While all of the true, hardcore writers and WordPress bloggers were busy last month reaching their goal of writing at least 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo 2013, I was busy avoiding writing. I don’t really have a great explanation or excuse for neglecting this little blog and for failing to take time to write. November was a strange month full of highs and lows, and it has taken me much longer than what I expected to process everything that has happened. With two energetic children to love and take care of, I simply don’t always have the mental stamina and physical energy to do anything beyond what is absolutely required of me. And you know what, I am finally comfortable with accepting this. Instead of reaching the breaking point because I just can’t learn to say no, I am finally putting my foot down and saying no. One important lesson I have learned about motherhood is that it is necessary to take care of yourself, too. And sometimes taking care of yourself means ignoring your “to-do” list.
So instead of writing and painting my desk (FYI: I did finish painting my kitchen) after the kiddos went to bed each evening, I went on a Netflix binge and watched the first season of American Horror Story, I got caught up on Parks and Rec, and I started watching Scandal. I have rocked some sweet Pinterest fails since I am such an awesome half-assed domestic goddess. And I have also been binging on Christmas cookies, and wine of course, and Summit’s Saga IPA. But I am starting to feel ready to kick things up a notch again. I can’t binge on Netflix, Pinterest and alcohol forever. I must accept reality and stop wasting my precious time in the evening when the kiddos are in bed. I have important things to do. I still have to figure out what the hell I am going to do when I grow up and have to go back to working full-time.
Enough of the past and future, though. Today I am going to focus on the present. And because I kind of suck at writing poetry, I am also going to quote another song at the end of this post to tie all of this chaos in mind together for you.
There are some songs that no matter how many times I hear them, I can’t ever hear them enough. These songs never get old or annoying because the music and words capture what I am feeling and thinking so perfectly. “Everlong” is one of these songs. Although I have been in love with this song since high school, it wasn’t until recently that Dave Grohl’s lyrics truly pierced my soul. After taking in a deep breath one day, I realized that I am happy. This may sound silly, but for the first time in my life, despite all of the other crazy things that have been going on, I truly feel like my life is exactly how it should be. It’s not how I pictured it would be on the day that I had graduated from college or even on the day that I got married. I never thought I would have two kids in my twenties. I never expected to work less than 40 hours a week after busting my ass off in high school and college to earn good grades while also working up to three jobs at the same time to pay for my own college expenses and other bills. But here I am. I work outside of the home for eight hours a week. The rest of the time I am busting my ass off at home free of charge. I left a career to be home with my 2-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. It was one of the scariest decisions of my life, but that decision has given me the greatest joy I have ever experienced. I never expected to be here, but now that I am here, life feels good in the truest way. And now I know why I fell in love with “Everlong” all of those years ago.
All my life I have been trying to make things perfect. I am a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist certainly has its benefits, but it also has its drawbacks. Because I am a perfectionist, nothing I do is ever perfect. I am always wanting to do something better. I tend to focus on what I do wrong rather than what I do well. I have high expectations, and because these expectations are usually unrealistic, I am frequently disappointed. My mother and husband often tell me that I need to focus on the positive rather than the negative, but I am a perfectionist. I just see that there is always room for improvement. However, for the first time in my life, I don’t feel like anything needs to be improved. Sure, I know that I am capable of doing more than what I am doing now in terms of my career, but I am happy to be right where I am right now. And yes, life is not perfect; it can’t be perfect. Good, bad, surprising, unexpected and tragic things happen every day. I can never be perfect; I am human. But, I am finally learning to see the beauty in my imperfections; it is what makes me human. Even though my life is not like anything how I pictured it to be years ago, it is better than what I had ever hoped for it to be. And even though I am not the woman I thought I would be at this point in my life, I am proud of myself for following my heart, even though it meant taking my life in a different direction than what I had planned.
I want to continue to breathe in these days as long as possible because these days with my kids are so good. These days are challenging and exhausting, but they are challenging and exhausting in the best possible way. I want to continue to breathe in these days as long as possible because I finally feel proud of what I am doing with my life even though I know I will never master the art of parenting. I want to continue to breathe in these days because these days make me feel so alive. I want to continue to breathe in these days as long as possible because I know that these days will change.
Finally, to quote Foo Fighters, I do wonder “if everything could ever feel this real forever; if anything could ever be this good again?”
I will not be a stay-at-home mom forever. My kids are growing up fast, too fast. When I think about how fast my kids are growing up, I can’t help but feel sad. They will need me less. They will want to be with others more. And after giving them so much love and so much of my energy, I fear that I will feel empty when I am no longer the center of their world. When life feels so good, it’s hard to imagine that it could get even better.
Perhaps it can and will, though. This is just the beginning. We have so much growing to do as a family, and I am going to continue to breathe in these days as long as I can because these days are so good.
In my previous post, I mentioned that sometimes I don’t feel like I am a “good enough” mother. In my heart I know that I am a good mother. But in my mind, I am constantly asking myself whether there is something I can be doing better. And then there are days when I surprise myself. I will do something that I don’t question. I will do something that makes me proud, and I will allow myself to be proud.
My relentless questioning extends beyond being a mom who is responsible for keeping two children alive and happy. I question whether I am a good wife, daughter, sister and friend. I question whether I am on the right path to achieving my full potential. I question whether I am capable of making my big dreams happen in this world. All of this questioning stems from my greatest fear: failure. I don’t want to be a failure. I don’t like disappointing others. I hate it when I make mistakes — even stupid, little, meaningless mistakes.
What am I so worried about failing at, though? I am not being graded on my ability to be a half-assed domestic goddess. My husband loves me for who I am. My kids continue to quote Wreck It Ralph saying, “You’re one dynamite gal.” My family is always there for me when I need them. I have friends who will cry with me, laugh with me, and tell me like it is. I have never been fired from a job, and I still keep in touch with my boss from my first “real” job. I never do anything perfectly, but many things I do are done with passion. So, what am I so worried about failing at?
I am worried that I will not be as good as you at what you do. This sounds really childish, huh?
The other day I heard my son talking about how he is taller, faster and smarter than his sister. And it’s true. He is almost two years older than his sister, who is two, so he is taller, faster and he knows and understands more. I had a little talk with my son about his behavior, though. I told him that he was not being kind to his sister, and that instead of focusing on how his strengths were different compared to his sister’s, he can help his sister develop her own strengths. I told him that he can teach her words, colors, letters and numbers. I told him that he can show his sister that he is proud of her for learning to brush her teeth and pick up her toys. You see, in my son’s mind, he thinks his sister is a failure because she can’t keep up with him and do the same things he can do. But as adults, we understand that a two-year-old has much more growing and learning to do before he or she can be expected to do certain things. After having this talk with my son, I had an aha moment: My definition of failure is f-ing skewed.
I don’t focus on my strengths nearly as much as I focus on the strengths of other people. How can I possibly feel successful and confident in myself if I am constantly comparing myself to others? Wow, I am such a child. But I did learn my own lesson while trying to teach my son to be more kind to his sister.
Instead of fearing that I will not be as good as you at what you do, I should be fearless in everything I do and set out to accomplish. Katy Perry, I got the eye of the tiger, too. And I am going to roar with you.
Last weekend, I came across my portfolio from the last poetry class I took before graduating from college. I read every poem and my professor’s comments on my “final” drafts. I was hesitant to open my portfolio at first for fear that I would be utterly disappointed in my writing. But my early-twentysomething self surprised my late-twentysomething self. I was actually proud of what I had written. My poems are certainly not material worthy of being published or anything like that. However, I could tell that some of my poems were truly written from my soul. And what a great thing it is to be able to use words to reflect bits and pieces of one’s soul.
I will end this post with a roar from the depths of my soul. Here is a little poem I wrote a few years ago (with some minor changes made today):
why do the men refuse
to talk about blood?
sure, they boast about the skinned and cleaned deer
(the one they are devouring now).
one incision along the warm belly,
skin, slippery fat, then muscle tissue.
images of utensils ripping the rib cage,
gloved hands plunging into the carcass;
cupped, their hands scooped out the heart and lungs –
the remaining bundle of organs simply
wrenched through the pelvic opening.
yes, the precious meat they procured
for their family today.
the women laugh and share their pain and happiness –
the way their bodies stretched and pushed,
some sliced at the warm belly.
images of cupped hands scooping precious beings
for the new mothers to see; to breathe in; to hold.
after the rush of pain, blood and peace,
the women were exhausted, stitched, and shut up.
Reading blog posts, tweets, Facebook comments, HuffPo articles and pretty much anything and everything else on the Internet can be quite overwhelming, especially as a parent. Every day, I am bombarded with tips for getting my picky eaters to eat their kale chips and advice on how to find balance in my life as a mom, wife and driven woman. I am told which articles about parenting I should read and why. I am reminded of how I should cherish my time with my kids and let go of my quest for a maintainable work-life balance. The Internet provides me with examples of “bad” parents and “shameful” kids. Everyone has an opinion about how to parent or how not to parent. And the Internet makes it easy to share these opinions and provide unsolicited advice to those of us who clearly need help with our parenting skills and philosophies on raising decent human beings.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy staying on top of what’s trending on Twitter and Facebook. I find helpful information online about what I could do differently to be a better parent, and I find some valuable and honest insights into motherhood and parenthood by reading other blogs. Sometimes this information makes me question my parenting techniques and worth as a parent, though. Am I doing enough to raise responsible, intelligent and healthy human beings? Should I have put my not-even-four-year-old in preschool this year like every other mom on Facebook? Will having frozen chicken nuggets for lunch cause my children to become obese? Do I spend too much time on my iPhone when my kids are playing together at the park without needing my assistance? Sure many of my questions are silly, but as silly as these questions are, these questions are real.
Every day I ask myself what I could or should be doing differently as a parent. Every day someone has an opinion about what I should or should not be doing. Every day. It gets to be overwhelming. And sometimes this causes me to stress over things I should not stress out about — like trying to be the perfect parent. There is no such thing. I truly believe that, now. Coming from a perfectionist, this is a hard pill to swallow, but it is a good one to swallow. Swallowing this pill is allowing me to understand and focus on the real responsibilities and goals I have as a parent.
What is important to me is raising kids who are happy, healthy, confident, respectful, responsible, caring, independent and believers in goodness. Instead of focusing on what other parents are doing to raise their children, I need to focus on how I can help my children achieve their potential. And I need to give myself more credit for being a kick-ass mom, and you do, too.
Instead of focusing on what every other parent and supposed parenting “expert” is doing or telling you what you should do, make it a goal to focus on yourself more. Forget about those parents who should be ashamed of themselves for not properly disciplining their children after they broke into that home. Forget about the moms who were judging their children’s friends for posting selfies on Facebook. Forget about the dad who decided that he had to remind those who don’t have kids that they have “no clue” what it is like to go grocery shopping with little kids. Forget about all of that. And just spend some time focusing on yourself, because you matter. You are worth a blog post, too.
My mom made more sacrifices than I can count to raise my sister and me. I don’t like using the word “sacrifice” when talking about motherhood and parenting because it often has a negative connotation. But a sacrifice can also be good. A sacrifice is an offering to something or someone greater. As a parent, my mom made many offerings to provide my sister and me with the upbringing we needed and deserved. And now it is my duty to make the same offerings to provide my children with the upbringing that they need and deserve. It is the duty of each and every single parent. And the way in which we accomplish this task will vary because we all have different needs, and all of our children have different needs. In the end, what is most important is making sure our children have what they deserve and need. They deserve our love. They deserve to be children. They deserve to be given opportunities to pursue their interests. They need our love. They need to be taken care of every day. They need boundaries. My mom made countless offerings to provide my sister and me with what we deserved and needed, even though these offerings required a lot of action on her part. But even though these offerings were difficult to make at times, my mother never regretted having to make these offerings because she knew she was doing something great for her two daughters. She knew she was doing something that would have a permanent and positive effect on our lives. My sister and I are certainly not perfect creatures, as much as we would like to think that we are, but we have been given the desire to love and be good people. What more could a mother ask for of her children?
My mother’s countless offerings during my childhood are a part of my life that I keep more private than others, but I will offer some sort of a back story. To put it as simply as possible, my biological father was not the most stable person. He could not take care of himself in a healthy way, and this distracted him from being the type of father that my sister and I needed when we were kids. This was difficult for our family, but no matter how my mother felt about her situation, she never took it out on us. She continued to love my sister and me. She continued to do the best she could do to make us feel important. She continued to take us to dance class and to our sporting events. She continued to cheer us on and help us study for tests. She continued to provide a healthy home, even while she was trying to help our father overcome his challenges. And even when it got to be too much, even when she knew that our father would not change, even when she probably wanted to just sit in bed and not move, she got up for me. She got up for my sister. She went to work. She did her job. Then she came home and continued to make us feel like we were the most important creatures in the world. She gave us her all. And because she was able to do that, my sister and I turned out to be pretty decent people.
Eventually my parents divorced. I was old enough to understand that it was one of the healthiest choices my mother could make. But it was still difficult because it meant that for two weekends out of the month, my mother could not take care of us the way we had needed to be taken care of by a parent. I was old enough to take care of my sister, though. I was old enough to make sure she was oblivious to our father’s unhealthy lifestyle. Without my strong mother to look up to, I might have never been able to remain so responsible and brave those weekends. Without a selfless mother, I might have never felt important enough to be a good person and to make smart and healthy choices. You see, my mother didn’t put me in piano lessons at age three. She didn’t take me to the library every week. She didn’t even breast feed me, mainly because I was a stubborn newborn. What my mother did do was much greater: She gave everything to make sure my sister and I knew that we were loved. She gave everything to make sure we knew what was right and what was wrong. And she showed us how to be caring, respectful and strong people. She showed us how to stand up for ourselves. She showed us the importance of making healthy choices, and she showed us how to be great mothers. What more could a mother do?
You matter. As a parent or caregiver, you have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. You also have one of the most rewarding jobs. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, you matter. You have the power to be a great influence on the children in your lives. You have the power to make a difference. It doesn’t matter whether your parenting style differs from how your siblings or friends parent. What matters is that your parenting techniques are healthy and effective. It doesn’t matter whether you are able to put your child in numerous activities or a select few. What matters is that your child knows that you are willing to support them and their interests as best as possible. Life is busy. Life is crazy. There are a lot of distractions. And there are a lot of opportunities. As much as we all may strive to have it all, we still have boundaries. And these boundaries are not always bad. Sometimes these boundaries remind us to slow down and to focus on what really matters.
My mom faced a lot of boundaries and barriers when she was raising my sister and me. But she always focused on the positive. She found a way to make these boundaries work for us in our favor. And she also found a way to overcome the barriers. Eventually my mother did remarry. She found someone who could be the supportive husband she needed, and she found someone that my sister and I could look up to and respect. My mother is the strongest person I know. And I am honored to be her daughter. What more could a mother ask for?
It’s easy to get distracted by all of the messages you see, hear and receive about parenting every single day. It’s easy to second-guess your parenting techniques when someone else tries to parent your child in front of you without realizing what they are doing. It’s easy to make yourself think that you can never do enough for your child. While I have been spending the last few weeks painting a desk, doors, storage closet and kitchen instead of writing, I have had a lot of time to think about this and reflect on my thoughts about my own parenting abilities. And this is my conclusion: I matter. I am enough.
My kids don’t “need” to be in preschool yet. They don’t “need” to be in dance, or gymnastics or swimming lessons or french class. They don’t “need” to know how to read before starting school. Sure, it’s great that there are so many options for kids these days to learn and take part in a variety of activities. But putting my kids in these activities does not make me a better parent. I love my children. I make numerous offerings to provide for them. My children know that I love them. They know that they are important. I am not a perfect parent, but I am enough. What I am doing matters.
And the same goes for you. Stop worrying about everyone else around you. Yes, we can all learn a lot from each other. But you have to know that what you are doing now does matter. You are a great influence on your children. You have the power to teach them how to be good and brave in this world. Your love matters. You are enough. Hi mom (or dad, or grandparent, or aunt, or uncle, or teacher, or any other caregiver) you matter. You are enough.