Tuesday, November 18, 2014

debunking the mom myth

I keep replaying yesterday’s parent conferences over and over in my head. I made a mother cry. I can’t remember the last time I made anyone cry…at least anyone I didn’t give birth to. The words I spoke weren’t mean, or harsh. I was simply telling the mom how resilient her child was, and that after the difficult time he’d had during his parents divorce last spring, I’d noticed such growth in her son already this fall. I realized very quickly when she began to tear up that I’d touched a very raw nerve. I had probably hit upon something she had already been thinking about. Probably something she’d been beating herself up about as well. I couldn’t have known that the words I’d thought would reassure her would upset her so much, but I’m still thinking about how that conversation could have gone differently.
Recently, I’ve been reading article after article after article about how moms are so hard on each other, and what it takes to be considered a “good” mom, and what moms really think. I’m honestly so fucking sick of reading about what I should be doing, or how I should be feeling. I just wish someone would finally tell me how to have the emotional capacity for it all. I don’t need to be what anyone would consider a “good” mom. I’m not going to join your after school group. I’m not going to schedule a “playdate” because that word makes me want to stab puppies. I’m not going to encourage my girls to join certain extracurricular activities because the moms who bring their kids to those things, and try to live vicariously through their children make me want to stab really cute puppies. I’m not going to craft anything or sew anything or bedazzle anything. I’m not that mom and I never will be, but I love my kids more than I know how to say. Am I any less of a mother than the women who craft, or sew, or bedazzle? Absolutely not, but you wouldn’t know that by reading anything in the media.
I’m thinking about the mom who sat across from me yesterday wiping her eyes, and I keep thinking about all of the things I should have said to her. I should have told her that she’s not alone. I should have told her that I understand that motherhood never turns out the way you think it might. I should have told her that she’s doing an amazing job, and that her divorce should never be seen as a failure to her child. Instead, I thought about myself and about what I’d done to cause her tears and I didn’t say anything, which was a shitty, selfish way to react. I know now that she’s probably a lot like the rest of us who don’t say how we feel.
I’m tired of reading about how we should let go of  the need to “have it all”.  I let go of that a long time ago. What I need to know is what in the world to do with all of these emotions I have about my kids. I need to know how to have enough headspace and heart space left after all of their stuff to care for myself. I’m sick of the mom shaming. I’m sick of the comparisons and the things we should or shouldn't be doing. Why isn’t anyone talking about how much being a mother changes who you are? More importantly? Why isn’t anyone talking about what to do when you don’t like the person you’ve become as a result of motherhood? It’s true. It IS time to be kinder to each other. But it's also time to be kinder to ourselves. Even if the kids haven’t had a bath in 5 days and they’ve been eating corn dogs for every meal. Even if you have never logged on to the school grading website because you just don’t care that much. Even if you do ignore your kids so that you can enjoy a drink with other mom pals a la 1970. I think it’s also time for it to be acceptable to admit that motherhood is probably not what we thought it was going to be, and that it might even be the hardest thing most of us have ever done. Ever.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

some thoughts about abuse.

I’ve been struck by the opinions I’ve seen on social media today about Janay Rice, wife of (former) football player Ray Rice. Janay has been quoted defending the beating her husband gave her in a hotel elevator.  Two hits that knocked Janay out cold. Not only did he knock her out, he dragged her out of the elevator and dropped her on her face. I’ve seen the video, and I’ve seen her response. I have also seen the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed.  I’m honestly disgusted at Janay’s support of her husband, and before you call me callous or think that I don’t have any clue what I’m talking about, here’s why I stayed. I stayed because I was too young to realize that what I had wasn’t love, it was control. I stayed because I’d been alienated from the friends I came into that relationship with. I stayed because I didn’t have enough self-esteem to find another place to live, and a job to support just living on my own. I stayed because I’d been told I was stupid and I believed it. I finished my master’s program with a 4.0, but I’d been told I wasn’t smart for so long back then that I actually believed it. I stayed because I didn’t think I could do any better. I stayed because I blamed myself for not being able to change someone else. To this very day, I still make excuses for how I was treated – claiming that we were so young…somehow making his behavior acceptable. I find it hard to write this because it means thinking about all of the excuses I made over the years.

Here’s the thing. I get all of the reasons people stay. I do. But standing up for someone who beat your ass after the whole world knows what is going on? I just do not fully understand. My guess is that Janay has been given the support of people who can help her. Family. Friends. Strangers. But I also guess that she thinks she’s in too deep to leave: a marriage, a child, and now a very public story. I know that my shaking my head at her situation from afar is easy to do. I lost friends who could eventually just shake their heads at me. Perhaps it’s time to change the trending hashtag from #WhyIStayed to #WhyILeft. I have read all the reasons people stay. What about the ones who had the courage to leave?

I left because I had a friend who I knew I could call in the middle of the night. I left because someone else began to pay attention to me and compliment me. Not healthy in retrospect, but confidence helped me leave. I left because I was so tired of being sad. And scared. I left because I woke up one morning and began to come to my senses about what was going on around me. Looking back, I left because I had a small group of my own friends who were concerned and opened their home to me. Looking back, I was scared, but I was not alone. One day I will tell my girls that no one should tell you he loves you, and in then next breath call you a stupid bitch.  No one gets to lay hands on you in hurtful ways. I left, but I went back more than once. It was never easy…until eventually it was.

Back then I didn’t know that I’d find something the opposite of what I had. I didn’t know how smart I was, or how much I had to offer. I had to rebuild that inside of me, and that was the hardest part. I might even still be doing it.  I left, but it’s NEVER just that easy. There is always more to the story, whether you’re 21-year-old Kate or you’re Janay Rice. And yes, I am frustrated beyond belief to see that she’s supporting her husband. I’m frustrated at the very public message her support sends to young women who might be in similar situations. I’m frustrated at the myriad of messages it sends Rice’s own daughter. But mostly I’m frustrated because it’s certainly only a matter of time before it happens again.

Monday, May 19, 2014


May 2005. What did we know?!

“I sure am glad it isn’t ______ years ago today!” Those are the words my mom used to say to my sister and me on each birthday. I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating, if only to show you what a fucking horrible thing that is to say to a child. In my mind, I was always sure she meant, “I sure am glad I don’t have to go through labor and delivery again.” Though, having been through it twice, even that doesn’t make much sense to me. On the morning of my eldest daughter’s ninth birthday, I am thinking about those words. 

Nine years ago today I became a mother for the first time. In some ways it seems like just yesterday, and in others it seems like a lifetime ago.  In nine years I have worried more than I ever thought humanly possible. I have cried and laughed and felt love in ways I didn’t ever know existed. But it’s also been really, really hard, and there have been times I’ve wanted to pack up and run away. I know that every mother has those moments – whether she admits to them in public or not – but for me, those moments have been the ultimate test of my character. I’m certain I’m not doing the best job. Just yesterday, another mom emailed about a spelling list that her son had left at school and was super upset that he couldn’t study for Monday’s spelling test…did I have the words to share? So. Apparently there’s a spelling test each Monday in 3rd grade. There are TWO MORE WEEKS of school and I’m just finding this out. I suppose Lucy’s done just fine without being made to study, but these are the kinds of things I NEVER thought I’d be held accountable for…things I now beat myself up for not knowing about. It’s ridiculous in the grand scheme of things, but still.

I try to live each day with my girls enjoying every moment, because I know it goes by fast. Hello? Nine years? Sometimes enjoying the moment means letting go of other things. My house isn’t as clean as yours, I can guarantee, and Steve can, too. My kids might eat chicken nuggets 4 nights a week, but we are eating as a family. I am tired of trying to live up to standards that are unattainable even on my best days as a mother. I can’t do it all, and some days I wonder what my girls will remember about my mothering them. I know what I hope they will remember, and that is that I will always listen to them because I truly believe that what they have to say is important, that there is something funny to be found in almost every situation, and that I think they are the funniest, bravest, most amazing people on earth. I’ve had enough therapy to know that I am doing the best I can, and telling my kids on each birthday that I’m so incredibly glad they were born is a good start. 
May 2014 HBD, LBW!

Monday, May 12, 2014

a new normal?

Well hello there, stranger! Remember me? Today at a staff meeting, a coworker told me to Google my name and I did, and up popped my blog. I was all, “wait! I have a blog!” I mean, I knew I did, of course, but it’s been a great long while since I’ve visited this ghost town. I started thinking about why that might be and here’s what I’ve decided…ready? I am happy. For the first time in a VERY long time, I am genuinely happy with life and I haven’t needed the outlet of my writing to get me through. I know that maybe sounds backwards – now is the time I should probably be writing more just because I have more time and I’m in such a better place. Instead I’ve been reading. And hanging out with my family – turns out they’re pretty cool when I’m getting enough sleep and not knee deep in grad school. I’ve been working out and watching what I eat – I’ve lost EIGHT pounds. That’s like the size of a newborn baby, which is equal parts gross and inspiring. I have way more to lose, but there’s nothing like eight pounds to give me a little motivation. I’ve been laughing more. I love my job and I love the kids I teach.

I sound like a commercial for Zoloft – but I think it’s just because I spent the last four years of my life so caught up in a million other things for other people, I forgot what it’s like to take time for me. So this is just me saying hello. I hope to be back here more regularly. I’d like to start writing again, this time for fun, not just to let off pent up frustration. In the meantime, here’s some photos you’ll find when you Google my name, which are weird, and also seem pretty timely. Oh! Also? I just scrolled down to read the last post and you should know Steve and I are taking a trip. By ourselves. Watch out, Vegas.

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.