Friday, March 7, 2014

there. I wrote it. judge away, I won't blame you.


This week has been trying. Correction: this winter has been trying.  Correction: this winter has made me really think hard about my state of mind…as in, I might be losing it.  A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a friend about our children. She said, “You know what a good idea kids seemed like before we had them? I mean, everyone was getting married and having kids and it just seemed like such a good plan, I just road that wave until it crashed.” What a great metaphor. I rode the wave, too. And please don’t get me wrong – and please don’t start with the, “one day you’ll miss the crazy” talk. I know. I get it. I adore my children. They are smart, funny, and without a doubt the best thing that I’ve ever done. They’re also the hardest thing I have ever done, and I'm not going to lie, sometimes I long for the carefree life I had before they came along.

I can’t have a conversation anymore that doesn’t get interrupted. I can’t write anymore without someone asking me for something they could probably get for themselves. I can’t sit down for 30 minutes to read without falling asleep because I’m so tired from dealing with other people’s shit all day long. I hear of people planning trips and traveling without their children and I want to punch them in the throat. I need a vacation. Like, last year.

I suppose I wasn’t ever really that carefree, I just had different concerns. This morning, Steve looked at a photo of us on the fridge circa 2005, and said, “God, you look like a baby in this.” Yep. That’s exactly what every almost-40 year old woman wants her husband to say. You know why I look like an old fucking lady? Because that photo was taken pre-children, and raising two kids has aged me more than all the cigarettes I smoked and all the bad decisions I made in the 1990s combined. I have worried myself and stressed myself and aged myself beyond my years and sometimes I just get really, really sad and very selfish about that. 

Just last night he asked me if he could get me anything. The kids had gone to bed, but both had called out at least 3 times each for different reasons: I need a drink. My throat hurts. My socks fell off inside the covers. I need a nightlight. I looked at him and I said, “yes. I need a trip to 2004.” “For what?” he said. “For NOT THIS.” I responded, flailing my arms around me like a madwoman. I sound like a terrible asshole. Judge away. It’s just that sometimes all I want in this world is to be alone. Or just to be with Steve without all the noise. Sometimes I forget why I liked him so much in the first place, because it’s never quiet enough for me to remember. I’d like some time without having to think about when to return for the babysitter, or how much we have to pay to have someone else entertain our kids so we can sit at dinner and talk about them.

And there’s the rub. Even when we’re alone, we talk about them. It turns out, our world will always revolve around someone else’s needs. As it has for the last 9 years and will continue to until we die…which is a super uplifting thought. Again, our kids are amazing little people. I also understand this is like having first world problems. I know there are people who would love to have children of their own and can't. People who have WAY worse complaints than children who are needy. But this is my blog and my place to vent, so there. I guess I just wish that someone would have said to us, “Go! Travel and enjoy your time before the kids come. Don’t jump on the wave until you’re certain you’re ready (is anyone ever really ready?) Talk to each other. Be quiet. Just be.”  That, or, at least we would have been smart enough to listen when when we were given that advice.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

the A word


I spend much of my life in near-constant fear. Call it what you will: irrational, silly, ridiculous…I would agree with most of those words.  I call it anxiety.  Now, this stuff comes and goes with me. Some days and weeks and even months are relatively normal – and by normal I mean that I don’t wake up with the fear that I’m dying.  Some days, weeks, and months are okay – as in, I’m getting by, spending much of my time focused on things I can’t control, but getting by nonetheless. And some days, weeks, and months are spent in a near haze of dread.
This isn’t anything that should be surprising about me. I have shared much of this in the past when talking about my daughter’s battles with anxiety as well. However, recently I read this article in the Atlantic about author Scott Stossel’s struggles with his own anxiety. First, I read the reader responses to his article where people from all over the world wrote in to share their stories.  I’ll be honest, I read some of them and thought, “well now THAT is just crazy.” I felt better about myself after reading a few of the letters.  And I cried after reading some of the stories, because it’s nice, once in a while, to know I’m not the only one who feels these things.
Anxiety doesn’t define me, most days, but it is certainly a part of who I am. One of the responses to the article described her anxiety as a blanket, or a series of blankets piled upon each other, so that sometimes she feels as though she might suffocate. Most days, anxiety isn’t a blanket for me, but rather, it stays quietly in the corners of my mind. When I’m not busy enough, though, or when it’s quiet at the end of the day, or when things are more stressful than usual, the blankets start to pile up.  It began when I was very young.  Separation from my parents, maybe? I began crying and throwing up when I was in a new situation. I would puke when things weren’t familiar, and when things would scare me, and when I felt out of control. Just writing that, I can see the things that trigger anxiety for me today haven’t changed all that much.  While I am no longer a puker (thank God), sometimes I feel that, just as Stossel writes, “Even when not actively afflicted by such acute episodes, I am buffeted by worry: about my health and my family members’ health; about finances; about work; about the rattle in my car and the dripping in my basement; about the encroachment of old age and the inevitability of death; about everything and nothing.”
As a child, I was told to quit worrying. I was told to settle down, and to knock it off. I hold no anger toward the people who told me those things.  I truly believe they meant well and that they didn’t know that just the tiniest validation of my emotions would have gone a very long way in my ability to move beyond the panic. Instead, being told to quit worrying made me worry more, because, how can I quit something I can’t describe and clearly can’t control? In recent years, with the decline of my mother’s physical and mental capacities, I have become more and more anxious about my own health. Will I be in assisted living by the age of 66 like she was just thanks to my genes? Is my penchant for rich food, and that extra glass of wine going to doom me to a life of terrible health? Seriously, how long until my liver (kidneys, heart…) stops working? Is that headache a tumor? You can see how quickly this spirals out of control…and yet all seems plausible to me in some capacity during the throws of a panic attack.
Have I passed my anxiety to my children? The short, sad answer is absolutely. Probably in the way my anxiety was passed on to me through generations of Blooms and Tammeuses and Helanders and Andrews and probably even long before those people. As I read Stossel’s article, I realized that my reactions to things around me are rooted in both nature and nurture. We are, of course, a product of our environment, and also a product of our families, for better or worse. There are many sad parts of that story – generations of women in my family (and men, I assume) who weren’t strong enough to talk about what was going on inside their heads. The idea that anxiety is a mental illness and something to be ashamed of is something that people still struggle with today and certainly shamed many of my family members to live with their demons, or to self-medicate.
I don’t know if these things are still taboo. In my house, and with my friends, and in my writing they are not. I have found that I need to write about the things that stay in the corners of my mind in order to get past them. I haven’t posted to this blog in ages because what I’ve written for myself (which hasn’t been much) has been a jumble of feelings about what is to come for me. I graduated with my masters degree in December and now things are slowing down, and with that slowing down comes the inevitable panic. It will subside, as it always does, but this article came at an important time for me, I think, as it has allowed me to think more clearly about the things I struggle with on a daily basis. What I know at the end of the day is that we are all human beings. Our minds are capable of incredible things. I’ve also always thought about how our minds are maybe the loneliest places, too, as we the only ones who know what is going on in there. Today, I needed to know I wasn’t alone. I only hope this might help someone else feel the same.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

baby birds. and blessings.


Earlier this week, I was going to write about the baby cardinals we’d been watching over the past few weeks. I had taken notes about things I’d like to tell you. How the mama sat on those eggs and didn’t move for what seemed like weeks. How the babies were born and were bright red at birth (seriously, cardinal red) but then quickly turned a brown color as they grew. I was going to tell you about Steve finding the nest as he was doing yard work and how he ran to tell me about it and we laughed that cardinals would choose our yard to make their nest.  It was as if they knew how much I love these birds, and how if I believed in the whole “spirit animal” thing, mine would be the cardinal. I was going to tell you about watching the mom and the dad care for the babies – the dad was just as involved and there is as whole community of cardinals in our area, I suppose, as there were many, many others watching the three babies as they learned to fly. I was going to write about how I watched a cardinal go through all the things I’ve gone through as a mom: pregnancy, birth, feeding and caring for my girls, teaching them to fly (metaphorically, you know) only, she did in a matter of weeks what it will take us humans a lifetime to accomplish. I was going to tell you all of those things. But then Thursday night happened and I might have died.

I am being overly dramatic, to be sure, but I have to tell you how close it could have been. I was in a car wreck, and all things considered I am fine. We all walked away and the worst thing that happened to me are a few amazingly purple bruises, a car that needs some fixing, and the part about the responsible driver not having insurance. Here’s the thing: if that woman had blown through the red light (at a high rate of speed no less) any later? I would have been hit directly on the driver’s side. Had she come through a few moments later still?  I may have hit her directly and she or her 8-year-old daughter may have been very seriously injured. I have replayed the wreck over and over in my head and all the other scenarios are much worse. My children weren’t in the car, thank goodness.  I hit her back bumper and all of our airbags deployed. Our cars did what they were supposed to do to keep us safe. If the worst part of this is paying our insurance deductible because this woman was driving a brand new car without insurance? I suppose it’s not really that big of a deal, all things considered.

What I can’t stop thinking about, though, is that I have to have someone looking out for me. You guys, these past few weeks have been pretty fucking awful, there is no better way to say that. My stove caught fire (no one was hurt) a tree fell on our house. Let me repeat that last one: a tree fell. On our house. No one was hurt, though Steve might argue that his grill was flattened. A woman blew through a red light at a high rate of speed and I never saw her coming. No one was hurt. Someone was looking out for me. Someone has looked out for me quite a bit in the past few weeks.

I don’t know. What I do know is that rather than thinking about how bad things could have been, I need to start counting the blessings I do have. A lovely woman and her husband stopped to help me after the accident. They had been behind me in their car and were nice enough to stop, wait for the police and give a statement. She bought me a bottle of water and stood with us while we waited. There are not enough people in this world kind enough to do what she did that night. Before she left, she said to me, “you are really blessed.” Her words have stuck with me these past few days. I believe she is right. How can I possibly believe otherwise after all that has transpired these past few weeks?

I will sound utterly insane when I write this, but since my grandparents died we have all seen more cardinals. My grandfather loved birds and my cousins and I have all agreed that we see them in random (sometimes downright weird) places since his death. My friends will tell you I can spot a cardinal anywhere, but they do tend to always be around me. I’m more apt to think that there are now more cardinals in this world (thanks to that hard working mama who sat outside my window for weeks) so that I am better looked after.  So that when I catch glimpses of red or when I hear their pretty song, I can be reminded of my blessings.

Monday, August 5, 2013

a reunion of eminent young scholars


Once upon a time, before the age of social media, and even before the age of digital cameras, 13-year-old Kate went to summer camp. Not just any camp, either. I spent three weeks during the summers of 1988 and 1989 at the Joseph Baldwin Academy (for “eminent young scholars” – say that three times fast!).  Three weeks with about 130 kids from all over the country, living in dorms at what was then Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State).  Three weeks away from home with strangers sounded like a horrible plan to me when my parents first suggested it. It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.
me - circa 1989
You learn a lot about the people you’re living with in close quarters over three weeks. And you make some amazing friends. You wouldn’t think that three weeks would be enough time to make that big of an impact, but this also predated email, and so when we all went our separate ways after the summer was over, we wrote each other letters: pages and pages of letters. Real letters. Certainly, if you know anything about me, you know how much I love letter writing – it’s something I do not do nearly as much as I should anymore. So, not only did we know each other from living together, we actually got to know each other even more through the letters we’d exchange. I wish I’d saved more of those letters.

Taline and me - 1989

The people I met at JBA are still some of the most amazing people I know, and this past weekend, four of us met in Iowa at my friend Andy’s farm for a reunion 25 years in the making. John, Taline and Andy are four people that I’ve spent time with separately over the years: one went to college near KC and we saw each other then, I was at the wedding of another in the mid 1990s, and thanks to Facebook, we’ve been privy to photos and snippets of each others lives for the past several years. But, it had literally been 25 years since the four of us had all been in the same room at the same time. I have to be honest I was a little bit skeptical about this reunion. I have such wonderful memories of these people and I wasn’t sure I wanted to change any of that. What if we weren’t the same people? What if one of us sucks now? I mean, 25 years is a LONG time. Someone might suck.

John, me, Andy, 1989
I’m so glad I went and I’m super happy to report that nobody sucked. My friend Andy has a lovely wife and six children. Six.  I’ll be honest, I’ve never wanted more than the two kids I have, but if anyone makes having six children look appealing, it’s Andy and Laura Lynn. Opening your home to complete strangers has to be a true test, and Laura Lynn made us all feel so comfortable in her beautiful home with delicious food, drinks and plenty of good music – some even played by their talented daughters. 

Taline and Bronwyn Taline (yep, we even name kids after each other) 
If anything, I just wanted more time with these people.  I drove home thinking about my time at JBA – which I still regard as one of the best parts of my growing up. I laughed thinking about the photos: our hair, our outfits, our awkwardness.  (My friend Taline will argue we never were awkward, but the photos tell another story!) I also got a little teary thinking that I hope it won’t be another 25 years before I see these people again. I wondered if we all lived in the same town if we would hang out. I like to think we would. Finally, I just started thinking about my own children.  I loved watching them play with the children of my friends. I wish for my girls that they will be lucky enough in their lives to find friends as good as mine. I wish for them that the friends they make when they are kids are amazing enough to want to see them 25 years later. I’m a lucky, lucky person to have John, Taline and Andy (and now Andy’s wife Laura Lynn) in my life. I hope my girls are half as lucky. 

John, Taline, Andy, Me - 25 years later.
nerd offspring - JBA 2020!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

the transition...


I’ve begun referring to my new situation as “the transition.” I recently quit my job teaching preschool after 10 years, and while it feels like I should be in the midst of some sort of crisis, I’m really just trying to finish something I started years ago. In December I will finally have my master’s degree in Early Childhood Curriculum and Instruction. Feels a little weird to have a degree in curriculum and instruction while not planning curriculum or instructing anything. That’s not really, true, of course – I’m spending part of the summer co-facilitating a graduate level writing course at UMKC and the other part of the summer re-writing an anti-bullying curriculum for the KCMO health department. So why, when people ask me the million dollar question, “What are you going to do now?” do I freeze up and tell them I don’t know?

Yesterday, while meeting the participants of the Writing Project’s summer institute that I’m co-facilitating, we went around the table introducing ourselves and telling the name of our school. When it came to me, I said, “I’m Kate Willaredt, and I’m unemployed.” I laughed about it and then quickly said, “wait. that’s not entirely true…” but mostly I just felt embarrassed. Though I will always consider myself a teacher, does being jobless suddenly devalue or negate that part of me? It feels somehow like it does. The truth is, I don’t really know, of course, what is to come. Who really does? It feels very self-indulgent and silly to take time to focus on the remainder of my degree. I’ve gone this far while working full time. But it has been super, super hard – and not just hard on me.  Juggling a home, a family, a full time job and part time grad work has left me nearly unable to function – and nearly unable to give any one particular part of that equation very much of me.

I’m hoping that the next few months will lead to some serious reflection on where I want to go.  I know the next adventure of working with teachers from all over the city will be an amazing place to start.  Working with the SI this summer could not have come at a better time for me, I honestly would feel like it was a bit of divine intervention – if I believed in that sort of thing.  Not having the safety net of a job to fall back on will not only be refreshing, it will most likely push me more quickly to figure out what I really want to do with my degree. In my heart and in my head I know exactly what I want to do, but it requires more time or money than I have as well as plenty of stars aligning for me. I’m going to keep working on that part. In the meantime, please don’t ask me what I’m going to do next. I simply don’t know. And that is wildly scary and exciting all at the same time.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

number 8


Eight years ago this week, I was standing at the precipice of something I only thought I knew. I was about to experience something that would forever change my life. Eight years ago this week I became a mom. I get it, trust me. I sound very sappy, and yes, I know there are people who have babies every day who either give them up (for whatever reason) or do not have any attachment to them (for whatever reason). I know that there are moms out there who say that having their children didn’t change them. I think they are the worst liars ever, but let them believe what they will. Becoming a mom, first to Lucy and then to Zoe, completely changed me.

I don’t know if I’d say that it’s all been for the better – I will tell you that I’ve never worried about more things EVER in my life. I don’t know if that part is so great, but the kids are pretty amazing. Eight years ago, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I always said that I wanted kids with Steve because they would be funny and smart and all the good things about each of us. I never considered how my children would also inherit those not-so-good things about us, too. The anxiety. The worry. The part where they have no internal editor and say whatever they are feeling (I can’t imagine where they got that). The part where they feel the need to question…everything.

Also, I’ll be honest. No one told me I’d lose that piece of myself. I can’t place my finger on the exact piece, but something in me has changed so drastically in the last 8 years that sometime I hardly know myself anymore. No one tells you that you internalize all the stuff your kids feel. At first when they are babies, you worry about their sleeping and eating and pooping. And then. And then it becomes more about whether they are being treated well outside of your home. Are they going to be kind to others? What is the bully at school saying to knock at pieces of your little girl’s self-esteem and why is my kid always the target? Am I doing it wrong? It’s one thing to have these internal struggles for yourself, it’s far yet another to have to carry the weight of two children as well.

I can’t say that I wouldn’t change anything about the last 8 years. I wish I could have been more relaxed. I wish I didn’t put my kids under such a microscope. I wish that I had been around more and at school less. These are things that my girls will likely never, ever remember. I know that they will come up with a far longer list of ways that I fucked them up over time. What I wouldn’t change is anything about those two sweet babies. I remember when we brought Lucy home.  I kept looking at her thinking two things: one was, “I can’t believe I made a person!” The second was, “Holy shit. Why did they send this baby home with me? What do I do now?!”  I’m happy to say that I still think about that first part. Human life is pretty amazing. The second part has been what has driven me the last 8 years. Clearly it wasn’t that bad. I mean, I did it again 21 months later with Zoe. I keep trying to answer the “What do I do now?” question. I believe I will for the rest of my life. That’s the beauty and the pain of motherhood, I suppose. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

for crying out loud.


who's crying now?

I just don’t understand our society. I mean, really, I know that’s a given – the majority of people make it hard for me not to think they are just mostly stupid. But when it comes to our children, I feel like we either completely don’t care at all or we’ve become total helicopter parents. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground. Prime example? This fantastic Tumblr a mother* has started called “Reasons my Son is Crying”.  It’s hysterical – and something I’m upset I didn’t think of myself.  Are you kidding me? How many times has your kid been crying about something so amazingly ridiculous that you’ve had to laugh about it? It happens daily in my house and my children are way older than the kiddo featured on the Tumblr.

Enter the group of sanctimonious mothers who are apparently such fabulous parents that they are bold enough to comment about another mother’s parenting: Wow. I only looked at the first few pics when I came across a link yesterday. Yes, seems the parents are out of touch with... parenting.”  And, Reason your son is crying: possibly because you are making fun of him and snapping pictures instead of connecting and empathizing?”  Or how about this stellar suggestion: There are other ways to share the humor of being a parent that aren't directly humiliating to the child. Like, you could recreate the situation and snap a picture of yourself holding a broken cookie with a pleading look on your face with the caption "Who do you think I am, the dog? I don't want this broken cookie, milk lady." You could include yourself in the mocking and try to show it from the child's perspective, instead of just making fun of him.”  Here. Let me say it for you: what the FUCK?

Please don’t get me wrong. I am a mother. I’m also a teacher. I’m also about six credit hours away from a master’s degree in early childhood education, for the love. I am certainly concerned about valid, obvious forms of child abuse – and even those forms that aren’t so obvious. I get it. In fact, I’m a mandated reporter – which means I will call the authorities on your ass if you’re mistreating a child in my presence. But this? The reaction to this Tumblr is insanity. The first thing that I have learned as a mother is to NEVER. EVER judge another mother. I mean sure, if you’re dumb enough to be on the news because your kid is found wandering around alone on the street? I’m probably going to judge. If your kid consistently treats my kid like garbage or teaches my kid words I’m certain they didn’t get from me? I’m probably going to judge. But the run of the mill mom I see at the store or at my girls’ school struggling with their kids? Why would I ever judge that? I sure as hell don’t want you judging me for my parenting. If you want me to go into what is happening in the child's brain to trigger the frustration that is making him cry, I will detail that for you. I'm all about child development, but also? What happened to the simple fact that parenting is terribly hard work? Why is it so wrong to laugh at how ridiculous our children can be? 

I also understand that this mom chose to put her kid out there for the world to see…another way judgment may be forthcoming. But, what happened to having a sense of humor? I mean, really – the suggestion of recreating the situation for a photo? What planet do these people live on? I think the suggestion that you don’t make any parenting mistakes is absurd. I just don’t understand at all. I wish the people creating such a stink about this would funnel some of that crazy into other, more important things – like helping children who are REALLY being abused or neglected. What has parenting come to when we are either completely ignoring our children by sitting them in front of a screen, or when we are so far up their butts that we can’t even joke about how annoying they can be? OR that we can't admit how hard parenting really is and we'd rather just judge others for doing things differently instead of banding together and supporting each other? I am baffled by this.

But for now, if you’ll please excuse me, it’s time for me to let my kids go play in traffic. Where's my camera?

*correction - this Tumblr was actually started by a dad! hmmmm. interesting. (thanks to my smarty smart cousin Sara for pointing this out to me...d'oh!)