Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Preschool Graduate

On my morning run, there is a hill on the way home that overlooks a hill of trees.  For quite a few weeks, there were only branches that I had to squint to see since the sun wasn’t quite all the way awake.  But today, there were so many bright, green leaves.  When did this happen?  Why did I not notice it before?

It is difficult to pin the exact moment when the dead winter grass turned a vibrant shade of green that I forgot existed given our long, brutal winter.  The change from winter to spring happened so slowly that I barely noticed it was happening.

This gradual change that yields a big ta-da moment is similar to raising kids.

When the kids were babies and their first smiles emerged, I would wonder if it was gas.  After a few weeks, I would become certain that these were real, happy smiles, yet I never had a solid date to put down in the baby book since it happened so gradually.

I remember peeking in on Thomas when he was in his crib.  I could hear a lot of rattling around and could see that he was plotting his escape.  He started with pulling himself up on the side.  A few days later he would try and put a leg up over the side.  Eventually, he swung the other leg over and let go of the side – he had finally accomplished his goal of springing out of his comfy, little prison.  It didn’t happen all at once, but once he accomplished his goal, it was definitive and exact – and there was no going back.

For me, nothing, in terms of raising kids, happens in a flash.  Watching him grow from a little baby to a fully articulate little boy happened so gradually that I am having a hard believing that I have a baby that has graduated from preschool.

Raising kids is like a crazy experiment – I never really know if I am doing it right.

So I will take a moment to dwell success in the fact that he is ready for kindergarten.  But these big moments of triumph are studded with sadness that time moves on and there is no going back.

But for now, I am just going to focus on how proud I am of him.

preschool graduate mommy on the spot erin janda rawlings

How do you feel about the graduation milestone?  Happy?  Sad?  Both?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Signs I May Need a Break: Spring Edition

My friend Angela, from Jumping with Your Fingers Crossed, recently vlogged about how May is the new December.

Preach on, Angela. 

I won’t bore you with the details of this week alone, but it has been the kind of week where I have been drinking coffee with reckless abandon.  

afternoon coffee mommy on the spot
Afternoon coffee: #cantstop #wontstop

That new rule I was trying to institute about no more afternoon coffee?  Bwhahaha!  

I was so focused on making sure we made it to all of our activities that I didn’t even realize I was crabby.  I mean these were fun! exciting! activities!  How could I feel tired?

history walk field trip mommy on the spot
Fun at the History Walk Field Trip

class activity mommy on the spot
Fun class activity.  And by fun, I mean I could hammer a nail in straight by the time it took
my 5 year old to put the whole thing together.

flat stanley mommy on the spot
Fun at Open House Ice Cream Social (ours Flat Stanley went to New York)!

special person day mommy on the spot
Fun with volunteering at Thomas's school again! This time I got to see
the firefighter show us around her truck, which was kinda cool since Thomas has
always wanted to be a firefighter.

Fun, right?!  It was, but the pace was in.tense.  It wasn’t until I had to make an extra trip to the library to pay an exuberant amount of fines when I saw kids walking to the hall for prom that I noticed it.

In the midst of fancy dresses and a haze of Axe Body spray, I was overcome with envy.  These young people were going out for (what seemed to me) a carefree evening of dinner and dancing (and probably drinking) while I was schlepping it to the library and then to Kroger to get organic celery for tomorrow’s lunch.

That envy shone a light on some feelings I wasn’t paying attention to at all.  Here is a list that indicated that I am in desperate need of a break:

I was sitting in my car at a stoplight when I heard a loud, irritating popping noise over my jams.  The lady in the car next to me was popping her gum.  My only feasible solution was to punch her in the throat like Melissa McCarthy in Identity Theft.  But I don’t have time to go to jail, so I clenched my jaw and seethed.  

My new Me Time is the 45 minutes I sit on uncomfortable bleachers while the smell of chlorine burns my nose during Marie’s swim practice.

 I savor the 1 minute 47 seconds it takes me to get the mail after I pick up Marie with Thomas from the bus stop.  That is 1 minute and 47 seconds that I am alone and am not subjected to their bickering, which commences immediately when they get into the house. 

On Tuesday, I became full of rage when painting my nails did not turn out the way I wanted due to the cheap nail polish I bought.  That rage was magnified due to the fact I was unable to find time to travel the 3 miles to Ulta to get the nail polish I needed. 

Watching TV at night seems too hard.  I am going to say that again: watching TV at night seems too hard.  That means sitting on my couch, keeping my eyes open, and following a plot is too difficult – which is unacceptable. 

Drinking water seems too time consuming.  This week it felt like filling up a glass of water and drinking it take up too much time, time that could be spent on doing much more important things that can’t get done since I was not home all week like laundry or cleaning the kitty litter box.

I think I am going to require some alone time this weekend, perhaps with a glass of wine.  I also think I am going to need a meal that does not consist of a.) An argument convincing Thomas why eating protein is important and b.) Me shoving the “meal” that I hastily prepared down my throat so I can clean up before we go to swim.

Is your May crazy? How are you handling it? 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

LTYM Wrap Up: The Truth Will Set You Free

For me, the early years of motherhood were isolating.  Being a stay-at-home mom definitely attributed to my feelings of isolation, but adding to that was Marie’s scary medical condition that I didn’t’ really understand.  My mind was clouded, which I thought was my new normal.  Turns out, I was probably suffering from PPD with a pinch of PTSD.

And I said nothing. 

I took a shower every day, put on my makeup, and then pretended that everything was fine. 

For eight years, I harbored feelings of guilt and confusion and self-hatred.

Until I let it all out at Listen to Your Mother in front of almost 300 plus people.

Speaking my truth was such a powerful experience; I’m still having a hard time putting it in words.  It felt exhilarating to go up there and share my story, but it was scary to feel that exposed.

Listen to Your Mother Metro Detroit Mommy on the Spot Erin Janda Rawlings
Here is my exhilarated/scared face.

But most of all, I felt freedom - freedom from carrying this burden around with me.  I could almost see the energy of those words swirl up and out of me.

The freedom cracked me wide open.  In that space where guilt and fear dwelled, there is now room for positivity and light.  I am not afraid anymore.  I let go of fear – fear of being judged, fear of not being enough – and invited acceptance and peace.

Thank you again, Angela, Jessica, and Angela for this incredible opportunity, and thank you, Ann Imig, for creating a space where mothers can feel connected and support each other.  It has changed my life.

Here is the piece I read at Listen to Your Mother:

I held my breath, sharp and heavy in my chest.  My daughter sat calmly in my lap on the examining table, and I could feel her body, soft and delicate from low muscle tone.  The neurosurgeon reached for the dreaded measuring tape to measure the circumference of her head.  

 Every time I saw that measuring tape, I could feel the bile churning in my stomach.  We had been coming to this office for the better part of my daughter’s short life, all of eighteen months, and this appointment would determine whether or not she would need to continue under the care of a neurosurgeon or if she would be discharged.  I could feel the anxiety prickling my skin, but I clenched my jaw and focused on my daughter so she couldn’t sense that I was worrying.  My gaze was fixed on her head and then darted to the doctor’s stoic face; I searched for a clue - a grimace, a smile – anything that would reveal our fate. 

“Mrs. Rawlings,” he said indifferently, “based on the MRI and that her head growth has followed the same curve, your daughter no longer needs to be seen by me.” 

I exhaled for the first time in over a year.  I tried to wrap my mind around this closure, but the whole experience just seemed surreal. 

I never thought my journey into motherhood would include a side trip into a neurosurgeon’s office.  Just over a year and a half ago, I left my job as a junior high teacher (or fled, as some people might say, some people being me).  I was ready to experience my perfect natural birth plan perfectly.  I was ready to dive into my new role as a stay-at-home mom with all my lovely expectations of bliss.

But that did not happen.  I had an unplanned C-section and a baby born with a mysterious condition called macrocephaly, which is a medical term for a big head.  While I lay on the operating table, the doctor uttered, “Uh, do not be alarmed, but your daughter’s head is shaped like a banana since it was too big to fit through the birth canal.” 

What?!  Not be alarmed?!  If I wasn’t so drugged up on pain meds and exhausted from fifteen hours of labor, I might have had a more verbal reaction.  But I felt defeated.  This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go.  I come from a long line of perfectionists, and this, quite frankly, was unacceptable. 

As a perfectionist, I labored under the allusion that I could take command over my world.  When I wanted to accomplish something, I would zealously research the best path, follow each step precisely, and reach my goal.   

I approached life as a sailor charting her course; with the right map, I could get anywhere without fail. When I pulled my boat into the dock after successfully arriving at my destination, I felt invincible.  I was in control. 

Yet nothing made me feel more out of control than a failed birth plan and a baby with a scary medical condition.  Navigating through the medical and special needs systems was not my plan.  In my daughter’s first year of life, terms like hydrocephaly, shunts, and cerebral palsy were thrown around during her numerous doctor and physical therapy appointments.   

The responsibility of shepherding this precious little being through a situation I knew nothing about made my stomach and chest hot with anxiety.  I held my breath for the next eighteen months.I could feel myself cracking under the pressure.  Not only was I scared about her prognosis, but I was exhausted and distressed; my reality looked nothing like my fantasy, and in my book, that made me a complete failure. 

In these dark moments, I knew I had two choices: sink into darkness.  Or put my feelings on the shelf so I could focus on making sure my baby received the help she needed. 

It didn’t seem like much of a choice. 

So it began, a shift that happened with one little choice – to be present.This was difficult since being present meant I could not wade around in my worries; yet all I wanted to do was let go, jump in, and drown in the sea of my anxieties, but who would sail the ship safely to shore?I dutifully stayed at the helm, white-knuckling it the whole way. 

That day my daughter was released from her neurosurgeon, I wept.  Her ship was now safely docked.  The fear that I suppressed worked its way up, and I let out a loud wail from deep down in my belly.  I became unglued. 

I reached out to my therapist and made an emergency appointment for the next day.  There wasn’t much accomplished during those early visits, but eventually I began to work through the guilt that I did not enjoy my first year of motherhood.  I felt like a horrible mom.  I mean, who says that?!  Who says she did not enjoy her first year of motherhood?! 

I began to drift, my boat bouncing in the thrashing seas as waves of self-doubt and self-hatred overcame me.  How could I fail at creating my utopian version of motherhood?  How could I fail this perfect, little person as her life was just beginning? What I eventually would begin to learn is that ego and its expectations are what present the conflict of a peaceful life.  Once the ego lets go, reality can be accepted.

Luckily, I had little ego left.  It pretty much went out the window during the birthing process and nursing and being pooped on and spit up on.  But obviously, the shred of ego that was left was hanging of for dear life of that perfect picture of motherhood. 

With the same grit and focus I used to deliver my daughter safely through her struggles, I steered my own ship through the choppy waters. 

It was not easy to give up control of charting the flawless course, and it was not easy to accept anything less than my ideal vision.  But releasing control and perfection and dwelling in the moment offered a glorious freedom that I had never before experienced.

It changed me – I am now closer to the person I always hoped to be – kinder, more compassionate, less anxious. 

In the chaos of the unexpected hurdles of motherhood, there is a gift that lies on the other end of the struggles — the knowledge that the power of presence is a far better focus than the elusive quest for perfection.