Behind-the-Scenes

A friend of mine once confided to me that she’d been intimidated to talk to me at first because I always seemed so put-together. I laughed so hard that I snorted wine through my nose when she admitted this to me – when we first met I was struggling with postpartum anxiety so fierce that some days I’d have a panic attack just walking to the mailbox. I was anything but ‘put together’ but she only saw what I tried to project, an image – a quick snapshot of my life during school drop-off. She wouldn’t have thought that of me if she’d seen the rest.

Highlight reel

When the kids were babies, every year we’d take literally 100s of pictures trying to get just ONE good one to use for the Christmas cards. That one where they were sitting still so the picture wasn’t blurry, looking at the camera so you could see their faces, smiling an authentic happy smile. That one where my thumb wasn’t accidentally in the shot or one that would’ve been perfect if it wasn’t for the cat walking by at exactly the wrong moment. Merry Cat Butt Everyone!! We’d eventually get the shot we were looking for… or one that was at least close enough because we were sick of trying for the perfect one.

But it didn’t take long for us to realize in looking back at pictures, that it’s not that ONE good picture that we enjoyed the most. It’s all the others. It’s the mess ups and goof ups because those, those are the honest ones. Those are the ones where life happened and we remember how it really was because life is never picture-perfect.

We started looking forward to our “blooper reels” and to this day, they are still my favorite.  We have them for nearly every occasion. There are the dozens of pictures that we took on the first day of school trying to get one good one to share on Facebook. There are Easter bloopers and Birthday bloopers and Halloween bloopers.

Yet for every big occasion, every  vacation or special trip, I find myself taking picture after picture still trying to get that good one – the one that I eventually share. And then I find again, as if it should be surprising, that years later that’s not the picture that brings a smile to my face. It’s some other one that will come up briefly on my screen saver, some picture that at the time I determined wasn’t ‘good enough’ or ‘share-worthy,’ that’s the picture that makes my heart lurch when I see it.

It’s funny because I know I’m not the only one who does this – who shares only the ‘perfect’ pictures. We are so very selective about what we put out there for others to see and we portray it as ‘real life’ but it’s not.

I’m inspired to try a new project, a true-to-life photo documentary of sorts sharing the real, nitty gritty, imperfect pictures of my day-to-day life.  Sort of like the ‘honest selfie’ of my life. We’ll call it, “Sincere Snapshot Saturdays.” Because, alliterations are awesome.

But today, in honor of Throwback Thursday, here’s one to start us off – from the very first Holiday blooper reel…

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Merry Cat Butt Everyone!!

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Tiggers are made for bouncing

 

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I sat on the crowded bleachers overlooking the floor at our local gymnastics center, leaning forward and cricking my neck so I could keep an eye on my little dude, one of 5 boys in the beginning gymnastics class and one of about 40 kids down on the floor at the time.

I marveled for a moment that we were even there, in such a large place which was completely unfamiliar to him. The concrete building echoed with the noise of so many kids practicing all at once, and although the chaos was organized, it was still busy and loud. At one time it would’ve been overwhelming for him to even be in the building, let alone willingly and happily participating by himself in a class.

He told me the night before how scared he was to go but when the time came and the instructors gathered up their classes he excitedly followed the rest of the boys into the gym, bobbing along with his goofy, enthusiastic bounce-walk.

A preschool teacher once described him as always having a “spring in his step and a song in his heart”. In taekwondo they told him to stand still and stop bouncing. Those are two things that my little guy just doesn’t do.

Twice a week for two years we shuffled off to taekwondo. We thought it would be good for him, help him to focus and burn some energy. And, he wanted to be a ninja.

But his mind was always somewhere else and he rather quickly lost his enthusiasm and got bored with it. Eventually I realized that the only reason we were still going was because I was insisting on it, which seemed silly, especially because I had started to dread going as well.

I had stopped watching him in class at taekwondo.  When I did I felt like I had to explain to other parents about his delayed motor skills and sensory processing challenges that make it hard for him to pay attention and learn and control his body like other kids. Then I would feel guilty for feeling embarrassed and I’d come down hard on myself for it.

Taekwondo felt like trying to contort him into a shape that his soul was never meant to take. Why force my joyful, silly, fun-loving, march-to-his-own-beat, little man to stop bouncing? So instead we decided on gymnastics where we could put a spring-board beneath his feet and see how high he could soar.

Also, he still wants to be a ninja and learn to do back-flips off of walls.

Watching him down on the mat, practicing cartwheels, my heart fluttered with love and pride. Not because he was nailing them but because he wasn’t yet he kept trying, one after another, after another. I was proud of him for being him, for being there, for showing up and for trying even though it was hard. I reveled in his enthusiasm and how incredibly hard he works at even the smallest things that most of us take for granted.

And then he landed one, his face beaming with excitement and accomplishment and l wanted to stand-up and cheer – it was as if he had just stuck a perfect landing in an Olympic moment- because for him, it was that big.

After class he asked me, “Mom, did you see me do that cartwheel!?”

I told him, “I sure did baby, and I loved watching you!”

~“Tiggers are wonderful things. Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of springs.”

Muchly inspired by this post from the ever-wise Rachel Macy Stafford. ❤

 

 

 


A New Spring

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Winter is definitely a time of hibernation for me. I eat enough to sustain a bear and I don’t want to do anything but curl up under a pile of warm, cozy blankets and sleep and hide away from the cold. It’s an introspective, internal time when being social sometimes feels forced and the world sometimes feels gray and bleak.

In the past I have tried to rouse myself, like the bear, come springtime. To rise up and rejoin the world but regardless of the season I would find myself retreating again. Not just inwards but away from – everything. Far more turtle-like than bear-like really. I would enjoy basking in the sun but was quick to hideaway under my shell at the first sign of danger.

This spring everything feels different. I am acutely aware of the change in the seasons, the longer days, the warmth of the sun, the blooming buds and greening grass. But it’s much, much more than that – I feel an emergent energy – the buzzing of potential. I’m almost giddy with it! I feel connected with the world and straight up drunk on love for it.

Much like the little sprouts determinedly poking through the dirt I feel vulnerable and tender but instead of being wrapped up in fear about all the things that might smash me and stunt my growth, I feel excited for the possibility of what might become of me.

I’ve been fighting for this feeling for awhile now – clawing at it– and inadvertently destroying it at the moment that I was close to achieving it. So I stopped fighting. It looked a little bit like giving up. It felt a bit like it as well. But it wasn’t. It took a long time, a lot of clenching and flinching and reflexive tightening but I finally relaxed into it. And as soon as I did, the very instant that I let go, the feeling of freedom that I had been struggling so hard find, flooded through me.

I feel alive with –confidence. That ever allusive sense of self-confidence which I’ve mistakenly been trying to find from others was a gift that only I could give myself.  There’s a quote that has resonated with me for awhile now, beckoning me to understand it and I’m finally there. I’ve let go of the fear and the doubt and returned to love.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

~ Marianne Williamson

 


Be Brave

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Quote from Katherine Center

Lately I’ve found myself drawn to the stories of others who have lived their lives with courage and authenticity. Those who have dared to live out loud and speak their truths or challenge notions or reach heights and do things that most of us would be too afraid to do.

I’ve never thought of myself as brave. I’ve never been a trailblazer or a risk taker. I’ve never quite had the confidence to draw that much attention to myself.

As a kid I somehow picked up the story that I wasn’t good enough and that’s a tragic little plot line that tends to end a good tale long before it even begins.

I don’t want to draw the wrong picture though. I didn’t suffer a bad childhood. I come from loving parents who have both always done everything in their power to support me. This wasn’t a line that they told me. If it came from them at all it was something they transferred to me unconsciously. Perhaps it’s a story that they were told, or that their parents were told.

Perhaps I got it up from other kids, or from a teacher somewhere along the line.

Who knows how these things get started or how many generations they get handed down.  I do know though that I don’t want it to be my legacy and I don’t want to pass it on to my children.

It doesn’t matter where I picked this story up; I’m not looking for blame. Tracing the origins is a game I play merely out of curiosity. What matters is that I believed it. I bought it and breathed it and lived it.

I can’t recall a specific event more than another. But I do recall a pervasive feeling, throughout my entire childhood, that I wasn’t as smart as other kids, or as good at sports (or anything else), or as talented, or as funny. I always had this sense that everyone else knew something that I didn’t or that they understood something that I didn’t understand.

It’s only as an adult that I’ve started to realize how misguided those perceptions were. I look back over my life and can see all the times that I got in my own way by not believing in myself and selling myself short. Decades of opportunities cast aside in doubt and fear.

The great part about a story though is that it can be rewritten. We can end them. We can begin again and start fresh on a blank page. I refuse to end mine with I could have, should have or would have… I want to look back and say, “I did.”  As long as I have pages left in my book I am determined to fill them with new stories about opportunities seized, connections made, and moments lived to their fullest.

I want to be brave and I want to inspire courage in my children. I want them to take risks, to have crazy wild dreams that they chase because no one ever told them that they couldn’t do it. I want them to grow up believing a story about how they could be whatever they want to be.  I want them to always know that they are good enough.

From this day forward I want to dare to dream, and then go make it happen.

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live, maybe one of these days you can let the light in…show me how big your brave is” ~Sara Bareilles


Beauty and the Beast (Part II)


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Continued from Beauty and the Beast (Part I)

Less than 12 hours after giving birth to my beautiful baby girl we were back at home and I was so grateful and relieved. I felt immensely blessed to have this sweet little being who insisted on sleeping in a bundle on my chest.

Yet underneath it all there was a familiar and unwelcome feeling. Like the evil fairy that we “forgot” to invite to the party. It surfaced as a tightness that constricted my breathing and felt like a giant lump in my throat. I forced myself to swallow hard and I tried to push it away but it had taken root and the more that I stuffed it down and tried to ignore it the bigger and more powerful it became.

It was fear. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to love both of my children the way that they deserved to be loved. Fear that I would fail one or the both of them. Fear that I wasn’t patient enough or kind enough or resourceful enough. Fear that in the end, I wasn’t enough.

The insomnia returned and sleep deprivation made me weepy and detached. I was anxious and irritable and all of these things only reinforced my personal myth of failure and unworthiness.

My little girl was only happy when I held her or carried her so I wore her in a carrier constantly. This was supposed to be calming for both of us but instead of being this beautiful bonding activity it made me feel over-touched and over-taxed. I felt like I was suffocating or drowning, I needed to breathe but couldn’t get any air.

Then the guilt of wanting to get away from my baby weighed me down even more. My older boy, not much more than a baby himself clung to me more than ever, he needed reinforcement of my love, reassurance that everything was okay. I worried that my connection with him would suffer so I did everything that I could possibly do to maintain his routines and to continue to be there for him. But in all of my caring for my children I completely neglected to care for myself and suffered for it.

The fear and the guilt led to panic attacks. At my best I was tense and anxious and worried, at my worst I was afraid to leave the house. It got to the point that even going as far as the backyard was a panic inducing event.

When my daughter was 4 months old, my grandmother, my mom’s mom, passed away and I was unable to go to the memorial service. I could barely make it to the mailbox so getting on an airplane was a feat beyond comprehension. I was so devastated by not being able to go that I finally broke down and sought help.

It took 30 months. Two and a half years of living with some degree of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety before I finally reached out and said, “I need help.”

I had been stubborn but mostly I had been deeply ashamed.  It was like admitting that all of my fears were true. Admitting that I needed help felt like a confirmation, “I’m not good enough.” The truth is though that asking for help when you need it isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s an act of strength and courage. Getting help didn’t mean that I wasn’t good enough, it meant that I was good enough.

At first I didn’t want to take medication but I felt like I was falling down a dark and scary chasm and I needed a way to find my footing so I reversed my long-held belief about not taking meds and agreed to start on anti-depressants.

I hated taking them yet in many ways I feel that I owe my life to them. They provided me with a net. They caught me in my fall.

I didn’t feel like me again yet but I was finally able to get my feet back under me. I sought counseling; I improved my nutrition and started on a variety of different vitamins. I started doing yoga again and learned to meditate.  Then I started weaning back off of the medication. It was hard. One of the hardest things that I’ve ever done but I wanted to be me again, I wanted to feel again. I wanted to let the pain back in, to feel it and let it wash over me and know that it was okay. I was okay.

By my daughter’s 2nd Birthday I was completely off of  medication and celebrated my birth as much as hers.

I wasn’t perfect. I was messy and raw and some days were definitely better than others.  I discovered that it’s okay to be a beautiful mess. I learned that I was both the beauty and the beast and neither needed to win or defeat the other. I embraced both aspects of myself and learned true self-love.

Note:

I am publishing this story on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, in solidarity with the brave warriors at Postpartum Progress as they climb out of the darkness from shame to pride.

In the courageous words of Glennon Doyle Melton from Momastery, to all of those celebrating having overcome postpartum depression or anxiety or any other profound personal struggle and to all of those still fighting to overcome whatever battle it is that you fight, “carry on warrior!”

By the way, if you haven’t seen Glennon’s  Ted Talk about coming out of hiding to tell the truth about being a messy, honest, fully human being, it is so worth your time! 


Beauty and the Beast (Part I)

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“Having kids is going to change everything,” a co-worker said to me with a warm smile.

“I know” I replied, absent-mindedly stirring clumps of powdered creamer into my half cup of decaf coffee. Then I uttered the biggest lie of my life, “I’m ready.”

Fast forward about 4 weeks; I was lying awkwardly in bed trying to roll over to my other side. I reached down and scooped my gigantic belly up with my arm like a spatula; about mid-roll I felt a warm gush as my water broke. 20 minutes later I was in a full blown panic chanting, “Oh my god I’m not ready!!!”

I had 18 hours to get ready.  I won’t share the entire birth story here, that’s a telling for another time. Suffice it to say that labor earned its name and that we experienced some rather traumatic complications by the end of which left me feeling exhausted, battered and bruised.

That first night in the hospital, I remember looking at my face in the bathroom mirror and literally not recognizing my reflection. This was not the image of new motherhood that I had envisioned. I had postpartum edema (swelling) from all the IV fluids so my face looked like I had suddenly gained 50 lbs, my eyes were framed by deep, dark circles and my cheeks, neck & upper shoulders were covered with little red spots from broken blood vessels caused by pushing for over 3 hours. I went to bed, my new baby boy isolated in NICU, I was exhausted and desperately wanting to sleep but all I could do was cry. I cried the entire night. And the next night, and the next night.

At 3 weeks postpartum I called my midwife and told her that I couldn’t stop crying. She asked how much sleep I was getting, I told her not much. I had insomnia so I couldn’t sleep when the baby slept; and besides, he hardly ever slept. My little boy had moments of calm, quiet contemplation; he would stare out at the world with these knowing eyes that seemed to take in all of existence. The rest of the time he screamed as if someone was forcibly extracting his toenails.

We described him as a “highly sensitive child” this is the nice way of saying that he spent every night screaming for hours until he eventually passed out from exhaustion. Colic is mean. It tortured my baby and completely undermined my confidence as a mother. I was convinced that he hated me. I was inept. What kind of mother can’t comfort her own child!? Apparently a lot of them, but at the time I didn’t know that – I thought some mysterious maternal instinct was supposed to be bestowed upon me that would suddenly make me a ‘good’ mother. I figured I had gotten in the wrong line.

I was determined that I could get through it. Asking for help felt like admitting that I was a failure. If I let someone else hold him and he quieted down for them it made my soul ache, so I rarely let anyone else hold him. I was his mother and this was my job and I was going to figure it out. I had an amazing support group and I pushed them all away except for my husband. I latched onto him like he was a single buoy afloat in a vast ocean of nothingness. He was my lifeline. And when he was gone I was terrified. I was afraid to be left alone with my son.

After my husband left for work I would collapse to the floor and sob hysterically. I wanted to run. I fantasized about leaving. I wanted to get in the car and drive and drive until I ran out of gas and then walk to the nearest motel and never come home.

I wasn’t bonding with my baby, I loved him but it was like he wasn’t mine. It felt like any day his real mother; his competent mother would show up and claim him.

I continued to pull my way through my days. Every minute, every moment a personal victory. And it slowly got better, more tolerable. I had days when I didn’t even cry. But I didn’t feel like me anymore either, I was impatient and irritable. Even on the good days I felt a darkness buried deep in my belly, pushed down out of sight but always there threatening to take over.

Over time and as my son’s colic ebbed and we both started to sleep better I was able to convince myself that I was okay. I had felt my way through the murky waters and arrived at the other end armed with solace and beauty. I felt empowered and finally began to even feel like a good mother.

I felt good enough that I even wanted to have another baby. I was terrified to give birth again but rationalized that all the struggles that I had postpartum were simply a result of a difficult birth experience and having a baby with colic.

I sought therapy to help me finally process and come to terms with the birth and to prepare me to enter the arena again, this time on MY terms.

26 months after the birth of our first child we delivered our second, a beautiful baby girl whose birth was peaceful and perfect. I felt like a warrior, I had slain the demon, confronted my fears and arrived victorious! I was no longer a first time mom floundering about not knowing my way around a newborn. I was a seasoned professional, I had this shit down!! Hear me roar!!!

Imagine my surprise when I once again found myself staring down the face of the beast.

Continued in Beauty and the Beast Part II


Let Go and Let Love

Girl with the Red Balloon by Bansky

Girl with the Red Balloon by Bansky

Note:

This post was written back in February but it felt disjointed so I didn’t publish it. Re-reading it now, it still feels disjointed, but I like the idea of letting go of fear and choosing love.

Actually though, I think I just really like this amazing picture which is taken from a piece of graffiti art in London. To the right of this piece it says simply, “There is always hope.”

 

 

In my last post I wrote about embarking on a journey to raise my words and not my voice. As it turns out, losing my temper and yelling at my kids hasn’t been an issue for me lately.  Maybe because I clearly set the intention, but really, I think it’s because on December 14th, 2012 they came home from school. Such a simple thing.

On that day the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary happened. It left many of us with a feeling that something has to change but our opinions about what needed to change were as varied as we are as a nation. I don’t have the answers, but for me, it starts with choosing love, compassion, and connection.

I remember that dropping my kids off at school that next day was crazy hard. I wanted to keep them home with me forever, to never let them out of my sight or out of my grasp. I wanted to protect them. But I knew that I couldn’t, that I can’t. I can try to do my best to keep them safe but ultimately I am not the one in control. And that scares the crap out of me. But I refuse to let that fear dictate my life, or theirs. I am letting go of it.

One of my biggest personal challenges has been belief in my own self-worth. I tend to doubt myself and my contribution to the world. But there is one thing that I know that I am capable of beyond any self-doubt and that is love.

Love is easy when times are good and things are going well but we need to also love each other through the awkward and the hurt as well. It’s time to connect with each other. Not just through liking someone’s status on Facebook and not just with our family and friends.  It’s time to reach out to the sullen and the broken, to look one another in the eye and smile, to ask “how are you?” and stop and listen for the answer.

What if by doing so we can change someone’s day? Their life? What if by doing so we can save someone’s life?

I’m not good at talking to people that I don’t know, I’m not good at knowing what to say. I tend to retreat when things get hard. But I’m no longer using that as an excuse to hide. Because I know that I can make a difference. We all can.

So I’m making a commitment to let go of fear, of anger, and of the illusion of control and to let love be the force that drives me.