Tuesday, July 28, 2015

some amending to do

Apologizing has never come easy to me. Even in a small-scale disagreement, I have trouble admitting my wrongness and saying, with meaning, those two simple words: I'm sorry. While I've never done anything felonious, in the literal sense of the word, I have made choices that have hurt people in the past. I've lost a dear friendship over hurtful words, and I've long felt badly that said ex-friend wouldn't accept my eventual apology and instead opted to cut us out of his life. I've hurt the people closest to me and have been hurt by them, as well, and apologies have been volleyed back and forth over the years.

To err is human and all that, right? I get it. People mess up. I've messed up. We've all messed up. When it's your kid messing up, though, it stings a little differently.

Being a parent presents more challenges than I ever could have imagined as I watched my belly expand and expand fifteen years ago. It seems that with each new stage the children enter, those challenges grow in intensity and scope, and with a teenager in the midst, each day can feel like uncharted territory.

But the big one we face right now is teaching a child to properly make amends, and then to be the ones to accept such apologies and learn to forgive. Sounds so easy to put it into such simple words, but in practice, I'm finding that it can be dispiritingly difficult.

Interestingly enough, amend can also be used as a verb by itself, as in to amend: to change for the better; improve, or to grow by reforming oneself. So not only do amends need to be made, there is a whole lot of amending to do.

To teach someone to be a good person and to make good choices is another one of those things that sounds fairly basic and straightforward. I think it's one of those universal ideas behind most, if not all, parenting philosophies, and it's at the crux of all of our intentional actions with our children, right? So what are we to do when our children stumble and mess up? We know that it's going to happen, even if we can't predict the particulars. For all the figuring-it's-going-to-happen-eventually thoughts in the world, it's still a sucker punch to the gut when it does, in fact, happen.

I often joke, upon meeting people whose children have grown into adulthood or are even nearing the end of the teenage years, that I need reassurance that we're going to get to that point someday, too. Anyone with an ounce of perceptivity can surely hear the eager sincerity in my seemingly lighthearted question. Will we make it through, too?

For when people have a baby and are suddenly marked with the label "New Parents," they are often flooded with support, and rightfully so. Friends and family offer tangible help through providing meals or even just an additional set of hands now and again. But even more so is the community that can be found in connecting with other new parents who are likely in the same boat in the same rocky sea that is life with a newborn.

I believe that parents of teenagers are just as needy as those new parents, because quite honestly, I feel like a new parent all over again. I've never before parented a hormone-fueled, unpredictably-mooded teen with a still developing prefrontal cortex. But it's not so easy to find other parents who are not only in the same boat as you, but are willing to be open about the challenging seas they're charting as well.

For now, we're just rowing away, hoping our efforts will make an eventual impact on our course over the next few years.

Gah, enough with the boat and rocky waters metaphor.

We're just parents, totally fallible parents, who are trying to support our totally fallible teenager through a tough time of development and his own individual challenges. We're absolutely new parents all over again. Feel free to drop off a casserole if you feel so inclined.

Friday, July 24, 2015

therapy thoughts

I'm back to seeing a "talking doctor," as I frame it to the children when they ask about the type of appointment I'm heading to. She knows me from way back, and she's got the papers to prove that my "issues" have kind of always been there. Our conversations now aren't all that different than our conversations ten years ago.

I'm not sure if I should be reassured by my consistency or even more depressed by my lack of progress.

Either way, they are there. Anxiety, anger, fear of judgment, harsh self-criticism-- a veritable quartet of intertwined mental monsters that like to hang out in my head. They are undeniably quieting a bit thanks to the magic of Big Pharma, but that can only go so far, and I've got to do my part in keeping them reined in.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think that I'm paying my therapist to Stuart Smalley me.

PHOTO: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

And you know what? It's pretty damn good to hear someone tell you, "You're a good mom." Because the voice in my head is not terribly fond of that particular phrase, but does seem to enjoy telling me many things that it thinks I suck at in the motherhood field.

Is it worth a piddly copay to have someone point out to you the things you're doing well? Yes, resoundingly yes, right now it is totally worth it. Am I at the point of looking in the mirror and telling myself these things each day? Not quite, but doggone if that Stuart wasn't on to something.

Sure, he was goofy and easy to giggle at, but what harm can come from making a point to remind yourself of your positives? Especially if the negatives can get so loud sometimes? So here we go... ready for some sap that I should probably be too embarrassed to post?

You are a good mom, and you do your best to show the kids you love them, have high expectations for them, and are confident in their abilities.

You are a good friend, and you deserve time to spend with the people who make you laugh and accept you, warts and all.

You are funny and can make people laugh. 

You are smart and capable of thinking and feeling deeply on important subjects.

What would you tell yourself in your own Stuart Smalley mirror moment?

Monday, July 20, 2015

trying to be who he sees

My younger two children spent the better part of a week at my in-laws recently, and it was their first time having more than one or two nights away from us at someone else's house. They, of course, had a blast as they were subjected to Grandparent Treatment for five days, which involved water parks, kids' shows on Netflix, and a whole lot of attention. Nine year old Red was prepped and ready to be emotional support if seven year old Pudge was in need, but apparently he didn't require much comforting, even at bedtime.

Until we showed up in the driveway that Friday night, that is. Then all of his emotions came flooding out of him all at once. Upon seeing the van, Pudge ran out of the house, and practically leaped into my arms. As I held him close for what I thought was just a regular old hug, I quickly felt the pressure of his little arms around my neck and realized that his face pushing into my shoulder was muffling the sound of his sobs. He was clutching onto me and letting it all out, and when he could speak again, all he could say was, "I missed you. I love you." Again and again. Seriously. This kid.

For a couple years now, Pudge has experienced occasional night terrors, with varying frequencies. Sometimes it will be a couple times a week, and then half a month may go by without one at all. When they do occur, they're usually over fairly quickly, with either Hubby or me, or sometimes even his brother, helping him to get calm and back to sleep. Even in the midst of one of these wholly disoriented and not fully conscious experiences, in his unexplained fright, he still calls out, "Mommy!"

Somewhere deep in his subconscious, he sees me as a person to cling to when in need, a person to help make everything all better. For all that I question and dislike about myself, it seems that I'm just what this seven year old needs. When I look in the mirror, I wish I could just see the person he sees, free of all the self-critical baggage my eyes bring to the practice.

Perhaps we all need this reminder to try to embrace an image of ourselves as seen through the eyes of someone who loves us. Who will you be?

Friday, July 17, 2015

oh, the places I don't want to go

With a spirit of adventure, our hero envisions all the possibilities. Pack up and move closer to extended family? Find a big house in the country, where money can buy so much more? Go west and forge an entirely new path for the family? Any of those options or more bounce around in our hero's head, picturing all the potential lives that could be lived.

We all know that every story needs a villain, right? Well, you're looking at her. Rather than being conniving and evil-minded, I'm simply averse to change, and I'm not keen on the idea of leaving the city in which we've lived for the last fourteen years.

The last time I moved with a smile on my face, 1997, engaged and ridiculously happy about a crappy apartment

Just that fact alone -- fourteen years in one city (with bonus fact that it's been twelve years in one actual abode) -- is amazing because it's the longest I'd ever lived in any one place my entire life. Truly, when we hit seven years here, it earned that title. Moving to a new town every couple years was the story of my childhood, and while it all worked out in the end, I think it left me with a deep impression about moving. As in, I hate it. I hate every single part of it.

The last time we moved, we went from an apartment to our townhouse, and we had one child. We also had approximately 50% less stuff, no joke. The thought of having to physically pick up every item in our possession and put it into a moving truck makes a vein in my forehead throb, my heart rate skyrocket (and not in a good way), and my stomach roil. It's terrifying.

But it's not just the logistics of it, which I know I could handle if forced to do so, dangerous blood pressure and all. The scarier thing to me would be moving out of this area and saying goodbye to our life as we know it. We are established. We've had accounts and doctors' offices for years, some more than a decade. We've had the same insurance agent for eighteen years. Dude. That's a long time!

While insurance agents and gynecologists are replaceable, friends, not so much. Seriously, the people who I call my closest friends have known me for so long that they've seen me at my absolute best, and my freaking worst, and the fact that they still answer my texts is beyond incredible. We've held each other's new babies, we've drunkenly embarrassed ourselves, we've ugly cried to each other. How do you find new people like that when you're already a grown ass woman? The history that I have with friends is irreplaceable, and starting over by making new friends is the scariest prospect of all when I think about moving to a different area.

I'm not adventurous. There, I said it. I'm cool with the idea of change when we get to the next chapter in our lives, as old fogeys traveling around in an RV when the children are all grown. Is it wrong to want to wait at least another decade and a half to move on? Yes, I'll miss my friends then, too, but we'll have more mobility, at least that's the assumption, when it's just the two of us. And, I'm pretty sure friends won't mind our camping out in their driveways, Cousin Eddie-style.

Hopefully we won't fill things up too quickly...

There's no easy answer that would make both of us super thrilled, especially on such a big question about day to day life. If money ever falls into our laps that would make any change even possible, I guess we'll have to seriously weigh all our options. For the time being, I don't think we're going anywhere.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

there's something about that semicolon

It's been kind of dark around here, no? Metaphorically speaking, it's been kind of dark in my world for a little while, and I'm hoping that by breathing some new life into this space, a side effect will be some added brightness all around.

I've been really taken by The Semicolon Tattoo Project lately-- the reason why you've seen photos of the underappreciated punctuation mark tattooed on wrists and ankles popping up in your social media feeds recently. Even Upworthy covered it (written up by a former editor of mine!), and I'm thrilled to see it going so viral.

Because mental health issues are so not easy to talk about. Hence the darkness here for the last few months.
Depression can be a tricky thing, manifesting itself in a myriad of ways, not only differing from person to person, but even making a comeback in a strange new way in one person. Whereas it may have left someone weepy and lethargic and obviously afflicted years ago, maybe round two will quietly sneak in and settle itself largely not noticed, not keeping the same person totally down for the count. Instead, it may leave a barely perceptible rain cloud overhead, a shadowy presence hanging out as the person continues about her regular life. Perhaps the "walking pneumonia" version of depression, minus the contagious aspect.

But it's there, and it's been there for a little while, and I think that's why seeing the Semicolon Tattoo making the internet rounds right at the time when I've gone back to seeing a doctor for depression is really hitting a nerve for me. It's not easy to say aloud that depression, and its good pal anxiety, have been presences in your life, in your head, for most of your adult life. It's not easy to publicly declare something that can be seen as such a weakness.

And yet, here are all these people doing just that. Seeing this doesn't just make me feel less alone, it makes me feel less "less than." I know that I'm much more than just my mental health challenges, but they, in their own insidious way, can leave me feeling like I'm just not as overall GOOD as people without these challenges, people who can field life's curveballs without the assistance of an SSRI. And let me tell you, constantly feeling "less than" gets to be exhausting.

It's hard not to feel like I've taken a step backward by going back on medication. It had been years, many years, since that was a part of my life. But here I am again. I could fashion a long list of all the other ways that I need to self-improve, too, but I'd rather try to accept myself. As I am. Right now. Dozens of flaws and all.

A lofty challenge.

The sentence continues on, maybe with a pause, but it's still got some steam. And if you've ever read anything else here, you'll see just how big a fan I am of long, winding, wordy sentences.

Friday, February 13, 2015

friday's five

Another week down in this year that is seriously flying by. It's mid-February? At least we may be getting closer to warmer weather, though today's temperatures in the teens didn't bring many promises. So scratch that, spring still feels light years away. The teen finished his first semester of high school this week, and midterms were a big success, so he's moving into the second semester on a good note. Today is a day off for all the kids, so it's been a bit of a noise-fest with everyone inside for most of the morning, but there's nothing surprising about that. Our house is always filled with... spirit... yeah, that's it. 

Anyway. All of that is just to say that life is life, and while I never seem to get a chance to pop over here to say much about it, it is chugging along. Books, of course, are always going strong here, too. Yesterday's library trip saw us bringing another full bag of picture books home, so our shelf is pretty stuffed again. Yay! Just how I like it!

1. Betty Goes Bananas written and illustrated by Steve Anthony

A young gorilla named Betty is not only dressed like an average toddler girl, but as readers will quickly discover, she knows how to act like one, too. The banana won't open easily... tantrum. A nice toucan comes along and shows her how to open the banana... tantrum. Frustration is something that toddlers and preschoolers can understand quite well, and thankfully, after each of her tantrums, Betty does indeed calm down. Mr. Toucan gets a boatload of props from me for staying so cool, calm, and collected each time Betty loses it, and his refrain of "There is no need for that," will certainly make the grown-up reading this aloud crack a smile. 

2. Blown Away written and illustrated by Rob Biddulph 

Penguin Blue unwraps his newly delivered kite and tries it out on a windy day. Sounds good, right? Well, perhaps he should have picked a slightly less windy day, because, as the cover image shows, Penguin Blue is soon swept up into the air, the beginning of an adventure that will bring him far, far from his icy, Antarctic home. The only upside to all this is that in an effort to save him, several of Penguin Blue's friends get caught up in the wind, too, so at least his travels are not lonely. When they eventually find themselves on a hot, tropical island, they've got to figure out a way to get home, but they should also probably watch out for one last surprise.

3. You Are Not My Friend, But I Miss You written and illustrate by Daniel Kirk

My library opted to remove the paper cover of this book, and the image on the hardcover itself is a huge close-up of a sock monkey's smiling face. The book was standing up, cover facing out, so how could my four year old friend NOT grab it immediately upon seeing it? I could see this being a good read aloud in a preschool class, actually, since the refrain "You're not my friend anymore!" is heard pretty regularly when four year olds get ticked off. The concept of sharing requires an ability to see a situation from another's perspective, which is still a bit tricky for your average preschooler. That's what the sock monkey begins to realize in this book about the trials of friendship. 

4. Click, Clack, Peep! written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin

A quieter, gentler in the collection by this author/illustrator partnership, this is a book that will get many parents to remember back to those wild days and nights with newborns. Perhaps this will be one of those picture books that has more parent appeal than kid appeal, I don't know. I can picture this being a colorful read aloud, though, with the right amount of energy by the reader. Subtle bits of humor are there (sheep knitting a blanket, ha!), and it's fun to see our good old pal Duck getting into a new role in life. I haven't read this one with my young pals yet, but I predict they'll giggle a little. For me, it was trip back in time, almost 15 years ago, to our first round of parenthood!

5. Last Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Making magic out of the mundane, and seeing beauty in the everyday, that is at the heart of this gorgeous new picture book by the fantastic pairing of two amazing author/illustrators. Traveling across town with his grandmother, CJ comments on several things that could be seen as downsides of their day-- not having a car and instead needing to take a bus to get somewhere, not owning an iPod-like device, and walking around a tough neighborhood. CJ's grandmother, however, helps him to see the positive aspects of each of these experiences-- chatting with the other folks who ride the bus, listening to a man play his guitar, and looking for beauty all around. The best quote: "Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, CJ, you're a better witness for what's beautiful." I love everything about this book-- the inherent diversity that isn't the point of the story, but is simply a fact for the neighborhood in which the story takes place; the loving, but straight-talking, grandmother's way with CJ; and the urban beauty that is brought to gorgeous life in Robinson's illustrations. I was so excited to read this after hearing this story on NPR, and it was everything that I hoped for.

I hope you'll find some good matches here for your little ones' reading times!

Happy reading,

Friday, February 06, 2015

friday's five

Thankfully, that nasty cold I mentioned last week seems to have mostly gone away, though I'm still feeling exhausted in its wake. By mid-week this week, I was beginning to feel more like a human being again, just in time to resume our regularly scheduled library visit yesterday. After a surprisingly fantastic story time, we checked out a bag full o'new books to refill our library shelf at home. As I head to the library most of the time with toddlers and a preschooler, the selections that we bring back are quite often best geared toward their age groups. This week, I made a concerted effort to choose some that skewed to the older end of the picture book spectrum, to maybe spark some greater interest in independent reading for the seven year old, and just to add more fuel to the fire that is the 8 year old's reading obsession. 

I think that these five will appeal to elementary school kids for different reasons, some are familiar names and illustration styles, while others encourage curiosity from the first glance. 

1. Lifesize Rainforest: See Rainforest Creatures at Their Actual Size written by Anita Ganeri and illustrated by Stuart Jackson-Carter 

From the two inch long bee hummingbirds to the 20 foot long green anaconda, the animals of the rainforest come in a variety of sizes. In addition to learning interesting facts about the lives and habits of these creatures, the incredible selection of stunning, sharp photographs give an up close, life-size view. No other way to describe these photos than gorgeous. And fierce, especially when it comes to the jaguar and that anaconda. The larger the creature, the less of its whole body can be seen on the pages, of course, which give the impression of truly being eye to eye with it. Because my children and I do not live in, nor have traveled to, the rainforest, these animals weren't very familiar to us, so we all actually learned quite a bit!

2. My Grandfather's Coat retold by Jim Aylesworth and illustrated by Barbara McClintock 

The Yiddish folksong "I Had a Little Overcoat" has been the inspiration for more than one children's book, but this one is a welcome addition to the collection, because, well, Jim Aylesworth and Barbara McClintock, obviously! Aylesworth's retelling features repeating stanzas from one iteration of the original coat to the next, encouraging children to help tell the story during a read aloud and giving newly independent readers practice as they gain confidence. The tenderness of his words are perfectly matched with McClintock's heartfelt illustrations. Familial relationships play out in the images, with years of hard work and every day life experiences going by with each page turn. There's something softer and gentler here to me than some of her previous work. I'm not sure I can articulate what it is, but they very much remind me of Marla Frazee's depictions of families, and that comparison is given with much love. 

3. Sebastian and the Balloon written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead

Here's another case of seeing a name on a book cover and putting it in the checkout pile without a second thought. Philip C. Stead is known for his quiet tales and his sketchy illustrations, and I'm always curious to see what he'll come up with next. Here he tells of a young boy who, when bored with everything around him, decides to gather supplies and head off on a ride in a balloon made from his grandmother's afghans and quilts. Along the way, he-- and his unnamed, but ever-present red bird friend-- cross paths with a couple of animals who seem to be struck with a similar kind of quiet melancholy. When they crash into the house of three elderly sisters, their adventure changes slightly, but with the entire crew on board, they still have more exploring to do. This fantastical, whimsical story is quirky, no doubt, but I can't help but find myself enchanted with each read.

4. A Bean, A Stalk, and a Boy Named Jack written and illustrated by William Joyce and illustrated by Kenny Callicutt

Leave it to William Joyce, genius and all around creator of unique things, to present a wholly original and highly entertaining version of the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack's town is bone dry, and water is needed by everyone from the "uncomfortable" fish to the thirsty people, all the way to the king whose pinky toe is badly in need of a wash. His daughter the princess seeks out the advice of "the local old wizard guy," whose magic brings the special bean into Jack's life. The story that follows is quite different from the familiar tale, and witty banter between the smallish, regular boy and the smallish, magic bean bring even more fun to a version that puts humor ahead of fright in an adventure up into the clouds. 

5. Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers 

I've never been shy about admitting my total crush on Oliver Jeffers, and this book is just another reason why I adore him so. In this hefty tome for a picture book, he has taken on the task of creating twenty-six separate short stories, one for each of the letters in the alphabet, and incorporating quite a few well-placed alliterative words in each. His ink drawings are as delightful as ever, always conveying his smart sense of humor that suits his writing so well. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this entire book is the full circle he completes by placing one particular character in both A and Z, with a funny shift in story. There's just something genuinely distinctive about Jeffers' storytelling tone and illustrative style, and again, I'm won over.

Another five books with the seal of approval from both me and the kids in my life.

Happy reading,