Balance…it’s hard to find

Lately, I’ve been feeling it. And by “it”, I mean fried. I started noticing little signs after I took my daughter out of the Mother’s Day Out program she was in last week. At first it was little things like feeling way more tired than I normally do. Then it was noticing how much I was on my phone. A few days later I noticed how I was trying to find things to do around the house (i.e., laundry, dishes, making calls, changing appointments, organizing drawers, etc.).

Now let me say here that my daughter has been home with me since her birth. We tried a mothers day out (which is a part-time preschool program, usually run in churches 2-3 days a week) when she was 16 months for a few months and took her out because one of the sweet old grandmas was yelling at her for crying when I dropped her off. She must have been yelling at her throughout the day because she hated going to school and started crying when I put her in the car even on days we didn’t have school. It was awful. We put her in another program at a different church last year and they only had 1 day a week, she loved it! She stayed the whole year. We decided to keep her there and try 3 days a week this year and it didn’t go as well. A couple things factored into our decision-

  1. She’s an August baby and she misses school age cut offs by like 10 days or something. Preschools also follow this rule and therefore she’s in the class with children a year younger than her. It didn’t seem as much an issue one day a week because she enjoyed playing with new toys and being outside with other children. It was way more of an issue this year when she’s 4 and her classmates are 3 years old and she was going more days.
  2. The school also started enforcing mandatory naps, which they didn’t do last year. My child hasn’t napped most days since 20 months old. This was a big problem for her. They have the children all lay on their cots for a full hour. They will give quiet activities but an hour is still a long time to miss mama.
  3. They also changed assistants in the first month of school and there’s a new director so things are run a little differently this year. Not bad or good and staff turnover is what it is but it’s always hard on young kiddos. It’s even been hard on the mamas!
  4. She also had one teacher on Mondays and a different teacher on T/TH. I knew this going in and was a tad worried about it but I think on top of all the rest of the changes- it was too much!

So with all those reasons- we decided to take her out. We stuck with it for a good few months. She started crying on nights before school and being super clingy at drop off. Then she started getting upset on non-school days, worried she was going to school. That’s when we dropped Mondays because I thought 2 different teachers was just too much for her to handle. A few weeks later we decided I would pick her up before nap time because she was just really resisting going to school every day and I worried it was the hour rest time. Things seemed better for a while but she was still arguing quite often about school days and there were still tears and morning hesitation. It just seemed like so much work for me…and her…and frankly, it just didn’t seem worth forcing it on her. It’s an inexpensive program than we payed for because we thought she’d enjoy playing with children and being outdoors and yes, I’d get a break to run errands and take care of the home sans kiddo. That wasn’t really happening. The final nail was a classmate’s birthday party where all her classmates attended. My mom took her and she shared that it was pretty obvious that she was older than the rest of the kids. She just didn’t have much in common and playing was challenging because they just weren’t interested in playing the same things or the same way. That was all I needed to decide to pull her out.

So long story- but the end result was being home each day with my little one again. Which has been the norm for most of her life.

But this time felt different.

And I had no idea what had changed. Why did I suddenly feel like I made a horrible mistake? Why am I feeling trapped and super touched out all the sudden? Why am I feeling differently about full-time stay at home momming now than a few years ago?

I spoke with everyone I trusted…my husband. My mama. My therapist.

I read and searched for information online.

Was it stress? Was I getting sick? Was I wanting to go back to work full-time? Part-time? Was I done with extended breastfeeding? Co-sleeping? Did I need a month off in the South of France?

The conclusion I came to last night….it’s little bit of all that and a big fat side of LACK OF BALANCE!

So yes, my parenting style leans heavily towards attachment parenting. I’ve written about it here on my blog. It wasn’t a choice as much as a natural inclination when my daughter was born, before her birth really. I wanted to be close to her and meet her needs when she had them. This all made perfect sense to me when she was a baby. The changes and transitions were more subtle when she was an older baby. She was becoming more independent. I set appropriate boundaries for safety and behavior but I still largely spent all my time with her and there wasn’t much space. I was still ok with it (I thought). But something probably started happening and shifting for me when she was around 8-9 months old. I can now see some real early signs of wariness. These were the initial signs of burn out but I couldn’t really tell.

I wasn’t really balanced then. I needed more space but I wasn’t giving it to myself. I wasn’t noticing my needs, I couldn’t quite identify them even. I thought my agitation and frustration (mostly all inner at the point and directed towards my poor husband) was due to social needs not being met. Or needing a new food plan. Maybe I needed to lose more weight. Or start working out. Or I was depressed. Or maybe I needed to find a hobby or part-time work. This is where my brain goes every time I start feeling unbalanced but I didn’t know it at the time. I start way overanalyzing and I swing the pendulum in the opposite direction and I did all those things mentioned. I started working out and walking. I started a new food plan. I lost more weight. I started looking for ways to make money from home. I joined baby and me classes to make friends. I felt worse than ever!!

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Then as she got even older I was feeling even less balanced. Still unaware of my imbalance or where it’s coming from. My marriage was struggling even more, since life was so imbalanced…so was my marriage. No dates, hardly moments for us to share in alone time together. No marital bed. Hardly any sex. Yeah…it was a laundry list of responsibilities and tons of family time…and you can really start to see the picture more clearly now. Even more imbalanced. I started to feel some clues that I needed more physical space and I started day weaning the little one. That helped. We also moved and I made new mama friends with a great group of friends. That helped. Still not quite balanced but things got much better.

Still with the imbalance quietly raging in the background…my brain was burning a mile a minute trying to find the solution to a problem I wasn’t quite sure about…

Maybe we need more money. Maybe we need more vacations. Maybe we need more alone time. Maybe we need more couple time. Maybe we need more counseling. Maybe I need to find a job. Exhausting, right?? YES!

This all shot out of me like Pompeii the past few weeks. It was like a pressure cooker that couldn’t hold it’s lid one more second. When I brought my daughter home those few measly days and hours of alone time vanished. With it went my sanity, my rest, my peace, my no one is talking to me moments, and no one is touching me moments…and I had a mini-panic attack. I didn’t realize how much I valued this new found freedom and space. I didn’t realize until it was gone. And then…it became glaringly obvious as I spoke it out and processed my panic with my people. Yes, I could see clearly now how out of balance we had all gotten.

To be continued…

California native raising babies (and myself) in the south…part 1

So I’ve been wanting to talk about this topic for a while and I’m still sorting it all out because, obviously, my experience is ongoing. But the single act of living in Tennessee has changed and continues to change me…and honestly, I think for the better.

Super short back story- I was born and raised in southern California. My parents are both from Minnesota and are both from very politically active, liberalish, Catholic families. I say liberalish because they were progressive about certain things and not others. Anyway- I was raised by parents who left Catholicism and moved to the San Diego area. My dad pursued eastern spirituality when I was a child and my mom generally believes in being a good person and doing no harm. My mom is very socially liberal and a firm democrat and my dad used to be a democrat who turned libertarian. He’s very liberal about women’s health and anti-war. He’s very fiscally conservative and believes in a very small government.

I grew up to be very socially and politically liberal and progressive. Maybe it’s because of my childhood attending elementary school in the barrio where I was one of 10% of white kids in a dual language immersion program. Maybe it’s because my cousin is adopted my South Korea. Or my other cousin who has Down syndrome. Maybe it’s because I was raised in a household where I was given the opportunity to learn about many faiths, many different forms of spirituality and exposed to many immigrants and cultures. Maybe being raised in a home that taught healthy sexuality and accepted my sexuality as part of being human and honored my choice to be sexually active without shame had something to do with it. Or my utilization of planned parenthood as a teen. Maybe it’s because I experienced being raped in college and went through the struggle of health screenings, STD testing, and waiting to see if I was pregnant. Maybe because I dated women for 6 years and was engaged to my college sweetheart, Janna. Maybe because I taught English in China and traveled extensively. Maybe because of my parents’ values and what they passed down to me.

Who really knows fully how we form our values, our political views and our beliefs…I think they are formed over time and through experience and they can change!!

I met my husband online. He’s a marine from a rural town in Ohio. His family is very similar to mine and yet they have very different beliefs, politically and socially. They vote very differently from me and my family. My husband and I share many socially progressive views but we don’t agree on many things too- like gun regulations.

I never imagined I would be living or raising kids in Tennessee. We were looking for a change, California is incredibly expensive and my husband missed many of the outdoor activities, space and seasons of Ohio. I was becoming disenchanted with my job as a teacher and I thought I might finish my masters at Vanderbilt. So we visited Nashville…for like a hot second in spring and fell in love.

So we moved!!

I got accepted to Vanderbilt’s coveted special education masters program with a full scholarship and monthly stipend, B got transferred to the Nashville VA and we started our life here in the south.

I think in the back of my mind I always thought this adventure was temporary and when I was done with school and found my way in a new career, we’d move back to California. That’s not what happened.

Both B and I hit rock bottom psychologically, shortly after moving here. I think some old baggage caught up with us and for me, just moving away from my entire safety net, my family and being somewhere so new and different sent me for a tail spin.

I decided not to pursue the masters program at Vanderbilt. HARDEST DECISION OF MY LIFE. I realized I was just chasing a fix to a deeper issue- trying to run towards “greener grass”, which TN has tons of that… not quite the type I was looking for though…

It was a tough and dark time to say the least.

I joined 12 step and B sought help through the VA.

And then…we got pregnant.

To be continued….

What if nothing is wrong?

So I heard this phrase, or question rather, a few months ago and it’s one of those moments when your brain gets a little scrambled…in a good way!!

So here it is….what is nothing is wrong? What comes to mind when that question is asked?

For me?

  • A shit ton of peace and relief
  • A moment of doubt…let me think about that because I’m pretty sure there’s something that’s wrong
  • Some room to breath
  • Brain scramble
  • Real awareness that in this moment…nothing is actually wrong.
  • Gratitude for what I have when I’m not running around like a chicken with my head cut off…

B wants you to know it’s all ok!!

So I know what some of you might be thinking…or maybe it’s just me…

What if in the moment something is actually wrong?

Sometimes shit happens, I’ve talked about this here before. It’s ok when things happen that are outside of our control but ya know what?? Even if someone gets hurt, or dies, or you get sick, or lose a job, etc….it isn’t happening over and over again every moment. It happened in one moment or you’re sick for a temporary amount of time or the person dies and the moment passes. It isn’t that we don’t have residual feelings or aftershocks, so to speak, but most of my suffering has come from reliving moments over and over again. Other ways I make myself suffer…I continually analyze ways I can avoid said experiences again in the future.

So let’s look at the concept of avoidance behavior, especially when it comes to avoiding pain or perceived negative experiences…

This is where the question, what if nothing is wrong, comes in heavy and real….

When I’m so busy trying to avoid future experiences that I don’t have control over my brain and body don’t realize that what I’m visualizing and anxious about isn’t actually happening in the moment. This practice actually creates real stress hormones, physical responses in my brain and body and puts my immune system and body in a compromised state.

But is anything in the moment really wrong? Nope.

What happens when you stay in that state for weeks? Months? Years? You don’t feel so great.

Answer?

Read. Talk. Therapy. EMDR. Medication. Energy work. Tapping (EFT). Psychiatry. More reading. Awareness. More talking. More therapy. Friends. Fun. Sleep. Always sleep. Rest. Exercise. Good food. More awareness. Time.

And…slowly…these patterns start changing. It’s like a bad habit. It’s hard to break but it’s worth it.

It’s a journey. It’s a process. It’s life.

The older I get the less I know…

I was talking my mom’s ear off yesterday night, nursing a stomach ache and just chatting about anything and everything.

“Hi mom!” *waving like a 3 year old at a recital*

We started talking about being young and how I felt like I knew so much about so much. I had such strong convictions and beliefs about so many things that I had never even experienced. And I was telling to my mom about how, after a trauma that happened in college, I wanted so desperately to get back to that place that felt sure, certain and confident in my decisions and who I was. I wanted to get back to that place of knowing my mind.

Growing up is complicated though. The more I have experienced the more my eyes have been opened to life and it’s ups and downs. It’s easy to say what one would do in certain situations when one hasn’t really been in that situation because it’s all hypothetical. In those circumstances, nothing is really on the line so what do you have to lose? But when I’ve really been faced with life changing choices, or life altering circumstances, there’s more at risk.

When I was a teenager I felt very strongly that every person should report sexual assault. I used to say that if that ever happened to me I would most definitely report the person responsible because I would never want another woman to be hurt by that person again. And I believed that, then.

Here’s the deal…I was sexually assaulted. I was 18 years old and I was a baby. I had just moved out of my parents’ home for the first time and I trusted everyone and everything. I had lived a happy, sheltered life for the most part and I didn’t realize how frequently sexual assault occurred, especially on college campuses. I guess I never thought that would happen to me. And when it did…my previous beliefs and convictions fell away. My foundation of knowing fell away. There’s a groundlessness.

I did not report. Why? For a lot of really complicated reasons. And guess what? If you haven’t experienced a violent assault, you may not really be able to understand it anyway. My point is this…

I thought I knew what I would do in that exact situation and I had no idea what I was talking about.

Here’s the other thing, not all similar situations are the same. Maybe you have experienced sexual violence and you did report it. No two situations are ever the same.

Yes, sometimes my life now seems more complicated, less carefree and trusting, less decisive and sure, and less naive but I am sure about one thing-

No one has ever lived anyone else’s life but their own. And the older I get, the more life I’ve lived, the less I know!

And I guess I’m ok with that.

Can we really fix people? Maybe we shouldn’t try…

Are you a control freak? I ask with the utmost compassion because I have…um…some issues with control… wanting it, coveting it, demanding it, and trying to manage it.

I tell myself my need for control comes from a good place. “I want to help people.” But does it really? Um…yes and mostly no!! So when does control come up the most in relationships and with our kiddos? When they are flippin the hell out and we’re trying to fix the problem. But should we?

What does fixing say to others?

  • Stop feeling/doing that
  • That’s not ok
  • You’re not ok
  • I don’t like that
  • I don’t accept you/this
  • You’re feelings/actions make me uncomfortable

Offering to fix other people’s feelings, issues, problems, life is also attempting to offer unsolicited advice…and what does that feel like?

  • You don’t know what’s best for you
  • I’m better at life than you
  • I know what’s best for you
  • You can’t be trusted to make decisions
  • You’ll fail or make mistakes
  • Failure and mistakes are a bad thing

Here’s the deal- we don’t know what’s best for someone else. And we never really have control over other people. Horrible, right?

Sometimes, yes! It can feel super horrible when we try to control others and it doesn’t go the way we want, which is most times for me!

I literally married a man who cannot be controlled. After my high school love I didn’t really believe in soul mates anymore because some fairytale romance of love at first sight seemed ridiculous when you consider how many people live in the world and pure odds of at least 20 or more people could be plenty compatible with me.

BUT- if your definition of soul mates or twin flames is about finding the person who pushed your soul to grow… than I have found my soul mate. We push each other, purely through our own junk, to grow and grow and grow. It’s not all bad. I can’t believe I still like him after 6 years of marriage and almost 9 years together but that helps too! But it’s not been easy and man do I try to control him.

Does it work? Never. Not ever. No.

Do I stop trying? Um…I’m still worked on it. But what does my trying to fix him or control him say to him?

I don’t ever want my husband to think that I don’t accept him for who he is. I don’t want him to think that what he feels or goes through isn’t ok or that he’s not ok. I want to love him through not make it all go away. It’s not easy, especially when another person’s stuff effects your stuff. Sometimes I want to put a piece of tape down in our home and say keep your stuff out of my stuff….but that doesn’t work in a marriage or in a family. Or in life.

Life is messy!

So I recognize when I’m feeling anxious and I want to start meddling in someone else’s life. Or when a dear friend comes to me to cry and vent and I jump into fixing their problems with unsolicited solutions, or when my child feels broken hearted about something I deem insignificant and I want to brush it aside….

Sometimes I recognize it before I respond (big pat on the back), sometimes it’s while I’m in the middle of it and I see myself spinning out, and sometimes it’s after I’ve already hurt someone with my controlling or minimizing actions.

I’m learning and I’m human. I’m also hopeful. The more pauses I can find before I react the less I stick my nose where it doesn’t belong.

So is it horrible? The lack of control thing?

Actually, it’s a huge relief!!

We are not in control. It’s not possible. And therefore I can concentrate on just hanging out and being available if someone needs me- gives me so much more time to focus on my own life.

*Deep sigh*

We won’t always be grateful, it’s ok!

Sometimes gratitude comes naturally, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s a practice that requires a bit of work and sometimes it won’t come even when you dig in deep and try your hardest to feel it.

Yesterday was such a day. I was feeling agitated and irritable. In true human fashion I tried to shake it. I dropped my daughter at school and I went to therapy and then I tried to talk it out. We tried to get to the bottom of it- really it seemed like I was just grasping at things to try and explain why I was feeling down and blah. It felt like there wasn’t a single thing- it felt like a moving target and then something new happened.

So lately I’ve been trying a few new things that have seemed helpful to me but in a whole new way. I’ve been trying to allow it all. The moments when I’m full of gratitude. The times when I’m agitated and irritable. Those days when I feel like a rock star and times when I fee full of doubt and fear. Notice anything else cool about all this? Feelings, moods, thoughts, ideas, funks….they come and go!

Sadly, this means I won’t always feel like a rock star, on top of my game, having a good hair day, feelin’ the love, diggin’ the groove, and being inspired. BUT- it also means I won’t always feel bitchy, down, blue, agitated, blah, lost, confused, doubtful, sick, tired, annoyed, and disconnected! This is good news, for me at least. Everything comes and goes. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. It all is fleeting. Here’s the other thing I’ve been trying- I don’t have to try and enjoy it more, hold onto it, make it stay, chase it away, fight it off, etc.

But there’s more…

Even when I do try to talk it out, analyze it to death, run from it, hide from it, therapize it, eat it, hold it, hoard it, clench it, squeeze it to death…it’s still ok. It’s all ok. It’s always been ok. I’m ok. You’re ok.

I’m a human. You’re a human. This is all what we do. We are a society of “get happy”. In an age of social media and tiny squares of life, we’re all trying to be our best selves all the time. It’s exhausting. Even my spiritual pursuits have been a journey of trying to outrun life and living a human existence. But you know what my human experience tells me? It’s not possible. I’ve never experienced one thing forever. So how do I think it’s possible to outrun what I perceive as negative feelings? How can I outgrow sadness? Or outheal agitation or loneliness? Would I still be human if I didn’t feel confused or ever face fear or doubt? And those moments don’t stick around forever. I actually think trying to outrun them and avoid them is what keeps me in a place of pain for much longer than the original feeling would have lasted. That’s what buddhists would call suffering.

I want to note something here though for those who may really be suffering in a dark place that has lasted longer than a few days- I feel that depression and anxiety can be really crippling at times and may need treatment. I myself take medication for both and that has helped me tremendously. But here’s the deal- I still have feelings come up that I don’t exactly like- sadness, loneliness, disconnection, confusion, doubt, fear, blah, agitation, etc. and that’s what I’m talking about here. The medication just helps me elevate the lows that keep me from living my life. The feelings and things I’m talking about here are more like everyday stuff that truly does come and go.

So in this moment, while I was flipping through all the beautiful photos of my family and friends in my phone- I felt a heart swell of gratitude. I saw how colorful, vivid and full of life my life really is and I felt it deep. Who knows what the next moment will hold. I’ll have to wait and see. But I give myself permission to feel it and let it come and go.

How trying to find my purpose has blocked me from living purposefully!

If you have not been living under a rock, you’ve definitely seen the boom in the self help and self improvement field over the last 10 years. It’s been steadily gaining steam for maybe the last 20 years for sure but it’s blown up recently. Mainstream media is discussing meditation, yoga, mindfulness, finding more happiness, living your purpose, etc!

Dont get me wrong, I’m all about the self improvement movement and I pretty much only read spiritual and self help books because it’s what interests me. I love learning more about human behavior, changing habits, accessing more peace and finding more presence!

Over the last few years it seems like two topics that have caught like wildfire are how to choose happiness and how to find your true purpose. It’s all about always being happy and defining your destiny. Those are some lofty goals!! In fact I’m guilty and spending large sums of money on books, seminars, retreats, and courses trying to track these things down.

I seriously believe that I could spend my whole life seeking for my true purpose.

And why? Because below the surface there’s a real fear that I will be lying on my death bed full of regret that I never found, defined, and lived my destiny. That somehow I wasted my life because I couldn’t narrow my existence down to a few lines on a business card.

Lately I’ve been really aware that maybe the whole concept of destiny and purpose as a single role or something I can wrap up in a pretty box is not real at all. I’ve actually been a bit concerned that it’s one big fat distraction from the real deal- which might be a bit harder to define.

Let me explain the predicament I’ve been in for the last 3-4 years…maybe a bit longer. When I left the world of education, I was more than a bit disgruntled and I didn’t want to go back to teaching. I then found out we were pregnant and I couldn’t have been happier because my whole life I couldn’t wait to be a mother. It’s probably what drew me to teaching in the first place.

After the first year of being a mom I started really panicking that I might not be living my purpose. It sounds crazy hearing it aloud because my whole life I had wanted to be a mother- it seems I would have told you my purpose was to be a mom. Here’s where it gets complicated and humans are more complex than having one pretty wrapped purpose because being a mother is part of my purpose and it still is!

I truly feel I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and doing exactly what I was put on this earth to do. It’s definitely part of my destiny.

How do I know?

  • Because 1) It its my reality, I made the decision to have a child and become a mother and
  • 2) I make huge life decisions from the place that right now I feel more than a strong urge to be home with my daughter.

The difficulty in being a stay at home mother is that I’m a layered, complex human being with many interests, needs, desires, goals, etc. To say that my whole life’s purpose is to be a mother would not be accurate. It will always be a big part of my life’s purpose but there’s more to me as a person.

But this is where it gets tricky and the slope gets very slippery. When I feel that longing to have something for myself, and you read as many self help books as I do, I get sucked into this concept that I might need to find my true life’s purpose and then I will start living.

There are ¬†actual quotes that our life’s purpose is to find our life’s purpose and live that. Really? Vague much? Our life’s purpose is to find our purpose? I think maybe our life purpose is to live fully in all of the roles and unique layers we possess.

Right now my purpose is to be a mother, wife, daughter, friend, community organizer, event planner, speaker, and writer…among others.

A note to myself- stop waiting to live your life in defined terms. You’re already living it! Don’t use finding a purpose as an excuse to protect yourself from failure or mistakes. Try to be present and enjoy the flow of life instead of trying to swim upstream trying to find a new stream.