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.

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

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[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

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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.

“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.

I Have Ping Pong Balls in My Head

My heart deflates and swells a hundred times a day.

img_20151107_154642.jpgHave you ever had a moment when you felt like you were going to run out of the house screaming like your head was on fire because you couldn’t take one more second of toddlers? I have twin toddlers. They ask the same question, sequentially. Then I try to answer both of them at the same – because, after all, they just asked the same question – and it never works. Inevitably, only one of them will listen to the answer. Then the other one says, “What you say?” and I have to repeat it again.

Thus, I have the questioning of toddlers, in stereo, at all times. It makes me long for the good old days of mono. (Audiophile joke there.)

I’m tired in my bones.

They have quit napping. Did I mention that? For real this time. I have coerced and forced and reinforced naptime many times over, and I have always won every uprising and insurgence the twins have launched at me. Not this time. It’s been several weeks and all my bribes, threats, tricks, and separations have gone over like a lead zeppelin. (Audiophile joke there.)

I can’t write anymore, so my blog and my brain are suffering. And, oh, the irony: I finally get my oldest child off to kindergarten, and the twins decide that very week that they are done with naptime! There is no rest for a momma.

I have tried quiet time. It worked with my oldest child. Play with some toys and be quiet and let’s do this until kindergarten starts. But these twins turn quiet time into a WWE match. There is almost nothing in their room – no toys, nothing – and yet they manage to put holes in walls and perhaps in their heads as well. Twins always have an audience, and they love it.

I have tried separation. The Hurricane Twin gets the guest room. Then both of them cry. Forever. They don’t know how to live when they are apart.

I have tried separating the twins, but joining with one twin in the guest room. Hey, even though I won’t get my own time, at least I get some cuddle time with no questions in stereo, right? Hmmm. Not really. Heaven forbid I nod off… because I have been hit in the face with pants to wake me up. It is quite a window into the soul of whichever twin I am cuddling, but the other wails for his WWE partner/ audience in the other room.

wpid-wp-1425383125280.jpegMy soul is screaming for relief and I feel like I have ping pong balls in my head and I think I might run out of the house like my head is on fire. And then, out of nowhere, he snuggles into my armpit and says, “Don’t take my sunshine away,” and my heart swells within my chest and I feel like I might burst.

I guess my mental health will have to take a backseat to that kind of love.

The Madness of Toddlers

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Toddlers are utterly baffling. Multiply the madness by two and I’m mayor of Crazy Town.

In the middle of the night

Twin B: Mommy! Mommy! MOMMY!
Me: What? What do you want?
Twin B: I want to be quiet.

While zipping up his jacket
Any twin: “I want to zip it!!! HELP ME!

At dinner
Me: Do you want another drink of water?
Twin B: No, I want WATER!

While buckling a carseat
Twin A: You buckle it. LET ME BUCKLE IT!

While pulling up pants
Twin A: YOU do it. I DO IT!!!!!

Outside
Me: Do you want to walk to the mailbox with me?
Twin A: NO. [hysterical crying] WAIT FOR ME!!!!!

Basically anytime

Me: Can I help you?
Any twin: NO YOU DO IT!

While washing hands
Twin A: YOU GAVE ME TOO MUCH SOAP!
Me: If you put your hands under the water, then the soap will go away.
Twin A: I DON’T WANT TO. YOU GAVE ME TOO MUCH SOAP!!!!

Me: You’re a complicated little fella.
Twin B: I not a ca ca ca. I am a RABBIT.

Me: Do you want some cheese?
Twin B: No thanks. I want some cheese.

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 Used to Be Good at So Many Things

And now I’m not.

I was a good caver. I was a good hiker. A voracious reader. I had a huge vocabulary. Took enough Latin that I could figure out most definitions just by the etymology of a word.

I kept a clean house. I was an excellent cook. I made things like Japanese hibachi and biscotti from scratch.

I made plans, like what beautiful thing to frame next and where to put it on the wall that would be oh-so-visually pleasing. I emailed and called people back. I made plans with them too.

Ice Bar, Stockholm

Ice Bar, Stockholm

I traveled. I drove across the country a few times. I lived in Italy. I visited Hawaii, Sweden, Italy again, Mexico (for one day anyway), Finland, and even Australia.

When something broke, I fixed it or replaced it. I bathed my dog. I think I even took her to the vet. I had beautiful flowers and planned which annuals I would plant each year. I grew vegetables in containers on the deck, and then we ate those vegetables. I watered things.

Now broken things sit in a pile on my counter for months. And then more broken things go on top of them. My dog is so filthy that even a two-year-old who can lick a doctor’s waiting room floor will pull away from petting in disgust.

Every flower and every plant dies. I don’t actually buy plants. My mother gives them to me as gifts, prepotted and beautiful, and I still kill them. (Actually, Twin B usually kills them. On purpose.) My houseplants look like skeletons.

I still cook every day, three times a day (because “triplets” do not go to restaurants), but the meal has to be made in under fifteen minutes. Many delicious and healthy things can be made in that time frame, but none of them is red lentil curry. I burn things for the first time in my life. I scorch pans. It’s not my fault. Changing two poops during cooking will throw anyone off.

caving

Can you tell why this maneuver is called “chimneying”?

I haven’t been caving in five years. I itch to get underground again, where no one can find me. I miss hiking – the real kind that takes all day and you have to pee leaning against a tree and you run out of water and you see heaven when you reach the top. I still hike, but it’s the kind with a triple stroller on a paved path, or the kind where you’re carrying twins and a diaper bag and groceries from the car to the house.

I miss reading. Desperately. I still read… Facebook. (Hey, it’s adult interaction, mmmkay?) I also read scary horror articles about how this modern world will poison and screw up my children. I read (quick) recipes and I read Lego instructions. I read IEP evaluations and drafts. Sometimes I even read a (chapter of a) parenting book.

My house still gets cleaned. When a kid spills, I mop. When a kid wets the bed, I change sheets. When a baby poops in the tub, I bust out the disinfectant.

I still plant and water things, if you can accept a cheesy metaphor about how I plant seeds of information and learning in my children’s brains. And then I water their brains.

I still fix things. When a toy four-wheeler accidentally becomes a three-wheeler, I put it back together. When the kids storm the baby gate right off its hinges, I repair it. When my child is sobbing, I hug him. And, when my kid falls off the deck, I call the doctor. I’m a fixer.

I still travel… if you count going Target for diapers (and for that cute dress on clearance that accidentally fell into my cart while three kids cried and whined). When we’re feeling really brave, we venture a whole one hour to the grandparents’ houses. Whew.

I still make plans. I plan to change my sheets and vacuum the steps and empty out the trunk and upload all my photos onto Shutterfly. Soon. Real soon. I do, however, make and follow through on plans every day to go to the park, the gym, and the playground.

I set the bar low, because I’m an Okayest Mom. It’s how I survive. I’m okay (pun intended) with that, but I do ache for my old life sometimes.

Calling people back? Caving? A decent vocabulary? Now those are just gonna have to wait.

***

PS, I was never good at driving a motorcycle. The motorcycle course remains the only class I have ever failed. I have decided I am a passenger in life. I love sitting on the back. That’s okay too.

How Do Moms Ever Keep Makeup On?

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I only wear makeup so people don’t think I have the flu. Or so people will think I have this twin thing down. (Even though I might go all day with mascara on just one eye, if I happened to break up a twin fight mid-mascara.) Too bad all my makeup melts off my face before Mr. Okayest gets home from work. Every.single.day. Why?

The wind was blowing.

I am greasy.

I ate something greasy.

I cried because the kids stressed me out.

I cried because the kids are sick.

Twin A sneezed on my face.

Twin B drooled on my face.

My oldest coughed on my face.

I got sweaty when I chased Twin B in a parking lot.

I got sweaty when I worried about what will happen when my oldest starts kindergarten.

I live in Virginia.

It’s spring and there’s a lot of pollen.

It’s winter and it is snowing.

It’s summer and there’s just so much humidity.

It’s fall and it is raining leaf mold on my face.

I took a nap on the couch.

I decided to play airplane with the kids right after lunch. Whoops.

I had to change my shirt AGAIN because someone snotted/vomited/pooped on it, and the neckhole was too tight.

I got some amazing wet baby kisses.

I’m not sure why I bother. Maybe it’s because I’m blonde, which means I just look… khaki… without any blush. I didn’t resume bothering until the twins were many many months old. I sure saved a lot of money without doing any of that bothering! At this point, I’m just proud of myself for attempting to bother to atttempt.

Those Little Voices

wpid-img_20141125_065154025.jpgIt’s 7AM. I am lying here in bed, sick with liquified guts, and I am unable to get my children changed. Their Daddy took over, and I can hear their twin two-year-old voices jabbering away to him. Omgosh, their little voices are slaying me this morning.

“We brush toothbrush, Daddy?”

“This for you, Daddy.”

“Don’t fall boo boo, Daddy.”

“I go down? It dark, Daddy!”

I got a taste of what it’s like for him, hearing them from afar. He hears their voices across the phone line. He hears them for the first time every day in person at dinnertime. He gushes over their adorable voices and I can barely hear how adorable they are after twelve straight hours of whines, pleas, cries, negotiations. Why is it so different when you aren’t the primary caregiver? Why do they sound so much cuter from afar? Why do they sound so much younger and sweeter and gentler after a break? Why do they seem so much more adorable when I know I can lie here and writhe in peace?

I feel guilty and amazed every time I don’t feel the same gush of adoration that he feels. I wonder every time if it would be different for me if I worked outside the home, and I heard those voices for the first time at dinnertime.

I had to ask Mr. Okayest to stay home from work this morning, even though it is his first week at a new job. (He will have to go in for a meeting later, so I am willing my guts into submission before then.) He snuggled me as I writhed, because he knows that his touch on my back is the only thing that calms my distress or pain. I murmured instructions of how to take over preschool carpool stuff, but I know he can handle all other childcare better than I can. No need for instructions. He can do all my jobs.

He can do all my jobs better than I can, in fact. Nobody really talks about that. We give stay-at-home moms a lot of understanding and sympathy these days. There are a million blogs about what I do. But what about these amazing dads with such full plates? Modern fatherhood demands so much of these versatile men. They are expected to be just as involved and nurturing as we mothers are, which is a great thing, but they are also expected to do all the manly things of years past.

Mr. Okayest is way better than okay. I am one lucky woman. I am so thankful to him that I can stay home with our little ones. But, sometimes, I just wish I could be him and hear those little voices over the phone from a desk at work. Sometimes I just want to hear them from afar and appreciate them, without having to endure liquified guts first.

Get it together, woman!

***

This article
originally appeared on Beyond Infertility, a website about how parenting after infertility is different. I am a regular contributor to their website.

Stuff That Shouldn’t Be in My Purse This Week (First Edition)

You know you could make an entire blog about what you (purposefully OR accidentally) keep in your purses. Below are the items I removed from my purse this week that didn’t belong in there.

Note: I have excluded necessities (such as diapers/snacks) as well as trash (which is plentiful), and I still have all this to show!

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Matchbox cars, of course.

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Unused crayons even though my kids never color. Good thing I found these before summer.

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The sticker that they ripped off their Cozy Coupe ride-on car… because, you know, I might glue it back on one day?

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The spine to a beloved board book… because, you know, I might glue it back on one day?

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This tiny arm. I have no idea from what body it detached. As long as none of my kids aren’t missing arms, we’re good.

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This tiny T-shirt, which I found inexplicably acting as a tourniquet for one son’s leg.

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And, ta-da, a swiped PVC pipe fitting!

I can’t imagine how much more I would find if we ever actually left the house.

***

And what have you found in your purse this week, dear readers?

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.

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?

 

***

 

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.

“It’s Not Your Season,” Says My Mom

“Mom, I just wish I could have some energy to do an exercise DVD after they go to bed.”

“Honey, it’s just not your season. There will be plenty of time for that.”

 

“Mom, I just miss reading so much.”

“It’s just not your season, honey. Do you think your aunt ever read a book when she was raising her five boys? Now look at her!”

 

“Mom, sometimes I feel like I’m going to scream if I have to eat PBJ for lunch one more time! I just want to go out to lunch ONCE! Just once!”

“It’s not your season.”

 

My mother is referring to The Book of Ecclesiastes: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Eccl. 3:1)

Before I was a mother, I heard a quote from one of our church leaders that stuck with me: “[A woman] need not try to sing all of the verses of her song at the same time.” [i]

Sometimes I try to sing too many verses simultaneously. Then I remember to back it up and focus on one thing at a time. But, on a larger scale, that line explains perfectly why I am a stay-at-home mother. I had a long career as a student. I had a five-year career as a kindergarten teacher. I had an eight-year career as a wife, but not a mother. I am currently having a career as a wife AND mother. And, someday, I will be able to read/exercise/go out to lunch again. It’s okay with me to do things sequentially.

I love being a woman. I love being a stay-at-home mom. My husband checks in with me frequently to make sure that I don’t feel “marginalized”. I ask him what that means, exactly. Does he want to know if I felt like the margin on a page, when he is the main print? If so, the answer is no. I am not a margin. This here, this work that I do every day, IS the main text. Everything else – work, friends, distractions, hobbies, reading books/exercising/going out to lunch – is the margin. Everything else is FOR THIS.

all three at sink

He works for THIS.

r cuddles

I quit my career for THIS.

storytime

He comes home for THIS.

tied down

I wake up for THIS.

e cuddle

“Your children are not distractions – they are the very purpose.” [ii]

He wants to be sure I don’t have regrets. I assure him that even though this is hard, this was the plan. This is what I was meant to do. I am a nurturer. My decisions are supported by wonderful friends and family.

Nevertheless, there are times when I feel like I am going to cry. And I do. There are times when I feel like I am going to scream. And I do (in the bathroom, silently). There are time when I feel like I am going crazy. And I do – but it passes. Today, I was changing one baby’s terrible terrible diaper mess, and the other baby was getting into the prescription diaper cream, while they were both crying, and the dog was barking, and the oldest was whining, all together. And I told myself, “Breathe. Just wait for this to pass. (And don’t let any poop go flying while you wait.)” Experience has taught me that those moments do pass.

There are times when I feel like nobody ever recognizes the good that we stay-at-home moms do. My husband might get an award or a bonus or a good grade, but I don’t. I just get more poop and more diaper rash and more barking and more whining and more crying. Bless his heart, though, because he says, “WE got an A-plus today. WE got a bonus. WE got a time-off award.” And often, my husband recognizes what I do around the house and with the children. But, as Dr. Phil says, there is a lot of “invisible work” that spouses don’t see – like the way I mop under the table three times a day. Or the way I miraculously read twelve books to wiggly one-year-olds today. He assumes, but he doesn’t really know. It’s the same as how I don’t see all the invisible work that he does to diagnose, repair, and maintain our dryer/ lawn mower/ beige minivan.

I remind myself that heaven sees what I do. God, Jesus, maybe my grandmother who died – I believe they see me and my hard work and my love for my children every day. There are countless witnesses above who may be watching me.

On earth, I have only three witnesses of what I do every day: my children. Most of the time, they don’t care, but every once in a while I will catch them showing empathy to each other in a way that mimics me, and I am so grateful. I will catch them pretending to read a book in the same sing-song-y fashion as me, and I am so proud. Every movement of their bodies can be attributed to something I have taught them- words from their mouths, spoons to their lips, hugs from their arms – it all attests to my hard work.

All that is the point. The main text. Not the margin. And that’s why I quit my career. That’s why I have no regrets. That’s why I don’t feel marginalized. And that’s why I have to remind myself that “it’s just not my season” for the things in the margin. Or, more accurately, I can call my mom and she can remind me.

My work is the main text, not the margin.

 

***

 

[i] James E. Faust (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1986/09/a-message-to-my-granddaughters-becoming-great-women?lang=eng)

[ii] Richard and Linda Eyre, from a fireside address, as quoted by Dwight Egan, Church News contributor (https://www.lds.org/church/news/father-of-8-missionary-sons-shares-advice-that-helped-him?lang=eng)

 

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

Did She Have a Bad Day Today? (Clues for the Husbands)

If…

She asks him to bring home more carpet cleaner and/or Spray n’ Wash,

The carseat is in pieces, drying on the deck,

The kids’ sheets are clean (think about it),

The living room rug is outside,

The van windows are down (think about it),

She’s standing in front of the pantry with a quizzical look on her face,

It’s raining,

The migraine medicine is out on the counter,

Her ponytail is askew,

The kids’ breakfast is still glued to their hair,

You call her from your work number and not your cell number at dinnertime,

You start a conversation with, “You know how tomorrow was supposed to be my day off?”

…then she probably had a bad day.