“Fighting for Your Kid” Really Just Means Trying Again

During my first year of teaching kindergarten, a more experienced teacher kindly said to me, “Sometimes being a good teacher just means showing up again the next day.”

I never forgot that.

Sometimes being a good mother just means showing up again the next day. Trying again the next day.

Every teacher struggles tremendously during the first years. I had a student with some serious emotional challenges that I really was not equipped to handle. I went home and sobbed to my husband that I wasn’t going back, he couldn’t make me, and I was going to work at Walmart. Somehow I managed to go back to school the next day, and the next day, and the next day. I wasn’t the best teacher for that boy who was struggling, but we struggled together. I remember trying to approach him from a different angle the next day: I kneeled down, at his eye level, and very gently painted his hands with an empty paintbrush. He looked me in the eyes. Everything was not smooth sailing after that, but it was a start. I was an emotional wreck sometimes, and I could have done a thousand things better and differently, but I did the best that I could at the time.

And I tried again the next day.

And the next day.

Now that I am in the belly of the beast of motherhood, I recall that lesson I learned from that wise teacher and that hurting child. Being a good mother means showing up and trying again the next day.

My Mom is Just Okay

My Mom is Just Okay

We have some really bad days around here. I don’t subscribe to the “rainbows and unicorns” mentality. Adoption is not easy. Sometimes it’s not even pretty. Or nice. And saying that doesn’t disrespect my child. In fact, it’s the opposite. Being honest about these feelings gives my child respect, because I respect him enough to give his feelings room to just… be.

And having twins is not easy. Sometimes it’s not pretty. Or nice. And having a child with special needs is … well, gut-wrenchingly painfully invisibly hard. It keeps a mother awake at night, going over every single thing she did wrong. Beating herself in the chest for the ways she wasn’t patient enough or sympathetic enough or just ENOUGH. Or that she hasn’t researched enough, dug deep enough, learned enough.

I have had to come to terms with the fact that I absolutely cannot be ENOUGH for any of my children. Maybe if they were all perfect singletons with no special needs. Maybe if their human and flawed mother didn’t have migraines, or anxiety…. just imagine how much better she could do. But, this blog isn’t called “Okayest Mom” for nothing. I’m okay, and I know it, and that has to be ENOUGH. I’m getting there.

All of that emotional vomit is just to say: I try again the next day. That is what makes a me a good mother.

There are meltdowns and problems so serious here that it makes me feel like giving up, for real. (I don’t mean to vague-post, but I need to protect the confidentially of my children and their medical privacy, of course.) But what does “giving up” mean, exactly, when you’re a mother? That I wouldn’t get out of bed and feed them? That I would walk to the mailbox and keep on walking? That I would drop them off at their grandma’s house and not come back? Believe me, thoughts like these have crossed my mind. (And if they haven’t crossed your mind, too, maybe you don’t have the challenges we have in this house. You can’t know, and I can’t know, unless we move in with each other.)

But I haven’t. I haven’t given up. I try again the next day, no matter how tired or how completely empty my tank is.

I have heard myself, and other mothers too, say with our Mama Bear passion that we would fight for our children. There have been times that I have fought hard for my children – for county services, medical attention, and even respect. Any mother knows that Mama Bear feeling. We have all been there and done that. Mother to mother, we know that we have all fought for our children in times of crisis.

But I have realized that “fighting for my child” sometimes means just showing up again the next day. It’s the constant, mundane, day-to-day stuff. It’s the meltdowns. It’s the challenges. It’s the invisible problems. It’s the days when you want to give up. It’s trying again.

That is fighting for your child.

 

 

Regular thoughts vs. Anxiety Thoughts

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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.

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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.

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.

This Kindergarten Teacher is Now a Kindergarten Mom – Who Wants to Apologize

wpid-wp-1441391990182.jpegAs I send my first child off to kindergarten, I want to apologize to the parents of my all kindergarten students. I taught for five years before I had children. Being a parent is NOT a prerequisite to teaching. Not ever. I was a darn good teacher without children. However, now that I am a kindergarten parent myself, I would like to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t truly understand everything. I sympathized, but I didn’t empathize.

I would like to go back and teach my childless teaching self a few things. Here we go.

It really hurts. It hurts because that child has been with me for 24 hours a day for five and half years… and now I have to let him go AWAY FROM ME FOR THE ENTIRE DAY?! My teacher self wasn’t patient enough with the sappy parents and the maudlin first days of school.

I still see that child as a baby. You, the teacher, will see him as an independent person, with habits and a personality and a learning style. To me, he is still the person whom I dress in jammies and snuggle when sick.

It’s really freaking scary. It’s scary for so many reasons. I have been there for every single injury, every single success, every single wrongdoing, and every single snub. Now what? All these things will still happen, but I WILL NEVER KNOW?

It’s really freaking scary because of the way time is bending all wrong since he was born. “The days are long but the years are short.” Becoming a mother five years ago has altered my sense of time. It feels like an eternity ago, and the blink of an eye. It’s confusing and gut-wrenching.

It’s really freaking scary because I don’t know you. No offense, but you.are.a.stranger. I never fully grasped that fact when I was a teacher. My son and I met you for like thirty seconds. He doesn’t trust people easily, and now his every need depends on you. His physical safety. His emotional health. His cognitive gains. His ability to wash his hands of those school germs… (Will you help him keep his hands off his face?)

It’s really freaking scary because you don’t know my child. You don’t know what to do when he has a meltdown, or all the ways he can’t express himself, or all the amazing things he knows and doesn’t know. You don’t know that he can’t open his string cheese at lunch, and you don’t know what scares him.

I completely understand – with my brain anyway – that you will know my child like the back of your hand within a week or two. I did, with all of my students. But, I understand – with my heart – that you will never know him like I do. You will never snuggle him in the black armchair. You will never have to force him to brush his teeth. You will never wash his beautiful skin in the bathtub. You will never watch his face of pure joy when he jumps in the ocean.

He’s mine.

If you love him a fraction as much as I do, then I love you, and that is what my mother self wants my old teacher self to know.

20 Things Kindergarten Teachers Want You to Know

1) Yes, the brand name scissors are better.
2) Yes, we really can tell everything we need to know in the five minutes we spend with your child at registration.
3) Yes, we really freaking love your kid.
4) It is a much more physically demanding job than any other grade. We get sweaty. We perform on stage. We clean up accidents.
5) We wear “teacher sacks” ( frumpy dresses) so we can move around easily and not get too sweaty on the boiling hot playground.
6) Calling in sick is harder than just going to work sick.
7) Getting lice is not a sin. Not taking care of lice properly IS a sin.
8) If we always wear our hair in a bun, there is a good chance a student has given us lice in the past.
9) If you have a girl: PONYTAILS, people! PONYTAILS!
10) No other profession seems to be as bad for your health as caring for small children.
11) I am not getting this sick all the time because I don’t wash my hands enough. What am I supposed to do when your kid sneezes on my head while I am trying his shoe? Wear a Michael Jackson mask?
12) For the love of all that is holy, VELCRO! Velcro, people, okay?!
13) For the love of all that is holy, ELASTIC WAIST PANTS! Elastic, people!!!
14) We don’t eat lunch for the first two weeks of school when we are painstakingly training small people how to get a tray, push it along the line, choose their food, find a seat, open their food, and eat their food. We shove a granola bar in our mouth and get back to work.
15) All of us have fed kids from our own pockets. Some of us might have even clothed a child or two.
16) Many of us have been threatened.
17) We are supposed to buy insurance. Teacher insurance. Against lawsuits!
18) It’s harder for us to choose our own baby’s name.
19) We only believe half of what we hear about you, and we hope you only believe half of what you hear about us.
20) Name brand Crayola crayons. Always.

It’s Time to Eat My Words: My Son is Going to Preschool

Yes, the mom who got her fifteen minutes of fame one year ago from an article she wrote entitled “Benign Neglect: A Case Against Preschool” is now sending her son to preschool.

Yes, I changed my mind.

I don’t often change my mind about anything. But it’s time to eat my words… a little bit. Time to shove that blog post partially in my mouth and partially chew it.

I wrote that blog post in August of 2013. It was selected by wordpress.com to be featured on their home page as a “freshly pressed” blog post. Suddenly, I had hundreds of likes and followers. Suddenly, a whole lot of people were listening to me – when I was simply trying to document my crazy parenting for my three small sons.

I stand by what I wrote. I still believe that parents and teachers should not push children too quickly. I still believe that play is serious and important work for toddlers and preschoolers. I still believe that memorization is not learning. I still believe in the necessity of free time for children. I still believe in ending the competition and the Mommy Wars. (I even started a Facebook group for like-minded mommas.) I have nothing to prove, and neither do my children.

However, I have decided to send my son to (a play-based and non-pushy) preschool for several mornings per week this year. Why? I said I didn’t quit my teaching career so that someone else could teach my son, and I meant it. But I also said that the only thing that would convince me to change my mind would be the twins coming up behind him.

three on fenceThe twins prevent us from having a normal life. It has become clear to me that my son needs something of his own. He needs time away from the babies. He has plenty of socialization with kids his age – playgroups, walking groups, swim lessons – but he needs time away from the world of the babies. He needs time away from the baby gates that hamper his independence. He needs time away from the twin fights.

I can’t give him everything that he needs right now. So much of our day-to-day life is consumed with surviving: meals, clean-up, poops, repeat. I am not finding time to teach him the things that I wanted to teach him. I am just not able to live up to the dreams I had in my head. I am a professional: I am trained specifically for his four-to-six year old age bracket… and yet, my teaching skills seem to be on a shelf that is just too high for me to reach right now. It breaks my heart.

I know this is the right thing for him. I still practice “benign neglect”, but now I have a case in favor of preschool. I’ll have to be “okayest” with that.

Run-On Sentence Life

I'm not *busy*. I'm just crazy.

I’m not *busy*. I’m just crazy.

My sister-in-law asked how I was doing, and this run-on sentence disaster is what came out:

“We’re doing great, other than I feel like a crazy woman with the babies going so fast in opposite directions. They are like puppies. And potty training at the same time? Insane! I put R on the potty, and then I have to herd Baby A out of the bathroom, and by that time, Baby B is in the bathroom, and by then R is kicking that one in the face (idly) while he tries to go potty, and by then the Baby A has climbed up on the fireplace hearth and is falling off, and then I have to leave R on the potty, but then he cries because he is “wone-wee” in there and can’t go if he’s “wone-wee” and by then, Baby B has climbed on top of some sort of wheeled toy and is actually being pushed by Baby A across the living room.”

Run-on sentence much? My whole life is a run-on sentence!

My days are crazy. People say, “Wow, you are so busy,” but it’s not about being busy. I have plenty of down time where I am just lying on the floor as happy babies stick their fingers in my nose and knee me in the c-section scar. It’s more about me always spinning in circles- sometimes literally. By the time I remove Baby A from crawling toward the dog, Baby B has crawled toward the dog. I spin in circles.

My whole day is fight-or-flight. My husband says this means I am just reacting to things. I think this means that I am just really sweaty all day long.

I taught Kindergarten for five years before this motherhood thing. I can easily wrangle 25 five-year-olds into coats in 1 minute flat, but I can’t dress my own three children in under twenty minutes. I can easily usher 25 five-year-olds out the door during a fire drill in mere seconds, but I can’t get to my own kid who is falling down the stairs before dropping another kid. I can easily keep 25-five-year-olds happily engaged at a lovely decibel level, but my own three children make my ears bleed.

I miss a few things from the old days, when my 25 kids got on the bus and went home at the end of the day. Now I have three children for 24 hours a day, and there are some things that I feel like I will never get back. That’s okay. I swear I’m not complaining. But, whew, I wish God could give me one of those days back right now, just for a little vacation.

My husband and I were introverts. We had a quiet life, but maybe that was the problem! Our life is so loud and wild now, even if it’s not overtly busy. If only we had been big partiers before children (ha!), then maybe this would be easier now. I think wild party animals and social butterflies get all the After-Baby-Attention because their busy social calendar screeches to a halt, but I’m here to say that maybe we should consider the poor introverts. How do we fare in all this commotion?

I wish I was that mom who gets all gushy about the noise and chaos bringing joy to her heart, but, as you know, I am not shy about saying that bedtime is my favorite part of the day. I love my kids, and I love their bedtime just as much. I long to get my house back for those lovely two hours before I go to bed. But shouldn’t I be celebrating this “joyful noise”?

Mr. Okayest says that we’ll get there. The kids are just too little to go upstairs together and make blanket forts and have raucous laughter echoing down the stairs while I make dinner in peace. They still require constant 100% physical effort from me.

I miss Sunday naps after church, making dinner in silence, and eating dinner without food on the floor. I miss reading the Sunday Washington Post, going to the movies on Friday night, and going out to eat once a week. I miss driving the car in undistracted (i.e., safe) silence. I miss not lugging a 30 pound diaper backpack everywhere I go (and not packing a 30 pound diaper backpack before going anywhere!). I miss a back and a neck that don’t hurt constantly. I swear I’m not complaining. After all, I did let the doctor implant two eggs in there.

I’m a crazy woman with a run-on sentence life. I promise you that I used to be smart, and creative. I promise you that my vocabulary used to be twice as large as it is now. I promise you that I never wrote any run-on sentences. I also promise you that I never said this sentence ever at all before yesterday: “We don’t put turtles in our brother’s bottom”.

I also promise you that I wouldn’t change it or trade it. To cope, I may cry, or watch Keeping up with the Kardashians, or shamefully snap at my husband, or drink too many Diet Cokes, or whine… but I promise I wouldn’t change it. I kiss their fat cheeks, I squeeze their cellulite, I inhale their baby head scent before it’s too late. I see  three shades of skin, three colors of eyes looking at me, and my heart melts sometimes. I am thankful. Truly. But I wouldn’t mind just that one pre-kid vacation day….