Sunday, January 31, 2016

Be Gentle

"Be gentle with yourself. You're doing the best you can."

 I put this quote up on my FB wall mostly because I wanted my other mom friends (Momrades to quote Beth Woolsey) to see it. I have acquired an interesting role as of late: "wise advice giving mother." (my mother would refer to this as entering my "crone stage," but I am to vain to go there yet). I have many friends who are young mothers. I listen to them talk about their lives, and I can so clearly remember when Caroline was a toddler, and I tried to take on the entire world. Somehow I functioned on four hours of sleep and was able to work full time, take care of all of the housework, all of the errands, the pets, the cooking, and Caroline every night and most weekends. What the hell was I trying to prove? Social media was relatively new. I had no idea the world was full of mothers who were also a barely functioning shit storm. Mothers who would look at the chaos in their house and say "Fuck it!" I did not know about the debilitating side effects of anxiety and depression. I just thought I was weak or my family's favorite diagnosis: melodramatic.

By the time I had made it through a second round of PPD after Lily was born (I was so deep in my own world, that I had no idea that was my problem and did nothing to treat it), I finally learned to say "Fuck it!" By that time I was 36 years old, had lost 1/4 of my family and was getting ready to lose even more. I found an online support system and parenting reached the stage where it was more manageable. Things seemed less life and death. Rob's schedule changed and he was able to pitch in (he still wonders how the heck I did everything that I did). Still though, this is the hardest thing I have ever and will ever do. It is hard to be a mother. Period. End of sentence.

I feel like I have an obligation to be a sounding board and a voice of reason for young mothers. I can point to Caroline and explain that at one time I thought she'd never be potty trained. Lily's first word was jackass. I spent almost 14 years never sleeping on my own. It seemed like there was always a child's foot almost up my nose. I want to tell them if I didn't break my kids, you won't break yours.

I feel like I should serve as a cautionary tale as well. I lost myself. I became a "mombot," just going through life doing what needed to be done, but finding very little joy in it. Don't get me wrong, I love being a mother and loved being the mother of my girls when they were little, its just the job itself sometimes overshadowed the joy. But, I came out on the end with my sanity intact. My job is far from over, but I feel like it might not kill me. I even have time now to do things that I enjoy. Provided I make myself take the time.

I give advice only when given permission to do so. The biggest one is "learn to let some stuff go." Life cannot be perfect. This seems to be a war cry for mothers online lately. They bravely post pictures of their messy, yet love filled homes. They share embarrassing stories of the times they lost their shit and were not their best selves. They are honest about battles with depression and anxiety. We all share this so others know: "you are not alone."

 Another benefit is I get lots of "baby time."  I love to cuddle newborns (and sneak sniffs of newborn heads). I climb down on the floor and crawl around with toddlers. I bite my lip and try not to laugh a sassy "threeangers." My niece is the queen threeanger. I think she is just awesome!! I ignore the apologies for supposed messy houses ans ill behaved children. I am a story teller by nature. I listen to their stories and laugh along with them. Being a parent is often the most absurd thing you will ever do. I still find delight in the absurdity. Good grief come to my house and see what ill mannered and messy really looks like.

My goal is to provide the support that I needed. Not a week goes by that Caroline or I aren't sharing a tale of woe with Rob. It always involves another female who has done us wrong. Sometimes it is exaggerated, most often it is not. During one of these vent sessions, Rob paused and said something to the effect of  "I don't know why women can't support each other. Why are they in such direct competition? I wonder if this is why women haven't risen as high in the corporate world. If they worked together, it would be easier." He said it better, I'm paraphrasing. He does that about once a year. He stops me mid rant and makes such a profound observation it takes my breath away.

He has a point. So hear and now, I am starting a support network for moms. Not a place to compare stages and milestones, to shame others because of their feeding choices, sleeping choices, crafting choices, teaching choices, disciplining choices... Just a place to listen and to respond "I've been there too. You are doing great. I believe in you. You will get through this!" And because it cannot be said enough "Be gentle with yourself. You're doing the best you can."

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Blizzard 2016: Same Simpson House as Always

After a warmer than normal December, we got hit with a January Blizzard. I should have known it was going to happen back in December when Rob told me he was going to be out of town at the end of January. When I heard the forecast, my first thought was "Of course!"

We ended up with at least 26 inches of snow. I was really sick at the beginning of it and had been out (being sick seems to be my theme this school year). The blizzard started Friday evening and ended Sunday night. Luckily, Rob's trip was delayed until Monday morning, so he was able to shovel the bulk of the driveway. I still spent the week dealing with the end of the drive, the cars, and the mailbox. It sounds like nothing, but remember: 26 inches! I had Lily jump on the piles of shoveled snow to keep them from growing higher than my head.

We managed just fine. I really think that my family is directly descended from sloths. We are at our best when we get to hang out, snack, read, and watch TV/movies. There were a few moments of cabin fever, but really we handled 8 days at home pretty well.

Today was Day 8 and the day Rob was due to come home. I was feeling better and decided to present myself as a wife and mother who had her shit together and had not just spent the past 7 days in the same pair of pjs, changing only to shovel snow. I got dressed in jeans and a cute sweater (with my comfy new loafers), ignored my very sore muscles, fluffed my hair and put on some lipstick (I'm on a red lipstick kick, it makes me happy!). I went to Target and Giant, picking up salt for future freezes, needed medicines, and groceries. I came home made baked potatoes (with choice of tasty, healthy toppings) and sat down with the girls to play Clue. Rob was going to come home to a loving normal family. So loving and normal, he would most likely think he'd walked into the wrong house.

I got up to put turkey bacon in the oven (healthy toppings, remember?), and Lily took Buffy outside. Buffy had already been restless, climbing all over our game and pretty much being her PITA self. I went out to check on them and some how the leash slipped out of Lily's hand. Off went Buffy with me in hot pursuit, until my loafers and I sunk into the snow. Buffy has learned almost everything except coming when called. She is the only dog to get so lost, she can't make it back home without the kindness of strangers. Buffy is the Blanche Dubois of dogs, which makes me Stella. I threw on rain boots and went tearing into the woods yelling "Buffy" while waving a bag of dog treats. Our neighbor tried to catch her, and I stopped to offer my apology of "I haven't been able to train her to come, we need a fence, this doesn't happen very often..." before plunging into a creek with the bag of dog treats clenched in my teeth.

By the time I scrambled up the snowy bank, my body decided to remind me that it was SORE from shoveling. I hoped that the neighbor and his kids had not heard my swearing and stumbled on through the woods. I stopped to ask a couple of dogs if they'd seen her and complimented their fence. I briefly considered laying down in the snow to rest my legs, but I've watched enough disaster movies to know that was not advisable. I trudged on through the neighborhood until a UPSC driver stopped. She asked if I was looking for a dog and told me two girls found her. Then she turned around drove back up the street to tell them where I was. Remember: kindness of strangers. I limped up the street, wet, sweaty, panting, and pretty much looking like a crazy woman carrying Bacon Treats, when I saw Buffy prancing along with two adorably coiffed teenage girls, all decked out in cute winter accessories. I swallowed every nasty word I wanted to say to my traitorous dog and thanked the girls. "Don't worry, it happens." they said with the worldly tone only teen girls can project. I limped home muttering to my furry little turncoat. I let her cuddle with me the entire time we were snowed in. What the hell?!

The girls were happy to see us. I had charged out without my phone, and they had no way to get a hold of me. They had already updated Rob via text so any allusion of having my shit together was gone, so I did the only reasonable thing I could: changed into fleece jammies and chowed down on a potato. By the time Rob got home I was too sore and tired to do more than say hello and head up to bed. Can we have a redo tomorrow?

Shaking Out the Cobwebs and Getting My House in Order

Long time no hear from, huh? There are a myriad of reasons that it has been so long. I've been busy at work, the kids, are keeping me busy, my laptop is on it's last legs and, like everything else in my life does things in it's own sweet time, I share many of my stories through Facebook (the blog might seem redundant), and well... mostly it's due to Netflicks. I have discovered a world of movies and TV shows that I never knew I HAD to see. Like most things that I become overly fixated on, my Netflicks affair has faded (besides I have watched every season of Criminal Minds). However, there is still the problem of work. I love my job, but in all honesty it takes a lot of my time. There's grading, planning, analyzing data... That's not going to change.

My biggest dilemma seems to be shared by my fellow "mom bloggers." What do you write about once your children become teens? What happens when their stories are no longer your stories. My girls are pretty awesome. They have never demanded to be left out of my blog. I do feel that I am obligated to not put anything out there that could cause them harm or embarrassment. One blogger stated that she doesn't want to put anything about her daughter in print that vicious 14 year old girls could find and use against her later. Honestly, blogging is kind of an old lady thing (come on, you know I'm right). Of all the types of social media, this is the most laborious. Youngsters with a "Twitter" attention span would probably not seek out my blog. None the less, I am keeping the girls personal business out of my writng from now on.

We are doing well. I am getting older and fluffier. I am still searching for inner peace and outer (inner) health. Caroline is getting ready to graduate! She is remarkable. She got into VCU and is ready to go off and make her mark. There will be a couple of posts on the wonderfulness that is my oldest daughter. I have publicly gushed already and none of this is off limits. Lily is also doing amazingly well. She is my Renaissance girl. She is playing the cello and on the robotics team. She recently built a robot! Oh and she currently has straight As. Will she have other bumps in the road? Yes, most likely (we are facing middle school next year), but we will get through. She will get through. Lily has learned strategies to help her deal with whatever challenges come her way. Besides she has Caroline, Rob, and I backing her all the way!

No promises of weekly blog posts. It will still be as the spirit moves me, but more often that it has been, that's for sure. Thank you for sticking with me!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Upside of Parenting a Teen

Everyone knows the challenges of parenting a teenager. There's the eye rolling, savant-like swearing ability, door slamming, crap left all over the house, and the roller coaster of moods. Arguably, Rob and I have had it easy with our teenager. That still hasn't eliminated the moments when we catch each other's eyes across the room and telepathically ask "What the hell was that?!?!"

People don't hear about the upside nearly enough. There's the chance for a "do over" of your teens. I am not proposing that you live through your teen, but it is a chance to rediscover all of those things that you loved when you were young. I have loved having the chance to share dark teen comedies with Caroline. I've shared my music, humor, and sci fi love. It gives me the chance to forget the draining adultness of my life and snuggle down with snacks and Heather's quotes.

It has also given me the chance to give the advice that I wish I'd been given during my teens. I was raised in an unconventional manner in a very conventional town. Life would have been so much easier if I'd had a road map navigating hygiene, fashion, pop culture, make up, and main stream society. I am not so far removed from it all that I can't steer her in the right direction. We jokingly told Lily that we want her to learn to fly her freak flag, but not too high. My girls and I have become very good at being ourselves, but not so much so that we stand out. We are "human wall paper," quietly pursuing our own interests while following societal norms.

Raising Caroline has given me the chance to remember to be hopeful. I have gotten in the habit of skulking through life waiting for everything to "hit the fan." I am slightly pessimistic and very untrusting. I think back to myself at 18 and I miss that girls. She had such determination. Caroline is so excited about the upcoming presidential election. She has researched and looked for the candidate whose ideas mirror hers. She is full of excited idealism. Me? I just think "Well, politicians are politicians. Eventually they'll stumble and let us down." What kind of attitude is that? Life needs hope! When she texted me asking me to go to a Bernie Sanders Rally with her, I said yes. I would not miss the opportunity to see her get to start to make her mark on life. We all need idealism.

This leads me to the last point, you get to see the results of all of your hard work. All of those late nights and daily battles, the vomit and potty training, the homework battles, the carefully shaping her world, the daily conversation of right versus wrong; it has all lead to this moment. The little girl who people used to think was just a bit "too odd" has grown into this remarkable woman. All of the love we poured into her is now being shared with every child she works with. The insistence that she finish her homework every night and "chunk" projects over weeks has resulted in a work ethic that rivals my own. The security and confidence building has resulted in a young woman who can move past every time someone hurts her. When the hurt becomes big or confusing, she still feels comfortable enough to come talk to us.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Bittersweet Month

Buffy and I walked outside last night and felt the first breeze of autumn. We sniffed wood smoke in the air, and felt it; the end of summer. September has always been such a bittersweet month. It is the end of summer with the promise of new beginnings. It is the chance to make new friends and learn new things. It is new school supplies (especially those pink erasers!) and new shoes. It is the closing in of toes in stiff new sneakers.

For me, it has been the month of my husband's birth and the watching of countless children learning, growing, and moving ever forward. When I was a young mother, September became a month of sorrow, as I watched the Twin Towers fall. Then that sorrow hit closer to home, when I lost my father. After that, it became a month full of more bitter than sweet. Over time, the sweet returned. New students for me, new teachers for the girls. Life moved forward. Then exactly 10 years and 18 days after I lost my father, I lost my mother. That was the hardest blow September had dealt me. 

Now, it is a month of contraries. We speed up to move forward while slowing down to reflect. September is the starting point of something new. it is a month of cautious hope.

Monday, August 17, 2015

"So When You Aren't Mommying and Teaching What Do You Do?"

Interesting question posed by the mother of one of Lily's friends. I need to set the scene first. She is wearing an adorable red bikini that has explained to me covers up so much more than the one she wore in California. I of course think "What's less naked?" Reading my mind she explains that in California they practically sunbathe naked. I am wearing my size larger than last years "mom suit." I have to say, though this "mom suit" highlights my best summer asset, cleavage.

Usually, my pool time consists of my floppy polka dot hat (to prevent the freckles that where so cute in my twenties from becoming the age spots of my forties), some sort of awesome reading material (Brain Child Magazine, anyone? How about Redbook?), and just chilling. When I get too hot I do what I call the "Mama Hippo Wallow." I realize it isn't a flattering term, but I mean it literally. When I get hot, I take off my hat, use it to mark the place in whatever I am reading, climb slowly into the pool (oww, my knees), wade around and splash the kids, then end by floating on my back in the middle of the pool feeling weightless and ageless. Once I am cool enough, I get out and resume chilling.

Back to the other mother. She doesn't get to spend much time at the pool, so she asked if I wanted to join her on the other side where the rays have a better angel for tanning (I did not realize this was a thing.). She quickly apologized and told me she'd understand if I wanted to read my book. The reading material of the day was arguably the best book I'd read this summer, but it seemed rude to keep reading, AND I have vowed to put myself out there and meet new people.

Now back to the question. How do I answer? I spend copious amounts of time watching Netflicks and googling the answers to such pressing questions as "How to remove...stain?" "Which movie was" "The best comic book to movie adaptations" "ADHD parenting advice" "Which Pintrest crafts and recipes that I will never make can I pin?"

Or I could tell her that I read a lot and cross stitch a lot and just found out about adult coloring books. Instead I said I volunteer in advisory councils and Girl Scouts. Seriously, did I think this was a college interview? Did I think my hobbies were silly? Maybe. I think I mostly thought they were a tad bit slothish. Her hobbies? Working out and softball. I thought about telling her how excited I was to try going to a sip and paint or how I used to do yoga until I hurt my hand, my knee, my back, but the moment was past.

She talked about her divorce and asked me earnest questions about how I managed as a "child of divorce." She was sweet and pleasant. I, however suck at small talk. Mean while Lily was frantically sending me the family symbol for "Let's get the heck out of here! People are breathing my air!" I pretended to ignore her pointing at her imaginary watch and hooking her thumb towards the exit (of all the skills she could learn from Rob, this is it?). I put her off by ignoring her, knowing she wouldn't want to get out of the pool. After ten minutes she came over and in the loudest whisper in the world told me "I want to go home." She then proceeded to negotiate how soon we could go. Thanks to American Pickers, she is relentless.

Me "30 more minutes. You're being rude.
Her "Let's split it in the middle, 15 and I didn't ask to be here this long."
Me "Each round id 60 minutes, 30 is splitting it in the middle."

You get my drift. Man some days being a member of this family and trying to socialize is exhausting.

"Looks Like We're in for Nasty Weather"

I feel like there should be warning signs outside our door to let Rob know what sort of mood(s) he's walking into. You know, like the kind they put up at the beach to warn you about riptides? For example: Red Flag: wife can't zip her shorts, is in horrible mood and there is furious muttering, Blue Flag: youngest daughter frustrated by homework and there is crying, Orange Flag: oldest daughter planning event with friends and can't get everyone together and there is door slamming.

The estrogen in our house is bouncing all over the place. Right now we have a teenager, a tweenager, and a middle aged women approaching Peri-menopause. Translation: crying, stomping, snarking. Yesterday, I was ready to pull my hair out. It seemed like the only decision either girl could make was to snipe at each other or me. Right now? They are peacefully painting nails, and Lily just offered to let Caroline borrow her phone charger. I've heard life described as a roller coaster. Our life right now? A tsunami!

I understand where both girls are coming from (it is amazing the perspective that comes during a moment of calm). Lily, as I've said before, is in the in between phase. One minute she is playing dolls and watching cartoons, the next minute, she is listening to her i pod and putting on lip gloss (oh, and spilling nail polish on the rug as I type!). All of that internal conflict is bound to cause emotional upheavals.

Caroline is my daughter through and through. She wants everything in her world to be perfect and God help those who mess it up. I clearly remember being 17 and wanting things to be so perfect. I recall melting down in a store because I couldn't find a green prom gown. Caroline is so passionate about everything in her world. Sometimes that passion comes across as blind fury. She is so very excited about her Senior year. She is also so very worried. She second guesses herself around every corner. This week, the focus has been planning for Senior pictures. When I got mine taken, we had one choice: the drape. The hardest choice I had was which necklace to wear. Now? You are sent a glossy pamphlet crowing about how this is "your time!' "create your moment!" "bring props to show your true self!" What the heck!?! Do they know they are sending this to 17 year old girls? It is hard enough for them to decide what to eat for dinner. Now they have to choose their props? Outfits (to include jewelry and shoes)? They are 17, what the hell do they know about their true selves? I can't possibly begin to explain to her that moments aren't created, they just happen. The harder you try to create them, the more messed up they become.

Then there's me. I've heard tweens and teens compared to "terrible twos," but bigger. What the comparison fails to mention is that their mothers also enter a "terrible two" stage. Today, I found myself saying "If it is mine don't touch it because IT. IS. MINE!" Now, this was a legitimate response to going to look for my headphones for the 20th time this summer and `discovering that they had been appropriated by someone else. Nothing is mine anymore! My hairbrush, my scissors, my makeup, my headphones, my charger. I am already stressed and scattered and worried about someday becoming senile. Do you really think never being able to find something where I left it helps?

So the logical conclusion to all of this? Tidal waves of emotions. My best advice to anyone who crosses our paths? Batten down the hatches, grab a life vest, and hang on!