Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Unschooling- 3 months in

Following your intuition is something that makes a great Ted talk topic but is much harder to pull off in the "real world."  The world where you have to wake up every morning with doubts and questions and move forward trying your best to set your child up for a future full of opportunity.
My intuition was telling me that being in school was crumbling the spirit of my son.   Everyone at the school meant well, and tried their best in the system that existed, but that system did not have what he needed.   We jumped out of the system and have been working daily to build something custom designed, and sometimes my ideas of the perfect blueprint get tossed out the window after an unenthusiastic shrug, or the look of complete uninterest. The plans are replaced with a spark in the eye of a little boy who just discovered a new passion that I overlooked.  It might mean that he wakes up before everyone else to master a newly discovered skill or finds inspiration strike just before bedtime and stays up longer to write or code.  The beautiful part is that leaving the "system" allows for this, even if part of me wishes he would go to bed so I could watch Parenthood and have a glass of wine.

There are still those days, the ones where I start to feel like he is slipping, wasting his day buried in comic books and tortillia chips.   I begin questioning what we did that day or that week and measuring up what might have occored in a classroom.  My mind swirls in doubt for about a minute and then comes swirling back to reality, I breath, maybe worry for half a minute more, and then breath again and continue on our path.    Because the good days, the ones where I see him unfolding are so sweet that I know my intuition was right.

Last year was hard, actually every year was hard, but there were so many hostile moments when all his energy was bent toward anger.  He wanted to be good, he wanted to do the right thing, but he just couldn't do it. He would look at me with such defeat when he knew that he "broke the rules" and it broke my heart because I knew his intentions were right.  All the teachers told me how sweet and kind he was if only he could just have some self control.  I am finding now that he just wasn't ready for such a controlling environment.

My son is slowly unfolding into a very pleasent, and self controlled child.  He still jumps around, but that doesn't matter because at home there are no rules that say you can't jump.  We actually have jumping contests!   He has been taking a Chemistry class and also a nature exploring and survival class.  The first few times of picking him up from these classes I feared that I would hear the typical "he needs more self-control" speech, but I did not.  See this time, he had been interested in the topic of the classes, I gave him many choices, including the option to not take classes at all.  These were the ones that sparked his interest!  He was curious for these things and so there he sits (in chemistry anyway) and listens to instructions, follows directions, engages in discussion, and learns.  My son has so much self control that his nature class instructor allows him to use a very sharp, real deal, knife.   This is not the boy from last year.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A look In The Mirror

Conversation from a group of girls in a middle school bathroom overheard by my daughter:
"I am getting fat"
"Yeah, you are." 
"I'm not going to eat lunch today."  
"We aren't eating lunch anymore either."  
According to my daughter these girls were very thin, all the girls, even the one who was "getting fat."

Conversation from a group of mothers in a pizza place overheard by myself:
"I lost 10lbs 6oz!  I'm not really eating a lot."
"I haven't eaten a pizza in 6 months." 
the talk went on from there with words like, "fat, skinny, dieting, fat, skinny, skinny." These women were also very thin.   They had small children, little girls, who were playing... and listening.

Blaming the media for a nation of skinny obsessed tweens and teens isn't totally fair.   As mothers, we are way more influential than you might think.  As Peggy O'Mara says "The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice."   Not just the way we talk to them, but the way we talk around them, and about ourselves.   It tells them what we think is important, what we value most.  They hear that skinny is a quality that must be achieved at all cost.  Even if it means a feeling of churning and growling in your stomach.  Even if it means vomitting after you failed to resist the temptation of cake.    Maybe the media poisoned our generation with images photoshopped to perfection, but we are grown ups.  We know what is real and true and we should be able to stop caring what a magazine cover says we should look like.

We cannot quickly change the message of the media, but we can in one instant change the message that our daughters get from us.  If you are feeling fat, keep your mouth shut.  I don't mean do not eat, I mean do not verbalize it.  I feel very strongly that excersize and eating healthy are important.   I discuss with my children what large amounts sugar and junk food can do to their bodies, not in terms of "you will get fat" but instead I talk about diabetes and how daily insulin shots can become a reality if you don't take care of your bodies.   The choices they make, to have that cookie, or not, shouldn't come from a fear of being fat but instead from a desire to have a healthy life and feel good.  (Also, sometimes you should eat a cookie... because they are delicious!)  I also talk to my children about how food is our fuel.  Our brains can think better when we have filled up our tank.  Skipping a meal, usually breakfast, is sometimes attempted in my house and I am quick to remind them how food is a neccesary part of living.

Another thing I did was find before and after photoshop images on the internet and looked at them with my daughter.  We talked about how drastic the changes were.  Some women you can barely recognize.  We played a game of spot-the-photoshop and it was a lot like those hidden picture puzzles in the Highlights magazine that I used to love.  It was fun, and an engaging way to show her the truth.  I encourage anyone with young girls in your life to start some positive conversations and help these girls start eating again.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

On The Sofa

I always sit in the very same spot, nestled right into the corner with a stiff pillow tucked a bit under my arm.  I think to myself that when I am better, when I have my anxiety completely under control and no longer need therapy I will subconsciously sit on a different part of the sofa.  I won’t hug the pillow so much, and that is how my therapist will know that I no longer need to see her.  I won’t even know I have done it, and then we will have a little laugh about how “it must be time” and that will be the end of it.    I secretly fear this happening, her telling me that I am fine and can move along without her.   I wonder if they can kick you out for not having enough problems?  I wonder if my hives will come back again if I stop going.  

 I considered stopping over the summer, I didn’t go for a month and I thought I was doing just fine and then when I got there and nestled into my spot it shocked me how much I had to say about so many things.   Things I must have shoved to the back of my brain for lack of time to think about them and lack of anyone to listen to them.  Not that my friends or family wouldn’t listen to them, but these are the thoughts you don’t bother everyone else with.  The tiny things that pile up and somehow linger there sinking you down just a millimeter further with every one added to the pile.  Slowly, but somehow it feels like suddenly, that one last teeny thing just pushed you under the ground and you must reach for help or you may just stay there forever thinking to yourself.  That is why I sit on the sofa, and I have noticed that my friends who also sit on sofas tend to walk a little easier, even if it’s through a bog of troubles. That rest on the sofa just gives you the energy and tools to keep walking strong.  

 I have heard the argument that I have Jesus and I should pray and not need therapy.  I want to say that I do pray, and I do have Jesus, but our creator happened to create some folks to be terrific people who care about others, who studied for a very long time on how to listen, and who most likely were born already knowing how to listen, and how to help.   These people, are a gift from our creator, to all of us who need to sit on a sofa. I am pretty sure that no matter what your life feels like, it could feel even better if you were to go to take a seat.   

So why am I blogging about this? I wasn't actually planning on it but there it is, it came out anyway. See, mental health are two words that get thrown around after a shooting or a suicide and then dismissed as something those "other" people need to take care of and deal with. The truth is that we all have minds, and we all need to do our best to keep them healthy. Just because you don't have schizophrenia doesn't mean you don't need to take care of your mind. Of course those with more serious mind conditions need more help, but I believe that if everyone took time to acknowledge those inner thoughts and deep feelings the whole world would function much better. 

If you are parenting a small person then you for sure could use a mental health checkup. Imagine if your boss told you that you had to work or be on call 24/7/365. Well, you wouldn't take the job, but assuming you did take the job, there is a very good chance that you would demand some mental health care to go with it. Take care of yourselves parents, and don't think that if you go to therapy you are going to get labeled "crazy." You are going to feel healthy! I think that is why this came out. Telling people that I go to therapy might make it easier for them to go. So, if you go, tell your friends. Lets make it normal! Let's cozy up on sofas and get up healthier.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

White Girl On A SoapBox

Have you ever felt unwelcome somewhere?  You walk into the room and instantly you can feel an uncomfortable icy chill letting you know that nobody thinks you belong there.  What if you walked into a store and everyone looked at you as if you were going to steal something?  Maybe they follow you around or ask "can I help you?" in that special tone that says, "I'm watching you."

I had a craving for yakisoba and so I went to an Asian import store to grab some ingredients.  The one I usually frequent was out of my way that day so I popped into a new place. I was the only white person in the store, no big deal.   I entered the store and smiled at the first person I saw, they acted as if they didn't see me.  The store clerk, walked right by me as if I was invisible, the other shoppers avoided me (literally left the aisle when I walked into it.)  A store full of introverts perhaps?  No, because I noticed that they were smiling and communicating to each other.   The other customers got welcoming greetings and friendly chatter at checkout.   They were sending me a message loud and clear that while they wouldn't turn away my business, they did not want me in that store.   When I went to check out I thought for sure that if I was friendly and kind maybe then I could get a smile, or really at that point I would take acknowledgment of existing.   The clerk never looked at me, never said anything, except for my total and I had to pack up my own groceries.   I left with a feeling inside me that I can't even describe.  I have typed and deleted several attempts at explaining it and I just can't.  

As I experienced this, I thought of how lucky I was that this was a rare occasion.  Usually when I enter a business I am seen as a valued shopper and everyone is as friendly as ever, even if it's customer service mandated.  In my community I am assumed to be a person worthy of trust and respect based on a first glance.   This isn't fair, I am physically capable of stealing or causing trouble, but because of my skin color I am assumed to be "good." This thought makes me sick.  I tried to imagine how a woman my age, a mother perhaps, who happened to have skin pigment in a shade much darker than my own, how would she feel as she goes through this feeling of not being welcome (or worse)  in her very own community.  Not once a year, but daily feeling that way.  

There is a film called "When The Bough Breaks" that I watched for a birth doula training.  It is about the horrific number of premature births in African-American babies.   The numbers went down significantly after the civil rights movement, but then after not much time they began to skyrocket again.   Take these two women into consideration and tell me who you think would be at risk for having a premature baby?  

1. A white woman of low income, high school drop out, eating junk food and occasional drug use, no prenatal vitamins. 

 2. A black woman,  high income, Masters Degree, eating organically well balanced meals, no drug use, taking prenatal vitamins.   

That second woman, who is taking such good care of herself, she is at a much greater risk of having a pre-term birth.   (I can't find the documentation on the study mentioned in that video but here is another study done on the subject comparing women where everything is equal except skin color.  

So why are these women having babies early?  The thought is that it all has to do with cortisol.  This stress hormone is part of the magic that kicks labor into gear.   Ideally, it is at a very low amount at the onset of pregnancy, as the baby develops and the pregnancy continues it naturally rises, once it reaches it's peak level then labor will begin.    Except, what if a woman starts her pregnancy with already high daily levels of cortisol, then as it increases it will begin to trigger labor well before the pregnancy has reached 38 weeks.   
If you asked these women if they have stressful lives, they may tell you things that seem very normal, like a busy work schedule, shuttling kids around to various classes, or worrying about an aging parent.  However, that is not the stress that is raising cortisol to dangerous levels.  Instead it is an invisible daily underlying stress, from being treated like an outcast, knowing that their sons, brothers, and fathers are at risk of being beaten or killed for no reason, the generations of worry and stress, being passed down.  These things are what rise those levels of cortisol, not being late for soccer practice.   This is the difference that effects birth outcomes for so many African-Americans.   (The above info of what causes the underlying stress is not me making assumptions, but rather a representation of things that individuals interviewed on the film had said.) 

So what can I, a white woman in a city of mostly other white people (thanks to some messed up laws made years ago.) do to make a difference?  I'm doing all that I know how to do.  I'm trying to bring awareness because I think if it's not in your face it's hard to even imagine. I can bring awareness with this blog but I can also bring it to my own children.  Typically I don't like to tell my children negative news stories or harsh reality because I like keeping them innocent. Last year for 5th grade my daughter learned about the civil rights movement and she was going on thinking everything is better now, that all the work has been done.  The truth is that it's not done and she needs to know that.  She needs to know that there is still misunderstanding and hate out there that needs some light shined into it.  The job isn't done.  If she sees her white friends mistreating someone because of the color of their skin, I want her to know how important it is to do something.  It's bigger than that one person, it's bigger than her. 

 It boggles me that we can live in this future of smart phones, and google cars that drive themselves, and such intelligent gadgets to make everything easier and yet we are still as a whole, acting so stupid.   It's a skin color that is all.  If you think black people are more likely to commit crimes then why are all the serial killers and mass-shooters white?  Let's just agree that there are all sorts of people who can do bad things, and unless somebody is actually doing a bad thing, lets just assume that they are good and treat them with respect.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Frame Goes Out The Window

A few days ago I purchased a print from an artist on Etsy.  It was a gift for a dear friend of mine and I wanted it to go in a beautiful frame. I went to the store and purchased a standard sized frame.  I had the print with me and although I didn't measure, it looked like it would fit.   Once I got home and attempted to place the print in the frame I found it was just a little too tight.   Now I had a choice to make.  Return the frame and go searching for another one, maybe even custom made as it was now clear to me that this was not a standard size print.  My other option was to trim away at the edges, lose a little bit of the picture, nobody would notice or ever know.  I could make it fit in the standard size frame, the easiest solution. I had the scrapbooking tools to make it happen.  However, I knew that if I cut away at the picture I would be loosing part of the beauty that the artist put there.   The work she so lovingly created would be destroyed.  Perhaps it would still look good sitting there in that frame, but something would be missing, it would be a broken image, less than what it should have been.  The picture had been perfectly made, every drop of color and tiny marking meant to be there.  Who was I to say it had to go in a standard sized frame?  

During that time of framing the print and considering cutting away at it I thought about the latest decison for the education of my son. I thought of all the time we spend telling him to just sit still and try harder. Wiggle a little less and for goodness sake stop doing cartwheels when you are supposed to be in line waiting with the rest of the children! This is what we had been doing.  Trying to make him fit into a educational system that is standard size.  The problem is that he wasn't created to be in a standard frame.  We can trim away at him, put him in the hallway, explain that he must do what the rest of the class is doing.  We can make him feel like he isn't good at school and destroy his joy in learning....or we can throw the frame out the window and see where the exploding ball of excitement would like to bounce to!

Just where did this standard size education come from anyway?  It came from the industrial revolution.  We needed people who could stand still, focus, and do one job very well all day long.  They needed to be strong in self control and imagination and movement were frowned upon.  We also had the farmers, planning the crops, daily repetition of caring for the crops, careful examination of soil conditions and waiting patiently for the harvest.  We needed those farmers, we still do.  We need those people in the factories.  The trouble is not everyone was created to be a farmer or factory worker.  Some are wild hunters, always on there guard, ready to run, climb, and swing to reach their prey. They must be clever and quick to react in danger. They are on the move and rarely settling in one place for long. They belonged in the wild, but there isn't very much wild left in today's world and so they are left to be looked at as trouble makers.   Thom Hartman writes about this in The Edison Gene.  The book goes trailing into some genetics that I skipped over but the heart of the book is that American socieity, and schools were created for the farmers type, they work very well for most children but for the hunter child they are a nightmare. Those children deserve something different.  Something more than a label and time in the corner wearing a dunce cap.  

Even if you think Thom Hartman is a loony (and some people certainly do) there is other research out there with the same message about school and kids like my son.  
 I've done a lot of reading on kinesthetic learners (Learning by doing/moving) and kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD.  Studies have been done showing that children who were diagnosed with ADHD and medicated so that they could be successful in school no longer needed medication to learn once they switched to learning at home.  Here is the catch though, if the parent used a traditional curriculum the child would still have trouble learning and the parent would feel they needed medication.  If however, the parent  did not follow a curriculum or educate in an environment like that of a traditional school the child no longer needed medication to learn.  This means not homeschool in the way of "whatever school does, but at home." Instead it must be child lead learning.  The child picks what they want to learn and the parent facilitates getting them to the information they need.  You can check out the study in Psychology Today (because that is the kind of stuff I read in my spare time.)   The idea of no curriculum and following whatever he wanted to do sounded a bit scary and possibly a terrible idea so whenever I began to doubt my decision I would look back at this study.

I am not doubting it anymore.  My intuition has been screaming all along that this whole "school" thing wasn't best for him and about a month ago the decision was made final.
  "You can learn ANYTHING you want!" I told him.  
"Remember you took Spanish at school and didn't like it, what language would you like to learn?" 
 Without a moments pause he replied, "Ancient Egyptian." 
Since then my husband has taken him to the library, he checked out a book on hieroglyphs, learned about the Rosetta stone (the real one, not the learning program) and has began his journey in unschooling.    

There are some tricks you can use as a parent and one of them is called strewing.  Basically  it means putting things out there that you think would interest your child.  You don't tell them  they must look/play/study the item and if they never pick it up that is fine.  Although secretly you might be wanting to beg them to look at it.   I did this a couple weeks ago with cursive.   I knew that my son was interested in cursive because last year he dissected writings until he discovered how to sign his name in cursive.  I was at Barnes and Noble and saw a cursive practice book, the kind with the arrows that tell you how to make the letter.   I brought it home, and showed him, I simply said, if you decide to check it out be sure to look at the little arrows as they will guide you on how to move the pencil.    I left it on the kitchen table that evening and went to bed.   The next morning, before I had even woken up he had already finished the entire cursive alphabet. I was actually strewing before I knew the term existed.  The year between 1st and 2nd grade he wasn't feeling like a strong reader.  I started writing notes back and forth with my daughter intentinally leaving them where he would find them, and of course he would want to read them to spy on his sister and mom.  His reading confidence improved greatly that summer.   That is strewing at it's best... at it's worst they ignore it and learn something they are more interested in.   

This method of learning doesn't have to be done only at home, schools can certainly do it too. Montessori gets very close and there is Sudbury, and Reggio schools using this method throughout the world.   There is one school in Mexico that was previously using the traditional method of teaching and switched it up and now the kids are one of the top schools in the country.   You may have heard of the computers given to children in India.  No instructions, just a computer.   Driven by their curiosity they figured out how to boot it up and much more.  The article on both of those stories and more can be found on Wired.

The initial thought I had was that this way of education will not be convenient for me.  Next I thought of all that we had put into making regular school work for him.  The emotional energy that was drained from hearing the latest news from the classroom of what he had done wrong that day. His own feeling of failure, or his defensiveness as he told me that he wasn't being "bad" but just had to sit in the hallway.   The nervousness when I would volunteer in the classroom as I would try to somehow telepathically control him into sitting still and not making a sarcastic comment.   I actually stopped volunteering in his classroom because it was bringing me so much anxiety.  So perhaps, mentally and emotionally this is not inconvenient at all.   I feel very lucky that our family can make this choice.  I do not have to work a 40 hour work week and  I know that not everyone has the luxury of taking their child out of school, or the choices nearby of alternative education styles.

Looking forward I am excited and hopeful.  I'm seeing the potential in my son rather than what he is lacking.  I wish more kids like him had the options to learn in their own way.  I imagine we would have many more Da Vincis, Einsteins, and Newtons if they were only allowed the time and space to explore.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer is racing

It's August now and summer has just been so quick that it makes me excited and sad all at the same time. Trying to pack in all the fun that comes with sunlight in Oregon.  We have such a long and dark winter that it makes me appreciate the days of light.  I love summer!  We have been going to the pool as much as possible and my children just morph into calm and happy when they enter the water.  Maybe that is everyone actually.  Hooray for swimming!

I have written nothing because the days have been so full.  We took our children to their first renaissance fair.  My daughter fell in love with it, as I knew she would.   I also survived the county fair with  hours of hot concrete and questionably safe rides.  It's been great.... and then if I stop and glance out of my bubble, it has been a devastating and horrible summer.  My car stereo usually switches to NPR during the school year after the kids hop out and get loaded into the classroom.   These days it's rare that I catch a glimpse, but when I do I just want to cry, and sometimes I do.

  I can't help but fill with tears because all this stuff outside my bubble of swimming and fun, it is real and it makes me so sad and angry and helpless.   I want so badly to take in refugees, stop bombs, and slap congress... so badly to change any one of these things.   Instead I focus back into my bubble, into these children who will hopefully be in the future making changes long after I am around to guide them.  I teach them tolerance, kindness, acceptance, peace and somehow for today that has to be enough.   It rips my heart out to imagine the face of a child seeing a sign of hate after a treacherous journey and a hot bus ride through a foreign place, a place that you were told would be full of hope and opportunity. America the beautiful.

I imagine if I was that Mexican mother, if I lived in a place where drug lords told me I better do what they say or they would take my precious daughter. To think that they would train my little adventurous boy to be just like them.  You can bet that I would grab my children and run away! Because I don't think I could imagine the journey running away would be worse than the reality of staying.  Still, how scary that run would be, and how impossible the odds. I can't even begin to come close to imagining what those mothers are facing.   Just the thought of my children's faces terrified by their world, I can hardly take the sight of their faces when they have a rough day at school.   How can anyone hold a sign with hateful words to such innocent people who are just trying to keep their children safe, keep themselves safe.   I don't care who you vote for, what "party" you are in.  re-attach yourself to humanity, open your eyes, put your sign down and help someone.

Coming off my soap box now... but if the problems of your summer sound more like mine be thankful and show some love to those who are hiding in bomb shelters, sneaking out of violent countries, and scared for their life.

My summer problems have consisted of what type of fruit to freeze in the popsicle container and saying things like "you've had 2 hours of minecraft... turn it off!!!" "Stop climbing the washing machine." "Find a tissue and why on earth would you NAME your booger?"
  I feel like a jerk for thinking that these are problems and my life is "stressful"

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Accepting Mindy Kaling's Challange

I recently read Mindy Kaling's book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me.  I always liked Mindy's character on The Office and her new show The Mindy Project is pretty funny.  Plus I felt like I needed a light humor read that was about frivolous and unimportant things like fashion.  One chapter however echoed with me, and while she wrote it in a funny way I am sure she was serious.  She said something like "Married people need to step it up."  I couldn't agree more, but I can only change myself so I will step it up.  
Her argument was that single ladies envision this beautiful happily ever after.  They WANT to be married.  While all the married people complain about their spouse, and eventually get divorced.  (She said it all way cooler, and i can't quote directly because it was a kindle library loan and it went *poof* back into the cloud of books a few days ago.)  So this post, is me stepping it up, and if your married, encouraging you to step it up.

(  If you are divorced, or separated my heart breaks for you and I hope this doesn't make you feel bad.  I hope you don't feel that I am bragging or judging.  I almost didn't write this because of fear of hurting my dear friends. )

The most important part of my job as a birth doula is to protect that sacred space in birth so that the family can fully feel and become bonded.  There is so much energy, love, endorphin, sometimes anger, sometimes sadness, and hope.  All of that must be guarded from the outside world. I stand guard keeping it wrapped into their space as everything transpires.   Marriage needs that same protection, it is sacred space that we must acknowledge and keep guarded.   
I write this with hesitation because my marriage is still young, 12 years now.  Also because my friends are hurting from fresh separation, broken vows, and broken hearts.   I've seen this pain close up and I don't for one second want them to think I am judging.  They have walked through these things with all the strength and grace you could ever imagine.  
Still there are those with relationships much younger than mine, with marriages just beginning to blossom.  These things I'm learning, I wish to share.  

We are the only ones who matter.  Now, I don't mean that we can't help our neighbor or that we should abandon everyone else.  What I mean is that what my husband and I choose and decide for our life, our family, or anything else.  That is our decision and if others disagree, or share options of how "he is too this," or "I am too that," if what we have is working for us then that is enough.  Social approval doesn't matter.    An example would be that I'm an extrovert and he is an introvert.   When we first got married I thought we were "supposed" to be together, like all the time.  He thought so too.  So we would go to parties because I wanted to, or we wouldn't because he didn't want to.   Years have taught me that I can go to parties with friends instead, and he can stay home with a book.  Sure, I might get comments like, "Hey, where is your husband?" and maybe they think he is a jerk for not coming.  It really doesn't matter, as long as I don't think he's a jerk for not coming.  

You will feel enraged and fight or flight will take over.  These feelings will flare up and  you can feed the fire or breath and release.  I had trouble with this a lot a few years ago, I think it was fueled by not sleeping thanks to a fun 18 month old who enjoyed seeing me every hour or two for eternity.    I would get so angry, suddenly everything that my husband did made me furious.  The way he walked, breathed, didn't do X,YZ, did do X,Y,Z.   The moments would flare up from nowhere, something little and every time they did I had to make a choice.   In my head I could keep going down that road and follow it to other things that bothered me.  Or, I could stop, breath, (maybe eat a chocolate) and think of something he did that I appreciated.   This is a choice, and sometimes I made the choice of anger, but it never left me feeling better.   Plus, I know that given the chance, he could have easily compiled a list of my shortcomings.  Deep down buried under the exhausted parents with the darkened eyes we knew that we loved each other and we were trying our best, even if it didn't look pretty.  Why make it worse with tiny junk?  It's like a cluttered desk, you can't get any work done with all that mess and marriage often times takes some work.  Especially when babies don't sleep.   

Women love to get together and talk and often times things that come out are complaints about their spouse. It seems there is a social pressure to complain.  It sometimes goes in a circle, and there you are, your turn to add in his latest blunder, or how he never does the laundry (I'm blessed with a laundry ninja who sneaks loads in when I'm extra busy.)  I am guilty of adding to the circle of talk but my goal is to stop participating.   I've had some wise words from women who have been married more years than I have been alive. Their marriages are still amazing and I want that.  They have discouraged this talk and I'm aiming for keeping my mouth shut.  I know it's going to be hard.   I don't want people to think I've got it all together.  I don't want my friends to feel bad about their own marriages because I don't commiserate with my own story.  By not saying anything, I hope they don't hear, "I have no problems, and my husband does everything right, you must have married a loser!"  Again though, this is about protecting that sacred space.  I know how much it would hurt me if I heard my husband complaining about me.  I would feel terrible, so why should being a woman give me a right to do the same to him?  Lets make a social change and start lifting our loves up instead!   We need to hear more good stories.

Our children need to hear and see more good stories too.  Not the fairy tales, the real stories about what love can look like.   One of my dear friends said that when she was a young girl and her parents were divorced she had a friend that she would sometimes go home with after school.  When she would go to her friends house the girl was often embarrassed because her parents would hold hands.  This simple act of love showed my friend, who's parents never acted like this, what marriage could look like.  Married people could hold hands and love each other.  It gave her hope and an example that she didn't have at home. My friend is now in a very loving and wonderful marriage and still thinks of this couple and the example they gave her.   Now, please don't make out in front of children, but if you love your spouse, don't be afraid to love them in public too.  We need to break the idea of marriage being the end of romance.  

We must go on dates for goodness sake.  Before people get married they spend hours picking out what to wear, getting their hair done, fretting about insignificant things to impress and woo the person they adore.  Men, maybe do less picking out clothes and more Axe body spray, but you get the picture.  We try REALLY hard, until we don't need to.  Except, we still need to, sometimes.  I'm not saying everyday.  If your kid is up all night with the flu, or you just pulled a 70 hour work week.  Perhaps that day you stomp around in your bathrobe and grumble things about more coffee.  Often though, we need to go back to trying, and go out, somewhere you would have gone before marriage, without your kids, and remember the couple version of you and your spouse.   When my husband and I do this, and we are getting better at doing it more often, we say things like "Oh yeah, there you are, I like hanging out with you." Sometimes we don't say anything, we just sit knowing that we both needed this time together.  This time away from kids and housework and regular work and carpools.  Sacred space, just us, alone.    This time must be protected, it must be honored, and it must happen more often then once a year.   No excuses.  If you can figure out how to attend a parent teacher conference together then you can figure out how to go on a date.  

Read this book, For Women Only, and if your married to a man there is one for him called For Men Only.  This book is so interesting because guess what.  Men are crazy different than women (talk about the book and find out what is true for you and your partner, there are always people who don't fit in boxes.)    
Here is the deal, simple things can be huge things.  Like respect, Men want respect more than love.  OK, maybe you knew that part, but did you know that offering help or directions when your man is doing something is disrespectful?  Yeah, apparently it says, "I think your an idiot."  I thought it said, "I love you so much, let me help you with that."   Nope!   Things like that are in the book.  Something small, but if everyday your husband is hearing that you think he's an idiot and you think you are saying, "I love helping you" then eventually you are going to have a problem.   This book is great, she interviewed tons of men and took the top 7 things or something like that.  Just read it and then you can scratch your head and go, wow, men are so funny.

One more thing, for the puppy love couples who think they need to like all the same music and movies in order to have a lasting relationship.   You do not have to agree on everything.  My husband and I have a joke, a funny thing we don't talk about but sometimes say the word to get a laugh.  That word is homeopathy.  My science guy cannot stand it.  He says it doesn't work because blablablablablascience.   I listened once or twice to his logic and reason, watched a video, but I don't care.  I love it anyway.   It works!  Or does it?  It doesn't matter.  We don't have to agree and we can laugh about how amazingly opposed he is, and how I think it's just dandy and would you like some arnica?   So I take my tiny white pills sometimes and he rolls his eyes but it's not a deal breaker, and it certainly not worth an argument.   There are too many real, big issues to trouble with, no reason to agree on the tiny things.   

I'm not perfect, I will mess up.  I will forget to pay a bill, wash pants, turn off the hot water valve while installing a new faucet while he naps on the couch so that he can awake to hot water blasting everywhere (yeah, that happened.)  I am a messy human.  I need forgiveness, I need grace, I need  sacred space to be my quirky, dancing, messy self.   So does my husband.  We must offer it to each other daily.  Like I said, our marriage is young, I am sure there will be more trials and trouble ahead but if we keep doing our best and letting go of the tiny junk I think we will make it.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

It's a girl...hey where did everybody go? -My Messy Beautiful

Swaddled in a pastel blanket, there she is on the balcony of my apartment, three stories up from the parking lot.  The railing is there but she is so small that she rolls and slips right under the base, falling quick towards the pavement below.

 I snap back to reality, my heart racing, my breath rapid and frantic, my mind full of fear and horror, why does this scene keep playing in my head.  I look over at my sweet 6 week old daughter laying safely in her bouncy seat and start to calm down as I return to reality.   
A year before this I had longed to be a mother.  I was recently married and filled with excitement at the idea of starting a family.  So why was this happening to me now that the moment had arrived?  Why was I seeing horrible visions of my sweet baby?  Why was I so sad all the time?  Why did I panic anytime I needed to go anywhere or make a decision?  This was supposed to be a happy wonderful time and I was a complete wreck.   

I didn't dare tell anyone, actually writing that first paragraph was extremely hard.  I haven't even told my husband about that horrible vision.  I feared they might think I was a terrible mother, or take my daughter away from me.   I loved her, woke at all hours of the night to nurse her, sang songs to her, and  would do anything for her.  I thought that maybe it was just exhaustion and if I could catch up on my sleep it would go away, then one day I went to buy some chicken.   I went to the drive-thru of a fried chicken place and when my turn came to order I panicked.   I was buying dinner for myself and my husband, I had decided that this would be easier than cooking a meal with a newborn, it wasn't.  I could not make a decision on how many pieces of chicken I needed.   My heart began racing, my chest got tight, I felt dizzy and like I couldn't breath as all the options of combo meals ran through my mind.  I sat parked in front of the speaker frozen and feeling like I was about to die.  This, was my wake-up call that I was not doing OK and this certainly couldn't be normal.   I was suffering from a case of postpartum depression and I needed help.  

Fast forward to today and I am now a mother of two children, ages 8 and 11. (this picture is old, I can't seem to find a recent one.)  I am also a birth doula and now I get to support women as they go through the journey of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.   This work often makes me think back to those first few months of motherhood and the struggle and pain that came with the joy and elation.   I question how it happened to me, and how I can help it from happening to others.  I am not sure that I can single-handedly stop it from happening but I can certainly start a conversation about it.  Sometimes raising awareness of something helps the people going through it not feel alone when they come to face it.   I think a big part of postpartum depression is feeling alone.   

Prior to having my daughter my husband and I had a group of friends to go out with, outdoor parties by the pool and music in downtown Austin. After she was born our friends stopped calling because they assumed we would be too tired or busy to go out.  When I was pregnant there was rarely alone time.  Strangers at the grocery store wanted to talk to me about my growing belly. Did I know if it was a girl or boy? What name had we picked? How was I feeling, and could they get me anything?  Pregnancy can be a pretty self indulgent time. The world takes notice and stops to pamper you.   Then, you have the baby, everyone rushes in, makes a big fuss and then in about two weeks they all vanish.  Paternity leave, if there was any, ends all too quickly. Helpful grandmothers go back home.  There you sit in a rocking chair, sleep deprived, baby spit up on your shirt, a pile of dishes and laundry, and an adorable baby. Messy, Beautiful.

Now I know that there are support groups like Postpartum Support International so that no new mother has to feel alone.  For myself, I spoke to my Dr, read an encouraging "new mom" books, took some zoloft, prayed, joined some online social chat rooms, and made myself get out of the house.   I wish I would have known there were local support groups and so many women that had been through it before and that is why I'm telling you my story.

How about as a community we decide that we don't just go away after the first two weeks of our friend having a baby.  Let's keep gushing over her, go clean her house, or ask her if she wants to go out dancing.  She might say no, but being invited feels so good!   It lifts you up out of the foggy valley of parenting to see that the world didn't just forget about you.  It is helpful to know that you are more than a milk machine and diaper changer, you are the cool friend that your girlfriends want to hang out with.  I have a theory that small villages do not experience the levels of postpartum depression that Americans do.  Actually 1 in 10 Americans report depression according to the CDC.   That is ridiculously high but I totally believe it.   We are all on our phones, updating our status to say how awesome our life is, and the real community, the hugs from a friend, the sound of their voice in a conversation, the things that stimulate our souls.... are lacking.

I wish I could tell you that I don't feel alone anymore, but the truth is that I do.  Often.  My guess is that you do too.  I'm not depressed, I find joy in my family and my garden and crafting.  This busy America is set up for folks to feel lonely despite all of that.   I have thought it the past that it was because I am the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, or because my son has SPD and all that meant I had to say "no" to doing some fun things for the balance of my family.   I am sure that is part of it but it's bigger than that.  1 out of 10 Americans, it's so much bigger than my situation.   I think it's because things are too rushed to connect.  We drive around, drop kids off places, check our email while walking, and forget to look up and communicate with the people around us.  Also we are daily seeing stories and pictures of moments that we were never a part of.   I look at everyone's facebook updates and feel like I am missing those moments.  The family that is far away having a birthday party, the  friends I haven't seen in 10 years because of all the miles between us.  Part of seeing that is a gift because we do get to stay updated on family and dear friends, but since when does looking at an old photo album make anyone feel less lonely.

I got off track from the postpartum depression, but my point is that the loneliness and depression can happen regardless of life stage.  I think society expects it less from the new mother because "she should be happy with her new baby."  The new mother needs special care, but really we all do.
 This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!


Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Weight Of Mercy - Part 2 (making it lighter and filling your cup)

I've been on a journey of exploring this thing called mercy for many weeks now.  I'm still learning but I wanted to share some things that I have learned along the way.   The first thing that I learned was to not hold on to things that aren't mine to hold.  In order to do that I had to evaluate what really was mine and what wasn't.  I absorb the emotions of those around me, so much sometimes that I'm easily tricked into thinking they are my emotions.  Somewhere I know they aren't but my response is to act as if they are mine.    I'm getting better at this now, each time an emotion rushes through me I assess the situation, I ponder on whether or not  it is coming from me, and then I ponder what I am truly feeling.   If you aren't super empathetic this might seem crazy to you, but if you are then hopefully this is helpful.   I'm also finding that physically separating myself from the person who is radiating emotion can be helpful.  I don't stay away too long, just enough to get grounded and figure out how I feel, and how they feel, and then I can move forward knowing what is true.

My dear friends at church met with my husband and I to tell us that they were moving very far away.  I was sad, but also I was happy for them because it seemed that they were embarking on a divinely inspired adventure and I was excited to see what will happen next.  That next Sunday they announced it at church and immediately the room was flooded with so much emotion, a lot of it felt like extreme sadness, fear, and despair.  Our pastor asked that we gather around them in prayer and I knew that I could not be in the middle of that circle.  I wouldn't have known that a month ago.  I would have rushed right up there and become immensely overwhelmed. Luckily for me I was working on figuring this out and so I stayed on the outside physically, reminding myself of my own true feelings and accepting that I couldn't fix or stop the other people from their sadness.  It was still difficult but I was able to acknowledge what feelings didn't belong with me and then pray for those who were feeling the other emotions.

My next lesson has been that my cup must be full.  Full of rest, joy, love, and health and then from the overflow, that is where I can help others.   I'm working on filling my cup, and not feeling guilty about it because it means that when I go to help others I will be so much more useful and I won't break out in a crazy stress rash at the end of the day.

I must sit, and pray, and wait.  My bible study group has been reading a book that I can't remember the title of, but the lesson this week was that not all good things are great things.  Our world has so many good choices, so many things that we can do to help and serve, so many worthy causes.  Not all of them are for all of us.  We must do what only we can do, and let others do what we cannot.   Saying no to something means I can do something else that I'm totally equipped for and I can totally rock it!  That is much better than doing something halfway good that somebody else would have done entirely better.

  This makes me think of Sunday school class.  I signed up to teach last year because we needed teachers.  I didn't realize that it also meant coming up with our own Story Telling lessons for the verse.  I thought that it would be pre-planned.   I must say that I was pretty terrible at it, I struggled with it weekly, and my lessons were OK but I knew they could have been much better. Most of the time I searched online for a lesson plan that fit the bible verse.   This year I am the assistant, I get to sit with the kiddos and help them not fidget so much, talk with them while they color and basically just be spontaneous sharing the love of Jesus while somebody else teaches the lesson.  My replacement is a great teacher, her lessons are wonderful and she actually has the gift of teaching.  I can hang and talk and I love being around kids, but lesson planning.... so not my skill and that is OK because someone else does have that skill.  

Next Lesson: I like to fix things and I hate conflict.  The moment conflict starts to arise I feel very panicked and fearful and try my best to smooth it over and make in vanish.   The question is, am I trying to fix things that need to be broken?  Things that need to be fixed by someone else so that they can learn and grow?   I'm so quick to jump but a lot of times it's to prevent my own discomfort of sitting and observing a mess.  Who wants to sit and stare at a broken glass on the floor when they are could just quickly  sweep it up.  Except, maybe I don't have the proper equipment to clean up and I end up cutting my finger when if I would have looked behind me there was someone standing with a broom and dustpan ready to do the job properly.
( I literally just watched this happen at my kids school in the hallway.  This woman started frantically grabbing pieces of glass and cut her finger all while someone else was getting the broom and dustpan.  So then she was bleeding everywhere and in need of band-aid, a simple mess made into a bigger mess.)    Patience.

So I'm still learning, but overall I'm getting the message that it's not about me.   People feel things, I can sit with them and share that, we need to know we aren't alone in our troubles  but I am not supposed to fix them.   They were never asking to be fixed, just to be listened to and loved.   I think that maybe mercy is mostly overwhelming when we think we have to hold on to others emotions and trouble until they are fixed.   That is not the job for humans, even therapist only hold your troubles long enough for your session and then it's up to you to the individual to go about the fixing.  Of course my own personal belief is that Jesus does the fixing, but we have to ask Him to and we have to want to be fixed.  

 I have been learning a lot on my journey and seeking His voice this whole time.   It's been amazing what has been revealed to me and I look forward to learning and growing more.

"if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[a]do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." -Romans 12:8
Rember, you cannot do things cheerfully if you haven't first filled yourself full with cheer.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Weight of Mercy? Part 1

this was written several weeks ago and has been sitting in my draft folder as I explore this deeper.  Part 2 coming soon
"My Yolk is easy and my burden is light."
If that is true then I am doing it wrong.  I have been born with the gift of mercy and it seems the closer I grow to Jesus the more I'm feeling the weight of it.   I looked for some books or articles on how to deal with this spiritual gift but most of what I found was "mercy is so great! woo hoo!"  That was not what I was looking for.  I found secular views of this gift, they tend to call it empathy and being an empath means you feel the pain and emotion of others.  They suggest shutting people out and not embracing the gift but rather sheltering yourself from it.   This doesn't feel right either.  If you are given a gift it seems a shame not to use it.  Why are we here on this earth if not to love and give?

I've been searching the Word and praying for a way to be helpful but not so affected.  See, when I walk in a room I can feel the emotional energy of everyone, and people are drawn to me like magnets to share their worries and uncertainties.  I am drawn to them too, drawn to sit and to listen, drawn to pray.  What I think I haven't been doing is releasing it after I am done.  If the burden is supposed to be light then perhaps I am holding too much of it on my own.   I also used to think of that verse as "My burden is light (the light of Jesus)" that divine spark can be a burden to those who glow,  but now I'm thinking I had it wrong.

Why isn't anyone one writing and talking about this?  I surely cannot be the only one who feels knots in the stomach, headaches, stress, anxiety, and can sometimes actually take on the symptoms of those I am caring for.
   One  blog I read said if your friend is in a well you shouldn't climb down in the well with them, you should get a ladder and tell them to climb out.  See, something in me is saying to climb down there and just sit with them. To assure them that they are not alone.  Be Jesus for a minute, an hour, and just sit with those who need to be healed.

I had a thought the other day about how Jesus must have felt.  If I feel like a mercy magnet then I can't even imagine what He felt like.  All day people came to him and searched him out, thousands of hurting broken people, and I guarantee he felt every single pain and emotion that they were soaked in.  So, if I can't find a recently published article I will look to Jesus and see how he dealt with it all, and it seems he didn't hold it.  He went in solitude and prayed.  His disciples of course were all like "Jesus, hey Jesus, you gotta bunch of people who are waiting to see you, what are you doing all by yourself, come on dude! They need you!"   (Those disciples wore sandals so I'm sure they said "dude")

Even Jesus knew he couldn't do it on his own, he couldn't take all that pain and brokeness without help from the Father.  I bet he used that time to release it to God and let it go.   
I have been hesitant to write about this or even speak about it for fear that people will read this and want to avoid bothering me.  See, I love this gift, although it can be overwhelming, I wouldn't trade it for another one.   This is a gift that has enabled me to connect to my husband, my children, and many others.  I love connection.

*After writing about this I went to a crisis responder training and heard about compassion fatigue... more on that in a future post.  Seek and you shall find