Saturday, May 16, 2015

Coping Chronicles: When My Emotions and My Children Collide

I remember the day I first really saw my mom cry. I went looking for her and found her in her bathroom still actively crying. I'm not sure, but I think I was probably 12 or so. The first thing I remember thinking and knowing was that she wasn't crying because of me (and she wasn't), and that thought brought the realization that grown-ups are people too. I assumed it probably wasn't the first time that she had cried about something that had nothing to do with me, but I remember feeling pretty special that she had let me see her and that she was willing to say that she was having a hard time. She didn't cover it up, and she didn't try to act like it was none of my business either. Of course, she had, as I have now, every right to cry tears that were none of a child's business, and I'm sure she, as I, did that plenty of times. I remember what it was about, and I remember hugging her and feeling so good that I had the privilege of comforting our family's number one comforter.

I write often about these childhood moments of crystallization of concepts. I wish I knew more about the science behind them; I would find it fascinating, so if you know something or have an article to link to please post it in the comments! That moment in my mom's suntan tiled bathroom with the dusty rose towels and oak cabinetry was the point at which I decided it's good to be honest with others, especially your family, about your bad days. Of course, that doesn't mean that I began doing that or was good at it from then on (or that I always do that or am good at it now). But, a positive association was formed.

I remembered the physical sensation of that moment the other morning as my almost 7-year-old hugged me while I cried. I could tell from the way he held my head to his shoulder like a much, much older person that he felt proud and privileged to comfort the number one comforter in our family. This child has got the consoling pat down... well... pat. It's just the right kind of firm but gentle touch that tells you everything is going to be fine. Like scrawny, tween me in my mom's bathroom, he had nothing spectacular to say, but he said nothing so very well.

These moments of overwhelming emotion happen to me a lot these days. As I keep repeating to my husband, it adds up. Each hat I wear these days belongs to a character prone to fits of strong emotion. The Pregnant Lady. The Sick Lady. The Mother of Three (One of Whom Hit 106 Degrees on the Thermometer This Week). The Sudden Homeschooler. Any one of these people deserves a few moments of exasperated sighing, hysterical laughter, blubbering tears, and even fuming frustration. But... all together... look. out. I'm like a one woman soap opera.

So, what do I do? What can you do when you are surrounded by people who are looking to you for reassurance and stability, need you to do your job, and aren't even twelve, and you just can't keep it together? There are lots of aspects to this one. I'll start with this: doing everything you can to not be forced past the end of your rope is step 1. This is what you do before we get to meltdown. If you know you can't handle it all, you have to start finding ways to not have to. Please remember: I'm preaching to myself. I probably need more mommy breaks. I probably need to actually set up my Neighborly account. I probably need to quit committing to things until after (long after) the baby is born. When there is so much going on inside that you cannot control, being intelligent about controlling what you can is essential.

Next: Take the long view. Then: Pray. Even if it's not feeling magical or focused or even coherent. Finally: Wait together. To illustrate these points, I'd just like to share the story of how I ended up in tears on my son's shoulder this week.

I woke up feeling terrible every which way. My body was aching, heavy, and exhausted. My mind felt muddled and slow. My heart felt sad, uninspired, and I was just totally dreading the rest of the day. I knew I'd be easily upset and quickly irritated -- not a good way to start a day of homeschooling especially after housebound days with a very sick kid. I proceeded to go through the motions. Sometimes, this is the right thing to do. Routine can be a very good thing and can sometimes get me started when I don't feel like it. Of course, it wasn't long before I ran into a bad attitude from a kid, and my own bad attitude was ready to tango. I escalated a situation that I should have had the judgment to step back from. I should have looked at my mood and told my kid that this was important but that we would need to talk about it later. We can't always do that. Young children need immediate feedback to make connections between their actions and the results, but this was a more philosophical discussion with a kid who is old enough to wait and still benefit from a later discussion.

But, because I felt afraid of being an ineffective mess all day (notice: decision made out of fear), I decided to track it down and kill it. I decided to start a big, subjective, philosophical debate with a kid looking for a fight. Not smart. Here's the first point at which I should have prayed and taken a longer view. The discussion frustrated me, and I got very short and even unkind. The child then proceeded to tell me over and over, "well, you must just hate me." Of course, that was sad for me and frustrated me even further. Doesn't this kid see that the whole reason I'm trying to talk about this with him is because I love him? (Umm. Probably not. He's a young kid.) Doesn't he know that the only reason I am even upright right now while I feel this way is because I'm trying to make sure his world isn't disrupted in spite of my chaotic body and emotions? (Again. Duh. No.) During the back and forth about whether or not I hated my children and the evidence for and against, I was trying to get them all upstairs so we could get started on our reading for school. The other two were not being helpful, though at this point I can't remember exactly what was happening.

We sat down at the dining room table where they all divided my breakfast that I hadn't eaten yet among them. This is back to Step 1. I should have eaten long before this moment. Crabby-hungry was no help in this situation at all. Normally I wouldn't have let them take my food, but I was so desperate for their mouths to be full and their bodies to be still so that we could get on with our day somehow. I couldn't though because now my feelings were incredibly hurt by all the "you're acting like you hate us." My eyes got hot, and the catch in my throat became to much to hold back. The pain in my body and heart and all my fear of not making it through the day as a loving, able human being led to tears as I said, "You know, you can't just say these things to me. I'm a person too. I'm not a mommy-bot with no feelings. That stuff goes into my heart. I'm sorry that I got short with you and that the way I was acting made you feel like I might hate you. That is a terrible feeling, but I can tell by the way you are saying it that you don't really think it. Right? You don't actually believe that I hate you, so you shouldn't say that. It doesn't float away into the air; it keeps going straight to my heart." Honesty. Confession. "I'm so sorry," he said. And he got up and hugged me.

Right then I knew. Right then I realized that I had set out all wrong. Part of coping with bad days (and it was going to be a bad day no matter what because of the things on my plate) is sharing honestly with my family. I had tried to move into the day like I was able to have it go "normally." But it just couldn't. I should have started out with that acknowledgment. I should have taken the long view and remembered that if the risk of our hearts getting shredded was high, I shouldn't worry so much about the shredded appearance of my home or the need to address the dangers of hoarding tendencies. We should have started with prayer for the tough day before Brendan even tried to leave the house.

So, I decided to try to turn things around. Was my heart suddenly feeling strong? Absolutely not. It was a quivering mess. Was my mind clear and ready to attack the day's tasks? Absolutely not. It was more fuzzy than before. Was my body calm? Of course not. But, I knew we had to pray. I wish I could say that the clouds parted as I spoke bold, believing words to the Lord and that a ray of peace shone down on us all. I wish. Rather, my children were irreverent and took the opportunity (and probably all their nervous energy from the very stressful morning) to try to quietly (no such thing) make jokes to each other from across the table while I murmured something like this through my tears: "Oh God. I need you to fix this morning. This day is feeling really screwed up, and my heart and body are so tired. I can't see this day going well at all. But, you're the one who can fix broken things." I opened my eyes, did the dutiful scolding of the kids for talking during a prayer time, and asked each one to tell God something they needed help with and something for which they were thankful. I read our Bible story for the day. And we waited together. We waited for our bodies and our hearts to calm down.

Eventually, it did turn around for us. Things calmed down, and we were able to love each other pretty well. Some of my planning ahead (Step 1, people) paid off, and I got to go to acupuncture and counseling- both of which were helpful. It was by no means a great, effective day of schooling, but in the long view, it was probably one of the best mornings of the week. Who knows? Maybe my son had a moment of crystallization. Maybe he will remember how well it works to just hug someone. I think it's a vital skill! A lifelong skill that his friends, spouse, and children will treasure in him as much as I do. Maybe they learned that just telling God what you need is a great way to pray. Maybe they learned that grown-ups are people too.

Maybe not, but they were still the right things for me to teach. I have no doubt of that. And I learned a lot.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Reality Check and SLIME FEST 2015

Personal and Pregnancy Update (Feel free to skip this part):
So, we had a horrible month that ended about 3 weeks ago. I figured I'd written enough about the crappy times and felt no inspiration to write any further.

The 3 week window was lovely in spite of adding a major (potential) stressor: homeschooling for the rest of the school year. The "why" of all that is long and complicated, but the short version is that I felt my first grader, our budget, and we would be much better served by a highly personalized, low-stress environment for completing his first grade acquisition of skills. So far, this has turned out to be a fabulous decision, and already Ezra's reading and writing have improved quite a bit. More importantly, though, he is getting control of lots of bad habits and is returning to a more peaceful state... mostly! There is a lot that I love about homeschooling. I do have lots of fun with the kids, and we all get along better the more time we spend together. Go figure. I also have reveled in the opportunity to tailor-make a schedule and curriculum that specifically support and address my child's needs mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It has been fun to have a project to set my mind to and a fresh cause for each day.

Part of the reason, though, that it all went so well for a few weeks was that my health held steady for the longest stretch of the last several months. What a blessing! Over the past week, a POTS flare has slowly built and is in a full-blown rage now. I also crossed the line into my third trimester! Woohoo! I love this baby like crazy, and just like with the other ones I already like him and enjoy hanging out with him in his little wiggly moments each day. The pregnancy aches, however, are all starting to take a toll as is the third trimester sluggishness. I can't believe how much worse I feel this week compared to last, and it is very discouraging. I needed the reality check, though. I was starting to romanticize the notion of homeschooling for next year. I still kind of am, but it's good that I'm getting a taste of what it would be like if I was feeling symptomatic (and the baby isn't even on the outside yet). Once again, the thought of having the kids away for events and engagement at school sounds attractive. Meanwhile, I'm glad to know that I do actually like homeschooling them, and I may try to get back to doing/being more of my old self when it comes to doing projects with them at home. I also feel re-inspired to keep up on our overall spiritual health as a family. Taking a holistic approach to all that (rather than feeling like I need to have some separate agenda for the kids instruction) is really the best way to go! They learn what I need to learn or read on somedays, and other days I learn or read what they need; in the end, we are all being well-fed everyday.

And now...

SLIME FEST 2015!!!! (AKA: What the BLEEP was I thinking?!?!)

I'm just a fun (read: crazy) lady. I just can't help it. I like to eat fun stuff. I like everyday to have some surprises in it. I like to do wacky projects and promote wacky ideas. So, naturally, as my little homeschoolers and I studied space for two weeks (thanks to the stuff I borrowed from homeschool mom EXTRAORDINAIRE, Bethany Robbins), I started to form a pretty Jesky-fied plan for week three:


"It'll be great!" I thought. "We can just have a week to go nuts and learn about all the extreme weirdness in the universe and on our own planet. We'll write our own stories and dream our own dreams about what may yet need to be discovered. I'll inspire them to think big about God and our world and plant all these lovely seeds that can grow into their own hopes and vision of what they may add to society..." and ON and ON. I got very pumped up. I gathered library books for hold via the internet like a BOSS. I cued up alien slime and fluff recipes like a MAD SCIENTIST. I didn't even realize that May the 4th would land on our awesome week, and then did realize it, and then pulled a Star Wars day out of my... hat... like a JEDI. I planned to spend a couple days talking about Antarctica and the deep sea, the most difficult to explore places on Earth. I basically developed enough material to keep us busy for a few weeks (which I am totally going to do...).

Then reality swooped down like it tends to do. My body reminded me that I'm A: 7 mos pregnant and B: diagnosed with POTS and Chronic Disease Anemia. I pretended these things wouldn't make a difference for as long as possible. Then Monday on May the 4th, our recess plan of having an epic light saber battle turned into an appalling battle over who deserved to use which color of light saber (blue or green. it wasn't even about who should be red! these were good guy colors!) and ended in one child trying to run away from home because the rest of us are "meanies." This then led to me BANNING the use of the term "meany" forever. We were lucky to get anything done due to the amount of spiritual counseling and correcting required for all parties. It was a day with it's own kind of learning, a crucial kind, but it definitely had me wishing I had Darth Vader's power to use The Force...

On that same day, because I am DUMB, I decided to never say die and continue on my insane quest to inspire and delight. We went to the park (mistake for a POTSy preggo number 1) and went to the store (mistake number 2) to get the things we needed to make Foam Dough (mistake number 3). While we were at it, I figured I'd pick up extra ingredients to maybe try some of the other recipes for fluffy, soft doughs that I had seen before including the flour/oil mix and cornstarch/conditioner mix. The kids were THRILLED that I sat them down with these things. "Aw heck," I thought "I'll just let them go nuts. This is great for them." They mostly had fun, though my kids are way less happy than you'd think to be messy. In the end, we did end up with a few pretty decent balls of soft, fluffy dough. I also ended up with a ridiculous mess. I put the kids in the bathtub and then in front of a screen so that I could clean up. It was awful. Partially, it was awful because I had let Hazel, age 3, add water and flour to her batch... I AM DUMB. I had to be on my hands and knees scrubbing and sweeping. It wore me out terribly. I had to stop halfway through to make dinner (mistake number 4- say it with me, "Dick's Drive-In is your friend.") Then, when I got back to floor-scrubbing, I'm pretty sure I pulled some deep, essential muscle in my belly which now still hurts like crazy if I try to move my right leg at all. Obviously, I kind of need my right leg. Please remember, we are still on MONDAY.

This was Hazel's spot for making foam dough. I had already cleaned most of the surrounding floor.

Before the light sabers were taken away, Ezra put on this get-up and called himself "The Ter-knight." Pretty clever.

I did call Brendan around 5pm (good move number one and only) to let him know that he'd better get packing and head home to catch me. By 6, I was watching the drive-way like a hawk. At 6:12, I got a text that Brendan was just then changing his clothes to ride home. I informed him that he owed me $50 (which, BTW, Honey, I'm dead serious about. And I'm using it however I see fit.) He responded with a photo of an open draw-bridge that he should have been crossing and the number "75." (Again, Brendan, my love: please hand over the cash soon!). He arrived around 7. The night then proceeded to include many more frustrating moments of which we shall not speak. We simply shall not. 

On Tuesday, we did have a better school day, and I had the sense to make our only crazy project be the baking of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Blessedly, Brendan had planned to work from home for half the day because of contractors coming by in the afternoon, and he doula'd us through a few hard moments in the afternoon. I was feeling pretty terrible for most of the day.

I was really looking forward to today. REALLY. This was the day I had talked up the most. The day we would make this slime.  I was prepared. I had a plan for which book to read to get us ready. I had the science connection cued. I had all kinds of neon colors and holographic glitter specially ordered to add to our slime. I let the kids build LEGO space stations that they could attack with the slime. We had to wait until 1 so that my middle boy would be home from preschool and join the fun. By noon, I was crying to Brendan (working from home again for more delivery/appointment reasons) about how terrible I felt and how I would definitely need to crash. This always happens. I fake it, and I fake it, and I fake it, and then my body puts it's foot (or maybe my autonomic nervous system) down and forces me to face facts. Still, I had talked up this slimy moment, and we were going to do it, dang it!!! I roped Brendan into helping, and we gathered all the people, supplies, and ingredients in the bathroom. I thought I was being super slick and prepared this time by doing it in the bathroom/bathtub. This way, clean-up would be a cinch! Right? RIGHT?!?!

Let me take a moment here to publicly curse all bloggers who lie about how "easy" clean-up is. It ain't.

The slime mixing was going well at first. I stayed one step ahead of Brendan and the boys doing their batches while working up one with Hazel. We made it so pretty. 3 glitter colors and neon pink liquid watercolor. A real professional looking slime was coming together. I then put Hazel into the bathtub with her bowl of sparkling, beautiful slime filled with glass pearls and crystal hearts to play. Meanwhile, for some reason the neon yellow slimes belonging to each boy sitting next to her in the tub weren't gelling up quite the way my pink one did. While Brendan and I began trouble-shooting by adding more liquid starch, things started to go awry. First, Hazel, naturally, stepped into her bowl of slime. I decided to let that go. Nothing I could really do at the moment anyway because I was covered in still-very-gluey neon yellow slime. "This is the whole point," I thought. "Just let her get messy and go nuts. We were going to all need baths in the end anyway."

Then, slime started getting in people's hair... and all over my arms... and all over the floor of the bathtub. Then, Ezra decided to stand up and try to get out and realized the tub was now a slimy version of a mini ice rink. So, they all got up. This bathtub is tiny. Ezra then got out, in spite of our screaming, to get his LEGO city from the bathroom counter. He made it back in and poured his whole bowl out over the city, of course. This gave Hazel the idea of putting all of her slime into Ivo's hair. During all this, I requested that Brendan take pictures for the "pinterest fail" style FB post I would definitely have to make. He then started making a Cousteau level documentary of my idiocy. Naturally, the camera was not recording. Then, even though things had now escalated beyond any semblance of control or educational usefulness (ask me if I read a book or gave a science lesson... just try to ask me...), he turned on the camera and made another video. All of this took about 7 minutes total. The next 37 minutes were filled with learning how to remove "EASY Liquid Starch Slime" filled with tiny cornea-lacerating glitter from hair. Ivo was the main victim as the other two completely turned on him and filled his hair and face with slime and the air with their maniacal laughter. NEVER. AGAIN.


I'm thinking about making this slime on Friday halfway through Brendan's three day, two night trip he will be away on.