Watching Them Grow (and loving it)

A friend recently asked me what my favorite part of parenting is (don’t end a sentence in a preposition). I told her that it was watching the kids grow up into their own unique little personalities. When they were small, it felt like they were tiny extensions of me. Now they feel separate and different, with only hints of traits that have been passed down from my side of the family.

I am in a constant state between wanting to banish them to their rooms forever and laughing until I cry because of something they just said or did. Noah getting into my “Hot Guys and Baby Animals” book and reading it and summarizing it for me (“Momma, it’s basically about guys and their pets. But one guy was totally naked in a park. You couldn’t see his privates though.”). Neelah yelling at me at the park “Look momma, Noah can pole dance!” as my son jumps onto a pole and swings down it with his legs in the splits (I have watched the video of this several times and never stop laughing). Both of them binge watching My Little Pony and Beyblade together on Netflix. Volunteering with Noah’s improv class at school and watching these amazing little people catch on to clever comedy and perform some decent sketches. Neelah asking me last week what the word “sexy” means and I told her it meant “cute.” For the past week, she has been telling everyone they are sexy and describing other kids as such. I finally decided that I had to come clean. I told her that “sexy” means you want to have sex with someone. She still doesn’t know what that means but she has stopped calling me and other kids sexy. Whew.

All of it blows my mind. I am constantly in a state of “Wow! I can’t believe they are so cool and they live with me!” For the longest time I had them convinced that they had come out of my butt and we had always marveled about how people so wonderful could come out of my butt. Again, I had to come clean with that too.

It’s strange to sit and process where their personalities come from. Differing from most families, I have no idea what personality traits have been passed down to Noah from his father’s side and from Neelah’s side, my knowledge is limited. Noah has amazing patience and the ability to quickly and successfully regulate his emotions when he is upset or angry or sad. That didn’t come from me. Neelah has an amazing sense of style, sweats a lot, and is grumpy about 90% of the time and those traits did not come from me. I always wonder what it would have been like to know their fathers and be able to say “oh yeah, that’s from your side of the family” or “he/she is definitely your child.”

In any case, I am pretty sure that anyone with kids reading this knows to some extent what I’m talking about. If you haven’t thought about it, stop and do so. It really helps you appreciate them as a wonderful gift. I promise. 🙂

what a difference 18 months makes

My kids are so close in age I typically don’t see one as older than the other. My son has not really ever taken on the role of “big brother” and my daughter is already a boss, which transcends the age factor. In years past, snow days have really stressed me out because it meant hanging out with two uncivilized trolls who were in a constant state of war. Today though, I felt different. I’ve felt different for the past few months. I don’t know if I’m closer to a miracle concoction of psychotropic meds or maybe I’m mellowing out with age. Who knows. I was excited to pick those kiddos up directly from school and not from after school care. Literally, the conversation went like this:

Me: I’m so excited to spend the afternoon with you guys! I have one more report to review and then we can have some fun!

Son: Why did you pick us up so early? I was having fun at school.

Daughter: Oh Momma I’m so excited! I want to play in the snow! (To her brother) You can shovel like you always wanted to!

Son: I don’t want to go outside.

Me: Ok, yes, we can play in the snow. And then I was thinking maybe an indoor activity at home? A movie?

Son: I want to play on my ipad.

The conversation left me wondering when my son had turned 12 years old. Recalculating from his birth year, I realized he was still only 9. But with a pre-teen attitude. It has been a good year for him. He was assigned a mentor from church through a program called Fathers in the Field, which has been a fabulous opportunity and match for him. Sometimes I’m not a fully believing woman, but I’d say God sent this guy to our doorstep (literally because he can’t pass our doorstep, he has to stay outside – they have really strict boundaries and rules which I also appreciate). My son has also had a stellar soccer season with another great positive male role model – his coach. Between my family members, his coach and mentor father, my son is in a pretty solid place.

My daughter, on the other hand, her mentor is ta-da! Yours truly! She has asked me several times for her own mentor (or “womanter” as she calls it, believing that the “men” in mentor identifies the mentor to be male) and doesn’t seem too thrilled when I tell her it is me. Me, the one who had to ask her teacher how to show more empathy when my daughter comes home and talks about how this or that friend doesn’t want to be her friend anymore or said something mean about her or looked at her in a bad way. My question for this teacher: “Well, I mean, what do I say when she says this stuff is happening to her at school? I always tell her that it’s not about her, that those little girls may be suffering from some self esteem issues and are projecting onto her?” (Thumbs up, momma! Sure, this might make sense to a 40-year old). Fortunately, my daughter’s teacher has some (extensive) experience with second graders and was able to pass along some age appropriate questions and teaching moments when these things happen.

Most days, I’m just thrilled that I’ve managed to keep my kids alive, safe from devastation, and keep a roof over their heads. But I don’t want to jinx myself so I will just leave that there. These are giant wins though. I should be proud of myself. Parenting is brutal. If you are reading this and are also a parent, hats off to you. You have very little time to yourself, are continually exhausted, tossed about on waves of self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy, can barely spell your name (especially if you are over the age of 45 with young children), and are a freaking superstar.

 

Finding Love…

That’s a catchy title isn’t it? Unfortunately this post is not about a juicy romantic interest or a dashing new lover (why don’t we use the word “dashing” anymore?). 😂

No. It’s about accessing love from within yourself. Accessing love for yourself. Loving yourself. Connecting with some warm fuzzy feelings for you.

See? I can’t even saying it’s about “loving MYSELF”….I have to put it in the second person point of view. Loving myself feels selfish.

The problem I’ve discovered though is that if I don’t love myself, I can’t expect others to love me. And I can’t very well love other people because I’m too busy criticizing others or picking them apart to try and convince myself that I’m lovable. And that just puts me farther away from feeling good about me.

Before you start wondering, I’ve only had two drinks tonight, and that was hours ago…

So, if I’ve committed to writing, and there’s no pressure to bring any wisdom or humor or great story telling to my posts, I can safely wrestle with this idea and I don’t have to convince anyone reading that I’m sober (but I am).

It has really been on my mind a lot. Loving me. Barf. I can’t say it without my stomach turning. Let’s just start by saying “being kind to myself.”

It’s probably because I’m on what a woman in my therapy/skills group cohort refers to as the “rope bridge.” Picture yourself standing over a canyon on a rope bridge. You’ve come halfway across, but the other side is still a bit farther. It doesn’t make any sense to go back from where you came. The bridge is shaky, unsteady, uncertain. The side you’re headed to looks good. You want to make it there, you don’t want to backtrack. But there are still several steps you need to take to make it there, to get on solid footing. Have you been there?

That’s where I’m at. Right in the middle. Everything is still pretty wobbly and tentative. Okay days and rough days.

Keep going. Don’t look back. Don’t look down. Don’t even look ahead. Just be where you are at. ðŸĪ—

Solo Mama: What Happens When You Let Go of Your Destructive Nature?

Oh. My. Goodness. I’m reminded of the song that has a line that goes “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Who was that? Who cares. I’m old and I don’t have space in my memory banks.

It was this summer as I was in the shower, crying, that I realized that my harmful coping skills were gone. The negative self talk about me and anyone who had hurt me. Murderous, slaughtering, blistering language that overlooks the humanity of me and others and dehumanizes, devalues, in order for me to accept myself and my situation. The thoughts wouldn’t come. The words wouldn’t come. Spewing rage. Didn’t come.

There I was left standing, without an angry word or malicious thought, water rushing over me, scorching my body because my protective skin, my shielding strategies, were all gone. I felt raw. All I had left was, when someone hurts you, tell them what they did and how it made you feel. Use “I” language. Don’t assume anything. Give people the benefit of the doubt. When you are hurting or anxious, check your toolbox for your new tools. Breathe. Distract yourself. Fully participate in an activity. Describe. Ground. Tap. Affirm. Self care. Text a friend. Call the crisis line. The problem is that I am new to this tools. They are like picking up a power saw, which I’m not super comfortable with, and using it as a way to a more positive, healthier outcome. I might lose a finger or an arm in the process.

Having kids doesn’t lend itself to the luxury of time to practice using your new tools. It’s awkward and clumsy and the frustration of trying to find a quiet space physically and mentally often exacerbates my anxiety. Then, not only am I dealing with the pain and anxiety of some other situation, I’m also the lousy parent who checks out to fumble around with a coping skill that is foreign and seemingly less effective than just a rush of thoughts and words to describe the latest asshat I’ve interacted with or me regarding something stupid I’ve said or done.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” I have NEVER been good at that. Hence the therapy and the medications and the tools and the constant push to grow through this. Often I’m encouraged to “give it to God,” or “pray about it.” I appreciate the sentiments and the effort to reach out with this, but DONE. Check. I’ve done that. Doing that. It doesn’t flip a switch and make everything better and I think God’s on the same page there. It’s pretty explicitly stated in stories and accounts throughout the Bible. Still have to engage those awkward new tools and counteract destructive old strategies. XOXO

Solo Mama: Defixating on a Fixation

I was checking in with a friend who has a young daughter who struggles with mental healthiness. He mentioned this thing about her fixations and how much energy she puts into trying to get certain parts of her life to improve. She refuses to give up, even when she is failing, and has essentially become obsessed with righting parts of her life to the point that it is debilitating her.

As he spoke these words, it was like part of the conversation was spoken into the dense, foggy part of my brain and when he mentioned her fixation, the fog cleared and I clung to his words. Yes, yes. That’s it. Part of all this has been the fixation. There are a couple parts of my life that I’ve become unnaturally obsessed with. Not necessarily the people who tie into the fixation, likely, it could be anyone, but the fixation itself. Two major fixations jump out at me. I have not been able to extract myself from them and the harder I try to get them right, the more things fall apart.

My therapist asked me recently “What if you were to let go of these things?” Not storm away, burn bridges, hurt people, but to simply let them go free. One of the issues I can’t really let go, but in a sense I guess I could let the fixation go. But how? I sat with her words for a week. If I let these issues go, I would be failing. In part, these issues were the impetus, the trigger, that got me here. If I let them go, I’d be admitting defeat. I’d be saying that I was unable to overcome them, to conquer them, to show them that there is nothing that I can’t do. To show them that my own mind will not stand in the way of me succeeding. I had invested so much time, in one case, years and years of energy. Months, hours, minutes, seconds. Hundreds of thousands of seconds. Obsessed, triggered, consumed, to the point that when my mind is spinning on these issues, I can’t hear, I can’t feel, I’m not even sure if my eyes are functioning and I can see. I’m not aware of anything going on outside of me.

How do you defixate on a fixation? I can distract my mind for only so long – as they say in my group therapy – fully participate so that my mind is completely in the present moment and can’t focus on the fixation. Moving away from the unhealthy distractions (men, alcohol, negative self-talk) toward the healthy: podcasts, music, side work, budgeting, readings on mindfulness, playing cards with the kids, cooking a favorite recipe, facilitating a workshop, church, learning about a new topic at work. I move from thing to thing, trying to fully participate and defixate. Realizing that I can’t succeed if I continue to fixate. Letting go is necessary, essential, healthy. Working on the how…

Hi God, It’s Me, Crazy Solo Mama

Hi God. I’ve known you since I was little and I probably haven’t skipped a year of church since I was born, including in my adult life. I’ve read so many books about you and traveled the world and talked about you with hundreds of people to learn more about you and how others interact with you. I’ve seen you through the eyes of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and other faiths. I’ve seen you through the eyes of people who don’t believe in you, have set you aside, or have thrown you out. You could say I have really wanted to learn about you intellectually because I need to know as much as I can about something when I care about it.

I’m pretty sure you’ve been there in some capacity most of my life. When it comes to the principles and laws of religion, I screw up all the time. I don’t really fit in with people who go to church every Sunday, but I still go.  By traditional standards, I’m sinning constantly. Every day. But I can usually still feel you nearby, and despite some of the really stupid or horrifying things I do, you trail behind me, walk ahead of me, and track alongside me, picking up the fragments of my life and others’ whom I hurt or betray or neglect.

Sometimes, when people judge me in your name, or tell me I need you, or that I’m not following you right, I’m a little taken aback. I think inside my head “Hey! I’m on that team too! Team GOD! Aren’t we all out here messing up every day, but trying to do better?”

This summer, for the first time in my life, I felt like you disappeared. Footprints style, but there were never a set of two footprints, only one. Maybe you were carrying me all the way? Maybe my feet didn’t touch the ground at all? I don’t know. I even admitted to a police officer, from the behind the partition in his car, that it felt like you had gone away. That dumb officer told me that he thought you had put him in my life that night and I felt like kicking him. Maybe, maybe not.

I told my therapist that I was going to stop talking to you until I got my shit together. She told me to talk with you more, that you want to hear from me anytime, all the time, even when my shit’s not together. That seems counterintuitive and it’s hard to do because every time I go to do it, all I can think about is how awful I am. The other people I know who talk about you all the time seem really pious and well mannered. Not me. Now, when I’m driving to work in my car, I have to yell at you otherwise I won’t talk to you. “Damn it God! Today! I know I’m supposed to be talking to you and I need you to hang out with me and be close because I’m about to fuck up in a million ways! I NEED YOU!”

2018. God, people have said you are timeless. I’m tired of keeping track of the years by the number of the year. It doesn’t matter to you, so why should I do things that way? When I checked, it has been 736,993 days since January 1, 0001. Though this is probably not accurate, maybe it would be healthier to keep track of the days rather than the years. Then I can’t just write off a whole year as miserable, or hard. Kind of like George Constanza and “Festivus for the rest of us!” I’m boycotting years and skipping New Years!

So, God, hey! from the crazy lady. Keep sending me signs that you are nearby, because shit, I need all the help I can get. Here’s to day number 736,994.

Solo Mama: When You Are Not Trying Hard Enough

I’m just curious. Has anyone out there been involved with some type of “system” in life – justice, education, employment assistance, public assistance, mental health , child welfare, religious, medical (health) care – and are told by someone “inside” the “system” that you are just not trying hard enough? You are not trying hard enough to be a whole, healthy, ideal, productive citizen of this community.

For the first time in my life where I feel like a lot hangs in the balance, I was told by someone “inside” the “system” as a beneficiary, recipient, consumer, user of services, whatever, that I’m not trying hard enough.

Let’s count up the hours in the week that I have dedicated to trying hard enough on this particular issue: 8 hours of group or individual time and at least 5-7 hours of personal time to study each week plus numerous hours of launching coping skills which fail half the time. That’s on top of soccer, swimming, dance, school, work, dog sitting, budgeting so I can pay a shit ton of money to “un-crazy” myself, consulting and caring for two young children who need to be bathed, fed, helped with homework, LOVED, etc.

I’m just not trying hard enough. Really?

If you work in any kind of “system,” please choose your words carefully when meeting with your students, consumers, clients, patients, offenders, residents, whatever you may call them in your line of work.

Are there some cognitive distortions going on in this post? Rationalizing? Justifications? Maybe! But I need my moment. Go screw yourself, system! End of rant! ðŸĪŠðŸ˜‚

Solo Mama: Eccentric Coping

Jumping ahead in my story (without even starting from the beginning), part of my summer included learning numerous coping strategies for dealing with several mental health diagnoses. Probably the hardest hitting issue has been anxiety. Every time I go in to see my prescribing nurse, I ask her if we can’t just medicate me out of anxiety attacks. She smiles kindly at me across her desk and reminds me that changing 40 some years of behavior overnight or through the use of medication alone is not realistic. Every time I’m disappointed to hear this. Total bummer. I actually have to use “coping skills.”

Having been in the criminal justice field for nearly 30 years and encountering mental illness more often than not, I’m very familiar with coping skills. I’ve even incorporated them into workshops, teaching and coaching I’ve done with clients. I can talk about them all day long and how great they are in staving off anxiety attacks, distracting, self care, managing emotion and anger, bla bla bla, but use them? Laugh out loud! Coping skills are kind of like exotic paper weights for me. They look nice but they are rarely used to hold paper in place, right?

I’ve spent hundreds of hours this year learning coping skills. Even with all these new skills, it takes effort to use them, and the sooner you use them, the better they work. This means I’ve also had to get better at understanding triggers and what can turn into a major anxiety episode for me. I’m not always good at figuring this out until I’m feeling full-on crazy and engaging in destructive behaviors. Sadly, when you are acting all crazy, your social opportunities and circles really shrink. This has mostly been self-imposed, but I’m sure there are a few people that I’ve scared the hell out of.

The coping skills I’ve landed on are definitely surprising to me. I’ve become really regular at the gym. While still balancing 4 jobs technically, I’ve found 3 mornings a week where I can drop the kids at school and run to the gym. While I haven’t acquired a beach body, I definitely feel better and I’ve rebuilt some muscle.

When I’m really starting to lose it, I turn on podcasts of Dave Ramsey taking calls from across the country about money decisions. When I was less anxious and maybe more mentally stable, I doubt I would have paid much attention to him (no offense to mentally stable people who enjoy him) but now as soon as I start to feel anxious I scramble for my headphones and Spotify – save me from myself, Dave! Not only do I enjoy listening to him chew out people for doing stupid things with their money, I’ve gained a lot of budgeting advice that I’m starting to use – um, like having a budget. He probably has no idea that there is a goofball out there who calms herself by listening to the debt-free scream interview every week.

Another surprising coping skill: Christian music. Anything else depresses me or stresses me out. The songs are always uplifting and positive and I guess that’s where I need to focus these days, with a lot of effort.

So, there’s a bit of self disclosure. Maybe some humor? I had no idea one’s mind could get so out of control. One day you are a bit moody, and the next day you are legitimately doing everything possible not to self destruct. And maintaining responsibility for two small children while praying you aren’t setting them up for a lifetime of their own therapy needs.

 

Solo Mama: Reconstructing Reality

I am sitting in an all-day departmental workshop focused on problem solving. The facilitator has everyone stand up in a circle and give their name, division and project update. My morning was off to a bad start. I was triggered by a text and am doing my best to manage my emotions. They go straight to my body and I’m feeling sharp pains in my neck, back. I can’t stand still anymore and start stretching my neck, my limbs, my back. Looking back, my public behavior has probably always been strange. On one hand, I seem to have no filter on what is socially acceptable and what is not, and on the other hand, I am painfully aware of each thought and word and how it will impact every single person in my presence.

After the introductions, the facilitator and my supervisor come over and tell me that while I am wearing a really cute outfit, I look like I’m not well and in severe pain. My boss suggests that I take the day off and if I feel really compelled to work at some point, I can do it at home. I go to my office, pack up my stuff and head out. My head feels compressed. Foggy but dense. Like too much matter is shoved over to one side of my brain and it needs to disperse or shift so that I can think more clearly. I get in the car and start to head home, resting my elbow on my window sill. My arm is pulsing. It’s my heartbeat. I decide I’m going to head to the store before going home so I can get some ibuprofen for the pain.

Once I arrive at the store and park, I think as I walk towards the new bright green facade entrance of Walmart, I’m about to enter Disneyworld. I have the choice of a thousand different comfort items in this store (besides ibuprofen) that I can purchase and take home to get me through the day. My thoughts race through their normal checkpoints – how much do I have in my bank account? Nothing too high in calories, sugar or fat. What would really make me feel good because today will be a bad day?

I settle on an 8-pack of Diet Pepsi, a box of hot chocolate packets for the kids for later, a bottle of ibuprofen, dark chocolate chips, and some keurig cups which I will use with my pumpkin spice almond milk creamer later. The compression in my head continues and seems to have spread down to my chest, my stomach is queasy. I am in a fog; drifting away and then returning to the present moment. Then experiencing both at the same time. I screw up all the instructions on the self check-out, in a split moment of clarity, remember to withdraw an extra $20 for the kids’ school Lego club enrollment, then leave the bill hanging out of the cash slot and start to walk away before the cashier calls my attention to it.

As I walk out to the car, I realize that I’ve had so many misconceptions about things like anxiety, depression, suicide, personality disorders, PTSD, and it’s almost comical. My experiences dealing with people at the absolute brink as they enter the justice system had me believing that these were all really outwardly dramatic, loud, extravagant displays of behavior. Personal experience has taught me that they are not. Which tells me that something is really going on and it is frightening. It is frightening to realize that your mind, the thing that regulates your intake and processing of external information, controls your output to the world, your reactions, responses, words, decisions, actions, emotions, behaviors, is broken somehow. And all you want to do is fix it. Give me medicine, give me therapy, give me God, give me mindfulness, give me skills, give me groups, give me information, give me some understanding. And then go away because I’m embarrassed that this has happened. My mind is broken and I need to know how to fix it and I don’t have much time because what if it breaks more?

Solo Mama: Where Do I Begin?

For anyone who has read my posts in the past…I love humor, I love telling stories about my kids and I love putting myself on front street for all bad parenting choices I make. I want to be a voice out there, speaking loudly that:

It’s ok to have bad parenting moments!

It’s ok to have a messy house!

It’s ok to have a headache on Tuesday morning because you had a little too much wine “trying to relax” on Monday night!

I could go on…but it gets darker…

Writing blog posts over the past couple of years has been an outlet for me and it has been a way to keep in touch with the outside world. I love it when people reach out and comment and say that they’ve had similar experiences, they are just afraid to share, or they found something hilarious in something I wrote.

So, at the encouragement of a good friend, who in one of my dark moments the other day reminded me that I used to love to write (as recently as this past spring), I’d like to jump back into posting. I honestly don’t know what’s going to come out. These past 10 months have been some of the ugliest in my life. I’m not sure what I can share or want to share. But I know that writing used to lift my spirits in a crazy way, and in large part because of friends who read and commented and reached out, and that made me a better person at life. And we all know that the world would be a better place if it contained people who felt their best on a daily basis. So, here we go…