Category Archives: Working Mom

The Kids Are Alright. . . I Just Have a Lot of Feelings

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It has been a few since I posted.  Days?  Weeks?  Months?  Who know?  I lost track.

I guess the typical myriad of reasons is to blame.  Life is busy.  I’m a mom.  I work.  You can only post so many times about the frustrations of your messy house and kids’ behavior in the summer before you start to hate the sound of your own voice.  Blah, blah, blah.

There was something else. . .

My last post was about depression and frustration with life as a mom trying to balance work and parenting and the ongoing grief of losing a close friend.  I was responding to one of the WordPress daily prompts, and I allowed myself to get pretty far out with my metaphors.  I do that sometimes.  It’s part of my process as a writer, and it also helps me deal with my feelings.

Cuz you guys, I have a lot of feelings.

Like, all the feelings.  All of them.  And lots of all of the feelings.

It’s just how I live.  And it’s why I write.

Anyhoo, a very well-meaning reader commented that she felt bad for my kids because I was so depressed and maybe it was hard for them.  She went on to make a bunch of heart felt suggestions about maybe I should join a group or try feeling better, etc.

I get where she was coming from, and I genuinely appreciated her kindness and concern.

But there was another part of me that felt incredibly vulnerable and frightened.  Like, do people think I’m crazy?  Do people think I’m a bad mom?  Am I a bad mom?  Am I screwing up my kids?  

For a few hours I contemplated taking the post down, hiding it in the stack of posts that feel too raw, real, and close to share with the general public.

But then I pulled the brake on the run away mine cart in twisty recesses of my brain.

No.  I’m not a bad mom.

And my kids are fine.

My kids don’t see me as depressed or damaged or screwed up.  My kids see me as a human with human emotions.  My kids see me as a person with big feels who channels those feels into poetry and art and silliness around the house.

Life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns, and I do not think we should pretend it is for our children.  That is not reality and it doesn’t prepare or teach kids for what they need to deal with the complexities of the world in which we live, or their own emotional landscapes.

This is not to say that children who live with caretakers with severe and persistent mental health issues don’t suffer profound consequences if the adult does not seek help.  That situation is no joke, and I am not writing to minimize it.  But that situation is not me or mine.

I’ve cried in front of my kids.  I’ve yelled and screamed in front of my kids.  I’ve slammed a door once or twice.  I admit I’m not perfect.  But I’ve also taken loads of deep breaths.  I’ve talked about my feelings.  I’ve taken space and counted to ten.  I’ve modeled healthy coping skills for them right along with being my own human self.

Am I screwing up my kids?  Yes.  Of course I am.  We all screw up our kids in one way or another.  And if you think you don’t, then you are living among the rainbows and unicorns and more power to you.

So I left the post up, because here is the other thing:

As moms with mental health issues and needs, we absolutely have to have safe and open space to address these topics.  For me, my blog is my space.  I’ve had decades of therapy and it has helped.  I know the things and the skills.  At this point in my life, writing is the way I process and what I need to do to take care of myself.

Feeling judged and crazy because we are anxious or depressed is a huge barrier for women in admitting and addressing their needs for support and treatment.  Too long have we been told we are hysterical and maligned for simply feeling the pressure of this impossible life.

And oh my goodness, it really is impossible.  Being a mom, let alone a working mom, is the hardest thing I can imagine.  Add into that the facets of anxiety or depression and you have something so real.

So, despite my fear and vulnerability, I left the post up.  I’m no heroine, but if my words resonated with even one other mom, then I feel like it was worth it to put myself out there.

Look.  If you had a cold or a toothache, it would be excruciating to deal with life, to work, to mom, to cook and clean and do all the things you have to do to be responsible.  But would you feel ashamed to say, “Whoa, it’s really difficult to mom and adult today because of this cold?”  Probably not.

I don’t really think it should be any different with anxiety and depression.  Our feelings can get big and become sort of like emotional toothaches.  That isn’t something to feel shame about.

But I did.  And I do.  And part of me still wants to take that post down so that you’ll all think I have my shit together and that I’m a super great mom and that I’m doing okay.

Truth is, I am a super great mom and I’m doing okay.  And my kids are okay.  No need to worry about my kids.  We are all going to make it.

What are your thoughts?  What are your struggles?  I’d love to hear from you!  

Mother’s Day, Depression, and Chosing Your Own Adventure 

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Mother’s Day.

What a fucking crock of shit.  

Do you remember those “Chose Your Own Adventure” books from when we were in fourth or fifth grade?

They were these young reader books where you’d get to the end of a chapter and if you wanted to take the character to a cave to fight a dragon it would tell you to flip to a certain page, and if you wanted the character to get in a boat and sail off someplace, you’d be instructed to go to a different page.

As I got in the shower, and reflected on Mother’s Day, I  thought how motherhood is sort of like a Chose Your Own Adventure book.

I thought this because I thought “Mother’s Day; what a fucking crock of shit.”

And then the guilty little people pleaser in me poked me in the ribs and said meekly, “But you should be so grateful!  It really wasn’t all bad!  Why don’t you just chose to think it was nice?”

It’s true.  Overall it was a nice day.  I felt loved and cared for, managed to please my own mother and my mother in law (nailed it!), and had good laughs among family.  My children made me gifts and delighted me by creating beautiful cards for their grandmothers.

I got sweet, supportive texts from dear friends.  I felt recognized by my husband who pulled out all the stops with four bottles of incredible wine, flowers, and a balloon.  A balloon you guys!  I got a freaking balloon!!  I mean, how does life get any better than that?

If you want your character to chose gratitude and happiness, and to enjoy and be thankful for what she has, please turn to page 42 where she lives happily after.  

Learning to chose the way you think about things is an important step in recovery from anxiety and depression.  I know this as both a mental health professional, and as someone who has experienced anxiety and depression.  When we are able to recognize our negative thoughts and rework them into something more positive and helpful, it often creates a more positive and helpful feeling space in us.

And when we feel better, we behave better.  We get along better with our spouses and friends.  We have more energy for negotiating with the little people in our lives.

So, as I lathered my hair with amazing-smelling coconut shampoo, I tried out some different thoughts about Mother’s Day and I wondered why my initial impulse was to be so negative about it.

Why am I always so negative anyway?  I must really suck at life.  I’m probably going to be rejected by all my friends and family because I’m such a Debbie Downer.  Why can’t I ever just be joyful and super positive about stuff?  What the hell is wrong with me?  Oh.  My.  Gee.

It’s cuz I’m depressed you guys.  That’s why.

I have been for a while.  I’ve been ignoring it and working around the super high anxiety that makes me feel like I’m crawling out of my skin one moment and paralyzed with fear the next.  I’ve been isolating and only talking to a few people in my life.  I’ve had minimal energy to be with friends and family.  

I’ve written almost nothing in the past few months because I’ve had so little energy and almost no joy.

Some of it, I suppose, is chemical- my genetic lot in life.  

A lot of it is situational.

Work has been super stressful for me.  I’m burnt out and experiencing a fairly intense compassion fatigue which doesn’t leave me with much of an empathy cushion for family or social life.

My son’s behavioral issues have been amped up lately and this creates exhaustion and a keen sense of failure as a parent which plays into my depression like a lyrical melody.

I’m also preparing for my daughter to graduate from preschool.  While this is a joyful and exciting time and we are so proud, it also brings into focus a new era for which I am simply not feeling prepared.

Then there is preparing for the summer.  As a working mom, arranging all the moving parts of summer camps, transportation, child care, etc. is hugely nerve wracking for me.  Not to mention a drain on our finances.

Oh, also my mentally ill brother has gone missing again which never fails to throw my family into emotional upheaval.

I’m not sleeping well, so I’m perpetually tired.  My body hurts.  About 67% of the time I’m too stressed to eat so my blood sugar is wonky and I’m grouchy.

And because I’m already feeling emotionally fragile, every other little thing that goes wrong sets me off like a firecracker.

It’s hard for me to admit this.  I actually hate the sound of my own voice in my head as I peck it all out into this post.

It’s hard for me to admit my negative thoughts about Mother’s Day when I should just be fucking grateful.

But you guys, it’s all so hard.  It’s all just so fucking hard.

No one ever told me it would be this hard.  Or maybe they did. . .  maybe somewhere in my memory there is a shadowy recollection of my own mother’s bedraggled face dragging herself in at the end of a working day and trying to get dinner on the table.  Maybe she did try and tell me.  But let’s be honest, even if someone had told me, I would not have believed them, because if any of us believed such a thing we would never procreate.  Our species depends on the very suspension of that disbelief.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it is all well and good to chose your thoughts and mood and destiny.  It’s great.  I respect it.

But sometimes the adventures of motherhood chose us and flip us into a cave where it is dark and dank and unpleasant.  When you’re sitting there face to face with the dragon of your depression and your heart is thumping away at a resting rate of 150 beats per minute, it is really hard to have a cohesive thought, let alone a positive one of your own choosing. 

If your character looks up at the dragon and says, “Hey there, guy.  What’s up?” go to page 74 where you will work on acknowledging the shit out of your self worth even on your shittiest day and then eat a taco.  

Yeah.  This isn’t my character’s first trip to the cave.  So I know the least helpful (albeit most tempting) thing to do is to put myself down for being depressed.

I also know that probably the first thing I need to do is look up at that dopey dragon and acknowledge he’s there, lurking and looming like he wants to devour me.  He’s scared of eye contact and he gets a little smaller every time I call him by his name.

It’s all hard, guys, and sometimes holidays can highlight what feels like flaws and make things seem really raw and painful. Part of healing starts with choosing to make room for all those feelings rather than shaming myself for feeling them. 

Climbing Mt. Motherhood– My Hillary Step

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A view of Mt. Everest, taken without permission from the inter webs…  didn’t look copywriten and there was no artist name…  so if this is your photo, please don’t sue.  xo!

The Hillary Step is a 40-foot wall of rock and ice at the top of Mt. Everest.  It lies in the “death zone,” the altitude above which there is not enough oxygen to sustain human life for more than a day or two.  By the time most climbers get to this point on Earth’s tallest mountain, their brains and bodies are starved for oxygen, making every step a burden.  Hypoxia can cause climbers to hallucinate, opening the door to danger, disaster, and death.

Or so I have read.

For the record, I have never been to Everest.  Nor do I climb mountains.  Ice, snow, and heights are so not my thing.  But over the past decade, I have become obsessed with stories of mountaineering, and read a dozen books on Himalayan expeditions.

What strength and hubris do climbers possess to scale a 29,000 foot mountain?  How do men and women leave their cozy homes and beloved families to put their lives into risk of dismemberment and death?  The tales of survival and rescue are grizzly, but also spellbinding and suspenseful.

I am also fascinated by the Sherpa.  This Buddhist folk has a rich and mystical culture. Without their hearty endurance for high altitude while carrying huge loads of gear and supplies, ascent of Everest would be impossible.

These stories take me out of my element to an exotic locale where I will most likely never travel.

At least not physically.

Mentally and emotionally, I think of Thursdays as my Hillary Step- my last big push before the summit of Friday, and the descent into the base camp of the weekend, where I can breathe a little easier.

Thursdays are my long day.  I kiss the kids good bye and do not see them for 11 hours.  By the time I get home, around 7:30 pm, the children are exhausted.  Both they and my husband are grumpy.  I am hungry and tired myself, but set that aside to help finish homework, nurse, read stories, and kiss good night.

I wonder what David Breashears, acclaimed mountaineer, film maker, and author of some my favorite Everest books, would say about me comparing my life as a working mom to scaling an 8,000 meter mountain?  No doubt, he would call me an “Armchair Alpinist,” or something of the like, with a haughty snort.  (Mr. Breashears, by the way, if you have googled yourself and hit on my blog, I think you are sexy as all hell and would love to shake your hand, even if you are snorting haughtily at me!)

This much I understand:  There is monumental mindfulness in mountaineering.

Climbers are totally in the present moment.  A climber puts his or her life, and the lives of anyone else on the mountain, at risk if they are not completely aware of their breath, body, and surrounding at every moment.  A misstep could trigger an avalanche or send them plummeting thousands of feet to their death.

My office is plastered with calendar pictures of Hawaii.  I have trained my brain to respond to a quick glance of these pictures of surf and palm trees with a little endorphin boost, to help me through stressful times.  Hawaii is my “happy place,” without a doubt.

But sometimes, I close my eyes and imagine myself clinging to a blue wall of ice and snow.  There is peace, silence but for the sound of my breath, raspy in my oxygen mask.  I hold on and calculate where next to plunge my axe, place my crampon.  I do so, with great deliberation, and then slide my carabiner up the fixed-rope, open my eyes, and move on to my next task.  (Yes, Mr. Breashears, in my imagination, I do climb with bottled oxygen and fixed-ropes. Mock away.)

So, no, people do not die if I happen to screw up at my job or in my home.  The only avalanche in social work is of paperwork, and at home the only thing I have resembling a crevasse is my never-ending pile of laundry.  But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t equally important for me to be mindful of each and every step.

From what I understand, there is euphoria at the top of the mountain, and joy in the art of climbing.  But this is not to say that every moment on the mountain is a joy. I’ve never read any climber write that they relished a bivouac at 27,000 feet with 100 mile per hour winds whipping around their tent, sleepless in minus 30 degree temps.

If that isn’t analogous to my journey as a parent, then I don’t know what is.

Originally posted on Momaste 1/21/13.  Sharing again at this time as a Throwback Thursday post because it just seems particularly applicable.  Thanks for reading, and I always love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!  xoxo.

Chocolate Babka

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Eating chocolate babka
over the sink with my fingers,
the day violated me,
pinched my every nerve raw
with the constant need of me
to be all things
to all people.
It doesn’t matter that
it is all in my head.
I yell at my daughter to go to bed,
and stain the dish towel
when I wipe the chocolate
and cinnamon pastry from my hands.

See You in September?

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Hey Guys,

How’s your summer going so far?  What’s life like for you?  Do things change a lot for you in the summer?  Does the change in summer routine affect your blogging/writing habits?

Life has been a flurry of activity lately.

Getting the kids ready for camps and transitioning out of the school routine into the summer mode.

Making potato salads and picking strawberries for strawberry buckles.

Optimizing time out and about in the pleasant weather.

Celebrating my 42nd birthday.

I honestly do not know when I would have the chance to sit down and actually write a thoughtful blog post.  Someone always needs something–  a fresh application of sunscreen, or bottle of water, or help getting into/out of a bathing suit–  and as soon as I sit down I have to get back up, or I feel guilty for not spending all that glorious time with the fam.

Then at night I am just to tired to construct anything, so I climb into bed and watch tv until I fall asleep.

Even now, I am running late for work, sitting here with wet hair and a dog who is anxiously trotting around me because she needs to go out.

I’ve coughed up a couple poems lately because it is what I’ve felt moved and inspired to do.    But also because it is what time would allow.

There is this other interesting thing happening. . .  I don’t feel the same urgency to write as I did when Emily was a newborn and Jack was four.  It’s like I’ve gotten to this spot where I feel like I know the kids for the moment and things are going okay.

Don’t get me wrong.  Life is still super stressful and I’m still juggling way too many balls for my comfort and feeling like a lunatic about 87 percent of the time.

But it’s like I’ve been here and done this and have run out of desperate things to post.

It’s like I would just be writing the same post about how stressful it is to be a working mom to two very strong willed and passionate children.  (Wonder where they got those obstreperous qualities anyway. . .)

I’m sure this will change and life will present me with a bunch of new stuff. . .  but I’m kind of bored with writing about how fucking relentless motherhood is and I just want to kind of sit in the pocket of quiet that my mind is offering me at the moment.

So, while there may be a few poems or photos this summer, I think I am going to cut myself some slack and think about being in the moment as opposed to writing down every moment.  I might also think about some new ways to retool Momaste, because growth and change happens.

Yes it does.

Thanks for being here with me on this journey.  You will never have any idea how much it has meant for me to have your compassionate witness.

So, I’ll see ya in September, or sooner, or later, or you know, whatever.

xoxoxo,

 

Me.

When Mama Isn’t Happy, Nobody Is Happy

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Kwan Yin with a baby

I’m stressed.

I got home late from work after a cluster fuck of a day.

Sorry I said the eff word, but there was no other way around it.

My last client had some complex and very dangerous stuff going on, and it would not have been ethical even in the best of times to say, “Gee I’m sorry but I need to get home to my own family now.  Good luck with everything you are going through.”

Like, I could have been sued for that shit.  And people could have been in serious danger.  Like life or death kind of stuff.

Sometimes it is really hard to have to put other families before my own.

It is especially hard at 5:25 pm when I was supposed to be home already and am stuck at work trying to convince someone that they actually want to make a safe choice.  And because of the nature of my work, I can’t really tell you any more than that.

So that stresses me out too.

Because I then get home and can’t really talk to anyone about what just happened and why I’m late.  Because ethics.  Always with these ethics.

I thought I had planned a super sweet dinner for the family with a rotisserie chicken and potatoes and stuffing and all that shit.

Sorry I said the ess word.  But there was even a vegetable, even though it was smothered in a cheese sauce.  And I had visions of eating ice cream on the porch after.

One big happy family.

All I really wanted was to sit down and have dinner together as a family, but apparently this is an unrealistic expectation.

My son refused to come out of his room because he just learned he has five weeks where he will be attending summer camp this summer instead of being on an eternal weekend for 10 weeks.

And my daughter has pronounced what a “bad mama” I am because I am already making three different meals tonight (leftover mac and cheese for the boy, leftover spaghetti for her, chicken dinner for me and the hubs) and I wouldn’t make fresh mac and cheese for her too.

My husband was quiet and sullen, trying to cajole the kids and me into all being nice on a path of least resistance.  I’ve tried and tried to tell him that the Path of Least Resistance is not the best way to raise children or “be” in a family, but he don’t care.

Whatever.

And deep down, I am still stressing about if someone else’s family will be safe tonight and if I did enough before leaving work.

Fuck.  It.  All.

Again, my apologies for the eff word.

Did I mention I am also in the throes of rampant and savage PMS?

Yeah.

So I’m unhappy.  And I’m disappointed, a little angry, and pretty frustrated that I can never fucking “nail” anything as a working mom.

Really, my feelings are just hurt.

So, no one else in the family is happy, because I’m not happy.

I’ve taken away TV.  And dessert.  No ice cream on the porch.

And as I stomp off to walk the dog and then change out of my work clothes, it strikes me what a monumental responsibility it is being a mom and trying to keep everyone happy while simultaneously implementing appropriate rules and consequences, and also balancing my career and setting up the coffee for the next morning.

Whatever I am feeling seems to trickle down, one way or another, onto the rest of the family.  Sometimes it feels like if I am not if super-chipper-robot-mode, then we are all fucked.

It seems really hard to have an authentic feeling without either going over the top and ruining everyone’s day, or retreating to a cave of solitude and ruining everyone’s day.

And happiness?  WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?

Most of the time I am an anxious mess trying to keep all the balls in the air, and the genuinely good moments I share with the family are few and far between and savored dearly.

In my office, I would preach emotional regulation and self care.

In my reality, if I can find the 25 minutes to write this post before I pass out in front of Netflix, then I can chalk it up to self care for the week.

Look, I realize my experience is not unique.

This is the life for which we sign up as working moms.  I don’t really think any of us could have possibly predicted what a gut busting marathon working motherhood, or just plain motherhood, truly is.  People try to tell us.  Very well-meaning people try to tell us how difficult it is, how tired we will be, and how quickly it goes by.  But no matter if we listen to them or not, we can never truly predict the reality.

It begs the question, if we had known, would we have done it?

Furthermore, what the hell are we supposed to do with this complex blend of exhaustion, frustration, anger, and confusion?  How are we supposed to express it–  how are we allowed to express it–  without upsetting the family apple cart.

Because anything we feel, the rest of the house is going to feel.

We didn’t know that either, but that’s just the way it works.

We are the emotional barometers in the home.  We set the tone and temperature for how it will be.

If we had known, would we have been crazy enough to reproduce?

It is also the path I chose when I became a clinical social worker.  And little optimist that I was, I had no fucking clue what all that meant.  It is the same path any working mom choses when they become a doctor or lawyer or supervisor or whatever where you have to put the needs of others front and center.  This was all well and good before I had kids…  but now?  It is almost unbearable.

Things fall apart.  Tantrums happen.  Doors slam and you are told what a poo poo head you are because you only have two hands.  Work spills over into home just as home spills into work.  Balls drop.  Some nights you don’t sleep.

In the end, I sort of stomped off to my corner of my room to implement a time out for myself.  It was all I could do.  I started writing this post.

And both of my kids came up to check on me.  They couched their concern in questions about other stuff, or random fun facts about their day, but I could tell that they were checking in with me, making sure I was okay, much as I check in on them and make sure they are okay.  They weren’t nervous or upset.  Their anger with me was all over and done. They were allowing me to have my feeling, but offering me a little connection, a peace offering of sorts.

I didn’t totally grasp this at the time, but later it hit me.  I’ve modeled enough emotional regulation for them–  maybe just enough—  that they get it.  They respected that I needed space, and they gave it to me, but also let me know that they were okay and present.  They knew I was upset and were modeling back for me what I have tried to model for them.

That’s kind of cool.

It sort of tempers the responsibility of keeping my shit together–  maybe just enough —  to see it reflected back to me in my kids.

So maybe I nailed that. And maybe we can all have ice cream together on the porch and be a perfect family on another night.

Can We Please Talk About What a Royal Mind F*&K Modern Motherhood Is?

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Both my daughter’s daycare and my son’s elementary school send updates through email during the day.  It is a nice way of knowing what is going on with them while I’m at work.

I’ve spoken before about what an existential leap it is to drop my kids off in places and then drive off to another place and be away from them for about nine hours a day.

Actually, if I think about it too hard, the above sentence really screws with my brain.

So it doesn’t take much to kind of push the scale in favor of full blown anxiety attack when my kids are concerned.

Imagine my shock when I got the following email on my lunch break at work:

“Dear Parent:  Please be advised that our school was in Lock Down Mode, as ordered by the local police due to an incident in the area.  We were Lock Down for 30 minutes.  The police assured us that the incident was resolved and we are back to normal.”

The email was time stamped about 90 minutes earlier than when I read it.  Of course the last line indicated that everything was cool as Ice, Ice, Baby.  But the first line of the email had already sent my adrenaline into full-blown-flood-of-piping-hot-lava-panic-mode.

As I tail spun through the office, alerting all my coworkers that I was in the midst of a neurotic episode (and probably alerting some of the incoming clients that maybe they wanted to rethink their choice of counseling agency because the staff here was cray-zee), my eyes filled with tears. 

I longed to run out of the building and race to my baby boy, to hug him and validate that my worst fears had not come to pass.

Two of my coworkers hopped on the internet to see if they could find anything about what happened in my town.  There was nothing on the news.  I finally called the school (yeah, I get it; that should have been my first move, but when panic is in full swing, you don’t always make the logical choice first).  The school secretary assured me that all was well.

I sat back in my office chair and did some deep breathing, trying to calm my racing heart and mind.  As I did so, I checked my email again.

Up popped an update from my daughter’s preschool.  It let me know that they were petting the chicks that hatched in their class’ incubator last week and that they were making nests in art.

And that, my dear friends, is motherhood:  fluffy chicks and bomb threats.

It is a royal mind fuck, the likes of which I never could have predicted.

As a mom, you lose the right to wake up and know what to expect with your day.  You can either get the downy, yellow, baby critters, or you can get the sheer terror of knowing everything you treasure and hold sacred can be squashed like a bug at a moment’s notice.

Sometimes you get both at once, and hardly know where to look or focus because it is all just so confusing and cute and horrifying and your heart is bursting.

As a working mom, sometimes I send my children off to school sick or sad.  Sometimes I hug them with an annoyed huff because we have left the house late, or because they have forgotten something “important”.

Sometimes I leave them crying or cross with me.  Sometimes I kiss them goodbye and give them nary a thought until I join them at home, many hours later, for the chaos that is dinner/homework/bath/tv/stories/bedtime.

And then there are days like this where I ache every second to be together with my babies again, so I can wrap my arms around them, nuzzle their fuzzy heads, and thank the stars we have all made it back to one another safe and sound.