A  Meme That Changed My Life?

Scrolling through Instagram, to escape my kids and my brain (both of which were driving me crazy), I saw a meme that changed my life.

Hold up. Say whaaaat? Yep, I’m for real. I might be exaggerating a wee bit, but it was still important. A friend had posted a meme that was a quote by Mooji, a “spiritual teacher” from Jamaica. It said:

“Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go.”

wp-1493132734768.jpg

My own version of that meme

Those words just happened to hit me at the right moment. I could use any cliché here to describe what happened: it clicked, lightbulb moment, “aha” moment. What happened was a profound and real paradigm shift in my thinking.

I am not my thoughts. I am not my feelings. I am not my guilt.

These things are actually separate from me. And they are temporary. If they are visitors (maybe not the more favorable word choice of “guests”), that means they will leave. Eventually.

It’s not as if I’d never done my homework before. I know about retraining your brain by changing your thoughts. I know about cognitive distortions. I know about cognitive behavioral therapy. I have a Bachelors’ degree in Psychology (granted, it’s old); I have listened to professionals; I have read books. I have even read books on this very topic. I have probably even seen almost identical doofy self-help quotes on social media every day for years. I had thought I understood what my brain was doing and how to change it. But somehow, somehow, despite all of that, my brain didn’t actually accept that “feelings are just visitors” until this one stupid (or amazing) meme.

A mom with depression, anxiety, or simply a guilt-prone personality, might see a children’s book lying on the floor at night after the children are in bed. This kind of self-deprecating mom will have some or all of the following thoughts:

“I promised my child I would read that book to him, and I didn’t. He will never trust me if I don’t mean what I say.”

“I don’t read to my children enough. I’m a former teacher; I KNOW how important reading is. What is wrong with me?”

“I can’t keep this house clean to save my life. My husband will think I’m lazy.”

“Why are there always books on the floor? Haven’t I taught my children to respect books? Maybe they never actually see me reading books myself. I’m on my phone too much. Have they even seen me pick up a novel?”

“My husband will be stressed by this mess when he comes home. Why can’t I get it together?”

A mom with a healthier line of thinking – or (let’s be honest) A DAD – will look at that same book and think:

“There is a book on the floor.”

And that’s it. A fact with no blame. Maybe that person would go so far as to put the book away, or make plans to read it to his child tomorrow, but there would be no judgment attached to the thought.

Mr. Okayest is so very good at simply seeing that there is a dang book on the floor. I say that with awe and respect. It’s one of the things I love best about him. He’s factual (so he adds no blame to anything), but simultaneously so loving (because he can factually see where I differ from him, and he can see it without blame). He’s a good example to me, and a huge help to me.

I’m fairly certain I’m a non-judgy person. The older I get, the more gray area I see. The more wiggle room. I am pretty sure I follow “live and let live” and “love your neighbor” and “meet people where they are.” I think I almost always remember that everyone is fighting invisible battles and will do things differently than I will. (I even consulted with my husband to be sure that I really am that kind of person.)

So WHY OH WHY do I judge myself so harshly? I’m realizing that every single thought and feeling about myself comes with 1) judgment, and 2) directing it inward. Making it a part of my personality.

Instead of saying “I’m so anxious”, I’m now going to say, “I have a temporary feeling of anxiety.” It is not me, and it is not permanent. Instead of telling myself “I am a bad mother”, I will try to reframe it and think, “I have a feeling of inadequacy that will pass.” It is not me, and it is not permanent.

Now that my brain had finally assimilated all that, I began my research anew. With new lenses on. I went back to the books, information from professionals, journals, articles, and read many of them again, with a new understanding of how to really apply it to my own self. While reading an article about how to help children with their anxiety, I learned that you can teach your children that thoughts are like a train. Each thought or feeling or emotion is a train car. They are not actually YOU. They are passing by. You can watch them pass, and you can do so without putting any blame on those train cars.

I have actually been applying this simplistic children’s advice to myself. I had to start practicing when the children were in bed, or in preschool. I was not able to retain the self-control, or time, to practice it when they were around and demanding things in triplicate – and I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. I am not a visual person (I like words – duh), so imagining a train passing by whenever I recognized a negative or anxious feeling is not natural for me. It takes a lot of effort. But, to my surprise, it was actually working. I found that often I had to picture my stupid negative train slowing to a stop at my station, because the feelings wouldn’t budge for a while. But remembering that those feelings were separate from me, no matter how long they parked there, was a revelation.

I practiced this visualization and thought retraining (oh, semi-nice pun!) for about two weeks before I was actually able to stop a full-blown anxiety attack in its tracks. (Ohhh, super nice pun!) I left the kids to their Legos and went to my room and shut the door. (I could not have done this two years ago. I am able to steal moments away now that the twins are four and not constantly in mortal danger.) I sat in my happy papasan chair and stared out my window. I slowed my breathing and pictured my stupid train. I repeated my stupid meme quote. “Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go.” I did it. I de-escalated myself. I waited until I was really sure of that fact, and then I went back to my children.

At a recent adoption conference, I heard an adult adoptee (who is also a rapper) say that if we are caring for foster children, traumatized children, adopted children, special needs children, then we have a responsibility to get it together mentally in order to help them. He, of course, mentioned the ubiquitous oxygen mask analogy, which I have often heard and thought I had understood. But, for some reason, the way he phrased it changed everything. He said something like, “If you are the kind of person who is willing to care for children of trauma, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t think about herself. Who doesn’t put herself first. So I’m going to frame this from that perspective. Taking care of yourself and your own mental health IS being selfless, because it enables you to care for the needs of your child. You have to get it together yourself in order to BE SELFLESS enough to care for that kid.”

Straight into my heart and leaking out my eyes.

The oxygen mask analogy never really sat well with me, because, seriously, I don’t know if I can even FIND my oxygen mask. (Also, I am wary of the “saviorism” mentality that many white adoptive parents have without knowing it. I do not believe I am “selfless” for having adopted. Nor do I assume that my child is “better off with me.” I benefited from this man’s words because he was helping me figure out how to best help my child.) But this adult Black male adoptee who had been to prison and to college was telling me that taking the time to work out my own sh!t was for the good of my child. … And somehow it sunk in this time. Somehow, even though I may have heard it a hundred different times in a hundred different ways, and even though I had thought I had understood it, my brain and heart were actually finally ready to assimilate it.

Why am I ready now? Why is years of already-gathered information suddenly resonating? Maybe it’s because the kids are older, and I am actually able to take those five minutes to myself in my bedroom while they play Legos. Maybe it’s because my anxiety is already more controlled with professional help. Maybe it’s because I’m not in emergency mode anymore. Maybe it’s because I am being blessed by a higher power. Maybe because I can see, as my kids get older, how my mental health does – and will – affect them. Maybe it’s because I’m freaking sick of living like that.

***

The man who spoke to us was SaulPaul (who has given TED talks before). When he was done making me cry, he got out his guitar and sang all of us adoptive parents a song he wrote about his grandmother who adopted him. It’s called “Mama” and you can hear it here. 

 

 

And a heartfelt thank you to the friend who originally posted that meme… you know who you are and I love you.

Diary of a Woman Who Has Three Hours to Herself (to Squish In Everything)

wp-1487266379498.jpg

[preschool dropoff]

Woohoo! I’m free!

Are they ok? Wait, doesn’t one of them have a stomachache?

I’m a bad mom for needing to send them away.

I’m so happy!

[anxiety attack]

Breathe slowly, you idiot!

I’m really gonna enjoy my time off this time.

I’m not going to waste it.

I have to stop at this store first.

Dang it, they don’t have it.

Just one more store.

They don’t have it.

Argh! I’ve wasted a whole hour. For no reason!

Drive home faster so you can relax faster, you dork.

This anxiety attack is giving me an anxiety attack because I’m wasting time on the anxiety attack.

What do I even want to do? What do I even like anymore?

Oh, lemme just look up this thing online. Maybe I can find it.

Dang it! You wasted another HOUR!

Ok, Melissa, buckle down and write. For real. It’s the only thing that helps you.

Virus warning? WTF??

Did I lose that work? NO NO NO NO NO NO

I’m gonna stare at this ceiling for a while in the depths of despair like Anne of Green Gables.

ONE HOUR LEFT? LOOK AT THIS MESS! Why haven’t I cleaned anything?

What is wrong with you?

[pace, pace, pace] Which mess should I start with? The worst one or the easiest one? When was the last time I cleaned this dog bowl? OMG.

Maybe I should put on some music. Or take a bath. Those things always help.

Music. Ok, Talking Heads is my cleaning music.

“Slippery People”? How can I not dance to this? Dancing helps anxiety. Dance it off!

Wow, why can’t I dance like that when people are around?

Maybe I’ll unload a few dishes while dancing.

Wait, look at that pile of clean clothes.

Look away. Look at it again.

I really need to clean the toilet. Maybe I can dance-clean the toilet.

Ok, focus, Melissa. Sit down and make a list. Prioritize.

Look at that pile of clothes! JUST LOOK AT IT!

Oh, wow, DJ Shadow? [lost in a romantic college-era dorm-room Christmas-light trance]

OMGosh I have to LEAVE TO PICK UP THE TWINS!

Wait, I didn’t eat.

Isn’t it a beautiful day outside? Why wasn’t I outside?

[start the car]

Get it together, woman!

Regular thoughts vs. Anxiety Thoughts

wp-1462742844032.jpg

Me. Worrying.

Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me. Well, “tricks” makes it sound kind of fun and playful. These tricks are neither fun nor playful. Hmm, maybe “my mind” isn’t the best phrase either. Let me start over.

Sometimes my brain chemicals try to screw me over.

The same things happen to me on good days as do on bad days. No matter how good or bad my brain chemistry is acting, I still have to make the same amount of meals, wipe the same amount of bums, and hear the same amount of chaos. The difference is whether or not I can handle those things.

wp-1462742504898.jpg

Me. Hiding.

Some days, I can calmly look around and survey the damage and prioritize my responsibilities. Other days, I look around at my life and I … feel like when I’m swimming and I think the bottom of the lake is right there, but then my toes realize that I can’t touch the bottom and I panic and tread water even though I know I know how to swim.

And then, I shut down. Zombie mommy takes over. I don’t know what to do about anything and I slowly lose the ability to do anything. I lose the ability to prioritize. Everything seems huge and every attempt on my part seems inadequate or even just wrong. On a “good” day, I might look back and wonder why on earth I couldn’t handle that stupid little event/ responsibility / feeling/ chore/ request.

Here is how my brain handles things on good days versus bad days…

The houseplant needs water.                                                            
Regular thought: Where did I put that watering can? Which kid will help me water this plant?
Anxiety thought: I kind of like watching this plant die.

My kids go to their rooms for their regularly scheduled “quiet time”.
Regular thought: These kids really benefit from quiet time. We all need a break.
Anxiety thought: Shouldn’t I be doing some cute craft with them or something? I shouldn’t need a break from my own children.

I see a book on the floor that I had promised to read to them but didn’t.
Regular thought: Oh, I better remember to read that to them tomorrow!
Anxiety thought: I am the worst mother ever. How could I promise something and not follow through? These kids will never keep trusting me if I don’t mean what I say.

I am late to something.
Regular thought: Ugh, I tried hard. Oh well, people understand that I have potty-training twins and can’t always be on time.
Anxiety thought: I am never on time. Everyone else manages to be on time, no matter how many kids they have. What is wrong with me?

There are piles of laundry on the couch.
Regular thought: I can’t believe how much mud and pollen three small boys can get into in the spring!  Let’s get this folding started. It won’t be so bad in the summer time.
Anxiety thought: There is no point. Laundry never ever ends. Other moms can handle their laundry with bigger families than mine. What is my excuse? I can’t even look at this pile.

I need to start making dinner.
Regular thought: Let me consult my meal planner on the wall to remember what I am making tonight. Ok, I need to start that in ten minutes.
Anxiety thought: Everyone is going to need me while I’m making dinner. It’s so impossible. They won’t even want to eat what I planned anyway. Why do I bother?

My husband calls and says he will be late coming home from work tonight.
Regular thought: Ugh, not again. Ok, let’s get this over with.
Anxiety thought: I will be doing this alone forever. I can’t handle this. I can’t handle them.

I have a whole lot of emails/ texts/ messages/ calls to respond to.
Regular thought: Well, people understand that I have twins. I’ll get to them sooner or later.
Anxiety thought: People make time for me, yet I can’t seem to make time for them. I am a really bad friend. I am going to lose the friends I’ve got.

Everyone is crying at the same time.
Regular thought: Let me see who has the most serious need and handle him first.
Anxiety thought: I don’t know what to do. I want to hide in the bathroom.

The house is a mess.
Regular thought: Well, I have three small boys! What do I expect it will look like? It’s not like I have a cleaning crew. I’ll clean it when they go to kindergarten.
Anxiety thought: I am a failure.

Even on a bad day, I know I can’t believe the anxiety thoughts. But it’s so hard. I know I shouldn’t listen to that crap. I know it’s not real. These “tricks” are all so new to me. I can’t believe how much effort it takes to both hear them and not to listen to them. On a good day, I just handle it. Handle it and move on.

Besides my migraines, anxiety has absolutely been my biggest challenge to my parenting. Sometimes I imagine what kind of mother I could be without anxiety or migraines strangling me. I can’t decide if thinking like that makes me feel better or worse.

Yes, what I do is really really hard. I am not sure that anyone in my situation would be able to do any better. At least, that’s what I have to tell myself. Having three small children, one of them with special needs, a couple of them potty training, and all of them very very dependent on me, would take a toll on anyone. Right?

It makes me really sad to read what I have written – to put this stuff in words. But I usually can’t heal from something until I write it down. I think better when I write. Let’s just hope I can learn to think better during the bad days, too.

Where Have You Been? /My Anxiety Coming-Out Party

Readers, you might not care where I’ve been, but I do. This post is my coming-back-to-life party. Let me take a deep breath.

I used to post at least weekly, and it wasn’t for you. It was for my mental health. (Oh, and some future version of my kids.) I don’t think straight unless I write. And you poor souls have been the recipients. I haven’t posted much lately, and for the first time in years, I didn’t post anything at all for six months. That probably means I didn’t have a complete thought during that time, either.

So, where have I been? Let’s see. I had a triumvirate* of reasons that led to my writing/thinking demise:

  • My oldest son started school. For reasons I can’t explain publicly (see Sharing vs. Oversharing), this milestone rocked our world for quite a long time. It’s been a difficult time, but I’m proud of my kid, and, yeah, proud of myself for not giving up.
  • Twin Non-Napping Disorder. For real this time. Unlike last time I wrote about my twins’ napping strike (see Fireball of Change: Twins Breach Cribs), this time there was no going back. They were done. As soon as my oldest began school, no amount of mothering finesse, bribes, threats, tricks, separations, or whiskey (just kidding, duh) could put these toddlers to sleep during the day. Nap time was one of my only blogging times. I have always said that their nap was the only thing keeping me sane. Now I have proof. Wow, it feels so sucky to be right.
  • Twin Potty Training Disorder. I haven’t really “unpacked” this one yet. I’m still too close to this train wreck to be able to write about it. You’re welcome.
  • <deep breath> I have an anxiety disorder. There. I said it. I am completely open about my struggles with infertility, IVF, adoption, miscarriage, a transracial family, and multiples. I have years of practice with all those things. I have found that being open about my struggles has brought me peace (through writing therapy) and solace (through sharing with others and opening up communication). I am good at advocating for children who have been adopted and for women who are infertile. I will fight for them. But a mental health problem? That’s new to me. I had to sit on that a while. (Although my most dedicated readers probably read between the lines  – or just read the actual lines – and figured it out a while back. Also, sometimes I write drafts and forget to publish them and then my blog or my life is out of order.)

The kicker is that the very thing that helps me muddle through these three stressors IS writing. And yet the stressors have prevented me from writing. Ugh. What a vicious self-defeating circle. Enough is enough! I have to get back on the writing wagon. (What would a “writing wagon” look like? Maybe some alphabet stickers on a Radio Flyer? A horse-drawn cart carrying authors to a writing convention?)

What are the repercussions of “coming out” as an anxiety sufferer on a public and only semi-anonymous blog? For my future? For my children? I’m not sure. (Mr. Okayest still has veto power over my posts, so he can help me there.) What I am sure of is that keeping it hidden has not worked for me. I can’t seem to work through it without writing about it. Plus, it affects my mothering life greatly (badly?), and thus, writing about being an Okayest Mom without writing about being an Anxious Okayest Mom just seems hollow.

I have learned that my anxiety, and not necessarily my children, is the source of my stress.

That was big news in my addled brain.

One of the things that gave me courage to admit that I have an anxiety disorder was a religious article published recently. It was beautifully written, and it really touched me. Hit me. Smacked me. The article is from an LDS magazine, but I believe it would benefit any religious person struggling with a mental health issue – or anyone (religious or not) who is close to that person. The author writes, “I had thought my spirit was primarily under attack, not my brain.” [You can read more about this at the end of my post if you’d like.]

Anyway, I’m glad to be back. I missed you guys. Hopefully by being more open about my anxiety, I can write more – and write better. Along the way, maybe I’ll even help some other mother who has simultaneous experience with infertility, miscarriages, adoption, IVF, multiples, a transracial family, AND anxiety.

What? Oh, that’s just me, isn’t it?

***

*I initially had three reasons, therefore I used the word “triumvirate”. Then I added a fourth thing and I couldn’t think what the word for four things would be.

***

The longer quote:

“It is essential to understand that such a spiritual crisis is not a result of spiritual weakness or lack of faith. Rather, depressive feelings and the resulting depressed view of one’s spirituality are usually caused by a chemical imbalance. Because our physical bodies and our spirits are necessarily connected (see D&C 88:15), it can be common to feel the effects of a physical disorder in a spiritual way, especially in the case of depression, which alters our very perception of ourselves. Therefore, it is important to seek out the actual source of such feelings, especially when experiencing the often-distorting effects of depression…

I soon discovered that medication and cognitive therapy were effective at bringing relief. But the one thing I didn’t find in any of my research was mention of the spiritual repercussions of mental illness. This surprised me, since so many of the symptoms I’d experienced seemed spiritual in nature. I came to realize that while the medical texts rarely acknowledged the spiritual effects of depression, I had initially gone too far the other way—I had misconstrued my depressed feelings as spiritual unworthiness. Indeed, I had been so sure my feelings were manifestations of spiritual weakness that it had never occurred to me I might have a chemical imbalance…I hadn’t seen myself as depressed because I had thought my spirit was primarily under attack, not my brain.

In the light of such challenges, the message given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the October 2013 general conference offers perspective and hope:

‘I wish to speak to those who suffer from some form of mental illness or emotional disorder, whether those afflictions be slight or severe, of brief duration or persistent over a lifetime. … These afflictions are some of the realities of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging them than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.'”

from https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/02/depression?lang=eng

 

 

I Went Away With a Girlfriend for Two Nights So I Wouldn’t Crack

I went away with a girlfriend for two nights. My husband insisted. I had been going through a really rough time, due to anxiety problems combined with some truly evil migraine medication side effects combined with potty training. He knew I was about to break. He told me, “You need to call your friend and ask her to go away with you. Right now. If you don’t call her, I will.” She is also a mother of three-year-old twins, so she heard the desperation in my voice text, and scheduled a beach weekend with me right away. Her husband must be as smart as my husband.

In order to make it to my weekend away, I had to sludge through my husband’s six-night business trip first. It was such a huge strain on my body and mind that I could barely even look forward to my beach weekend. I survived, but potty training didn’t.

wp-1462742933408.jpg

I did force my friend to do this with me and she will never forgive me.

When my friend and I told our strength-training instructor that we would be going away to the beach, he got a sparkle in his eye and said something about us “going out” and blah blah. We looked at each other and laughed. Sleep. Lots of sleep. And maybe a couple long walks on the beach. (Oh, and somehow I would force my friend to do one of those old-timey dress up photos with me, but that would be pushing it.) Our trainer, a man with no children, had no idea what we were really looking forward to. Sleeping through the night. Deciding when we wanted to go to the bathroom. Eating a whole meal without witnessing anything gross enough to make us stop eating. Eating a whole meal without getting up. Not having anyone demand anything of us. Not dealing with anyone else’s poop besides our own. Not having anyone ask us 900 questions a day. (Not exaggerating: the average three-year-old asks upward of 400 questions a day. Times two for us. It’s science.)

It was finally time to leave. My kids, ages 6, 3, and 3, are finally old enough to basically say, “Don’t let the door hit you in the a$$ on the way out” when I leave. A year or two ago, we were still in the cling-to-my-legs stage. Sometimes they seem better off without me. I know that is the anxiety talking, and it’s not really true. But they fight less when they aren’t around me. They potty train properly for my husband. My husband can keep the house in order. Sometimes it seems that I shouldn’t be here. Anyway, I was so emotionally drained by the week of single parenting prior to our departure that I sagged into my friend’s car with not quite as much enthusiasm as I had imagined I would have. I wanted to weep, but more from exhaustion rather than from sorrow at leaving the kids or from joy at leaving the kids.

As the house got further and further behind us, we realized it was so much … easier… to talk to each other without four three-year-olds talking to us at the same time. Wow. Imagine that. We were able to finish thoughts and sentences. Have a real back and forth like normal people. It was so… easy. And not once did I turn around and strain my neck looking into the back seat!

We arrived at our hotel and both of us had to take Benadryl. It’s been so long since we slept through the night that we know we can’t actually sleep through the night anymore. The body is a cruel mistress.

wp-1462742975225.jpg

My first time alone in a hotel room. Age 36.

I had never slept in a hotel room alone before. Since I married at age 22, I can’t remember a time that my parents or my husband weren’t with me in a hotel room. (I did go to college and also studied abroad in Italy, but I always had roommates!) It was weird and scary and intimidating. And yeah, kinda nice.

We did all the usual things that you would expect Mormon moms to do at the beach in the cold springtime: walk around, sleep in, eat at cheap restaurants, look at dolphins, not drink, and maybe make fun of the cheerleading competition that was in town. It wasn’t life-altering. But it was good. Very very good.

I was surprised that I couldn’t make myself call home.

I was also surprised that I never did relax. How many days would it have taken?

I was also surprised that when I came home, I discovered that my kids are the cutest things in the whole world. Those little voices? Those chubby legs? Those giggles? Those fat arms around my neck? Are you kidding me?! Beautiful.

It lasted about an hour. Then they were the same old kids.

I need to go away again.

 

Also, this is a non sequitur, but this sign made me laugh every time I got on the elevator.

Also, this is a non sequitur, but this sign made me laugh every time I got on the elevator.

 

Why Is “Postpartum Anxiety” A Thing Now? And What Do We Do?

Ah, okay, there’s a name for that now. I have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology (granted, it’s old) and I had never heard the term “postpartum anxiety” before recently. Where did this come from? Everyone knows about postpartum depression, but why was no one talking about the postpartum anxiety? When I type the word “postpartum”, the suggested next words are “depression” or “hemorrhage”. Not anxiety.

I was at a baby shower recently and the words “postpartum anxiety” passed through the room like a hot potato. From mom to mom to mom. These are my friends, and we had no idea that each other was suffering.

What is going on?!

I didn’t feel any of these feelings during high school or college. I managed to graduate cum laude without getting too overwhelmed or ever hearing this kind of negative self-talk. I managed five years of a teaching career without hearing this crap. I could handle 25 five-year-olds every day for ten months out of a year, and only feel normal amounts of tiredness and frustration. Yes, those things were incredibly challenging and a huge amount of work, but I didn’t shut down.

This anxiety is all new to me, since motherhood began.

How many of you mothers out there are rocking in this same unsteady boat? Is it new for you too? Why now? Are we poisoning ourselves and our brain chemistry? What is to blame? Ourselves? Pregnancy? Regular daily situational stress? Environmental toxins? Pesticides? Food dyes? An overabundance of information?  The fact that modern parents are not able to let their ten-year-old walk home from the playground without getting Child Protective Services called? Pinterest? (Just kidding. You know Okayest Mom is not a Pinterest mom.)

No one told me before I started infertility treatments that women with successful IVF  have higher rates of depression and anxiety. No one told me before my twins were born that mothers of multiples have higher rates of depression and anxiety. Some studies even show that new adoptive mothers have higher rates of depression. We all know that people who cheat death like I did have some mental repercussions later. And it’s probably obvious that almost all mothers of special needs children have higher rates of “psychological distress.”

Despite the fact that I was not quite cognizant of all of this crap, I figured it all out on my own as I bowed under the pressures. I wrote about being haunted by successful IVF a while ago. And I have never subscribed to the belief that “adoption is rainbows and unicorns.” (The truth is that adoption is extremely complex – and involves walking with your child through his grief.)

With all of these complicated family dynamics under my roof and inside my head and on my shoulders, it’s really no surprise that I have some really really bad days. Days when I can’t handle my life. Days when I feel like a bad person. A wrong person. And, yes, days when I feel like a bad mother. I am really bad at a lot of things. Potty training twins. Growing blueberries. Unpacking anything ever. Turning down the minivan radio.

And then I have some normal days, like today. Today I reread a hopeless and detailed (unpublished) post that I had written during a bad day. It made me feel so sad. Not sorry for myself – just plain old sad. Since my brain seems to be thinking clearly today as I look back on that post, I started making a mental list of all the things that I actually do right. My list was kind of beautiful. Everything on it was something I do as a mother, just naturally, without comparison to others and without force. My list made me smile, and I realized I needed to write it down.

I needed to write that list down and read it on every single bad day. I wanted to be able to read my own words and believe myself on a bad day. Here is my list.

Motherhood things I do well (and need to reread on a bad day):

  • Having Beastie Boys dance parties with my kids
  • Saying “no” when needed
  • Saying “yes” as often as possible
  • Going outside with my kids in all types of weather
  • Making exercise a priority for all of us
  • Baking homemade organic bread often (for fun!)
  • Making homemade organic wheat pancakes from scratch every Saturday and a homemade pumpkin pie every Sunday
  • Loving their father
  • Checking the pollen count every day for my seriously allergic son, and making him change his clothes and wiping him down all over when he comes inside
  • Running a food-dye-free kitchen when I realized one of my sons reacts to dyes
  • Driving to another state to see a specialist on a regular basis for one son
  • Fighting tooth and nail to get services for one son (and then listening to this ridiculous 80s Journey song on the way home while pumping my fist in the air)
  • Snuggling and kissing and hugging my children as often as they allow
  • Teaching my children that they are the bosses of their bodies and can say no to my hugs (sigh)
  • Taking them to church every Sunday (okay, most Sundays)
  • Letting them see me preparing my Sunday School lesson, and then teaching them a 3 minute shortened version of it every Monday for Family Night
  • Teaching them to respect their father
  • Making them kale smoothies (they don’t eat their vegetables, but they sure drink them, and I’m okay with that)
  • Keeping my kids away from electronics
  • Getting my own exercise so I can be healthy for them (and keep up with them – almost)
  • Almost always controlling the volume of my voice
  • Seeing the grandparents and great-grandparents a lot
  • Learning about my own white privilege, and trying to change that for my son
  • Taking classes about race and transracial adoption to try to do better
  • Making sure my kids know what a record player is
  • Living by my favorite parenting quote: “Give them time to explore and learn about the feel of grass, and the wiggliness of worms.” (by Marjorie Hinckley)

Again, this list is not here to compare to your good things. I am writing it to remind myself what *I* do right, and hope that it can outweigh my shortcomings. If you suffer from the same crap I do, make a list for yourself of your good things – the things you do effortlessly and for which you forget to take credit.

Make a list for yourself. Give yourself credit. Reread it. Reach out to other moms on your bad days. Remind your friends what things they do right. Let’s do this together.

Mothering My Child Named “Anxiety”

My anxiety is one of my children. It’s new, so it’s just a baby. Maybe a toddler. I wonder what gender it is? Let’s call it a “she”, because I don’t actually have any girls and I don’t know what they are like. She – my anxiety toddler – is demanding. Selfish. And I don’t like her.

She was dropped on my doorstep. I have no choice but to live with her. Where did she come from? No one knows. She might have been created in pregnancy hormones. she might have been birthed in the operating rooms where I almost died. She might have decided to stay when the demands of “triplets” became too much.

I am learning how to live with her. I am learning what she needs, and what makes her flip out. I am a little ashamed of her, because she is badly behaved and has a black spot on her heart.

I am ashamed that I am ashamed.

She makes me tired and scared at the same time. She confuses me. She is a paradox. She doesn’t want anyone to see her, but she begs for reprieves from others.

She is selfish. So so so very self-absorbed, as most (all) toddlers are, but she doesn’t give any of those cute wet slurpy kisses and fat arms around my neck and warm heavy snuggles into my bony chest to make the selfishness feel worth it. She just takes takes takes. And then, when other people need me, I am too stuck under her weight to physically move.

wp-1456000594353.jpgShe is the reason that just taking my children to the park makes my hands shake. She is the reason that laundry seems like an insurmountable mountain (which sometimes it literally is). She gets hold of my phone and gives it some sort of virus that prevents me from emailing people back. She, like a newborn, keeps me up at night and causes me to pace the floor to rock her back to sleep, and makes me feel exhausted upon waking.

She makes me sweaty and headachy from the adrenaline of chasing her. She overstimulates me so badly, that once the children are in bed, I collapse onto the couch and have to turn my body to face the couch. I block all else out, and just stare at the busted up leather two inches from my face until I can breathe again.

She hides in the shower curtain and jumps out when I’m least expecting to play hide and seek. Worst of all, she steals from my children. She sneaks up on them too. She steals experiences and time and games and imagination from them.

She doesn’t know it, but, as her mother, I am determined to find her best qualities, no matter how hard I have to search. Since no one else will love her, then I have to try even harder.

Against her will, she is teaching me to say “no”. It’s embarrassing at first, but a surge of relief later. I say “no” to chores during nap time. I say “no” to baby showers, even though I love my friends dearly. I say “no” to doing more than one thing in a day. To certain places, certain activities, certain people, and certain responsibilities . And this can be a positive thing. She is teaching me my own limits. She is helping me draw that line between what *I* can do and what *other moms* can do.

She is accidentally teaching me compassion toward others’ “faults”, which may just be their own evil babies dropped on their doorsteps, too. She would hate that she gives me empathy.

She is somehow reminding me how to breathe, count my blessings, pause, and contemplate. Because of her, I am learning to retrain my brain about a few things. She doesn’t like that either.

wp-1456000626204.jpgMost importantly, she has taught me that she is the source of my stress, not the children. It isn’t them who make me hide in the bathroom. It’s their evil sister! This realization is big news in my addled brain.

Anxiety, and not my children, is the source of my stress. 

How long will I have to raise her? When will she be grown enough to leave the nest?