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Oh, The Lessons I Have Learned…

The very first time someone ever referred to white privilege I got extremely defensive. Not out loud – but in my head I started standing up and shouting about my rough life. I was raised by a single Dad! I had no air conditioning growing up! I grew up on a street bookended by housing projects and a meat-packing plant! I was a single Mom using government support! I bought my kid Christmas at the Dollar Tree! I started pouring concrete in the mold at me feet FAR AWAY from the accusations of “white privilege” because I was not going to be part of that nonsense.

And then someone followed that statement up with another one: If this makes you uncomfortable, maybe you should think about why.

And I suddenly yanked my feet out of the concrete before it had hardened completely, I walked closer to the words thrown my way, and really examined them. No…I never really had it “easy” by my current definition of the word. But holy shit, the deeper I dug, the more privilege I found buried under the difficulties. TONS of white privilege. So much privilege I was ashamed and embarrassed that any part of me ever thought about denying it.

The initial defensiveness I felt was a protective response to hide the shame I knew I’d feel at acknowledging a hard fact: I am part of the problem.

It happened again this week. A good friend of mine wrote this on Facebook:

I brought donuts to work this morning, and now I’m listening to everyone say “oh god” and “why do they have to bring donuts” and “oh I shouldn’t” and it’s driving me completely insane.

Want a donut? Eat one. Don’t want a donut? Don’t eat one. Stop moralizing food and being so damned dramatic. Stop speaking those things out loud, when by proxy you’re then judging everyone else’s food choices too.

Stop spreading the idea that food is a “shouldn’t” or a source of guilt or something we have to earn. I’m an adult. I work hard, I try to make good choices, I’m nice to people…and if I want a donut I don’t have to rationalize it, explain it, apologize for it, earn it, or work it off. AND NEITHER DO YOU.

It’s a donut, for god’s sake.

And I immediately felt defensive. I DO THAT ALL THE TIME, THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT! And I started formulating my response and pouring my concrete far away from any accusations that what I did 10 times a day was wrong in any way. I DO THIS BECAUSE…and every time I tried to spell out my defensive reasoning that did NOT make me part of the problem, it fell flat.

I am part of the problem.

My constant cute/snarky attacks on people that bring treats into my office is feeding my own food shame as well as the food shame of others. I jokingly refer to my office with all of the candy and donuts and cupcakes as a “hostile work environment” – AT LEAST ONCE A DAY. How many people have I made to feel guilty for eating donuts, just because of those words? How many times have I shamed others? How many times have I shamed myself? A million times. No less than a million times my jokes have added to the food shame that myself and everyone else feels.

Even just acknowledging this flaw makes me uncomfortable. Part of me still wants to be defensive, “But! But! But!”

But…it’s okay. Surprisingly, the shame lifted as soon as I openly admitted to myself that this was a fault that needed addressing. Kinda like the day I recognized my part in institutionalized racism. Or the day I acknowledge my own anxiety disorder. There is power in recognizing your flaws. One day, you didn’t know they were there, and the next day? You did. And suddenly, that day is actually better because you know you can take steps away from those habits.

I’ll be forever grateful for the person who reminded me that I should take the time to examine something that makes me defensive or uncomfortable. I still remember when I was told many, many moons ago (I always feel like I should qualify this story with a timeline that indicates: OVER A DECADE! I PROMISE! because the shame is still a little prevalent.) that using the word “retarded” casually as a negative adjective regarding anything is offensive to people in the mentally handicapped community. My first response was a hot face and an eyeroll. Really? I can’t use the word “retarded” now? Come on. But I spent time with that information for a little bit and really let it sink in. Why would I keep using that word now that I know what I know? And while I still feel shame to this day, I am glad I took the time separate from the defensiveness to learn a new lesson…a new habit…a new state of mind.

I’m not saying that every time you feel defensive that you are inherently in the wrong. NOT AT ALL. Whenever people post, “Share this if you believe prayer belongs in schools!” memes on Facebook I get super-defensive. AND THAT IS VALID. Prayer does NOT belong in schools. No prayer. Not a Muslim prayer. Not a Hindu prayer. Not a Pagan prayer. Not a Christian prayer. It’s very okay that I get defensive when I see that meme.

But it’s also very important to take the time to really think about those responses to make sure I’m not standing by a bad habit. To make sure I’m not ignoring something that needs to be recognized. To make sure I’m not turning a blind eye to something I should be spotlighting. There are lessons to be learned hidden in those reflexes and I’m glad somewhere a long the way, I started looking for them.

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Don’t Forget To Vacuum Your Yard

I forgot to tell you the big news! I now love the word “UNRAVEL.” Nikki’s doctor used it in our session and I was like: DUDE. Unraveling is EXACTLY what happens to both of us. And it’s like someone else is in control of the string. You can feel it all coming apart and you can’t stop it. It is such a good metaphor. I feel myself unraveling on a daily basis.

OH! I just had another thought about a good metaphor for my anxiety. Similar to unraveling. You know how when you’re trying to get some toilet paper from a roll that is now on the floor and you pull some and it just rolls all the way across the floor? And you only wanted a little? And now what do you do because you pull and it just rolls away again, IT IS NEVER COMING BACK UNLESS YOU GET YOUR NAKED BUTT OFF THE TOILET. That is also a metaphor for my life. Out of control toilet paper rolls and naked butts.

(That excited tangent is an example of me unraveling right before your eyes. ON POINT, this entry is.)

I’ve mentioned that this last year I’ve spent about 10 lbs above what I call my “fighting weight” – which is the maximum I want to be come race day. I did okay with many races at that weight last year, but not great and since I actually have time goals this year, I want to be at my fighting weight. I’ve also mentioned before that I work in an environment where there are always sweets floating around and – as you know – I have absolutely NO ability to ignore them if they’re there and I’m feeling any anxiety whatsoever. I’ll have a good day here and there, but then an excuse will pop up, something that stresses me out and I’ll think Well, let me get past this thing here and THEN I’ll try to get down to fighting weight.

Here’s the problem…life is full of things stressful.

I KNOW. RIGHT?

I don’t know if my life is more chaotic than anyone else’s, but I do feel like lately that my life is more chaotic than usual. This summer I Wes thought he’d broken his arm requiring a doctor’s visit and x-rays. Nikki had a head injury at day care requiring me leave work and monitor her as she had a headache. Then they both had ER visits at my race. Then each of them got a terrible stomach virus, but a month apart. Then there was LICE and then Donnie had an infected bursa in his elbow and I’ve taken 2 trips since May and we have a big wedding in the family coming up and E had an internship in Indianapolis so we haven’t seen much of him so when he comes into town I feel like I have to drop everything. There have been races and training and during all of this I’ve also had my house on the market, not that it matters since no one has come to see it.

So either I’m now finally experiencing the same normal levels of chaos everyone else does and up until Spring my life was easy, or THE UNIVERSE IS POOPING ON MY HEAD.

And guess what’s going on this week? I have severe poison ivy. AND I busted my toe open yesterday. So not only am I over my fighting weight but I also have a bloody/swollen toe and a rash all over my thighs. SEXY.

My point? I need to accept that there is always going to be SOMETHING stressing me out. Today is going to be a rough day in particular because I have to take Nikki to work and try to process a batch of photos from a shoot yesterday in two hours BEFORE her doctor’s appointment, because after her doctor’s appointment I have to go directly to another shoot. Then after work we have two soccer games on different ends of town, so I have to get Nikki to Donnie at his office so he can go straight from work to her game and I can take Wes to his. We will probably be home around 8pm tonight at which point both kids will still need showers and possibly meals, depending on how much they eat before the game.

See? If I wait until a non-stressful day to get my stress-eating habits in order, then I’m never going to actually change the habits of stress eating.

And yes, I know you all are all going, “Yeah…duh…” but this was enlightening to me! I think I thought if I could have a few non-stressful days to get in GEAR, then I’d handle the stressful days better, BUT IT IS NOT HAPPENING.

So. Today. On a Thursday. A very stressful Thursday. I’m going to try to keep my eating habits in check. I’m taking grapes to work so when I want a jelly bean I’ll grab those instead. I’m taking some sweet carbonated water drinks too, in case I’m craving something sweet. I’m bringing one of the relaxing essential oil samples so maybe I can just do some deep breathing when I need. That’s something Nikki’s doctor is going to try to work with her on, just some centering breaths when you start to feel yourself unravel.

Waiting for stress-free days will have me simply waiting forever. Kinda like how I keep telling myself that when life calms down, I’ll make all of those doctor’s appointments I’ve been putting off. It’s never going to happen. I need to just do the thing today. Deal with the stress without binging on candy. Make the doctor’s appointment. Vacuum the yard. [Upon proofreading this entry I see what that last sentence said and I’m leaving it because it’s cracking my ass up.] The perfect time will never come. And if it does, it won’t last long.

I just have to get my naked ass off the toilet and grab the toilet paper roll already.

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Back To My Hippie Days.

Many moons ago I was that girl who wore long flowing skirts, went to Grateful Dead shows, played hacky sack, and washed her clothes with Patchouli oil. Ever since then, whenever I smell Patchouli oil – even if it’s just a hint mixed in with other smells – I feel immediately transported to rooms filled with pot smoke and Widespread Panic background music.

Fast-forward to me looking at an Essential Oil catalog last night and while I was supposed to be reading about remedies and solutions for anxiety (Nikki) and leg cramps (Wesley) my first thought was still: Hmmm…I should totally buy a bottle of Patchouli Oil…

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BUT SERIOUSLY.

Nikki has take a turn from levels of anxiety I can counsel and manage, down a road of anxiety-induced depression that has been peppered with self harm and thoughts of the peace that death would bring.

Any of us that suffer from anxiety knows exactly that feeling: I am so stressed right now that death would be much better of an alternative to living. We also know how the depression that is triggered by anxiety can feel: Will I ever be able to enjoy life without being anxious? If not…there is no light ahead, only darkness.

But feeling it yourself is very different from seeing your child feel it. VERY DIFFERENT. I will never look at my own mental health the same again, now that I’ve seen my daughter suffer from the same extremes that I have.

Obviously, since getting a therapist to help us with Wesley’s anger made SUCH a difference, that was my first step. And even though Nikki was very nervous, it went very well and I feel much better about things.

We talked with the therapist about possibly starting to introduce some essential oils or aromatherapy into some of our nightly routines. The therapist spoke very fondly of the calming effects of some scents and encouraged me to try different things like pillow sprays or essential oil massages. She even suggested a stuffed animal with a pocket to put a little cotton ball inside of to cuddle with when Nikki started feeling really stressed. So, the last week we’ve been talking to family and friends who can help us out in this area and last night I got to hang out with my friend who uses essential oils and she sent me home with loads of samples and catalogs and reading materials AND I AM SO EXCITED.

I’ll tell you without a doubt that they do work in one definite way: Designated Quality Time. I spent time last night before bed with both kids, giving them oil massages. I rubbed one oil meant for aches/pains into Wes’s feet and a calming one onto his head and while I was doing it we talked about the day a little and it just made it so that when I said, “Good night!” we ended on such a lovely note that I immediately thought: I have no idea if the aromatherapy or oils have any physiological benefits, but just something that forces us to have that quality time is a treasure.

I did a little more with Nikki as the book I was reading talked about things like pressure points and key trigger zones for certain ailments…like palms for headaches and feet for stress/anxiety. And that was really nice because – like with Wes – we had a lot of time to have some positive talking time.

Her doctor was very insistent that we stop the “Let’s Talk About The Bad Stuff That Happened Today” habit we have fallen into before bedtime. She thinks that is what is causing her separation anxiety at bedtime and keeping her from sleeping well. (Nikki’s worst breakdowns always happen during that time of night.) She asks that we try to find other times (a walk after dinner) to do the negative rehashing, but we try to focus on joy and calming at night before bed. We don’t have any spare time in a day for a walk after dinner, but we’re trying to keep from having anxiety-filled talks before bed. The calming massage was a nice silly time for us to kinda smile and laugh about things from the day. She even said, as I was rubbing her temples, “I think my Coach is going to be okay after all.” Which is huge because he’s a yeller and intense and we’ve had a hard adjustment this season.

Long story short? The essential oils definitely work as a mechanism for peaceful communication and affection. It forces us to have one-on-one time so they get me all to themselves for a bit. It’s a joyful experience so it makes the final moments of our day peaceful and happy.

And they smell amazing.

So…I’m already sold…mainly on the ritual and the quality time the oils brought along with them. But I’ll report more specifics as the experiments continue!

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The Draft Folder

Y’all? I have so many entries in my draft folder it’s ridiculous. I used to maintain my draft folder and either follow-up on entries I had given up on, or delete them. But I do things like I did this morning – spend an hour on an entry – and then decide it wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be, and so I give up.

The implied next words are “for now” but I rarely ever revisit a draft entry. So, I should probably just delete them all. BUT I CAN’T. Because most of them are quite serious and thought provoking and have a lot of my heart in them and I just couldn’t quite get them to the point of “let’s publish this!” so I gave up.

Because I blog like everyone tells you to write. I just sit down and write. Every morning. Some mornings I have planned out entries, others? I just write what first pops into my head. The point though of this exercise is to JUST WRITE and see what comes out. And this morning it was me pontificating on the use of the word “love” by fundamentalist Christians who say they “love” their gay friends and family but who don’t want them in marriages with people they’re attracted to. I wrote like a million words on that, but didn’t click “publish” because I felt like it wasn’t quite right.

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When I went to view it in the Draft Folder I saw I had 163 draft entries and I was like Shit. That’s a lot of unfinished thoughts. I jumped back to the first page of drafts which was from 2011, I guess the last time I kept tabs on my draft folder? And y’all? There was an entry titled Thoughts on ‘Breaking Dawn’. Um…okay…so maybe not all of the entries in the draft folder are deep and thought provoking. Maybe some of them I just didn’t publish because I WAS TRYING TO RETAIN SOME DIGNITY.

There was also one titled In Defense Of The Sponge and I don’t even have the slightest recollection of what that’s about. Were people really hard on sponges in 2011?

Anyway. There’s 163 unpublished entries in that folder and I’m pretty sure at least 1 or 2 had the potential to be something good. Probably not the Breaking Dawn one, and probably not the sponge one, but maybe some of the others! Many were untitled so who knows what those were about. Maybe washcloths! Or New Moon!

So I think I’m going to challenge myself once a week to find one of those entries to publish…after some editing of course. I’m fairly certain none of them are perfect as is. I’ll add a note telling the world that it’s a Draft Folder Reject. Don’t get your hopes up that I pull out the Breaking Dawn one anytime soon, but maybe I’ll tackle the subject of Sponge Shame. That seems pretty serious.

Let’s Relax On The Parent Shaming

I used variations of the word “shitty” about nineteen million times in this blog entry. This is my preface apology. Also? Running low on free time this morning so I’m opting to leave this note instead of editing for spelling/grammar errors. #Priorities.

I’ve been a Mom for 20 years. That means I started out parenting pre-internet. I went 7-8 years as a Mom before I learned how much I was doing wrong from the interwebs. It wasn’t until I started trying to have child #2 that I realized how many opinions people have about parenting. And it’s only gotten worse since.

The popular parenting advice trend is to find an issue (sometimes multiple issues) that can be easily researched and then blamed for the product of shitty adults. This is easiest done by finding shitty adults who blame their parents for their shittiness. This does two things. 1) It makes shitty adults not take responsibility for their shortcomings and 2) Discounts about a million other factors that come into play when creating shitty adults.

When I had Nikki the first trend I remember is Telling Parents That Letting Babies Cry Makes Adults Who Are Untrusting. Or some such nonsense. We want our kids to know we’ll be there for them! Babies are too young to know better! Cry it out is evil! Attachment parenting is King! I remember really facing a lot of internal debate on this one because I liked many facets of attachment parenting, but Crying It Out also worked for us a bit. I made myself crazy worrying about the adult I was creating in making the decision every night whether or not to let me kid cry or not.

But then I started seeing links that blamed Attachment Parenting for creating spoiled toddlers and preschoolers. And then I saw articles that Crying It Out made middle schoolers who couldn’t make friends. But wait…Attachment Parenting makes high schoolers that won’t want to go to college out of town. And Crying it out makes college kids who do drugs!

Basically I learned that – whatever parenting method you support? You can find articles to support it. There were be tons of well-adjust adults thanking their parents for doing the thing you do. And whatever parenting style you disagree with? You can find research backing you up. There are adults blaming their faults on that parenting style you don’t like. There is evidence for pro/con of EVERY type of parent EVER. Aside from extremes, of course. I doubt there’s any support for starving or beating kids. But hell, the internet can get twisted, maybe there is.

So – what did all this teach me in my early days of parenting with the internet? To read a little here and there, but to follow my gut. Because the truth is? Humans are complex. And like I said before, trying to simplify parenting into Dos and Don’ts removes the possibility for other influences, like genetics and friends and society and media. We are not solely products of how our parents raised us. And while parenting does play a part, I am sick of these trends of shaming parents into believing that if their kids are shitty adults, it’s their fault and their fault only.

Helicopter parenting. Overparenting. Whatever you call it…this is the latest parenting style being shamed by “experts”. And I’m not saying there aren’t valid points to some of these articles, but I hate the idea that now there’s a Mom who makes it a priority to go to every game/recital/play and who helps her child with registrations/conflicts/bureaucracy and who joins their child at the playground/birthday party/school dance – and that Mom is feeling shame now because the world is telling her that she’s raising a shitty adult.

But you know what? Humans are not that simple. That’s why there’s always articles also supporting the opposite side of the argument. There are perfectly well-rounded and responsible adults thanking their parents for their involvement. Just like there are shitty adults blaming their shittiness on overparenting. Yes, parents play a part, but it’s not that simple.

And I say this as an under-parenter. Or…um…what’s the opposite of a helicopter parent? A lighthouse parent? Someone who is there when they’re needed but let’s the boat make journeys without it? Whatever it is. That’s me. I’m the other side of the spectrum so I’m doing it “right” according to all of the articles I’ve been seeing lately. I have hobbies and an identity outside of being a Mom. I miss games all the time. The kids play at the park alone while I run on the track, or play on my phone. I make them take care of most conflicts at school on their own. E deals with beaurocratic nonsense without me all the time.

My kids should be perfectly responsible and self-sufficient adults if the internet can be trusted. But I don’t trust the internet. I believe there are a million other factors in play and I believe there is an adult out there who was raised exactly how I’m raising my kids and he/she is a shitty person and his/her spouse/coworker/neighbor is blaming his/her shittiness on the fact that his/her Mom was selfish enough to have hobbies outside of parenting. Or maybe this shitty adult is self-aware and sees the conflicts in their life and blames them on having a Mom that didn’t make their baseball games are priority.

I promise you. That adult exists. Times a million.

Whatever you’re doing as a parent? There are millions of adults who blame what you’re doing for their failures and millions that blame it for their success.

Basically – we’re screwed.

Instead – why doesn’t our society stop attributing every flaw in every adult to something their parents did? Yes. Parents are important in the development of humans. But they are only important for 18 years and many humans lives another 50-70 years after that. So maybe there are other influences at play? And sometimes parents DO one thing, but DEMONSTRATE another. And sometimes teachers are more influential. Or friends. And sometimes genetics counterbalance everything we do as parents. I may do my damnedest to parent so one of my genetic traits doesn’t manifest but it probably won’t work.

And as parents? Let’s be kind to ourselves. Follow your gut. Don’t ignore advice, there’s a lot of good stuff out there, but don’t think that your child’s success as a human is all up to your parenting. And don’t feel bad if you suddenly think maybe you’re doing something wrong. Change things. Don’t change things. But don’t be too hard on yourself if the internet is telling you what you’re doing is wrong. Parents raised kids for generations without articles online, trust your instincts. And if your kids turn out to be shitty humans? Maybe some of it is your fault. But not all of it. They make their own decisions, let them take some responsibility for their shittiness too. It’s only fair.