Finding Grace

Six years ago I fell into a deep cavern of postpartum depression.  I had been depressed (and hid it) twice before in my life.  But there’s something inherently different about postpartum depression.  When people hear you are non-postpartumly depressed, they might be confused or indifferent or possibly judgmental.  But when people hear ppd, they think you are a bad mom.  (Or at least that’s the lie ppd tells us.)  And when you are a new mom, what could be worse than being deemed a bad mom?

So my husband knew I had ppd, and the therapist I had been seeing for years knew I had ppd, but no one else knew about it.  It was my deep, shameful secret.

But the strange thing is that while I was keeping my secret, I had this nagging feeling that keeping it was irresponsible.  I’m a writer.  Not a well known one, but still, I have spent my life writing.  I have also spent many years teaching struggling writers and teaching illiterate adults.  What those experiences have taught me is that I have a voice.  A voice that I take for granted.  A voice that everyone in America should have but that far too many don’t have.

And I also have this weird part of me that isn’t ashamed (much) to tell my stories.  I’m a sharer.  Maybe all writers are.

But with the ppd, I was too afraid.  I was too afraid people would tell me that I didn’t deserve my daughter.  The little girl we fought for four years to conceive.  The little girl who meant more to me than my own life.  There were three feelings I could feel in those months: despair, panic, and love.  And if people accused me of not feeling love… well, then what was left to me?

Luckily I had been in therapy for years before this happened, and luckily I had a therapist and a husband who were somehow able to get through the blackness and be the single source of light that told me that it was okay to need help, it was okay to receive help, and it was okay if sometimes that help came in the form of a little pill from the pharmacist.

I recovered.  Well, as much as any of us can recover from such things.

I felt relief.  I eventually felt joy.  But I also felt I had a purpose.  There was only one way to take that horrible pain and make something beautiful out of it.  And that was to share my story.  So that no one I knew and no one I could reach would ever feel that alone and that broken and that terrified ever again.  So that they, when in their darkest moments, could say, “See!  She went through the same thing.  I am not the only one.  And she made it through it.”

So I started writing.  It took me awhile to share it with people that I knew.  But I did.  And the response has been so humbling.  While helping others learn that they are not alone, they have taught me that I am actually not alone.

But still, occasionally (maybe like once or twice a second) I start to think, but who am I to share?  I’m just some silly little woman out in the suburbs with a computer and a couch.  Who am I to share my story?  Who am I to share my messiness and my pain?  Who am I to stand up and shout, “This is me.  I’m not backing down.  I won’t be shamed into silence.”

But then I’m reminded that the only way to touch someone is through vulnerability.  Most of us, for most of our lives perhaps, think we need to impress people with the beauty we have in our lives.  But beauty doesn’t attract as much as realness does.  Shiny things don’t catch our eyes as much as honesty does.

Perhaps it’s because honesty and openness and vulnerability and rawness are rare commodities.  Or maybe it’s because the broken parts of ourselves are the most real and the most knowable.

Whatever it is, it makes connections in a world in which it is dreadfully hard to connect.

Maybe some of us are more broken than others.  I surely feel like I am most days.  But maybe God makes the broken to usher His grace into the world.

I don’t have flashy things or great beauty or an Ivy League PhD.  But I do have my truth.  And I have my voice.

And so today, I went to my web host, and I renewed this little blog of mine for year four.  Four years!  How did that happen?

I don’t know what is going to happen during year four.  I don’t know what I’ll share that I will then wish I had kept silent.  But I do know that the only way I have learned to exist comfortably in this world is to be myself.  And the only way to be myself is to hide away my shame and stand up for the person I was created to be.

Good and bad, warts and all.  All I can be is myself.  And writing helps me learn who that is.  And it helps me be less ashamed of who that is.

And I guess that’s worth everything to me.

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On Writing and Dreaming and Defining

Ever since I was a little girl, I have had a fascination with the written word.  I remember just looking at books, before I could even read more than the most simple of them, and I would put them to my nose and breathe them in.  I would flip through the pictureless pages and wonder at what they contained.

Books, to me, were magic.

But it wasn’t just books.  It was any words, really.  Song lyrics.  Quotes.  Poetry.  Well-phrased oral pronouncements.

From my earliest of memories, I can remember words making my heart flutter.  I would have actual physical reactions to the sounds of words.  I found beauty through their sounds, my truth in their meanings.

Words to me were magic and they were power.  By merely manipulating the order of sounds and words, magic could be made.  It was really that simple.

And also for as long as I can remember, I recall falling in love with certain pieces of writing.  And I always fell in love for the same reason – recognition.  If I could recognize in myself what the writer was discussing, if I could feel the humanity and the inevitability and the familiarity and the eternal in it, then I found love.

I found it anywhere from Love Story to Garth Brooks’s lyrics to the orations of Martin Luther King Jr.

To me, words have always been about creating bridges.  Soul to soul, heart to heart.  Words were about finding the common threads that connect us all.

I’ve always found certain works of fiction that I admire and love and enjoy, but it’s not where my heart has ever found its home.  I love Margaret Mitchell and JM Coetzee and Khaled Hosseini.  But for me, it’s the writing of Frank McCourt and Jeanette Walls and Anne Lamott that make me feel like there are kindred spirits out there in the world.  My soul could rest in their words and know that I had found home.

And so I guess it makes sense that now that I write, I choose the personal essay over fiction.  After all, fiction is a strange world to me.  I admire it and I enjoy it and I respect it, but I don’t understand it from a writer’s perspective the way I do the memoir.

To me, it feels natural to sit down and write about myself and my world.  To write about another sounds exhilarating but foreign.

And perhaps it stems from why I write.  To be honest, I don’t write because I choose to.  I write because I have to.  This weird organ up in my head that keeps my body functioning becomes a strange and sordid place when it’s left to its own devices.  I simply get to the point where there are so many words and ideas and thoughts in my head that I have to write.  Because otherwise I will explode.  Or implode.  Probably whichever is messier and the most traumatic.

But write as I do, often and at length, I’ve never really considered myself a writer.  Perhaps this sounds odd, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Writers hone their craft.  Writers work hard.  Writers have specific skills and talents and can draw out of others feelings so intense specifically because they are so familiar.

Writers are the chosen few. Writers make people’s hearts skip a beat.  Writers are magic.

Me, I’m just a mom sitting on my couch at the end of the day purging all that has built up inside my head out onto the page in a haphazard and sometimes reckless manner.

Writing is rough for me, not because of the writing, but because of the sharing.  I’ll hit “publish” and I panic.  What did I share?   Why did I share that?  How could I have ever possibly have survived if I hadn’t shared it?

Writing is a craft and requires effort and revision and time.  Surely that is not what I do.  I wouldn’t have the time to really revise had I chosen to.  And I couldn’t possibly spend the few moments I have writing revising.  Then all the new thoughts would get backed up and everything up there would be bumping into each other creating a backlog and a mess and surely someone would get hurt in that process.  Most likely me.

But as much as I have a hard time seeing myself as a writer, I really want to be a writer.  I want to have that title and feel that title and feel myself worthy of that title.

But to that, my mind replies, “but who are you to self-proclaim?”

And it makes me wonder, who do we allow to define ourselves and what do we allow to determine what we will pursue?

Do we take the word of others?  Or do we stand on our own authority?  Do we trust in experts?  The general populace?  Our family?

And what risks are we willing to take?  When do we know if the chance we want to take is one worth taking?  If we are up for the challenge?  If we are enough?

After all, I could declare myself to be a vocal artist.  I have a voice.  I can manipulate it to make sounds that kind of resemble a song.  It might make windows crack and babies cry, but I have the physical ability to sing.

I sing but can’t consider myself a singer.  So what right do I have to consider myself a writer merely because I write?

Or maybe the answer can’t even be found in that question.  Perhaps I am not a singer because I choose to sing.  I am a writer not because I choose to write but because I need to write.  Perhaps we are what our souls need us to be.

So much in life seems to happen to us.  We make some basic, key decisions and then a whole lot of life happens.  If we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves trotting along day by day putting out fires and trying to catch some laughs in between.

But when we do this, we can forget about what it is that our secret dreams contain.

Inside all of us, I believe is art waiting to be lived.  Whether it’s with words or pictures or clay or fabric or wool or the body.  We all have a story to tell and we all have our own unique way of telling it.

But when the time comes, will we have the courage and the passion to take it?

Will we believe we are worth it?

Will we believe we are enough?

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Mommy Guilt

At 3:00am, I heard a rustling outside our bedroom door.  All of a sudden Magoo’s face appeared, and she said her tummy hurt.  I told her to go down to the bathroom and we would be right there.  TJ woke up and went in with her.  She threw up twice.

He got everything cleaned up and sent her back upstairs.  He decided he was up for the day, so he ran to the store to buy something for the car.

A few minutes later, I heard her running downstairs.  I followed her down and she had begun throwing up again.

I sat behind her and rubbed her back, telling her it was okay.

When she was done, I got her settled on the couch with a blanket, pillow, and throw up bucket, and then I got Goosie set on the floor on a makeshift bed because she refused to sleep in her room alone, and reluctantly, I got myself set up on the other couch and opened Mae’s doors, so I could hear her if she cried.

And then I spent the next two hours trying to decide what to do.

Goosie was supposed to be snack kid at preschool today.  It probably doesn’t sound like a big deal and to a grown up it’s not, but to a 3 year old, it’s a really big deal.  It meant she would get to be line leader and help with the weather chart.  It only happens one every two months.

So what did I do?  Did I keep Goosie home from her 3 hours of preschool because it’s just preschool and it’s best not to make Magoo drive around in the car for twenty minutes?  Or is that cheating Goosie out of her fun experience?  And to top it all off, the wind chill is -30 today, and Mae has a nasty little habit of taking off her boots and mittens in our car where our heater had been acting up sporadically.

Every five minutes I would check my email, praying for a notice from school saying that classes would be cancelled today.  The notice never came.  But morning did, and I had to make a decisions.

I heard Mae talking upstairs, and I sent Goosie to go play with her in her crib for a moment while I thought of my options.  I decided that I should take Goosie to school.  It wasn’t fair for her to miss her big day, and Magoo hadn’t thrown up in six hours, so I was pretty sure she would be okay.  Plus, how many times have her sisters driven in the car sick to get her to school?

That’s all the external narrative.  In and of itself, it’s frustrating (stomach flu is never fun,) but it is what it is.  It is parenting.  It happens to all of us.

But that’s not what the problem was.

The problem was the guilt.  The total and all encompassing guilt.

The guilt that had me shaking last night as I was trying to make a decision.  The guilt that came before the decision even did because no matter which choice I made, there was going to be someone to feel guilty about.

And there was the guilt about Magoo and TJ.  I asked him to go help Magoo.  That made me a bad mom.  A more nurturing mom would have gone herself to her sick daughter.  A more sympathetic wife would have looked at the clock and then gone down herself so her husband could sleep a bit more.

And then when I did go down and she was throwing up.  I rubbed her back.  But my whole body was in a  bit of a panic.  If I get stomach flu, it’s not like if a normal person gets stomach flu.  It will rip my stomach to shreds.  I won’t be able to function for days.  My sodium will drop and I will barely be able to walk or see straight.

So all of that was going through my mind along with all the responsibilities I have, and then I looked down and I saw her, and I knew she needed comforting.  But all I did was rub her back.  Shouldn’t I have hugged her?  Shouldn’t I have gotten in closer?  Isn’t that what moms do?

And of course there is television.  Because whenever either I or my kids are sick, I let them watch television.  But that means Mae is watching a lot of television as well.  I keep reminding myself that she is almost always well underneath the 2 hour cap of screen time the AMA recommends, but still, I feel like I can feel her little brain being sacrificed.

And all of this went through my mind all night as I was in and out of dreams of Mae drowning and me not getting to her in time, and I found myself sitting in my car, warming it up before I got the kids in it, and I was practically numb.

For me, at least, I think the endless searching for the correct path, the path that won’t lead me to guilt, is a way to ward off the actual guilt.  I think there’s a part of me that believes there is a path I can take in every situation that will lead me to the “good mom” label.  That will take away the guilt.  That will make me feel okay.  All I need to do is obsess about it enough, and I will find it.

But the more I distance myself, the more I wonder if that is actually true.  If it’s actually true for any of us.

We can have the best of intentions.  We can plan to put our kids first in everything.  We can do absolutely everything in our power to make good choices…

But then life happens.

And the choices we have put us between two pretty poor options.  A place where either choice will lead to guilt.

And so then I’m left wondering whether guilt, itself, is the problem.

If I had hugged Magoo while she was throwing up, would that have made me a good mom?  Had I made the choice to keep Goosie home so Magoo wouldn’t have to go out, would that have made me a good mom?  Would running downstairs with Magoo the first time instead of letting her very capable father do it have made me a good wife or a good mom?

Or are all of those just details?  A few details in the thousands a single day creates?

I guess what I’m getting at is that I wonder if the decisions we make that make us feel like failures at mothering actually have that power.

Is mothering really about single instances?  Even in those instances when we really do fail?

Or is mothering about a whole lot more?

And if it’s about a whole lot more, how do we find the clarity to focus on that big picture instead of getting trapped into the cycle of guilt?

I don’t have any answers.  All I have are questions.  And guilt.  And a really long day ahead of me.

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Tonight’s Prayers

I went to Mass last night by myself.  This doesn’t happen too often, but I enjoy it when it does.

I knelt in the pew in the minutes before Mass started, and I bowed my head.  I prayed that I could be a good role model for my girls.  I prayed for their safety.  I prayed desperately and fervently for help in keeping the anxiety away this week.

“Please God,”  I asked, “let me have a strong week.”

And I needed those prayers.  I need help having the strength.

And if you read this blog, you probably know that I fail at this a lot, and I get quite crazed over things that perhaps may not matter so much in the long run.  I worry about frazzled mornings and messed up bedtime routines.  I obsess over number of pages read and participation in art projects in pre-school.

I think about and pray about and obsess about ordinary things that ordinary people think and pray and obsess about.

My kids mean the world to me.  I plead for their protection.

But sometimes we get a glimpse of what a luxury these prayers are.  Because while we are praying about spelling tests and snow days, there are other mamas out there praying for much more.

There are other mamas pleading desperately safety.  For healing.  For protection.  Prayers from mamas who love their babies every single bit as much as I love mine but mamas who don’t have the luxury of worrying about laundry because they have a baby in a war zone or an operating room or in hospice care.

I think we all face our challenges in life.  It’s a roller coaster of sorts.  We all have our moments of peace and our moments of struggle.  None of us come out unscathed.

But I hope I am able to never forget that for every giggle my daughters prompt out of me, another mama’s tear is dropping and another is dropping to her knees, pleading for the life of her child.

Most of us are lucky.  Many of us will never have to fear the dark of an emergency room with a frightfully ill child.  Many of us will never have to look into the cavern of “what if” and not know how we will climb out should the worst come to fruition.

I am not sure if there is a single experience more terrifying than being a mother.  Because to be a mother means that the largest, most important part of your heart is forever connected to the well being of another.  Every time you give birth, you take a piece of your heart and you put it in the tiny hands of another, and you pray that they and God take care of it and protect it because without it, you will never be whole again.

To love with abandon is to risk it all.

And none of us knows how the journey will end.  None of us knows if our days of petty prayers are about to come to an abrupt end.

It’s all an unknown.

And it is because of that, if for no other or grander purpose, we must find a way to hold those others in our circle.  To pray for them.  To hold space for them.  To not shy away.

Because to look at our nightmares is scary.  But to abandon our prayers because of them is far worse.

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You Did Good Mama

I am tired tonight.  Worn out.  Drained.

I’m not really physically tired though.  It’s more of an emotional fatigue.  More of a burn out.

I recently read an article about a hospice volunteer who said that, regardless of age, what most mothers want to hear at the end of their lives is that they have done a good job.  And that brought tears to my eyes.  Because isn’t that all that all of us wants to hear?

I’ve had many different roles in my life.  Many jobs, volunteer positions, memberships in groups.  I’ve always wanted to do my best.  I’m competitive.  It’s just who I am.  But nothing has compared to the overwhelming desire I have to do good at this mom thing.

There’s the cliche that motherhood is the most important job a woman ever has.  But calling it a job… that seems to kind of miss the point.  As do all of those articles that tally up how much a stay at home mom is worth financially.

And it’s all because I don’t try my best at mothering so I can say I’m the best mom.

I don’t do it to win the mom award or to have the most perfectly parented children.  I don’t do it to see them at Harvard or the Peace Corps or the Oval Office.  (After all, we all know that Marquette is far superior to Harvard anyway!)

I don’t do it so I can send them to school and hear reports about how they are the most intelligent or the best behaved or the most popular or the most helpful.

And I don’t do it so that at the end of the next eighteen years I can say that I have done a good job.  So I can sit back and relish in the job I did as a mother.

I don’t actually do it for me at all.

I do it because every morning I am woken up by three of the greatest blessings of my life.  I do it because I see in them a potential so grand that I can’t help but want to help them pursue it and relish in it.  I do it because in them I see an innocence so pure and so perfect that I can’t help but want to shield it from all of the ugliness that will try to infiltrate their lives.

I do it because it’s who I am.  I’m their mother.  And mothering is an action and a noun and a calling and a desire.  And to separate any one of those from the other is to completely miss the point.

It’s not a job that can come with a price tag.  Because you pursue a job for benefits.  You pursue parenting because of who you are and who they are.

And so all of this leads me to evenings like this.  Evenings where I’m questioning everything.  Was I too hard on them?  Too lenient?  Did I give them enough of what they needed?  Did I steer them in the right directions?  Are we focusing our limited time and attention on what it should be focused on?  Am I heading them down the right paths?  What is the right path?  And where do I find it?

My head has always been like a mass transit hub on fire.  People running all over the place, things crashing into other things, everything burning with urgency.  But parenting just intensifies that.

I say I’m overwhelmed a lot.  And I am.  There’s a lot of chaos going on around me – kids bickering and needing things and crying and begging for just another cracker when we don’t have anything.

But those fires can be put out.  That chaos is outside.

What exhausts me is the chaos within.  The constant questioning and doubting and wondering and caring.

And of course it’s the last one that causes the problems.  If I didn’t care so much, if this family wasn’t the defining journey of my life, perhaps I could worry less.  I could doubt less.

For now, I don’t know.  I don’t have any answers.  I just know that I’m tired.  And I would like a rest.  But not just for my body.  For my brain and for my heart as well.

But as I always do on February 16th, I remember one who came before me.  One who loved me and loved all who love me.  One who is loving my girls from the other side even though she never got to meet two of them on this side.  One who my Goosie was named after.

And I know that she got it right.  And I know that my mom got it right.  So I can only hope that I can follow in their footsteps, and one day on my death bed, my girls will lean over and whisper, “you did it well mama.  You did it well.”

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Fifty Shades of Nope

I’ve been thinking recently about life.  Mainly about the difference in my life ten years ago and today.

It’s crazy to think that I’m the same person who lived the life I did ten years ago.  It’s not like I was some meth addict or anything.  It was just different.  I was different.

I used to like always being out on the go.  I valued accomplishment above most else.  While I would have denied it, I valued the head over the heart.  I thought to prove myself worthy, I had to prove that I was better at everything than everyone else.  Life felt like a desperate attempt to prove myself, and it was exhausting.  And it was futile.  Like a hamster running on a wheel.

To many people, honestly, I probably don’t seem all that different.  But I feel different.  I guess you could say that over the last decade, I have made a conscious effort to put myself around people who seek light.  To be around people who look past what is right in front of them to seek out the eternal.  People who ask “how can I help?” and people who teach me to ask that same question.  People who look to others to find the good in them rather than the bad.  People who build up rather than tear down.

Basically, I try to surround myself with people I would like to be like, even when it makes me feel like I come up desperately short.

And like most of you, every time I turn on the internet or the radio or the television, I see something about Fifty Shades of Grey, the sex movie about abuse.

A few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of the movie.  Who knows, I might have been curious enough to go see it.

But now I hear about it, and it confuses me.

What is it about this movie that speaks to so many women?

I’m not going to go see the movie.  Mainly I’m not going to go because I can’t unsee what I have seen.

But I’m also not going because I have three little girls.  Three girls who are growing up in a culture where the big Valentine’s Day love movie is about a man who victimizes a woman.  What is going on in our culture where love and sex and abuse and lust are all so messed up that this is labeled a love story?

I always knew that when we had kids, we would try to shield them from the more lurid aspects of society.  But until recently (maybe not until Magoo was old enough to really be influenced by such things,) I never realized just how much they would have to be protected from.  I didn’t realize that the victimization of a woman’s body would be held up as an important cultural event.

I don’t want that in my house.  I don’t want that in my family.  And obviously I would never take my girls to see it, but if I truly don’t want it in my family, then I must protect myself from it to.

I have to respect myself enough to adequately model for them how to respect themselves.

I have to live out the belief that sex is about love and love is about respect and respect is about compassion.  I have to live out the idea that we are all equal, and if we put ourselves into a position where we are less than, we damage the very dignity that is imbedded into our souls.

I’m not going to go see that movie.

Because I want my life to be about promise and hope and light and gentleness.  There’s enough darkness out there constantly knocking on the door, trying to sneak in.  I don’t need to go out there and actively seek it.

Like I said, a decade ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about seeing this movie.  I think a lot of the change comes from the outside influences of the people we have allowed into our lives.  People have influenced me and have helped me learn to seek out the good rather than the bad.

And if people can make such a big impact, then so can culture… movies, books, television.

And if we are so easily influenced by what we surround ourselves with and if abuse can be so normalized just by virtue of it playing out on the big screen, then I think we need to step back and decide that our hearts and our souls and our self worth are infinitely more valuable than a couple of hours of mindless entertainment in a movie theater.

I think maybe I’ll just stay home and try to convince TJ to watch The Notebook one more time.

(And I’ll know he has read this blog when I hear a big old “heck no!” coming from the other room!)

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The Other F Word

The way I see it, we are born at cross roads, and our lives will inevitably veer one direction or the other.

One direction is light and the other is dark.

We aren’t born on a certain path.  It’s not a direction that is determined with a single decision or action.  It’s based on precedent, on history, on habit.

If we take the path towards darkness, there are many strong winds blowing us on our way. They are varied and personalized towards each of us.  They can be depression or anxiety or worry or bitterness or anger or rage or disappointment or cynicism or complacency.  We don’t have to consciously choose this path.  Our wind will provide all the direction we need.

If we take the path towards light, we will still have those winds that will try to blow us to the dark side, but those who are able to walk in the light, do so with a dogged determination to stay on path.  They will falter and fail and take wrong turns, but they will always come back.

I was thinking about this early this morning.

It has been a long day and it’s only 9:30.  I have been up with Mae since 3:00 this morning.  She absolutely refused to lay in her bed… that is until I set her there for a moment while I got her sister’s clothes ready at 7:00, and she fell asleep in there.  (Of course.)

And then I opened my email and while the email was written in a very respectful and kind manner, it was still reprimanding me for an action I actually took.  And it was such a ridiculously trivial matter that it shouldn’t have bothered me in the least (especially because I held no real guilt,) but all I could hear in my head was “failure!”

It’s like those sirens in the Jim Carey Grinch movie when red alarms go off and everything is blinking red and blaring.

And from there it is was downhill.

I failed because I forgot to make Magoo her lunch last night.

Then I failed because I was so nauseous this morning and I couldn’t manage to bring myself to put lettuce on her cream cheese, chicken, and whole wheat roll up.

Then because of a change in schedule, Magoo had to be dropped off at school forty minutes before Goosie did.  So I just put a DVD on in the car for Goosie.  Failure, I thought.  I should have read them books or did the grocery shopping or taught them “Kumbaya.”

And it’s not until I write it out that I realize that these accusations of failure follow me around all day, every day.  Probably half a dozen times a minute.  They are my friend.  My constant.  My companion.

As easy as it is to allow myself to wallow in them and believe them and just let them be, I know they lead to the darkness.

When I was really depressed, I couldn’t see this.  I could never separate myself from the negative voices.  I could have worked as hard as I wanted to and practiced as much positive thinking as I wanted to and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Sometimes we need help getting out.  Sometimes we absolutely cannot do it on our own.  We need skill to overcome the dark, and we simply don’t all have them.  And some of us need a lot of advanced skills because our wind is particularly strong.

And I got that help.  I can now see this negativity isn’t for me.  But still I falter.

But the ridiculously, insanely, wonderful thing about the hope that springs out of the darkness is that it knows no bounds because it has no bounds.

When we are able to break our shackles — to food or drugs or alcohol or regret or failure or depression or shame or bitterness or abuse or rage — we have no reason not to be hopeful. We have proven we can overcome.  We need not fear relapse (although we all probably always will) because we know we came through it and we can do so again.

But that doesn’t make it easy.  At all.  In fact, they can be the battles that define our lives.  Every single day, every single one of us must wake up and make the decision to fight for the light.  Finding the light and living in it isn’t the victory.  It’s the fight that’s the victory.  The insistence that we never allow ourselves to give up.  That we always seek out what is real and positive and true.

And so for today, whenever I hear the word “failure” going through my mind, I’m going to cover my ears and sing, “la la la” just like an defiant toddler.  And I’m going to tell myself not to let it in.  Failure won’t define me and I won’t allow it to speak my name each day.

I will fail probably more times that I will succeed today.  But that’s okay.  Because it’s the journey that defines us, not the victor.

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Love You Forever

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Every night, each of the big girls comes upstairs with me separately and we spend some time reading.  For Goose, she loves picture books.  Some of her favorites are My Name is Not Isabella and Penny and the Blue Marble.

For Magoo, it’s always a chapter book.  I’m not exactly sure how that transition went – the one from picture books to chapter books.  On her own, she will still pick up a picture book on occasion, but when we read together, it’s always a chapter book.

I think she saw picture books as being big kid books, so once she was old enough to read them, she didn’t want to go back.  I guess I never really thought much of it.

And then today we went upstairs, and Goosie picked Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.

I remember the first time I read that book.  At the time I hadn’t even heard of it, and I didn’t have any kids.  I was sitting reading books with my favorite little person on the day before her first birthday when we came to that one.  We slowly made our way through it.

And then it got really strange.

A mother sneaking into her grown son’s room to rock him to bed?  Talk about some serious boundary issues.

When I got to that part, it honestly got too weird for me, and I placed it to the side and moved on to the next book.  Without avoiding, of course, feeling scarred for quite some time afterwards.

And then about 18 months later, Magoo was born.  No one gave us that book as a gift.  It wasn’t part of the hundreds of kids books we were accumulating.  But it was always at the back of my mind.

And then one day I saw it at a store, and I handed over my $5 and bought it.  We’ll see if it feels any different now that I’m a mother.

And at first, it honestly didn’t.  It still felt weird and creepy, and I couldn’t get over just how horribly the mother aged throughout the book.

But Magoo kept asking for it, and I kept reading it.  We got into a rhythm where I would sing the first two stanzas of the song and then she would sing the last two.  When we got closer to the end, and she would sweetly sing,

“I’ll love you forever/ I’ll like you for always/ As long as I’m living/ My mommy you’ll be,” I admit that I would  occasionally get choked up.

And on other days I liked the characterizations of life with children — yes, a zoo does describe it well!

And for quite a few years, that book had just been with us.  Until somehow it must have gotten buried in the bottom of one of our many book baskets because when Goosie brought it to me tonight, I realized that it had been forever since I had read it.  Goosie didn’t even remember it.

And so I opened the book and I started to read it to her.  It felt new and fresh.  It was the same old love song professed to an entirely new person.  With kids, the traits change, the characteristics change, but the love is the same.

And I was reading the lines to her, and I felt her little body calm like it very rarely does ever, even during story time.  She was totally peaceful.  And when it was over, she looked at me.  She was smiling.

She knew it was a book.  I knew it was a book.  But we also knew it was more.  It was my lullaby to her.

And then it was over and it was time for me to read to Magoo.  Surely, I thought she would insist on Runaway Ralph.  We were about halfway through, and we were both hooked.  But as she walked in the room, I tentatively asked her if perhaps today she would want to read a picture book instead.  I thought this was a long shot.  But then I held up Love You Forever and she agreed as along as she also got another book along with it.

We quickly made it through the first book, and then we settled into Munsch.  This time as I turned the pages, I realized the early parts of the book that so reminded me of life with her when we first started reading, were no longer her.  They were about babies we could laugh about.  And she wasn’t quite to the stage of the great big nine year old boy, but she’s not all that far off either.

And then for the first time, I noticed the pages.  I noticed them getting ever so slightly discolored.  I noticed they were just slightly more brittle.  And I realized that the physical book was starting to show its age.  A book that I read to my daughter was old enough to look old.  How could that even be?  How could that little baby who used to love the pictures of the cat in the book, now correct me if I missed a word or messed up a phrase because she was reading right along with me?  How could time have moved that quickly?

And as we got to the end, that same book that had creeped me out only eight years ago, now was making me choke up.  I didn’t even know if I could finish.

But I did.  And we closed the book.

And then Magoo looked at me.

“You know what’s really cool, Mommy?  The Mom sang the song to the boy.  And then when he grew up he got to sing the song to his little girl.  And when she grows up, she’ll get to sing it to her baby.”

And all the crazy tears are blurring my vision just as I type that.  Because it’s so true.  And it came from her heart.  And she understands love.  She understands that it doesn’t end.  She knows that because she has seen it.  She has felt it.  She has been both the bearer and the recipient.  Feeling loved, to her, is as commonplace as the sun rising.

I started out the book, feeling a bit reminiscent of days gone by with her, and I ended it in absolute awe of the little girl she has become, of who she is becoming.

And we talked about it for a bit.  How love doesn’t die because we just keep teaching it to all the people who come after us.  The same love that my great great grandmother had for my great grandmother is the same love my mom showed me and I now show my girls.

This unique, overwhelming, fresh, all-encompassing love that I feel when I look at my girls is actually the same love that has been around since the beginning of time.  It’s universal.  It’s bigger than us.  It was before us and it will be after.

But the miracle… the miracle is that we get to partake in it.  We get to receive love and give love and be love, and that same love that created the moon is the same that lives in my heart when I hold my girls and I rock them to sleep.

We live day in and day out.  Everything seems so ordinary.  We stop expecting magic.  We stop expecting miracles.

But then we realize that all of it, every single little piece of it, is a miracle.

It’s divine.  And it’s human.

And ultimately, it is ours for the taking.

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Standing Back Up

I heard somewhere once that depression is anger turned inwards.  And of all I have heard and read and understood about depression, nothing has rung more true than that sentence.

There is so much to be angry about in the world.  Babies get sick.  People hurl attacks at strangers.  People kill in the name of love.  People reject those they have a God given responsibility to love.  They deny.  They destroy.  They piss in the face of their responsibilities while hiding behind a veneer of indignation themselves.  We walk around, speaking but not being heard.  Loving but not being seen.  The whole world seems to be consumed by people who want so desperately to be heard and yet have no desire to hear.

Because really and truly, how many of us do listen?  How many have conversations with the intent of understanding rather than being understood?  How often can we hear criticisms and accept them as another’s understanding without allowing ourselves to be flooded with rage and righteous indignation?

This world can be cruel.  And the overwhelming majority of cruelty isn’t caused by nature or inevitability but rather by human brokenness and the bridges between people that are torn down before they can even be built or repaired.

And I see this.  And I absorb this.  And it makes me feel so uncomfortable in my skin.  Anger just doesn’t feel right.  I guess it’s the distorted part of my brain that tells me I have no right to anger.  It tells me I err too much to feel anger in the face of another’s actions or words.

I express it.  I write it out.  I act it out.  And then the shame comes.  Who am I to feel anger?

And so I transfer it.  And this transfer happens instantaneously.  It hasn’t been until recently that I have been able to notice it happening.

But when it does it’s brutal.

Anger at the world can be hard felt.  But when it’s transferred inward, it destroys.

And I find myself speaking words inside of hatred and anger.  I’m not kind enough.  I’m not responsible enough.  I’m lazy.  I’m selfish.  I’m worthless.  I don’t deserve anyone or anything.  I am evil.  I am irreparable.

And those words don’t flit through my mind and float out into the ether never to be heard of again.  They take root.

And so I find myself this morning waking in a moment of joy because my two big girls were quietly sleeping next to me after seeing a fly in their room that was most likely a fuzz or something.

And then I remembered.  I remembered me.  And the hatred began.

The clothes need to be put away.  Maybe I didn’t help Magoo enough with her spelling words.  We had forgotten to practice math facts.  Here I was given responsibility for one of the most innately intelligent human beings I have ever encountered and I was failing her.

And TJ was supposed to get Goose’s boots ready last night, but they were nowhere to be found.  That’s my fault.  It should be my job anyway.

Now we are rushing.  This is my fault.  My children should not have rushed mornings.  Mae won’t eat her eggs.  I should have remembered that and prepared something better.

I’m failing them.  All of them.  Constantly.  Incessantly.  Egregiously.  Unforgivably.

And these words, they continue nonstop until I am able to stop them.

I read blogs written by people who struggle with mood disorders.  (It seems like a disproportionate number of us bloggers do!)

During times like these, The Bloggess reminds herself that depression lies.  She tells herself not to listen to the liar.  She fights back.

Momastery tries to do the next right thing.  She just focuses on what is right there and she just tries to do that.  One thing at a time until she is moving forward.

And I try to just do move.  I see a counter with some crumbs, so I clean it.  Or I read some books to the girls.  Or I pick up the stuffed animals in the corner.  I don’t make plans.  I don’t make to do lists.  I just try to do one thing.  And then the next.

I tell my brain to take a break.  I just do and do and do until finally my brain will clear, and the anger and the depression will pass and I can just be again.

And half the time I don’t actually do that.  That’s the problem with depression.  It tells us that the things that will help us won’t help us.  But I’ve battled this bastard long enough to know that those are lies.

And I’m not going to do this today.  I’m not going to let it win.  I’m not going to let the girls’ mother spend the day wallowing in self hatred.

I’m going to stand back up.

And I hope this goes without saying that when I write about depression and anxiety, it is most decidedly not for sympathy or pity.  It is not a cry for help.  Because this depression was my reality this morning and last night, but it’s fading, and it will continue to do so.  After writing this, I have hope and hope is the one single antidote to depression.  It’s depression’s kryptonite.

The reason I write is because it is the only way I know to take this darkness and turn it into light.  It’s the only way I know to convert my suffering into a gift for others.  It’s the only way I know to break the distance between myself and those others who are suffering.  

Because depression is lonely and brutal and a bastard, and for whatever reason, God has given me the words with which to express the experience.  And so I send this out there and pray fervently that others who need it see it and know that even if we are a world away, we are not alone in our experiences.

We live in a lonely world where the only connections we can have between two souls is through touch and words.  All I have to give are my words.  I pray they are enough.

And because I’m only me, here is someone who says it all far better than I ever could.  Please listen if you have a moment.

 

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School Morning Reboot

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I can be a good mom.  A really good mom at times.  I listen to what my kids have to say.  I try to encourage their interests.  I try to teach them how to treat themselves and others.

Really, there are some good things about my mothering.

School mornings are most decidedly not one of them.

School mornings turn me into a much more malignant version of the Wicked Witch of the West.

“Where is your backpack?!  Where are your shoes?! Why did you take off all of your clothes just as we were about to walk out the door?!  My keys!  My keys!  Come on people let’s go.  I simply cannot handle this today.”

Those are all spoken within about 5 seconds.

And I would like to say that I am justified.  Mornings are crazy.  Just yesterday, I handed Magoo two pairs of matching white socks and told her to put them on.  She walked in the other room and came back with two completely different unmatching socks.  I asked her what happened to them and she said she lost them on the way to the living room.  How does that even happen?

And then there’s Goose.  I’m trying to get everyone ready, and I have to spend fifteen minutes digging all the toys out of her pockets and backpack that she’s trying to smuggle into preschool.

And then we walk out the door and they decide to jump into the snow.  All of them.  And  they kick it around and sit in it (that one is Mae) all as I’m trying to wrangle them the ten feet to the car.  (We don’t even deal with the garage.  Trying to get them all in there would be a nightmare.)

And then we finally are in the car and they all decide to empty their backpacks looking for things and inevitably leave things they need in the car.

And then they jump out of the car and Mae and I head home, and nearly every morning tears are threatening my eyes.  Because every morning without fail as I leave that parking lot, I think of Sandy Hook.  And I think of all of those Mamas whose last memories with their babies are school mornings.  And what memory could be worse?  Because I don’t think I’m alone in my school morning craziness.  It seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

But that’s not how I want my kids starting their day.  I don’t want them to leave chaos as they head into school.  I want them to feel love and comfort as they head into the love and comfort of school.

And so we have started saying prayers in the car in the morning as the car warms up.  Regardless of how the trip to the car went, this puts things in a different light.  We ask God to forgive our morning transgressions and we ask the same of each other.  We say a Hail Mary asking her to help us do God’s will.  And then we say the Guardian Angel prayer.  For me, this is like a plea, as I close my eyes and envision wings of protection covering all of my children, praying to their angels far more deeply than to my own.

And that’s nice.  And I love it.  And the girls love it.

But more can be done.

And so today, I decided we were going to do something different.  As usual, the girls had to get their stuff ready the night before.  And I checked their bags and made sure they had everything.

And then no one was allowed to touch anything.  I put the lunch box in the bag.  The back pack was not to be open.  I made sure they got dressed without leaving their location so that clothes wouldn’t get lost during the three steps from the dresser to the bed.  I made them eggs.  I didn’t even try to get Mae into clothes.  Her pjs would work the twenty minutes until we were back home.

And then they got their gear on.  And no one was allowed to leave the mudroom once gear was on.

And it worked.  We walked out the door.  They jumped in the snow of course, but that didn’t bother me as much.  And we all walked to the car.

And it was beautiful.  It was perfect.  My girls could start their day in peace.

And we said our prayers.  And I still had tears as I left the parking lot.  But I was okay.  I was okay with how it went.

And I know this isn’t a solution.  Mornings will always be crazy with little kids.

But the difference this time was that I accepted the difficulty.  And in accepting it — accepting that they were all going to scatter like a bunch of butterflies and I would have to catch them all in the same net — I was able to find some ways to work around it.

I truly and deeply believe in the importance of peaceful mornings.  I am horrible at implementing them.  But I won’t give up.

Do you have any ideas?  What works in your house that might help others?  What areas do you really struggle with?  I would love to hear.

By the way, my comments are not working well.  The real comments are getting lost in the hundreds of spam messages I get a day.  I’m not quite sure how to fix this, so if you want to comment, please do so on Facebook until things get straightened out.  I hate to miss your comments, and I know I’ve missed quite a few.  My deepest apologies for that.

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