Tag Archives: truth

Accomplishment, Worthiness, and Compulsion

11 Apr

I let someone down recently.  They saw a side of me I genuinely hate but can’t seem to change.

I have “compulsive completion disease”.  If there’s a job that needs doing, I throw myself into it and knock tasks off the to-do list with wild abandon.  I honestly can’t help myself and usually don’t realize I’ve overstepped my bounds until it’s too late.  I was the kind of kid in school who completed class projects weeks before their due date, who looked forward to homework, who hated group projects, and who reminded the teacher that he had forgotten that extra credit assignment for us to turn in on Monday.  If you *were* in a class project with me?  You probably got an A but didn’t get to do much.

My mom has it, too.  When she comes to watch the kids, she often puts in a load of laundry and unloads the dishwasher.  She brings rolls of paper towels and reorganizes my pantry.  It drives me nuts.

I used to feel like she helped out because she thought I couldn’t handle the housework … as if her assistance was a quiet judgement of my diminishing value as a housekeeper.

But really, that was just how I felt about myself.  I was the only person who thought her help was about me.

I’ve learned to let her help.  I ignore the thoughts that feel annoyed and focus on accepting her assistance, because the truth is that I really do need it with the housework and the girls.  And I’ve learned when to ask her not to help… because the truth is that there are times I want to do things for myself, and I want her to respect those boundaries.  She does.

A friend asked me to step back recently.  To help less and to listen more.  And that my personality hurt her somehow is eating at me.  I know I always seem so wise and so in control of the shame that plagues us all, but this one, I just can’t shake.

I’ve apologized.  She and I are okay.  I know that my imperfection does not make me unworthy of her friendship.  But I know I’ve let her down.  I loathe letting people down as much as I adore helping people –  which just goes to show that I’m equating my self-worth with my accomplishments instead of believing that I am worthy of love and belonging despite what I do or what mistakes I make.

Letting accomplishments feed my joy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when I find myself clutching success with an iron grip in fear of losing people I love, I need to reexamine my motivations.

I’m a do-er.  It’s a part of who I am.

But I want to do better at doing less.

Emulating Perfection

19 Feb

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who snuck into her mother’s bathroom to poke through a drawer of wonder. Lotions and make ups. Powders and perfumes. Treasures worth the risk taken tiptoeing down the long, barren hallway to a room her parents considered a protected sanctuary. She applied the powder to her arms, to her face, to her hands, unsure of where it was supposed to go but confident that it made her just as beautiful as her mother, for it was her mother she was trying to embody.

For she grew up knowing that her father believed her mother to the the most beautiful creature in the planet. The most exquisite human being in existence, in fact, and she wanted just a taste of that kind of magic. To stretch out into, and fill up, her mother’s shadow.

Once, only once, her father uttered the words, “I wish your mother would…”  Her ears perked up and she raced into the room to find out what she trumped her mother in, begging her father to say it again.  She hoped for something deep and personal, for some great character trait her father would praise her for.  “He wishes Mom painted her toenails,” her younger brother whispered, and her face dropped into disappointment.  Surely there was something remarkable about her besides the polish she applied to her feet.

————

It makes me sad to look back and realize how much of my self worth as a child and teen was based on measuring up to someone else.  Honestly, I held onto my pedicure triumph for years.  YEARS, people, thinking “at least there is something I do that is good enough.”

My parents were (are) loving, attentive parents.  But I always felt, and work today to keep myself from feeling, that there was an element to their love that I had to earn.  And though I don’t blame them one bit, I wonder whether there’s something they did to cause me feel this way.  Maybe it is just a part of my personality, or unavoidable human nature.  Perhaps it’s partly to blame on my birth order.  It won’t surprise anyone who knows me to learn I am the eldest of three.

Now that I’m a mother of two children myself, I see how I treat my girls differently, and not just because they are different people and different ages, and therefore need different things from me (That was a lot of “differents” all in once sentence.  My English teacher would cringe).  My oldest seems so much older since her little sister joined us, and I constantly catch myself pushing her to put her childish ways behind her, as if they are reserved solely for the baby.  Some days I hypothetically ask her, “what are you? Five?” and it stops me in my tracks as I remember how small, fragile, and adorable 5-year-olds seemed to me before I had children of my own.  It’s the curse of being the oldest – the added responsibility of paving the way, your parents using their experiences with you to better themselves for your successor.

As I write all this, I realize that my mindfulness gives me an advantage and that I don’t doubt my worth as a mother to BOTH of my girls because I know I truly am doing the best I can with the knowledge that I have at the time.  I don’t expect to parent perfectly, nor do my children need me to.  And though I look back at the moment when I learned my father’s worship of my mother knew no bounds – that he loved her in a way he would never love me – with continued envy, I know it has shaped me for the better.

Mom and DadMy parents have been married for 36 years, and I see in my dad’s eyes that he feels the same way he did all those years ago.  Nothing compares to my mother for him.  And because he modeled that kind of marriage – one of unconditional love – I looked for the same in a spouse.  I can’t compare my love for my husband to the love I have for my children.  They are different kinds of love and can’t be measured with the same yardstick.  But there IS something about my husband that grants him trump.  After all, I chose him.  We vowed to spend our lives together, and when our girls have grown and left us to begin lives of their own, we will still be stuck with each other’s company, hopefully for many years.

As far as comparing myself to my mother?  I think I will always do that.  She’s an amazing woman to emulate.  But what I have discovered over the years is that she catches herself trying to emulate me as well.  She sees in me the best of her, and even better.  And that, besides being the greatest gift a parent can give a child, is what I couldn’t see all those years ago, when childhood placed a halo above my parents’ heads, blinding me to their humanity.

They were imperfect, too.

This Moment

17 Jan

As I stepped gently up the stairs to tell my rambunctious, challenging five year old she could come down while her baby sister continued to nap, I wondered to myself why she was so quiet.  I prepared myself for battle: the daily argument over picking up her room, and the barrage of requests that would accompany her back down to the living room.  And then I was greeted by this.  I sat down on the edge of her empty mattress and stared at her.

Impromptu Nap

She had fallen asleep on her floor, decorating a tinsel Christmas tree with hair barrettes during her “rest time.”  Her ever-faithful “Light-Up Turtle” companion by her head and her soulmate “Cuddle Monkey” tucked under an arm, she snored beneath a pile of blankets.  And in an instant, the stern-mommy-of-a-preschooler in me melted into the mom I remember being to her.

You see, though I love her fiercely, she and I are like oil and water – if oil and water were practically identical, that is.  Everything is an exercise in diplomacy with her, and most days I can no longer see the baby she used to be – I see the child she is and the young lady she is becoming: headstrong, opinionated, analytical, difficult.  And though I know the armor I unwittingly don puts space between us, I struggle with letting my guard down, burned by so many other bad moments, bad days, bad weeks.  The softness that I gave to her as a baby and toddler, the same softness that comes so easily with her younger sister, is buried under my frustrations and my anxieties and my fears.

I miss the toddler she used to be.  At times it’s as if this new, older daughter has replaced her, calling muffins by their correct name instead of “mondays,” and asking for privacy with a roll of her eyes instead of revolving her entire world around me.  Even her body has lost its toddlerness, the chub and rolls stretching out into a lean childhood figure.  She seems so big now, especially since her sister joined us two years ago, and I know I look at her and forget how big the world must seem to her, how many things she still has yet to understand, and how much wonder surrounds her.  I forget she is that same little baby that made me a mother.  How can you miss someone who is standing right in front of you?

It’s bittersweet, this process of letting go that we call motherhood… falling in love with a tiny being only to have them leave you day after day, metamorphosing into a new version of themselves.  I know the practical answer is to enjoy her for who she is at each stage of her childhood – to soak in this five-year-old Emily so that I may miss her when she too has gone, but I struggle with my sadness at what has been lost and with finding a balance between being better for her and allowing myself grace.

The words of Kahlil Gibran* have never rung so true:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

And so, I let her sleep, conscious of the fact that I will have to eventually wake her and break the spell, holding this moment in my heart, determined not to forget its warmth and softness once it has passed.

*Poem excerpt from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, 1923

Timeout

28 Oct

I don’t write often enough here about my failings as a parent.  And there are many of them.  You see?  I have what I’m learning to reframe as a “spirited” child.  She’s full throttle all. the. time.  And though I love her more deeply than I ever understood one person could love another, most days the degree to which I am grateful for her bedtime feels wrong.

This morning we argued over whether there were socks in her hamper.  Over what kind of toy she wanted to bring for “M” week at school.  She chased her sister around the house instead of putting on her shoes despite my pleadings, only to finally stop in her tracks to debate with yell at me about the practicality of sandals in the wintertime.  By the time I dropped her at the brick pathway, we were both relieved to be rid of the other’s company.

It’s like that all day long.  Nothing is simple.  Nothing is done just for the love of pleasing her mother or father.  Everything must be on her terms and those?  Come with litigation-worthy dispute.

The hardest thing about having a five year old is that they are too big to just pick up and put in timeout.  They are too focused to distract with shiny keys and too stubborn to respond to force.  You must learn to convince them and to bewitch them with the illusion of control.

Hence our timeout chart:

Timeout ChartTimeouts are a great tool for parenting, but I have to remind myself constantly that discipline is about educating behavior, not about punishment (though punishment sure does feel good to an angry mom, I must admit).  And though I usually end up sending Bug up to her room to stop the conflict and give everyone a chance to cool down, I needed more.  I want her to be able to make the kinds of choices I only just learned how to make – how to recognize what she needs and react accordingly.

So now, when things get out of control, she may be asked to go choose a time out.  Sometimes she gets full control of the choice, while other times she needs to be guided to an appropriate timeout for the situation (and other times, I forget about the chart and holler at her to go sit on the carpet).  It’s a reminder to me not just to punish, but to teach.  To think, “what was happening and how can I best teach her to change her behavior?”

It’s far from perfect, but so far it seems to be helping both of us.  And as a bonus?  It comes with drawings like these.  My husband and I were both surprised and enlightened by the discrepancy between what really happened and how Bug viewed it.  It’s quite revealing – and hilarious.  The laughter helped disperse any tension over the actual conflict.

Bugs Timeout Pic 1

 

Bugs Timeout Pic 2

And if you’re not laughing, you’re crying, right?

Talk to me.  What works for you with your most challenging kiddo?  How do you parent your child once they’re not a toddler anymore?

 

Saying Goodbye

11 Jun

It used to happen every year.  We would gather on the sidewalk and wave as the children began their last bus ride home for the year.  Then we would meander to our classrooms, all looking a little bit lost, gathering up loose papers and little bits of broken pencils left under the coat hooks.  Thank goodness for our school counselor’s yearly ritual of singing “schooooool’s out for summer” over the loud speaker.  It was just the bit of levity I think we all needed to help us navigate that awkward place between joy and sorrow, relief and nostalgia.

As an elementary teacher, you spend 9 months entrenched in the academic and social lives of your students.  You struggle together.  You succeed together.  You form a bond that will never again exist.  When you really think about it, the exact combination of students and teachers will never share the same room again.  And no matter how welcome that fact might make the impending break, there’s a sadness about it, too.

I’ve been out of the public school classroom for 5 school years, now.  From my living room window, I’ve watched the first bus of the year pick up excited students carrying brand new backpacks and I’ve watched the last bus of the year bring home jubilant children.  And because I get to use my teaching chops workshopping piano solos and providing academic tutoring to private students, I haven’t found myself missing the classroom.  It’s the best of both worlds, staying at home and teaching.

And then this year, as my tutoring student handed me a thank you card, I fought back tears as I tried to find the words to tell him how proud I was of all his work; of how much I enjoyed working with him.  I was instantly transported back to those afternoons, standing in the center of an empty classroom, hoping the students I just sent into their summer knew how loved they were.

I realize now that I want more of that.  I don’t think I’ll find myself back in the public school classroom again.  But I’d like to take my academic tutoring from an occasional favor for friends of friends into something more.  Now I just have to figure out what.

So You Think I Shouldn’t Have Had Children

18 Mar

I’m an optimist.  Optimistic about situations but mostly about people.  I believe people are good.  I believe we are are more alike than different.  And I believe in the power of communication and connection.

So when I saw this tweet from Anderson Cooper’s @andersonlive two weeks ago, I hoped for the best.

ALParenting Tweet

The tweet was intended to foster controversy, but surely the general public doesn’t believe that moms are taking medications because it is “trendy.”  My twitter tribe took to their computers and responded in force.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 5.26.47 PM Andrea Tweet

And then just when I was beginning to think that people would understand that mothers are treating their illnesses, I made the mistake of visiting the comments on the Anderson Live FaceBook page.

FaceBook Screenshots Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 5.34.38 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 5.34.14 PM

The PPD Blogger community responded in force there, too, with thousands of words about stigma, motherhood, and mental health.  And there *were* comments that reasonably placed the responsibility to determine who genuinely needs medication on the shoulders of the medical community.  But I was shocked at the large percentage of folks who believe that people suffering from mental illness just shouldn’t have children.

These folks believe that mental illness is a character flaw and possibly a death sentence – they believe that because I take medication for anxiety, I shouldn’t have had children.  Because I am an optimist, I choose to think they are just uneducated, products of a culture awash in stigma and misinformation.  I hope that with exposure to education and to individuals who thrive (yes, even as parents) despite their diagnosis of “mentally ill,” they might change their minds.

But if not – if they still believe that the mentally ill shouldn’t procreate because of a perceived burden on unborn children and society in general, let me ask this:

If an ideal life is the criteria on which a person’s right to reproduce is to be based, who among us would ever have children?

Would these same dissenters tell a paraplegic to refrain from starting a family because of the difficulties the children may encounter being raised by a parent with some special needs?  Should my diabetic friend and advocate Melissa have not had children because her disease puts her at risk of disorienting low blood sugars?  What about a parent suffering from a genetic disorder that may be passed onto their child?  

I am just like any other person treating a medical condition. Make no mistake.  Though they are invisible, my anxiety, PPD, and PPOCD are (or were) medical conditions.   20% of the US population suffers from mental illness, with the average age for onset of symptoms being 30.  That’s one in five.  Your neighbors.  Your sisters and brothers.  Your friends.  And quite possibly your parents.

If you are a mother with a mood or anxiety disorder, I want you to hear that those trolls above?  They are wrong.  I know you.  I know how hard you work to keep yourself healthy and happy.  I know that despite your mood swings, you are a loving parent who lights up your child’s life.  And though you may need the assistance of medication and therapy to combat your anxiety, you bring to their world your talents, your strengths, and there is no better parent for them.

Don’t let the ignorance of a few Facebook comments cloak you in shame.  We are all flawed.  It’s what makes us beautiful and real.  As people and as parents.

On Fakebook and Keepin’ It Real

28 Feb

A Mama’s Comfort Camp member shared this link to a post about how fake everyone is on FaceBook and I found myself both nodding my head and laughing as I read about the author’s chaotic and familiar Saturday.  Then I started wondering if I’m guilty of FakeBooking (thanks to @ErinMargolin of @gaydadproject for the perfect word for it).  After all, in my header photo, everyone looks happy and the background is picturesque (never mind that it still says “Happy Holidays”).

FB Header

And in my new profile picture, I have makeup on and my hair curled.  Both of these things are rare and not at all representative of my everyday life.  This is more like it:

Keepin' it real.

And yet I don’t really want this as my profile pic.  So does that mean I’m faking it?

Hmmmm…  I tend to share the bad along with the good – pictures of my dishes in the sink and trashed house.  Status updates about teething and the crummy weather.  Posts about mental illness.  I like to think I’m pretty honest about what my life is like.

I’m truly not trying to impress anyone.  Photos capturing beautiful moments and positive updates?  Are just me trying to be grateful for the bits of happiness and tranquility that punctuate the chaos of life with two small children.  My Pintrest boards?  Wishful thinking.  And any bit of cohesive writing is pieced together in stolen moments between snacktime and diaper changes.

So let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  Let’s celebrate the beautiful pictures and let our friends enjoy their moments of beauty and success.  Let’s assume that they aren’t always as put together as they are in their profile pictures and be glad they’re not sharing photos of themselves sleep deprived with a giant chin zit (which they cleverly hide behind a coffee cup).  But let’s also make them feel comfortable to keep it real.   After all, if social media is going to be how we keep in touch in these digital days, let’s make it count.

Lost For Words

6 Jan

We were trapped in the car when the questions started.

Hey, Mommy?

If somebody dies in their house, and the mailman brings them their mail but they’re dead, how does the mailman get them their mail?

Um, what?!

The mailman would come to their door but they’d be dead.

Um….

So what would happen to the mail?

I think the mail would pile up and the mailman would eventually take it back to the post office.

Then new people would live the in house?

Yes, then new people would get their mail delivered to the house.

What about if all the mommies and daddies were dead and there were no more mommies or daddies.  Who would make more mommies?  Would robots make more mommies and daddies?

Um, Daddy?  Want to take this one?

No1 asks deep, serious questions, and we’re committed to answering her as honestly as possible.  But sometimes, her left-field questions just make us giggle and we stumble over our words, searching for what to say.  These moments are my favorite with my four-year-old.  Her innocence, her curiosity, her direct nature.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What’s the strangest, funniest, or most awkward question your child has asked you?

I Don’t Gladly Give It Up

4 Jan

There was an “inspirational” Facebook status roaming around a few months back that read something like this:

“I used to wear mascara and do my hair.  I used to spend hours on my makeup and take long showers.  But I gladly give it up every day for my kids.  Like and share if you love being a mom!”

Look, I get it.  Being a mother *is* the most rewarding job of my life.  We all love our kids fiercely.  But something about the message rubbed me the wrong way and it’s taken me a while to figure out why.

FIrst of all, I detest the “like and share if” posts.  If your status or post is worthy of sharing, you won’t find yourself needing to ask for likes and shares.  I participate in Facebook for the pics of your kids eating spaghetti and your recent drunken Vegas trip shenanigans – not to see your chain mail.

And more importantly, read carefully, the status measures the quality of motherhood by what a woman sacrifices.  It insinuates that if you don’t gladly give up showers and makeup and instead, (like me) begrudge the days when you greet the world with two-day hair and chapstick, that you don’t love being a mom.  It spreads the message that it’s okay (and maybe even important?) to put yourself last when it comes to your family.  This may seem like small potatoes, but I’m committed to keeping it real when it comes to motherhood (and life in general), and this social standard that mothers have to do it all and like every moment only hurts us as a sisterhood.  It makes new moms feel inferior, contributes to risk factors for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and fosters distance between women.

Two-day hair and chapstick, folks.

Two-day hair and chapstick, folks.

Motherhood is hard enough without the added guilt, don’t you think?

So, I’d like to contribute my own mantra.  It goes a little something like this:

I love my kids.  You love your kids.  And it’s important to take good care of them – to meet their physical and emotional needs.  But I’m important too, and that’s okay.  I want to set a good example for my children and to teach them about self-care and life balance.  There are days I will wear makeup and there are days I won’t.  And it’s okay if I hate the days I won’t.  I don’t have to give up the woman I was to be a great mom.

 

Why 2012 Can Suck It… and My One Word for 2013

2 Jan

I was ready to write about how this year was full of highs and lows.  How it almost broke me but gave me back my life.  And then my husband reminded me that No2 was born in 2011, that we went to Vegas in 2011, and all the good stuff happened in… you guessed it.  2011.

My New Years Eve tweet read, “Suck it, 2012.”

You see, this was the year I lost my last grandparent.  It was 52 weeks of broken sleep with a baby toddler who still does not sleep through the night.  I severely injured my spine twice this year, got one ride in an ambulance, spent a cumulative period of 5 weeks on narcotics, and endured one spinal injection and 7 days on an oral steroid.  I watched helplessly from afar as one of my best friends nearly lost her battle with Bipolar Disorder.  This year, the stomach flu wiped out my entire family for two weeks.  For four months early in the year, I argued with pediatricians about my colicky newborn only to discover that I could cure all her ills if I could live without dairy.  It’s the year I saw my local bestie maybe a dozen times in the last 365 days, and she lives in the neighborhood next to mine.  It’s the year my husband and I sacrificed our time together and put our marriage lower on the priority list so we could just survive.  Turns out my “one word” for the year was survive.

That’s not to say it wasn’t also full of joy.  I went to BlogHer ’12.  I dyed my hair hot pink and slept in a bed with a stranger from the internet.  I watched my baby grow from a limp newborn to an inquisitive, walking toddler.  I met a major personal goal and breastfed No2 for over a year (and am still going strong)!  I made new friends and found a community of moms online who have enriched my life in a way I never knew was possible over the Internet.  I have a warm home, plenty of food, and friends and family nearby to experience life with.  In many ways, I was very lucky last year.

But still, I’m looking forward to 2013 and the renewed excitement and hope that comes with the new year and fresh, clean calendar.

My word this year?  Is FUN.  We’ve been so entrenched in survival mode around here, I feel like we’ve forgotten how to let go and have fun.  I want my girls to remember a childhood of silliness, laughter, and joy.  And I want that for myself, too.

OneWord2013_Fun

Huge thanks to Melanie at Only a Breath for the beautiful One Word button!

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