Brace Yourself

Dear Z,

I was thinking about you lot last week, as you went from being horribly sick and cranky with a stomach bug for four long days to having "the BEST, MOST AWESOME TIME EVER" building dams and sketching geese in your Nature Academy summer camp. To say it's been an up and down week would be an understatement and the ride of this week is as familiar to me as it was surprising.

(Life is about change. "Familiar" and "surprising" are not mutually exclusive.)

Of course, parenthood is a primer for dealing with change, but you specifically teach me about change - and my own resistance to it - every single day. Your moods are a rollercoaster with fast and unpredictable swoops; your behavior can be startlingly mature and wise one minute and hopelessly infantile the next. I am constantly pulled off axis by you but I want you to know that that is not your fault or responsibility. I know you're just learning how to operate this brain and body you've been given and it's my job as your parent to first find my own calm center and then help you find yours.

(I will be working on this for the rest of my life. I may or may not get any better at it than I am right now.)

When I was in my teens, I always thought that being an adult would be some pleasant plateau of existence. By adulthood surely I would have figured out who I am, why I'm here on this earth, what I want to do with my particular life's allotment of time and resources. Every passing year, I patiently wait for this self-actualized plateau to arrive.

(There is no plateau.)

Small things change all the time for me, still, at the ripe old age of 40. For instance, I recently discovered, after many, many years of loudly professing my love of drip dry hair, that I actually like to blow dry my hair. It looks so much better! I can actually do it pretty quickly! I don't have to wear a pony tail all day, every day! My identity shifted as a result, if only internally. At first I was embarrassed as if I was pretending to be someone else. I was worried I might suddenly need fancy manicures too or decide to wear heels every day. Now I've calmed down and assimilated it into who I am. I wear birkenstocks, I rarely wear makeup, I am not really into fashion and yet I sometimes blow dry my hair.

(Identities shift from time to time, if you let them. Don't be scared.)

Last week was rough for me in ways that were not related to holding a puke bowl for you at regular intervals. I was able to summon empathy when you were sick because I am, in fact, constantly aware of the frustrations associated with physical sensations as a result of two, count em TWO, braces I have on my body at the moment.

Two weeks ago, I got invisalign braces to correct the misalignment of my teeth that had gotten bad enough to cause my tongue to get stuck in my teeth on a semi-regular but deeply painful basis. Since I got them, I am constantly aware of my mouth, of how my voice sounds (hint: like a four year old with a lisp), of whether people can tell that I have them, of the constant pressure on my teeth. I don't like them, I don't like how they feel, I don't like how self-conscious I feel with them in. But I'm doing it. Because I need to. Because I will get used to them eventually. And it will be over someday soon, before I know it.

("It won't be like this forever" is almost always true.)

Then, last weekend, I took the first of three classes on how to fully correct my diastasis recti without surgery. I didn't realize it would require me to wear a tight brace around my torso 24 hours a day
for at least the next 6 weeks. And it may not even work for me.

And it's hot, sticky, I-want-to-wear-tank-tops SUMMER.

Z, I'm like you in at least one major way: I'm hypersensitive physically and emotionally. When I'm physically uncomfortable, I can't concentrate. I feel frustrated with the world and I don't want anyone near me. So I get how you are. And I'm pretty sure that one day, you will get how I am too.

Every morning, I stand in front of the mirror and refasten my ab brace and brush and replace my invisalign braces with the best attitude I can muster. Some mornings it's with a mirthful "Brace YOSELF!" Others is with a resigned "brace yourself."

We will learn to ride these waves together, you and me.

(Just, you know, brace yourself.)


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


On Father's Day

I think of him whenever I am asked to tell an original bedtime story. How did he do it so well? Did he ever resent it? I don't remember him ever sighing, shoulders drooping under the weight of one last request before the finish line of daily parenting. Did he? Did I just not notice it? Will my kids remember me this way?

I think of him whenever I flip through my iPhoto library. I usually hold my breath and skip past the February photos which contain grief bombs: close ups of his hand in mine. Close ups of his face, eyes closed, forehead wrinkled in ... confusion? Pain? Blurry photos of us saying goodbye. CG told me to take the pictures, that I'd want them. Sometimes, I'm not so sure.

I think of him when I get frustrated and clench my jaw, just like he used to do. Did his frustration feel like this, like my monster, the one that I hold in with such tiny, ill-fated muscles? I know we talked about it, how we both wrestle with a hair trigger for frustration. I wish I could remember more of what he said.

I think of him whenever I walk past a picture in my upstairs hallway. It was taken just a few months before he died, a studio portrait for my parents' church directory. I didn't like it at first, too staged for my tastes, I told myself, when that was only part of the story. Actually, I didn't like it because in it his face is puffy and the normally brilliant light behind his blue eyes looks dim. I didn't like to look at it and remember losing him so slowly and so completely.

I think of him whenever I glance at another, smaller picture of him carrying me as a toddler in a backpack. He is younger than I ever remember him. He is younger than I am now and looks strong and healthy and whole. The more I look at this picture the more his memory is painted with its mood. I see that smile, those dancing eyes when I think of him now. It may not be the image of him as I truly remember him but I want it to be part of the image of him I have left. These younger parts I'll never know. This man who I knew in a deep but deeply limited way. I want to fill in the cracks in my memory and paint a fuller, younger, happier picture of who he was. 

He will always be missed. But mostly, I am missing him on Father's Day.


As seen on Pinterest!

E was sick much of last week, which happened to be the last week of school. This was not a good thing, as I had planned to spend my mornings getting our house and calendar and lives ready for the summer. Instead, I spent it with her on my lap while she hacked into my face and wiped her nose on my shirt.

She was finally well enough for school on Thursday, the last day of school, and I spent that morning in a frantic rush to get the most important things done. Like surfing Pinterest for over an hour.



See, I was looking for inspiration for more Summer Sanity Savers. Where did people go for creative ideas before Pinterest? Their own heads, you say? PSHAW.

If you've spent any time on Pinterest lately, you've probably seen the "I'm Bored" jar. There are many, many options for how to make these but basically it's a jar filled with ideas for your kids to do when you catch them saying "I'm bored." Unfortunatley, I had major problems with most of the items that were listed in these Pinterested jars, mainly because they required waaaay too much in the way of motherly assistance. Many jars were super fancy with decoupaged labels and listed things like "Get ice cream cones!" and "Set up a lemonade stand!"

I'm sorry but for my kids to set up a lemonade stand, I would have to find the lemonade mix, help them mix it, help them move the table and chairs outside and down the street (we live on a cul de sac, so every lemonade stand has to be down the street.) Since my kids are usually bored at times when I'm busy doing something else or fresh out of the kind of energy required to assist in fun things like lemonade stands, I wanted to find activities that wouldn't require me to be involved in any way.

Lemonade stand? NO. Make a house for fairies out of legos? Yes.

"Oh! You're bored? How about you put away the pencil sharpener and the rubber ducky and the creepy dead-eyed puppy?"
I set up our "I'm bored" jar in about 20 minutes (If you don't count the hour I spent on Pinterest looking at ideas, which I don't) and it has been, for the most part, a positive thing. However I have learned a few important things:

1. Set a limit on the number of times they say "I'm bored" and reach for the jar. The first day, there was a lot of excitement about the jar and they raced through five each in 20 minutes. Now we say they can do two per day, one in the mornings and one in the afternoon.

2. Make sure you pick things you don't need to help them with. I cannot stress this enough. That is the whole point, yes? I have to read the item to E, since she can't read, but otherwise they should be on their own for the actual activity.

3. A mix of fun things and chore-type things seems to help cut down on the excitement and overuse. They might get something relatively easy and enjoyable like "build a fort out of couch cushions" or they might get "wipe all the baseboards in the house with a damp rag."

4. Non-messy activities are good (therefore, playing with play dough or painting of any kind are out.) As is stressing that cleaning up after themselves is part of the activity.

5. Put a limit on when they can reach for the jar, ie. 5 minutes before dinner or bedtime are NOT GOOD TIMES.

6. Print out your ideas on slips on paper, then fold them over. This will hopefully cut down on the selective browsing of activities by whiny children.


Here's my list of activities for our "I'm bored" jar:

Clean out mom’s car
Brush Sadie
Find/observe/sketch 3 animals in the yard
Write/draw a story about a dog with fleas
Write/draw a story about a princess with blue hair
Write/draw a story about a lonely fish
Write/draw a story about a walk in the woods
Do a yoga DVD
Wipe all the baseboards with a damp rag
Write a letter to anyone you want
Sharpen all the colored pencils
Do a jigsaw puzzle
Make an obstacle course in the basement
Take pictures with Mom’s little camera
Build a fort out of couch cushions
Play a computer game
Do 3 workbook pages
Dance party!
Water all the potted plants
Take a play bath
Sweep the kitchen floor
Sweep the patio
Make your bed
Call Nana
Call Gramma
Throw the ball for Sadie (in basement or outside)
Organize the food in the play kitchen
Make a happy surprise for a neighbor
Find 10 different leaves outside
Make a fairy house out of legos

What do you all do when your kids say "I'm bored"? If you have an "I'm bored" jar, what goes in it?


This is the question of my life, right now

Monday 5:08 pm.
making dinner

"STOOOOOP! NO!! MO-OM! She's taking my ball!"

"Z, your sister was using that ball. Please give it back."

"NO! I want a turn! She always gets what she wants! I never do!"

"I'm sorry to hear you feel that way at the moment but you still need to give your sister back her ball and if you want a turn, just ask her."


"Thanks Z, now please turn off the TV and come to dinner."

"NO! Why doesn't Eliza ever have to turn off the TV? I ALWAYS do. She NEVER does.  It's NOT FAIR. I have to do EVERYTHING. THIS IS THE WORST DAY EVER!"

 Really? The worst day ever? Of all the horrible things that can befall humanity, me making you give back something you took from your sister and turn off our plasma TV is THE WORST? 

I don't even know where to start with that.


Monday 7:38 pm

"I want to drink my mouthrinse from the bottle!"

"No Z, that could spread germs. That's why we always use a cup."

"But I don't like using a cup! I want to drink it like this and I'm going to and you can't make me and..."


I grab her forearm, stopping the bottle on its trajectory to her lips. I grab fast and hard. T
oo fast, too hard. She freezes, eyes wide for just a moment before she begins to cry. I let go, say I'm sorry and hand her a cup. 

I know these fits aren't really about the ball or the tv or the mouthrinse bottle, they're about the transition to summer vacation. I know these times of flux are difficult for my sensitive, rigid girl. I know I need to remain calm and control my emotions during these days when she is feeling deeply rattled and out of control. I KNOW this and yet my intellect and empathy only takes me so far. 

Some days, it's not nearly far enough.


Tuesday 6:38 am.
yoga class

"Downward dog is a lot like child's pose. How can you make it as easy as child's pose? How can you stay as calm and relaxed in the challenging moments, in downward dog, as you do in child's pose? Through all our challenging moments, how can we find peace inside? This is the question of yoga. This is the question of life."

This is the question of my life, right now.


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