Thursday, March 5, 2015

Clarification

Hi there, me again!

I wanted to make a quick clarification because when I went downstairs after writing last night's post, the first words out of Nathan's mouth were, "Are you okay?"

Ack!  I didn't intend to sound doom and gloom.  Last night was actually meant to be more hopeful than I apparently came across.

Here's the thing.  Whenever I get worried about the kids, I do a lot of self reflection.  I try and identify things about myself that allow me to relate to whatever struggle they are going through in part, because I think it helps for them to know they aren't alone.  There is also some "They got this from me so it's all my fault" for sure, and I used to beat myself up over it.  Over the last few years though, I've learned to use these realizations as opportunities to learn and grow in front of their eyes.  I want them to learn along with me and adopt these coping skills at a much younger age so they don't find themselves drowning when they are old and stuck in their ways.

I've learned and accepted some key aspects of who I am in my hard work these last few years.  For one, I know I have a particularly harsh, persistent internal critic.  I always have and always will.  A few years ago, it dictated my every move, leaving me paralyzed and feeling like a hollowed out shell of a person.  Now, after lots of difficult self exploration, it's more like the negative friend we all have in our lives.  The person you avoid talking to about stuff because you know what their reaction will be and it most certainly won't be on the bright side of things.  They become so predictably negative, it's almost funny.  You learn to shrug off their nay saying because it's so ridiculously untrue.  For the majority of my life now, my internal critic is that negative friend I can easily brush off.

Sometimes I can't though.  Sometimes I'm tired.  Sometimes I'm unsure.  Sometimes I'm a little lost and that friend hits a nerve causing me to spend a few days teary and insecure.  This is another thing I've accepted about myself.  That sometimes I take my inner critic to heart and it slows me way, way down.  The difference now is I can pick up the pace before coming to a halt.

Courage.  Strength.  Honesty.  Vulnerability.  Compassion.  All words I've found new meaning in and welcomed into my life so I can use them to leave my critic eating some serious dust when it slows me down.  Words I want my kids to understand and weave into their beings as they enter the difficult school aged years.  Some of their struggles will be much different from mine, some the same but I want them to see their mom for who she is and find their own strength and courage in that.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Taming the Perfectionist

I've been aware of the perfectionist in Zoe for a long time now.  She has been hard on herself since preschool and it's become more obvious to me as I watch Owen grow in his laid back way.  Even more so now that she is in 1st grade and school is more structured.  She is an excellent student, tackling assignments so fearlessly and successfully that even her teacher is at a loss sometimes.  Trying to find ways to challenge her in class has become so commonplace in that room, her teacher and I have started talking about whether we think she might be more comfortable in 2nd grade this year instead of 1st.  I'm not sure if we will all decide it's the best decision or not, but it's a valid question to be exploring.  Despite her excelling in the classroom though, Zoe often comes home worried she is a "bad student" or that she is not "doing it all perfectly".

I'm sure I don't need to explain how hard it is for me to watch and hear her going through this.  I know what the perfectionist tendency can lead to in the long run.  I know she has me and Nathan to guide her through life but perfectionism is a powerful force, fighting against logical thought so hard it's almost no contest at times.  When I get to thinking about it, I inevitably come back to the realization that the reason I know the dangers of perfectionism so well is because it runs deep in my own being.  I bury, deny and mask it as much as I can but it rules my world.

Here's a window into my inner monologue:

"5 minutes late to school and barked at the kids the whole way. You're a horrible mom."
"The first draft of your book wasn't perfect. You can't write, you should quit before you embarrass yourself."
"The clutter around this house is out of control.  You're such a lazy wife."
"You forgot to call your friend when her son got his tonsils out.  You're a shitty friend."
"You've aged about 20 years in 5 years.  You're tired and worn out and can't hide it anymore.  You're old." 
"You suck."
"You suck."
"You suck."

That's just the tip of the iceberg and I know many people think these thoughts but for me, the weight of them is so heavy and constant, I often get tired of keeping them at bay and let go for a bit.  Those are the times you won't see or hear much from me.  I want to be clear, I'm not looking for a pity party.  I've done a lot of work learning how to trust and listen to my logical thought more than my critic and am a million times stronger than I used to be.  I've also accepted I can't silence the critic so must live with it while finding more ways to tell it to shut up sooner rather than later.  My hope is I can share what I'm learning with Zoe now so she will have a jump on these skills instead of finding herself in her late 30's, grappling with decades worth of poor self esteem and the habits that go along with it.

So, today I did something huge for us.

For the last 5 years or so, I've kept a cleaning schedule for the house.  I'm not super uptight about it but it's always there and if I let us off the hook on a given week (Nathan and I split the work) you can guess what my critic has to say about it.  I write it up on the dry erase calendar in our kitchen so none of us can dare forget it's there looming. I don't have this schedule because I'm a neat freak.  My house is a shambles in many ways, but I have a constant fear that if I let the basic cleaning duties go at least a little bit, I will immediately revert back to my disgusting college days and my kids will be traumatized and mocked.

Today, I was reading an article about things parents can do to help their perfectionist kids accept the inevitable chaos in life.  One of the ideas was to ask your child what they think would happen if one of their fears came to be.  Do they think the world would end?  I just happened to be sitting near my kitchen calendar in that moment so gathered my courage and erased the cleaning schedule.  I said to myself "Fuck it, let's see what happens." 

I'm not convinced it will last.  Maybe I'll find I'm more relaxed with the schedule but I'm hoping the attempt will at least teach me something or give me some fresh perspective.

Fuck it, let's see what happens.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

If the moon is a coin...

I threw our stroller in the dumpster yesterday.  The stroller that was given to us 8 years ago when I was pregnant with Zoe.  The stroller I pushed around Brooklyn, for countless hours on countless days, while my first born napped.  The stroller I pushed while chatting on the phone with my mom and sisters, soaking up every possible motherhood nugget before I had any of my own to offer.  The stroller I pushed while walking the streets of Park Slope with my first mommy friend for life. The stroller I pushed a baby and preschooler in.  The stroller they later pushed their own baby dolls in.

I briefly considered giving it to someone else but after all the miles it worked, keeping my little lovies safe and comfy all these years, it was showing it's age and exhaustion.  Wobbly and rough around the edges, it wasn't fit to pass along.  So, out it went.

I realize I'm being sappy  but I'm not sad about it.  Just contemplative.  I will carry a touch of melancholy for a long time, knowing there will be no more babies for me but the wonder of witnessing my children growing is overshadowing that more and more.  I couldn't be more grateful.

Tonight, Zoe had her first official go at 1st grade homework.  They are to observe the moon all month and write in a "moon journal" every night before bed.  The kids and I went out after dinner and soaked up the spring-like evening air while pointing out constellations and discussing the magic that is the night sky.

After quietly completing her first entry, she shared her observations:

"If the moon is a coin hung in the sky to pay the old dream maker whenever he goes by."

She didn't write that last bit.  Her class learned it in school but looking at the moon tonight made her wonder whether or not it could be true.  

I'm so thankful to be able to have these conversations with her now, Owen listening in and contributing in his 4 year old way.  To hear something I've never heard coming from her and be able to ask her about it.  To learn from her and watch her grow.  I think about how much has changed and how it's just the beginning...

...I find the strength to heave that old stroller in the dumpster, take a walk with my big kids and discover together what this world has to offer us.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Slow and steady...

Some of you may remember a few years ago, I found myself in a pretty dark place.  Thankfully at the time, I was writing a lot so spilled my guts on this blog and got the help I needed.  Support came in the form of emails, comments, phone calls and in person conversations all of which started me down the healing journey I'm still on today..the one I will always be on.  

The most important thing I learned was I wasn't alone in my deepest fears.  Not the ones I openly discussed but the ones I was afraid to utter lest I be heavily medicated against my will.  Little did I know how many of us think our deepest fears are too disturbing to be expressed aloud.  I know now keeping lines of communication open is crucial.  Sometimes the difference between surrendering to fear and conquering it is realizing you're not the only one living with it. 

The past few years of my journey have been about crushing my demons.  I've accepted they will never disappear completely.  Passive remnants of them will stick around my whole life but with vigilance, you can be damn sure those suckers will remain mere dust, trapped under the solid foundation that is my renewed spirit. 

I've worked hard to get to this point.  I've set lofty goals and pursued them with my heart and soul.  Some challenges were surmounted, some met and some abandoned but whatever the outcome, it's been important for me to keep piling them on.

Lately though, that tide has changed a bit.  I've realized while I don't regret setting any of them, some of my lofty goals caused me to burn out.  Two of the most notable were:

1) My marathon accomplishment.  A million dollars would  not tempt me to erase this from my life experience but it caused a loss of focus in my running.  My motivation had always come from the desire to run farther.  No part of me will ever want to run that far again so I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to find another source of motivation.

2)  My determination to write a book.  This kicked my writing ass, wiping out any and all confidence in my talent.  I have felt embarrassed to write anything since the attempt because everything sounds like crap to me. 

So, I decided to take a few steps back.  To look at these things from a different angle and see what happens.  I needed these years of lofty goal crushing effort but think it's time to have faith in the work and settle into something more slow and steady.  I committed myself to a modest running challenge I feel confident will keep me focused all year and I will be back here more often, silencing my inner critic and saying whatever I feel like saying even if it's not perfect.

Wish me luck!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The other side of the coin

My favorite tree has forever been the maple--hands down.  I grew up in Vermont and am 100% emotionally attached to my home state.  As a matter of fact, the East Coast as a whole lives so deep in my bones that as soon as we entered Pennsylvania on our big road trip this summer, I felt a layer of tension I didn't even realize was there release.  The deep, dense forest and endless green replenishing my soul, the word "home" whispering just under conscious thought.  I experience this every time I go east and know I always will.  Once while driving north from Boston to Vermont, I unrolled my window and became so overwhelmed by the smell of hydrandeas I could feel my heart break knowing how many times since moving west I'd missed out on this explosion of springtime life.  No doubt about it, the East Coast nourishes and comforts me from the inside out.

When we first moved to Colorado 5 years ago, the dry air and resulting brown grass were like a punch to the gut.  I was speechless, but for reasons I hadn't expected.  Afraid I couldn't appreciate the striking Rocky Mountains as much as I'd anticipated, I got to work recalibrating my expectations.  It didn't happen right away but over these past 5 years I've grown to love what this part of the country has to offer.  Loving the mountains is easy, but feeling connected to the foothills took this green mountain girl a lot longer.  It wasn't until this bonus year of ours here in Boulder that I realized I not only appreciate it, but cherish it.  As the abundance of life back east quenches, the absence of it here clarifies.  Now grateful for the stripped landscape each winter, I can get lost in thought tracing silhouettes of bare serpentine cottonwood branches, now my 2nd favorite tree, against the never ending sky.

These 2 lives used to make me feel torn and incomplete.  Now I know without them, there would always be something missing.  We will move on to a new place sometime soon.  I will mourn the loss but can't wait to see what part of me I discover when we get there.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tea Time

Life these days is moving so fast I can't seem to hold onto a single thought that interests or inspires me.  Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a head-detatched-from-my-body kind of way...which still sounds bad...but...ugh, this is exactly why I haven't written a single word here in 3 months...

Our family is still stuck in limbo, but I'm handling it a hell of a lot better than last year.  The uncertainty of our future brought about depression and anxiety this time a year ago, but after our unexpected opportunity to stay in Boulder another year materialized I was able to let go of all of that.  I was relieved, and still am, but the release of that junk didn't exactly result in a magical transformation. Yes, I'm much more positive now we will ultimately make it through on top.  The depression and anxiety were replaced by random, tiny bursts of gratitude and a deeper understanding of what it means to be mindful.  Progress for sure, but this new "one moment at a time" way of life I've adopted doesn't have any patience for rumination...

...but I miss it.  I've been teasing my brain, seeing if I can find any corners to sit in a while and think...and write..and share...but I can't seem to take the time to cozy up just yet.  I hope to soon...

...in the meantime I wanted to share this photo of one of my favorite things.  For the last 20 minutes of each day this week, these two rapidly growing and changing miracles in my life have been sitting in a dimly lit kitchen with their ol' mother, sharing a cup of tea and a chat.  These snapshots of our life together are what feed my soul right now...witnessing spontaneous giggle fits when one of them "accidentally" says something naughty, the laughter gaining hysterical momentum as they catch each others "Mommy's totally letting us laugh at that!!" thrill saturated eyes.  I can't wait to finally give these kids a picture of our future but am grateful to be fully here with them now.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Road Trip on a Budget...with Kids


Hey everyone!  So sorry I've been quiet lately--my life is seriously jam packed right now with every spare minute "to myself" going towards work or other commitments.  I'm dying to find my pockets of time to write again but this season is just not the one for that.  In the meantime, I wanted to share this post I wrote for my friend's website Karyn Burns ABC's Posters.   When our family was on our big summer road trip (which feels like forever ago now) Karyn wrote to ask if I could collaborate on a post about traveling with kiddos on a budget.  I promptly forgot I committed to her and then randomly got it all down on paper a couple weeks ago.  Karyn is just as, if not more, busy than I am right now though so we had to put the collaboration on hold.  We will work something out soon but for now here is the post I'm finally getting out to those of you who asked for specific tips on this topic.  Check out Karyn's website (and purchase a poster or 2 while there!) and stay tuned for our earth shattering collaboration sometime soon.

Have you ever considered packing a month’s worth of necessities into your car and driving across the United States?  Sounds pretty romantic doesn’t it?  I think we’ve all had that daydream at some point.  Now, have you entertained the dream knowing you have extremely limited funds and 2 small children?  No?  Neither had I before my family took to the road this summer.

A few months before the trip, my husband and I were in our living room after putting the kids to bed, reviewing the day’s events.  Out of the blue, he said “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but what if we drove to the East Coast this summer?”  Depending upon where you live this may or may not sound like an insane idea but since we live in Colorado and have 2 young children (ages 6 and 3), I was befuddled by his ludicrous suggestion.  I listened anyway because he’d told me not to interrupt him until he managed to get his line of reasoning out. 

Truth be told, a part of me was thrilled from the first with the absurdity of it all.  My side of the family was going to be convening on Cape Cod for an annual vacation we’d had to miss out on 2 years running.  Our current financial reality does not include 4 plane tickets to the East Coast so missing it again was a given.  After my “Say WHAT?!” moment, I promptly embraced the role of co-conspirator.

We talked out a pros and cons list and found there were countless pros vs. 2 cons.  The pros were too many to fit in one blog post so I’ll reveal the cons alone:  1) We are totally and completely broke and 2) there are 2 small children living in our house who might make 5 days in a car the most hellish 5 days we’d ever lived through.   As you must do when a pros and cons list paints an indisputable picture, we took a deep breath and committed.

We were able to figure out the saving money piece pretty easily that very night.  Venturing the kids would be blinded by excitement at the thought of seeing their cousins and therefore ignorant of the reality of being in the car for days in a row, we left that piece in the “to-do” pile...and broke the news the next morning.

My breathless reveal of the surprise we had in store for them was met by an incredulous 6 year old and her tearful objections.  She could not believe we were going to make them sit in the car for just shy of a whole week.   I knew I had to spring into action so started hatching a plan for fun and games in the car.  I promised her a good time and believe me we had to deliver.

Long story short, here is a list of tricks we discovered to make our “Road Trip on a Budget…with Kids” a success with a few examples of how to incorporate the ideas.  I’m not going to lie, it takes some prep but the amount of time spent getting ready was more than worth the hours it paid off.  I am proud to say we came home with more money in our bank account than we would have if we’d stayed home.  Granted, we had some help with gas (thanks Mom!), temporary use of a hybrid car instead of our beater (thanks Mom-in Law!) and relatives who wouldn’t let us pay for anything once we got to The Cape (thanks family!) but still I think that’s notable, to say the least.

1)      No Eating Out

-Pack light clothing-wise so as to leave more space in the car for food.

-Bring healthy salty, sweet and protein rich snacks as well as a few tried and true creature comforts for each traveler.  This will help to avoid impulse buys when you are all tired/wired.

-Stock a small bag for the car full of enough snacks for the travel day.  Keep extra snacks in a suitcase in the trunk.  Replenish the bag from the suitcase stash when at your rest stop for the night.

-Before the trip, buy fixings and pack lunch each day before heading off again (or before you go to sleep).

-Stock a cooler in the trunk with dinner possibilities: frozen burritos, single serve mac and cheese…anything you can pop in a microwave or add hot water to.  If you think of it, bring along some utensils but most truck stops on major interstates have everything you need to prepare an on-the-go dinner.  Hey, they even have showers if you’re up for that!

2)      Couch Surf

-Pre-plan your stops and stay with people you know whenever possible.  Don’t be afraid to ask.  Most people will be happy to contribute to the success of such a grand adventure! 

-If you can’t stay with someone you know, search online for hotels beforehand or on your phone when approaching the destination.  Prices are often higher if you walk up and reserve the room in person.

3)      Scavenger Hunt

I was inspired by the all the amazing downloadable scavenger hunt choices out there but decided to create ours myself.  If you would like help creating one, let me know--I'd love to give you a hand!
-Create, or snag online (there are TONS of free ones available for download), a car trip scavenger hunt for the kids.  Have a sheet for every state you pass through so they have something new every once in a while.  I kept ours in envelopes saying “Do not open until…” and presented the sheets at every state line.   Every point earned was worth a minute they could stay up past their bedtime while on vacation.
 
-Include a “Mystery Item” for each state by mapping your route and spending some time (pre-trip) on Roadside America.com.  There you can find kooky, oddball destinations pretty much anywhere in this country.  For instance, we stopped at the World's Largest Ball of Paint in Alexandria, IN and painted layer number 24,085!

4)      License Plate Game

-Don’t forget this classic.  It’s an easy way to get everyone involved and can pop up just when you need it in the form of a distraction (“How many license plates have we found so far?...Which ones to we have left?”).  Not to mention spotting a hard to find plate is exciting even for the adults.  Download a free printable like this one so the kids can keep track of what’s been found.

5)      Map It

-Print out road maps for each state you will go through and give the kids highlighters.  Encourage them to find and map your route.  This helps quell the “Are we there yet?”s because they can see for themselves.  At the start of the trip I presented each of them with a brand new clipboard and fancy pen attached so they had a convenient way to write on their maps, license plate game and scavenger hunt sheets.

6)      Geocache

-If you’ve never heard of geocaching, read about it here.  It is our all-time favorite family activity.  We use this $10 app but if you don’t have a smartphone you can buy a GPS unit such as this.  After that purchase, geocaching is FREE any and every time you feel inspired to go on an adventure.  We challenged ourselves to find a cache in every state we went through.   Finding one was also an item for the scavenger hunt.

Geocaching at sunset on Lake Erie
7)      Technology

-When all else fails, take advantage of any technology you have.  To be honest, our 3 year old was more apt to want to watch a movie than play the games we had prepared.  We accepted this and moved on with our lives.  Don’t beat yourself up if the kids just want to zone out to a dvd, a game on your tablet/iPad/phone or music for hours on end (although whatever you do, don’t forget their headphones!).   It’s okay, their fried brains will return to normal before you know it and you’ll get some amazing quiet time for a bit.

8)      Keep It Simple

-If you are worried you will all get stir crazy despite your preparation, don’t worry—you’re right!  Try not to anticipate every snag by overloading the car with more possible distractions.  Talk to the kids beforehand about the trip being a mix of fun and boredom and that you will all get through it together.  It’s better to have a fairly easy to keep in order car and a few hours of complaining than it is to have a jumbled mess of a car with the same (if not more) amount of complaining.  If you can’t resist getting more stuff, keep it to things they can stash in the pockets on the back of your front seats:  workbooks, books, stickers etc.


There you go—hope you have as much fun and argue maybe a little less than we did.   Have a great trip!