Monday, August 4, 2014

First Day of Public School... For Everyone Else

For most of my friends' children, today was the first day of class. My Facebook feed has been inundated all weekend with posts ranging from jubilant to heartbroken at the thought of children going back to school. Meet and Greet was last Thursday, and I had people text me pictures of my children's names on the desks where they would be sitting.

If they were going.

Today is not just the first day of school for many, it is our first day of NOT going to public school. It is a very strange feeling, to be honest. Up until today, we have always been in the throng of children returning to public school laden with heavy backpacks and expensive school supplies and requested items from teacher supply lists. We always spent the night before school carefully laying out first-day outfits, setting alarm clocks, basking in that mingled excitement and nervousness that only the first day of school can bring. We took obligatory back-to-school pictures and walked children into school, leaving them in the care of teachers we didn't really know and just hoping that it would be a good year.

This year... well, this year is different. This year I am working in my own classroom downstairs, preparing it for mornings spent in the pursuit of education and character development. My kids are enjoying an extra week of freedom before we start our own schedule. I COULD have started today, of course, but I feel like taking an extra week is a symbolic step towards breaking free of public school. In some small way, it feels like I am saying, "I don't have to do it your way anymore. Now we will do it our way. Now we have a choice."

Is there a twinge? Yes, of course. An ever-so-slight twinge, heavy despite the brevity of the moment. Weighed down with doubts, bearing the load of "what-ifs" to which I have no answer.
What if I can't do this?
What if I screw up?
What if I screw them up?
What if they are missing out?

But then, I am gently reminded that God has been preparing my heart for this for far longer than I even realized.

The last day of summer vacation has, for the last few years, been a day of absolute anxiety for me that had to remain hidden, lest I caused my children to worry. The thought haunted me that I was abandoning my children to a school system where I had no control of their peers, their exposure, or even the adults they came in contact with. I was saddened by the thought that their teachers would spend more time with them than I would during the week, but that they would probably never really SEE them as the beautiful, interesting individuals that they are. I didn't realize at the time that this fear, this anxiety, was the stirring of my heart to make a change in the way we "do" education. I just thought that I was being overly anxious.

I've spent my last few summers over-planning and trying to squeeze in as much "intentional fun" as I could before I lost them to school... and then feeling like a failure. Summer has never been long enough, and by the time it ends, the list of things I WANTED to do with my kids outweighs the things we DID do. This summer has looked a lot different. After my mom died, I just haven't had the motivation to plan out activity jars and facilitate "research projects" with corresponding field trips. I've done pretty well to keep my kids on a "no screen time until chores are done and teeth are brushed" plan. But you know what? That's ok. Despite the sadness of losing my mom, the craziness of starting a new job (I am a freelance writer for a deal blog called Pocket Your Dollars), and the stress of taking our "scary" basement and redesigning it to be a classroom we would all love to spend time in... this has been a wonderful, laid-back, happy summer for all of us, simply because the pressure is off. I don't HAVE to squeeze in everything, because for the first time... I'm not losing my kids. There is plenty of time left. All the time in the world, in fact.

That is a feeling that brings a lot of peace.

So as the children in our area return to school, I will bask in the uncertainty of the unanswered questions, the freedom of another week of summer, the excitement of starting a new school year with choices and control, and the peace of knowing that what I am doing is the right thing for our family.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How To Get That Crying Baby To Stop Screaming: A How-To Guide

Hey you. Yeah, you. I know you. I know I've never MET you... but I know you. I was you. For a whole year.
You are a mess.
You are exhausted and ready to pull your hair out (and not just because you keep forgetting to brush it).
You look down at this red-faced, screaming infant who just WILL. NOT. STOP. CRYING., and just want to cry too (in fact, you probably are).
You've tried everything, nothing works, and you are feeling fairly confident that you have ruined your life and that nothing will ever make the two of you happy again.

For an extremely brief moment, you may even understand what drives some moms to shake their babies (BRIEF moment, and not one you act on, of course).

Yup. I know you.
My third baby came on the heels of the two happiest, most good-natured babies ever. They were so good, in fact, that I honestly could not figure out why some moms just couldn't get it together. It's not THAT hard, I'd tell myself. I've got this baby thing down. A third kid? No problem.

Then came my youngest. He didn't stop crying for his first... oh, I don't know, six or seven months. He didn't sleep outside of my arms or chest for the first three months (and not because I believe in co-sleeping). He didn't sleep through the night until well after his first birthday. He hated everyone but his mommy, but his mommy didn't really help things either. She was generally an end to his means, providing only a brief solace in the middle of his distress.

We aren't talking the "crying for a couple of hours 3 times a week for a few weeks" type of colic. He NEVER STOPPED CRYING.

Many were the nights when I would rock that screaming baby, wondering if he would ever shut up. I knew I couldn't pass him off to anyone, because that would just make it worse. I would finally get him to sleep, slooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwly put him in his bed... only to have him wake up and commence screaming once again.

But then we discovered a secret.
I haven't shared this secret with many, mostly because the couple of times I have shared it, I immediately get laughed at. People tend to "knock it before they try it". Well, I have anecdotal evidence now. (Sort of.) It's no longer my baby who responds to this miracle cure... it's every baby I've ever tried it on. Nephews. Friends' babies. I recently shared it with a Facebook friend, and lo and behold... her colicky baby stopped screaming and fell asleep. I'm telling you, it's a miracle.
Are you ready? Are you desperate enough to try anything? Ok. Listen up.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Walking Wounded

The thing about life after death- someone else's death, of course, not your own- is that it has to go on.
No matter how you think that life should NOT go on, that it could not POSSIBLY go one... it does. For everyone. Those departed are gone, those living keep going, and what was once normal is now memory.

Since my mom passed away, some days have been easier than others. I suppose that this is just the way it goes. Some days feel normal- I wake up, take care of my kids, deal with the dogs, talk to my friends, prepare meals and wash laundry. I laugh, I make jokes, I watch tv and grumble about toothpaste in the sink. Life carries on.

Then I will just be sitting at a red light and my mom will cross my mind, and suddenly I am sobbing. I will watch a movie where a parent dies, and my heart will feel like it is breaking anew. I will picture her smile or remember something she said or even think about things she did that annoyed me, and out of nowhere the grief hits me again. Laughter can turn to tears in the blink of an eye, but the tears are quickly wiped away so that no one sees that I am crying yet again. Be strong, be strong. Time marches on, but it doesn't do so without leaving indelible footprints.

I have heard many people say that, after a loved one passed away, they would just look around and wonder how people could just keep living their lives as if nothing had happened. Don't you know that something terrible has happened? Don't you know that the world is a completely different place? When your world feels like it has come to a crashing halt, it feels like everyone else's should have halted too... or at least slowed down for a few minutes.  Once my mom died and I was walking in that same valley of disbelief and anger that other people should continue to carry on like nothing happened, I had a sort of epiphany.

I was sitting at one of my children's interminable field days, surrounded by a hundred people who didn't know my mom or me. People who couldn't look at my face and think, "Her mom just died." People who couldn't tell that, beneath the smiling picture-taking exterior, my heart was broken inside my chest and I would rather just be alone in my bedroom than sitting in a crowd. They had no idea that anything traumatic or life-changing was going on beneath the surface. As I looked around at those people- the hyperactive mom totally reliving her childhood through her son's relay, the dad with one eye on his phone, the grandmother sitting uncomfortably on the steel bleachers- I wondered how many of them were sitting there with their own broken hearts, unseen by the crowds around them. How many people are sitting here, in pain, with a smile pasted on? I will bet it was most of us.

Have you ever thought about what would happen if, when someone asks us how we are, we tell them the truth? "I spent all night crying, actually. I miss my mom every second, but I am still so angry. It was hard to get out of bed today, but sometimes it is hard simply because I remember that I am not sad every second and I feel like I probably should be. How are you?" Just picture the look you would get. How uncomfortable it would be. So we don't. We just say, "I'm ok."

I'm fine.

We are the walking wounded. We are the people, hurting beneath our smiles, broken-hearted behind our laughter, fighting battles than no one knows or cares to see. We are an army of wounded souls fighting battles all by ourselves.

We hurt, but we deal. We grieve, but time continues to pass. We sit, surrounded by hurting people, alone in our grief and pain, learning how to mask it so that time can continue to march on and we can figure out how to carry our burden without anyone knowing there is a burden to be carried.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Mommy Without a Mother

It's been awhile since last I wrote. A long while.
A hard while.
You'll have to forgive me if this post isn't as eloquent as I'd like for it to be. I've been writing it for a month now, but it still didn't come out the way I wanted it to. Perhaps that's because it's not a post I wanted to write at all.

The last time I blogged, I had a mom. The last time I sat down to write I knew that my mother would read it- she always read anything I wrote and then called me to tell me how proud she was of me. I knew that there was the possibility that she would leave an eye-roll-worthy gushing comment for all to see.

The world was different. I was different.

Yesterday was one month since the last time I saw my mom. She had come over to have "Grammie Night" with my kids. (Once a week for the last seven or so years, she would head over with Happy Meals, ice cream, popcorn, and a movie in tow and kick my husband and me out of the house. It was a sacred night for my kids and their beloved Grammie, one eagerly anticipated by all.) When she arrived, she gave me a hug and said, "I miss you." I sort of scoffed. I see her all the time. My husband and I didn't stay out that long on that particular night because we had just gotten a new dog the day before and were still trying to get acclimated to a two-dog lifestyle. I returned home to find my kids on the couch, snuggling with their Grammie. I let them all stay up a bit later, but it had been a long couple of days and they were tired. They kissed her good-bye and went to bed. I waved from across the room, tired and looking forward to having my house to myself, and thanked her. "Text me when you get home!" I said, like I always do. She did. "Home safe. Love you!"
And that was it.

Two days later- one month tomorrow, less than a week before her 57th birthday and Mother's Day (on the same day this year)- I got the call that she was gone.

It has been a heart-crushingly hard month for so many reasons. So many things hit you in a new way when someone close to you dies... but there is something different about losing your mom. Everyone has or will lose their mom at some point, but it is still a very singular feeling. Even if they can relate, they didn't lose YOUR mom. You are alone in your grief in a way that no one- not your spouse, not your friends, not even your siblings- can relate to. No matter your relationship with your mother, the loss of her is immeasurable. Add that to having to tell your children that their Grammie is gone, or watching your father grieve, or planning her funeral, or experiencing your first Mother's Day without a mom... and, well, it's just been a hard month.

I wish that there were more articles out there about how to deal with losing your mom in your thirties. There are a ton of articles about mother loss in childhood, or mother loss as an older adult... but I am only 31. I am not old enough to not have a mother. It's a tragedy at any age, but there isn't a lot online to help you through the pain of losing your mom when you should both be in the prime of your life. There is nothing that tells me how I am supposed to be coping, no encouragement about how others made it through. So I am sort of going it alone, figuring things out day by day while I live in this new reality of a life without my mom.

So much of you is wrapped up in your mother. She represents your history, your past, your first example of how (or how not) to be a mother to your own children. She holds the family together in a lot of ways. Holiday meals often center around her recipes, and she pulls everyone together for celebrations. She is the plan-maker, the memory-giver, the helper in times of crisis. She gives you a link to your extended family, past and present. Mother/daughter relationships are often wrought with negativity but, for a lot of us, our mother is still this beacon of stability or at least consistency. To have that yanked from you is to have the world shift beneath your feet but without anything to hold on to to remain balanced. Part of you dies with your mother. You become a different person. I've been a mommy for nine years, but now I'm a mommy without a mother... and I just don't know what to do with that.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Courteous Internet: Encouraging Others Online

"That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong." -F. Scott Fitzgerald

Since my return to blogging a couple of months ago, I have noticed that a lot of things have changed- but even more have stayed the same. The internet and blogging world can be an encouraging and informative place- but it can also be extremely cruel and discouraging. Whether you are a full-time blogger, a casual reader, a Pinterest skimmer, or a blog subscriber, there are ways that you can encourage other people online that only take a minute of time. If everyone decided to focus more on civility and encouragement, the internet world (and the world as a whole) would be a much more pleasant place.

For readers:
Blogging and writing are a lot of work. While most of us do it for ourselves, every blogger- in some small part- does it so that they can be a voice to others. A light in the world. While it shouldn't matter who reads our blog or takes what we say to heart, it does. It's a narcissistic world and we want to know that others like us. It's not always narcissism, though- part of it is just knowing that what you are doing might be making a difference to someone, somewhere. Few things are more discouraging than futility.

If there are blogs that you follow, or even blogs that you come across casually but you really like what they have to say or teach, let them know. LET THEM KNOW. I have had two different blogs, and the same proved true for both: for every hundred page views, you maybe receive one comment. Maybe. As a writer, it is hard to see that and not think, "They hated it." A friend and I talked about this recently, and she said, "Honestly, I read a lot of blogs- but I just don't even think about leaving a comment. It's not that people aren't reading it- it's just that most of them don't realize that commenting matters." The writer can't see inside your heart and doesn't know that you read their words and felt something- in this instance, numbers CAN lie. I know that many other bloggers will agree with me on this: comments make our day. Comments let us know that our words have not gone out into the world and come back empty, but that they have hit their target and left their mark. Even short (meaningful) comments do so much to encourage a writer. If something made you laugh, inspired you, encouraged you, or taught you- leave a comment. It is such an easy way to leave your own mark and encourage someone else. My favorite comments are the ones where the person tells me their own story- how they might be in the same place I am, or have gone through something similar. This makes me feel like I am connecting with someone on a personal level, and that can make the world seem a bit smaller and a bit kinder. Even if the post is just a recipe or craft project, leave a comment- especially if you made it and had good results. This tells the writer that their time was not wasted. NOTE: If you are leaving a comment that is anything but encouraging, just don't. You don't have to share your opinion. Mommy Blog Trolls are one of the quickest ways to ruin a blogger's day. Don't be that person.

Monday, April 14, 2014

When You Break Up With Your Best Friend

I suppose my life is pretty undramatic if I can honestly say that one of the most painful experiences I have ever been through was breaking up with my best friend. Lord knows this happened many times in my school years, since girls go through friends like they do shoe fads. Once you become an adult, though, you would think that the drama of friendship would end and we could all just act like the adults that we think we are.

It doesn't. We don't.

It was the type of friendship where you feel like someone can see inside your soul and loves you anyways. The kind where you talk every single day and still never run out of things to talk about. The type of friendship where you know that your darkest thoughts and deepest joys can be safely shared. Unfortunately, it also became the kind of friendship that needs the other person- one that feeds off of drama, takes over your life, and becomes unhealthy. It became a friendship that relied too heavily on another mortal person to carry burdens- and became a burden itself.

In September of 2012, it ended. Spectacularly. Bitterly. Angrily. Just like that, it was over. The person I talked to everyday- gone. The one person I was closest to in the world besides my husband- gone. The one person I knew for sure prayed for me every day- gone. A huge sea of anger and regret was all that was left behind in the wake of an angry storm of bad communication and hurt feelings.

After that last text was sent, and in the days afterwards, there was that feeling of self-righteous indignation. I'm right, you're wrong, and I'm going to wait for you to realize it. There was a huge hole where my friend had been- our conversations, our texts, our inside jokes and coffee dates. The days turned into weeks and months- and I realized that the hole was not going to fill back up. The loss of such an important relationship sank me into a very deep depression for a long time. I have no best friend. When you share everything with someone, there is an impossibly huge hole to fill when they are gone. I can't even count the number of times I reached for my phone to call her about something... only to remember that we didn't speak anymore. We had done so much together and made so many memories that there were many painful reminders everywhere I went. We aren't friends anymore. 

I couldn't figure out WHY I couldn't get over the pain of the break-up. I mean, it's not like we were MARRIED. It's not like we were in a romantic relationship. We were just best friends. Why was I taking it so hard? Why couldn't I just move on?

After 15 months- months where I missed the birth of her first baby, months where she missed my 30th birthday, months where we both suffered tremendously but thought that the other person despised us, months of missed communications and mistaken intentions, we finally made up. It was a balm to my heart to have that friendship restored, but there is a lot of bitterness in looking back and seeing that all of that pain could've been prevented, or at least lessened.

Here are some things that I learned through the whole process. If you are fighting with your best friend or are suffering through a bad break-up with her, I pray that the lessons I learned the hard way will minister to you.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stop and See The Flowers

White cherry blossoms. 
I just can't get enough of the glorious blooms this year. Perhaps it is because I am finally slowing down enough to notice them. Perhaps it's because I just REALLY want to play with my camera. I was joking with a friend that my latest obsession is like digital picture hoarding- I want to take pictures of all of the different flowers I see, but once I have captured it, I'm done with the flower. I suppose there are worse hoarding habits to have!

Anyways, if you are a flower expert (which I am definitely not), please correct any of my flower names. I'm no Google expert either, and that is where my laughable research into flower names begins and ends!

This tiny sweet purple flower (weed?) has the unfortunate
name of "henbit deadnettle". Words like "invasive" are
used to describe it. I think it's precious.

This is a common purple wildflower called a... wait for it...
wood violet. That one didn't take much research.