Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Motherhood and More: It's not a parenting failure to seek the help you need

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the time after my daughter was born. I was a new stay-at-home mom and my son was 2 years old.

I’m not sure what has brought on these reminisces, but it’s hard to compare where I was then to where I am now. At the time, I made plenty of jokes about not having adult conversation, but was silent about my real struggle.

Over time, I spiraled into a deep depression. I don’t know how else to say it. There were many days when I didn’t think I’d make it through, many days when I locked myself in the bathroom to cry. Many days when I lashed out at the kids when I shouldn’t have.

I felt guilty every day. I felt anxious and sad and lost and hopeless. I didn’t know what to do or how to ask for help. I didn’t tell anyone, because how do you tell people you’re failing? How do you ask for help when to do so you’d have to admit that failure?

It’s only now, years later, that I feel OK with sharing because I’m so far removed from it.

I assume I was suffering from post-partum depression. At the time though, I just thought I was bad at being a mother. But I powered through. I trudged along each day making breakfast, playing games, coloring, but all the while feeling desperate and lost.

I felt alone. I felt that no one could be as awful a mother as I was, so I didn’t seek out people to talk to because I didn’t want them to see exactly how bad I was.

We didn’t have much money and only one car, so we weren’t able to go out to places. And when we did go out in public it was like running a marathon. My daughter was not the best child to take places. She was easily frustrated and easily irritated and ridiculously impatient. Add to that an older child who was testing his boundaries and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

I was terrified to take them out by myself, so most days we stayed home.

We did have fun, though I know it doesn’t sound like it. I tried to plan activities to keep them entertained, but sometimes it was physically painful to have to be on and available all day. I’m an introvert, which means I desperately need alone time to function. That doesn’t happen when you have two small children who need you 24 hours a day.

I became obsessed with my son’s first memory. I was convinced it would be of me yelling over something stupid and silly and that would color our relationship for the rest of our lives. I lay awake at night thinking about it, feeling terrible, feeling the weight of my responsibility pressing on my chest.

Eventually, I realized I needed to do something, that I had to fix what was broken, because something obviously wasn’t right. I knew I needed anti-depressants, but also felt, again, like I was a failure for needing them. I didn’t want to be like this. I felt weak and childish, like if I only was stronger, if I only tried a little harder, I’d pull myself out.

But I think it took strength to finally ask my doctor. I was shaking and crying, trying to explain the issue without making myself seem too terrible.

And the anti-depressants worked. They worked so well. I felt so much better, like a black cloud had gone, like the pressure and the weight and the desperation were lessened.

It wasn’t a quick fix and it wasn’t 100 percent. It took time and effort and there still were days I locked myself away to have a few minutes to myself.

But I was better and functioning and not spiraling any deeper. I was able to see clearer and to be the mama my kids needed.

So if you see a friend or loved one struggling, even a small amount, look a little closer. Ask questions, offer assistance. They might be searching for help but not know how to ask for it.

We’re all in this together, right?

This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on May 25, 2016.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Motherhood and More: Tackling the kids’ rooms leaves feeling of accomplishment*

I spent a day and a half cleaning out my children’s rooms.

I know, I know. It’s ridiculous. We try hard to instill work ethic and values and independence into our children. As in, it is their responsibility to keep their rooms clean, because it is their own space and they are the ones who messed it up.

But we all slack off a bit. Their rooms are upstairs and they don’t like to spend much time in them, so I don’t actually see the mess all that often — bedtime, every other night is it. Usually by that time I’m too tired to care about anything, much less a pile of papers under the bed and toys out of place.

Enough of that, though, and you’ve got a gigantic problem in the form of endless hours of cleaning. Plus, it had been years since I’d done a true toy overhaul.

Their rooms and closets were a packed plot of broken bits and pieces of discarded, never-used toy cars and fast-food toys, broken Legos, crumpled paper, many, many tote bags to hold the crumpled paper, too-small clothing and shoes, Lego boxes, (because we had at some point decided we had to keep all of them) and other childhood detritus that didn’t have a home with us anymore.

It was time.

It was past time.

We shipped the kids off for the day. If they knew I was throwing out toys that hadn’t been touched in two years, those toys suddenly would become their most loved and prized possessions.

I spent hours gleefully tossing half-finished drawings, old books and old toys into bag after bag to toss or donate. I did not waste much time on sentimentality. At one point in my life I would have considered everything my children touched as keepsake worthy. Now I am ready to purge.

However, before you think I am a cold-hearted mama, I did save all the stories my son has written — and really I should be commended for that because he has written a lot of stories. For now, they can stay.

My daughter’s room has two huge closets and they’ve become a sort of storage area for junk we hadn’t found a home for yet. Not anymore. Old candles, old decorative items, old junk — all gone.

The beauty, the release I felt once everything was disposed of was tantamount to climbing a mountain – I assume. I’ve never actually climbed a mountain, but I’m sure it totally feels as much of an accomplishment as cleaning your kids’ rooms.

The book organization alone was enough to make me feel I’d been a catalyst for world peace. The bare floors inspired poetry.

My children, when they returned to clean, lightened rooms, were understandably pleased. Probably because they didn’t see the amount of bags of their stuff I’d given away.

My son, always the one to offer a helpful comment, came to me after surveying his room and said admonishingly, “You didn’t really clean much in my closet, Mom.”

This was, of course, not true as that was where most of the garbage bags I filled came from. It also wasn’t all that nice of a thing to say.

But I let it pass. Sooner or later he’s going to notice what I’ve taken away. I’ll be sure to reply, innocently, “I have no idea where that went. I didn’t clean very much in your closet.”

*This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on April 27, 2016.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Motherhood & More: When your child is a lot like you, try pickin’ together*

My son is too much like his mother.

I can see parts of his personality grow­ing to become mirror images of mine. We’re both entirely too sensitive and take everything personally. We see the world in black and white, right and wrong and are hard to dissuade when we’ve made our decision on which is which. That one I’ve almost grown out of and am much more flexible these days, I promise.

However, the hardest one to overcome is our need to be good at everything we decide to attempt – drawing, music, soccer. No matter what it is, we don’t want to do it if our natural abilities won’t let us start better than everyone else.
Now, my son is having this issue with music.

I was raised with music as a large part of my life. My dad is a musician – guitar, bass, Dobro – and my sister and I grew up watching him perform in countless bands or have jam sessions at family pig roasts and get-togethers. We both took piano lessons; however, I quit early on over a difference of opinion with the piano teacher. She was mean and I didn’t like mean teachers.

But I still can play a tiny bit of “Stand By Me” and “Heart and Soul,” and, of course, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” We all sang, although my mom insists that she “only plays the radio.”

I decided around 15 or 16 I wanted to learn the guitar. I was pretty ob­ses­sed with Janis Joplin and “Me and Bobby McGee” was No. 1 on my learn-to-play list. Plus that was when Lilith Fair was happening and there was an explosion of girl folk singers. I fit right in.

So I got a guitar, my dad taught me some chords and I started playing. I learned classic rock songs and oldies and angsty, acoustic girl power songs, then began writing my own angsty, acoustic girl power songs. I played guitar in church on many Sundays with a group of friends and a couple of times played at school chorus events.

But I slowed down considerably in college and stopped all together once I had my first kid. Time, you know? There’s only so much of it.

So when my son showed interest in music, I pushed for the guitar. My dad, who stresses the importance of nurturing musical talent, fixed him a left-handed one and we scheduled lessons with a local teacher.

But the problem is there was too much time between scheduling and the start of lessons. He had a couple of weeks to think and too much time to try it and see he’s not going to be able to play the guitar well without practice. He’s worried he’s not going to be good enough and so we had many, many discussions on why it’s important to work at skills, to push yourself, to just try. Because it’s in the trying and the effort that you see what you can accomplish.

He went into his first lesson excited and nervous and came out ready to learn. I can hear him in his room after bedtime and early in the morning strumming, trying as hard as he can to fret the G chord using his pinky.

What’s really great is that this is something we can do together. He wants me to work with him, to play with him. So now I’m excited and ready to pick my own guitar back up and play.

I wonder if he wants to learn any Lisa Loeb?

*This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on March 23, 2016.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Motherhood & More: When the kid's right, he's right — even if he's wrong*

I have a kid who knows more than me.

At least, that’s what he believes. And he’s right in some instances. For example, I do not know whether emeralds are stronger than diamonds in Minecraft or how to work the Playstation remote or the different life cycles of certain bugs.

I do, however, know that Valentine’s Day always, every year, falls on Feb. 14, not Feb. 7. The child was adamant to the point of frustration and near tears that he was right and we, his parents, were absolute idiots for not knowing the true date of the holiday.

This type of thing happens often. When he is sure, he will fight you with the determination of a stubborn 7-year-old dealing with his out-of-touch parents. Sometimes he’s right, sometimes he’s wrong. Always he’s obstinate.

I try to think back to when I was his age and wanted to be taken seriously and whether I was as much of a jerk to my parents. (Yes. The answer is yes. I am still not quite clear how my parents didn’t regularly drop me and my sister off somewhere for extended periods of time just to get away from the enormous amount of attitude heaped upon them daily.)

I know it’s horrible to be dismissed and not respected as an intelligent, thoughtful person, even at 7. I try to be as supportive as I can while still needing to banish the child to his room until he stops talking to me as if no one in the entire world could be as “un-with it” as I am.

And the thing is, he’s super, crazy smart. He does know much more than I do on certain subjects, which makes all of this that much harder.

I honestly thought I had more time before this became an issue. Twelve? Thirteen? Isn’t that the age the eye rolling starts? But now I can see years and years spread out before us, with him being increasingly right and me being increasingly wrong.

We, the parents, will become progressively out of touch with what “the kids these days” are doing. Already I can’t keep up with technology, so I am becoming a stereotypical mom who needs her kid to show her how to use all the new-fangled phone apps. I also now am using words like “new-fangled.”

So he will grow ever away from me — seeking more time with friends and less time with his boring, dorky parents.

For now, though, I still can get him to discuss books and movies and whatever else is interesting him, though I tune out when he starts in on Minecraft. There is only so much interest in Minecraft I can fake and I met my limit a year ago. (Sorry, kid. This blank stare totally doesn’t mean I’m not interested in seeing the new house you built. Swearsies.)

And maybe, if I am lucky and patient and can ignore the eye rolling, he will continue to teach me new things and I will be able to learn with him.

At least until he turns 13, right?

*This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on February 24, 2016.