on speaking my truth

It’s Sunday night. I’m home, alone, watching the Golden Globes. I was supposed to be at a party but croup tends to not be a super welcome thing to bring to parties, so I’m home with one sick daughter, one healthy/feisty daughter, and no husband. Husband is on a plane to Vegas. It’s a work trip, but I can’t say I’m not a little jealous. For some reason, business meetings and trade shows sound better than being up for hours at night with a feverish child.

So I’m watching this inspiring speech by Oprah, and I’m like: “Yeah! Speak your truth! The most powerful tool you have! Love that thought!” Okay wait. I’m actually like: “Yeah. Speak your truth. The most powerful tool you have. Love that thought. But does anyone really want to hear my truth?

I was in a rotten, sad, fragile mood. If you can be all those things at once.

My truth that night? Immediately after I put the kids to bed, I came downstairs and cried. I actually laid on the floor and cried. For so many reasons but then also no for reason at all. I just felt spent, done, so lonely and tired. “I can’t do this,” I told God through my tears. “I can’t do this. I need help.”

So yeah. Speaking that truth about myself doesn’t seem helpful, I thought to myself bitterly as everyone cheered for Oprah. People don’t want to hear about my little housewife drama. 

The days in front of me seemed bleak and hopeless. Could be the come-down from the all the holiday bustle, could be the weather, could be just me. But I couldn’t fathom doing the next day, or the next or the next, as a mom. I wanted to lay in bed and sleep the week away. It goes without saying that I love my kids with my entire being, but the thing about motherhood is that it doesn’t typically give you personal days—you know, the ones where you can stay in bed the whole day eating pasta and watching Netflix. And perhaps that’s why I felt I had started to snap: no mental health days.

Monday morning brought more of the blues. Another night with a poor sick child combined with my aforementioned mood made me somewhat of a zombie and I actually did that thing where I was like, “Hey honey, can you watch your tablet while mom takes a nap?” But it only sort of worked. I stumbled through the day until 2pm when I finally decided to get dressed and try to clean up the house for girls’ night (Monday nights are for watching the Bachelor, dontcha know?). 

Having your girlfriends over for laughter and wine and cheese and some intermittent watching of the TV show everyone is there to “watch” actually does wonders for your mood (dontcha know?), but here’s the part that made it even better: my sister-in-law asked if she could just spend the night since she was in from the city. Now, she does this occasionally, but on this particular night my lonely little heart was so happy to hear her ask. “Company!” it cried. “Adult company!”

She ended up staying most of the day Tuesday, reading to my kids, laughing with me while we drank tea and played hide-and-seek with my 4-year old, taking out my garbage, vegging with me on the couch. ‘Being blobs together,’ we called it. Sometimes you just need someone to be a blob with you.

She heads home late in the afternoon, and I realize I’m out of milk, eggs, and the kid’s cough medicine that I will surely need tonight. I have to run to Target. Not a great prospect for a blob. Suddenly, both kids get super whiny, and then I get more crabby…crabby enough that I have to retreat to a room by myself so I don’t yell at my kids or say (more?) mean things to them that I’ll regret.

We finally get it together enough (thanks to my sensitive 4-year-old who came in and told me it was ‘gonna be alright, mom, okay?’ and then snuggled with me on the bed), and we are getting coats and boots on when my mom calls. She and my dad are passing by my ‘hood and wondering if they can stop in. “Sure,” I say. “I was just on my way to Target but come on by for a bit.”  

And you know what she says? “Oh! Want us to go to Target for you?” and then they pull up outside my house and come inside and offer a second option of watching the kids while I go to Target. And so I go to Target alone, and then we all have dinner together and they clean up my kitchen and help get my kids ready for bed and they take what could have turned out to be a disastrous and frustrating evening and turn it into one that ends calmly and peacefully and (dare I say?) happily.

And I suddenly think back to me on the floor two nights ago, at the end of my rope, asking God for help. Contrary to what my introverted self would have surmised, the help that I needed was people to just come and be with me. And I have to believe God sent me those people. And then I am struck by one of my deepest truths and it is this: one of the reasons I believe in God is because I have felt His care for me, time and time again. He sees dramatic housewives crying on the floor and He loves them, and for that I’m thankful.


Disclaimer: I wrote this a few weeks ago. Since then, I have written something with a considerably less positive outlook, which I may share sometime. But today I need to remind myself of hope, so this is the post I choose to share and try to believe.

Everywhere I go in my house there is a project staring me in the face, taunting me with it’s mess, smug in the knowledge that I won’t be getting to it this week or this month or maybe even this year.

The photos on the wall are outdated and begging to include our most recent phases of life, the boxes and shelves in the basement aren’t unpacking and organizing themselves (WHY), the toys of the house are constantly encroaching on my space and risking themselves a fate of being banished to the shelves of Goodwill, the girls’ dresser is overflowing with clothes that need to be sorted and boxed, and let’s not even get started on my bedroom.

It’s overwhelming.

So I try to do it all, little by little, which leads to something that I call ‘motherhood ADD’. I think we all know what I’m talking about: you start working on something, but while you’re doing it you come across something else that needs to be done, which leads to something else, and you never finish what it is that you originally set out to do. You are busy all of the time but nobody can tell really what it is you’ve done all day. So, I might have watered plants, done laundry, cleaned out the fridge, swept every floor upstairs…but if you walked into to my house that is littered with toys that you need to step around to get yourself a beer from the fridge (I wouldn’t know about that), you would be like ‘dude, this mom is lazy.’

And maybe I am. Because like, so far today, I’ve eaten donuts and done a crossword. It’s one of those days. Sometimes the more you have to do, the harder it is to get started. It’s just so daunting when you think about it all at once.

So I make lists. And that helps, kind of. But there are things I’ve put on my list every week for weeks that have never gotten done.

So I tell myself, one thing at a time. This week you’re focusing on the basement. Don’t think about the other stuff. Do this thing now. And it works, for a little bit. I’m sorting! I’m putting stuff in the giveaway bag! I’m organizing! And then I have to go pick up my daughter from school and so I leave the boxes halfway sorted and never get back to them.

The truth is, my life will probably never look perfectly organized. As much as I’d like that to be me, that mom who washes her hair and doesn’t have to rummage through her purse rucksack, diapers and receipts flying, just to find her keys (EVERY TIME), and who has cabinets that don’t avalanche on her when she opens them and keeps neatly folded clothes in the closets, that is not me. It just isn’t. At least not right now.

I remember one day that was particularly difficult for me, and when my husband got home, I told him that I felt like I could never get to the surface. That I was always just right below it. A little later, I was telling him about some of the things I had done that day, which included making zucchini bread and salsa and some other thing like tomato sauce,* and he said, “Well, you may feel like you can’t get to the surface, but at least you’re swimming.”

You know what? Yeah. YEAH. I’m swimming. I’m not organized but I’m doing it. With my daughters, I’m doing art projects, creating couch cushion worlds, having dance parties in the living room, letting them chase me through the unintentional obstacle course of toys. Without my daughters, I’m doing laundry, washing dishes, having solo dance parties to maintain my sanity. And I’m having wine. Wait is that what I’m swimming in? Whatever, I’m swimming.

Let’s give ourselves a little more credit. We are accomplishing things, even if it’s nothing more than keeping the kids fed and the dishes washed. I’m kidding. Even if it’s nothing more than keeping the kids fed. Because you’re actually doing A LOT more than that. You’re constantly juggling, planning, organizing, interacting, cleaning up, teaching lessons, raising humans. That’s no small feat. You’re swimming. You may not be winning races, but you’re swimming. Just ignore the Michael Phelps moms of the world. I’m not even sure such a person exists anyway. 

What it boils down to is seven things. Alright, it boils down to maybe three things. And these are things I need to keep reminding myself of, every single day

One: My most important “project” is my kids. Kids are constantly changing, house projects are not. Trying to be the best wife and mom I can be right now does include keeping things in order for everyone’s sanity, but it also includes a good bit of focus on the kids so they know they matter more than my other work. 

Two: Accept that this is my life right now, and stop wishing I were in a different, neater phase of life. That phase will come, and it will probably bring with it it’s own set of anxieties. Shift the focus from how this mess is making ME crazy to the fact that I have these two energetic girls who can make messes and also can clean them up sometimes. (heyyy)

Three: Keep swimming. I’m still going to keep making lists, I’m still going to try to tackle one project at a time, I’m still going to keep fighting the constant mess. I’m not going to resign myself to it, but I’m going to try to see how far I’ve come in these waters of motherhood (sorry for that metaphor) and keep paddling along the best I can, even that means making it the surface only for a gasp of air every once in awhile.

*Looking back now, I think that sounds like a really good day compared to what I’ve been accomplishing lately. 

P.S. If you want to feel better about yourself, just do a Google image search for “messy house.” I was going to post a picture of a messy house at the top of this post, but decided against it since that’s probably not a hopeful image or whatever.

childhood’s magic

This summer has been peppered with nostalgia. It’s one of my favorite things about being a mom: as my children experience things, I get to relive days that were simple, innocent, full of a special kind of awe and beauty.

Just today I caught a whiff of the humid summer air, in between rains on a very wet day, and was transported back (you know that whooshing style movie flashback) to my grandparents’ farm in the country, the air still and silent around me. I see Queen Anne’s lace dotting the borders of fields, and hear the gurgling creek, and remember the big backyard of the farmhouse that backed up to bins and sheds and simultaneously held both a sense of adventure and peace. I was reminded of my Grandma. And of being a kid, surrounded by siblings with not a care in the world.

Childhood is so vivid.

The sound of morning doves takes me back to our big green front porch on a hot summer morning, the day ahead full of potential. The glow of fireflies puts me back in my childhood bed, in front of the window on the second floor, counting the blinking bugs instead of going to sleep. The taste of sweet peas brings me back to our backyard garden, where we would just stand there in the dirt, bugs buzzing around us, and eat the peas straight from the plant.

I was thinking about why childhood tends to be so clear like this, and here’s what I concluded: the memories are sharp because the life is simple. When you don’t have to worry about bills to pay, meals to plan, deadlines to make, laundry to do, all you have to focus on is what’s in front of you. And what’s in front of you as a child is a world of wonder and a day full of play. All your needs are taken care of. There’s beauty in this. The complete trust a child has in his parents’ ability to look out for him enables him to truly enjoy his life.

The other afternoon I watched Simona sit at the dining room table as the afternoon sun streamed in through the windows. She was narrating an imaginary story, as she usually is, completely happy and oblivious to anything else but her game. I was struck by the thought that she is exactly where she is and nowhere else. She is not thinking about her to-do list and if she can somehow multi-task as she sits there. She’s not wishing she could be doing something else. She is perfectly happy to be a kid at home on a Thursday afternoon in the summer.

But somehow adulthood can get a bit cloudy. Maybe it doesn’t hold the vividness and clarity of childhood because we have become bogged down with duty, too busy to notice simple beauty, too jaded to be carefree. We have stuff to do. We don’t have time to just be.

The other day my mom came over to watch the girls, and as she came through the door, greeted by little footsteps and voices, she said, “Ah, it’s so nice to step into the world of a child.” And I had this moment where I felt kind of guilty because so often I just don’t think about it like that. I think about parenting, adulting, when I’m going to get my next break. I don’t put myself in my kids’ shoes very much. Selfish mom award, right over here. 

Being an adult is hard, and mothering is certainly no exception to that. I have lots of ‘bad’ days where I don’t think I have what it takes to do this intimidating, wonderful task that is raising a child. I try to balance it all—I do the dishes while listening to the story Simona is so intently trying to tell me, I squeeze in a load of laundry while the girls are playing in the basement, I play ‘tag’ with them in the house while actually picking up things to put away as I run by them. 

But lately I’ve found that my best times are the ones where i actually do step “into” childhood with my girls. I put down my phone. I get out of the “what’s next” mindset and banish the mental to-do list. I do nothing else but whatever simple thing they are doing. We watch two ants try to carry a dead beetle away. I wait as Helen bends down to play with the rubber in the sidewalk crack. I sit and watch Simona act out her “character movie” for the 37th time. This is a really hard thing to practice and I don’t it nearly as often as I should, because I’m a mom and therefore my brain is hardwired for multi-tasking, but I want to keep trying. 

Naturally there are always going to be essential things that need to get done for the health and happiness of your family (you can’t ignore laundry and grocery shopping and cleaning forever), and your children need you to do those things probably almost as much as they need you to spend time with them (though they may or may not realize it). I’m only here to remind myself (oh, and you too, if you’re reading) to try to see childhood again for what it is. To not forget it’s simplicity and how the small things are actually the big things. To once in awhile stop trying to avoid or clean up the mess and get right into it.

teaching children

Disclaimer: My husband is an extremely wonderful parent and teaches our children in a beautiful way, and I sincerely thank God for him all the time because I feel like anything that is good or that will be good about my kids comes from him, but for purposes of this article I am talking about my parenting skills alone.

I was at the pediatrician with the girls the other day and had some sort of sickening realization: I’m responsible for teaching my kids, like, a BUNCH of stuff.

Potty training alone was (is) terrifying. I was like, “man, if I don’t do this, no one will,” and that thought, for the baby of a family, is scary and new. But then realizing that I’m solely in charge of teaching them the basics of life, like how to clean up after themselves, wash their hands properly, get dressed, do chores, be a polite human being, that sort of thing…it’s a lot to think about. And I’m not even into the teen years when you actually have to coach them on big life decisions and things like HOW TO DRIVE. I’m in the little stuff. What is wrong with me?

So this realization at the doctor’s office came because he was asking me if Simona is recognizing any letters and I was like, uh, wait…SHOULD SHE BE? IS THIS SOMETHING I’M SUPPOSED TO DO? CAN I PHONE A FRIEND? I’LL GET MY SISTER TO DO IT. 

That’s not actually what I said. What I said was, “well…we’re still working on that,” or something similarly ambiguous. Then we rushed home and cracked the preschool workbook and I told her we ain’t moving from this spot until she identifies an “A.” 

Kidding, kind of. But we did restart home “school” with a vengeance, which basically means 10-15 minutes of working on letters and stuff before she gets to watch her tablet. Bribery, I tell you. I’m really painting a great picture of myself as a mom, aren’t I?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m the youngest of five kids. Okay that’s not the secret. The secret is that I never much cared for watching children. Some people call it babysitting, I think, but given a choice between that and housecleaning, I would choose the cleaning job every time. Kids terrified me. They still do, sometimes, but less so. But I think it had to be because it was never my responsibility to take care of someone younger than myself. I was the youngest, the baby that was being watched. I only had to worry about my needs, or something like that. 

So growing up, I had this sense that things would just be taken care of. Usually by someone other than myself. If there was something that needed to be planned, or fixed, I was confident that a sister or brother would do it. So flash forward to being a mom, and I’m looking around for someone else to do the dirty work, and realizing that hey it’s pretty much up to me. Cue personal growth (hopefully). 

I forgot to mention that after our little doctor visit, I googled “when should kids be able to identify letters?” and it said somewhere between age 3 and 4 and I was like “phew, we have 2 months to learn THE ENTIRE ALPHABET.” But then I was reading on some message board (not usually a good idea) and there were all these moms saying that their kids could identify all 26 letters at age 23 months, along with the 6 bonus letters that aren’t in the alphabet, and that they focused on teaching letters every day, along with shapes and colors, and so on and so on, until I stuck my head inside a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and cried chocolate tears. 

Once upon a time I dreamily thought I’d homeschool my children. I mean, my mom did it for the five of us, and it seemed easy enough (HA!). Besides, public school seems so scary these days. I like to feel a little bit in control (bigger HA).  And homeschool gives you and your kids such freedom to learn at your own pace and in your own way, I mean…ideal, right?

But now I realize in a new way how amazing my mom is. Like, next level amazing. And I know that, barring a miracle, I likely will not be homeschooling my children. I don’t think I have the patience or the demeanor (or the selflessness?) for it.

The other thing that kept coming up on that message board was the saying that “every kid is different” and that they learn at their own pace, and each one has a different learning style, etc. Which is somewhat comforting. I guess I just need to find out how Simona learns best. I mean, maybe she is way more advanced in other areas and she just doesn’t have space in her brain to think about regular learning. She is too busy living in “character land”, with her eight imaginary friends, one of whom she is married to, and they have a child together named Bono. I’m not kidding.

Maybe I need to crack down. 

Maybe I need to make her focus when I’m trying to teach her. She always starts drawing a picture on the side, or coming up with a story while I’m trying to cement a letter in her brain. But she’s three. Should she be focusing on book learning, or should she just be learning as she plays? I mean, she already knows so much and I haven’t sat down with her to “educate” her. I’ve just played with her. Isn’t that childhood though? Children are learning constantly, whether or not we realize it, whether or not we try to teach them. 

Simona is amazing. Sure, maybe she doesn’t know her alphabet yet, but she has a stellar imagination, and she’s sweet and loving and funny and loves to dance. Plus, she’s an expert on YouTube videos. If you ever want to know how to paint a My Little Pony into a Cinderella Princess, she could pretend to tell you how. Simona’s brain is completely unique, astoundingly different even from that of her sister. Helen might know letters by age 2. Who knows? It would be a miracle, because she gets even less one-on-one playtime than her sister did. (I used to do some really cool activities with Simona, make projects and crafts and forts…and with poor Helen it’s like ‘here, hope you can figure out this jigsaw by yourself while I insert this coffee IV into my arm and clean the kitchen.’) But that’s just the beautiful thing about all of us being made differently. 

So maybe I’m behind on this whole ‘teaching’ thing. Maybe I’m too lazy or selfish. But I’m going to keep trying—trying to teach her the ‘basics’, trying to enjoy her for exactly who she is, trying not to make her feel ‘less than’ if she hasn’t figured something out yet, trying to recognize the amazing potential that she has in this world and get her to do the same. 

mom guilt

I feel like I end every day with a lot of guilt (and, consequently, usually a large glass of wine).  

I raised my voice too much (something I thought I’d never do.)
I lost my patience.
I let them watch too much TV (something else I thought I wouldn’t do).
I didn’t get them outside enough (or at all).
I didn’t teach them enough.
I taught them too much. (JUST KIDDING about that one.)
I didn’t pay enough attention to them because I was trying to get other things done.
I didn’t get enough things done because I was with them all day. 

See? I can’t win. Either way, and no matter what I do, there’s guilt to be felt if I let myself feel it. It’s nonsensical. Why do I do this to myself every day? I know that it’s wrong.

There’s not even time for me to feel guilty about my eating choices anymore. It’s just whatever I can stuff in my mouth is OKAY. I forgive myself for that, I guess. Maybe I shouldn’t, but that’s a topic for another time: self-care. Moving on. 

I’m just not that nice sometimes. Okay? You heard it here first. Sometimes when Simona makes an honest mistake, and says, so apologetically, “I’m sorry, mommy”, before I even react at all, I wonder if it’s because she thinks (or has experienced that) I’ll react negatively. And I kick myself. Am I that mean? I want to maintain a household where it’s okay to make mistakes, because, hello, I make enough for all of us.

I feel like I spend half the time making mistakes and the other half trying hard to be overly fun and nice to make up for my shortcomings. It’s a vicious and frustrating cycle. I feel like I’m a bad example to my girls. Children learn from example, right? Our voices become their inner voices, right? I don’t want their inner voices to speak to them through gritted teeth. I want those voices to be kind to them, gentle with their mistakes, encouraging them to try again. We need a world where people have inner voices that don’t constantly berate and condemn.

But don’t we all do this to ourselves every day? Aren’t we, as mothers, supposed to be the most amazing people in the world, and yet we are the ones knocking ourselves down the most? If there is a mom out there who doesn’t experience this guilt, I would love to meet her. I’m not saying that in a snarky way. I’m saying maybe I could learn something from her. Maybe she has learned what we all need to learn—that we can’t do it all. We’re human. We can forgive ourselves and we can try again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. Because mistakes are how we learn.

You know what else I end every day with? Besides a messy house? Grace. Forgiveness. It’s there if I can remember to take hold of it. I just forget sometimes that it’s so readily available to me. And if I would just add gratitude to that list too, maybe there wouldn’t be room for guilt. Maybe I can instead look back on the day and see the laughter, the growth (in all of us), the fullness of this life. It’s certainly not an empty life, and I think that is something to be thankful for. That, and the fact that tomorrow is a new beginning.