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We Are All Momming As Hard As We Can, So Can We Stop Already With the Mythology of Summer?

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A friend recently remarked that she was super impressed with how much fun, enriching stuff I do with my kids.  She mentioned seeing a group of photos I’d posted on social media of an outing my daughter and I took to a local farm, where we pet a lamb.

It had been an enchanting excursion.  I won’t deny it.  We were by the ocean and the scenery was lush and pastoral.  Emily chased after chickens and we walked up to a fence to look at a bull with gigantic horns that looked like something out of a story book.

Then we got into the car to go home and Emily told me I was the worst mom in the world and she hated me because I wasn’t taking her to a restaurant for lunch.

So, I thanked my friend for her compliment of my pictures.  And then I let her know Emily’s five-year-old opinion of me.

Sure I could have taken the compliment and allowed my ego to be stroked. But I happen to believe reality is important. 

I also let my friend know that every photo of us doing something energetic and interesting represents a minuscule slice of our actual existence. 

 For every five minutes we are out doing something exotic, there are about three hours spent lolling around the house watching television, having tantrums, bickering, eye rolling, and sighing.  Heavily.

I also do not incorporate photos of my never-ending laundry, toilet scrubbing, and refereeing sibling rivalry on social media.  No one does.  We all post the highlight reels.  We post the pics that say “Look at me winning this impossible quest!”

We perpetuate our own mythology along with the collective mythology of modern day parenting. 

It’s what we all do.  Sorrynotsorry. No regrets. Because we are all on this seemingly never-ending struggle bus ride fraught with constant motion sickness and punctuated with momentary glimpses of something lovely out the window.


We all do it, but we all forget that we do it.  That’s the problem.  And that’s what leads us to compare with one another and feel like everyone else is out there having a better time.  All the other moms are out there momming better, harder, and faster than we are.

Summertime seems to highlight this dynamic.  At least it does for me.  There seems to be this unspoken expectation that we are all going to be shiny, happy summer people, and that in addition to all the normal mom duties, we are also going to bring it in the areas of crafts, activities, and day trips to exotic ports of call like we are a deranged cruise director.  Oh, and shit, I forgot about incorporating baking and sensory play.  Gotta do it all.

I’m here to tell you, you do not have to do it all.  I’m here to tell you, it is perfectly okay if this flurry of activity is not a realistic expectation for you.  If you are tired, frustrated, or out of good ideas–  it is all okay.  If you just don’t feel like going outside today, also okay. Stay on the couch.  Put in some Disney or Doctor Who.  It’s all good.  We all eventually get to the same place.

I personally don’t have the time or energy for being super creative mom of the year. 

Of course it is important to do things with our children.  In no way do I espouse neglect or unlimited screen time.  Balance is key.  Exercise is important. Hugs count. But…..  

We do not need to be in constant motion and contact with our kids.

Kids need a break too.  I’ll speak for me and mine.  As a children of working parents, my kids have really  long days–  as long or longer than mine sometimes.  Emily can usually be flexible and roll with the flow, but Jack needs a lot more down time.  This makes it even trickier to balance their needs with my own.  Societal demands, pressures, and expectations have no place in this equation for me.

It’s really hard not to let the social media highlight reels feed into the mythology of what summer and parenting is “supposed to be”.  A lot of people I know have gotten off of social media for just that reason.  

I’m learning to enjoy the posts of other parents without feeling threatened or pressured to do and be more, more, more.  Because really, we are all already doing more than enough.

We are all more than mom enough.

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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!  

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.

Grief and Motherhood– Lessons Learned While Grieving as a Mom

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If you’ve been following along over the past months, you may have noticed my once plucky mommy blog has been devoted almost entirely to the death of one of my best friends.

E. died in October.  She died suddenly, or at least it seemed sudden to me.  Had my eyes been open, I might have seen it really was not so sudden.  She’d been ill.  I’d been in denial.  Part of my grief’s rawness these past months is in acknowledging that, had I not been in denial about her age and health, I might have had prioritized more opportunities to see her, to love her, to speak and share with her.

Sometimes I don’t make the time I should.  While juggling the responsibilities of my life as a working mom and wife, I forget to make the call or send the card.  I’m not assertive enough about making plans with people.  It’s a crappy excuse, and an even crappier feeling to realize you missed a chance because you were stupidly blinded by the day to day.

I take comfort in knowing my last interaction with her was loving, sweet, and happy.  And about a week before she died, I left a voice mail for her which ended, as it always ended, in “I love you.”

I’ve also taken comfort in writing about her.

E. was my first major loss.  It doesn’t matter that I’m a therapist with training in grief and trauma.  When you experience this stuff for the first time, it’s like any other new, uncomfortable experience.  I’m bumbling  through the dark tunnel, and channeling my frustration, and sorrow into posts and poems.

Grieving as a mom has also been challenging.

When E. first died, a friend said she hoped I could find space to grieve because it’s hard to do when you are a working mom, already stretched translucently thin.  I’ve thought a lot about this over the past couple months- how as moms it is so hard to find the space we need to integrate all of our parts into one cohesive package.  We can’t sit around and cry in bed when kids need to be brought to school, karate, and dance; need to be fed, washed, and snuggled.  We still have to rise and go to work to keep heat on and food stocked.

In some ways, I wonder if my grief is taking me twice as long to “go through” because I pigeon hole it into these tiny chunks.  As moms, we keep bits of ourselves in little boxes, high up on shelves.  It seems we rarely have time to take them down, open them up and spread the contents all over, let alone pack it all back up in the proper compartments.  I tell myself things like, “If I just hold it together for the next seven hours, I can cry in the car on my commute home.”

It’s exhausting, but it is what it is.

Despite the lack of time and energy, I’ve tried staying emotionally open to lessons this time has to teach me.  I’ll share what I came up with so far:

1. It sounds like a cliche, but if I learned one thing about bereavement, it is that talking and sharing about the lost loved one helps.  A selection of special people have been ready, willing, and able to bear witness to my memories and stories about E., and this blessing has not escaped me as it heals the heart.

2. Part of me knows I will look back on this time and see it as something precious, painful though it has been.  E.’s final gift to me was the realization, that in leaving of this earthly plane, love remains stronger and truer than ever.  There are ways we still connect and touch one another.  It is a time rich in wonder and affection.

The intensity of the emotion paints layers of it’s own complex beauty onto my existence.

I haven’t written much about my kids, family, or life as a working mom.  I’m still doing and feeling all the stuff that goes along with being a mother, but in my writing all of that has taken a back seat to my need to process my friend’s death.  Anyway, there isn’t really anything new or different I can say about all of that right now.  I’ve had mixed feelings about this shift in content, but it has needed to be, so I let it.  Which leads me to my next lesson of sorts. . .

3. It is more helpful to hold our pain, sit with it, cradle it and explore its bizarre face than it would be to cover it up and hide it away.  In my professional training, I learned, years ago, that trying to suppress trauma is like trying to hold a beach ball under water.  It is slippery, unwieldy, and untenable.  When I sit with client’s in the crisis of grief, I often share this analogy with them.  I’ve been granted an opportunity to practice what I preach.

These lessons seem to be gifts from beyond.

Even as I embrace these things, I feel uncertain.  Someone remarked that dealing with grief is almost like having another child to care for.  It’s an apt analogy.  And as though I am holding a newborn child, I am wondering if I am doing it right, if it will like and respond to my touch, if I will be able to handle it.

My uncertainty lies in the fear people won’t like or understand my current poems; that people will get bored with me and stop reading; that people won’t appreciate how fully my blog has shifted from life of a working mother to dealing with death.  I worry people won’t see the connection.

But there’s always a connection, tenuous though it may be.

Being a mom is my most important role in life.  I mean, two living and breathing organisms kind of count on me to keep them alive.  But other parts of me sometimes do not get the time and attention they truly need.  My blog gives me space to process and complete my emotional self so I can tackle the other stuff I need to do.  It helps me integrate and  consolidate the contents of all the little boxes into the whole me.

I have faith in myself and in the process.  Being a mom may have prepared me to patiently nurture and understand grief, even as it has complicated my grieving process.  We are always stronger and more flexible than we think or dream.  Sooner or later, I’ll get back to writing about all of the other stuff.  In the mean time, thank you for bearing with me and for bearing witness.  Every like, comment, and share has meant more to me than I can properly explain.

 

small enough

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if i make myself
small enough,
a lowercase letter
curled tight, unassuming;
if i fold up parts
of me that are
long and large,
that flap and billow
hard and angry in the wind;
if i make my footprint
that of a sparrow;
if i suck in my gut
and allow the ocean to dry
into a teaspoon of salt, maybe
in my vanishing act,
love will atone
as i become inconspicuous,
pedestrian as a blink,
eyelash brushing cheek
but for a moment.
i’ll tuck chin to neck
and knees to chest,
furl fingers to fists,
become tiny, scarce.
if i make myself
small enough,
perhaps
i will fit
in you.

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written as part of the wordpress daily prompt, “Vanish”
https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/vanish/

i will not be sated

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the sky does not
contain enough stars,
nor the ground pennies,
lost and grimy.
there will never be enough
dandelion fluff to blow
over fields of withered grass.

i will not be sated
with wishes.

a stray eyelash flutters
to my cheek,
i pick it up with a
quivering fingertip,
my lips puff with craving,
and i press it into the
aching, churning ancient.

sage on my breath,
i wake throughout the night,
roll out my dreams
to the yips of coyotes.
i walk the planks of memory,
and attempt to bend
the collective to suit me.

perhaps, i think, the moon
will satisfy my desire,

but looking out and up
from my window, i see
my greed has swept the light
clean from the atmosphere.
i am alone with my hunger,
pitted and strange
as it is.


written as part of the WordPress Daily Prompt, “Sated”.  https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/sated/