Monday, August 23

the great here and now

For kicks, I decided to take my kids (then aged 3 1/2 and 7 months) to Disneyland for a few days during December 2009. Sans hubby. You read that right. Sans hubby. Sans anybody. I wanted to see how close I could get to the edge of sanity without falling over...

For this trip, one of the weapons I had packed in my secret Super Mommy bag was my cell phone and the power of text messaging. I had told my dearest confidante and mentor about the trip and asked her for advice (doesn't hurt that she's an LCSW and has amazingly brilliant psychotherapy skillz... yeah, people, I used the "z"!). During the entire trip she sent encouraging texts, reminding me with each to enjoy my children thoroughly and to stay in the "here and now".

"Here and Now"..........? What is that? Is that a land here at Disneyland? A ride? A caffeine-infused, valium-spiked, zen-inducing drink?! (Please, oh, please let there be THAT here!)

Hm, how to find this mysterious Here-and-Nowland... I have to admit, though, I knew exactly the place she meant when she next texted: "Don't teach your children that going to Disneyland with Mommy is all about stress." In other words, don't turn the place where dreams come true into a living nightmare. (See, if they had the drink I wouldn't even have to worry about that!)

Here-and-Nowland was a place within myself. To get there, I had to let go of the structure, let go of the worries, let go of everything that kept me from enjoying the realities of that very moment. Yes, even if that moment included one child whining about not getting a Tinkerbell costume and the other crying his eyes out from over-stimulation.

The structure I needed to let go of consisted of timelines, strict schedules, and diets, essentially "the rules" of everyday life. The worries included lack of sleep and energy, cleanliness of the kids (they weren't going to be spotless creatures, that's for sure), wait times, and the constant threat I was going to slip off the edge of sanity's cliff and go tumbling into the great abyss below, never to fully recover or, worse still, return.

Hm.... wonder if they serve coffee in that abyss...

Other various worries preventing me from experiencing the full cinematic effects of Here-and-Nowland included the list of items I'd packed and how many of the necessities I'd forgotten, the intense paranoia of losing my daughter in the crowd of people due to her exhuberance and innate desire to move at nothing slower than top speed, the handling of my colicky infant son who weighed as much as a baby elephant and was strapped to my body by the Moby, and, on a deeper level, trying to teach my daughter how to maintain that fine line between discipline and permissable, healthy rebellion and keeping in check the fear that I would drive her completely in one direction (stoic, rigid and unfeeling heart) or the other (tattoos and odd bodily piercings!).

Add to this that I'd created a huge banner in my mind out of my mentor's advice, so as not to forget that there were other things more important than schedules, worries, and the harsh realities of, well... reality. The world wasn't going to end (I know, I know, it was news to me, too) if we didn't stick to a schedule, if we ate ice cream for lunch or if we weren't able to ride every single ride there and see everything that the cost of two 3-day park-hopper tickets demanded we see.

Suffice it to say, the three of us survived because I was able to just be in the moment. I was willing to let go of that which kept me from truly enjoying the real rides, characters, and magic of Here and Nowland - my kids. And by doing so, I was able to squash (if, for a minute) that fear that I was going to teach my children that Disneyland was all about stress. And by enjoying my children in the context of Here and Nowland, I was also able to show them that there is a balancing and healthy rebellion to be attained in life.

And the greatest idea I took away from this trip? Here and Nowland isn't a place at Disneyland. It's a place in me. And it's a place that it's imperatively important, I've found, to visit with my children at some point each day; to show them that life isn't all about laundry, dishes, and a spotless house... that life with Mommy isn't all about stress. Life is about enjoying each other in this moment - in the real Here and Nowland.

And if that's the souvenir I brought home from taking my kids to Disneyland sans anybody, I think I milked those 3-day park-hopper tickets for what they're worth.

Saturday, August 14

motherhood: the easiest job. ever.

I sip my warm cup of coffee slowly this morning so as not to have brown spew spraying out my nose as I read that title. Easiest job. Ever. Right. (So... who's full of it today? Yep. That'd be me.)

When we are gleefully (and maybe not-so-gleefully) expecting our first child, every one on the planet is ecstatic for us. The old lady in the grocery store line, the nosy next door neighbor who speaks a jumbled mess of what you think is Spanish and English, your mother in law (only cause you finally provided an heir to her throne). Everyone.

"Oh, I'm so excited for you!" "How wonderful!" "You'll love it. Motherhood is amazing." And, if we're lucky, someone will lie to us with "You'll be a great mom."

And they all smile sweetly at you, staring at your bulging belly, a dreamy look in their eyes that says they'd trade places with you in a heartbeat to be standing at that beginning, honeymoon-esque breaking dawn of the parenting horizon.

Not a one of them has the heart to tell you the truth. (Maybe because we've grown accustom to giving fake, cordial responses to the good fortune of others?) Motherhood isn't  the easiest job in the world.

The truth is that motherhood is the hardest job you'll ever undertake. Ever. No one ever tells you that.

I suppose it would be heartless to walk up to a new mom and start laughing maniacally and tell her "you're soooo screwed". Especially as she's coming off the fumes of those I-just-gave-birth, I-can-conquer-the-wor..-oh, wait-here-comes-the-steep-slope-of-the-emotional-roller-coaster hormones.

Hm. (Pondering the outcome of that scenario...)

Motherhood is all about trying to comfortably situate your after-children, not quite J-Lo and definitely not Angelina, um, derrier on a tight rope 50 feet tall. Motherhood is the thinnest line any woman is ever made to walk, a constant decision-making process of splitting hairs, finding needles in silver hay stacks, and hanging on by less than you ever imagined you could.

No wonder I'm tired all the time. Holy cow.

Those first emotions, the adrenaline-released rushes we generally feel sometime after giving birth (mind you: not everyone does and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that) are Mother Nature's way of telling you to look the other way while she quietly places all sorts of motherhood's naturally-occuring obstacles on your path. If the majority of us didn't experience that high after birth, that rush of relief, that overwhelming sense that all things are right in the world (if, at least, for a moment), what woman would ever have children? Just like if men were made to give birth, surely the human race would have died out eons ago.

Don't get me wrong. Motherhood is not without its benefits! For starters, the pay is certain. Whether you get paid with cranky remarks, whining, or hugs, kisses, and snuggle time, you always get some form of payment. Second, you are promoted from laborer (ha!) to president of the whole dang family business on your first official day on the job. (And you didn't even need a resume or proof of ability for this job!!!) Technically, you can't get fired even though your teenager would love to do so. (Insert maniacal laugh of your choosing.)

This "job" also comes with a nice retirement package of memories, gray hairs, and little keepsakes into the world of human relations, psychology and all the other -ology sciences, including criminology. With receipt of said package, semi-retirement is guaranteed. (I say "semi" because it's impossible to keep a mother from loving, worrying about, caring for, and otherwise meddling in her children's lives.)

Semi-retirement. Hm. Think about it: the whole point of our "job" as moms is to put us out of a job, to have our children ride off into the sunset without so much as a glance backward for strength, security, or reasoning because they can and because we got them there. Semi-retirement only means we did our job. And did it well.

Speaking of which... when my daughter turned one, it wasn't just a celebratory moment for her. It was a congratulatory moment for me. I'd gotten her this far. I'd kept my kid alive for a whole year! And in one piece! And healthy! And happy! Who else could say they'd done that?!

And it is here I respectfully decree: no one else could.

Only a mother could. Only me. "It's easy", I'll say when my daughter asks what it's like to be a mother. Because she has to find out for herself the true nature of motherhood. Just like those new moms, just like the new mom I was, she'd never believe me otherwise.

Motherhood: The hardest job you'll ever love.

Friday, August 13

when I'm a mom, I'll never do that

How many times have any one of us said that?

Me? Numerous times. In fact, probably more times than I care to count and/or recall. (Especially true the more evident it became that conception wasn't going to be something easily attained and I began "bargaining" with God about how I'd ditch my human habits and be the perfect mother if He'd just give me the chance to be one.)

The past few days have been stressfully nerve-wracking. I've been frustrated, consistently at wits' end, and extremely harsh on myself for feeling less than loving toward my world. And I haven't been this way because anything special is happening. Nope, no company, no impending deadlines (deadlines? what are those?), no commitments I've made that I have to talk myself into keeping...

Okay, in hind's sight, that last one probably isn't true. It is a commitment that I've made that's sent me to the edge. I am having the hardest time keeping this commitment and it's one I made to myself, my kids, and, well, to my God.

The commitment I made long before I had children was never to berate them. Never to belittle them. And always to refrain from using my words and my actions to terrify them in such a way that jeopardizes their trust in my love for them and in my belief that they're anything less than perfectly wonderful and a blessing.

Yesterday, well, I think I went beyond breaking that commitment.

The downhill spiral started when I was already frustrated by a-few-days-going lack of energy and lack of sheer desire to do much, if anything, related to my duties as a mother and a housewife. In my mind, I was screaming for a break. My body, however, was dragging me through the motions of daily life, propelled by coffee and other legal drugs. (Hm, maybe if I heeded my own advice from my previous blog I would have asked for help before I got to this point...... seriously, genius at work here, people!)

So I'm already toeing the line between sanity and psychological turmoil by time 10:45 AM rolls in, we've got two minutes to get out the door for a playdate and, well, (no surprise to most of you who know me) I can't find the car keys. Oh, I've found the spare, the grey key without the fancy black pad for opening the car without inserting the key or rolling down the windows before we get to it in order to release some of the hot air that's trapped inside.

But I don't want the grey one. I want the other one - the one with the pad. (Honestly, I have no rational explanation for why other than pure stubbornness because, that, my friends, is something I have plenty of.)

Over the next 15 minutes I search the junk drawer, diaper bag, kitchen counter, diaper bag, kitchen island countertop, diaper bag, pant pockets upstairs (even ones I'm pretty sure I didn't wear driving any time recently), bathroom counters, dresser, nightstand, diaper bag, bathroom downstairs, junk drawer, diaper bag, kitchen counters, top of the entertainment center, diaper bag, pants pockets again, diaper bag again, the car, diaper bag, yes, again, junk drawer - SLAM.

With both my children standing less than two feet from me, I, in complete and overwhelming frustration-turning-to-blinding-rage-turning-to-frantic-"why me?" have slammed the junk drawer shut, full force, on my pinky.

But, OH! You stupid pinky! You can't stop me! At this emotionally chaotic point, I will cut you off if I must to maintain my RIGHT to, at 31 years old, throw an absolute hissy fit in front of my children and not feel guilty about it! (My children do it all the time. I mean, really? Why can't I?!)

The slam of the drawer (not in the least bit muffled by my now squished-up pinky) and my loud and drawn-out groan (trying to muffle a scream) send my one year-old into hysterical tears which in turn sends my four year-old into even more hysterical wails. I yell at her to go to her room. I yell at her to stop crying - she's only doing it because her brother's crying and he's a baby! I yell at him to stop crying - Mommy's frustrated and Mommy has a right to be frustrated!

Now that I've turned my pinky into a throbbing, swelling, purple-ing twig and completely disgusted myself with the words I've just used toward my children, I scream at my daughter to come back downstairs and get in the car, grab my son and put him in his seat, yell at my daughter that I'm frustrated because she never listens to me and she always insists on her way and she doesn't give a shit about her mother!!!

I stop there cause I realize I've just role-played my childhood experiences and the words echo in my ears, sinking like a 10 ton ball into the bottom of my heart.

I buckle everyone and get in the car.

I turn on the car, blast the air conditioning, and just sit there. The escalation has stopped as those last words reverberate in my ears. I don't feel rage anymore. I don't feel guilt. I just feel shock.

What the hell was that? Who was that? Certainly not the mother I had always hoped I'd be. And definitely not the one who made the commitments she made before she ever conceived, hautily sneering at other moms who "lost it" in front of their children.

I don't berate myself. I don't start the inner dialog of "look what a crappy person you are" or "look how miserably you've failed". But I do sternly say to myself: "This is exactly the type of person I didn't want to become. No child deserves to be spoken to or treated in such a manner."

This. Sucks.

I take a deep breath. Shoot, I take about 20. I look at my pinky. It's throbbing, it's hot, and it's about twice the size of and nowhere near the healthy flesh color of my other pinky.

Both my children have calmed down. I take another deep breath and then turn to my daughter. I tell her, matter of factly, "this isn't your fault. Mommy's frustration isn't your responsibility. I lost the car key, got upset looking for it, and smashed my finger in the drawer and hurt myself. None of this is your fault. I should never have yelled like that at you or your brother. This isn't your fault. You are wonderful and I love you. I'm sorry."

My daughter stares at me, then shifts her eyes away, glosses over, and stares off into space. I cut her deep. I used words and rage and tone and actions that terrified her to a point where my naturally open and outgoing little girl has curled into herself. I trampled that security only a mother can give her child.

The first time I held my daughter in my arms, that not-so-tiny eight pound bundle of all my dreams come true, I made a commitment to her to give my all to ensure that every moment of her life was spent in the knowledge of how amazing, beautiful, precious, God-sent, wanted and loved she was. And now trust in the existence of that love was in jeopardy.

How does one recover from that? How does one fix this? My usually chatty daughter is quiet for a few minutes. (Really, that's saying something, cause this girl cannot sit still or be quiet for more than a 30 second period.) Slowly she resumes her normal chattering and questioning.

When we get to our destination I give her a tight hug for as long as she'll let me. But I know that's not enough to erase the sting of my screams. This will take much more than just "I'm sorry." Years in therapy as an adult? Eh, maybe one or two. Hopefully none.

My daughter happily dives into our playdate and toodles around like any other four year-old I know. My Fellow Fabulous Mom instantly asks me if something is the matter. Damn her for being so intuitive and caring! I let out, a little bit in a sing-songy voice, that I'm, oh you know, just a bit overwhelmed, frustrated - you know, the usual. Then I rattle off: "plus I smashed my finger in the junk drawer looking for the car key" at which point I hold up the sodden swollen mess for her to see.

I take a deep breath, sigh, and tell my FFM, "you know, typical daily life stuff"...

As for the other moms - the ones I used to thumb my nose at and say "When I'm a mom, I'll never do that" because, being childless (not to mention young and, unbeknownst to me at the time, incredibly naive and, well, just downright stupid) I obviously knew better than them. I see why those mothers acted the way they did. Cause now I've done it.

But I also see why I said I'd never take those actions. If I was blessed to have them, I wanted to show my children perfect love. Love that screamed with every ounce of it's being that they were and always would be beautiful, incredible, amazing, loveable, and loved. A love that, if yesterday's any indication, I will probably never, ever be able to deliver in the perfect way it should be. A perfect love that I will, nonetheless, die trying to show my children.

"When I'm a mom, I'll never do that." Huh. Bet those other moms said that too.

End note: And the other key? In the diaper bag. First thing I touched when I reached my hand in after we got home. Go fig.

as moms, are we deaf?

I don't mean when it comes to our kids. Certainly we hear them. Even when we're busy stuffing cotton in our ears to try not to hear them for at least a few moments out of the day, we still hear them.

What I mean is: are we deaf when it comes to taking care of ourselves? Ever-sacrificial, we moms seem to turn off the ability to care for ourselves once that womb is opened. (And, for some of us, it happens even before that.) And what is one of the first pieces of advice we get as a new mom or as a not-so-new mom to a newborn? "Take care of yourself." "Make sure you take time to take care of you." And, usually, the words come first unwanted from some old lady at the store. Then, however, the words seep from the lips of people whose thoughts we actually do care about.

What happens next? We take the trip to the baby's first doctor appointments as well as our OB/GYN follow-up appointments and, what? what does that magazine headline read? "10 Simple Ways to Take 5 for You"or, my personal favorite, "How to Take Time for Yourself without the Guilt". Taking time for myself SANS guilt?! Are they insane?! Moms eat the measly scrapings from the bottom of the pot (usually in line after the dog has licked said pot) and we still feel guilt. And I'm supposed to take time for... ME?! Ha!

But that's what all the magazine articles tell you (cause, they're experts, y'know) - add to it that your doctor and your baby's doctor tell you the same thing. (Really, what could they possibly know?!) And then comes the irony that your friends and your siblings give you the same piece of advice, and, oddest of all, so does your mother. Yeah, your mother. You know, the one who never took time for herself? It's an interesting moment when those words of "wisdom" come tumbling from her lips.

"Make time for yourself." "Do something you enjoy." "Be free to baby yourself, too." We hear it and read it all the time but we never heed it.

In conversing with a Fellow Fabulous Mom (D - 4, S - infant) today, we came to the subject of our husbands and their interaction with the children. Fellow Fabulous Mom says, "Yeah, and as soon as Hubby comes home, Daughter asks him to help her with something and he replies 'in a minute, I've gotta get changed outta these clothes.' What?! What is that?! You don't get to do that!"

I have been positioned at the same sideline of this situation more times than I can count. I mean, how dare my Hubby come home and leave his cross neatly leaning against the wall while he nonchalantly takes time to wipe the dust from his feet?! Climb on that cross and sacrifice, boy!

Then, as I'm listening to Fellow Fabulous Mom, it dons on me. What if her Hubby and my Hubby have the right mindset? I mean, the idea of the men being correct is possible, right?

What our Hubbies are exhibiting is the same notion the stewardess comes down the aisle with to specifically instruct us parents after the "if-we-crash-into-the-side-of-a-mountain-your-seat-cushion-turned-floating-device-will-not-save-you" speech. The stewardess stops to tell us: "if the oxygen mask deploys, put the mask on you first and then put on your child's." You know, cause you're the (presumably) more intelligent one of the bunch so you need to be taken care of first.

Put my child's mask on after mine. Huh.

As moms, if the plane's yellow mini-romper room cups deployed, we would skip right over our mask, gasping for air, turning blue, to insure that our child got air first. Obviously, whoever designed these stupid planes and stupid masks doesn't have kids.

Or do those designers know something we don't? And have our husbands learned something we haven't? I'm just kidding, I know that last part's ridiculous.

So what is it exactly that's keeping us moms from putting that oxygen mask on ourselves first? Why are we stuck in this mentality that if we aren't suffering, then it isn't love? This notion that says "I will throw myself in front of a train for you even though it's 50 miles off and you're completely out of harm's way. I will wait here til it hits me just so I can sacrifice for you!"

That's why I'm starting this blog. I've asked this "are we deaf" question too many times. And I've pondered too much on how to create a support group for my Fellow Fabulous Moms to foster a mom-gets-the-oxygen-mask-first mentality and ditch the get-off-the-cross-Jesus, I-need-to-use-it attitude.

And that's why you've been invited or found yourself here. Because you, too, need to hear that it's okay to put the mask on first and then attend to the children. It's okay to heed those words screaming from the magazine cover and from our double-messaged friends and family.

I know I need to hear it. And, by typing it, I'm hoping I will.

Please join me by adding your wisdom to the comments section so we can begin this "support group". Now, who wants to sing Kum-By-Ah? We can count it as "me" time!