Thursday, August 28, 2014

What do parents need?

As a parent, I know that alone time gets a new meaning and importance. We will take the walk from the carseat around to the driver's side (thanks, Louis CK) as alone time. We'll take the grocery store trip, the car wash, and the line at the DMV as alone time. It's all perspective.

I get enough alone time. And the alone time I do get actually makes me a bit anxious (it gives me too much time to think of things I might be forgetting, failing, doing wrong, etc.).

But I had this thought when I was talking with other mom friends (apparently, it's thought that this is a mom-only concept...although, I encourage any dads I know to pipe up and talk about it in the comments!):

I've had a lot of alone time.

When my dad died when I was six, I felt really alone.

When I was single and without a loving, supportive, awesome partner, I felt pretty alone.

When I had trouble making friends as weird kid, I felt alone.

In fact, I think I've probably had more alone time than I could ever want in a lifetime. I know, it's not the same thing. But honestly, it's perspective. Do I want to enjoy a movie in peace sometimes? Sure. But I think I need to make sure that I'm not constantly seeking alone time. I need to make sure that I am balancing time to myself and time with my family so that I don't feel like I haven't had time out or a break.

I love my family. Heck, I love YOUR family (yes, that's how many extroverts feel). I love the memories and the laughter and yes, even (sometimes especially) the tears. I love when my in-laws say that extended time with my child allows them to get to know him better...because that's the same for me too. I'm not a stay at home parent (so I also grasp that this plays into "time alone") so time with my kid can be interesting and challenging. But I had to learn that sleep counts for me (a well-rested mama can be your best friend!) as alone time. And that I needed to ask friends to watch (or listen to K cry...) when I needed a bath (and to ask for their tub, too). I also need to look at what I love about not being alone. I don't mind sharing the bathroom, or being woken up early sometimes. I do need to make sure that what I need protected stays protected, so that my kid knows how I stay sane, he knows that he is allowed to protect his time and space, and so I know what might be contributing to a foul mood.

This is a good conversation to have with a partner or extended family because I hear a lot of parents sacrificing alone time because they have no options, they forget, they don't have enough energy, etc. If I want to successfully have another child, I need to keep paying attention to this. Living in community is great too, if that's something that's clearly understood. Not all communitarians are extroverts or love kids, though!

Anyway, I digress.

My point is that I just need to make sure that I get what I need to help me feel balanced. I am not particularly trapped by not getting absolute alone time. For me, it's enough time to eat well. I also need time outside in the sun, time with my family (I NEED this and feel really horrible when I don't see or hear from my siblings and parents!). Getting your needs met (for both parents) is key. If you need alone time, find out how to get it. If you need 5 meals a day, find out how to plan for that. Teaching our kids that life goes on (and usually better) when we meet our needs is a great lesson. A hard one for sure, but a really great one.

So while I don't feel my alone time is that threatened, I am getting more and more clear about what I do need, so that I can be as present as possible when my kid waltzes into the bathroom, with no concept of privacy or "alone time."

Mama, let go

By now, if you're paying attention, you know that I don't like mess. It's not that I'm not messy, but I don't like it. I don't like crumbs (ack!) or spills or stains. You get the picture.

Yesterday was a rough day for this mama. K is frequently in underwear now, and usually makes it to the potty on time. But not yesterday. He had two accidents in the morning (!) and I KNOW I'm not supposed to get upset, but humans, being what they are (imperfect), I got so angry. I had to go scream in another far away room, I was so angry. In addition to the mess, there was a trail of oatmeal on the rug, pen marks, and a bunch of other toddler territorial markings. I was fed up (also, I wasn't feeling well).

I yelled. I'm not proud to admit it. I know my kid isn't even two, doesn't really get my annoyance at stains and mess, and frankly can't exactly control his bladder yet. I KNOW this. But a part of me felt out of control (ya think?) and out came the loud voice. Which of course K was scared of. Oh, that look of horror is enough to get a person in the deepest place in their heart. Crap. I was the yell-y mom. I sort of had yell-y parents. Not really, but I remember a few times. I remember it not working. I remember it scaring me.

But then K did something that got under my skin AGAIN and I think he saw the steam coming out of my ears and said, "Mama, no angry." That got me. Double crap. My kid was basically asking me not to get angry. I felt pure shame right then. I immediately apologized and hugged him tight, and explained as best as I could that it wasn't fair of me to get angry at him about things he couldn't control. I told him I wasn't feeling well, and I was frustrated. He said, "Yeah." Then he proceeded to talk about the yelling all day. Sad. A friend of mine who's a therapist had this to say about repeating a trauma over and over to work through it. Yep, we did that. We talked about it to papa, too.

I don't want to hang out in shame too much because that's not what K's intention is. He's two. He's recognizing what's scary, who's yelling and why, and how he can process all of that. Sadly, I'm one of the people who will likely be in several of those moments that need processing. I hate knowing that.

But I know this too: I am a forgiving person. I am an open person. I have more love than rage. I can change and I have changed. If I don't want my kid to fear me I have to stop shaming myself for being out of control sometimes (the shame is a way I keep reliving the moment myself and it backfires). It's not okay to hit or be violent. But I am not yet capable of not yelling. I am capable of reflection and asking for forgiveness and trying harder.

A mom recommended this technique which I will try next time. I need an answer for myself when I feel the steam rising. I need to let go of the mess (and how I feel about the mess). I need to let go of any possession I feel won't be marked by kids (they will all be marked!). I need to not drag myself through the mud all day.

I share this hear publicly because I know that tons of parents want to be "those" parents. The ones who are Zen calm, have amazing parenting aikido (metaphorically speaking) techniques, and who are straight awesome and gently loving 24/7/365. I haven't met one yet. All the parents I know lose it every once in a while (or more), they get fed up, they forget their tools, they feel helpless and hopeless and all in front of their beloved kids. It happens. It also changes. Don't beat yourself up. Learn about what makes you angry (I should've eaten earlier, done my daily writing, planned an outing or activity, taken painkillers, etc.) and how you can prevent it. Your kids will give you a lot of chances to try stuff out.

For me, reflection and awareness really help. I keep hearing K say, "Mama, no angry." That's what it takes for me. I can't say I'll never yell again. That would be a parent myth I don't want to propagate. I will learn new techniques. I will try new ways of being. I will keep letting go and getting better.



Thursday, August 7, 2014

Why not me?

I have another post brewing about creativity but I saw this online today and I thought, "I want to write about THAT!"

Mindy Kaling tweeted "Why the fuck not me?" should be your motto"

I recently had a coaching session with a client where we went over her voices of fear that were keeping her stuck. After she listed all the unsupportive ways she talks to herself, we came up with responses so that the fear didn't get hog the mic in her head. 
It ended up being really fun and funny because she allowed the "sailor" to come out and swear and call the voice of fear a liar. A fucking liar.

So I read Mindy Kaling's (from The Office, and The Mindy Kaling Project) tweet and it made me laugh and think about how we talk to ourselves. 

I'm in a lot of transition (aren't I always?) and I've been letting some of my own voices of fear get too loud. Who am I write ? Who am I to make stuff? Why would I get this job? Why would so and so be my friend? Why would I get famous?

Why the fuck not me?

I can't come up with a very good reason. 

When I am struggling in my life, because I feel trapped or unseen or bored, I want to repeat this to myself, as well as, "Hell yeah!" I need more responses like these to get me out of my hum-drum (often destructive) thoughts.

Anyway, just a quick note and reflection...

Friday, July 25, 2014

What if I stopped paddling down the river and just floated

I was talking to a co-worker today about the fact that one of the BEST things I can do for myself and the world is to be a good (not even great, she said) parent to my kid. That was a little stunning to me. What can I do to be a good parent?

Luckily, the voice of spirit/intuition piped in and said, "You're already a good parent."

But what am I *doing* to be a good parent?

I am staying present. Even when it's hard. And my almost two year old is screaming/commanding me to make his oatmeal warmer or cooler or demanding to stay on the potty for 15+ minutes ("No! No leave! Still peein'!"). I keep looking for moments to get more present. I keep exploring his lack of control and matching it up with mine.

I had a bolt of lightning idea.

What if I saw his screams, hits, demands, commands, and frothing freak outs as moments of cultural and ancestral healing and I let my stuck stuff be awoken and released as he was freely expressing himself?

Stay with me. Here's what I mean:

So as someone who loves control (because of my out of control childhood), I see what my kid is doing. He is riding a big wave of experience. His life is a flowing river. There are eddies, there are rocks that threaten to overturn his boat of experience, there are branches he can catch and there are calm, quiet spots where he can kick back. At any moment, he is participating in that experience of River of Life. I did that too, once, I'm sure of it.

But then I got older and started looking at the river before getting in, and I calculated, observed, and ultimately decided that the river just looked too unpredictable to get in. Ever again. Ack. I forwent the calm, ease-ful parts of the river because I couldn't predict and prepare for the parts I couldn't handle. No thanks! So the flow in my life kinda went away, I guess. I started only wanting to interact with what I could control. That seemed easier.

And years later, I now have this amazing child, repeating this human pattern of riding down the river and I guess my idea is that when he has a freakout, that I can awaken a freakout that I still have (much deeper down), too. It would be scary and weird if I frothed at the mouth because something didn't go my way...but K gets to do that because he's only two. Why not send my freakout down the river with him? It's not his burden, I don't have to utter a word, I can just witness his letting go and his refusals and his demands as the innocence that they are, and reclaim my own.

The beauty is that he doesn't want to get out of the river. He still wants to keep going. After a frothing freakout, he's been known to, seconds later, wrap his arms around me and sweetly request a gorilla ride. Cheeks still tear-stained, his big heart has allowed both a rage-ful upset and a calm, happy desire to hang out in the same five minute moment. What brilliance! What Divine design!

I can't (and won't) promise any zen moments of acceptance at the rage, hitting, frothing, etc. from here on out. But I can see that maybe he's healing a long history of fears and wanting control and regret at getting out of the River of Life too soon.

I don't know exactly, in every moment, how to teach (or if I can teach) K how to deal with life. But I'm cluing into the fact that maybe I don't have to. And maybe he's really teaching me.

I'm dying to get back in that river...it looks like a fun ride.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Transition in life

I'm down in San Francisco for a close friend's wedding. We were able to stay in our friends' apartment in the city and we've taken over their kitchen, prepping food for the reception.

We've left K with the grandparents at home because as much as we'd love to have him be cute in front of people, we would not enjoy having him melt down in front of those same people. Soon enough, he'll be able to enjoy the concept of big parties, but not yet.

So we have some time and space to think about this time and this transition for our friends.

Traditionally (like, *really* traditionally), the father would "give away" the bride to the groom. I haven't seen a lot of weddings lately where that still happens. But here's the thing: I feel like I am "giving away" my friend to her fiance. Not that I possessed her at all, but I guess I had the thought that, yeah, my friend has a new best friend and while I can remain close to her, I'm no longer a face she sees regularly and we don't talk on the phone that much anymore.

And this wedding means that a ceremony is taking place where two people are agreeing to transition into being the other person's person. And in effect, I'm also agreeing to it too. Not that I have a choice, but I'm witnessing and letting go of my friend in a way.

I wrote a toast for the couple and what came out was that I now understood that my errand-running days were now over with my friend. They'd been over effectively since she moved away (10 years ago!), but now it's official. We probably wouldn't be running errands together again. I know it's a weird thing to think about letting go of, but that was a thing we used to love doing together.

And it's not like our friendship is over, but it reminds me how letting go is a constant process for me (well, for everyone...) and it doesn't need to be big stuff like death or divorce. It can be small too. Like when your child grows out of a shirt that he/she has worn for a while and is beloved...you have a letting go process there too.

This is how we can make peace with this though. If we let go with claw marks then it's always gonna feel like things are being ripped away. But if we are looking for the smaller letting go moments, and we realize that it doesn't have to be devastating, then we can start to be okay with the process in general. Not that we won't be sad or even broken up about something, but it won't cause severe damage, if we aren't shocked by the natural experience of loss and letting go.

This relates to parenting because I'm experiencing the letting go almost daily now. I don't think I would've thought that would be the case, but paying attention does that. When K mispronounces a word, I now think immediately not just how cute it is, but how one day, he'll eventually say the word "correctly" and I will miss the mispronunciation. So I soak up that moment, that word, that way his mouth forms to utter that sound because, like blowing a dandelion puff, pretty soon that moment will be gone forever. The beauty is in the breathe...the blowing away of the seeds...and that is always temporary...

I digress. But not by much. Getting used to letting go is key for me. Sure, I might cry at the various educational transitions, and milestones, but maybe I won't as much, because it won't be shocking or it won't be foreign. I'll have had some practice. And maybe the practice of letting go with my child, will allow me to be less devastated when I need to let go of things unrelated to my kid.

I'm aiming that weddings, moves, transitions in friendships, etc. will be more graceful experiences because I'll have more practice.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Polite society

My 22 month old child likes butter. He likes it in a way that seems shocking to me. Until I read, in many online forums, about the other toddlers who eat sticks of butter. Sticks. More than just the one time.

I've been resisting this butter-eating because we don't do that "in polite society."

In an email (I write him emails because I have to be honest about my poor scrapbooking skills) I wrote K that his butter cravings were insane and that people don't eat butter like that in polite society. And then I wrote, "Who am I kidding? We're not in polite society."

So it got me thinking about all the things I resist because "normal" people don't do them. I also thought about all the things that have come to me while needing to solve a problem, that no one told me about, but that were GREAT ideas and far from normal (getting on a trampoline at 1am, to bounce out K's insane gas, or putting him in the tub to relax him enough to fart, so he could go back to sleep, or asking him telepathically what he needs from me and getting a very helpful/true answer, etc). If I was still holding on to the idea pipe dream that I, or my family, will become normal anytime soon, I should now officially let go of that.

Polite society is a place where my grandma lived. In her world she needed to keep up appearances, be everyone's friend, or at least not be seen as rude, uneducated, or uncultured.

Honestly, I think that caused some suffering. How many times have I acted in ways that were really about image management and not wanting people to think I was 1) a heathen, 2) an irresponsible mother, or 3) uneducated? I'm still fairly new at this, but I've probably done (or not done) countless things because of the way it looked to others. Polite society, as it were. What people likely won't see, or won't immediately give me/us credit for is that our kid is engaged with us. Yes, he is himself, engaging, but we are also responsive. We work hard to listen to, and work on, the things we don't understand for whatever reasons.

I guess it's unacceptable to me to write things off just because of development ("It's just a phase," or "Toddlers just do 'x'.") or age or culture or whatever else. I am trying hard to listen to and witness K with compassion. I research, ask other parents, pay closer attention to K's motivations, actions and timing, ask his teachers, ask my own parents and siblings about how I was, and listen to my intuition. Polite society, be damned.

This butter thing was a lesson to me to keep paying attention to my kid. Sure, he is typical in many regards, but much of the time he does things that I can't find easily in books and online (which makes sense, looking back at my pregnancy). I was that way, too, as a kid. I'm still kinda that way. And no, I don't often mix well with polite society, so rather than shove myself and my family into that confining "polite society" of my grandma's era, I'd rather co-create a society where love and compassion rules the day.

In the case of the Butter Resistance, I eased up. I bought K some special, organic butter that's just for him and we had a little moment, mama and babe, enjoying the letting go together.

NOTE: Since buying him his OWN butter ration, and offering it up easily with every meal/food item, strangely, he has said 'no.' It was like the allowing was really what he needed. Funny, that.


You know what it's like to be a mom...

You get busy. You have a to-do list that can't possibly be written down, much less managed. You have at least one child that needs/demands almost, if not, all of your attention. Haircuts, massages, toothbrushing, showers, girls' (guys') nights, reading whole paragraphs of books, and nutrition go by the wayside. Just part of the deal, right?

Wrong.

Really wrong.

I'm not saying you're wrong. Or your methods are wrong. (God forbid you think I know what's best for you). But a dear friend of mine basically said that her self-care (and we're talking health care, not pedicures) wasn't a priority in her day because she was a busy, working mom.

Hold the phone. I admit, I got a little unnerved that my friend thought that there wasn't enough time in the day for her to get to urgent care and look into her medical issue. Not at her, but at the culture around her (and us) that supports that belief. She wasn't told outright that she couldn't go get her issue checked out. No, that would've incited a mamaRiot. But it was the unspoken part, about how moms just get busy and "you know how it is...no time to go to the doctor."

Here's what made me have some strong feelings...

1) That "having no time to go to the doctor" was sorta like "no time for a haircut."
2) That I didn't know my friend even needed any help in this area (could I have come over and watched her kids while she went to the doctor?).
3) That taking time out during the day at work wasn't really a cultural norm at her work and I'm assuming she believed that she was so indispensable that she couldn't take an hour to find out about her health, because it put her reputation (and possibly, eventually, her job) at risk.
4) And that I might be doing something similar, maybe not with physical health, but with mental health.

This is important. Really important. As parents, we are a part of the culture that supports these thoughts. That being too busy (raising a family and working) means we don't get our needs met.
This is, in my not very humble opinion, what leads to depression, increased medicating of parents, addiction, divorce, and a bunch of other woes. At least it's a contributing factor.

I work VERY hard on identifying my needs (surprise! They sort of changed when I had a baby and now I need to get to know them all over again!), talking with my husband about my needs (even if they can't be solved, addressed, or understood), and then diligently getting support for them.

I recognize that is privileged. My aforementioned friend may not have time to reflect on all of that. Her spouse may be just as busy and so not able to help her identify those needs, either.

But I also don't want to start agreeing that yes, motherhood trumps self-care. Don't hate me when I tell you, it doesn't. I love being a mom. I sometimes eat less because my kid ends up wanting most of my food and all of his too. I'm not immune to sacrifice. But I also don't want that to stay the norm. I want to point it out, even if it can't change, because it's not healthy for us as a culture. And it's not just for the wealthy. Working parents can't just say that because they work, their self-care goes away sometimes.

I am learning that when my husband works at night, which contributes to our family, I give up his time for the money he makes. Every week we discuss whether it will be better to have him home, or get the cash. That's a horrible choice to have to make daily, but we do it because some days, I need him with me, caring for our son. I need his support. I'll go without food (or less food) if it means that we have a night together as a family. That's how I care for myself. I have learned that there are hard choices I HAVE to make to get my needs met. Money vs. spousal support is not like giving up a new car for college tuition. I need both money AND spousal support, so I need to think about what I need more of sometimes.

My point is just that. Self-care isn't only bubble baths and dinner out with friends. I want to be a loud (and maybe a bit belligerent) voice that says that yes, we make choices, but also, yes we need to take care of ourselves. If a job won't value you for taking care of yourself, that tells me something. If a spouse won't let you take a night off (or two) a week, for your mental sanity, that speaks volumes. If we're all about the village raising our children, then we need to work on our village and be available to each other to get stuff done so neither we, nor our kids, suffer.

I'll end with the fact that I am grateful that my friends and family have been really helpful in this arena. Sometimes I am plagued by feeling like a social burden, with my active and sometimes destructive kid. But I keep asking to come over and crash dinner parties and potlucks because I do need adult friends and board games after K goes to sleep, and food that isn't bread or pasta and not made by me.

I want to be that support for others in my village too.

Kalev

Kalev
My favorite baby

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