Anxiety, Depression, Academics, and Faith

Life has been busy and exciting. We are at the tail end of our summer vacation and we are gearing up for our next homeschool year to start in just a little over a week. The girls have spent many long summer days with friends, enjoying camps and the pool, as well as afternoon backyard games with the neighbors. My husband and I even got the chance to take a beach vacation by ourselves.

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The Great Southern, Seaside, Florida

It thrills me to see the girls soaking up their childhood with such free spirits, exploring and forming new friendships. Although we have packed away the books for the past couple of months, the learning has never ceased.

Hiking  photo courtesy of Melanie Atkins

Hiking, Photo Courtesy of Melanie Atkins

     We are handling things much differently this upcoming school year. For one, we will have our youngest joining us for Kindergarten. Also, I’m putting my 4th and 6th grader on completely different curriculum paths. One needs a more structured, pre-programed approach that mimics school at home, while the other needs a more self-directed learning path. I feel confident that each child is getting a program tailored to their specific needs, which will be an ongoing process as I become more engaged with how their specific minds work.

     I have high hopes for the upcoming year. Ironically, I contribute that hope to how badly our previous year ended. The girls all finished with good marks and in a timely manner, but I was battling an unexpected illness that left me debilitated for the last several weeks of our school year. It’s hard to write about, but it is necessary to be transparent due to the fact that so many moms out there struggle with the same issues, yet fear being open and honest about what they are going through. Us moms have so much weight on our shoulders, whether we homeschool, or not. Now more than ever in the history of parenting have mothers been under so much stress to do everything right. It all stems from a deep love for and wanting the best for our children, but the problem is the plethora of information on the internet that seems to be constantly contradicting the article before it. Do I need to hover, or do I need to let go? Is this over-parenting, or not parenting enough? Is there an ideal in-between that even exists? 

     In our struggle to do everything right, us moms are crumbling inside. Facebook is a dangerous place to visit when you’re stressing out about being a good parent. We must all know that posts are carefully constructed and life is beautifully edited for social media. Nevertheless there is that one mom whose body is more perfect, whose kids make better grades and win more awards, and whose social life seems to be perfectly balanced between diapers and MNO’s. Sigh.

     This constant pressure I put on myself to do everything correctly hit me full force this year. I struggled to relax. I was always worried from day one that I wasn’t going to do something right and that my children would pay severely for it. If it wasn’t their curriculum being just right, it was making sure they got enough exercise, that they had plenty of social time with friends, and that their extracurricular classes were enriching enough. I tried to give my girls my all, which I did, but in the meantime I was slowly stripping away pieces of myself that I desperately needed to hold onto–mainly my sense of self and my own sanity.

     As the school days piled up and my worry never ceased, I came to a breaking point. In March I suffered an abdominal wall injury that left me unable to enjoy my normal active lifestyle. As a precautionary, I decided to visit my family doctor. Little did I know that within a three week time span I would be sent through a series of tests that would throw me into one of the worst bouts of depression and anxiety I have ever faced. In that time I had an ultrasound, a CT scan, a transvaginal ultrasound, a pap smear, an ultrasound on my liver, an MRI, and a colonoscopy. For what I figured was simply a muscle strain, suddenly I was being scanned for cancer and other life-altering diseases. Although, thankfully, all of those tests came back negative and it was ruled that I did indeed just suffer a muscle strain, my psyche paid a huge price. I became so fearful and nervous that I started experiencing debilitating panic attacks–up to three or four a day–that sent me three different times to the emergency room. My anxiety and the associated panic attacks sent me into a downward spiral of deep depression. For many days all I could manage was to lie in bed. The physical effects on my body weren’t helping matters any. I experienced extreme nausea and muscle aches, which didn’t help the fact that I was also worrying constantly about my health. What if they missed something? I will never be the same.

     I felt permanently altered and broken. My husband worked from home many days just to be nearby. He, too, had suffered a severe bout of anxiety and depression in his college days, so he was able to sympathize with what I was going through. “It will take time,” he would tell me. “You will get back to your old self again, but you have to be patient. It takes time to heal from this.”

     My children were sweet and responsive. I hated for them to see me so differently than they knew me to be. I am active and engaging. I smile often, goof off, and laugh. Being outgoing, I’m always up for a good outing into the city, or to visit with friends. However, during this time it was like I had become someone else completely. I couldn’t smile. I was so scared all of the time. I never felt like I was going to get better. Looking back now, I’m grateful my children experienced this with me. I believe they got to see that even though your hero can come in the form of a strong mother, everyday heroes have weaknesses that make us very human. As a result, the girls have seemed to be a little more empathetic to the fact that I simply can’t do it all. They have since been more apt to embrace their sisterhood without me having to settle constant arguing. They have also started helping out more around the house. They have realized that Mommy can’t steer this ship alone; it takes all of us working collectively with the same goals in mind to get things done.

     It was the weight of stress that pulled me into a state of instability, but all of the doctor visits and referrals that seemed as though they would never end until they found something horribly wrong with me, was what sent me over the edge. I have always struggled off and on with mild depression and anxiety, but this was an entirely new beast. Thankfully, I was referred to an amazing psychiatrist who has offered me some of the best counseling, and who suggested that I take a medication at this point in my life to help me through a stressful time. He said that he sees a lot of women my age–mid to late 30’s–who are starting to enter a new stage of life. We are seeing people our age getting sick and some of them passing away. Our children are getting older and with that parenting is becoming more complex. It didn’t help that I had also suffered under severe stress for so many years with a child with special needs and my own struggle with perfection. It was only a matter of time before I would start to physically and mentally feel the negative effects. I protested at first, but ended up taking his advice; at a small dose, the  medication he recommended for anxiety and depression has helped me extensively.

     In one of our sessions, my doctor asked me if I knew what it meant to find the silver lining. “Yes,” I told him. “In the middle of any storm you have to look to find some good in the situation that will not only help you through, but will also teach you something that will allow you to positively impact the future.” At the time when I was explaining this, I felt like a fraud because I was sure that in this particular situation, I would not only never find the silver lining, but that I would never again see a glimmer of light beneath the dark cloud that wouldn’t cease to hover over me. God, however, had much different plans.

     In sheer desperation, I started praying every single day, several times a day. “God, please help me. I’m here, wide open. I have nothing left. My sense of control, which I always counted on, is gone. You’re in control. Take the lead. Put your hand out on the path and I’ll take it. My way doesn’t work. It leaves me panicked and rushed, always measuring myself up to what I feel I should be and where I feel I should be going instead of loving every piece of myself exactly where I am.”

     Slowly, I started feeling a little better, not only mentally, but physically. I noticed that my body started to ache less, my nausea started to go away, and my hope was starting to return. During one prayer session, it came to me that I should start praying the rosary every day. I suppose this is what happens when people say they “heard” the voice of God. I didn’t in the literal sense, but when I was quiet and still enough, I just knew this is what I needed to do. It’s what God wanted me to do.

     Suddenly, my prayer life became transformed. Praying the rosary allowed me to identify with Christ’s suffering on the cross. It allowed me to understand the importance of finding my strength in Him. It also has taught me a great deal about humility, as my prayers have slowly become less about my getting well, and more about praying for others in need. No longer was I praying alone because by meditating upon the mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I was seeking an intercession of prayer from Mary herself and in doing so praying with her for the needs of others. My reward is the development of a deeper devotion to Christ through the sacraments and the Eucharist.

     Finally! I had found the silver lining to my own suffering. There was a purpose for me to have gone through a period in my life–albeit short-lived–that literally brought me to my knees with no choice but to pray while I was down there. Sometimes we have to lose it all in order to gain something much more valuable in return. I lost a sense of control and perfectionism, but in return I have graciously received the gift of humility. I had to lose something in order for room to be carved out for the Holy Spirit to enter and transform me. All I had to do was hold my hands up and let Him work within me so that His light could fill the void and shine outward with an outpouring of love. I realize that I sound like one of those crazy evangelicals, but I just can’t help myself. It’s too good not to share, and in doing so, I can’t possibly downplay the beauty of God’s redeeming grace.

     Never before have I faced a school year with so much excitement and hope, but it’s very different this time. Although I have always identified with Catholicism, I always wanted a secular curriculum. “I don’t want too much Jesus in our materials,” I would say.

     The truth is, Christ is the foundation of everything, and we should start and end every school day with a prayer and adoration for a Creator who brings us a sense of peace in a chaotic world–a peace that material things and achievement can’t give us alone.

     My anxiety about homeschooling and parenting has mostly ceased. I could care less about what the public schools are doing. I no longer think about what the private schools that we can’t afford are teaching. This is about us and no one else. This is our choice and these are our convictions. This is what we must do for our family. I also feel less intimidated by the accomplishments of others that I once felt I should be aspiring to–worldly pursuits that involve pleasing others more than receiving sanctifying grace. I am fully aware of my vocation, which is what homeschooling is:  a calling. There is absolutely no way for me to do this without integrating Christ into the very marrow of every single day, lest I become so overwhelmed by the sense of responsibility that I can no longer bear the weight. I can either crash down, or integrate the strength of God to help me carry the load.

     Surely we will teach our children about the world around them, introducing them to opposing views and keeping them informed more than sheltered. However, at the core will always be focusing on the importance of coming home to Christ where we can rest for a while and gather the strength to go out into the world again. My goal is to teach them not by force, but simply by example that going to Mass every Sunday, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis, and having an adoration for the Eucharist provides the blessed fruit of life that our soul needs in order to not just survive, but to thrive. In the midst of teaching mathematical skills and writing, I can also teach them about the importance of virtues, and that no matter where they are led in life and whatever they decide to do, at the core needs to be a desire to do God’s work, simply by having a reverence for the gift of life in a humanitarian effort to impact the world around them in some way, either big or small. With that in mind, I’m fairly sure each day will compile with the next to set our footpath in a promising direction upon solid ground.

     There are no guarantees in life. I can’t hold the weight of the household on my shoulders, let alone the weight of comparing myself to others. The time that I have is now, and I know that to focus on each day instead of worrying about the next five years is essential to my own peace of mind and appreciation for the gifts I have been given. I can’t please everyone, but I can do my best to serve others through prayer and assistance. I can be a good example to my children each and every day, which is a better goal to have than to pick all of the best homeschooling materials and then worry incessantly that there could have been a better way. The only guarantee is today. There is no choice other than to embrace each morning without fear, and to do so with my rosary in hand.

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Happy Valentine’s Day: 30 Something Style

I’m a last minute person.  Even my children know this.  It’s a part of my personality that clashes with my oldest child’s tendency to want to plan things months and weeks in advance, but we have an understanding with each other.  For example, if she starts to tell me weeks before her birthday exactly how she wants to make her cake and what we need to buy, I stop her and ask, “How does Mommy operate?”

“Um, one day ahead.”

“Right.  So when do you need to tell me all of the things you need for a birthday cake?”

“The day before we need to make it.”

“AMEN!”

Sometimes this last minute planning works out beautifully for me, but other times it doesn’t.  Over time I have learned to adjust and bend here and there.  For years Christmas was one thing I planned way ahead of time, finishing up all of our shopping by October, and not because I had the intention of being well-prepared, but because I desired to avoid the holiday traffic and shoppers.  This year I ignored my conscience and waited until after Thanksgiving to start shopping, thus I spent more time in stores and driving on congested streets than I have in all previous seasons combined.  Consequently, it was also the most miserable Christmas season that I can recall.

Valentine’s Day is one of those odd holidays.  (Is it even a holiday?)  Unlike Easter, when I’m typically left pillaging through the remainder of unwanted candy and stuffed animals the night before, Valentine’s Day seems to be one of those holidays that coincides beautifully with my tendency to do everything last minute.  How hard can it be to find a card and a small pack of Russell Stover’s chocolates the day before Valentine’s Day?  There is always so much of it on the store shelves, and even if that runs out, it’s not impossible to find an un-themed box of candy.  Perhaps a gift of womanhood is not having to plan for rings and flowers and balloons, or in our case, a new oven.  I have a man and three girls to shop for.  Cards.  Chocolates.  DONE!

Last night, when I had to stop by the grocery store for a few items, I stopped by the card aisle to make my selections.  The girls were fairly simple.  I found a cute card with a little cartoon girl riding a pony for Molly, a funny hologram card for Anne, and a sentimental card about growing into a lovely young lady for Jane.  However, when it came time to find a card for my husband, I found the task to be nearly impossible.  It isn’t that the cards were all sold out.  Most of the slots still had a few cards left in them.  It was that I couldn’t find anything that fit quite right to our 30-something stage of life .  There were funny and sappy cards for old love, or terribly sentimental cards for new love.  There were cards for people who are just entering parenthood, ones celebrating first Valentine’s Days, and plenty of trashy cards for Valentine’s Day flings.  What I failed to find were cards that most aptly fit into where my husband and I are in marriage:  two busy homeschooling parents/chaffers with older children.  We are no longer in the honeymoon phase of parenting, ushering our little bundle of joys in and out of high chairs and car seats.  We don’t have our little toddlers around who drive us nuts, but who also go to bed in time for us to enjoy a bowl of popcorn, or ice cream over a movie.  We have travelled so far beyond that, and it feels like it has been a lifetime even if realistically it has been going by in a flash.

My husband and I are in the throws of parenthood.  More often than not, we are now at the point where we fall asleep in exhaustion by the time the oldest child goes to bed at 10 pm.  If we want to enjoy a bowl of popcorn and a movie in secrecy, we would have to either drink a cup of coffee to keep us up a few extra hours at night (we actually do this from time to time), or put a microwave in the garage where the smell and sound wouldn’t waft up the stairs and into little bedrooms, which would inevitably be followed by the sound of feet hitting the ground.

Where were the cards for this stage of life when sentimental poems seem too sappy and silly, and the funny ones seem like lame jokes that aren’t worth the $4.99 price tag?  I can offer up more sarcasm and get more laughs than that for free in the kitchen.

As I stood there dodging the other last minute shoppers who happily and quickly made their selections, obviously in a different stage of marriage than I, I started to think that maybe I should just go home and make my own card.  I began to wonder who was writing these cards, and how underserved the market was for couples in our stage of marriage, for 30-somethings with older children.  I even thought about writing to Hallmark and asking them for a job for next year.  I could write some really good cards that would be most fitting for a couple like us, and surely there are other couples out there who would benefit from my half-witted wisdom and sarcasm.

Here are some of my ideas:

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I love you and you sure are great!

Can I go take a shower now?

___________________

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Roses are red;

Violets are blue.

I hope no one says “poop” over dinner;

don’t you?

___________________

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Did you accept my invites on Google for all of the upcoming soccer games?

___________________

Just as I was about to give up, I gave myself one more desperate attempt to find the perfect card for my husband.  One card I kept coming across was awful looking.  From what was sticking out behind the shelf, I could make out the lame artwork of flowers and the beginning of a poetic cliche.  I sighed heavily and pulled the card out of its slot on the shelf.  Surprisingly, it turned out to be the most perfect card for our stage of marriage:

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Simple.  Sweet.  Right to the point.  I put it in the cart.

You may be wondering what else was involved in this Valentine’s Day extravaganza of what seems like little effort compared to what most others do.  Obviously, we missed all of the Jared Jewelry commercials and I certainly didn’t have enough money to buy my husband a brand new sports car.  And after all, from the sights of Facebook, everyone else’s Valentine’s Day includes expensive jewelry, a dozen roses surprising someone at work, and other lovely gifts that go beyond sweetly pleasing the sweet tooth.  We have more in store, but in our classic fashion, it will be simply sweet and shared.  Later on tonight we will make our traditional Italian Valentine’s Day dinner that we have been sharing with our girls since they were born.  The exciting thing about this stage of parenthood is that I have three girls who are now old enough to help me prepare the meal.  We will dim the lights, light some candles, and enjoy dinner and a glass of wine (sparkling grape juice for the girls of course) before indulging in cannoli, which we have twice a year – on our Anniversary and on Valentine’s Day.

As far as gifts, well, those were involved as well, but they came in bits and pieces, and were also typical of being in our late 30’s with three kids and living on a budget.  I had to order new running shoes last week, so that was sort of a gift.  We also had to have a new stove, and I have to admit that it’s nice to be able to put something in the oven and not have to babysit it for fear that the heating element will automatically switch off.  It also looks a lot better in our kitchen than the big, white eyesore that was there before.

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In addition to these fine gifts, our compressor went out on our heating and air unit, which we have to have replaced next week.  And lastly, we even had a truck-full of mulch delivered and put down in the landscaping yesterday, which I’m sure our neighbors are more grateful for than even us.  If you collectively added up all of these gifts, we could have driven to the beach for the week.  However, so goes the story of our lives in what seems to be a transitional phase for sentimental love with little time left to waste on bad attempts at Hallmark humor.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of the 30 somethings out there!  I suppose we better embrace all of our last minute shopping, rare enjoyment of late night popcorn, and Legos scattered all over the living room floor.  If it holds true to what most older couples say, one day we will look back with sweet memories and appreciation for this stage of life.  If anything, we will be ever the more grateful for being able to spend a week at the beach instead of buying new appliances and sprucing up the landscaping.  And who knows?  Maybe we will invite our then grown children to join us.  I will have to have someone to help me make that big Italian meal.  Nah, perhaps by then we will form a new tradition of hiring someone else to make the meal for just the two of us.

Investments In Happiness

I’m going to try really hard not to sound like a dumbass here, but that may have been more of an apology for what I know is about to come:  a comparison between money and happiness.

We took the girls on a vacation to Disney this past Fall.  One particular attraction in Epcot involved the girls answering a series of questions regarding what they would save up for if they had the chance to earn a lot of money:  a vacation, a bedroom renovation, and something else that I can’t recall.  Once they had made their decision, they were given a large, pink piggy bank to take through a crash course of short games that either helped them save money, or caused them to lose it.  As I assisted our preschooler, one particular game stood out to me.  The screen was of a bedroom that you had to hide your money throughout.  You had the choice of a chest of drawers, a trunk, bookshelves, under the bed, and other secret hiding places.  The goal was to spread your money out instead of hiding it all in one place because soon the big bad fox was going to come rummaging through the bedroom to find and steal your money.  In order to prevent the fox from stealing all that you had, and thus losing all of the money you had saved, you had to be sure not to put all of your money in one place.  That would be disastrous.  The best you could hope for would be that the big bad fox would make out with very little of what you had worked so hard to earn then wisely tuck away to protect.  Funny, even as a 36-year-old woman, I learned something valuable from this game, but it had nothing to do with money.  It had more to do with happiness and how, just like with our financial investments, we would be wise to spread ourselves out instead of putting all of our coins into one place; otherwise, we would be taking a big risk at losing it all.

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about that game.  We are given only so much time, so much energy, and only one life, just one chance to get it right.  However, what if we mess up terribly?  What if we put all of our energy and love into one place, but it ended up being a really bad hiding spot?  What if a big bad fox comes through unexpectedly and devours all of the joy you had invested in, even after you had tried so hard to put it in the safest place possible?  Damn.

There are other options – other ways to spend your energy and invest in personal happiness.  Instead of putting it all into one place, you can deposit it here and there, and if the bottom falls out of any one of those things, then you didn’t lose it all.  You still have something valuable – albeit smaller – to work with.  One thing can go wrong, but you still have something to hold onto.

I put all of my bets into one place:  home.  And there is this belief that if we don’t do that as women, we are wronging ourselves, our spouses, and our children in some way.  Sure, for a while it is completely necessary to invest ourselves where the most energy is needed, and let’s face it, having babies and really little kids takes more energy than we even have available on most days.  It takes an arsenal of caffeine and wine just to get through the first five years of baby’s life.  Then what?

Well, our story has been different than most.  See, our oldest child has “special needs”, which aren’t that bad (especially since I consider those particular “special” things to be her greatest gifts), but it has left us in this continuous slump when it comes to educating her.  To say she has had an eclectic education thus far is an understatement, but whatever one takes from that, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it has worked.  She is funny, bright, and really a super cool kid – I mean, really.  The kid is pretty cool for 11-years-old.  For a child who used to ask in the second grade, “Why did God make me this way?” to now having a really strong sense of self and a really good sense of humor to go along with it, I think we have done a pretty damn good job making the decisions we have made.  But now…now…she is older.  She’s going into middle school.  Our baby is going into kindergarten.  (I have mentioned this like three or four times in the last few blog posts.  Maybe there is something there I should pay close attention to.)

So, obviously, at this point I’m asking, “What now?”  As life seems to be slowing down a bit and we no longer have a child under the age of 5, I am really thinking a lot about myself and what I have been ignoring.  Truth be told, everyone is happy and joyful.  We laugh and we have a good time.  Our kids are pretty good.  We have great friends.  But…am I happy?  No…not really.

And I don’t really know what it is that I need to change.  It just sits there on my shoulders waiting for me to figure it out and do something with it.  My biggest problem is that I have a really hard time sitting still, so instead of taking up yoga or meditation, I ask myself, “What now?”

I can write a good book.  I think I would be pretty great at it.  I’m not the most captivating writer (please for God’s sake don’t pick out all of these grammar mistakes), but I have heard from a decent number of people throughout my life that I should write more because they love to read what I write.  Doing that will take up at least a good three years…maybe four.  I could put some of my energy there.  I could go back to school and put some energy there.  I could still have some left for home because not as much is needed here…at least I don’t think that is the case.  I could take up a hobby like gardening, but then I can’t even keep a house plant alive for very long, so chances are that I will end up with a large muddy patch in the yard that will more than likely stay that way until we get ready to sell our house and, therefore, need everything to look all nice and tidy again.

The truth is, I’m kind of sick of putting all of my energy into one place.  It’s not that my children don’t make me happy because they do.  I love my daughters unlike anything else in the world.  They are the only people on the face of the earth for whom I could say beyond a shadow of a doubt I would give my own life.  But…kids grow up.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want them to stay little!  I enjoy them growing up and I honestly don’t want them to live under my roof for forever.

And…what about marriage?  It’s forever, right?  I hope so, but what if it isn’t?  What if it doesn’t work out?  Then what?  Well, if you didn’t take the time to invest in yourself you run a real risk of really losing it all.  You spent all of this time and love and energy and self in one single place.  You didn’t spread it out over several different places, which truthfully helps you hang onto something should any one thing fall.  And me?  Well, I haven’t done that, and it’s kind of scary.  I keep thinking about how I put all of myself into one place, but does this one place really give me back what I put into it?  Not really.  Should it?  Well…no.  It’s about sacrifice (at least that is what we tell ourselves), and sacrifice makes us happy, right?  No, not really.  It’s good…perhaps…but it doesn’t ensure happiness.

So what does give us happiness, and what is the purpose of it anyway?  I can tell you this:  Happiness is the result of good investments, and the purpose of it is to ensure that we can continue to smile, laugh, and enjoy life while we are here.  I know, I know.  People say that happiness isn’t important, right?  It’s selfish in a way, I guess.  I agree that it is completely selfish to think about it in terms of using material goods to fill the void of happiness.  However, real happinessjoythat is what feeds our soul.  That is the thing that helps us to connect to other people, to help other people, and to make sacrifices.  It’s what gives us the get-go to get up and face the challenges of each day, to endure hardship, and to live life for everything that it is worth.

And God…where does He come in in all of this?  I have no idea, but He would have to be a part of it, right?  I read the bible daily.  I hear what it says.  It doesn’t say anything about personal happiness being a virtue, but it says a ton about being humble, gracious, kind, giving, honest, and loving.  The truth is, if we walk around in a cloud of darkness each day then what good are we for any of those things?  Not much.  Not much at all.  I know that I used to be able to deliver on all of those aspects with full force, but now I feel like I’m running on an empty tank.

I have to figure out a way to fill up again with all of the good things I will need to get through life continuing to be a good, strong woman.  It’s such a delicate thing to understand and balance.  It’s like when my 8-year-old got in trouble yesterday and I told her the story of the angel and the devil that sit upon opposing shoulders.  This is a scenario that has been depicted in cartoons numerous times, but this is actually a pretty good way to describe to a child what exactly it means to have a conscious and how to use it to decide between making a right and wrong decision.  It’s easy when you’re a kid.  You know that you don’t steal something, or hit your sister.  As an adult this gets much more tricky.  Is choosing to make some changes in order to help yourself find a deeper meaning and joy in life turning your back on good – on God?  Are you paying more attention to the little devil that wants self-gratification at the expense of others?  On the other side, if you ignore this constant pecking in your soul that you need to do something more – to hone in on your gifts and do something with them – are you then selling yourself short and at the same time not utilizing the best parts of yourself that God has given you?  It’s really hard to know the answer to those questions right off the bat, and mostly because the answer to those two questions constantly shifts throughout life.

Maybe this is just like anything else in life.  Sometimes you have it all figured out.  For example, it’s pretty easy to know what you’re going to make for dinner (most nights) and what you’re going to do for the day.  However, when those decisions get really big and confusing, you have to be okay with the fact that the unknown is a reality you have to learn to deal with in the best way possible.  Unfortunately, sometimes the only answer is to just close your eyes and jump, hoping that before you land, you will have learned how to fly.  If anything, at least the gift of flying will help you to avoid that asshole of a fox who is always lurking around the corner to steal all of your investments in happiness.  If you don’t learn to fly, let’s just hope you end up landing in a really good hiding spot.

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Laundry Basket Briefcase

As my children grow older, I’m coming to the realization that I have some regrets.  Due to being rather busy, frazzled, and absent-minded for the better part of an entire decade, I haven’t had much time to think about decisions left in the past that could have taken me down any number of different roads.  More recently, as these small windows of reflection begin to resurface, I am finding that certain regrets are starting to bubble up in my mind that I had buried a long time ago.  In fact, I didn’t always consider them regrets because they had previously been simply dreams left uncultivated.

One of these regrets is that I never finished college.  Instead of tending to my post high school education right after graduation, I wanted to break away from my hometown for a while, so I moved to Utah and California.  Being responsible for a younger sibling for the majority of my teenage years, I just needed to breathe for a bit and be responsible for only myself.  Somehow, I couldn’t manage to do this traveling the same streets and facing the same options over and over again.  I needed to see what was out there beyond the well-travelled path between my hometown in Kentucky, and Florida, the only place we ever vacationed when I was a kid.

To say that I was introduced to new things during my post high school adventures would be an understatement.  I was lucky enough – probably due in large part to the fact that my devout Christian grandparents prayed for me by the hour – to find a roommate in California who took me under his wing.  He was from out east as well and we both came from large, close-knit families.  We stuck together, becoming the best of friends; although, later we became romantically involved a little more than we should have been.  Once he took at job in the Middle East and moved, I decided I had had enough of the bigger world.

Among the things I learned on my self-imposed sabbatical was that people could be really messed up in ways I had never imagined:  parents supporting their kid’s drug habits, bosses addicted to cocaine, and cruel people who do whatever is necessary to get ahead in the world at the expense of others.  Eventually, I decided that it was time to go home where I had a mom and a dad, grandparents, siblings, cousins, and love all in one small town that I thought I would never want to return to.  I remember telling a friend of mine at the time that once I got home, I wanted to reconnect with a friend from my past whom I had always turned down when he approached me.  I had no intentions of anything more than a friendship, but just wanted the companionship of a true friend – someone who valued me for who I was.  I had no idea then that I would not only connect with that boy, but we would later marry and have children.

By the time I started college I was nearly 21 years old, and by then I was so confused as to what I wanted to do that I changed majors over and over again.  My husband graduated from school, I switched colleges, and when I was 25 we welcomed our first daughter.  There was no question about it, I would decide to drop out and take care of our family full-time.  While I have since not only taken college courses here and there, getting myself a little closer each time to graduation, I have also had two more daughters.  To say that I have put myself on the back burner is an understatement.  In fact, I have been lucky enough to even take a shower every day.

Lately, as my youngest daughter is preparing to enter kindergarten and my oldest is on the brink of being a teenager, I have been taking myself back to those decisions I made so long ago.  There is a part of me that wishes I had finished college before getting married and having children.  Nevertheless, the decisions I made are the fabric of what I have become, and there is no part of me that wishes my life to be any different than it is now.  So, what is it exactly that I regret?  Am I contradicting myself by saying that I regret what I have chosen, but that I wouldn’t want my life to be any different than it is now?  I know.  I’m just as confused.

See, it’s just that I’m only 36-years-old, but I feel like I’m approaching retirement, as if I’m already an old woman.  Life just seems to be hanging in the balance right now.  There’s nothing particularly interesting going on and nothing I particularly look forward to.  I suppose that wouldn’t be the case if I lived through my children, but I have never been that type of mother.  I like my own space and my own life aside from theirs.  I’m completely okay dropping them off here and there, encouraging them as their biggest cheerleader, but never being so invested that I can’t separate them from myself.  The problem is, I haven’t had much time to focus on what it is exactly that I need as a woman, and the sad part is, I can’t really figure out how to actually make something happen.  Going back to school isn’t so much of an option anymore.  The fact is, we are considered an upper middle class family, meaning that I don’t qualify for grants and our family contribution is much higher than what reality will allow.  Raising three children isn’t cheap.  Taking money from the budget for myself means them going without in some way, and the truth is, I had my time. It’s their time now.  I brought them into the world and they are my responsibility to take care of.  I have a choice to make and not everything is an option; although, I distinctly remember growing up learning otherwise.  It was something about being anything we wanted to be as women – this idea that we could have it all.  It was a sham.

I feel that we have been lied to as women.  We have been told that we can have it all.  We can have a career and a family, equal opportunities in the workforce, and be president of the PTO.  We can be there for our children and our bosses.  We can go back to school and still be able to get to ballet, theater, the library, help someone with math and reading, make sure our family has a nutritious homemade meal on the table, and that the laundry is getting done.  We have been lied to that we can do all of that and still have an ounce of sanity to live by.  It simply isn’t true.

The cold, hard fact is this:  WE CAN’T POSSIBLY DO IT ALL!  We have to chose something – what is most important or most necessary for our particular family – and leave the regret of our decisions in the past.  The truth of the matter is, if a woman choses to work, there is something at home that they will miss:  a baby’s first steps, her first words, reading books to her at nap time, and being present during her most productive part of the day.  If we stay at home, we don’t miss out on those things, but we miss out on personal growth aside from being a parent.

As I sit here and deal with this festering ounce of regret for choices I have made that have limited my personal growth, I know that I have to eventually bury these regrets for good, realizing and being okay with the fact that I was never able to do it all.  I had to decide what was most important and what worked best for our family at the time.  I have to be truly grateful that I even had that choice to begin with.  Many women don’t.  For us, my husband’s earning potential and growth in the workforce was properly balanced with me staying at home.  He has grown in leaps and bounds working for fortune 500 companies.  His ability from this point forward will propel him into positions he would be so much further away from had I not made the decision to be a stay-at-home parent.  His income solely has been able to grow and care for us in ways that two incomes wouldn’t have allowed.  While I’m truly grateful for this and never once take it for granted, I have to be honest when I say that there is a small part of me that is jealous over his personal growth in his career and where it has taken him.

Yesterday we took our little girls to see Paddington Bear.  As Paddington sits at the attic window looking out over London, my husband leans over and says, “I’ve been over that bridge.”

“Oh, yeah.  Well, I go up and down our stairs like 400 times a day and I go to Target at least once a week.  So there!”  We both laughed.

“I would rather be at home with you than in London,” he replied.

Jokingly, but with a slight tinge of honesty I said, “You’re ridiculous.  I would rather be alone on that bridge in London than at home any day.”  And the truth of the matter is, that is exactly how I feel.  I would love to just for a little while take a business trip to Chicago or London.  I would love to be around grown-ups all day and make decisions that go beyond turkey sandwiches and peanut butter.  I would rather drive to work listening to NPR than listening to people argue in the backseat over being ten minutes late to swim class.  However, this is just…life.  It is what it is in all of its imperfect glory.  It’s the culmination of decisions I have made and the path I have chosen.  I can’t regret any of it.  There’s no turning back.

Surely many people now will say, “Go for it!  Finish school!  It’s never too late.  You can do it!”  Guess what?  I have already swallowed the hard pill.  I know for sure that I simply cannot do it all.  I have to make a decision, I have to be grateful for that fact that I have that decision to make in the first place, and I know that the decision to put the needs of our family first will always be what I will chose.  I need to make sure our bills are paid on time, our kids are being cared for, and that our house is livable and comfortable.  For us, it means one person in the workforce and the other taking care of matters at home.  Financially, it makes the most sense with my husband carrying his briefcase out of the door each day while I clean drops of concreted oatmeal off of the countertop.

Right now I find myself in a bit of a funk.  I read and study often, never willing to let myself stop growing in any way, shape, or form.  I take care of my health, stay up to date on what is nutritionally best for not only myself, but also my family.  I know my children, guide them, and work in unison with my husband to make the best decisions based on our specific needs.  I have to be okay with the fact that I am an intelligent, capable woman who on paper has less markable skills than Napoleon Dynamite.  I have to be okay with the fact that going up and down the stairs with a basket of laundry instead of a briefcase holds more meaning and purpose for my life than my selfish side wants to admit to.  When it comes down to it, when I decided to bring people into the world, my time to invest fully in myself was over.  I had my time and now it’s theirs, and by the time they grow up and leave home, I’ll be well into my life, so much so that it wouldn’t make much sense to invest in college and work for a short number of years before my husband retires and we seek opportunities together.

For now, I’ll wait.  Some day in the far, far future, maybe I’ll get to walk over the London Bridge.  It may be when I’m in my 60’s, it definitely won’t be on a business trip, and I will probably – if the good Lord allows – be there with my husband who will have been there several times before me, but nevertheless, I will enjoy it all the same.  I can’t have it all, but I can appreciate that compromise is the gift that getting by day to day hinges upon.  Life isn’t about having it all; it’s about making choices.  It’s about being okay with where we are and trying our hardest along the way not to let our regrets get the best of us.

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A Put-Together, Disheveled Mess of A Woman

To be completely honest, I enjoy life when my husband is on a business trip.  Granted, he doesn’t go on them very often, and he is never gone for more than a week, but still.  There is something about having the house all to myself at night – putting the girls to bed then not having to speak to anyone.  I can read a book without interruptions, watch whatever I want on television, hog all of the pillows, and sleep in the center of the bed (at least until the 5-year-old climbs into bed with me in the wee hours of the morning).  This might not sound like much, but to a woman who spends 99.9% of her time surrounded by other people, the solitude turns our bedroom into my own private island post bedtime routines.

This past week my husband has spent a few days in Chicago, leaving me to manage after school activities on my own.  This sounds simple enough until you consider the fact that I also homeschool the kids, meaning that by 3 pm I’m typically a over-caffeinated basket case with children who never seem to chose activities within close proximity to each other.  This leaves someone vulnerable to missing practice when only one parent-mobile is in operation.

Last night swim practice got the axe over ballet, and simply because ballet is much more expensive.  After a completely full day, which had involved a field trip downtown to see a play, we were all a little frazzled.  Most moms – the ones who have it all together, which I do NOT – would have been prepared by planning accordingly considering that not only was the field trip downtown, but so was ballet class.  The thought crossed my mind in Lala Land that I should have packed a nutritious lunch, snacks, ballet clothing, and bun-making accessories ahead of time, meaning that we would have made just one trip downtown yesterday.  Me…me?  No.  Of course that didn’t happen.  See, I envy the moms who occupy Lala Land.  They are the ones who homeschool with smiles on their faces and would never dream of threatening to send their kids back to school 400 times a day like I do.  I’m pretty sure they wake up with a full-face of perfectly applied make-up and daytime hair.  Those moms are a different breed and we don’t even remotely swim in the same gene pool.  There are several variations of mom that spans from put-together to disheveled, and I suppose I hit somewhere different along that line depending on the day, the hour, my mood, the weather, and how much I care.  We have pajama days, days where I’m demanding everyone put on daytime clothing, and days when I would rather crawl into a cave than start the day.

By the time dinnertime rolled around last night, we had been from home to downtown to home to run an errand in our hometown back to home and then back downtown.  Needless to say, by 5 pm I was operating in survival mode.  Although my outward appearance on this particular day would have given me approval for residence on Lala Land, a brain scan would have more properly placed me into a mental institution.  I wonder how many other homeschooling moms who look put together are in the same boat.  Obviously appearances can be deceiving, but I always assume that I alone occupy a space in between normal and getting-ready-to-jump-off-a-bridge.  I’m fairly certain that I no longer even have adrenal glands in my body.  They have shriveled up and forsaken me saying, ‘Screw you, woman!  I have given all I have and all you do is take and take and take!’

As the girls and I made our way down the congested, rush hour city streets from the only store in the city that sells the ballet tights we needed (they were out of stock and any other mom would have called before driving all of the way there) to Panera, I gripped the wheel with both hands as I feverishly reminded the kids to be perfectly quiet and still because otherwise I would certainly sideswipe a city bus or hit a careless, naieve college kid as she travelled the crosswalks in that I-have-my-whole-life-ahead-of-me stupor.  Not to mention that I was driving my husbands SUV in favor of the minivan, which added to my nervousness.  My husband is a kind and generous man, but driving his car is like driving your husband’s man-cave.  My husband doesn’t have a real man-cave, so in a house full of women, his car is his get away.  We have to be extra careful to neither leave trash in the cup holders, or run over pedestrians.  We also have to be sure to park his car in the back of every parking lot to avoid the inevitable dings left behind when careless drivers and passengers open their car doors.  However, this isn’t an option when parking anywhere downtown considering that parking is tight if you are even lucky enough to find a spot.

I pulled into Panera’s lot, carefully circling the parking area twice before deciding amongst the few available spots which one provided the most space for opening and closing doors, and reminded the girls not to open the doors prematurely as I pulled in and backed out, pulled in and backed out, and pulled in and backed out the proper number of times to ensure I was in the best spot possible between the neighboring cars to prevent the slightest chance of a car ding.  If I had been in my van, I would have simply pulled into the lot and chosen the one that was big enough to wedge the barge in, reminding the girls upon exiting not to knock out any of the toys, paper, or books that carpet the floorboards.

Once situated in our spot, I took a deep breath, quickly fixed my hair, and got the kids out of the car.  I told them to remember to behave because we were downtown and the restaurant seemed full of college kids and people wearing business suits, meaning that they wouldn’t take kindly to frazzled mothers and her triple brood.  Of course it didn’t work out that way.  I sent my ballerina into the bathroom to put her leotard and ripped tights on underneath her clothing while arguing at the counter with my preschooler over whether or not she could have chocolate milk with her dinner.  Then there is my oldest child who, while on the cusp of being a teenager, perceives herself to be on the cusp of adulthood, thus she is in this constant dilemma when eating out over whether or not to order from the kids or adults menu.  As the cashier waited for her to make up her mind over the vast expansion of new choices available to her, I tried to make her selection easier.

“You like grilled cheese.  Get the half and half grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup.”

She responds in an embarrassed tone of voice, “MOM, it’s called two and two, not half and half.”  She nervously looked around her at the people in line who must have been thinking,  ‘How could she?  What an idiot calling it that, and in front of her young daughters!’

“Whatever it’s called.  Who cares!  Just order something.”  I looked down at my phone.  We had exactly 30 minutes to get our food, eat, get a bun in the ballerina’s hair, and get to ballet school.

I’m sure I was a confusing specimen to the young, obviously childless and obviously not married college kid behind the register.  On the outside I looked completely put together, like perhaps I had just come from working a full day in my corner office doing something important and impressive, but once my mouth opened and my eyes darted around the menu and at my children like a deranged bird, it seemed I must have broken out of the hospital, stolen these children, ripped of a Banana Republic, and was trying to move in and out before the police caught up with me.  “Good luck,” she told me as she handed me the change.

“Thanks,” I responded.  All the while thinking that she has no idea what the next ten years of her life would bring.  She might not remember me 10 minutes from leaving her register, but there is a good chance the memory of me will resurface when she is in her late thirties and responsible for not only her schedule, but the schedules of four other people while driving around in a car that you need to treat as though it belongs in a plastic bubble instead of on the street like all of the other normal cars.  I really should have driven the van.

We sat down, we ate quickly, and I debated for a moment whether or not it was okay to put a bun in my kid’s hair at the table in the middle of a restaurant.  I have never heard otherwise.  I mean, I know the basics.

Things not to do at the dinner table:

1.  Blow your nose

2.  Burp

3.  Fart

4.  Use crude language

5.  Pick your teeth, nose, or ears

Nope.  No rules about putting up ballet buns that I have ever heard of.

As the girls finished up and joked around with one another, I looked around to scope out the surroundings, trying to assess the likelihood that I would end up on someone’s Facebook page or You Tube.

‘Just witnessed a mom putting bun in kid’s hair at the table in Panera.  Can you say GRODY?’

We had exactly fifteen minutes until ballet class started.  I took my chances.  I pulled out the bobby pins, the brush, and a pony tail holder and proceeded while ordering my oldest daughter to take our dishes and trash to the bins.

‘Just witnessed a mom ordering her child to labor over throwing away entire family’s trash all by herself while she put a bun in her kids hair AT THE TABLE!  I will never do that when I’m a mom.’  

‘She just handed her smallest kid a cell phone to occupy her while she put up a bun and sent her oldest child to dispose of everyone’s trash and dishes.’  

Surely these people know that my oldest child is on the cusp of adulthood because she is, but only when it’s convenient to my needs as a mom.  Surely they know that my preschooler is likely to end up in the parking lot if I don’t keep her occupied for five minutes.  Surely they know that I’m putting up a bun because my middle daughter probably has dyslexia so we homeschool her, have brought her reading level up two grades in less than a full school year, and invest in ballet classes in the most prestigious ballet school in the city!

Once it was all said and done, we got to ballet class only ten minutes late while managing to keep the preschooler alive and the oldest child only mildly embarrassed.  Win-win!

What was it I said up there about loving it when my husband goes away on business?  Did I mention that it’s much easier to say that the day when he returns home?  I can’t help but to think of the awesome moms out there who send their husbands to war, managing their households on their own for over a year’s time.  Some of them even homeschool multiple children.  They probably don’t care if they look disheveled or put together because their minds are occupied with real worries.  They probably could care less what people think if they let their oldest child step in as an adult to clear the dinner table in a restaurant, or if they have to put up a ballet bun at the table.  Me?  Well, I suppose I’m a total wiener who looks put together on the outside, is a complete disorganized mess on the inside, and obviously I care too much about what people think as I circle parking lots, mess up the Panera menu, and dodge pedestrians.  I suppose I’m just a put-together, disshevled mess of a woman.  That’s not so bad in the grand scheme of things.  I could still be a naive college kid thinking that I knew more than everyone else about how to solve the world’s problems.  Even worse, I could be an adult who thinks that way.  You definitely swallow your pride when you realize that not only do you have a hard time solving your own problems, but there is a very good chance that you never will.  That’s okay.  That realm of having it all together is already occupied by Lala Land inhabitants, and things can get a little too predictable over there for me.  I like to keep things exciting.  Obviously!

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My Short Sap Fest

My advice for what it’s worth: I don’t recommend looking at middle and high schools while listening to Ben Howard on iTunes radio. It’s like the sad, bawling scenes from a movie when a mother rewinds her child’s life in her mind, resurfacing memories of her as a baby, now growing closer to being a teenager. It makes matters even worse when you consider the fact that your youngest child is going into kindergarten. With that said, I see the silver lining in this being that we have SO many memories. It’s only been 11 years and there is SO much there already. So much goodness. So much time.

We have had such a wonky experience over the years, but they are ours and they are lovely. I wouldn’t change a thing, especially if it would alter the outcome which has resulted in really authentic, good-hearted, and smart kids.  I’m almost embarrassed when I tell people how much we have bounced around, doing whatever works best when need be, but simply because our experience veers so much from the well-beaten path.  Nevertheless, we remained vigilant that we were doing what was best, and looking back, we did just that.

Tomorrow my oldest child turns 11-years-old.  Since her birth we have lived in three cities, two states, and she has attended three different schools, including a mix of homeschooling in between.  I suppose to be fair I should mention that we haven’t moved since she started kindergarten.  We just chose the wrong neighborhood, the wrong school district, and if I could recall the number of times I have cried about those unfortunate choices I would be here typing all day.  The more time has pressed on, bringing us to now – a time when we have to consider consistency in a school community and when lessons that will benefit her throughout her academic career are possibly better taught outside of our home by qualified teachers in a strong school – I don’t regret the unfortunate location of our home in the slightest simply because it has given us the gift of time, awareness, and   connection.  It has grown us into a close-knit family.  It has allowed us to learn lessons beyond the books and has given us connections beyond the norm in regard to typical American families and lifestyles.  Sure, our experience is a little weird compared to most, but it is ours.  It’s been an awesome ride so far.

There are some bright things to consider with my youngest going to kindergarten.  From her 5-year-old perspective, she is really looking forward to it, and she will love it.  She talks about “going to kindergarten” a lot.  I have to remind her that sweet Ms. Rosi, her preschool teacher, won’t be her teacher in kindergarten.  She will have to move to another school – a school for big kids.  She gets a puzzled look on her face.  She isn’t ready to imagine that just yet.  We usually end the conversation there.

And then there is Anne – sweet Anne – the forgotten middle child in the middle of the middle of things.  Going into the 4th grade next year isn’t anything particularly monumental.  We don’t create mountains out of molehills, so I know I might seem like an unloving mother; however, I can’t quite explain the excitement this particular child feels when she accomplishes something new and something she can claim as her very own.  Being in the middle gives her a little extra insight, a little something special.  In two years we will make a great big deal out of her moving onto new things.  For now, we will remind her that she is extra special because Jane is a big sister, Molly is a little sister, but she is a big and a little sister.  Being in the middle has its perks.

These have been some crazy years.  Honestly, my kids aren’t the best.  I admire kids who sit perfectly still in Mass, kids who behave in the grocery store, and kids who are quiet in restaurants.  My kids are loud and busy.  They are always in the middle of every single conversation.  They are curious.  Interested.  Alive.  They drive me nuts 99% of the time, but they are such cool little individuals.

OK…now to change the channel on iTunes Radio.  Maybe I should play the Beastie Boys and angrily clean the house.  After all, we have taken PTO from schoolwork today to clean the house.  It is THAT bad around here, and it is incredibly common for PTO cleaning days to exist when you homeschool your children under your roof during the winter months.  Things get REALLY, really unorganized and messy very quickly.  The piles of paper cutouts, rough drafts, and laundry are threatening to suffocate us all.  Onward to tackle those things.

Oh, and finally…this kid:  She turns 11 tomorrow!

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It happens quickly. Embrace it. It’s the only time you will have with them while they are little. Know who they are. Cherish them. Don’t look back and regret not taking advantage of the time.

Embracing Now

My middle child drives me nuts.  I mean, they all drive me nuts individually in their own little way, then all together when they combine their efforts, but with the middle child, it’s different.

My youngest drives me nuts with her physical energy.  She moves so quickly from one thing to the next, and not just with her short 5-year-old attention span, but in the entire way she moves.  You can’t hold her between the hours of 9 am and 8 pm.  She will claw, crawl, and bounce all over the place.  Holding her through Mass is like trying to hold onto a moody cat in a large crowd, with its ears turned back and back arched high.  She doesn’t have attention, or focus problems.  She isn’t anything out of the ordinary when it comes to being a disciplined preschooler.  She is just so very five, which means she has a keen talent for one minute being sweet and gentle, then the next displaying the characteristics of a rabid animal tossing and turing in a fit of rage over silly things like not having another Gogurt.  Or not being able to wear a Batman t-shirt to church.  Or not being able to go outside in shorts and a tank top in 30* weather.  After three children, these are things that I simply step over, and I mean literally.  Unlike my firstborn whose setback in her short ten years on this earth has been learning that she isn’t the center of the universe (which she obviously was until she had siblings), we simply remove our screaming 5-year-old from the room, place her into another one, and shut the door.  She gets over herself very quickly.  I will admit that this is harder for me than it is for her.  Look at this face:

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Our oldest daughter drives me nuts for the reasons stated above, but of course now in a 10-year-old kind of way.  Her self-centeredness isn’t as overly obnoxious as it used to be.  In fact, the older she gets, the more she gains in understanding.  She is becoming more humble, patient, and kind, which I am grateful for.  This is the same child who has significantly challenged us when it comes to academics.  I won’t go into details, using dirty words like “gifted”.  (I don’t believe it is a dirty word, but I have been through this before and you learn as you go.  To the people who don’t really understand what giftedness encompasses, they take the word “gifted” and equate it to things like owning a Mercedes or a multi-million dollar house.  “Look at poor so-and-so with her bright kid…wah, wah, wah.”  It’s impossible to explain it.  When you come across another parent with a highly gifted kid you sympathize, “I get it.  I know,” but you leave it at that.  It’s not worth explaining the difference in gifted and status symbols.  It’s not even remotely the same thing.)

Our middle daughter will be turning 9-years-old this April, and in a lot of ways, she is my easiest kid to raise.  She is pretty calm, mostly quiet, and compliant as long as she is feeling loved and appreciated.  If that feeling of love becomes threatened in any way, she quickly turns on you and the level of drama rises to unprecedented levels.  She has a keen memory and will resurface ever single parenting failure since her birth.  The only solution is to coerce her into her room for a time of reflection, which mostly ends peacefully.  During her time she always writes a terribly misspelled, but beautifully printed note with backwards b’s and d’s, then slips it under her door.  They typically go something like this:

Dear Mommy and Daddy,

Im not lovd.  Im a crubby kid.  Im going to run away.  You won’t need my anymor decase everyone hates me.  Im not sorry.  You will be happy when Im not here.

Your Crubby Kid

We don’t turn these mishaps and twisted sentiments into an episode of the Waltons.  Fuzzy-feeling music doesn’t play while we shed tears over our daughter’s hurting heart.  We mostly fold up the letter, put it on the table, and wait for her to come to her senses.  It doesn’t take too long.  Eventually we hear a sweet, transformed voice at the top of the stairs.  “Mommy, I’m sorry.  Can I come down now?”  We give her a hug.  We say, “I love you.”  We talk about the problem, what was learned, and life goes on.  I always save her little notes of despair, placing them into the desk drawer to use for future spelling and grammar lessons.  They do come in handy.

Most conflicts with my middle child arise from schoolwork.  She isn’t necessarily lazy; she’s a dawdler.  She isn’t stupid; she daydreams and loses focus if something doesn’t interest her.  This year we chose to use a unit studies, literature-based curriculum, which works out beautifully if she is interested in the particular concept we are studying, but if she isn’t interested, it’s easily the most miserable three weeks of my life – much more miserable than the miserable time before that one…or the one before that one…or the one before that one.  But all in all, we have had some really great weeks where she has been engaged and excited to learn.  We are learning together.  For example, the most important lesson I have learned thus far is that we will never pursue a full-curriculum of unit studies ever again.

In all seriousness, homeschooling is a daunting task to take on, but there are so many good moments that surprisingly make the bad moments seem like tiny little mishaps not worth much consideration.  In between some bad hours, or bad days, we have a really good time together.  I am getting to know my kids in an intimate way instead of merely rushing them off from place to place to place.  I know what they love and what they don’t; what bores them to death and what makes them come alive; what their desires are for themselves and roads they wish not to go down; their fears and their curiosities.

Next year will be a hard pill to swallow in some ways and a huge relief in others.  Our oldest child will be entering the 6th grade – middle school.  Elementary school is fairly simple.  With good lesson plans, a schedule, frequently refreshed art materials, a stack of books, paper, and a strong math curriculum, it’s pretty impossible to screw things up.  In these early years, it is important to build a strong foundation, and there are some benefits to homeschooling that heavily outweigh the drawbacks.  Homeschooled children have more time to spend investigating their surroundings, moving at their own pace, and not having to worry about preparing for a battery of tests to measure their teacher, school, district, and state.  They have insurmountable freedoms that even the most prestigious private school can’t provide.  They have the freedom to just be who they are without any outside pressures to perform according to someone else’s standards.  There’s a certain peace about a young school-aged child who can sleep in in the morning, wake slowly, take the time to eat a healthy breakfast, and dress themselves.  They can take a few moments to read their latest library books before diving into their schoolwork for the day, and if it takes an hour to do math one day and fifteen minutes to do it the next, that’s OK, as long as the child is learning, engaged, and making progress.

While I have a child coming into kindergarten next year and look forward to her possibly entering our homeschool (this is a decision that is still very much up in the air), I have my oldest child who will be moving outside of it.  We have had to play the system with elementary school, trying different avenues and doing whatever worked best at the moment, which has more-or-less been a method of survival for educating a gifted child on a budget.  While I love the fact that she has been able to develop into her own unique person outside of the social stigmas most other children have to grow up within, I know that the time is drawing near that she needs to start preparing for more – a life that does rely heavily on schedules, tests, and meeting the expectations of a teacher who didn’t give birth to her.  Eventually we want her to successfully attend high school and then college, which seems absurd to think about with a 5th grader, but time moves quickly.  The lessons she is learning now will impact her for a lifetime.  There is a nervousness about wanting to keep her little, pure, and innocent to a world that moves too fast and expects too much, but it’s a reality that we can’t ignore.  We have to give her the opportunity to adjust and grow into it before she leaves our home for good some day, while she is still under our roof, care, and watchful eye.

For our middle child, she still has at least two years left with me, next year homeschooling alongside a younger sibling, and having the opportunity to be the big kid in the household for eight hours a day.  Her needs are a little different than our oldest, and homeschooling has allowed me to grow in appreciation for the things she brings to the table that are completely unique to just her.  She communicates ideas on the peripheral, which gives me a heck of a time trying to ask her comprehension questions following a reading.  For example, the answer to a question a few days ago was “the park”, but instead of simply answering with that, she explained it in a huge, never-ending, breathless rambling of words that “the children went to the place where there are slides and there were swings and they got on the teeter-totter and we have one here where we feed the ducks and walk over the bridge”.  YES, BUT WHAT IS THAT THING CALLED for crying out loud! 

Reading with her has been a challenge since day one.  She came into it on her own and much more slowly than most other children, but nevertheless, she has gone in a single year from reading at a middle 2nd grade level to reading 5th grade level books.  And as time goes on, we evolve together when it comes to tactics that will make our school day run more smoothly.  We bounce ideas off of each other – things we can apply in the future that will help her to become more fully engaged with what she is learning.  This past weekend we were at Barnes and Noble, and I had done what I normally do when looking for books.  I will take the children with me to make my selections before taking them back into the children’s section where I sit at a table to review my books while they look through the toys and books that spark their interests.  Anne came up to me with a book about Martin Luther King.  She informed me that she doesn’t really like reading books with cartoon characters.  I asked, “What do you mean?  You don’t like books with illustrations on the front?”

“Well, no.  Not like that.  You know, the characters are drawn.”

Still puzzled, I looked at her, trying to figure out exactly what she was saying.  “You mean that you like books with photographs on the cover?”

“No.  Not like that.  I like books that are real.  I don’t like fiction books.”

“Oh!  You like nonfiction…like this book you’re holding.”

“Yep!”

She handed me the book.  I looked at the back cover, and while we hadn’t planned on the girls getting a new book this particular trip, I decided that I could spare $7 even though I was sure this book would sit on her shelf amongst the other books she had picked out and never finished.  I had come to the conclusion that this kid wasn’t destined to become an avid reader.  She loves math and science, but reading and writing are not her favorite subjects.  However, there are times when she will surprise me, and typically when I least expect it.  It will be like pulling teeth to get her to write a simple three sentence journal entry, but later in the day she will bring me a ten page well-written play.  She will complain over reading a simple book that is below grade-level, then will polish off a book three grade levels ahead with no problem.  Take the Martin Luther King book for instance.  We bought the book, she brought it home, and it sat on the kitchen counter for two days.  Last night she decided to crack it open and half an hour later brought the 100+ page book to me.  “Here, I finished this one, and tomorrow I am going to read the one I got in my stocking for Christmas about Marie Currie.”  And she did.  She woke up this morning and read the entire book in one sitting.

As we move through our last semester together, my oldest and my middle daughter homeschooling under my roof, I will try to take each day a step at a time.  While conflicts arise that get the best of me – I yell and throw fits like any good stressed-out mother with too much to do – I realize that the time we have now is a gift that I must embrace.  While one moment I can be crying that no one is getting along, a few moments later I can find joy in the laughter that comes from the girls being together at the kitchen table playing a board game.

There are so many materials out there when it comes to things like parenting and homeschooling, and often these materials all conflict with one another.  Do we let the baby cry it out, or do we pick him up to remind him that he is loved?  Do we send our child to school where they come home crying every single day, or do we bring them home into a productive environment?  Is it the right time to hold them back, or to let them spread their wings to see if they can fly?  The answers to these questions are as individual as each family…as each parent…as each child.  At the end of the day, it’s what makes us who we are, through the good times and the bad, through the things that draw us closer together and the annoyances that drive us to seek solitude under our own roof.  Nevertheless, at the center of everything…always…is family and home.  It’s a place where our children can come for as long as necessary to seek the tenderness they need to grow in their own right, but it is also the place they must eventually and carefully be guided away from so that they can step out into a world that is more harsh and less understanding, where they must learn to stand on their own two feet.  Time moves swiftly and our children are growing and changing so quickly from one season to the next.  No matter how much they drive me crazy one minute and melt my heart the next, and no matter how many times they make me reach my threshold which quickly turns me from a peaceful and understanding woman to a bawling, uncomposed mess the next, I will cherish this whole big, crazy idea of bringing my kids home when something didn’t quite work out, cracking open books at the dining room table instead of in a classroom.  I have none other to thank than my oldest who has driven me nuts with her self-absorbed and unquenched desire to learn quickly, my emotional and passionate middle child who uses an abundance of words to describe simple things, and my physically exuberant youngest who can take any single moment and turn it into a marathon.

Life is short.  Too short.  If we don’t take the time while our children are little to step off the grid, throw away the parenting books, and live life with purpose – teaching our children to do the same – we will miss out on the reward of living life with intention and we will miss out on the opportunity to learn about who our children truly are.  One day these little children will grow bigger, they will step out of our door, and God knows we will want to have given them plenty of reasons during all of that time we were gifted with them to make them want to keep coming back home.

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Some Random Stuff about Remotes…and God…and Running…and My Lack of Being Able to Come up with a Better Title

My technological deprivation has come full circle.  My almost 11-year-old is officially coaching me on using devices and/or remote controls amongst other things.  I have to call her into the room to put the TV into Apple TV, DVD, or regular TV mode, which is done through some flicking of the buttons on the back of the flatscreen.  Forget even trying to find a remote.  Apparently they have been done away with in favor of remote control apps.  The rest of the family simply logs into the iPad as a master control for damn near everything electronics while I am still fumbling with one of three remote controls.  For me, it’s foreign to do it any other way.  Perhaps some day, way down the road, when I’m old enough for the daytime AARP and Colonial Penn commercials and I have “my shows” I watch on a regular basis, I’ll take the time to figure it out, but for now, it’s not worth the five minutes it would take to reprogram my brain.  Although, I can feel the rush to catch up starting to burn.  For example, my husband drives a souped-up Jeep that comes with screens instead of a variety of buttons.  When I need to adjust the heat, the music, or navigate (forget that), I just stare at the screen in awe.  What the hell?  It’s a good thing that 99.9% of the time when I am driving his car, I also have a kid with me.  If they are good for anything it’s definitely helping me figure these things out.

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In my last blog I mentioned not having a New Year’s resolution.  Nope.  I still don’t believe in them so don’t start thinking this is one of those.  IT’S TOTALLY NOT, OK!  Since my being able to run again (after an injury…I won’t go there…read older posts) seemed to coordinate perfectly with Jackson’s extended holiday PTO from work, he has started running with me.  Prior to now, I didn’t enjoy him coming along very much.  Not that I was fast by any means, but I was faster than him and could go so much farther.  Plus, I didn’t like to talk much.  I’m more of a plug-into-music-and-run girl.  Things have changed after 8 months, and I suppose I’m just glad to be back out there, even if I have no music and suddenly a keen sense for noticing random things on the street, on homes, and in the horizon that I never notice were there before.  This is probably beneficial to me, especially considering my unfortunate past with pot holes and sticks.  For instance, for the last three weeks there has been an abandoned condom on the street in the same exact place.  For a while it was really dirty from car tires running over it, but after the rain, it looks clean again.  I want so badly to kick it to the side, or get a stick and move it out of my line of sight.  Then I realize that whomever it is that lives in that house must know that condom is there.  I mean, I don’t know.  I would notice it in front of my house, but I doubt I would pick it up either.  I would just stare at it every time I went to get the paper or the mail – hoping and praying that it would be magically carried off by a car tire, a stray animal, or a runner who couldn’t to run past it one more time.  I imagine if it is there for much longer, I will just take a different route and avoid that street all together.  That condom is the porno version of the Stinky Cheese.  I’m not touching it.

Jackson and I, under extreme stress as of late, have poured over what we are doing wrong compared with what we have done in the past that perhaps gave life more of a sense of joy despite the mundane ins and outs of daily life.  I mean, really, we aren’t really doing anything any differently, and we have been in much more difficult times.  Financially we have things together, our kids seem to be growing up normally despite my constant worry that I will mess up horribly as a mother, and time wise, we seem to have more chances to get out by ourselves than ever before.  We no longer have kids in diapers.  Boogers don’t have to be wiped before they are picked by their original owners.  For the most part, our kids can all bathe themselves, the oldest two are even able to wash their own hair.  We don’t even have to make a fuss over bedtime anymore.  We sort of say, “Go to bed.  Lights out.”  And it just…happens.  It’s sort of like the Twilight Zone of parenting.  I keep waiting for something to happen, but perhaps this is just the calm before the storm.  God gives you a break before the stage when a boyfriend with a nose ring and loud bass system shows up at your door to take your daughter on a date.  I hope by then Jackson takes a fancy to shotguns he likes to clean on the kitchen table.  I don’t imagine that will ever happen.  Perhaps there’s an app on the iPad for that?

I’m grateful for now and will soak up every minute of it.  I love homeschooling the girls, even though it drives me nuts when they fight like sisters do.  Things feel comfortable and secure for the most part.  But still there is this unrest.  I feel as though I am short tempered and anxious.  At times I feel just plain rotten.  Much of this could have something to do with an extended period of not being able to run.  It could have to do with the fact that we promised ourselves six years ago that we would move into a better school district by the time our oldest entered middle school, and that time is quickly approaching.  However, the most prevalent thing that has culminated over the past few months especially is our detachment from our faith and God.  It’s not like we did it on purpose.  We didn’t question our beliefs in any way.  We just became complacent.  We would miss and Sunday here and a Sunday there.  Forget holy days of obligation (is that a proper noun?).  We just sort of made ourselves go to Mass here and there, sometimes even visiting other churches purely for a convenience factor.  Something we have discuss quite heavily the past few weeks is our absence of joy in the absence of following our faith.  Without it, life seems void of any real purpose, and with that, you do start to feel as if you are drifting endlessly, often forgetting to take notice and be grateful for the blessings surrounding you.  I don’t want that.  I have done that before.  It’s old news.  Not surprisingly, I felt exactly the same way as I do now.  At least the answer is easy:  Go to Mass.  Every Sunday.  Read.  Pray.  Together as a family.  Make God the focal point.  Not the children, the soccer game, moving, school books, or finances.  With God, things seem to fall into place.  It’s not magic.  Jesus doesn’t have a pouch of fairy dust He sprinkles on our worries.  It’s the grace He, and only He, gives us to get through every single day.  His grace helps us trust more, love more, scream less, and forgive.  Without His grace, it doesn’t matter how successful we are in life, it will feel empty and pointless.

We have vowed (but I still won’t call it a New Year’s resolution since we started two weeks prior to January) to tend more carefully to our spiritual life together as a family.  Jackson and I have vowed to stick together in our journey of health.  I often get a little obsessive about running.  In times past we might run together, but I would get frustrated with taking it easy and building slowly.  Before I knew it I was out running for hours on Saturday mornings instead of being together with my family.  This time I have decided to do things a little differently.  One thing I want for my husband for the future is good health, and as intelligent and determined of a man he is, he doesn’t seem to have to will-power to stick with things when it comes taking care of his health.  So, I am making no big plans.  I’m not out running trying to gain speed and distance in a remarkable feat.  Instead, I’m taking it easy, jogging a bit with the girls and with Jackson, and always with our crazy dog who seems to be enjoying hitting the streets with me more than anyone.

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On the plus side, I’m finding that running with Jackson is sort of the peace we need together.  We can step out of our roles as parents in a different way, taking our mini dates on the road a few times a week.  It gives us a chance to talk, to zone out, to laugh, and I’m not going to lie:  there is something about running with my husband that I find extremely hot.  Especially with this boss, rugged mini-beard he has grown over Christmas.

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This year will bring new changes as we head for new destinations.  No matter what, if we remember to keep our focus on God, centering our lives around living for His glory and receiving His grace, we will find the internal joy and peace we seem to not be able to live without.  365 days a year.  52 Sundays.  I’m in.

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s January 1st, 2015.  It’s very first day of yet another year, even though it still seems like 2014, and it sort of still is until we all return to work and school and schedules.  I for one am ready for it.  To me, Monday January 5, 2015  will technically be the very first day of the new year because that is when my husband goes back to work, and when the girls and I start our Spring semester of school.

How many of you are thinking differently?  Today is THE day.  It’s THE day you’re going to start losing 20 pounds.  It’s THE day you’re going to start reading more.  It’s THE day you’re going to start paying more attention to your kids.  Perhaps, THE day you’re going to give up Facebook…or, wait, never mind.  Save that last one for Lent.  Lord knows the Santas have disappeared, the hearts of Valentine’s Day are already bombarding us, and after that…well…here comes the Easter Bunny.

For some reason I feel that the way I see things is completely isolated to just my mind and understanding of things, but I’m always curious to share these types of things to see if anyone else might have had the same bits and pieces of this-that-or-the-other programmed into their mind at one point, or another.  Take for instance, the way I see the year within my mind.  Literally.  When you say a particular date out of any month or year, I visualize it in my head along an oval-shaped calendar.  At the very top you have January and December.  It moves in a counter clockwise direction for each month of the year where December meets back to January and you start the revolution all over again.  I often wonder if my kindergarten class, or one of the daycares I was in (I can’t particularly remember if I was ever in one.  I think I was once.) had the calendar up on the wall somewhere and taught us using this model.  Here’s what it looks like in my head:

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So, here we are in my mind at the tip top of another year where we will slowly fall into Spring, then Summer, then Fall, and back up to Winter.  Somewhere in there (I will spare you the details) you have little added features on my calendar of running, biking, and hiking – weather appropriate activities – and school books, times to take it easy, and times to freak out making sure you get it all done.  Either way…there you go.  A bit of information about me you probably didn’t need to know, but you’re reading this blog, right?  I share a LOT of information on my blog.  It keeps me…sane, like running and an occasional glass of wine..  At least that is what I like to tell myself.

I don’t have any New Year’s resolutions.  It’s not that I’m lazy, or lacking goals.  I just don’t trust them.  People who start to make their way back up during the excitement of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years tend to have this notion that as soon as we turn the clocks over and we start a new counter-clockwise revolution, that everything suddenly changes.  It’s a new beginning.  Suddenly we will have magically acquired the discipline and will-power we were lacking just 24 hours ago to lose that 20 pounds we have been meaning to get around to.  But I have some disappointing news:  That’s just not how it happens, and let me tell you why that is so.  Because I’m a smart ass who knows everything, right?  I’m not a doctor or anything, but I do have some experience in this area, so I do have that going for me.

Making big changes in life requires not the click of the seconds on a clock suddenly ticking into a new year, rather it takes habit forming and habit breaking.  You have to resist temptations, replace them with new ones, and old habits die hard.  This is why gym memberships skyrocket at the beginning of a new year, but why the attendance drops drastically after the first weeks and months.  People don’t realize that it’s not about a new beginning, it’s about taking a good, long, hard took in the mirror and making a deal with yourself without the bells, whistles, fireworks, or ball drops.  What is it that you want to change, but even further, where is the root of the problem and how can you work on those issues in order to change what is on the surface?  Whatever the issue is that you need to work on, guess what, there is no magic pill, shake, drink, book, etc. that will help you get there.  It’s just you – that person looking back in the mirror.  It’s a commitment you make to yourself.  Are you worth it?  Be realistic.  Because the truth is, knowing that you are is what keeps you committed to yourself, every single hour, of every single day through the entire year.  And it’s hard.  Temptations will be there.  You have to ask yourself, “Am I stronger than this?  Or am I going to end up making this year like the last one and the one before that?”

What gets me at this time of the year are all of the products people buy into that promise them a magic way to meet their goals.  There is SO much of it that it’s confusing, and it’s leading people to believe that their will-power is too weak on its own.  Without this shake…without this particular exercise program…without this devotional…I can’t do this on my own.  Maybe you need the support of someone, or something, but when it comes down to it, it’s just you and you alone.  It’s the value you put into yourself and your own willingness to step up to the plate and do something positive for yourself.

So, if your goal this year is to lose 20 pounds, I can tell you exactly what you need:  a hat, a coat, a pair of good walking shoes, and the willingness to get out every single day and move your body.  You also have to pay attention to what you’re putting into your mouth.  You need proper nutrition to fuel your body, but you also have to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients.  An apple and a cupcake are both carbs that contain sugars.  One is a whole food, the other is not.  Obviously, when you need something sweet, grab the apple not the cupcake.  When your body needs protein, don’t go for the hamburger in the drive thru at Burger King.  Buy some high quality, grass-fed lean beef from he grocery store, pat them out yourself, and cook them at home.  French fries are not a vegetable and drinking more diet soda than water will not help your body in any way whatsoever.  In fact, the sugar substitutes will slow down your metabolism, making it even harder for you to shed the pounds.  Make sure you’re eating enough vegetables and with a variety of colors.  Make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats:  raw nuts, healthy oils (coconut, olive), cheese, hummus, but make sure you’re eating these things in moderation.  Check the labels, take into consideration the serving size, and portion out your food accordingly.  Watch for empty calories (sweets or alcohol), which are okay to have from time to time, but too much will pack on the pounds quickly and easily.

And remember always, weight loss is about calories in/calories out.  I don’t care how much information is out there that says this isn’t true.  It is.  If you are consuming too much and not exercising enough, guess what, you’re going to gain weight.  If you’re not consuming enough, guess what, you’re ruining your metabolism – your body’s furnace for burning that unwanted stored fat – and you’re going to not only have a hard time losing weight, you will also begin to start gaining it much more easily than ever before once you stop sticking to the very restricted calorie count that your body can’t function on for very long.

Lastly, just MOVE!  That’s all you have to do.  In the beginning, if all you can do is lace up your shoes and walk around the block, do that, but do it every single day.  Before you know it, you’ll be able to go farther and you’ll be able to do it more quickly.  Your body will build up endurance and strength.  You might even find that you LOVE it.  You might decide to start trying to jog – perhaps even run a 5k – but start slowly.  Do what you can.  If you start out trying to go from zero to sixty in the first week, you will burn out, become disappointed, and fail.  Take it one step at a time and start with small, attainable goals.

Look, this doesn’t take anything magical like a particular program, shake, drink, etc.  It just doesn’t.  For some, this helps them, sure.  They buy into a product, it works for them, they become involved – whether it be through endorsing the product or signing up underneath a pyramid scheme to sell it – and they convince others to do the same.  But, honestly, come on.  You don’t really NEED THAT particular thing.  The only thing that you need that those people have is the will-power, the determination, the courage, and the self-esteem to get out there and know that you are important enough to yourself and to the people you love to take care of your health.  And who knows, you may impact others along the way.  When someone asks you, “How did you do that?”  You can respond, “because I’m a badass.”  It won’t have to be because you had this product or that – some magic ingredient that helped you along the way.  It will be because you made the decision to love and value yourself enough to make it happen.

And I’ve got news for you:

You don’t have to do this all in one day.  January 1st isn’t a magic pill.  March 15th isn’t a magic pill.  Aunt Suzie’s fat-busting hooch isn’t a magic pill.  Your magic moment is when you decide that you’re ready.  And furthermore, you have to make each and every hour of every single day the decision to have a new resolution for yourself.  It’s not something that happens overnight.  It’s something that happens every day over the course of the week, then the month, then the year, then the years.  It happens because you get rid of old habits and form newer, healthier ones.  You can do it.  Just start and then don’t stop, but along the way, even if you slip up, don’t consider yourself a failure.  Just get right back up immediately and keep moving on.  Good luck!

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What Should Be Known About Us: We Do It Our Way

I’m 36-years-old.  To some that age is old and used.  To others it is young and vibrant.  Yet still to others it is just…36, and to them, we are all in the same boat.  So, forgive me beforehand if I sound whiny or rude, ungrateful or unwise, or just plain silly.

Life is hard.  And I don’t mean in that “putting food on the table and a roof over our heads” kind of way.  (That’s a reality to think about too, but I’m discussing a different kind of hard.)  It’s the kind of hard that deals with the dynamics of relationships – being a parent, a daughter, a sibling, or a friend.  For a while it seems easy.  You just sort of grow up, hang out with your best friend, have a few catastrophic moments of social despair and recovery, and float into relationships on a deeper level – in a way that impacts the heart and emotions in a new and exciting way.  You fall in love (for real this time).  You get married.  You have babies.  Love grows.  Time sails.  Then…you hit a wall.  A big wall.  Wait…that didn’t happen to you?  Maybe this is just my story.

Something has been happening, and it has progressed slowly over time.  It has been building – waiting and sleeping in between when things seemed to run smoothly – until the right time to explode all over the place, breaking perspectives up into tiny little pieces.  Then you sit there, clueless, wondering what just happened.  You look at the shards of glass – reflections of bits and pieces of memories, ideas never brought to fruition, broken dreams – and you try to decide:  Do I sweep all of this up and throw it away?  Do I start over new, building new perspectives upon a clean slate?  Or, do I even begin to put forth the effort to try to piece this back together, inspecting every single aspect down to the tiniest detail until I can put my finger on exactly where I went wrong?  Surely there must be more than one place, and surely this will take a lifetime to repair.  Is it even worth it?

My mom always has this thing that she says that gets to me:  “Don’t say that about yourself!  You’re not just a stay-at-home mom.  You’re too sharp.  You’re capable.  You do so much.”  Really?  Well.  But that is exactly what I am.  I am a stay-at-home mom.  I suppose that means I failed.

Look.  I have this notion that many people don’t realize what it is that stay-at-home moms do.  Many people say, “I would love to stay at home.”  They say it in a way that insinuates that they would love to be with their children.  They would love the freedom it allows.  They would love the time they would get to put life into a neat and orderly manner.

I have news.  That’s not how it works.  At least not for me.

I was once a girl who fell in love with a boy.  He had a huge brain with ambition that he didn’t even realize was there.  He doubted himself.  He didn’t know how to dream.  Yet, he amazed me.  I loved listening to him speak.  I loved the way he looked at me, how attentively he listened, and how much he cared.  His eyes gave him away.  They were sincere, purposeful, gentle, and kind.

I was a girl who was a bit lost.  I had a great sense of humor, an optimistic outlook on life, and I wasn’t afraid to take chances.  I liked excitement and adventure.  I didn’t buckle down enough to do well in school until my early 20’s.  Prior, I travelled to Utah and California.  I enjoyed meeting new people, especially people who were different than me.  I was (and still am) extremely relational – everything hinges on the relationships we build, the way we impact lives around us and what we learn from others.  If we can’t be a good person and a good friend, then we really have nothing.  People who were bad at relationships always seemed sad and upset over something.  I never wanted that to happen to me.

I was irresponsible.  He was not.  He was extremely practical.  I was always looking for the path less travelled.  Relationships were important to me.  He didn’t seem to have many.  I believed that you should shoot big.  He always thought that the only options were the ones that were already apparent and close at hand.  He didn’t like to take chances.  I thought the only way to get anywhere was through taking a risk.

But…it worked.  Obviously.  Something happened.  Magic maybe.  Fate.  God.  We did break up one time after dating for a few months.  It was over our different theories of love and life.  “Why do you think you fell in love with me?”  I had asked.

“Because of a series of hormones in my body that attracted me to you,” he had responded along with more of the same about the science of the body and mind in regard to physical attraction.

“Sorry,” I had told him.  “I can’t be with someone who loves me because their body simply responded in what seems to me a very computerized way.”  ‘Good match, body.  Check mate.  You may proceed.’

I believed that love and life happened differently.  I thought of life differently.  It was more that we are all connected by forming these meaningful paths between people and places and things.  Some of those connections are mistakes.  We have to find our way back to the other side and burn the stumps at either end.  But the other ones…those are worth their weight in gold.  They form rich bonds that impact our life in a positive way.  Those are the connections that change us a little bit in some way, that help us grow and succeed.  To me, these connections are formed by the graces of God who instilled in us things like compassion, empathy, and love.  Without God, we are nothing.  There is no meaning, no purpose, and without Him we walk blindly in a straight line playing things as safely as possible.  Without God there is no hope and no faith.  ‘Good match, body.  This one is a safe bet.’  I didn’t want to be (and never want to be) someone’s safe bet along their straight and narrow path.

The break-up didn’t last long.  Obviously.  The more I got to know him, the more I fell in love with him and the more I realize that this man was someone I wanted to take care of for the rest of my life – he needed that.  He was really good at doing, but he didn’t know how to breathe and laugh and live.  He set his goals low, assuming he was only worth a slight shift upward.  He wanted to land a job working for Western Kentucky University where he had been employed through his last year of college.  “Dream bigger,” I had told him.  “You’re so smart.  You have amazing ideas and you get down on yourself trying to contain them into small spaces.”  So, he took his first big chance.  He nervously interviewed with IBM, he got the job, and upon graduation we moved.

Over the next few years I learned how to become his biggest cheerleader.  He needed that.  I believed in him more than I believed in myself.  I taught preschool, attended college classes, and eventually we brought a new life into the world.  Considering my tendency to put relationships first, I decided to become a stay-at-home mom.  I stopped going to college, we bought a house, and I took on a role as stay-at-home mom for the next 11 years, never in that time waning in any way whatsoever.  I loved my family so much that it was incomprehensible to do anything differently.  Sure, I had the thought in the back of my mind that I was wasting myself – sacrificing my own dreams – but it didn’t matter.  My focus was on keeping the connections strong – those bonds along the paths that kept us tethered to each other.  I couldn’t let them loosen.  This was family.  This was everything.

We had another baby.  We moved.  My husband became complacent at work, which is never a place he finds much comfort in.  His practical side always told him not to worry too much – if it’s good enough then it’s fine.  Let it be.  He would walk through life with his shoulders slumped over like that if I let him, but I didn’t and I won’t.  I can’t.  I believe in him.  He had put a few resumes out there and had been turned down.  Encouraging him to actually polish them up and actually send them in was like pulling teeth.  He had applied to one company a couple of times already.  “I have been turned down twice already,” he had said.

“So what!  Go for it again.  Try.  You never know.”  He polished his resume.  Again, he sent it in again.  He got it.

He was so excited.  It was an amazing opportunity.  It was scary…sure.  We had recently moved back to our hometown to be closer to family and this was with a company in another state.  It would mean selling our house in a recession and him commuting until we could physically make the move to be closer to his office.  The backlash we received from family was discouraging.  “Why do you want to do that?  You just moved here.”  They weren’t happy for him.  They were devastated.  It made his new excitement lessen.  He second guessed himself.  Maybe they were right.  Maybe we should stay here.  It’s safe and calm.  It’s predictable.

That didn’t last long.  I wouldn’t let it.  It’s not how I lived my life.  I encouraged him to keep his head up, keep his shoulders straight, walk with confidence, believe in himself, and take a chance.  It has turned out to be one of the best decisions he has ever made in his career.

We moved again.  We had another baby.  Money was tight for a while, but we made it work.  Jackson focused on his career, as always.  It consumed him like all of his thoughts had since I first met him.  Our family and our relationships consumed me.  It seemed to work well.  We had balance.  He went to work.  I did everything else.  And when I say everything else, I mean EVERYTHING.  I became solely responsible for every single minute detail of our personal life.  Was everyone eating well?  Was everyone getting enough exercise?  Was everyone getting enough sleep?  Was everyone getting to the doctor and the dentist?  Were we putting back money?  Was the lawn getting mowed, the mulch getting spread, the clothes getting washed?  Was my husband OK at work?  I would be there to listen.  His life at work would become so vivid through discussion that I felt I was going in with him every single day.  I would help him navigate social situations, encourage him to go for new opportunities, never letting his belief in himself waiver.

Our oldest daughter started school and we quickly realized that the public system wouldn’t work.  I handled it alone.  I researched homeschooling, brought her home, and began the search for a good private school.  I reworked our finances and figured out a plan.  I got the girls into a good school.  The shit hit the fan again, but maybe it was my fault?  I didn’t sit my kids in front of a screen from birth.  I read them books and did puzzles.  I took them to the library consistently and to the orchestra and plays.  We played outside.  We investigated our surroundings.  No wonder our oldest couldn’t sit still in a classroom, but apparently it had caused some kind of catastrophic damage.  I researched the doctors.  I made the appointments.  I told my husband when to meet us there and for how long.  I filled in his blanks.  We went.  We got a diagnosis.  I shifted gears again by homeschooling and searching for a school to meet her needs.  I put so much emphasis on making sure that everyone was OK.  And they were.  Things would get better.  Everyone was happy.

In the meantime during our ups and downs with schools and education, my husband kept coming to me and talking about a position at work that they had trouble filling successfully.  “Develop your own plan for the position,” I had encouraged him.  “Write this all down.  Make it into a presentation.  Take it to the CTO.”  He doubted himself.  He would come and go in and out of our personal life, attending to his professional one.  Eventually, I got out the pliers and fixed him to the couch.  It was time to pull more teeth.  He worked for weeks and through an entire weekend, and eventually he finished his plan.  He practiced his presentation with me.  He went in to the office and gave the presentation to the CTO.  He got the position!  I was so proud of him, as always.  He is a brilliant man and a magnificent leader.  He sometimes just needed reiteration from me that those things were true.  I could never understand why he always doubted himself, but it was cute, like a lost little puppy so unsure of his surroundings with so much potential.  I’m a sucker for those types of things.

In all of this time, I have missed something that I never realized existed until now.  The thing is, I’m still not quite sure what that something is.  I think a lot of people look at me and what I do and assume that I have it easy.  I don’t earn a paycheck.  My husband takes care of me.  He works hard and I float around carelessly taking care of frivolous things.  I’m not sure what this whole stay-at-home mom thing looks like for others, but for me, it’s constant work, and it’s not just physical work.  It’s emotionally and spiritually draining.  The balance was perfect for so long, but somewhere along the line it started to tilt ever so slightly and unnoticeably.  I grew up learning that hard work was the equivalent of self-worth.  If you didn’t work hard, you had nothing.  And I did that.  I worked hard.  I made it into something, but I think that I took it a step too far.  I not only assumed the responsibility of caring for our family, but I assumed the responsibility of solely carrying all of the emotions that come along with it.  I felt for my husband and myself.  He floated in and out of our personal life.  He went to work.  I did everything else.  (I said that already.)

Here’s the catch, and it’s something we are just now catching wind of.  Being a stay-at-home mom is hard work, and I love it, but I have a threshold that I have reached.  For six years we have lived in a school system that doesn’t work for us.  I never could figure out what it was, but with homeschooling the kids – taking on the responsibility of not only making sure that everyone is eating well, getting enough exercise, learning important life lessons, reading enough, bathing enough, have clean clothes to wear, learning to help out around the house, etc. – I am also now responsible for teaching them math and science an history.  I’m responsible for helping the child learn to spell who never seemed to be able to.  I’m responsible for reteaching myself long division and chemistry and reading up on junior high classics to be able to discuss the books with my 5th grader while also reading up on 3rd grade reading lists for the same reason.  In between I try to get to the grocery store to have a healthy selection of foods to chose from, good meals to cook, and am trying to spend time with our preschooler who is learning to read and thrives on a bit of quiet and alone time with me doing things that just little kids like to do.  I am also trying to take care of myself.  Am I reading books for myself?  Am I getting to run every day?  Am I getting some time alone?  Am I able to write, to think, to be a grown woman?  Am I able to do a good job taking care of our day to day life?  No.  Not currently.

And this is where the pieces are starting to fall.  They have been cracking and crumbling little by little, year after year, and I haven’t figured out how to stop it.  I don’t understand it.  The thought occurred to me that I should go back to school.  Maybe I need to just not be a stay-at-home mom anymore.  Maybe the kids need to be in school, in after school programs, and maybe my husband needs to spend more time caring for our personal life as well.  Maybe he needs to hit his limit in his career without the time available to spend tending to it while I need to work on building my own career outside of our home.  Is that what it is?  Something is there.  Something has to give.  What’s the answer?

I get the feeling that I am looked at as not doing much – as taking the easy road – but I can tell you that those who view things that way in regard to me stay-at-home mom are wrong.  I don’t think they understand the scope of things.  Without me, my husband wouldn’t be where he is.  He would still be working for the university he graduated from, living in the town he grew up in during his formative years, and playing it safe.  He would feel an itch – a desire – to do something more and it would tear at him, but he wouldn’t believe in his own capabilities.  He would be depressed and by now probably angry with himself and everyone else.  He would be wandering and lost.  I enabled him to move beyond that.  I encouraged him to look further, to shoot bigger, and not in the form of things – never in the form of bigger houses, nicer cars, and an arsenal of jewelry and fine things.  I encouraged him to never put a limit on himself as far as where he could go and what he could do in his career.  I encouraged him to believe in himself.  And why?  Because I love him more than anything in the entire world.  I believe in connections and bonds.  I believe that life can hold a bigger and grander plan than what we can see right in front of our faces.  As a result, he has become a successful man, a good father, and a Christian.  He continues to grow and challenge himself.  He is happy.  Satisfied.  I helped him do that.  We do that together.

But…back to the threshold.  I have reached it.  I’m tired and frustrated.  I’m out of ideas.  I’m spread too thin, and as my husband’s demands at work grow, I’m spread even thinner at home.  I have to relieve myself of something in order to mend the walls and restore balance.  If not, something will give.  It will explode.  The pieces will be too many.  I will go back over our life together and try to figure out all of the little places along the path we stepped that we should have chosen differently.  But honestly, what a waste of time!  What a worry!  Why do that?  Life is too short.  Choices are made.  People move on.  Life grows.  When we miss a step, we can’t go back and retrace.  We can’t right our wrongs in the past, but move forward into the current, foreseeing the future, and make our changes accordingly.

We have an opportunity.  It’s an opportunity to move our family into a better direction where we can restore our balance, where my husband can continue to grow and focus on his career, but where I can still keep everything glued together at home.  I don’t mind it.  I love tending to those bonds.  They are everything.  They are vital to life.  Why would I chose to focus and tend to anything differently?  Those bonds are the most important and delicate thing in life to me.  Caring for those bonds is how I care for myself.  It fulfills me to strengthen the ones that hold our little family together tightly.  But, I am spread thin.  I’m struggling underneath the weight of our personal life.  And I need a release so that I can focus on what I’m good at doing:  loving, forming, holding, being, encouraging, tending, supporting, caring.

And here is what irks me about other people:  I don’t understand why others can assume that they can peer into a little hole in someone else’s personal life and assume that they see the entire picture.  What someone on the outside sees is but a small piece of a much larger picture that can’t be understood from the outside looking in.  It can’t be understood without heartfelt discussion and patience.  It can’t be understood without understanding that there is more than one way to live life, and everyone will chose differently.  It’s is what makes life interesting.  It’s what makes life colorful.  It’s what makes the dynamic of relationships either good or bad, but nevertheless important.  It’s how we grow and live and learn from one another.  If everyone did everything the same, we would all be basing our understanding of life and placing limits on ourselves based on what we see through a tiny little hole instead of trusting the bigger picture – the pieces we can’t yet see, but that which excites us and keeps us motivated to move forward.

My husband and I haven’t done everything right.  We have made mistakes.  We fight.  We make up.  We have downtime.  We have passion.  And one thing we have done consistently over the course of our relationship is look with excitement, hope, and faith in God toward those pieces of our life that aren’t yet formed.  We seek to bring out those things in life that we know are there waiting to add richness and color to our life together.  They are the pieces that help us form our larger picture.  There is nothing worse I can think of in life than growing old and looking back and having all of our pieces lined up in a straight, predicable row of playing it safe.  Instead, we already have lines and angles, crazy offshoots that went nowhere, but gave us great memories to laugh about, an amazing puzzle being formed that makes us who we are.  It’s something we took a chance on.  It’s something we have built together.  And it’s crazy.  In one area it may be a whole messy confusion of color, but then it comes together beautifully in perfect focus, like our firstborn child.  College was a straight line for me.  I got pregnant.  It blurred drastically, but then it came together in big giant eyes and a wide smile.  It came together in a perfectly created offshoot of my husband and I, an entirely new dynamic to our life together, another bond to tend to.

My husband and I…we will continue to grow and change.  We will morph with life, bounding upward instead of settling for being stagnant and still.  And because together in life we have a good balance of practicality filled with dreams, of responsibility filled with taking chances, of love built on the strong bonds that tether us together in our little family, we can’t go wrong, even if at times our bones get shaky and scared.  Taking chances is hard, but it is worth a risk when the pressure becomes unbearable and the plan to move forward with it is good and sound.  That’s where we are.

You know, there is an easier way out of all of this pressure.  It’s as clear as day.  We could pay cash for a house in our hometown.  I could return to school and put the kids into a good school district there.  I could graduate in two years with a degree and we could become a two income family.  We could divvy up our responsibility in a perfectly balanced way of he does/she does.  We could play it completely safe, tending to our practicalities instead of believing that we can do things our own way.

Or…

We can have faith in not only ourselves, but in family and in God.  We can need each other instead of turning our backs during a time when life seems to be confusing and hard.  Too many people do that.  We are at the age when people are deciding that having a mortgage and children is too much responsibility.  One is trying to move forward in their career while the one tending to family is deciding that family is too much to handle.  They need their own space, their own independent life away from it all.  They divorce, sweep up all of the shards of glass from their previous life and toss it into the garbage.  They begin with a new slate, taking with them the mistakes they made the first time around and vowing to never do it again.

Us…not us.  We’re going to suffer through it.  We’re going to look at the pieces above our heads and carefully mend them together into our own unique design because it’s special and raw and real.  It’s everything that matters – the bonds, the love, the tethers, the ties.  Those are things that have to be strengthened and readjusted all of the time.  It takes hard work.  It takes effort.  And that is what I do.  I’m a stay-at-home mom, and that title encompasses many important things that may not seem like a whole lot to the outsider looking in, but to those within the family that they support every single day by what they do, it is a vital lifeline that keeps everything running smoothly, ensuring that love and peace and balance never falters.  I couldn’t imagine a more important thing to be doing with my life.  I look up, not down.  I seek a way to make things better, not easier.  I encourage.  I grow.  And I bring my family along on this journey with me.  I’m grateful to have a husband who needs me – a husband who works hard and takes care of us so well, but who ironically needs help keeping his head up and his shoulders rolled back.  Together, we will walk forward and hopefully some day, we won’t look back with any regrets.  Hopefully by the time we finish this thing, we will have a perfectly unique and colorful design of our life we built together around bonds that were cared for and strengthened along the way.  After all, I’m a stay-at-home mom.  I know that doesn’t sound like much.  But it’s what I do.

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