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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Initiating peace talks

This winter, I gained some weight.

 I can't tell you how difficult that sentence was to write. But it's true.  Last year, I lost a bunch of weight, and this year I have put it alllll back on. Plus some.  And there are a lot of reasons for that.  One of the main ones is that this winter was really, really really hard.  My mental and my physical health suffered.  I wasn't able to care for myself the way I would have liked, and honestly, most of my energy was spent just getting us all through.  It's not an exaggeration when I say that I needed to focus my energy on just staying alive.

And for months now, I have been hating myself for it.  Just hating myself.  Feeling disgusted with my body, feeling like I have failed, like I am worthless and unattractive and just plain ugly.

And you know what?  I have been ugly.  It's ugly to treat anyone, especially myself, that way.  My inner dialogue has been comprised almost entirely of things I would never, in a million years, say or think about another person.  Ugly.

And I am done.  Just done.  As a feminist, I'm frankly embarrassed by how much I've let my body issues determine my self-worth.  And as a human, I am exhausted and demoralized from living this way.  In what other setting would it be okay to hate something until it's perfect?

I am initiating peace talks with my own body.

I am tired of being at war with myself, of fighting and hating and criticizing myself.  I am working toward accepting myself, even loving myself, as I am.  Not some possible future self, but my present, imperfect, fat self.

And it's hard.  It's really hard not to slip back into those habits of self-loathing.  But I am working every day on it.  And, in the words of the inimitable Fred Rogers, "Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now."  And striving to accept myself is where I'm at right now.

I'll leave you with two quotes from Eat Pray Love, which I have been re-reading again.  This is the passage in the book that most speaks to me, that I probably need to read and re-read weekly, at least. 
"You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That's the only thing you should be trying to control."
"I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore..... I pictured the harbor of my mind - a little beat-up, perhaps, a little storm-worn, but well situated and with a nice depth.  The harbor of my mind is an open bay, the only access to the island of my Self...You may not come here anymore with your hard and abusive thoughts, with your plague ships of thoughts, with your warships of thoughts - all these will be turned away.  Likewise, any thoughts that are filled with angry or starving exiles, with malcontents and pamphleteers, mutineers and violent assassins, desperate prostitutes, pumps, and seditious stowaways - you may not come here anymore, either.  Cannibalistic thoughts, for obvious reasons, will no longer be received. Even missionaries will be screened carefully, for sincerity.  This is a peaceful harbor, the entryway to a fine and proud island that is only now beginning to cultivate tranquility.  If You can abide by these new laws, my dear thoughts, then you are welcome in my mind - otherwise, I shall turn you all back toward the sea from whence you came.
This is my mission, and it will never end."

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Chore chart

So this past week was school vacation.  After several days of breaking up fights, throwing up (I had a nasty stomach bug), and listening to the kids whine and complain about everything I did, I was fed up.  I was tired of being whined at for doing nice things for my kids, and tired of trying to do everything around the house while they didn't help.  So I decided I needed to get some help around the house, namely from the kids.  I took to Pinterest to find a useful chore chart that would help me and the kids get organized.

There are a ton of chore charts on Pinterest, but I had some requirements: 1. I don't want to pay my kids to do chores (at least not their daily chores). 2: I needed it to look nice and be functional. 3. I needed to be able to make it out of materials I already had on hand, since we are in a major budget crunch.

Which meant that all the cute magnetic charts with custom, homemade magnets were out.  Unfortunately.  But I settled on one that I really like so far, and it is changing my world.  This morning, we had a conflict-free send-off to school, which NEVER happens at our house.  The boys got dressed without a fuss (also NEVER happens), and they have been helping keep the house clean by doing chores after dinner every night.  There is some grumbling, which is to be expected, but they are doing what they are supposed to do.

I only wish I had done this sooner: the boys seem much happier, and here is why I think that is: they are in charge.  I think it gives them a sense of agency in their world.  They feel grown-up and responsible, and I think it feels good to them.  Last night, as Owen was sweeping the kitchen floor, he started telling us that we need to be appreciative of him because he doesn't HAVE to do all this stuff.  And while my first instinct is to say, "you bet your ass you do, mister! And also: don't steal my line.", I was able to say, "You know, buddy, I do appreciate this.  It is so super helpful of you do help out this way."

So here's the system I came up with:

I made this out of spare fabric I had laying around, hot glued together with ribbon trim.  I dipped the clothespins in paint (color coded: blue for Jonah, yellow for Emmett, and green for Owen) and wrote chores on each one.  Every day, all the clothespins start out on the left side with the green ribbon, and as they complete each chore they move the clip to the right-hand side.  Emmett just kind of plays with his, but Owen and Jonah seem to get a great deal of satisfaction from moving the clothespins from one side to the other as they complete their jobs.  I guess that shouldn't surprise me; they come by it honestly, since I am the type of person who will put already-completed tasks on my to-do list just for the satisfaction of crossing them off.
Here are the things I put on the clothespins:
-get dressed
-make bed
-backpack (pack your backpack for school)
-clear dishes (they get to move this one after they have cleared their dishes from all 3 meals)
-pick up toys
-sweep kitchen (one does it after lunch and one does it after dinner)
-pick up toys (evening pick up at the end of the day)
-Read (they need to have some reading time during the day)
-lay out clothes before bed, for the next day)
-brush teeth
-Pick me

So most of these are either self-care or cleaning up after themselves.  Which is good, but I also wanted them to take some responsibility for the rest of the house, so I created a 'pick me!" jar that has popsicle sticks in it, each with a chore written on it.  Here are the chores in the jar:
-wash kitchen table
-wipe down kitchen counters
-wash bathroom counter and sink
-scrub walls behind high chair
-wipe kitchen baseboards
-wipe bathroom baseboards
-wipe down edge of bathtub (this is perpetually dusty and grimy at our house and no, I don't know why)
-wash the floor around the toilet (it feels appropriate to make the boys do this one, since they are the main reason it always smells like pee in our bathroom)

They are all relatively quick chores, but some of them I have a really hard time getting to on a regular basis.  Each day, the boys pick a popsicle stick after dinner and do the chore on it, in addition to their others.

I also made one more jar: money-makers.  All of the previous chores are just ones that they need to do, and we have had many talks about how families help each other out, and being part of a family means taking care of our space.  But if they want to earn some money (there is a Lego set they are saving up for), they have the option of taking a popsicle stick from the 'money maker' jar.  Each stick has on it a chore and a price.

So it's not perfect, but it really is saving me a lot of nagging, because it's just hanging in the corner of our living room for the kids to see.  So far, so good.  I only hope we are able to keep the momentum going!

Do you have a system for chores in your house?  I would love to hear what others are doing!

Monday, February 24, 2014

So far

It's Monday of school vacation week.  I know; everyone else in New England had it last week, but New Hampshire has to be special.  I am starting my week with a big pile of paperwork that has to be done by Friday, including a birth-related recertification and a self-evaluation for work (I am rating myself really really high on everything because a) I like to think I am awesome and b) I really need a raise. Badly.)  But I am also starting my week with a quiet cup of coffee and some reflection while the kids play happily (for the moment). 

I have to say that so far, 2014 has not lived up to my hopes for it.  We are not even two months in and already I've spent a full month trying to get over an antibiotic resistant strep infection, had a long-lasting allergic reaction to the one antibiotic that worked, had our bank account hacked into, had to start a very restrictive anti-imflammatory diet because after so many antibiotics and illnesses and poor self-care, my immune system was basically trying to kill me.  I also have an infection in my finger that sounds like a small thing, but I assure you that it is searingly painful, though at least not dangerous.  It feels lately like the hits just keep coming.  Add to that all of the snow and cold and cancelled and made-up classes, the cabin fever and cooped-up kids who are yelling and fighting and running through our tiny house, and you have a recipe for bad feelings.  

I took a step I've never taken before, and this winter I reached out for some serious help. Of the pharmaceutical variety.  I've wrestled with depression for years now, and always felt like I could manage it with diet, exercise, self-care, phototherapy, or some other means.  But not this year.  After a month solid of feeling horrible, being in pain, and (most importantly) not being able to sleep because my tonsils were so huge they blocked my airway when I laid down, I was in a very bad place.  Thankfully, I was able to reach out for some help.  A coworker covered for me so I could leave work early to have an emergency appointment with my therapist, who immediately knew something was wrong when I called.  I never call.  My doctor was able to sit down with me and talk about what some of the contributing factors might be, and I am so thankful to have a doctor who actually is familiar with my chart and my family, and who told me point-blank that if I didn't get some sleep and start taking my thryoid meds, nothing was going to get better.  And who also understood that I was reluctant to go straight for the zoloft and was willing to explore some other options with the caveat that if things didn't get better pretty quickly, we were going that route.  

And thankfully, my husband was there to step up as much as he was able in his limited time at home.  After my last post about building a local safety net and appreciating the one I already have, this was a pretty damn concrete illustration of how the safety net works.  And things have been getting better, despite the fact that the hits keep coming.  I stumbled, and I fell hard, and then people were there to help me back up.  I think that maybe now I'm up and I'm walking, just maybe not as fast or as efficiently as I normally do.  

Things are hard.  This winter is hard.  And it's not looking likely that things will ease up in the foreseeable future.  But I am trying to care for myself the way I would care for a sick friend, and that's the part I really wanted to share. 

As mamas, we are so hard on ourselves.  I feel, so often, like I am doing everything wrong and I have messed up my kids forever.  Like all their shortcomings and difficulties are somehow my fault or my responsibility.  The stakes feel very high with all of this parenting stuff.  In the space of 3 minutes with your kids, you can have both a breathtaking victory and a devastating setback.  And as women, our self-talk is often atrocious.  I say things to myself that are so horrible, I would never say them to another human being.  I have so much compassion and understanding for others, particularly those in a difficult situation, but i direct almost none of that toward myself. 

I am on a mission to change that.  It's exhausting to monitor my internal dialogue so closely, to make the effort to speak to myself as I would speak to a friend.  But thankfully, I have good people to model after, good friends who check in on me by phone and by facebook and email.  And I have a small amount of energy that I am directing toward building a local support network as well.  So while at this point, I will not (even remotely) say "bring it on", I will say that I think I can handle what I've got.  So maybe, universe, just keep it right here for now?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Running away

For Christmas this year, I only wanted one thing: a vacation.  When I told my husband this, he got all nervous and said something like, "babe, I really wish we had the money to get plane tickets, but..."
"No", I said, "from you guys."
What I really need right now is a break from my kids.  I love them dearly.  So much, seriously, so much, but I am burned out.  I have caregiver burnout.  That is a thing, you know.

I have been reading a lot of great blog posts lately, like this one from Momastery about how important it is to be needed, but also to need others.  And this one, from a dear friend whose thoughts about parenting and journalism are always smart and caring and well-thought out.  And let's face it: there are a lot of really good parenting blogs out there, all touting the joys and the trials of parenthood.  This isn't one of them.  Not today.

Because there are a lot of joys in this life, and I really want to think like Josh does, that I can sleep when I'm dead.  I fully understand how fortunate I am.  But what happens at burnout point?
What happens when you are lucky enough to have a partner who is a completely awesome co-parent but who also works about a million hours a week?
What about when you have been doing this parenting thing with not very much help or rest for a very long time?
What happens when you are really sick and you need to lean on someone else and your partner does his best but (see above about the million hours a week)?
And what about when you have so many amazing women and mom friends but they are scattered all over the country and you don't really have any family (or let's face it, friends) nearby?

I think, at that point, it's okay to be burned out.  It's okay to ask for help, and it's okay to feel sad if you can't get the help you need.  And it's okay to need a vacation.  It's even okay to run away from home for just a little bit.

So this weekend, hubby will be home with the kids on his own, and I will be running away from home for a couple of days.  I am heading to a friend's house (one who doesn't have kids!), and we will be dining out like real adults in real clothes (not yoga pants!).  I will be drinking wine and sleeping through the night, and reading a novel.  I am bringing a crochet project, and a little gift I bought myself today: a pack of really nice colored pencils and a mandala coloring book.  My lovely friend has to work half of the weekend, but she has so kindly offered to let me stay at her house with no one bothering me for the whole weekend.

I want to be rested.  At this point, it's kind of an emergency-need kind of thing.  And then maybe, by the end of the weekend, I'll be ready to come back with a smile on my face and feel excited about parenting again.

Maybe I'll be ready to see that I am surrounded by amazing local mamas if I only had the time to hang out with them.  And maybe I'll feel less sick after some rest.  Maybe after a couple of days of rest and peace, I'll be ready to be that patient, thoughtful mama I would like to be.  And maybe I'll be ready to see that precisely at the moment I am losing my mind and bemoaning the fact that my village is so spread out, people in my village are stepping up for me to lean on.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

In which I get philosophical about bellybuttons

This morning, I took E in the shower with me to give him a good steam, since we were both congested  and half-frozen from getting the two big kids off to school in this ridiculous weather (side note: anytime they start busting out the phrase 'polar vortex' in the forecast, you can just count me out.  We need legislation against this kind of weather.)   And as I was washing my hair, watching my sturdy little person jump in the water and fill up any cup he could find only to dump it out again a moment later, I just had to scoop him up and kiss his little belly.  This kid has the best, belly-est belly laugh of any toddler I've ever met and if you really get him going, he starts squealing in delight.  It's like crack; I just can't get enough of it.  And as I was kissing his little round toddler belly, I just had to notice his bellybutton.

Now, the bellybutton gets made fun of a lot.  And to be fair, it's kind of a ridiculous word.  I much prefer the term navel, which is related to its being the hub or center of the body.  Apparently, nave is a perfectly serviceable term for the hub or center of a wheel.  And geographically, it's pretty accurate; it's more or less in the center of the body, and if you were to turn cartwheels, it would be more or less the hub of those cartwheels.

But it's more than that.  As I was kissing that giggly little toddler belly, I had the thought that you and I used to be connected here.  This was the place where my body connected to yours, nourished and protected your body while it grew within my own.  And I thought about my own navel, and how it had connected me to my own mother when I was an unborn baby.  

It made me really think about all of the navels that I come in contact with on a daily basis in my work.  There are the ones that are stretched to capacity by the tiny person they are barely holding in, perhaps even popping out like a compass to steer the mother straight ahead, toward her meeting with her unborn baby.  

And the brand-new ones, too.  The ones that are a freshly made wound, the newborn body only moments or hours from the time when it was connected to a mother.  I teach new parents how to care for that wound, how to be careful with it when changing a diaper or dressing a squirmy new babe.  I talk to the babies and tell them what good parents they have, how lucky they are to have caregivers who are so tender and tentative about their raw, new navel.  

And while the humble bellybutton doesn't get much credit, it's partially responsible for helping the human race survive.  In many ways, it is the hub, the center, of our humanity; it is the place where we were once connected, in a real and physical way, to another human being.  In a way that we will never be again, unless we happen to grow another human within our own bodies.  I guess that moment in the shower this morning made me think of all the navels, back down the line, mother to grandmother to great grandmother and so on, back to the very beginning.  In a very tangible way, we are connected to the women who came before us, who gave us life.*

I feel so blessed to be in a line of work where I support that hub of connection between mothers and babies, where I encourage caregivers and parents alike not to rush the severing of that connection at birth.  It seems a shame to refer to something so sacred and important as a 'cord stump' or even a 'bellybutton'.  I never want to become so burned out in my work that I lose the ability to find a moment of wonder and awe over something so commonplace as a navel.

So yes, I plan to continue kissing that adorable toddler bellybutton, and the two school-age ones for as long as they will allow it, because..... well, just because I can.  And because it makes them laugh.  And also because I will always remember the days spent waiting for my navel to pop out of my huge, pregnant belly (it never did), those days where I knew the person (or people!) inside so intimately but had no idea what they looked like and what their personalities were.  When they were connected to me at their very center.

*I can't find a way to fit adoptive mothers into my philosophizing about bellybuttons, but I do recognize that there are other ways to give and nourish life than by carrying a baby.  There are so, so many mothers out there who nourish life in other ways.  I'm just navel-gazing here.**

**I'm sorry.  I realize that pun was awful.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

These days

There are so many threads winding around in my head these days, things that I want to write about but when I try to, they just become half-formed blog posts that don't really get finished.  It doesn't help that I have been feeling frenetic and pressed for time and sleep-deprived  for the past 6 weeks.  

So I'm going to write about right now, this moment.  I feel cautiously optimistic.  This summer was hard, for lots of reasons that I don't need to get into now, and the past 6 weeks especially so.  I realized on Friday after I had a major meltdown that I need two things: 1. sleep, and 2. exercise. Both for my mental health and my physical health, as I've put on more  weight than I care to admit over the summer. And I realized that I have been waiting and waiting for someone else to give me a break so I can get those two things.  And then, of course, I realized that that is crazy.   So I have decided that I am the captain of my own destiny, and I am putting that into action as of this morning.  Last night when I was tired, instead of putzing around on the internets or trying to get stuff done while the kids were sleeping, I went to bed.  And it felt sooooo goooooood.  This morning, waking up was not quite the hideous transition that it has been.  And I busted my butt to get myself and the kids ready all at the same time so I could go for a walk/jog this morning, even though it was raining.  So after the big kids got on the bus, Baby Bean and I took the jog stroller down to the bike trail and walked/jogged for a half hour or so.  It's not a huge workout, but it feels like a good place to start.  I ate a healthy breakfast, and I felt so good that when Emmett indicated that he wanted to wander around outside, I felt totally inclined to follow his lead.

So we went and explored our neighborhood, and he thought that the fact that one of our neighbors uses his backyard as a junkyard was completely amazeballs.  I was less impressed, but still willing to check it out and count all the abandonded tires and machinery.  And it was lovely, just wandering around together in the rain, exploring and explaining.  

Now, you need to know that E is not a cuddler.  He is fiercely independent and normally he refuses to hold my hand under any circumstances because that's for babies.  And he is a big person, no matter what you say.  So even though I have been thinking and writing a lot lately about how parenting is hard work and it can be relentless and exhausting, it was nice to have it be mellow and wonderful for a moment.  And then E reached his little hand up to grab mine, and held on to it for a long while.  And it was like he had reached his tiny, clammy little hand directly into my chest and grabbed on to my heart.  And I thought, "oh, this.  This is what we live for as parents." These little moments that make your heart blossom, that get you out of the day-to-day mindlessness of routine, that make you remember why you ever thought it would be a good idea to create tiny, helpless people of your own to raise. 

And it just kept getting better.  Allow me to show you:
Emmett sign language for "can I drive the car now?"

"Let's go over there and get the wagon!"

And then I actually died from the cute.  And then I asked him what he wanted to do next.  His answer was immediate:
"I want to have naked time!"

So we went inside and the spell was broken.  But today feels pretty much perfect so far. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

So. This happened.

This week has been very, very hard.  So hard, in fact, that sending the kids to school and melting into a big puddle of first-day tears was actually a bright spot.  Most of this week's suckiness came from straight-up sleep deprivation and bad scheduling, so at least I know there is an end in sight.  Thank goodness.  The grand finale of the week was this afternoon's commute home, which took almost an hour and a half instead of 35 minutes.  Awesome.  Even awesomer?  Getting rear-ended in heavy traffic by a utility truck.  Luckily, we were going approximately one mile per hour, so everyone is fine and my bumper only has a teeny tiny little scratch in it.  But I couldn't even muster up the energy to be angry about it.  It was probably the most amiable fender-bender discussion ever, because after this week I seriously just couldn't deal.  Oh well.  Now the week is over, and the long weekend at my parent's house on the Cape begins.  Sigh of relief.

But I also have to share the most ridiculous and hilarious moment of the week, which happened as I was filling up my car with gas on the way to work.

Old dude at the next pump: Hey, how do you like your little box?
Me: ?!?!?!?!?!  (thinking: ZOMFG WHAT THE HELL IS THIS DUDE ASKING ME?!)

It took me several seconds to realize that I drive a smallish square vehicle and THAT is what he was asking me about.

Me: Oh... uh, it's great. I really like it; it's a five speed and very zippy.  (I am trying hard to recover at this point)
Old dude: Oh, that's great.  I love those little boxes.  My wife thinks it's strange, but I just think they're great.  They look like a lot of fun.

Mercifully, at this point, my gas tank was full and I could wish him a good day before driving away in my little box and laughing so hard I had tears rolling down my face.  

This is what happens when you work in the women's health field, I guess.