Tag: parenting

The emotional pressures of parenting

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We’ve all been in that pre-kid era where we’re sure we know what kind of parent we’ll be. Admit it, you’ve taken a note or two in your past when seeing a parent with his or her kid in the store and raised an eyebrow or two. I know I have. The parent I was going to be looked awesome on paper, but I never took into account the emotional impact of having children until I was hit with the reality of my own life playing out.

My late husband and I weren’t “trying” and we weren’t “not trying,” but when we were told at our six-month gender-reveal ultrasound that we were having not one, but two baby boys, that “perfect parent” image in my head slowly dissipated. Truth is I hadn’t spent much time around children up to that point, and now we were going to have two of them right off the bat. Driving home from the hospital with two newborns, I kept thinking, “I’ve never been around babies and now they just send us home with two? We’re not equipped! We’re not prepared!” But deep down, I knew my heart would never be the same. I was introduced to a whole new set of emotions and discovered emotions I never even knew were there. Bringing home those babies (now first graders!) created a major a paradigm shift in me—albeit it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. Not only did I realize (much later) that I was struggling with post-partum depression after my twins were born, I was trying to handle the terminal diagnosis of my young husband. These emotions were real, raw and honest—sometimes more honest than I would have liked them to be.  These are the emotions of parenting that we don’t usually talk about amidst the pure joy, love, elation and “happily-ever-after” when baby(ies) comes home:

  • Self-doubt: There are so many times I lay awake wondering if I’m making the right choice for my three kids—especially since my older two just went to kindergarten. The mom-on-paper me was going to homeschool and do crafts every day. The real-life-mom me is faced with having to come up with a sole income for my three children and myself. We want the best for our kids, but in this society we are inundated with so many decisions and choices and information when it comes to “the perfect parenting way,” it’s sometimes difficult to sift out what we don’t need in order to find the nuggets of truth—truth that settles our hearts and souls when it comes to our parenting. They are there, the nuggets, and when self-doubt comes swirling around, remember, write them down if you have to, the truths you’ve settled on. They’re different for everyone.
  • Mental exhaustion: Pre-kids it was easy to make a space for dreaming about how we were going to parent and the kind of kids we were going to have. Now that they’re here, 99 percent of our brain space is devoted to keeping these people that we are in charge of alive, safe, nurtured and growing. Not only do we have to multi-task for our survival and theirs, to make it through the day, but once kids are in school, juggling our schedules and their activity schedules is downright exhausting—even if all you do is sit in a car and drive around all day or fill out a monthly…weekly…daily…sometimes hourly calendar. I’ve found that giving up an activity to make time for self-care (and sleep!) has been the best way to combat this.
  • Pressure to be like our parents—or not be like them: Having children of our own undoubtedly makes us look at our parents and our childhood in a whole new light. Either we are even more grateful for the sacrifices our parents made for us, or we recoil at how we were raised and vow to never raise our children the way we were brought up, and sometimes a mixture of both. All kinds of emotions relative to our parents or ourselves, can rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times—resentment, comparison, anger. Bottom line is that we are the parents we choose to be. We cannot change the way our parents were, but we can take our experiences of our childhood, learn from them and apply them to the way we parent.
  • Not feeling joy 100 percent of the time: So many times after my twins were born I heard, “Oh twins! How much fun!” And so many times after my third child was born and my husband died, I heard about how blessed I was that “at least” I had three kids. But if I was honest, being with two, and then three children under three years old at the time and dealing with the whirlwind of emotions that come with post-partum depression and grief of the loss of my husband was anything but fun. Full-blown tantrums, crying throughout the night (sometimes x 3) and the incredible pressure of finding things to do to keep everybody’s minds and bodies busy when all I wanted to do was crawl in bed and sleep didn’t feel like much of a blessing at all. I didn’t feel the joy everyone talked about that comes with having kids and it wasn’t a barrel of fun. These emotions were completely counterintuitive to the fierce and intense love that I had for all of my children the moment I saw them. How could I not want to be around the people that bring me so much love and that I love in return. Bottom line is these feelings have NOTHING to do with your feelings about your children, but everything to do with your circumstance or mental state. Seeking professional help, accountability and someone to talk to honestly and openly can help tremendously.
  • Guilt: This is the top of the list of negative emotions I believe trouble parents. We have self-imposed or externally imposed guilt about so many things when it comes to parenting. Guilt about having the TV on too much, guilt about what and how you’re feeding them, guilt about which school they attend and which toys or sports activities you cannot afford to buy. Guilt about working and not being home enough, guilt about not working and not contributing to the home financially…the list goes on and on. Guilt is when you’ve done something wrong and you know it. Shame, on the other hand, is disguised by guilt, and is when you yourself or your feelings are wrong. Do I feel guilty about my parenting because I really could improve on some things or do I feel shame about the way I parent because I’m just not a good parent? That negative self-talk and putting shame on yourself about doing things that are the best you can do at the time is so detrimental. Change the things that you know need to be changed and that you have control to change. For example, if you yell and are impatient with your children that’s a behavior and response that can be changed and improved on. But don’t feel unnecessary shame and guilt if you had to feed your baby a bottle instead of breastfeed or put your child into public school instead of private because of circumstances beyond your control.

In our optimistic, positive, happy-shiny society, it’s hard to admit negative emotions as a parent and it’s doubly hard to address them and deal with them. I’ll never forget the line from the movie “Room,” when the mother apologizes to her son for not being a good mom and her son replies, “but you’re my mom.” We can’t choose the circumstances we find ourselves in and sometimes we can’t choose the feelings that come up with those circumstances, but we can acknowledge them, fight against them if necessary, and push through to the truth that we are to live out as parents: be the best parents we can be with what we’re given and what we know. We need to always be willing to learn more and recognize that, even though sometimes the circumstance cannot be changed, being willing to change our emotions and perspectives accordingly are the best things we can do for our children.

*Previously published in “Multiplicity Magazine”, by Nicole Hastings

Copyright 2017

I don’t want to have fun with my kids

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It was the end of Spring Break week, my twin preschoolers and two-year-old was home with me all week and everyone had been under the weather so I had cabin fever. That Friday we were all on the mend and I was bound and determined to go do something “fun” with the kids. I chose the Museum of Natural History because we had free passes.

With three little kids, it takes about two hours to get ready to go anywhere, so I needed to keep giving myself a pep-talk throughout the process—“Come on, Nicole, you can do it. You HAVE to go do something fun because that’s what Spring Break is supposed to be—FUN!” Farther into the getting ready process, the pep talks slowly started to sound more like me trying to convince myself this would be FUN. Lunches and snacks packed—check. Extra pull-ups and extra changes of clothes—check. Everyone pick a toy to bring for the long ride—after running around, a few tears and a minor crisis—check. Everyone in the car buckled up—check. I get into the van and then get right back out because I forgot to feed myself that morning so I needed to grab something, anything, to eat. Run back into the house, grab a banana and a handful of almonds. On the way back out to the car, I realized I forgot the free passes. Run back into the house to grab free passes. Lock the door and get in the van. Keys in the ignition—check. Off we went to have some FUN.

My kiddos aren’t the most tolerable when it comes to long distance transportation—for them fifteen minutes is long distance—so there’s always a little sense of urgency and panic driving an hour away because almost anything and everything could happen in that timeframe. Bathroom emergencies, squabbles, tears, and sickness…you’re always on the brink of being prepared for something to happen. Safe to say, we got to the museum parking lot in one piece, unscathed by any serious issues. With relief and pride I patted myself on the back for having made it and thought, “Hey that wasn’t so bad…” My heart sunk as I saw the parking lot, jam-packed with cars waiting in rows for a space to open up. We spent thirty minutes driving around and around until I victoriously found a spot. Phew. We made it. Kids out. Snack bags over the shoulder. Heavy two-year-old in one arm, the other is filled with coats for “just in case” weather that is always a possibility in Denver. My apparent need for fitness was blaring as I’m getting out of breath and breaking a minor sweat while I make my way up to the entrance with kids in tow. We did it! I glanced down to make sure the tickets were still in my purse and noticed something I hadn’t before—they had expired. Morale was low at this point, but not totally crashed, so onward into the entrance. Then I saw it. (If a defeated, frustrated, crying, yawning emoticon existed, insert it here.) The lines were wrapped around to form a maze of barriers. There were people everywhere and my pep talks were no more. Now my thoughts were only, “This is NOT fun…” But I was still determined to get through the lines and go through the museum, because my stubborn nature dared me to leave, and my conscience dared me to play with the idea that I am just not a fun mom. We stood in line for thirty-ish minutes because I kept having to leave the line to chase after the two-year-old. I was trying to keep up everyone’s spirits, but in my peripheral vision, I noticed how everyone else’s kids seemed to be angels standing in line, while mine were uncontainable monkeys swinging from one rope to the other in excitement. Then the “I have to go potty” plea rang in my ears. We left the line to head for the bathrooms. My twin boys don’t want to go into the “girly bathroom” anymore, so they insisted on going into the “Man one.” Needing to take my two-year-old daughter potty, not to mention myself, had to wait so I could make sure BOTH boys came out of the restroom. (My Mom-radar is on high-alert!) Men went in and men came out, but not my boys…I could hear them singing, and giggling and turning the hand-dryer on and off and on again. Every five seconds I’d crack the door open and request their presence; ultimately knowing I’d just have to wait. When we were finally reunited, the task of going into the women’s restroom had just begun. I ended up convincing them to go into the women’s restroom with me anyway because there was no way I was leaving two five-year-olds to wait outside (I’ve binge watched way too many drama/crime shows to make me paranoid enough to not do that!) We made our way into the women’s restroom, alas! There’s another line. We finally got through the business that needed to be done and headed back out to stand in line, because, dammit, we were going to have FUN!

Since our visit was no longer free, I had to swallow hard as I tallied up how much it was going to cost all four of us to get in. I couldn’t really afford to have all this fun we were about to have, but I reasoned that a) it would be cheaper to get a museum pass, and b) the membership line was way shorter, so we chose that line. As we stood in line, the kids got more anxious and excited, and I felt my blood pressure was rising. “Just get through the line, and it’ll all be OK.” Then one of my boys grabbed the other and head-butt him. With tears from one, laughter from the other, and my two-year-old squirming out of my arms to go explore, I had finally reached my breaking point. “Ok, that’s it—we’re leaving!” I stepped out of line and started for the exit with protests trailing behind me. The boys were crying the whole way back, but I just kept saying to them, “That wasn’t fun. We’ll try again…” (Thanks Love&Logic!) Truth was I felt like crying too. I felt like the biggest failure. Truth was that for so long “fun” wasn’t even on my radar—being the caregiver of my husband with terminal cancer, and twins and a newborn all at once—now the dust of grief finally began to settle, and I couldn’t do this one thing. Would I ever be able to have fun? Would I be the uptight, serious mom forever?

Everyone had quieted down on the return drive and we ended up stopping at the local mall with the free play place. I let the kids run around as we played tickle monster and hide-and-seek. We stopped for a small treat of M&M cookies and sat at the table trying to count how many birds got stuck in the mall , which would swoop around overhead once in a while.

That night as I was putting my boys to sleep, I apologized for the museum-thing not panning out and we talked about manners in public and maybe next time we could try again. I tucked one of my boys in and I told him, “I’m sorry we didn’t really have fun today,” and he replied, “I had a lot of fun!”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “What part was fun to you?”

“My favorite part was doing the puzzle with you,” he said, drifting off to sleep. I was stumped. I didn’t remember doing a puzzle until he said something. Before all the chaos of getting ready and out the door, we sat on the floor in our jammies doing a puzzle together. It took 15 minutes to put together that puzzle and it took me all day in my mission to “have FUN” with my kids. He remembered the 15 quiet minutes we spent together. That’s when I realized I didn’t want to have the kind of “fun” with my kids that I pressure myself into—expensive outings, spending money I really don’t have to spend in the first place. The kind of “fun” that I fake smile the whole time because I’m so tired from making sure we’re all together and alive in busy public places. The kind of “fun” I force upon myself because I feel like I have to compensate for their dad not being here and they’re stuck with me—sometimes sad, sometimes irritable, sometimes too-serious mommy.

My son taught me something so profound about my kids and myself. The fun times remembered and cherished are the times spent just being together. Being in each other’s presence. It could be at a park, it could be putting away laundry while pretending socks are silly puppets; it could be holding hands walking to school. This realization took the pressure off me to stop attempting to do activities I just can’t do with my kids in this season—as a grieving, widowed mom, whose outings with my kids I have to do solo, not to mention they’re 5, 5 and 2…little kids come with so much grace and so little expectation. All they want is time with you, time together. All the other high blood pressure moments we parents put on ourselves are lost to them in grace.

One day museums will be fun. One day I will be able to take them to a movie theater with ease. One day we can take a road trip. One day we can go to Disney World and have some serious Fun. But not now. Not in this season. Now, I’m OK with puzzles in our jammies, digging worms in the backyard and spending a couple bucks to eat ice cream in the park, because those are the moment my kids cherish. That’s the kind of fun I’m after now, and I know my kids will show me I can be a fun mom.

 

The presence of your gift

Copyright: ouh_desire

On an evening in December 2011 my husband, Phil, received a phone call. We had just nestled our twin babies into bed and cozied up on the couch for a movie. Since it was late in the evening and it was a number Phil didn’t recognize he let it go to voicemail. When he listened to the message he got up from the couch and went to the front window and looked out past the drapes into the night. Then he opened the front door and brought in a basket covered with a bright green blanket and set it at my feet. He let me listen to the message, “Look on your front step, Merry Christmas,” the mysterious voice said.

We looked at the basket for a few minutes, letting the excitement of a random gift from a stranger sink in. What could it be? Inside was a plethora of toys for the boys, homemade Christmas crafts, goodies and a book titled Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright and a mason jar full of change and bills. My heart was full of amazement and gratitude and wonder; why us? Why did we receive this special gift?

I looked through the basket, reveling in the care that someone took to prepare it for my family and then I read the little book, Christmas Jars. Looking back on it, I can see how the timing of and receiving that book was quite prophetic as it narrates a story about a journalist (my former and brief profession) and a widow within its plot. It tells of a family that planned their Christmas around giving to others, saving spare change all year to fill it by Christmas and give it secretly to a stranger. We received such a jar and in turn started a jar of our own.

A few weeks prior to the mystery gift, on Thanksgiving night I rushed Phil to the emergency room because of a breathing attack; that night was the first real reminder that his cancer was still there, stalking us silently throughout our four-year marriage. He was diagnosed Stage IV and two months later we were married, but we lived like it wasn’t there, until it reared its ugly head that Thanksgiving. Before that, hardly anyone knew about his illness that we kept silent about being terminal—we wanted to live for the hope of healing, trying our best to not let diagnosis or prognosis steal our present—but it was scary, and would creep in at the most in opportune times, mainly when I’d watch him with the twins or sleeping beside him at night. I’d pray and wonder at the same time: How long do I really have with you? How long can we keep you?

Throughout the following two years mysterious gifts kept showing up at our door at random times or during the holidays and in turn, we would strive to do the same out of humility and gratitude. After Phil started chemotherapy the second trimester of my pregnancy with our third child and then a few months later started receiving home hospice care October 2013, the gifts intensified. There wasn’t a day that went by that there wasn’t food, clothing or financial gifts at our door. He couldn’t work and I couldn’t earn any income taking care of myself in my 9th month of pregnancy and twin two-year olds, and yet, we never went without anything. He and I would sit, amazed at the generosity of people—some we knew, most we didn’t, and it would still drive us to give, in some way, somehow because the giving was so overwhelming what else could we do but pay it forward? I know these provisions were the workings and signs of God’s presence in an impossible situation; generosity moving through people who would take time away from their own families to give to ours. Phil died a week before Thanksgiving that year and the outpouring of gifts and provisions continued into the Christmas season and months after.

I had managed to get a little tree that promptly turned brown as a few ornaments hung on it, that’s all I could manage, however people came in droves to bring wrapped gifts for my children and I. Come Christmas Eve I couldn’t see the floor of my living room there were so many gifts. That night, while my children all slept, I just sat there in awe at all the gifts.

I spent Christmas morning and day opening the presents with the kids, although I was heartbroken that no matter how many gifts we had to open there was one thing missing, each gift reminded me of the goodness in people and the life necessity that gives our lives meaning; receiving love and giving love, even if we did nothing to earn it.

Nothing can fix the terrible absence and loss someone feels when their loved one has died, it can’t be fixed with a freezer full of meals or an abundance of toys or money in the bank, but don’t let that stop you from giving to someone who is hurting because behind the incredibly helpful and practical gifts, is your presence and your time. Don’t assume it won’t help if you give to the homeless man on the corner; “What is $5 going to do in the long-term?” and don’t assume you should mind your own business when you see the lonely neighbor down the street, that taking the time to bake a few cookies won’t help them. Your gifts to the lost and lonely don’t fix their circumstance, but long after the money was spent, the food was eaten or the items are worn and tattered your gift still remains intact; the gift of your presence has the power to restore hope and faith in the goodness of people and the God behind it all. And when I feel incredibly lonely and the terrible, infectious lies start to pour in that I’m all alone and no one cares anymore, I go through the several dozen cards I received from all around the country, I look at the little mementos or books on my shelf, and I know that each of those things carry the presence of someone who cared behind it and most importantly carries the provisions and presence of my God.

Now, it’s Christmastime once more and there’s no gift I can give to my children that can replace the one thing they need the most; their daddy, but through my experience of being on the receiving end of so much giving and love, I can’t let material gifts distract me from the real gift I can give my children, my presence in their lives and in turn to teach them that what they choose to do with their presence in other’s lives is important and powerful.

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

                                                -Luke 6:38

 

 

#thegiftofyourpresence

#ChristmasJarsbyJasonFWright

I’m a bad mom

copyright: Paisit Teeraphatsakool

…when I am tired, stressed and overwhelmed, and don’t give myself the time to acknowledge that I am tired, stressed and overwhelmed. In other words, when I “keep on truckin,’” I find myself crashing into the guardrail, and the “I’m not a good mom” guilt-rants begin to play in my head. Then I’m stressed and overwhelmed by all the other things to be stressed and overwhelmed about plus adding “I’m a bad mom” thoughts to the mix.

Now I have to confess, as a type-A overachiever, I’m also overly hard on myself. When I use the term “bad mom,” what I’m referring to is something completely different than that of a truly terrible parent. Some examples of the things rolling around in my head are:

  • I feel like a “bad mom” when the TV has been on educational children’s programming all day so I can clean the house and catch up on paying bills…
  • If I lay down at night and I realize my kids haven’t had any vegetables that day, “I’m a bad mom…”
  • If we haven’t left the house all week groceries to be delivered to my house, “what a terrible mom I am…“

The list could go on and on and on, beating myself up for the non-organic hotdogs I fed them to the fact my body just didn’t want to deal with nursing after my babies were 6 months and I had to give them formula (gasp!) Our culture’s assumed view on what motherhood should look like in the 21st century gives us moms a hell of a lot to feel bad about; we should be able do it all, be all for and give all to our children with a smile putting caring for ourselves on the back-burner. Before I jump on the carousel of guilt with all the reasons I’m failing my kids bobbing up and down in my head, I have to remind myself that there are kids out there who probably have never even seen a vegetable and don’t know where their next meal is coming from, kids who don’t have a safe place to sleep at night, are abandoned, abused, etc.…and saying “I’m a bad mom” is totally delusional when, in reality, there are some kids out there who truly do have terrible parents.

When I was in the early months of “grief + postpartum + sleep deprivation fog,” I don’t really even remember the details of many days—how I got my kids and I from point A to point B— but I was forced into allowing myself to be a “bad mom” because it was survival. We watched tons of TV, ordered out a lot, stayed in our pajamas some days, didn’t ever pick up toys or clean the toilet, and I put my boys in daycare because they got better attention there than at home. My then-idea of a “good mom” was shattered, along with any future I had hoped we would have as an intact family: that my kids would have a strong mom who could do it all, cook everything from scratch, home school them, bake my own bread AND have a garden… AND I would be a master at Pinterest crafts on the side… and they’d have a dad who wasn’t dead, but fully alive and playful teaching them all the things only dads can teach them. So you can imagine the head games that ensued as I was forced to be, and have, none of the above.

Adding to my stress, I had to face a reality that was hard to swallow during that time—not only had my children lost their dad, but, in a way, they lost their mom too—the ideal mom I wanted to be for them. They were stuck with a semi-crazy, sick, tired and overwhelmed mom who loved them fiercely. I fought minute-by-minute to be even a minimal mom for them: I could feed, clean and shelter them, and take every ounce of energy I had to squish playdough with them…but most of the time I truly just wanted to be the sit-in-the-shower-and-cry mom. I guess the biggest blessing in disguise in all of this is that my children were/are so young, too young to hold these things against me. My daughter was only months old, so if she had milk, a soft place to lay her head and plenty of holding and cuddle time, I was the best mom for her. My boys were two years old, so in their world, if they had cartoons all day and take-out and didn’t have to pick up toys, I was the best mom for them.

One terrible, awful day, after I had just moved into my parent’s home after realizing that this “bad mom” really needed help, a blow to my mommy ego crushed me even further. The boys were potty-training—sort of—and while they were playing, one of my sons yelled, “I have to pee now!” In a hurry to help him get to the potty, I was holding his hand and holding my baby girl in the crook of my arm. She began slipping down, and what seemed slow motion, she fell onto to the hardwood floor. She screamed—my heart dropped and I felt like I was going to throw up. I immediately scooped her up and I checked her head and eyes for all the signs I knew to check for—I learned all about that when, as a first- time mom, I rushed my son into the urgent care after he had fallen a foot off the couch onto a plush, squishy carpet—but this was a real concern and a real reason to panic. She screamed and screamed and then threw up and I put her, shaking, into the car seat and we rushed to the emergency room. I kept thinking over and over, “How could you let this happen? You’re so stupid…what a stupid mistake!” Adrenaline took over and I didn’t have time to cry. After CT scans revealed she had a skull fracture, an ambulance came to pick us up and we rode for an overnight at Children’s Hospital for observation. She proved to be a tough little baby, and neurologists told me the fracture would heal up fine, but advised to watch for signs of a concussion when we got home. I was so relieved she was OK, but I still felt like the worst mom in the world.

The next couple days I was careful with my baby girl, always checking on her at night, checking her pupils for any sign of change. One night she was sleeping unusually long in her swing and I went to check on her. Her eyes rolled back and she got really pale and she started to vomit profusely. I called 9-1-1 and I just held her, while she was limp in my arms, crying on the phone to the operator to send help quickly. Paramedics arrived within five or ten minutes and calmly took over.

Only a few months before, I was watching paramedics load my husband into an ambulance, strapped to a stretcher and oxygen after a severe breathing attack and was now watching them take my two-month old baby. I rode with her and stroked her hair, sobbing to the paramedic the whole way, “I’m such a bad mom, this is all my fault, I can’t believe it, I can’t have anything happen to her, this is all my fault, I’m such a bad mom…I hate myself, I can never forgive myself…” The paramedic gently took my hand and said something I’ll never forget, “You are a good mom because you are here. You are a good mom because you’re crying and concerned. You’re a good mom because you called 911 right away…I’ve seen bad moms and bad moms don’t call 9-1-1, bad moms don’t cry, and bad moms don’t blame themselves. You are NOT a bad mom…” He went on to tell me a similar situation that he, as a new dad, as a went through. He told me he was carrying his newborn son in the garage and dropped him on the concrete, and here he was, a paramedic having to airlift his newborn to the hospital because he dropped him. His story made me feel slightly better.

We ended up at a hospital that didn’t have an adequate pediatrics unit for overnight observation, so we had to wait for another ambulance ride to Children’s Hospital. I felt awful having to explain the situation over and over to doctors coming in and out from the emergency room. I felt judged by everyone, but more deeply felt the judgment I was placing on myself. When I was alone with her in the emergency room, with her there lying on the bed with oxygen, all I could do was hold her hand. I found myself sobbing alone in the room; catapulted to the many other times I held my husband’s hand, helplessly watching as he lay in bed, all I could do was hold his hand. The chaplain came in to keep me company while we waited for the ambulance. His calm demeanor was so comforting. He too, shared with me words that made me start to slowly recognize the difference between a “bad mom” and an exhausted, brokenhearted mom who was maxed out.

“The senses in our bodies work together, they rely on one another,” he said gently. “If vision is suddenly lost, then hearing works overtime to make up for the sensory loss of sight. Hearing works so hard to try to compensate for all that vision did, hearing is not used to doing all that, and it gets overwhelmed. You would expect sensory overload if one of the other senses go out—you are hearing, Nicole. You worked together with your husband, vision, and now he’s not here. You’re overloaded and you need permission to rest…”

Tears rolled down my face as I told him, “I don’t know how…” I’d been responsible and perpetually “on” for too long. Twin babies shortly after marrying, the unpredictability of my husband’s cancer looming over our entire marriage and then a third pregnancy during chemo and hospice. When the baby was born I was caring for my dying husband which meant keeping track of meds and nurse notes, checking oxygen levels, changing bedsheets, sweat-soaked clothes and sick pails, and trying to manage the terrible-twos stage times two, and care for a newborn and post-partum body. The ceiling of my little ideal world came crashing down on me. It ended, but only began, with the death of my husband. That was a lot to happen in four years. In my day-to-day survival, I didn’t see the need for rest, but seeing my baby in the hospital drove it home for me. Rest wasn’t an option, it was a necessity.

When we got to Children’s Hospital, I heard again and again from nurses and doctors: “Please don’t beat yourself up, we see these things every single day, babies being accidentally dropped. It was an accident…” But guilt is a hard thing to shake when you keep piling it upon yourself.

They did another CT scan on my daughter and let us stay overnight so she could be observed. I hail the nurses at the Children’s Hospital Colorado Emergency Department, as they recognized my need for rest even if I couldn’t verbalize it myself. How could I ask to sleep when my baby was hurt? I didn’t have to ask—they set up a private room for me and let me sleep all night with no interruptions, except once for me to nurse the baby. The nurses took care of the baby the entire night. They let me sleep most of the next day too.

Miraculously, her scans came back and the fracture was healing up wonderfully. There was no sign of concussion regardless of the symptoms the night before. She was having a great time playing with the nurses and she was such a joy—the nurses took turns holding her on their lunch breaks—but it was me who needed the TLC, and the nurses tapped into that. It was me who ended up needing the hospital stay more than my daughter, which seemed totally ironic since I had spent time in more hospitals than in my own bed at home the previous four months. I’d recoil at the thought of spending time in a hospital if I didn’t absolutely have to. Interestingly enough, I did a dictionary.com search and thesaurus.com search for the word “hospital,” which is synonymous with “hospice.” In the midst of medical definitions, I found words like “shelter” and “rest home.”’ The word “hospice” is not only defined as a medical ward for the terminally ill—it is also described as “a house of shelter or rest for pilgrims, strangers, etc., especially one kept by a religious order” (dictionary.com). And that’s what I was, a pilgrim from a terrible shipwreck, a stranger to myself…and I desperately needed rest.

After my daughter was cleared to come home, and I had more sleep in two days than I had in months. It was a small break in a terrible storm and I wish the circumstances were different in what allowed a break for me. I wish I could say that this was a turning point, that things got better, but it seems like the waves got stronger and more powerful and knocked me to my knees over and over in the months to come. All of these moments of pushing myself and forcing myself to “keep going, suck it up, just be strong” until I hit wall after wall led me  to finally surrender “trying to be strong.” Through new awareness and acknowledgement of my weakness I sought rest and shelter. It now brings me great comfort instead of guilt to know that through the act of seeking healthy, restoring rest for myself—even though it means a little more TV time for my kids or hiring the babysitter so I can take a nap or a walk or a long drive or sit in the shower and cry for this season— makes me a good mom, a strong mom, now and for the future.

 

“…Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while”

            -Mark 6:31

 

Those who have gone before

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In the season of raising young children when we are reminded time and time again to cherish the season, to enjoy every moment, well-meaning unsolicited advice and self-inflicted guilt is overwhelming to me. As a widowed single parent, the glaring absence of my other half makes the stress and guilt unbearable at times.

My 4-year-old boys are very energetic, outgoing and exude confidence wherever they go. I consider this a beautiful part of their personality—particularly because I was an incredibly shy child. I probably missed out on trying a lot of new things, as my shyness would sometimes paralyze my personality. However, in public places, they take their energy and double it with their strange twin powers, and it can be like dynamite! We become very conspicuous, and their beautiful little spit-fire spirits can be an incredible source of stress and anxiety for me in these moments.

When I was a little more than seven months pregnant with my third child, my husband had just started palliative care and full-time oxygen support as a Stage 4 terminal cancer patient. We were a little overzealous one day, and tried to “grab a couple things” at Target. I quickly lost sight of my husband who had wandered off—he was getting more and more confused about simple things and it took a lot of concentration to maintain focus on the item he was looking for—and I also lost sight of my boys, who were two at the time. They had wandered off because, well, they were two-year-old twin boys and their mom was a tired, stressed, waddling pregnant woman. Twins-1, Mom-0. I finally located the boys and tried to corral them through the aisles while looking for my husband. My back was aching, the boys were out of control and there was always a slight anxiousness bubbling inside me for the entirety of the situation–cancer, babies, pregnancy–which at the time I couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around. I was waddling down the aisles, the boys going every which way, huffing and puffing and feeling light-headed, when down the other side of the aisle comes a woman. She’s smiling as she walks past us and chuckles, “Oh my, you’ve got your hands full…enjoy this age,” and goes on her merry way, when inside me I’m screaming for help and no one could hear me.

So, next time you see a mom or dad in complete exasperation at their child, consider that it’s not because of their child at all; perhaps that one moment you see them, tired and overwhelmed, is because their divorce just got finalized, or they just received a grim diagnosis, or just went bankrupt. Maybe they really do enjoy their children, and what you see is them fighting to survive for the children they adore so much. The last thing tired, exasperated parents need is someone telling them how full their hands are. Believe me, they live it, day and night, the fullness overflowing around their ankles at times. Throughout my family’s crisis, I grew to resent these comments. Each remark felt like another hole torn in an already gaping wound of single parenting. And the reality, at that moment in the store with Phil’s absence (we did finally run into him obviously), was that even though he was still alive, cancer is a thief that slowly tears someone away from you; I realized I was already a single mom.

Since my husband’s death almost two years ago, there have been times at the grocery store I’ve had to leave a full cart to escort two pint-sized, egg carton vandals (now four years old and more rambunctious than ever) with baby in tow to the minivan. At these moments, I feel like dropping to my knees in the middle of the aisle to cry and throw my own temper tantrum, because there seems to be an underlying sense of judgement of one’s parenting when kids act up. And at these moments, it seems there is always a well-meaning person who comes up to me smiling and says, “They grow up so fast, enjoy them while you can.” Or, “Oh, boys will be boys.” Instead of feeling encouraged, I now feel a little bit worse, because while I do enjoy my kids, I’m not enjoying that particular moment! My inner “am-I-a-good-mommy?” meter is way off kilter!

These deep feelings are the feelings that don’t show when my blood pressure rises as my kids are acting up and I appear agitated with them. When one of my boys is biting off the ends of carrots in the grocery store and putting them back, or the other is playing hacky sack with eggs when I turn to wipe the baby’s face because somehow she ended up with a ketchup packet that she bit and got all over her face. My brain just wants to leave the store, but knows I can’t because we’re out of everything as I’ve avoided the store for so long. My soul is feeling crushed because no matter how much grace and love and second chances or following through with natural consequences or reading parenting book after parenting book, after all that I still feel like I’m failing as a parent—all alone.

Over time, the comments of, “Oh they’re just being kids,” or, “They grow up so fast, enjoy them,” don’t bowl me over as much as they used to. I now try to focus on a detail I was overlooking before: these veteran parents have made it to another season in parenting. They have been through the tantrums in the shopping aisles, the chaos at a restaurant, the drama of a knickknack breaking at a friend’s home — and what they remember through all of it is how precious the whole experience of parenting little ones was, not individual events. This tells me that the good moments add up to be far more memorable than the hair-pulling, vein-in-the-middle of the forehead-popping, exhausting moments. And now I choose to allow those comments to give me a little glimmer of hope when I’m holding a kicking and screaming boy with one arm and pushing a full grocery cart with a baby (well now she’s a toddler, but still feels like my baby!) in the other, making sure the other boy is following closely behind. I’ll think, “I’m doing this and I’m not doing it alone, there are thousands of others who’ve braved the parenting path and survived and thrived with wonderful things to say about the hardest job in the world.”

The truth is, we shouldn’t be expected to parent alone. Whether we’re single by choice or by circumstance (this applies to married parents as well), we’re not parenting alone. All of you veteran parents can offer something valuable to young parents like me: it’s encouragement.

And I’m sure, many years from now, I’ll be old and gray, meandering through a grocery aisle, longingly looking at a child making art from a box of Fruit Loops he poured in the middle of the floor. I’ll say to an exasperated mom or dad, “One day you’ll enjoy these moments, but for now, you’re not alone and parenting is so hard. Power through and hang on! You’ll see how beautiful these many messy moments end up being…By the way, can I buy your groceries for you?…or at the very least, a latte?”

This little light of mine

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“I invite you to consider that to inhibit, delay, convert or avoid grief is to condemn yourself to a living death. Living fully requires that you feel fully. It means being completely one with what you are experiencing.”*

-Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

Growing up, I remember Halloween as a marker of a joyful holiday season about to begin. Once the leaves started to turn, embarking upon Halloween was met with excitement (and candy) and was followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas (and more candy). It was innocent excitement of being someone else for a day, using imagination and thinking outside the norm. For a shy, awkward kid like me, dressing up and boldly asking neighbors for candy was liberating. Now, watching my children get excited about dressing up (which is actually a daily occurrence in my home) and candy and pumpkins, I’m brought back to my own childhood excitement…with a caveat. I’ve been a little unsettled about Halloween ever since my husband passed.

First, our daughter was born two days before Halloween, and with death and life so strong at my own doorstep, celebrating the holiday that year was out of the question both practically and emotionally. The first Halloween after Phil passed was a warm, autumn evening and the streets were filled with children and neighborly hospitality. Seeing my twin boys trick or treat for the first time was exciting and their laughter was contagious, but I my stomach turned a little when we passed houses with skeletons and tombstones in their front yards. I could handle the cute costumes, but I couldn’t, and can’t, get past the zombies, ghosts, skeletons and ghouls. Having been face to face with death and dying, I can’t understand why anyone would want to pretend to be dead, or the living dead for that matter. So, tiptoeing carefully up to this coming Halloween, I was hesitant if we should even celebrate. However, I came to my own conclusions recently and decided to follow far more closely the holiday celebrated on the next day, Dia de los Muertes. The Mexican holiday drives home the permission to honor and remember loved ones who have passed even years after the loss rather than focusing on the dark and sinister side of death and the supernatural that Halloween is rooted in.

I recently attended a workshop called “The Paradoxes of Mourning” taught by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., founder of The Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado. He has devoted more than 20 years to helping the bereaved and teaching caregivers for the bereaved. I learned many insights that I treasure and keep close to my heart, but the one truth I learned that lit something deep inside was Dr. Wolfelt’s ability to explain the difference between grief and mourning. Grief: our inward experience of loss. Mourning: the outward expression of loss, honoring both the person who has died, as well as honoring all of the wrapped up emotions, thoughts and memories we survivors are left with. This stuck with me so much and I realized a pinnacle reality in my own grief journey—I haven’t mourned at all. Believe me, I have been, and still am swimming in grief, being so alone and stuck inside the swirling waves of it that I was not really given permission, nor did I know how to give myself permission to mourn. To be honest, I really didn’t know the difference between grief and mourning until that workshop.

It’s coming up on two years since my husband’s death and the death of our future together, and I have just now begun to scratch the surface of mourning. So, my point about all the Halloween stuff is this: In order for me to walk out of the land of the living dead (which is how I’ve been living this past year and a half) and into the land of the living, it’s incredibly important for me to be intentional with my mourning, to schedule my mourning (another post explaining these concepts later) and to invite others into the process; you, the readers. Shutting down and living in the dark with my grief is a scary and dangerous place to be—I don’t want to live in the darkness of “Halloween” anymore. So this Halloween, I start with the mourning journey. I start with giving light and honor to the man I loved and lost. And as I walk the dark streets with ghouls, ghosts and the living dead rubbing shoulders with me on October 31, I remember that I can overcome the darkness, the terrifying shadows of unaddressed grief, trauma not dealt with, and the lurking ghoul that is cancer with light, and in turn, these apparitions have no place in that light.

This Halloween, while my kids are reveling in candy euphoria, I will quietly be honoring the life that brought me so many blessings, remembering the pain and sorrow the absence of that life that has brought, and the light that bridges the gap between the two.

 

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.

-Psalm 119:105

 

*Wolfelt, Alan. Ph. D. Living in the shadow of the ghosts of grief: Step into the light. Fort Collins, CO: Companion Press, 2007. Print.