that as adults we do it too. We say shitty things on people’s social media pages and behind their backs. We don’t count it as bullying because we are adults! Adults don’t do that. We only say what needs to be said. Plus we are old enough now to know that it shouldn’t hurt anymore.

Except that it does. Each week we witness a new horrific act of violence and hatred and we say, how could that happen? How could someone drive a car through a crowd of people? How could a madman gun down people at a concert? How could someone threaten to shoot up a school? This world needs more kindness. I don’t know what motivates these people. I’m guessing a lot of mental illness, which is a whole different blog. But I’m guessing a lot of hatred too. What if this person experienced just a little more grace and kindness instead of judgement and hate? What if there was one person who showed them a smile and did something helpful – would that be the tipping point to convince a madman that the world really wasn’t all that awful? Maybe that’s just way too simplistic. But what does it hurt to try? What if we could all be a little weird and embraced for our differences? Would that change our mental and emotional DNA?

The other day I passed a panhandler and handed him some dollars. Then I walked to my destination. And I realized that I did not look this man in the face when I handed him the money. I kept my eyes down, as though asking for help and giving help were shameful acts. What a bitch. I was fortunate to walk by him on my way back to my hotel. I looked him in the eyes, smiled and wished him a good evening. (Side note: This is ridiculous. As I type, I realize I am telling you a story about how I made the conscience effort to treat a man like a human, with dignity. That should not be newsworthy. However. We treat people who make us uncomfortable like they don’t deserve respect and kindness. But there’s more to the story.) He didn’t say anything back. So I walked on. Honestly, he didn’t owe me anything. I was the one who treated him like nothing in the first place. Humanity as an afterthought can often be too little too late. As I kept walking, I heard “Hey! You have a good night too!” He was talking to me. I’m not sure if he was just slower with his response or just surprised that someone talked to him. I can’t assume to know his life. But I do know that I caught myself withholding kindness and decency because someone lives a different story than I do. It’s time my life involves more kindness, even if it feels a little a little stilted, a little uncomfortable. I saw a side of me that I didn’t like and I can change that. I owe that to society. I owe that to my kids.

So yes, I’m still going to tell my Squirrel all the time that it’s okay to be weird and different. Weird and different are the definition of creative. And I’m going to remind my kids to be kind to others, to talk to the kid that has no friends, to smile at someone who has a blank expression. But I’m going to do it too. I’m going to recognize that sometimes my knee jerk reaction to others is because I’m trying to make myself feel better. We can feel good about ourselves without stepping on someone to bring us up. I’m going to remember that everyone is a person and should be treated with dignity. Is this going to be easy? Nope. Our culture is to climb on others to make ourselves higher. But nothing worth doing is easy. Will I see a change in the world? Maybe, maybe not. Does it matter? We don’t always have to witness the good to be a better person. I challenge you to join me. Let’s make the world a better place. Fly your freak flag and mind your words. As they say in “The Four Agreements” (great book), be impeccable with your word. Sometimes it’s all you have control over.