Truths in Dreams

This apartment we are in – this 900 square foot apartment – has taught me quite a lot about my sleeping children. I wake up in the mornings and sit on the couch in the living room with my laptop. My daughter is 10 feet away sleeping in the “Dining Room” and my son is not much further – but behind a door – in one of the two bedrooms. I sit here and go over the news from the night and check social media and I hear their sleepy noises. My daughter tends to be anxious even in her sleep, and my son evidently thinks he’s just as hilarious in the dream world as he thinks he is while awake. I sit on the couch and hear the stress sounds as Nikki panics in her slumber and the laughter as Wes entertains whatever dreamworld he’s in. It’s a strange dichotomy, one I always feel when I think about the differing personalities of my two children. Wes wants to be the entertainer, although he hasn’t quite figured out how to do it sans jokes about bodily functions. Nikki wants to plan every moment of every day down to the second and her inability to do that creates extreme tension in her spirit.

Two very different souls, even in their subconscious.

I see myself in both my of children’s mental health struggles. And many days I’m grateful for my own struggles in that it helps me, help them, but I also find that by helping them…I am helping myself. I’ve learned more about coping with my own anxieties in the last few years by helping them with theirs, than I ever learned in the decades before. Nikki’s anxieties manifest in many of the same ways mine do, so we really often help each other. But Wesley’s manifest in entirely different ways which give me an incredible insight into how anxieties can shape our behavior. His make him want to make people laugh, but if that goes the wrong direction, he hides in a ball of uncontrollable anger.

I think having the language helps. I just assumed I was broken when I was a child. That I was strange and different. That I would never fit in with the world so my only choice was to put on some sort of facade to survive in the crowd. I knew the “popular” type of kids would never accept me so I aimed for the outer circles. I tried to do this in a very practical sense once I left the confines of a high school uniform and just tried to dress like the people around me. I found myself torn because I liked the hippies and I liked the grunge kids. So I alternated between flowing skirts and Birkenstocks and baggy jeans and doc martens. And I made very real very true friends, but I was also so deeply insecure with my “real” self that I shat on those friends as the years went on, as I was just always trying to find validation somewhere. Anywhere. Everywhere but inside myself.

I had to learn the very VERY hard way that looking for validation outside yourself is a never ending journey. No one can give that to you, so you just keep moving on and leaving friends who loved you behind in your destructive wake.

I hope my ability to define some of the things now, that made me feel like such an outsider then, will help my children avoid the same mistakes I made. That maybe now they can know themselves and not hate themselves because they can see the beauty in understanding their mental health. I am often trying to explain to my daughter about how I truly believe the anxieties also give me some amazing characteristics that I would never choose to be without. I hope both of them will see the beauty in their true selves, instead of running from it and trying to hide it like I did for so many years.

But for now, I’ll just listen to them sleep and hope that they find truths in their dreams that I can’t show them.

Dearest Daughter,

You and I are very much alike, so I hope that means we will be quick to forgive each other for our faults throughout life as we will see ourselves so clearly in those faults. We also are both blessed (for it is a true blessing, even on the days it feels like a curse) with a strong sense of empathy, so we will see each other’s pain and guilt after a mistake as if it were our own.

I have been telling myself this over and over throughout the night so that you hopefully don’t hold yesterday against me forever.

I’m stressed about this move. We waited until we were on the “safe” side of this home selling process to start seriously looking for an apartment. We naively expected it to be easier than it is. At this point, 13 days out from closing, we found ONE place and it’s only two bedrooms and not even in your school district. And this place? Still has to “approve” us so we won’t know for sure until the 10 or 9 day mark. THIS WAS CAUSING ME IMMENSE STRESS YESTERDAY.

We were also waiting for two bids for repairs, having requested three but not hearing back from one guy at all. The first bid was much higher than we expected and the second one was taking quite awhile so I was also very stressed about whether or not we accept the first (very high) bid just to meet the deadline to sign the request for repairs. Spoiler alert: the second one came in at the bell and was much closer to what we were expected. The problem is that by that point? The damage had been done in terms of my anxiety level.

I had two panic attacks yesterday. The kind where I kinda start yelling irrationally and dropping curse words left and right. Compared to the panic attacks of yesteryear it was quite mild, but you don’t have those memories very clearly in your mind anymore so you just had my regular self to compare it to and it was quite ugly.

The sucky part is that you were helping me all day. I would work for a little while (we were home with a snow day) and then you would help me sort/pack for a little while. And back and forth all day. You were doing it enthusiastically and eagerly and yet…YET…you were the target of my anger when the stress just knocked me over all at once.

We had a good talk (Wes was caught in a little of it but he doesn’t take it as personally as you do) and I explained to you guys what I’m doing to try to manage my stress and that I obviously was a little overwhelmed and it was a good talk and I took solace in knowing I was teaching you all about proper mental health care.

And then you offered to help me with dinner and it happened again and I snapped at you and I finally just had to hide in a quite corner for a few minutes and count to a million taking a million deep breaths. Then, then I finally felt like I had myself calm again. We talked…again. I don’t know how many times I will apologize before you stop forgiving me. I know that – big picture – I’ve got a very good grasp on my anxiety. But this is a little more than my fragile soul can handle right now, I believe. I walk around the house and still see so much to do and we still don’t know for sure where we’ll be living. And if we do get the one place we found, it is a 75% reduction in space which is a little more extreme than we were aiming for with this whole “downsizing” adventure.

13 days.

You still…AMAZINGLY…want me to wake you up early this morning so you can help me load the first batch of stuff in our new storage unit. We do have an activity on the calendar today – we’re going with some friends to see “Hidden Figures” and then going to our favorite restaurant for a discussion afterwards. I plan on turning off the “WE HAVE TO MOVE IN 13 DAYS” part of my brain to try to REALLY enjoy the movie and meal with you. You deserve at least that. I’m going to try to be better because – one thing is for sure – it’s only 13 days. I can handle anything for 13 days.

Thank you for motivating me to try to be better. And thank you for helping me so much. I hope the big picture of life will show you I was the Mom you deserved, even if these small moments of darkness seem a bit unbearable at the time.

I love you, my beautiful angel.

Mom

The Ticking Time Bomb Of Parenting.

I woke up yesterday around 1:30am – FOR THE DAY – after getting the final counter on our contract and knowing we’d be signing it later in the day. I just could not go back to sleep as my brain worked through all of the next steps in life from that moment. THERE ARE A LOT OF STEPS. And more importantly? THERE ARE A LOT OF PLACES THINGS CAN GO VERY WRONG. I find myself suffering from a type of Analysis Paralysis where there’s so much to do I can’t figure out where to start. Some of which requires handyman type skills and while my husband has many, I have very few. I did install a new faucet once and new light fixtures once…but other than that? I’m useless. So I just stare into the abyss and wonder if I just sit really really still…will everything just happen around me and I don’t have to do anything?

No, Zoot. Unfortunately you have to get up and get some shit done. I went to bed a little before 9pm last night and still woke up at 2:30am this morning. I’m not going to be getting any shit done if I can get a handle on my sleep patterns. Tired Zoot is Useless and Emotional and Eating Zoot. None of these things are useful when trying to be productive.

Unless the productivity goal is: GAIN 20 POUNDS. If that’s the goal? I’m SUPER-Productive! Check that shit off the list, baby!

********************

We had a family gathering last night with the kids and I’ve been hyper-aware of the ripple effects of Wes’s non-ideal behavior which makes it so I have a lot of trouble relaxing in those situations. I am really saddened by this because he has really made such good progress lately. Ever since his Pediatrician mentioned anxiety being at the root of things, we’ve given him different language and tools to help with his anger and I really feel like it’s made a lot of difference. I see the triggers now and discuss the anxiousness first – before he spirals – and it’s helped him look at all of it the same and he does a lot of this: Stumble…Catch Footing…Deep Breath…Apologize…Move on.

This is a huge change from Stumble…Collapse…Roll down the hill tearing down every tree in your path…Crush small villages with anger…Declare hatred of all the people who love him.

So – he’s in such a good place lately – but I was so on edge and worried about how everyone would handle any of his missteps that when he just stumbled a bit (which for him is NOTHING but to an outsider might look terrible) I would get super-freaked out and panicked and OH MY GOD THIS IS WHERE IT ALL GOES WRONG!

But – it didn’t. And I was trying to keep recognizing that and commending him on resetting in moments where he wouldn’t have before. He stumbled after losing a game and there was “TANTRUM!” looming in the air but he reset and shook it off, got his mind right to give everyone thanks and hugs, and then as we left he apologized for being a sore loser. I was SO PROUD of him. But I was also SO ON EDGE from a couple hours of monitoring his every breath for a meltdown that I am not sure I praised him as much as I should have. And I’m 100% certain I was a drag on the energy at the gathering. It’s hard to relax and socialize when you’re obsessing over your child’s every move.

It’s like walking around with a ticking bomb which could explode after every tick, but probably won’t. You’re still jumping at every tick, bracing yourself for an explosion, and that anticipation can wear on your soul and make it very hard to engage with the world around you.

Parenting is hard, yo.

********************

It’s crazy that I feel better – in general – but worse – in specifics – lately. Like, the overwhelming feeling of anxiousness and sadness doesn’t permeate my every smile. BUT! The localized anxiety regarding current events and family and life is WAY WORSE THAN EVER. A lot of 2015 and some of 2016 were spent with this weird gray tint to everything – a sadness I just couldn’t shake. And lately that tint is gone so the happiness can feel DEEP and REAL, but the surface level stuff is out of control. I’m anxious about family and houses and politics and current events and all of the things that are happening TODAY and YESTERDAY and TOMORROW.

I guess it’s a good thing I sorted through all of the pervasive shit, right? I couldn’t imagine having to deal with real-time anxiety and depression ON TOP of the constant feeling of despair that was always a part of everything. At least now I have joy and hope and love underneath it all.

It’s just hard some days to dig down deep enough to see it.

In Defense Of Discreet Parenting

Donnie and I are inherently yellers as parents. I have yelled so angrily at my kids that I am worried they’ll be scarred forever. Why do I worry? Because – while he was a great father in most ways – my Dad was a yeller and I am scarred from it. I was never proud of my yelling, I always felt Young Zoot’s disappointment that I became the parent she feared. But it didn’t happen often. We both used yelling, but sparingly. For awhile…

Then Wesley turned 3 and his behavior was bad and the only way we knew to express our anger was to yell at him. And because he was always getting in trouble, we were always yelling. And because he was always escalating things, we had to yell louder. And meaner. And angrier. I look back on some of his meltdowns before we really knew what we were doing and I see my own behavior and I just shake my head.

If you had taken Donnie and I during those red-faced screaming days and shown us as parents now? I would have thought you were a liar. There’s no way we could change that much. None. Nope. Those people are fake.

The first and easiest lesson to learn was, “If you are trying to teach a child to manage his anger, you need to manage yours.”

I mean, once we realized that’s what we were really seeing – anger issues – we knew we needed to come up with different ways to express our own anger. So yelling? Gone. We have only yelled a handful of times in the last few years. Of course, we still very calmly raise our voices and because kids don’t have very good long term memory they sometimes call that “yelling” – but we are NOTHING compared to what we used to be.

It’s not easy. I’ve never had to deal with substance abuse, but the difficulty in fighting the urge to yell causes me so much pain sometimes, I wonder if that’s a similar feeling. I JUST WANT TO YELL, DAMMIT. I WOULD FEEL SO MUCH BETTER IF I COULD YELL. BUT I CAN NOT. I HAVE TO STAY CALM.

But it’s not just the yelling that fell to the wayside. We also stopped with timeouts completely. We had to also learn that when a child is lacking in the “Emotional Intelligence” department (that’s a thing I had never heard of before Wesley); then sending them to be alone while dealing with those emotions is not productive. I have taken him to is room in before, but I sit in there with him. Several times I sit there and watch a meltdown ramp up and then down again. In the past I’ve watched him rip bedding off his bed and thrown pillows and toys. But it’s all while I’m there with him trying to be a calming voice in his chaotic head. Sometimes I have to physically restrain him if he starts trying to do more damage than to stuff, but I do it calmly.

When tantrums pass…THEN we talk about how we could have done things differently.

Donnie and I try to get under then anger and the tantrum now. We try not to react to the tantrum but to what caused it. More often than not it’s shame-induced anxiety. We calmly try to discuss what caused the anger and then discuss how to deal with the anger itself. With a kid like Wesley, feelings like shame or anxiety trigger “fight” (anger) instead of “flight” (tears). Once I recognized (with the help of his pediatrician) that the trigger was something I experience too, we just handle it differently, it became much easier to address.

I tell you all of this because I had a recent revelation that to the casual observer – maybe people who see Wesley at his worse – it looks like we are terrible parents. It looks like we’re letting our kid get away with murder without punishment. It looks like we’re coddling him. I know that because we’ve been told that and it hit me: If you don’t parent a child like Wesley…maybe you don’t know.

I wouldn’t have known with E or Nikki. If I had seen us not yelling or putting Wesley in timeout or spanking him (I don’t spank, but a lot of people around here do) then I would have thought we were some dumb hippie parents raising dumb kids unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions. I would have hated us. I would have blamed us for all of the problems with kids these days.

Well. I wouldn’t have been that harsh because we all know I’m too empathetic to ever judge anyone that much, but I would have definitely said something about how that kid’s behavior would improve if they would do something about it.

What these people who see us and think we’re not parenting don’t know is: It takes a lot more energy and patience and diligence to parent Wesley than it did Nikki or E. With those to you just put them in timeout. Yell at them. They feel bad. They learn a lesson. We all move on.

But with Wesley it’s not like that. Parenting and discipline is a 24-hour job. We have to constantly be on guard for triggers and guide him to how he handles them. He’s gotten so much better lately. He’s learning to recognize and describe things he’s feeling which makes them much easier to handle. He’s got a quicker recovery time. He said something mean out of anger the other night and I just calmly addressed how/why it hurt and then I let it sit there. (Old Kim would have yelled and sent him to Time Out.) It didn’t take long before he came to me with a very sincere apology and we discussed why that wasn’t acceptable. On the outside? It looked like I let him dish out a terrible and hurtful verbal tantrum and didn’t address it. But in our lives? That was a big moment. He came to ME with the apology on his own. He let the flame of anger die out and then cleaned up the mess.

And maybe parents with kids like Wesley can stick to the Loud and Obvious parenting and have results. We did not. None at all. The louder and the meaner we got, the worse the behavior got.

So, if you’ve never parented a child like Wesley but you see one out in public and the parent looks like they’re barely reacting or acknowledging it…please know you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. There is a giant block of ice under the water that you can’t see. There’s patience and diligence and perseverance and trust…trust is the hardest part. You are trusting that going against your instinct to yell and send a kid to timeout is the right thing to do. All of that is under the surface and you can’t see it.

I mean – sure – there are parents who just don’t give two craps and are ignoring the behavior because they don’t care. But there are also those of us parenting in ways you don’t see. Please don’t judge us. We’re having a hard enough time sticking to the method and the plan without the rest of the world assuming we’re cluelessly ignorant of our child’s behavior.

How To Fake Being Totes Cas…

(Or “totally casual” if you’re not a 41-year old woman supes addicted to shortening words like she’s 12.)

One of the BEST pieces of advice I ever heard as it relates to talking to your kids about sex is to be 100% casual about it like it’s no big deal. Answer exactly what they ask, don’t give them any unnecessary information unless they ask more questions. Be frank. Be casual. Be honest.

But y’all. THAT IS REALLY HARD IF YOU ARE A PRUDE WHO DOESNT LIKE TO WATCH TV OR MOVIES WITH SEX SCENES IN THEM.

I will say though, I’ve done a much better job this time around with my younger kids at least trying to be open and casual, even if I’m 100% faking the “casual” part of the situation. Here are two key tips if you’re a natural prude trying to be totes cool when talking about sex:

1) Try to have the conversations in a situation when you don’t have to actually look at your kids. I love it when they ask me questions about sex and puberty when I’m driving because it is EASY AS PIE to answer frankly and casually when I’m just staring ahead at the road. We’ve had great conversations about Transgender men and women, how Gay Men have babies, and How Do Babies come out – all while driving! So easy! But, the other day Wes asked me a tough question face to face (“Mom? What is the boy version of a period?”) and I’m not sure my “casual” came off as “casual” as I had hoped. I’m pretty sure my face was as red as an apple. I was most definitely sweating profusely.

2) So! When that happens! Keep saying, “I’m glad you asked! It’s no big deal to talk about this stuff!” That way even if you’re sweating or red-faced, you’re reminding them that these are great questions and super important to be asked and there’s nothing embarrassing about it. Sometimes the non-verbal cues can make them feel like they shouldn’t ask the question, so if you’re naturally embarrassed like me, verbal cues reassuring them are important. I also am SUPER casual with my tone. “That’s a great question! I’m glad you asked! You’re right! Both boys and girls have changes in their bodies during puberty…” Tone light and airy! Casual word choice! Enthusiasm! Facts! All of which counterbalances the fact that I was cringing on the inside and thinking, “OH MY GOD I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS STUFF.”

Totes cas. NBD. We cool.

I also talk a lot about how our country has a much more prudish attitude about sex and bodies than other countries. We’ve talked about topless beaches and nudity restrictions on television. I explain to them how our culture sometimes makes it feel like we shouldn’t be talking about this stuff, but it’s really is okay. Just sometimes it might be better to ask ME questions about it, since I’m totes cool and casual, and maybe not drop some of these bombs on their teachers at school.

It’s hard enough my kids tend to ask tough questions about religion at school, the least I can do is protect the teachers from talk of erections and menstrual cycles.