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.”

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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.

The Powerlessness of Not Having a Voice

My son almost ran in the road, and I had no voice with which to stop him. My story is a literal one, but the analogies I take from it are numerous.

My sons were playing outside on a mild January day. I was sick that day, lying in bed, feeling guilty for being sick. (Ah, the perks of motherhood!) I had lost my voice, and my children had been uncharacteristically alarmed by my baritone squawking that morning. My husband kindly bundled them up and took them outside with him while he was working in the garage.

wp-1486487754623.jpgThis is my view from my sick bed. The boys were throwing sticks down that embankment. Yes, it leads to the road, and yes, I briefly wondered if they were going to hit any cars with that stick-throwing. My boys know not to go down the embankment, into the ditch, or into the road. However, Twin B is quite … forgetful. Suddenly, I saw Twin B follow a thrown stick and run down the embankment and out of sight. I raced to the window and threw it open, knowing full well I had no time to run to downstairs and to the door. I had no idea if my husband had seen Twin B, and I had no time to wonder. My body completely forgot about being sick as the momma adrenaline kicked in. As I slammed open the window and leaned out, I screamed, “STOP!”

Only nothing came out.

No sound. No voice. No nothing. Having forgotten I was sick, my surprise turned quickly to terror. My son was probably running into the road and I was completely powerless. I had no voice. At all. There was nothing I could do quickly enough. Panic.

Our dog is deaf, but she can hear loud clapping. So, thinking quickly, treating my children like dogs, I leaned out the window as far as I could and clapped as loudly as I could. My hands stung. My heart was on fire, too. Where was he? Would he hear me?

Once in a while, having twins is wonderful: Twin A, an obedient, empathic brother’s keeper, heard my frantic claps, looked up at the window, yelled, “What, Momma?” I pointed to the road with crazy gesturing. Bless his little four-year-old heart: he understood. He retrieved his twin. As soon as I saw them both come back up over the embankment, I raced down the stairs to yell at Twin B with my non-voice. They were fine.

Later, during a quiet moment (probably after they were in bed, because that is the only quiet), I reflected on that feeling of pure terror I had when I realized I had no voice with which I could protect my child. The fear. The helplessness. We often hear versions of the phase “they have no voice” when reading about oppressed groups of people. It made me ponder many of my favorite quotes with a new understanding.

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“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” –Frederick Douglass

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” –Desmond Tutu

“White silence is violence” – my protest sign

“Hear Our Voice” –an official logo of the Women’s March

wp-1489081101207.jpgThat is why Black Lives Matter. That is why refugees matter. That is why Muslims matter. None of these groups of people have the same voice that I do. I am a middle-class white blonde American woman. Simply being born that way is privilege. I truly believe I am obligated to use that privilege to help others. I am obligated to use my voice for others who have no voice. Staying quiet is no longer an option. Change will not happen if we don’t speak up. Literally. Speak. I never want any mother to feel powerless to help her child.

 

***

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in, Naked, and ye clothed me. I was sick, and ye visited me. I was in prison, and ye came unto me…Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:35-40

Guest Post: What Being a Single Mom Means to Me

This article is the seventh in a series of guest posts. I have invited a variety of friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them. 

Today’s author is Betsi, a young single mother whom I met at church. She correctly pointed out that I’ve not yet had any guest posts by single mothers! Despite being something like a decade and a half older than her, I greatly enjoy Betsi’s company, and, furthermore, I respect her very much. She also quite eerily reminds me of Sarah, my best friend from high school (featured here, and here, and here, by the way). Is it her mannerisms? Her style? Doesn’t matter, cuz Betsi is one-of-a-kind anyway. Here’s Betsi:

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Almost a year ago Mrs. Okayest asked me to write a guest blog on my experience of motherhood. Over the last year I sat down to write this many times to no avail.

Until recently, that is.

You see, I am a single mother… well I am, but I am also not. I am single in the relationship sense, but I most certainly am not a single mother. I am surrounded by support. I may not have the fathers of my children supporting them, but I do have a village.

My village is composed of many people; my parents, my brothers and sisters and their significant others, my mom friends, my dad friends, even my childless friends.

I’ll give you an example: Both of my parents were in Germany for 10 days recently, leaving me alone to fend for myself. During this time I had my 6 month postpartum pap smear, a therapy appointment, and a psychiatrist appointment. I had 3 different friends watch my eldest on the 3 different days. Each friend took her longer than they had to and did some fun activity with her that she had never done before.

When I asked my facebook friends if anyone could watch Z, my eldest, they jumped on the opportunity. I had many offers of help. (The would watch baby E too if she weren’t so fussy and still exclusively breastfeeding!)

I have an amazing support system, I could not have asked for better people to be a part of me and my children’s lives. I know we are loved and cared for.

So, yeah, I don’t have a boyfriend or a husband and neither of my children’s fathers are involved at all, but I am by no means a single mother.

***

Have an idea for my next post? If you’d like to write for my blog, please send Okayest Mom a message via my Facebook page. Let me know what angle you’d like to see featured here and why you’d be the best writer for the job. Currently, I’m especially interested in writings about special needs, race, or something written from the male perspective. 

It’s Mother’s Day. I am alone. And I am so happy.

It is the opposite of when I used to be alone on Mother’s Day, and I was so sad. Many years of infertility led to many years of crying every Mother’s Day – and skipping church to hike in the woods with my momma so I wouldn’t cry when they handed flowers to each mother in the congregation.

This year, my husband has taken our three small boys – ages 6, 3, and 3 – to his mother’s house for the day. I am alone, and I love it. He made both his mother and his wife so very happy today, all in one fell swoop. Grandma got time with the grandkids (and her son), and I got time to myself –which is a very rare commodity.

My husband got up with the kids this morning. He handled all their needs and requests and fights and commotions and teeth brushings and clothing wrestling. I took a leisurely hot shower and didn’t think about anything. I wandered down the stairs when I was ready. The inside of my head felt so… clean. So empty. So relaxed.

wp-1456004293423.jpgHe had made breakfast for the kids, and they were all sitting at the table in their nice clothes, shoveling scrambled eggs into their slobbery mouths. He coached them to say “Happy Mother’s Day, Momma” in unison. They all had big smiles. Their voices sounded so sweet and beautiful – because I hadn’t yet dealt with any whining whatsoever. They were pristine little innocent voices, untouched yet (in my mind anyway) by the needs of the day. It was perfect. They were perfect.

Their little chorus of “Happy Mother’s Day, Momma” really got to me. It wasn’t just their adorable little voices. It was the memory of all the mother’s days that I had spent longing for these voices. All the years spent longing for a full breakfast table. All the years of injections or adoption paperwork or failed cycles. I was having a moment! I got so choked up that I had to turn away (after kissing each fat messy cheek first, of course).

How easy it is to forget each day, during the trials and constant demands and pure exhaustion down to my bones, that I desperately wanted these children. How easy it is to forget how very hard we worked for them. How many years it took for them arrive. How I truly almost sacrificed my life to bring them here.

In a house of twins/”triplets”, special needs, anxiety, migraines, and the regular nonstop pace that never ever slows down, it is so easy to forget how very very lucky I am.

I’m lucky to have them – and lucky to be alone today!

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Okayest Mom and Okayest Mom’s Mom on Mother’s Day

I’m not letting myself worry about any of my chores and messes. Just think of what I could accomplish today without all the pitter-pattering (i.e., stomping and running and crashing) of little feet! But no. Today is mine. Maybe to see my own Momma for a little bit. To write. To reflect. To remember how precious and treasured my children are to me. The distance is clearing my head.

This kind of alone is so much better than the other kind of alone. During infertility, I was alone against my will. During motherhood, I am alone out of choice. Just for today.

I am so happy.

 

***

 

To those of you who are still fighting and still in the trenches, I haven’t forgotten about you. I will never forget about you. I love you all! Here are some posts just for you …

Mother’s Day Can Sometimes Feel Like a Bruise

To My Readers Who Are Struggling With Infertility

Adoption, Infertility, Miscarriage, IVF, Twins, Oh My!

 

 

 

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.

Mom Math

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1 + 2 = fighting

 

You are exhausted and the kids are wild. Subtract the pain of getting them into the car from the total number of wiggles to get out.

A friend reports the pukes at her house. Count backward to the last time you saw them. Devise a theorem to prove you are not in danger.

Your own kids get the pukes. Add up all the things you are going to miss for the next seven days.

Amount of fun at the bounce house divided by the germ potential equals whether or not you go.

Child is teetering off the deck railing. Count the number of steps to reach him and divide it by the milliseconds left until he is in free-fall.

You get a headache. Base your medication choice on how many hours until your husband comes home.

One twin is falling off the slide while one twin is running into the parking lot. Quick! Who is most at risk?

You have ___ minutes until someone cries. List the things that you have to do and then prioritize them. Start with number one. Calculate if you will make it to number two.

Your toddler’s whines are growing into sobs. Calculate number of feet to the nearest exit. Will you make it there before sobs turn into wails?

Two 3-year-olds does not equal one 2-year-old plus one 4-year-old.

It is unseasonably warm outside. Your kids are tired and grouchy. Weigh the importance of exercise versus the importance of nap and decide which has more value. Show your work.

You see your child lick the arm of the chair in the doctor’s waiting room. Devise a hypothesis about your prediction of illness onset.

Your baby just woke up from nap/finished nursing. It is time to leave. How many minutes until a poop blowout?

Your baby just woke up from nap/finished nursing. It is time to leave. How many hours do you have until you have to be back home again?

Children are begging for snacks. Multiply how much they didn’t eat at lunch by the number of minutes until dinner.

Subtract the kids’ bedtime from your bedtime. The total number of hours between their bedtime and your bedtime is The Golden Ratio.

Does your need for Netflix outweigh your need for more sleep? By how much?

One twin is sick. If you infect the other twin on purpose right away, you will only have to miss three days of work instead of five.

Use the Richter Scale to determine how much stress one more child will add to your family.

Subtract your current age from your best guess of your onset of menopause age. Take that number and shove it deep into the bins of baby clothes you refuse to get rid of.

“You’ll Remember All of Their Firsts, But None of Their Lasts”

Besides the moment my husband walks in the door, the best thirty seconds of my day are when my babies “pretend to be my babies” – a strange nightly ritual that floods my nervous body with  oxytocin.

“Please, Momma,  I be your baby now?”

My days can be so hard that, by bedtime, I feel clawed apart, chewed up, spit out, left for dead, drawn and quartered, and buzzing with sickening amounts of adrenaline.

My children have never been able to really relax with me. I guess I should say “on me”. They can’t relax on me. Well, one of them can. One of them fits my body like a glove. (Or I guess I should say like a tight shirt, because who wears a body glove?) The other two children just don’t seem to be able to relax on me unless it is the middle of the night. Darkness is my friend.

Maybe I’m too bony, and they prefer bosomy. Maybe I’m too cold, and they prefer warmth. Maybe I’m too anxious, and they can smell my anxiety seeping out my pores like gasoline. Whatever the reason, they have usually preferred their father, and often even their grandmothers, over me.

wp-1456004224725.jpgBut after our whole day has passed, after dinner is cleaned up, teeth brushed , scriptures read, prayers said, they each take a turn to lie in my arms like a baby.

They ask, one at a time, “Can I be your baby now?”

They may have been kickboxing each other all day long, but they calmly give each other the time and space to lie in my arms for the duration of a song. I gather each into my arms like a newborn. Even though each one is three feet longer than at birth, and about six or eight times their original birth weights, they each nestle into my chest in the exact same way as they did as newborns.

One rests his ear against my heart, because it soothes his bad ears. One nestles into my breast as if he were vaguely still aware of long ago nursing. One stares into my eyes with unashamed devotion.

To my arms, they each feel the same as they did as newborns. One is clammy and stiff. One is warm and floppy. One is cool and solid.

But each one physically relaxes as I begin to sing into his ear in turn. Their shoulders loosen, their heads nestle in deeper, and I have their complete attention for the first time all day.

There is no one else in the world when it is that child’s song. I lean over him so my hair makes a soft curtain over his face. I stare into his eyes, whether hazel, deep brown, or almost black. I press my cheek against his cheek and whisper-sing into his ear.

I sing southern gospels, church hymns, songs my momma sang to me, or old nursery rhymes. It doesn’t matter. He is really listening to my heart and to my breath and to my voice. Whether that child grew in my belly or not, my voice and my heartbeat are his, and his alone, for those thirty seconds. We belong to each other.

wp-1456004277769.jpgI am terrified of the day they never do it again. “You’ll remember all their firsts but none of their lasts.” When will the last time be? My voice and my heartbeat and my bony arms will someday not be enough to relax them or to fix them. These days are so incredibly draining, but what kind of toll does it take to have a child be too big to “pretend to be your baby”?

It is the best thirty seconds of my day. It gets me through. That oxytocin, that fierce mama bear love, that desire to eat them whole, is fuel to get me to the next day. So I can feel it all again.

Verbal Twin Fights, Two-Year-Old Edition

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Ah-choo!
No that’s MY AH-CHOO!

I’m a strip mall!
No! I’m a strip mall!

You’re a tator tot.
Momma, I not a tator tot!!! I not!!!!

You’re a darny darn.
I not a darny darn!!!

I saw a garbage truck.
No you didn’t!

That’s a truck.
No, that’s a BIG truck.
That’s a truck.
No, that’s a BIG TRUCK!

I see the moon.
NO you CAN’T!

I want to go outside.
NO I want to go in DRIVEWAY!

You can’t see my monster truck shirt!
YES I DO SEE!!

I like raspberries.
NO YOU CAN’T I LIKE RASPBERRIES!

You’re a Bobby Bob.
I NOT A BLOBBY BLOB. MOMMA!!!

I pooped.
NO I POOPED!!

You’re a bunk bed!
YOU’RE A MICROWAVE!

I’m Just an Okayest Friend

I’m an okayest friend with extraordinary friends.

Some of my reasons for being an Okayest friend

Some of my reasons for being an Okayest friend

Both my family and my husband’s family have always supported me (sometimes even literally). But I also have this small mom tribe around me who have bailed me out of trouble a thousand times during this tumultuous time of life. I don’t have a lot of friends, but I have a lot of support. For this, I consider myself extremely lucky. Friends are not obligated to support me, yet somehow I have been the recipient of much more love than I have ever given. Unfortunately, I am sorely lacking in the payback department.

Recently, a good friend posted an article she liked about what it takes to be in her “mom tribe”, which made me think about my own mom tribe. I liked the article so much that I wanted to add to it. As two of my dearest members of my support team prepare to move away this month, I would like to dedicate this post to my mom tribe.

My closest friends in my tribe have exhibited at least one of the following traits:

You make me want to spill my guts. In one-sentence bursts between toddler demands.

You don’t say things like, “Kids love me!”

You don’t post selfies – with the exception of your profile pic, of course. We all need at least one selfie. And you don’t take gym selfies.

You tell me when I wear the wrong kind of shoes to the gym.

You make me pee a little with text one-liners in the middle of the night.

You don’t brag about your kids too much… cuz I’m sure mine are always gonna be behind.

Those times my husband is out of town and we are all sick, you might drop a loaf of bread or a box of cookie butter cookies or Pedialyte on my porch in a germ-free drive-by, even though you know I would probably never reciprocate.

One time, when we were all sick at Christmastime, you offered to come over and put all my ornaments on my tree. Because I hate that job.

You always lift my kid up to the throw a ball in the basketball hoop at the gym, even though you have four or five of your own kids to lift up.

You offer to watch my two-year-old twins when I’m in a terrible bind, even though you know I probably won’t reciprocate.

You don’t judge. We hear that trite phrase a lot, but you know that you don’t know what it’s like to be wrapped up in the Okayest Family anxiety/migraine/ developmental delay/ infertility/ almost died/ twin/ adoption/ transracial situation.  (Just as I don’t know what it’s like to have a husband deploy, or work on his second PhD, or have four or five or six or even two kids.)

We don’t clean our houses for each other. More importantly, we don’t apologize for not cleaning.

You have given us beautiful hand-me-down toys and clothes, even though you could have taken those items to the consignment store for cash. You pretty much gave me money out of your own pocket. I will pay it forward.

When I was super overwhelmed, you tapped me on the shoulder during church and said you were going to teach my Sunday School class of seven-year-olds. You would not take “no” for an answer. You demanded that I give you the lesson manual and march myself to an adult class for once. (I cried. With relief. In the bathroom. And then I went to the adult Sunday School to refill my soul.)

We don’t call each other, visit, or plan activities between the hours of 4-7 pm. It’s the unspoken SAHM rule. (Note: Germ-free drive-bys are permitted within this window.)

I get a little distracted from friendships sometimes

I get a little distracted from friendships sometimes

You don’t keep score. Of anything. Who called last, who gave more car pool rides, who offered to help… (Good thing, too, because I would lose. Every time.)

You didn’t care that time that I RSVP’d yes to your kid’s birthday party and then totally forgot to come.

You have offered to bring me dinner.

When I came out of intensive care, you had arranged a schedule with five weeks of dinners from church sisters.

You actually want to hang out with me sans kids, but you will settle for my three screaming toddlers. But you have responded to my pleas for girls night.

Two times, you brought me a donut.

When I was on bedrest, you arranged daily care for my toddler with different church sisters.

When I panic about a tremendous load on my shoulders, and message you a long rambling message begging for ideas to help me fix that problem, you respond right away. You don’t get mad when I don’t make time to write back to you, even though you made time for me.

You have caught a runaway twin of mine in a parking lot.

When my twins climbed out of their cribs and quit napping, you came over and laid on my floor and helped get one to sleep. (In case you don’t know, putting a toddler to sleep is NOT cozy and sweet like putting a newborn to sleep!)

When I tell you something I already told you, or I tell you about that cool new product that everyone knows about but me, you make fun of me instead of just nodding and smiling.

You ask how the kids are doing when you know they are sick/ have a big meeting/ appointment/ hard thing to do. I only hope I remember to ask about your sweet kids as much as you do about mine.

You have walked me through the IEP process and calmed my fears.

You have broken the Sabbath to watch my kids so I could break the Sabbath to attend a once-in-a-lifetime concert. (Not that I am condoning this….But, Bob Dylan? Jack White?)

No competition. Duh. If you have a cute party, I’m not gonna one-up you. I promise.

You tell me I’m doing good.

Why have you all done these things? You all make me laugh and you make me cry. You all hold me up. You all show true love and service through many of these things. This list is an amalgam of different friendships. I would be a lucky woman if I had even had one of these things happen to me from this list. You all know who you are, and I thank you. I can only hope that someday, when my kids are in school, and when I don’t feel so overwhelmed and wild-eyed, I will reciprocate. Or at least pay it forward. I only hope you can accept my apologies for not being able to reciprocate/pay it forward just yet… But I thank you for having faith in me anyway.

You all are not okayest. You’re amazing,

To the Other Migraine Mommas

wpid-wp-1436319915505.jpegI am no stranger to pain – I get tremendous migraines. All my life. My mom can remember me having headache pain as young as five years old. This is the one topic that I can’t seem to write about properly. Chronic pain is such a tricky bedfellow. Usually, I plan and memorize entire blog posts in my brain before sitting down at the computer to finally type them. I normally vomit up a blog post in one go, during naptime or at 5AM before the kids wake up. I always know what I want to say.

Not so with the migraine writing. I don’t even usually talk about migraines, much less write about them. It’s just too hard, or too depressing. Maybe I keep throwing away the blog posts about migraines because it is too difficult to capture. Or because I don’t want the pity. Or because I assume that you, my dear readers, could never understand. (*gasp!* Did I just insult you?! If you have migraines too, or other chronic pain, I apologize!)

I’m not a visual person. I’m a verbal person. (Obviously. I’m a blogger. Duh.) I can’t pronounce words until I can spell them. I have a ticker tape of my sentences running through my head at all times. I solve problems by writing about them on my blog. I even email my husband when I have hard stuff to say (and, bless his heart, he emails back). However, migraines seem to be the one thing that I can’t dissect with words. Maybe it’s because I can’t remember a time without them.

In my neurologist’s office, there are rows of framed artwork of depictions of migraines running down the length of the hall. Seeing those for the first time made me shudder. It was the first time that I felt someone had visually captured my pain. There were various paintings of dark, evil stuff. There were sharp colors and blunt objects and horror movie scenes. There was black and white. There were heavy burdens and twisted messes. There was isolation. Loneliness. Despair.

It was beautiful. Someone understood. Lots of people, actually.

Migraines are not headaches. They don’t respond to even the strongest addictive narcotics. They are not normal pain that a normal pain pill with a DEA Controlled Substance classification can fix. They cause vomiting, sometimes for days if the pain gets out of control, and sometimes I can’t see out of one eye. I don’t need to go into all the gory details, but after four days of that, I start to see how people could contemplate suicide. Or at least a drill in the head. (Don’t google that.)

People who experience chronic pain of any kind understand that life is not the same for us. We can’t do certain things, or go certain places. We can’t lead a completely full life, no matter how much we pretend that we do. Anyone with chronic pain can get downtrodden. The weight of any pain that is relentless – that you know will come back even if you control it – is exhausting. It messes with your head (no pun intended).

I could go on and on about this. Medications, trials, new medications, side effects, prevention, triggers, tricks, resources… but I don’t want to do that.

I want to talk to the moms who also experience migraines.

Anyone with migraines has my utmost empathy. But other moms with migraines (and other chronic pain) have my respect. No one but you all really know what I go through when I am trying to care for children while handling a migraine (poorly). I can see it in your eyes. I know.

You give away that baby lotion that has too strong of a smell to other non-migraine moms. You keep the lights off in the house during the day too. You have fixed meals for your children while taking a break to vomit and pray. You can’t take your migraine medication when you need to, because you have to be alert, for your children’s safety. You contemplate other medications with serious side effects and undesirable consequences, just so you can care for the children. You look into your biological children’s eyes and wonder if they could be having a headache today, because they are extra naughty or extra whiny. You pray that they have not inherited the 50% chance of this curse. You offer a silent prayer of thanks that your adopted child will never carry this burden. You can’t take your children to the park sometimes, because heat or sunshine might push the headache you have into a migraine. Poopy diapers (x twins!), which are normally a disagreeable nuisance, become almost impossible. You avoid playdates with another beloved mom friend because she may use a certain cleaner or a scented candle or an air freshener in her house. You have to gather all your courage to sheepishly ask the nursery leader at church to please consider not wearing perfume because it transfers to your babies. You can’t join the other moms at the indoor play area place because certain noise might be a trigger. You wish you could work in an office, because at least it would be quiet- but then again, it would be fluorescent, so nevermind. You calculate how many hours or minutes until your husband normally arrives and base your medication choice on that. You have called your husband and told him to come home from work early because you have done all you can do, but now you have to hole up in the dark and deal with this pain.

When he gets home and takes over, you have to let the pain in. You have to stop fighting it and face it. And it is a blinding pain. Searing. And it scares you sometimes, even though you have done this for thirty years. Your husband wonders if you have a low pain tolerance, but you want to scream that he would know just how high your pain tolerance is if you two could switch bodies for just two minutes. Your strong lumberjack of a husband would be on his knees – you know it. And you love him anyway and look into his eyes and once again offer a prayer of thanks that he doesn’t have to understand this pain. (Plus, being a spouse to someone with migraines is a pain unto itself.)

I'm in there somewhere.

I’m in there somewhere.

And yet, we manage to dress the children through all this. We fix them three meals and two snacks anyway. We take them places when we can. Break up fights. Clean up toys. Do some laundry. Change poops that seem to smell a hundred times worse than they really do, and it burns our brains. We pretend we’re fine and squint through the pain while we watch them play. We try to read another story even though the board book is a bit blurry. Our stomachs lurch when we hear their piercingly loud squeals of joy that would normally sound so cute. Our eyes literally water with the pressure, but we try to smile and build another Lego tower. We handle it. There.is.no.other.choice.

There is no one to help you. You are alone with your pain. But I empathize. I get it. You have my respect.

There is a special place in heaven for moms with migraines.

Okayest Mom’s Okayest Wish List

The Okayest Family

The Okayest Family

Okayest Mom is easy to please. I don’t have unrealistic expectations for Mother’s Day, or for any other day. Okayest Mom doesn’t know how to dream big. Therefore, I’m not asking for what I really want (which we all know is sleeping in and a day alone so I can binge-watch Netflix). Nope. Gotta get my head outta the clouds. If anyone asks me what I want for Mother’s Day, I’m gonna give them this Okayest Wish List.

To have a day where someone does not clock me in the jaw with their shoe, fist, head, or monster truck

To eat a meal without showing my partially chewed food while I yell, “Don’t talk with your mouth full!”

Not to hit my head on the van door

Not to step on a Transformer while I leap over the baby gate like a Olympian hurdler

Not only to go to the bathroom with the door closed (duh!), but also to go to the bathroom without anyone outside the bathroom experiencing Grievous Bodily Harm

To put away a little bit of laundry

To be on time to something

Not to get sweaty during the day

Not to experience the Tri-Cry (all children simlul-crying)

To sleep in until 7:00 AM – nothing outrageous like 7:15 AM or anything

To have no one poop (Yeah, you heard me. So what if that’s not healthy? They poop too.dang.much.)

Not to fix a meal ten minutes too late (No matter when I fix it, it’s ten minutes too late.)

To remain seated during most of my meal (I wouldn’t want to get greedy and expect that I would never have to get up…)

Not to allow any of my fears for my children’s well-being to escalate into unreasonable proportions in my mind

Not to get a headache

To see more smiles than tears

There. So reasonable. So okayest. We got this. What’s on your wish list this year, dear readers?

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Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday for many of us, whether because of a loss of a child, or of a mother, or of a dream. While I am infinitely grateful for my hard-to-acquire and super-precious children, I have not forgotten how this holiday used to be one of the hardest days of the year for me. I have not forgotten you! Last year I posted one of my personal favorites, Mother’s Day Can Sometimes Feel Like a Bruise. I hope you like it too.

It Must Be Weird to Be a Twin When…

wpid-wp-1437338656094.jpegYour brother kicks you in the scrotum in utero, and the ultrasound tech sees it and laughs

Your brother gets birthed and you’re just hanging out alone in the womb for the first time, just for two minutes

Your twin learns to poke your eyes, roll over onto you, or crawl away from you for the first time, and you can only lay there and kick your legs like an upside-down bug

You forget you’re not actually the same person, and accidentally open your mouth when the spoon is going in your brother’s mouth

You are minding your own business and your mom yells at you because she got your names mixed up

Your mom tries to change your poop even though she just changed your poop five minutes ago and can’t remember which one of you she changed

Your brother bites you for the first time

You wake up in the morning with a squeal BECAUSE YOU CANNOT BELIEVE HE’S STILL THERE and you have a built-in playmate

You start crying because you’re hurt, but then realize it’s actually your twin who was hurt (you got confused and had major sympathy pain)

Your mom takes you to the doctor alone for the first time, while your twin stays home healthy… and you look around at his empty car seat and freak out

You get called the wrong name, again

Your mom takes you to the church nursery alone for the first time, while your twin stays home sick… and you freak out

We try to put you in Daddy’s Volkswagen for the first time, with only one carseat, and you act like a cat trying to be squished into a crate, because you didn’t know there was such a thing as a car that only held one of you

Your brother is melting down about his “wrong” pants/ blanket/ shoes / cup, and you think he’s acting like a fool, because your pants/ blankets/ shoes/ cup are just fine

He convinces you for the first time to undo that child lock or jump off that bookshelf and your mom disciplines you instead of him

Your brother steals your identity and all you can say is “hey!”

You have both grown so much that you jostle for space on your mom’s chest so much that you end up fighting like alley cats, on her chest, because you don’t know why you don’t fit there together anymore, and you assume it’s his fault

You learn to hug, but your twins rejects you because he assumes you’re trying to fight him again

You wake up and he’s not there

You end up going in verbal argument loops, such as this one:
“Ah-choo!”
“No, that’s MY ah-choo!!!!”

Doing Chores with Three Toddlers Underfoot

image What is it like doing chores with three toddlers underfoot? You’ve heard it before: It’s like herding cats. It’s like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.

I wake up in the morning with a head full of ideas. I am ready to conquer the day! I am ready to not feel so crazy! I am ready to take control! I set the bar really low – don’t get me wrong. I am Okayest Mom, after all. But I do have ideas of what I would like to accomplish in a day, on top of the usual changing-eight-poops and making-and-cleaning-meals-three-times. Today, for example, I thought it would be a good day to change my own sheets and my own towels. Sounds doable, right? Sounds like a good goal for an Okayest Mom, right? Wrong.

As the day progresses, every little thing stretches into bigger things. Each thing that happens is like a hammer onto the side of my head, smashing down any hope I had of accomplishing anything beyond the bare minimum again.

I have three levels of work in this house:

1) “Needs That Are Immediate, Pressing, Non-Negotiable, and Never-Changing”:

    • poops
    • meals
    • laundry
    • keeping kids on schedule
    • hugging/holding/touching
    • reading to the kids
    • getting the kids fresh air
    • not losing my mind
    • connecting with my husband

2) “Needs That Can Usually Wait But Are Very Important and Must Be Smooshed in Somehow”:

    • baths
    • vacuuming
    • changing sheets and towels
    • getting myself dressed
    • cleaning
    • shopping
    • playing with the kids
    • blogging a little of the things that are in my head (so my head doesn’t explode)

3) “Wants”:

    • doing my hair
    • organizing the toys
    • making those cool file folder games for keeping the kids quiet in church
    • uploading photos to Shutterfly
    • messaging a friend
    • cleaning the stainless steel appliances
    •  a haircut
    • blogging all the things that are in my head

I’m thinking I will get to the “wants” category when the twins enter kindergarten. No, wait, I will have to sleep for a year when the twins enter kindergarten. So, hmmm, maybe I will get to the “wants” when the twins enter first grade.

 

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This post was originally published on Beyond Infertility as members-only content. I am a regular contributor to their website.

Nothing Like Having Your Head Slammed in the Door by a Toddler

Why do they hate me so much? Sometimes I feel like an indentured servant ruled by three tiny people who hate me. There is nothing quite like being screamed at while wiping butts.

…Except for maybe getting your head slammed in a French door by a freakishly strong 2-year-old.

….Except for maybe getting your head slammed in a closet door the very next day by the same freakishly stong two-year-old. (It’s weird: he’s not angry. He is like the Hulk without the anger.)

Seriously, moms have to do all these seriously nasty chores – on repeat – while little people yell at us about it. That feeling is magnified when there are three little people.

Why are you so mad when you have to let someone clean your bottom? Why are you so mad when you have to let someone fix you a delicious and nutritious meal? Wash your cellulite? Console your sadnesses and rock you to sleep and kiss your boo-boos? Sometimes it feels like pure hell to do all these things while they yell at me, or scream at me, or cry at me. Times three.

jumping on bedI know, I know, I know – they are growing up so fast and one day I will regret complaining about any of it. One day, soon, they won’t need me to wipe their butts. One day, soon, my snuggles and my kisses aren’t going to fix their bigger boo-boos. I know I will miss their innocence and their fat chubby toddler arms.

I know, I know, I know – I waited eight years for these babies. I survived adoption and 15 rounds of fertility drugs and bedrest and miscarriage and hemorrhage to get these three precious souls into my arms. How could I possibly complain about a single thing?

Because. Because none of that means it’s FUN to be kicked at when I’m trying to change their poops. It’s not sweet to get yelled at while fixing lunch not fast enough. It’s not adorable to get pummeled while trying to hug an upset child. Moms get beat up and knocked around more than they ever thought they would.

My kids are good kids. They are sweet and considerate and mostly obedient. They are also two years old, and two years old, and four years old. Sometimes, being two and being four isn’t pretty. Sometimes it isn’t sweet. They get frustrated. They get overwhelmed. It’s hard to be a toddler. And have you ever heard of a “mean drunk”? Well, some kids are a “mean sick” or a “mean injured”. (And some kids are just The Hulk without the anger. There’s a lot of testosterone in this house.)

I just wanted you to know that I feel like the ugly stepsister sometimes, just in case you do too.

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This post was originally published on Beyond Infertility, a website about parenting after infertility. I am a regular contributor to their website.

Eight Reasons Why I Can’t Talk on the Phone

Texting is not for teens. It’s for moms. Making an actual phone call is a Herculean effort. It’s not our fault, okay?

  1. Someone is always screaming, whether joyfully or angrily.
  2. It is perfectly acceptable to put the phone down while texting in order to change a poop. Not so for a phone call. (“Hold on, Doctor. I know your time is valuable and all, but can you just hang on a sec while I change this diaper?”)
  3. During nap time, if I answer the phone, someone WILL wake up. (This peculiarity of my children does not extend to nighttime sleeping, however.)
  4. After the kids go to bed, my arms are too tired to lift that phone and call anyone. Really.
  5. My brain is no longer capable of rational conversation. Short non-committal bursts of texting, however, are well within my brain power. (Sometimes I can even be witty.)
  6. My cell phone kind of acts like a walkie-talkie, in that it cuts out whenever anyone is making any noise whatsoever. Since three toddlers are 100% never ever silent, this means I can’t hear you and you can’t hear me. Well, we can hear each other, if you are interested in hearing every-other syllable. Cool.
  7. Kids are diabolical geniuses who will use the distraction of a phone call to execute their naughtiest plan. I think they plot things in their head and lie in wait until I dial a number. Phone calls are when they try to figure out if fleece jammies can soak up all the water in a toilet (they can), or when the oldest tries to see if he can “baptize the babies” (he can’t).
  8. Everything I would say (GET DOWN!) during a phone call (DON’T STRADDLE THE DOG!) is punctuated (DON’T EAT SHOES THAT JUST WALKED THROUGH THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE!) by parenting.

The only time I feel like making calls is at about 5:30 in the morning. Anyone up for a chat?

 

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This post was originally written for Beyond Infertility, a website about parenting after infertility. I am a regular contributor to their site. You can find the original article here.