Thursday, January 28, 2010

Breaking Up The Pity Pinball Party

"If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

The old adage is so very true, and more than a little grammatically painful for me to utter. One thing I hear repeatedly from my fellow friends who are mothers is how easy and detrimental it is to continually put yourself last. In my case, sometimes it becomes a weapon of (self) destruction: overtired martyr mom. Run for the hills people, it's not pretty. This week, in a fit of maternal exhaustion and frustration I told my husband that I felt like a giant pinball machine as a parent. Of course I had to describe the game I was visualizing to my husband in the throes of my tantrum, because my completely spun out brain couldn't remember the name of the dammed thing. That's a whole other post: Mommy Brain. But Mommy Brain on full tilt meltdown is a thing of unparalleled dark humor if you stop to actually listen to yourself. Honestly, I don't know how my husband holds it together listening to me sometimes.

The pinball metaphor is especially apt for me. When my husband plays pinball, he is strategic and focused on his timing when flipping those paddles to keep that little ball in play. And while he is fully engaged and wants to win, he doesn't sweat it when one ball drops through the slot. Now me on the other hand, I start off carefully and tensely flipping those paddles, but as time goes on and I get more and more frustrated, I start pressing those buttons wildly and fiercely. That's usually when the ball usually shoots straight down the chute and I don't even get a flipper on it. Game over.

Mothering small children and infants is intense, at least it is for me. While I practice attachment parenting and support its principles, I struggle with balancing my own needs. I jealously watch my husband disappear to the shooting range, and lets face it, the office a lot of days, and envy him what I imagine to be an escape. But at the same time, the thought of not being with my kids daily literally makes me lose my breath. I chose this path, I still choose it, even when I'm ready to get in the car and drive away. But it's really easy to become hyper-focused and let a lack of self care snowball into a ball of exhaustion fueled resentment that I'm sure my little ones don't understand, and my husband certainly doesn't appreciate.

Tonight I took a break, and it was good. I returned from an evening with friends, and I didn't dwell on the fact that my five month old was still awake, I could once again appreciate that he was really eager to see me and be held BY ME. I am the center of his world right now, and for now I am OK with that.

  • Macro Goal: Self renovation and repair
  • Micro Goal: Take a mommy break a least once per week to restore sanity

Photo courtesy of Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A heavy-hearted Mommy day

I only have ten minutes to write. but I have something to get off my chest...

I fear I'm screwing up my kid.

Why? Because I somehow neglected to deal with all my "stuff" before he was born, and now, poor kid, he's along for the ride and suffers from some of it to. I feel like he deserves so much more than me as a mother.

I feel that it's my fault that he still is pushing other kids. I feel it's my fault when I go to pick him up from his care program after my weekly Bible study and I get those resigned looks, and those reports of how "he didn't have a good day." I feel like sinking into the floor holding his little hand as he stands there and hears his mom given a report of his difficulties in the room. I want to simultaneously hug him hard and tell him not to take it personally, that I know his heart and he is not a bad little kid. I also want to shake him hard and tell him to just please quit it and follow the program like all the other kids.

I read what I've just written, and I see the prevalence of "I." What about him, what can I do for him so he isn't cast forevermore as the "difficult one."

This is where it gets really really hard.

My ten minutes are up, and now it's time to go figure it out, one minute at a time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Bit Obsessed

It's late, but I wanted to post a quick update lest you think I've fallen off the blog wagon. Nope, just writing elsewhere in the midst of this wrenching situation in Haiti. I posted this to my Twitter page and it about sums it up:

"One of my worst traits is my tendency to hyper-focus, one of my best traits is my ability to do so."

Busy helping move some back soon!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Show Don't Tell

Actions speak louder than words.

I had one of those "I'm a crap mother" days today. I've had an uncomfortable number of those lately. You know the ones: when you finally get your kid into bed and you feel about as good about yourself and your mothering as disgusting gum on the bottom of your shoe, and have a strong impulse to get yourself into the confessional booth (even though you're not Catholic), and better yet, if they could flog you a little bit, you feel that would be richly deserved. Yeah, that kind of day.

I wish I could simply say, "that's life with a nearly three year old," but I fear that places the blame in the wrong place. Sure, my kid is a "spirited" toddler, with a wicked stubborn streak (wonder where he got that from), but honestly, he's a good kid. He's really sweet-natured. He just wants me to show him that I'm interested in him and what he's doing. When he doesn't get that enough, he finds ways to get my attention, any attention will do.

Now visualize that old Ram truck commercial, where two rams crash violently into each other. Yeah, it was that kind of day.

Tonight at dinner, when my kid flung food on the floor (again), and said the obligatory "sorry, Mommy," after much cajoling from his dad, I told him, I'm ashamed to say more than a little passive aggressively, "actions speak louder than words." If he was really sorry, he wouldn't do it anymore. Gee, great job Mom! When you had him repeat the words back to you, and he got stuck on the word "louder," and each time you said "louder" trying to get him to say it, he just kept repeating "speak" in a louder voice, that should have been a clue.

Yeah mom, actions DO speak louder than words!

I sat by his crib tonight and apologized, held his hands, and told him I loved him.

He forgave me with his words. I hope his actions tell me he truly forgives his very flawed mom.

  • Micro goal: I will spend more one on one time with Big Kidlet
  • Macro goal: I will show him I love him as much as I tell him I love him
Photo Courtesy of fudj

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Waste Not, Freak Not

When I'm anxious, I clean and organize. It helps me feel some measure of control. I used to work in a high pressure environment; there was always something to stress out about, and there was always a mess to clean up. Don't get my husband started how many dead of the nights he awoke to find me still not home, and would call me at work to find me protesting, "I'm just clearing up a few things and I'll be home soon." Remember, I have the ability to be almost unnaturally focused when I want to. Bless him for not bailing on me then.

This kind of behavior would not work with kids. This is why I feel that I wasn't gifted with my children, until I learned on my own that it was time to relinquish such an unhealthy existence. And, I do not embellish when I say I got pregnant unknowingly, and unplanned I might add, the exact day I left that life.

But those feelings just don't go poof! (I wish) Making the transition to a stay at home mother these last few years has had many starts and stops. Mainly the control thing. I always worked up to that point. When I say "always," I mean virtually from birth. My parents have owned their own businesses all my life, and I just tagged along. I didn't go to preschool, I went to a playpen in their store, and developed a hell of a vocabulary my father claims virtually by osmosis. I was the mascot. As I aged, I was put to work in other capacities. Except for a brief month immediately following my completion of college (early), I was employed, and usually in a few jobs at once.

When I no longer had a "job" of my own outside the home, I felt dependent. I did, and don't like this feeling. Cue anxiety.

Lest you think I am now obsessively compulsively cleaning my house, don't worry I won't show up anytime soon on Oprah. I kind of wish I was more, but no, it manifests itself in different ways.

For example, I hate waste. I hold onto stuff. Again, don't look for me on one of those Oprah hoarder episodes. I'm really, really tidy about it actually. But I hold onto stuff nevertheless. Not surprisingly it's about control.

I wasn't deprived as a kid and I never felt "want," but things were certainly tight. I never was in the latest stare of fashion, or with the latest gadget. To this day, stuff like that still doesn't interest me. But, I did learn a certain degree of fear surrounding money from my father. My mother is a very pragmatic, if one angle doesn't work, go at the problem from another direction type of person; My dad, however, is more apt to freak out and run screaming that the sky is falling. I'm a perfect blending of the two: I'm freaking out on the inside, but on the outside I just try to muster up and find a way through it.

My father used to verbalize about his fears of not having enough, and consequently things got hung onto way past their original intended purposes. My parents are dedicated "repurposers." I get this impulse from them, but I'm just not as efficient. Things hang around my house, in their nice and neat (mostly) locations, and just sit. This I think gives me a sense of security, knowing I have these things around me that could be used for something.

That's why one of my goals this year is to "get rid of stuff." I'm trying to realize that I can't build a wall of things between myself and those things I fear.

Today I started small: I started to clean out my pantry. And the organizational fiend couldn't resist busting out the Excel spreadsheet to inventory what I have in an effort to control the waste issue. I buy things, don't end up using them, and forget that they are in there. And then I feel shame, because I hate to waste. It was really big for me to let go and throw out several things in there that I had stubbornly held onto because I didn't want to acknowledge that I had let them expire unused.

Today it's dealing with food that has expired, tomorrow perhaps some fears and aspirations.

Photo Courtesy of zenilorac

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Houston We Have A Headache

I have a headache tonight, a bad one (for me). There went the plans to open the Wii games and fit stuff and start exploring tonight once the kids were (finally) in bed. Before that (last night), the baby decided, nope, nothing but mama's arms will do, and don't even think about venturing more than inches away from me. He's only four months old, I cut him a break. And then there were husbandly needs to attend to, so some goals were being attended to, just not the one I wanted to. And before that (last week) I've had some sort of strange cold yet not a cold thing. And before that... you get the picture. When I get motivated to get moving more consistently, with intent and purposeful determination, invariably it's something like this that crops up to at the very least slow my progress, if not outright derail it. Pardon my swearing in texting language, but WTF?!

I know, I know, perseverance and determination. Yes, Scarlet, "tomorrow is another day."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Being Present Means Facebook Can Wait

Ah technology, blessing or curse? For a more than slightly obsessive compulsive personality like mine, I'm thinking it can be a curse if not kept in perspective. I am reading a parenting book presently that talks about raising a spirited kid. I don't know that my toddler is necessarily "spirited" or just a toddler, but I'll take ideas anywhere I can get them. That's my way of tackling a problem, I research it from many angles and try to apply the best solution to fit the challenge.

The book speaks about the differences between introverted spirited children and extroverted spirited children, and asks the reader/parent to assess themselves as well. I was shocked to find that I would be classified as an extrovert. I know some people may say, "duh," but you have to understand that although I may not be at a loss for words in a venue such as this (which is why I write), in person one on one I'm not the most graceful conversationalist, shall we say. I associate an extrovert as someone who is the life of the room when they enter it. What was illuminating from this author was her definition of an extrovert as a person who draws their energy from being around others, whereas an introvert actually draws their energy by being more solitary. Aha, lightbulb city!

Making the transition from seeing literally dozens of people a day in my prior career life to being home with small children was tough for me in part because, it turns out that I need to be out and interacting with other people; It does actually energize me. Even the pain of my social awkwardness can not keep me from putting myself out there, because I need to connect.

Which brings me to Facebook and Twitter. You know where I'm going with this, right? How much time do you spend interacting with others on social networks? I fear too much for me personally. I worry it can cut into my relationship with my husband, my self care in the form of accomplishing the endless little details of running my family's life that keep me feeling balanced and accomplished (remember those endless lists I'm so fond of), and also for me the most shameful of all, my parenting.

Recently the blogosphere was on fire with the controversy about a work at home mother, very active on social networks, who lost her toddler in a tragic drowning accident in the family pool. Her extremely active interaction in social media while caring for small children at home drew sharp criticism as a contributing factor to her loss. I recoiled at that group that wanted to blame her for not watching her young child every single second to avert that disaster, because it could have just as easily been a case of making any number of split second errors in judgment such as zipping out to put a load of laundry in, grab a glass of water, etc. We all walk this tricky line every day.

But, I also saw their point. Social media can be consuming and addictive, and in the case of being alone with small people that are extremely needy, and not the most brilliant conversationalists, social media connection feels like a life preserver. It's nice to be heard, and it's nice to know you aren't alone going through it. But when the connection of others outside of your home becomes more important than those inside your home, you've got a problem.

This lesson came home for me today. I took my spirited toddler to run some energy off at the park. For various reasons I chose to revisit a park that has been a difficult park for us in the past because it has a lot of very tempting water. It has been a very long while since we had gone, and I decided that it was time to try again. Having my infant with me, makes this a tricky proposition under the best of circumstances, but I like to push myself to tackle challenges that scare me head on. (Another surprising thing I learned about myself as a parent actually) Well, while we did MUCH better than we have in the past, there were still plenty of stressful moments and my frustration with my son was aching for venting. So, I reached for my I-Phone... for about a second. When I realized that I was about to take to my social network to express how I wondered if I would ever have a time with my son when I felt that I didn't need to be right next to him to avert certain disaster, I realized I was about to take my attention away from my son, perhaps opening us up to that very disaster. I put the phone right back in my pocket, and trailed after a little piece of my heart who needs me to make better decisions about who needed my attention most at that moment. Venting could wait, he could not.

Score a victory today in my goal this year to be more present and in the moment for my family.

Photo courtesy of Matt Hamm

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Kids are Happy as Long as I ignore the Shopping List

Logging some progress today:

  • Quality time with kids= check!
  • Quality time with friends= check!
  • Wrote something (and not just this)= check!
  • Got things done in the house= not so much
  • Health=nope...thighs still touching, although I DID at least observe a child playing on the Wii Fit...I'm getting closer to cracking open my copy!
The to do list is taunting me, and my husband tells me I am one paper towel roll away from a Costco emergency, but inching forward.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Refrigerator Psychoanalysis

What's on your fridge? If it's like mine, you have appointment reminders, lists for shopping and to-dos (the honey-do list is getting frighteningly little perusal's stacking up). Maybe some pictures, a few pizza place magnets from college nearly 20 years ago? A funny cartoon, perhaps? Some kid artwork and the family command center with all the emergency contact info and directions for what to do in case of a crisis situation, because in a panic, sure, I've got time to check off the action steps, right? Sound familiar?

I also have what I will call "inspirational living clippings." I have an article from March of 2008 about "Do it Yourself Postpartum Fitness." Yeah people, from baby number one, we're on number two folks (as I tuck another pillow behind my aching back because my core muscle strength is crap)! I've also got a print out from of Dr. Oz's Anti-Aging Checklist from who-knows-when, but certainly a while back because it's been aging on my fridge for quite a while now, and looks a little washed out (and I might add it carried over to the "new" fridge we've had for about two years). And, I have what is frankly a reaaaaallllly intimidating list of "Calls to Action" from the Book of James, from my women's bible study about a year back. I'm not even touching that one. Let's just say, I'm not worthy.

I walk past them daily. Grumble when either I walk past so fast that something blows off, or when my toddler yanks something off with a maniacal laugh because he knows it makes us crazy. Occasionally, I stop, read, sigh, and tell myself "I really need to get on these."

They seem so enticingly do-able, in their succinct and clear list format. What's so hard about drinking a glass of red wine or concord grape juice once daily, and having four cups of green or white tea per day (I'm on number one for today by the way...I opted for the black tea at breakfast)? Or for that matter, what's so hard about sleeping se..even to eighhhttt hours per...night, and um, hmmm, having monogamous sex two to (oh come on now, I have an infant people) three times per week? "WEEK?" Yeah, he said "wee-k." Crap! As you can see, It gets a little trickier as I move down the list.

My husband hates the stuff on the fridge and really would like it if the obsessive Scandinavian minimalism of one half of my heritage would somehow break on through to this side of daily life, and not be relegated to emerging regally in the middle of an argument, like some Nordic ice queen. I should say, he would LOVE the stuff, if I actually routinely put much of it into action...especially that sex thing. Every time as he passes with his wide shoulders, and clips something on that fridge, dislodging it, he shoots me a dagger look that clearly yells, "Would you please DO something with this crap?!"

Oh honey, I'm with you. I'm trying.

Photo not my fridge, courtesy of anikarenina

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fear of Sucking: Writing it Down

Ahhh, procrastination, my old friend. I'm sitting down at 11:59pm to work on one of my other goals this year: write something everyday. So with a minute to go, I'm finally making myself sit down and squeeze in something productive on this front. I wish I could say I'm so overwhelmed with things I have to accomplish that preclude me giving this particular resolution the time it needs, but this journey is about honesty...I futzed, I delayed, and finally with the clock clicking down, I crammed. Now let's really get down and expose the dirty here...I even considered altering the posting time. But I say NO! Say it loud, say it prroo...ok, shamefully, I'm a big fat time waster...especially when I'm afraid of something.

What am I afraid of? Well...I'm afraid it will stink. I'm afraid of what you'll think.

Let me explain. As a reader you can judge this for yourself (and I'm bracing myself to duck), but for most of my life I have generally been regarded as a better than average writer. I won the competitions, I earned the high marks. My eighth grade graduation from my small rural school was an embarrassment of accolades that I'm sure did not endear me to my peers. My artistic ego has stretched luxuriously, like a cat in the sun, with each admiring compliment. Oh it's heady, I'm not going to lie. Along with those compliments also came the expectation, expressed and unsaid that I was "going somewhere" with this little gift. Except, um nope, not so much. Why? Well, I could tell you I had to do some serious soul searching to figure it out, but no I know exactly why I haven't broken through. I don't have a discipline problem, because when engaged by what I'm doing, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone with more singular focus. The problem is...fear. Fear that it will not be good enough.

Oh the cliches just keep rolling! I'm a writer who is insecure and afraid of failure. I promised myself absolute honesty, but oooff, that hurts to type out loud. Well then, we're in it, let's keep it rolling. I have also always struggled with the unseemly need to be liked. Now the reasons for THAT are something that has required a lot of soul searching, and the quest to figure out and defuse that particular self destructive time bomb continues.

But ultimately, it's all about fear. It's a problem, and I'm not sure it can be solved so much as diverted through a bit of skilled rewiring. So here I go tinkering with the wiring:

  • Macro Goal: Tackle Fear
  • Micro Goal: Write something everyday, even if it stinks. And...and this is going to be the clincher...not for you, dear reader, but for myself.
Photo Courtesy of UNTAMED+

Saturday, January 2, 2010

It's the Little Stuff that Makes the Difference: Micro Goals

Macro Goal: Be more in the moment and present for my family...

As much as I'm a planner by nature, I still seem to live a lot of my life by the seat of my pants. I've moved through each phase as the opportunity presented itself. When I resist this way of doing things I seem to suffer. I had a career for many years past when I should have changed course, but like the old clothes in my closet that are sadly out of step, and regrettably several sizes off of reality, I stubbornly held on. High levels of toxic stress ensued, which would have been hilarious in my epic inability to acknowledge when to fold the cards, if it just weren't so pathetic. I nearly lost my marriage, my health, and really when I look back on it, myself.

It's tragic how one keeps praying for answers and resolutions, and because one doesn't want to see what the answers and resolutions truly are, whatever force one wishes to call it (for me it's God) seems to have to ratchet up the means of getting through. I always joke with my friends that God had to allow my life to become seriously miserable before I was willing to have my a-HA moment because I am Stubborn, with a capital S. But the old adage is true: people don't change or stop until they want to. Or to put it another way, until the pain of NOT doing something is greater than the pain of actually doing it, they are staying put.

So, I finally unplugged my ears, stopped the incessant "la-la-la-la-ing" to block out what I didn't want to hear, and listened to my life. And, it was like nails on a chalkboard cringe-worthy. The platform I was standing on was burning right up to my toes. So without a clear plan, I jumped.

As it turns out I jumped straight into a veritable ocean of love. The very day I walked away, God saw fit to green light the thing I had wanted and secretly feared would not ever happen: I got pregnant. Now my in laws, who waited a decade for us to get married, and had pretty much written off grandchildren from their uber-driven daughter-in-law, now shake their heads in unbelieving bemusement as my husband and I, having just welcomed a second child, talk about possibly adding a third. I'm just really not capable of slight course corrections, it's an all out spinning of the wheel. My husband has learned to hold on, but (God love him) has always had a penchant for the wild ride. I don't dive off of physical cliffs, but the emotional ones are treacherously steep and rocky affairs.

To be able to do things with such single-minded focus, or dare I say obsession, you have to be a little selfish, which brings me to the macro goal of being more present for my family. When I left my former career I had to mourn; it had truly been a consuming passion in every sense of the word. As happy as I am being with my kids 24/7, I struggle with the wake of that full throttle existence which feels so normal to me. I used to have dozens of people report to me, and now I have two (OK sometimes three when you count my husband in my particularly bossy moments). I struggle with questions of purpose and anxiety of quantifying my contributions.

I never planned to be a stay at home mom, but the opportunity presented itself, and so here I am. It's been an adjustment, mostly happy. Now when I go to the grocery store, I usually run into several people I know. In so many ways my life is so much more full, not only with my growing family, but with community, something that was sorely lacking in my workaholic myopic life. (Did I mention I actually went to Workaholics Anonymous meetings for a while? Bought the book and everything. I was THAT bad!)

In that seismic shift I also resolved to do the one thing that I had yearned for and feared as well: write. And I did it! I actually started to draw a tiny paycheck from my writing ability. And it was and is thrilling...I want more of that! But as is my way, I am very easily drawn into that very selfish space of single minded focus, and that has created another conflict: quality of my time and energy with my husband and kids.

I struggle with the boundaries between doing that which makes my blood sing (write), and what makes my heart beat (my family). I need them both. When I am spending time with my kids, I struggle to make sure my focus doesn't drift and become distracted by the words in my head, or by the lure of my computer to do just one more bit of checking in, and research. When I stare at the blank screen, I struggle to not allow myself an out to go do the laundry, or sweep the floor.

So here are some micro goals to support my macro goal, which can be summed up with the seemingly contradictory statement: plan in order to be in the moment.
  1. Extended work/computer time limited to when children are asleep or with husband
  2. Time spent each day focused on and listening to husband, even if he's recounting details about his shooting hobby that make me glaze over! Will go with him to the shooting range (as he's been asking FOR-ever) at least once in the next six months.
  3. Homeschooling preschool plan in place by Big Kidlet's third birthday
  4. Playtime each day with Little Kidlet (solo and included with Big Kidlet)
  5. Take one family vacation, even if it's a "stay-cation"
  6. Take one kid-free mini-break
  7. Plan gifts in advance
  8. Sex and foot rubs...nuff said
I'm stopping there because as I've said I like my lists but can get a little out of control. Just looking to get started, more will follow. I'll also post some of the daily stuff I do to support these goals along the way as well.

P.S. I did pretty well with this goal today. We spent some time building what we like to call "Noah's High Rise." Big Kidlet loved it so much, he refrained from breaking it into bits as he usually likes to do, even before I finish building. And, it still stands after a full afternoon!

Photos: all rights reserved, no reproduction without express consent

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Big Picture: Setting Goals

Happy New Year!

Kicking it off. Step one: Goals. This is a tricky area. They tell you when making goals you should be specific and realistic. I have no problem with the specific. I like lists...ALOT...gloriously micromanaging kinds of lists! I like lists and checking them off so much in fact, I actually will add things I've already done and perhaps neglected to write down, JUST so I can check them off. Do you do that? My husband does to, but it's hard to tell if that is just our peculiar neurotic need for accomplishment.

Disclosure: we've been together for eighteen years, so sometimes it seems we've merged into one person, with one brain. Really it's freaky! We think the same stuff at the same time on a daily basis; "get out of my head" is a common phrase heard in my house because one of us will say almost exactly the same thing the other of us was thinking at that same moment. It's not a bad thing, but I'm just sayin, it's hard to tell if what we do is what others do, or just our own little domestic freak show.

So, as I said, I like the list element of goal setting, but I tend to bite off a little more than I can chew. I don't do "realistic" well. And then I feel horrible because I haven't been able to check it off. So, I'm going to list some "macro" goals, which are really general "principle" goals, and some "micro" goals, which are essentially the nuts and bolts of accomplishing the macro goals. Did I mention I also have an over-thinking thing? But, you know, you've got to work with who you are, and strive to be the best version of YOU, crazy tics and all.

So here is my list. There is of course a back story behind each one, and we'll get to that as we go along.

  • Macro Goals 2010
  1. Let go of old "stuff" (literal and figurative)
  2. Do some restoration and renovation on the "temple," aka my body, brain, and soul
  3. Be present and in the moment for my family
  4. Tackle fear
What are your macro goals?

Next up, setting micro goals.

Photo and presumably goals courtesy of authenticeducator