Thursday, September 23, 2010

Am I a writer?

Post of Owning Pink

I never liked to write. 
I was never any good at it. As a child, I would put off all writing assignments to the last minute and then painful squeak out the minimum word requirement for my academic classes. This unsuccessful process usually resulted in a “c” and some kind of teacher comment about expanding my ideas. Writing continued to be an undesired experience through college and grad school. I just didn’t like it and only did it if I absolutely had to. I had an interest in going for my PhD, but the thought of writing a dissertation would make me start to sweat, my breath becoming shallow. I got a job instead.
I chose a field working with people, where rapport and listening came naturally to me. Very little writing is required as a counselor other than personal notes. I worked as a counselor for 12 years, never being asked to write anything except maybe to contribute to a school newsletter. I never thought about it, never tried it -- in fact I didn’t even like to read other peoples’ writing. I really had no interest in written words. All I needed to know was spoken.
Then I had a child. 
My whole world was turned upside down. I craved conversations about the difficulties of motherhood. I tried time and time again to talk to those around me about breast feeding, how your relationship changes with your spouse, the mom wars about work, guilt, loss of passions and identity, and the general dissatisfaction with my new life. Nobody would talk to me about anything other than being tired and their babies' poop.
So, I started to read. I read blogs, I read articles, and I read books. I read everything and anything having to do with the rawness of motherhood (not the cute stuff). I read and I read and I read.  I started to feel less alone. There were other mothers out there who were experiencing some darker sides of motherhood.  Perhaps it was safer to speak our challenges in the written form.
I started to write. 
And boy did I write. I wrote all my nasty, ugly and hateful feelings. I felt better. I started to write about my imperfect journey of becoming a mother and people wrote back with gratitude for my honesty. I started to write about questions that kept me up at night, and other moms spilled their secrets as well. I started to ask other moms tough questions, and they answered them -- for real this time.
And now, I love writing!
I still don’t think I'm  any good at it (ahem, inner critic). I don't have a large impressive vocabulary. I can't string a  bunch a words together in a poetic way. My spelling is atrocious and my grammatical errors are laughable. I often read other posts on Owning Pink and feel embarrassed that I am even on this stage with these talented writers. I write the only way I know how, with sincerity and heart. It soothes me. I write because it gets out all of my junk. I write because it helps other moms feel less alone. I write because if I don’t, I have a buzzing in my ear and a sense of manic urgency until I do. I write because it is cheaper than therapy.
I guess I am a writer.
What about you? Have any hidden passions taken you by surprise after a major life change?  

Friday, September 17, 2010

What is the best parenting advice you ever received?

Post on Sane Moms

A while back I wrote about the worst parenting advice I ever received, the unattainable “enjoy every moment”.  But what about the best parenting advice you received?  I was given two very practical and honest ‘words of wisdom’ that I have found myself revisiting frequently over the last five years.  One is about my keeping my identity, while the other is about keeping my sanity.

Tip #1 (Keeping identity)
My mother told me before my children were born, “don’t forget that you were first a woman.”  I love this piece of advice!  It is a mantra I repeat almost daily, and a saying I offer to friends, clients and random women on the street if they strike up a conversation about motherhood.  It isn’t motherhood that defines YOU.  It is not only important for you to keep your identity as a woman, but your family benefits as well.
  • What example do you want to teach your children about identity, self-care and balance?
  • Where do you get your energy so that you may care for everyone else?
  • What is it that nourishes your soul?
  • When is the last time you had a conversation that wasn’t related to your children?
  • What is the last thing you did that gave you intellectual, physical, spiritual or emotional stimulation-as a women?
If you can’t answer these questions, perhaps you have forgotten who you are in addition to “mom.” I know, I know … it is easier said then done! I have been there … swallowed by motherhood and have lost myself in the process. I can also tell you during this time of lost identity, I was not patient with my children, I was not a loving partner to my husband and I was not a supportive friend. I had nothing left to give.  When I learned how to put my oxygen mask on before helping everyone else … I once again became a woman (and mom) who has a zest for life … and enjoys (almost) every moment with her children!

Tip #2 (Keeping sanity)

It was also my mother who reminds me every time one of my children is going through a nasty little phase that is driving me insane-that it is just that, A PHASE!  I remember my longest phase was feeling like I would never sleep again- that I would forever live through a haze of exhaustion.  Now I sleep a solid 7-8 hours, and the sleepless nights are a blur.  We have dealt with all the typical unpleasant phases; reflux, colic, teething, biting, crying during day care drop off, whining, potty training, night terrors, terrible 2s, sassy 3s, poking the dogs eyes (you get the picture) phase, phase, phase and phase.  When you look at everything as temporary, and have ‘a this too shall pass’ attitude, it makes life with children full of humor instead of stress.  Again, easier said then done!  I still have to check in with my parenting frustrations.  Right now, I am currently hyper-aware that I am clenching my teeth and my shoulders are up to my ears during pretty much any transition for my 3 year old (I know mom, phase)!

I find it helpful to be in touch with how I am feeling about a certain repetitive behavior.  Am I having a sense of humor or lightness, or am I feeling stressed and serious?  Just by being aware of my emotional reaction, I can repeat my mom’s advice, “THIS IS JUST A PHASE”, and appreciate the behavior as a typical growing pain. I can look now and see a new mom feeling so frustrated at phases that once drove me bonkers. So, throwing food off the high chair 20 times — hilarious!!! I promise, it won’t last, this too shall pass!

What about you? What is the best advice you have received? 
Do you have any tips to add? Can you share any parenting or personal mantras? 
Heather is a life coach for moms, a middle school counselor and a mama who is committed to rocking her mojo! She has two extremely “spirited,” independent and strong-willed children who test her, teach her and exhaust her…several times a day!  You can read more about her aMy Mama Mojo.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The "Booger" in the middle of the night

I have not gotten much sleep over the past 6 years.  I have been woken up over bloody noses, peed on sheets, nightmares, snoring husbands, general insomnia, teething, illness, fire trucks, children playing with battery operated toys in the middle of the night, and little people falling out of their beds.  But never (until last night) had I been woken up because of a booger.

3:00 AM -I hear her crying and yelling, "Mom...I have a booger and I can't get it out."

Me: "Just pick it and go back to sleep."

Her: " I can't it's stuck."  Louder crying 

Me:  "Just stick you finger up there and get it."

Her: "I tried, I really can't get it."  Even louder crying

Me: Stumbling out of bed and into her room to help her pick her nose.  We end up in the bathroom with the bright lights.  Yep, there is a big booger in there all right.  I now supervise her picking attempts.  No luck.

Her:  More crying...

Me: "Just blow."  Putting a tissue up to her nose.  Not working....

Husband: Yelling from our room, "Squirt some saline up there."

Me: Squirting saline.  Not working...

Her: More crying...

Me:  "Let's go back to bed and breath through your mouth."

Her:  "Will you lay with me?"

Me: "Sure"

After about 30 minutes, she seems to have settled into her nose whistle.  I go back to my room.  As I'm dosing off to sleep she yells, "I got it mom!"  Then she comes to show the 1/2 inch booger that was causing her so much grief.

It is good to be mom.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I caught a a glimpse of my old self...and liked it!

Post on Sane Moms

One question I love to ask other moms is, “ What do you miss most about your pre-mom self?”  I recently posed this question to a Moms’ Club, and their answers varied wildly from missing their flat stomachs, feeling brain numb from dealing with small children all day — to remembering how easy it was to get in the car and do something … anything before they had children.
As for my pre-mom self … I miss sleep.  I miss my alone time, I miss wandering aimlessly down each grocery store isle, I miss not caring what time it is, I miss silence, and I miss my husband.  But one thing I hadn’t really thought about in a long time was how I missed my love of the outdoors.  Before I had children some of my favorite moments were with nature.
I know plenty of women who take their babies camping, but it would have been disastrous with my poor sleepers.   We tried a few time to hike wearing a baby backpack, but I didn’t have the most adaptable young kids.  The adventures always ended early in frustration.  I never really felt comfortable taking them on a kayak or a canoe because the thought of being trapped on a small boat with a fussy child was not my idea of fun. I just forgot all about these aspects of my old life, because it didn’t seem to fit into my new one.
It wasn’t until this summer with my children — now ages 5 and 3, that we started experimenting with some of our old interests and passions.  In July we went camping, in August we tried kayaking on a river and in September we climbed a mountain.  And you know what?  The kids loved it!  We all loved it!  I haven’t felt more like “me” in years! 
Can we go at the speed, length or even the locations we used to?  Not yet, but, we can bring back the love of nature-which for years made me incredibly happy and peaceful.  I can take parts of my pre-mom self and mold them into my new life with children. It is a start, and it feels wonderful!
When we become moms we don’t have to give up everything else that makes us happy.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Identify what it is that makes us feel charged and go do it!
Now it’s your turn … What do YOU miss most about your pre-mom self?
Is there something you can do to bring it back — even in an adapted form?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Through the eyes of a child

One of the best parts about being a parent is getting to see the world through the eyes of a child, again. Life doesn’t get much better then abandoning all inhibitions and being a child with your child. I am my happiest when running through sprinklers with my clothes on, eating ice cream for breakfast and flying around my house in a Batman cape trying to capture The Joker. I delight in the “easy” questions about thunderstorms, bugs and eye color. I have waited years to have these engaging conversations with my children. Watching their minds process and retain information is quite enjoyable and satisfying.
But what about the tough questions?
I’m not talking about the “where do babies come from?" or “why is that woman so fat?” line of questioning. I have questions such as these covered. I am 100% comfortable talking about sex, diversity and life style. I relish in these teachable moments to talk about the facts, acceptance and a love of all people. I also find great joy in sharing my values and since my kids are so young, they blindly accept what I say as fact and move on. I know that I will soon be challenged, but I welcome the debate as well so that I can watch them interpret the world in which they live.
The questions that stump me are the questions to which I have no answers. The questions that I have stuffed down so deep that they have disappeared from my radar. These questions about loss, pain, and suffering are the ones that are causing me discomfort. Lately my daughter has been asking me really hard ones -- ones that keep me up at night. Ones that I have spend a lifetime trying to forget.  The tough question variety include: “Why do some children have nothing to eat? Why did God make mean people? Why do bad things happen?” To these questions I simply say, “I don’t know.”
The challenge from the little ones…
A few weeks ago we were driving in the car and stopped for a red light. Outside my daughter’s car window was a man with a sign asking for money. This man stands in this spot often, but today was the first day my daughter showed curiosity. She asked me to read the sign and to explain why he was standing there. I did both. My children were very confused as to why I wasn’t helping this man.  My three and five year old scolded me as they recited what I had told them about helping those in need, being kind and sharing what you have. I was stumped. I drove away feeling ashamed and emotional.
I recently started a new job, with a new commute. On this commute I see four or five people begging for money each morning and afternoon. They stand in the same spot, with the same signs. I am getting to know them in a way. They each have their story, and their unique styles of getting attention. Before I had this conversation with my children I would have ignored them, diverted any eye contact and prayed for the light to turn green to avoid having to think about where they sleep at night. Now, I watch for them, I am hyper aware of them. I make eye contact and say hello. Yet, I never give them money or offer to help. My kids would be disappointed.
My kids are teaching me to look again
I am more sensitive than most. Everything bothers me if I let it. I won’t even kill a bug. If I watch a Save the Child Campaign on television, it is enough to send me into a depression for a few weeks. So for me, dwelling on the devastations and injustices of the world will throw me into the corner to rock back and forth until it goes away. I have chosen not to look. I don’t watch the news anymore, I won’t engage in upsetting conversation. These things can break me. I spent a lifetime learning to filter and ignore; now I am being forced to look, listen and explain. What I really want to do is teach my children to stick their fingers in their ears, close their eyes and sing” la la la” until it goes away.
It doesn’t work like that. It is my responsibility as a parent to teach them about the beauty of life, and the ugly parts too. They need me to explain, comfort and inspire because they are experiencing it with or without me. I must look, listen and learn. I will also support their coping mechanisms whether they choose the ‘head in the sand’ approach as their mother, or become activists! So thank you to my children for teaching me to be curious again, to reach out and to love. I won’t always have the answers and I suppose I don’t have to. Sometimes saying “I don’t know” is truly all you can say.

When is it that we turn from curious and compassionate children to hardened self-preserved adults? Would the world really be a better place if we all saw it through the eyes of a child again? How do you deal with the painful parts of life to which you have no answers?

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr