Wishes, Schmishes

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     Okay, so I’m assuming you all have seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” ?  The main protagonist has a moment of panic in which he contemplates suicide; an angel comes along and shows him what would have happened with all the people he loves if he had never existed.  

    Now think of this:  My bachelor’s degree is my George Bailey.  I am my own angel.  

    As a stay-at-home mom whose foray into Jobland recently crashed and burned like the Hindenburg (okay, now I am guilty of metaphor/simile cross-contamination), there have been a few times over the years where guilt over my Godzilla-like student loans has caused me to regret going to college.  In fact, I can honestly say, I would have had no impulse to work a “real job” whatsoever – especially after ten years of success as a SAHM – if it weren’t for my student loan debt.  Between that and the low-level anxiety that I felt (over the prospect of having a completely empty house for eight hours a day when our youngest recently started kindergarten), I had no personal impetus to go get a “real job.”  

     That’s right – a totally intelligent, highly-functioning, non-lazy woman can actually have NO DESIRE to work outside of the home.  

     “Whaaaat!”  you say?  Why would you want to do that?  Just sit at home and be your own boss?  

      Let me count the ways:

      For the first time in my life, I will be able do a plethora of things without a child (or mental health consumer), or a child who is acting like a mental health consumer off her meds, HANGING OFF OF MY LEG.  

     I can go to Eat’n’Park – and leave when I want to, not because someone’s diaper needs changed.  

     I can go to Barnes & Noble, sit at table quietly drinking coffee and perusing the latest coffee-table book (or, as Kramer once surmised, a coffee table book about COFFEE TABLES).  

     I can spend time getting to know my mother again.  

     I can have dessert out with my dad without constant interruptions of “but she (fill in the blank) !”

     I can volunteer with elderly people or at the local veterinarian’s office.

     I can sit in the local park and stare at trees and insects and predatory birds until I start to drool from complete relaxation.

     I can lose the next five (or ten?) pounds I wanted to lose and not feel guilty dropping kid(s) off at the romper room while I exercise.

     I can be available to pick up any of my children without wondering whether my boss will be mad that I prioritized my family.

     I can take all morning – heck, ALL DAY – planning the menu for dinner!

     I can have the time to write a blog and keep up with it, something that brings me great pleasure.

     I can even – GASP! – take children of my friends off of their hands for a couple of hours, so that they can do any of the aforementioned pleasurable things, knowing that I am getting my baby fix and they are getting a moment away.  

     What is the cost of this?  Trading my part-time job that brought me very little pleasure and many, many moments of headaches, anxiety and annoyance.  Living truly within a one-salary budget.   Being a one-car family for the next eight months, until we pay off our minivan and can logically take on a loan for a commuter car for my husband.  Spending after-school moments with my kids, and having the time, energy and patience to help them with their homework, instead of being brain-dead by the time I get home from work. Not having to ask myself whether $8.25 an hour is worth the time I am spending away from home, my kids, my friends and my free time.  Not having to feel guilty about refusing to work on Sundays.  Not having to answer to anyone outside of my home about my time, my money, my energy, my freedom, or my intentions.  

     And not feeling guilty about not making money in order to pay off my student loans – of which my husband has made clear that he’s absolutely happy to take over payments.  

    Because according to Brad, what I – and my kids, and my husband – get out of me staying at home?  

    Is PRICELESS.

    They get my undivided attention; my energy; my patience; a singleness of purpose; a happier family member; the “fun mom” part of me might even make an appearance now and then!

    Imagine that.

     

     

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When to Step In

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     This is a photo of my son, on a camping trip to Canada in 2012.  He is literally standing at the edge of a cliff.  Fathers and sons, they have a whole different idea of what IS dangerous, and what is not.  My husband was on the same rock, different spot.

     Mothers – they are pretty clear on what IS and typically don’t hesitate to grab their kid (or someone else’s?) from the edge of a cliff.

     So when my daughter came home on Friday and told me that she had a conversation with another 7th grade girl about cutting (and why this girl is doing it), I stepped in.  I very carefully asked my daughter how it came up; the details of the conversation; the tone the girl had been using; etc.  And then I called the guidance counselor.

     Now, you may be saying, “there are better ways to handle this.”  I could have my daughter convince her to go to the counselor; talk to her to figure out why she is cutting; etc.  But my 12-year-old is not equipped to suss out the reasons and help her.  She was very confused as to why someone would do this and then say that it helped her “feel better.”  Taking action on behalf of this girl was not only a way to take my child out of the equation, but to give the school an opportunity to help her.  And to show my own daughter that having a sense of community means not ignoring a child who needs help but doesn’t know how to get it. 

     Here is one article I found on teens and cutting behaviors:  http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/When-teens-cut-themselves-.html

    Cutting can result from multiple sources:  as a sideline to OCD behaviors, because of abuse, because of teen angst run amuck, as a passively suicidal behavior. 

     To me, it’s more important to say, “what now?”  How can this child be helped?  What approach would be most effective?  How can that child be instilled with a sense of self-worth that may overwhelm their need to cut? 

     I don’t know what I would do if I found out that my own child was cutting; but hearing my daughter’s story, I knew her classmate needed help.  And the first, best intermediary is the school, not me. 

     So I don’t regret butting my nose in to someone else’s child’s business, especially when the school has better resources than I do, and it’s something that I would want someone else to do for my own children if any of them were in trouble – and I didn’t know it.  You can quote me on that. 

Why I Quit Smoking (and other random Thoughts)

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Mother Thoughts

I sound like laughing and reprimands, 

                Cajoling and orders. 

I smell like cinnamon and coffee, 

                Tiredness and tears. 

I look like spring morning, seven days of hard road, 

                Something about to happen. 

I feel like good advice well-taken, 

                Sorrows advanced 

                And yesterday’s rain-soaked paper sitting on the lawn. 

I think like Oprah, Freud and Socrates combined, 

                And also 

                Blank mind. 

I am

                Fierce mama.

 

       I wrote this poem a few years ago, right around the time that I quit smoking (again).  I started smoking the first month of my first year in college, right around September of 1990.  I was so stressed and everyone else drank on the weekends, but was not (and still am not!) a partying drinker; coming from a background of extended family alcoholism, I thought it best to drastically limit any alcohol intake; but had few coping skills when it came to stress.  Some random girl was smoking outside of the student union on Pitt Campus and I thought – “Wow!  She looks so relaxed!” and asked her for a smoke. 

     And for twenty years (except for when pregnant and nursing), that was my main stress reliever. 

     Am I smart girl?  Sure.  I knew that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, bladder cancer, mouth cancer, esophageal cancer, tongue cancer, breast cancer, and wrinkles.  I knew that smoking causes social separation (especially at parties where you are the only person doing it), family conflict, marital discord, anxiety in your spouse, and bronchitis in the winter.  I knew that I hated getting bundled up during winter to smoke on the back porch; furtiveness (because who wants their kids knowing that they smoke?? what a bad example); sneaky behavior that can be misinterpreted as something else; and disappointment in the people who love you, and really root for you every time you quit.

     Quit.

     That’s such a final word.  But for most smokers, it takes an average of EIGHT TIMES before they are successful.  EIGHT TIMES.  Not even 15 years ago, it was four times. 

     What has happened in the meantime??  Well, cigarette producers have gotten crafty.  They have bred tobacco plants specifically to increase the level of addiction in consumers (which is what you do to cigarettes, you CONSUME them.  What’s left of a cigarette when you are done?  just the filter.)  They have changed the additives that they put in their product in order to make them more appealing, tasty, increase their shelf life, pleasant to inhale.  They spend millions of dollars a year to keep you hooked.

     To keep me hooked.

     So when I had decided to change my tact, to really create a quit-successful internal atmosphere (in my brain.  in my SOUL), I went whole-hog.  I recruited two lifelong friends to be my accountability partners (thanks Su and Lisa!) – aka BABYSITTERS – who I knew would consistently and usefully guilt me.  I threw away all lighters.  I changed up the back porch furniture configuration to make it an environment hostile to smoking (removed my “favorite” chair, threw away the coffee can under the bush so that I wouldn’t have a safe place to hide butts, and I set a date for final quit.  New Year’s Day. 

     I also “came out” on facebook. 

     Now, normally I am not a fan of shaming.  But when it is for a good cause…. 🙂

     And it worked!  IT WORKED.  Knowing that all the people that I loved (or even casual friends) could hold me accountable for my actions; that my best friend, my husband, was quietly and cautiously rooting for me – he had watched me quit SO MANY TIMES BEFORE and was very gentle and nonjudgmental; reading all the research on how you increase your health, lifespan, and quality of life, and decrease your chances for every type of cancer and other horrible diseases; and actually watching online videos and looking at photos of people who had whole parts of their bodies cut away in order to remove cancers that smoking had caused; IT WORKED.

     How does this connect to my children, my motherhood? 

     I couldn’t sit by and continue to do something that I would smack my teenager for if I caught him doing it. 

     I couldn’t sit by and do something that contributed to my maternal grandmother’s death at the young age of 42 (one year older than I am right now!)

     I couldn’t sit by and continue to justify the selfish act of lighting up every time, and saying to myself, “Well, this is my ME time.  I am a hard-working mother and I deserve it!” 

     I couldn’t let myself continue to do something that might kill me before my parents passed away; leave my children motherless; leave my husband wife-less (is that even a word); leave a legacy of people tsk-tsking “She was so young” at my funeral.

     Or even bear the thought – the imaginative thought – of having to face my God, trying to justify my passive suicide by cigarette, and saying to him:

     “Well, this is my ME time.”

When you are a mother.  There. Is. No. Such. Thing.

 

Now is not the time to save the planet!

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    I am a natural multi-tasker (I’m thinking this talent comes naturally to anyone with a set of ovaries, but I digress).  Therefore, I’ve never found it particularly difficult to invest myself in both the pro-life movement AND any legitimate save-the-planet through green energy movement.  I make small decisions, over time, that personally reduce both my carbon footprint and the amount of Actual Garbage that goes out my door and onto the curb.  But I also support legislation that makes big giant steps towards a greener tomorrow.  Whether it is signing online petitions that go to my district’s legislators, donating what I can to Clean Water Action, or trying to educate people about clean energy alternatives on facebook, it is extremely important to me that I express my love for my children – and their future! – by urgently pushing away from fossil fuel usage.  I walk when I can, choose food that is packaged in cardboard or paper instead of plastic when I can, turn down the heat when I’ll be gone more than four hours, have the least dirty child bathe first and then the next child uses the water, eat portions that make sense, and rarely eat out at fast-food restaurants.  I buy local foods in season and gladly either shop at farmer’s markets or participate in co-op farm to table programs.  I have my husband bring home the scrap paper from work for my kids to draw on.  I support my local library (bookish timeshares!).  I am desperately looking forward to the time when I can afford to install solar panels on my roof, and admire those states that are prioritizing clean energy (Arizona, New York State, Texas, Iowa, California) through wind turbines, solar energy farms, and hydroelectric dams (if you are already going to dam a river in order to develop land, why not harness all that energy?).  I wish I could afford a hybrid car, but not yet.  One of our family goals!

    I find myself pretty consistently pushing against the fossil-fuel supporters in my family (some of my friends, too).  Fossil fuel is limited, dangerous to extract in many cases, disrupts the health and well-being of humans and animals, permanently scars the land, and the unnatural environmental disasters that have happened in the last fifteen years because of corporate greed?? Don’t get me started…  They are entitled to their opinion, of course, but I definitely vote carefully, and figure out which legislator supports ALL the causes that are important to me.  It’s a lot of work, but I think it matters.  A LOT.

    The point is: I can love my fellow man AND nature.  I can express my Christianity both through fellowship with others and communing with nature.  I can describe to my kids the importance of protecting unborn babies AND the importance of taking personal steps to reduce their carbon footprints.  I can acknowledge the bigness of God through my awe of pre-born life (possible through amazing technological advances like womb cameras!), and also take part in preserving the world that He gave to us humans.  I will not be held hostage to someone else’s idea of what a Christian looks like, or what she does.  And I CAN perch above a public toilet instead of lovingly draping it in seven pounds of T.P.!

My Other Half

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          I am (thankfully) married to the man who showed me what imperfectly perfect love is.  Not only does he love me, flaws and all, but he selflessly loves our children (and my parents!) as well.  Does he sometimes drive me crazy?  Yes.  He is one of those “absent-minded professors” whose ability to turn off the outside world has been honed to a fine edge now that he is in graduate school.  He needs to be regularly reminded to take out the garbage.  He doesn’t remember to take our cars for inspection every year.  Those things all pale in comparison to the way that he cares for me, in all sorts of ways.  He never complains about work, even when a project is driving him crazy.  He chooses to go back and forth to Florida for a work trip IN ONE DAY so that he doesn’t have to spend the night away from us.  He can talk me down from the symbolic ledge that my teenagers sometimes push me onto.  His sense of adventure and fearlessness for trying new things has rubbed off on me.  He jumps in for tag-team-parenting, and stays up late so that we can spend as much time together as possible, even though he gets up an hour earlier than me and is not a night-owl.  I could seriously go on and on, but won’t, as the sappiness would just choke you at some point.

     I will say this: he takes his role as head of our family seriously.  He protects our family time and interests.  He thinks ahead, financially and otherwise, in a way that I am not able. 

    We are yin and yang.  God knew what He was doing when He led me to my other half.  And I have to let God orchestrate our relationship, even when it means I have to change for the greater good of our family.  ESPECIALLY when it means that.  Because much of imperfectly perfect love is accepting that the other person was put in your life in order to improve, shape up, and mold your self.  And vice versa. 

    So I won’t be lazy or resentful about becoming a better person.  Because my husband hasn’t been.  And so he has led the way to individual change, even if sometimes I went there kicking and screaming. 

    I so love my imperfectly perfect man.