Boondock Ramblings

Originally published on Today.com Parent Contributors


The 4-year old wants to have a tea party and a play date, but the oldest needs to have his lessons given to him and lunch needs to be cooked.

The dog just had surgery so she needs extra attention.

The cat is out of food and lets me know.

The oldest is now hungry and is asking for dinner

The husband is home and needs to share about his day and I want to hear about it.

I want to be everything to everyone all at once.

I’m trying to listen to the podcast of a psychologist who is trying to advise me on how to manage a mental crisis and she’s yammering on about a box – some box that you have to place your thoughts in to get through a moment or put people in a box or I don’t even know what the bloody hell she is saying about the box because all I can hear is the emotional blackmail of a 4-year old asking me why I’m not playing with her while I hold a piece of raw chicken and a knife in my hand and am standing by the stove.

Gasp.

Breathe.

“Slow your breathing. Freak out in the love zone.”

The South African accent of the neuroscientist, the psychologist, whatever she is, is supposed to be soothing but all I want to do is fling the knife at her and tell her to freak out in her own love zone, whatever a love zone is.

There are days I simply can’t keep up. It’s all moving so fast but at the same time going nowhere.

I thought I’d be so much further in life by now. But at the same time, I’m shocked with all I have. I am a twisted mess of contradiction.

Some days I am completely contented where I am in life – a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother who rambles on her blog and take photographs of her life.

Other days I mourn what I thought I’d be – a well-known writer or photojournalist traveling the world.

With the hours my husband works, I rarely find guilt-free time to write or take photos. When I’d rather be writing I should be folding laundry, or loading a dishwasher or cooking a meal. When I’d like to go to a park or travel somewhere to use my camera to interpret what I see, I should, instead, be planning my son’s assignments for the week or playing with my preschooler.

It isn’t that my husband makes me feel this way. It isn’t that my children make me feel this way. It isn’t that I resent them for my own feelings. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t an extreme feminist hit piece. It’s just where my feelings are some days.

I feel stretched thin, some days.

I feel pulled ten different directions, some days.

I feel splayed apart like a dead frog in a science experiment (if they even do such things anymore), some days. But, I also feel complete, some days.

Complete and whole. Whole in that my family is whole, mostly healthy and held in the hands of an all-seeing, all-knowing, always loving God.  We all get stretched too thin, pulled too much, pressed down and poured out.

I’m stubborn and weak and whiny and I don’t always do what I know I should; let Him pour back in, stretch gently for growth, pull softly in the right directions and press down only for our own good and progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I have gray hair – reason no. 30

I heard it before I saw it and knew at that moment I’d made a mistake letting my 4-year old jump from the couch to the metal barstool we’d never actually used at a bar since we didn’t have one. I saw her hanging over the bottom rungs of the chair, now on its’ side, like a limp rag doll, and yelled for my son to help because I figured that in his youth he could move faster. He wasn’t there, though, and by the time I got to her she had lifted herself up and was standing with her hair in her face and her mouth open while she tried to scream, but no sound would come out.

A bright red river of blood was streaming a path from her nose to her mouth and I wasn’t sure if she had ripped her nose or her lip open.

Always cool under pressure, I started to scream “Help me! Help me!” over and over, yelling for my son to call his dad at work. He, having been upstairs for what he’d hoped to be a relaxing visit to the bathroom, was a frazzled mess and stumbled to find one of our phones.

“Grace. Face bleeding.” He shouted into the phone and hung up.

Somehow I had mentally slapped myself out of my hysteria and asked for a box of tissues, snatched one and held it against my daughter’s nose, noting I had smeared blood above her eyebrow as I’d pulled her close for a hug and examination.

knew that in order for her to calm down that I had to calm down and suddenly I went into robot mode. Wipe face. Hold nose, ask what hurt and what she had hit. She said her nose and her ear so I examined both appendages and saw blood caked along the edge of the nose and the tip of it swelled some, but otherwise it seemed fine. The ear didn’t have the gash I worried I would see. 

My husband burst through the door a few minutes later and we checked her out together while she cried. A popsicle and a cartoon helped her calm down.

A half an hour later she was in the kitchen twirling in circles next to the counter, an inch from smashing her face in again.

“Excuse me. We’ve already had one bloody nose. Are you trying to get another one?” I asked.

And that’s when I felt it – another gray hair pop up on top of my head.

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I find myself sitting alone in the kitchen after I give the kids their dinner some nights, eating alone and listening to a podcast, and it fills me with guilt.

How dare I sit and not be with my children? Don’t I love them? Don’t I want to be with them all the time? If I don’t is something wrong with me?

Of course, I know I love my children. And I know I don’t have to be with them all the time to show it. I know there isn’t anything wrong with needing a break from my children throughout the day but something deep within in me says my little breaks are selfish and wrong.

Where does this guilt come from? I have no idea. No one has ever told me I should play with my children constantly or entertain them non-stop or sacrifice quiet moments to myself because I gave birth to tiny humans.

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My husband works a second shift, leaving me home with the kids during two of the busiest, sometimes most stressful, times of day – supper and bedtime. I don’t resent being a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I wanted to be at a stay-at-home mom for years. I worried about putting financial stress on our family but I felt being home with our son, to raise him, was the right step to take. By the time he was in school, I considered going back to work to lift some of the financial burdens but by the time I made up my mind about that I was pregnant again. A situation at my son’s school led to a decision to homeschool him at the end of last school year. Going back to work wasn’t an option at that point.

Seven years ago, after working for 14 years, I was home with my son,  overwhelmed with the thought that I was now doing something I never imagined doing. When I was a teenager and in college, I knew I was going to be a writer or a photojournalist who traveled the world, not a mom. And if I was a mom, that baby would be in a carrier, on my back, not in my lap or in my floor while I did the things stay-at-home moms did. I didn’t know what they did, but to me stay-at-home moms were boring and frumpy and covered in spit-up, yet also super organized and played with their children and did crafts and arts with them and cooked home meals and stood in the kitchen in their aprons and waited for their husbands to come home from work and – and – the mere thought of being that mom sent me into sheer panic mode.

But then I was holding him and he was looking at me. He was funny and intelligent and I forgot about the boogers and spit up on me. The late nights were hard and I was a walking zombie. Pregnancy and breastfeeding kicked my tail and soon I was on thyroid medication and supplements and anything I could consume to keep me functioning. But he was worth it all.

And today both he and his sister are worth it all.DSC_0540

DSC_0535What’s happened to me, though, is what happens to many stay-at-home moms: I run the danger of pouring so much of me into them there is very little left for anyone else and there is definitely nothing left for me to relax and refresh my inner self.

I remember being so obsessed with caring for my son, feeling his care was my sole responsibility, that I found myself consumed by guilt if I even took a few moments to myself to take a shower or a bath or run to the store to grocery shop on my own.

My mom did everything for us growing up. My dad worked and she cooked, cleaned, cared for us and was there for us when we fell off our bikes or came down with a cold or woke up with a nightmare. She was amazing and I think when I became a mom I subconsciously compared myself to her and thought I had to do as much as she did and had to sacrifice the way she did, or at least the way I thought she did.

One thing I don’t remember my mom doing is playing with me. She colored with me some, but as for playing, she’d been raised that children needed to entertain themselves and learn on their own to teach them independence. She didn’t ignore me or shout at me to leave her alone, but she gently directed me toward my toys or my sketchbooks or outside to find something to do.

I truly have no idea what my mom did to relax, except she read. A lot. She escaped in a book and she took time for herself when she cooked. Did she feel guilty that she wasn’t spending her every waking moment with me or my brother? I don’t know but I have a feeling she knew we were okay on our own and she didn’t need to be with us every second. She also wasn’t bombarded with messages from magazines and social media and tv about our failings as parents.

Is being a mother harder now because of the many voices we have telling us how to be one? I don’t know, but what I do know is we don’t have to listen to all those voices.

Maybe we can take one or two, think about what they are saying and apply their advice, but then we can ignore the others and listen to the only voice that really matters: the voice inside us that tells us when we’ve stretched ourselves thin enough and it’s OK to set the kids up with a game, a book or even – gasp! – a cartoon and take a little time for ourselves.

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Mama guilt and afternoon rest

She woke up this morning, looked at me and said “pretend you’re mama puppy.”

That meant she was baby puppy and barked and whimpered at me while I was mama puppy and had to bark all my answers at her.  It was a bit too early in my day to be barking morning greetings to my child but she asked and she’s cute and I would rather be greeted that way then with the morning news or an angry text message so I obliged her.

We started out as puppies but then we became tigers and she wanted to wake up and tell daddy she was a tiger. He was at his part time job so I had to text him her new identity  instead.

There are two days a week we wake up and it’s just her and me hanging out together until the afternoon. Her dad is at work and her brother is at school so we cuddle in bed and she talks about her favorite subjects, puppies and Doc Mcstuffin and this week PJ masks. I treasure those days but they can also be hectic and exhausting because I spend that time bouncing between waiting on and playing with her and trying to check off my to-do list at the same time.

Most days I keep my patience but some days, like today, my patience wanes and I snap “just give me five minutes to finish one thing!” When really I need like 50 minutes.

For about four months, probably longer, she’s been refusing early naps, instead only wanting to nap after I’ve picked her brother up from school and need to start dinner. This wouldn’t be a problem if one, she didn’t want me to hold her the entire time and two, she didn’t try to sleep for two hours and effectively push her bedtime off to an hour not fit for this 40-year old let alone a 3-year old.

When she said, shortly before 1 pm, that she wanted a nap I grumpily told her I didn’t believe her and didn’t want to leave my computer work just to have her once again refuse quiet time or a nap once we got upstairs to her room . She burst into tears and I carried her upstairs to her bed, to a place she has been refusing to rest in for almost six months. She cuddled against me, pulled the covers around her, asked to nurse and fell asleep. Boom. Just like that. I don’t think she has fallen asleep before 3 p.m. since sometime in the spring.

And now here I sit filled with mother guilt and praying she isn’t coming down with an illness or that the head bump she took yesterday afternoon when she slipped while chasing her brother with a plastic sword didn’t cause some kind of damage we were unaware of.

This quiet time, curled up under this comforter in the darkened bedroom is a gift, a moment of respite, a chance to regroup and refresh and I should be thankful, not suspicious, not aggravated or resentful.

It is a gift and I want to accept it and treasure it and hold it close in case it is a fleeting one. Her naps may interrupt the flow of my day but those moments, much like unexpected detours in our life, are needed interruptions to force me to slow down, focus on the present and take time to physically and mentally rest.

Author Emily P. Freeman talked about being present in the moment and taking time for rest in the latest episode of her podcast “The Next Right Thing.”

“When it’s time to be still, do so without an agenda so that when it’s time to move, you can do so from a place of love,” she said. “Part of remembering our soul’s center is engaging in practices that help to make space for God to move.  One of those practices for me is the practice of being still. If you feel scattered without a center, like you’re flying out in all directions, let these few moments be a speed bump in your busy day. . . . Say the day in your mind – the date, the month, the year. This is where you are, this moment is what you have. You can only be one place at a time. So be here now.”

So during my little girl’s nap time, with her asleep on my arm, effectively pinning me to the bed with her, I said to myself the date and the time and breathed in that moment – that gift of being present in the moment and in a period of needed rest but also in a period of being alone with her.