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.

It’s not about the nail!

So I was talking with a good friend at the library today after music time. Our kiddos were playing with puzzles and stuffed animals while we got a few moments to chat, vent, connect, and be there for one another.

Her son is 20 months and going through the well known phase of toddlerhood that’s just plain hard!! Boba went through this too from about 15 months till about 2 we dealt with lots of boundary pushing, tantrums, asserting her independence, emotional sensitivity, teething (like big ol’ molar teething), huge leaps and bounds in her development almost on a daily basis, changes in sleep, etc! It’s was a hectic and crazy time for us as a pair.

I remember calling my mom a few times in tears worrying that someone kidnapped my beautiful, sweet, affectionate baby and replaced her with a mean, moody tyrant! I stewed that I was doing something wrong and that maybe I had drastically changed my parenting somehow without realizing it and it was messing her up for life and sending her on a life path towards crime and prison time! My mom assured me that she was right on target for some of the most natural developmental shifts that occur at this time. *Deep sigh*

So my friends’ dear son has been going through the same thing and my friend has been questioning her sanity!! Been there sister! She was talking about the times she gives him exactly what he asks for before he throws an epic tantrum and throws whatever she just gave him at her face with an animalistic growl. Ugh??! Really child? This can be so tough, especially when it’s just happened for the 8th time in one day!! She was asking me why he does this. I told her about a YouTube video I saw that basically sums it up to me.

It’s called, It’s Not About the Nail and it’s hilarious and accurate!

So you can see that it seems obvious that her problem must be the nail in her head but as most of us have felt more often than not, it’s not always the content that’s important but the underlying need to be validated. Yes we may actually have a nail in our head (or we may be a toddler that makes requests over and over and then throws the items at the givers head)! But what the underlying need is might be different and more important than the obvious solution.

In my friends situation, her son is a toddler that is very aware and observant. He sees the other children and adults in his world doing all sorts of things he can’t do yet. He’s literally in pain because of his molars. He’s experiencing such massive jumps in physical and cognitive development that sometimes he can’t quite keep up and can’t find the words he wants or process what he even wants because it’s all a big jumble in his overworked mind. These tiny humans are changing a million times a day and growing so quickly and having to process all that and make sense of so much at the speed of light- sometimes they get way overloaded and lose their shit!

And when they do- it looks like crying fits, a total change of mind and heart, massive confusion, tantrums, aggression, irritability, risky behavior, lashing out, major frustration, throwing items they just asked for, etc. You get the idea!

What do we all need when we’re not feeling our best? When we’re feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed?

Most of us need a combination of things- sometimes we need connection and closeness. We need a safe person that we trust to just be present with us while we feel all our conflicting, complicated emotions. We need that person to offer an ear, a shoulder, a hug, some cuddles, etc.

Sometimes we need space, time, compassion and understanding from our safe people to hold a container for us to release all that pent up energy in a safe way. We need deep breaths, a pillow to scream into, a safe cushioned corner to thrash, a room to go to and yell, a place that unsafe items are removed and we can just tantrum and vent out all those feelings. Then that safe person is a listener and protector until we’re calm, they can then provide hugs and nurturing while we come back to ourselves.

It’s not always about the nail, or the juice box, or the crayons, or the chair, etc. Most times it’s not about any of that. Just like it’s not about the money, the house, the dishes, etc. between adults. It’s usually about needing a safe person to be vulnerable with and to help us process through our feelings. Someone we can connect with. Someone who can validate how we feel.

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