Hang in There, Mama

I started staying home with my kids when my oldest step-child was in 5th grade, my middle child was 1.5 years old and my youngest wasn’t even born yet. I had an idealized image of what that would look like… I thought it’d be a LOT of arts and crafts, puzzles, laughing, giggling, etc. And for awhile… it was! Then the baby was born.

I had a 21 month old and a baby at home and I was miserable. My daughter was THAT toddler… she hit me, she screamed at me, she threw fits at Target (I’ve written several blog posts about our Target misadventures)… and the baby cried. A LOT. Way more than I was prepared for…. The toddler cried about lack of attention and the baby just didn’t stop crying. The 3 month colic phase felt like years…. I felt like I was drowning. I never got out of my pajamas and I never did anything for myself. I was weighed down by so much mom guilt that I stopped enjoying the little things… I was anxious about my kids’ development, eating habits, temper tantrums, sleeping, EVERYTHING.

I’ll never forget the day that my husband looked at me and said, “Would you want to go back to work?” It was tough to consider: I felt like a failure. I am a MOM… I should be able to do this. My mother stayed home with me, I see other moms staying home with their toddlers & babies and they look so happy (and fit! Holy crap are they fit!). When my husband shined the light on my depression, I realized I wasn’t the best mom I could be by staying home. Staying home with toddlers and babies is the actual hardest job in the entire world. If I were writing a resume, skills include: patience, cooking, cleaning, cleaning again, negotiating, staying calm, not crying despite wanting to OVER AND OVER, vulnerability, and about 100 other attributes. I wasn’t vulnerable enough to admit that I needed help… and I quit. And I’m so happy I did.

Fast forward 2 years: I was so happy at work, I was a better mom than I had ever been, and we were a HAPPY FAMILY. We had arguments, a messy house, and my oldest became a teenager which was a huge wakeup call… but we were HAPPY. Then my mom became sick… like really sick. I realized that the mom guilt I felt when I was with my mom instead of my kids, or when I had to go to work because I had bailed on my team 5 times that month already to sit with my mom was overwhelming. I was torn between spending time with my mother who was dying, my family, and the incredible team I worked with. I chose to resign from my full time position so I could balance spending time with my mom and my family… and it was the best decision I’ve ever made because I was at her bedside when she passed… and I was with my family from then on to tell them about their grandmother and hold them when they cried.

So… what’s life like now with a teenager, a 5 year old and a 3 year old? Ladies… it’s a complete 180 from the picture I painted of life with a toddler and baby. Life is absolutely not perfect… I cry once a week because one of my kids will have a meltdown at Target or they don’t stop fighting EVER. I want to scream sometimes because I feel like no one in my house listens to me unless I turn into the Hulk… and then they tell me to calm down (which, as you know, is SUPER helpful to tell someone). But all that is so small compared to the constant joy. My kids can dress themselves (with a little help), they can make their beds (even if they argue with me about whether or not they need to), they can go to places like the Children’s Museum and, if I make sure to bribe them with a kids’ meal on the way home, they actually listen to me! They play with each other for HOURS… with minimal fighting! They can sit and watch a movie when I need a break… I now get breaks by the way! I can shower and have 10 minutes alone, knowing that they are entertained by whatever I put on TV.

Most of all… we’re happy. The whole frickin’ family. So hang in there, mama of babies and toddlers… it gets easier. And try not to punch the person that says, “Enjoy this time, it goes so fast!” when your toddler starts throwing eggs on the floor at the grocery store. Like, you’re hilarious, Karen, but stop talking to me right now before I punch you.

Here’s an actual photo of me getting space from the kids on a Sunday morning… #momlife

Space

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Weekend with Dad

I went to a wedding last weekend in Montana with my teen, leaving my two littles at home with Dad. Now, my husband is an incredible father: he plays with the kids, he takes them to the movies, he builds snowmen… all the things that I hate doing. I prefer to cook, read and cuddle with my kids… we are living in a stereotype people, let’s move on.

When I got home, I learned quickly that for 3 days, my kids:

-Didn’t get baths or showers

-Didn’t eat a single fruit or vegetable

-Didn’t make their beds

-Didn’t clean their rooms

-Only left the house one time (to see Star Wars)

Messy RoomAt first, I thought I was overreacting. They had fun, everyone is safe and that’s all that matters, right? And then I realized: my husband is my partner…. A weekend with him shouldn’t really look any different than a weekend with me. I’m not saying they can’t skip some fruits and veggies, or go to Wendy’s, or stay in their pajamas for one entire day… but this isn’t a weekend at Grandma’s. This is a weekend at homewith their dad.

When I came home I was instantly the bad guy because I told them they had to clean up their toys before watching a movie. I asked them to make their beds and clean their room before we left the house… HOW DARE I ASK THEM TO COMPLETE THEIR CHORES?!

I think we need to start expecting our significant others to not just “get by” on weekends alone with our toddlers/young kids but to ask for partnership… I’m not asking for perfection but who wants to come home and be “mean mommy” for having them eat healthy, well balanced meals?

My husband will ALWAYS be the fun one… I’m the disciplinarian and the one who makes them feel better when they’re sick or scared. I’m the one they run to when they stub their toe but he’s the one they attack with a light saber when he falls asleep on the couch.

Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong… maybe I’ll start falling asleep on the couch so I get attacked with a light saber. Maybe my husband can take over asking them to make their beds before going to Target for awhile…. Maybe that is a partnership. Regardless, that is marriage.

The Hardest Part(s)

It’s been a week since my mother died.

In that time, my 5 year old has wanted to talk about her grandmother at least 10 times a day. She’s filled with questions like, “Where is her body now? What is cremated? Why will she be buried under ground? How does she get up to heaven? Will she see her mom and dad?”

My 3 year old is handling it differently. When he saw his grandmother sick, when it was time to say goodbye, he wouldn’t go near her. She terrified him with her eyes, usually so warm and full of life, then suddenly closed and unable to open and look at him. She would, however, whisper “I love you” because nothing could stop my mother from telling her family that she loves them, even if she couldn’t tell who she was talking to.

My 15 year old is handling it the hardest, as to be expected. Since feelings are considered uncool, she is constantly pushing down memories of her grandma so she doesn’t have to deal with them. I think the words “feel your feelings” are used a hundred times per day. We tell her that it’s okay to feel sad… you can cry and laugh in the same breath, thinking about everything we’ll miss about her AND how she couldn’t figure out how to ring the damn bell after her last round of chemo and none of us could stop laughing (including the amazing nurses that helped take care of her).

The hardest part? I don’t honestly think that my son will remember his grandmother. I know the 15 year old will, I hope the 5 year old will, but my youngest won’t remember all the books they read together, all the toys they played with, or the secrets they shared. He won’t remember that his grandma was the one who bought him his HUGE car set that has been his favorite thing for a year. He won’t remember the woman who promised to be there for him forever. That’s the hardest part.

While I realize that there are far worse things that could happen (taking my mother to chemo appointments makes me feel very grateful for the healthy life I live- I saw many women with young kids going through treatment), I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Two of my children might not remember my mother, the person who has most influenced me to be the wife, mother, friend and person I am today. She doesn’t get to impact them they way she impacted me.  And that feels really shitty… but it’s important that we feel these feelings because if we don’t come together as a family and acknowledge just how shitty it feels, we could fall apart. And we need each other now more than ever.

The 7 Parents You Meet at Gymnastics

Listen, all parents need to bond with with one another Whether it’s over lack of sleep, love of wine, love of Living with Landyn… whatever. We just need to unite.

That being said, I’ve noticed that there are a few different categories of moms and dads that you meet when you take your kids to an extracurricular during the day (which likely means that they’re a stay-at-home-parent). I am always one of the types of parents below … sometimes I’m more than one at a time (and don’t kid yourself, you’re one too):

  • The tired parent: this person can’t wait to tell you how little sleep they got, regardless of whether or not they know you. Today, one woman told me about how she has 2 toddlers and was woken up by each twice last night. Another woman with a newborn shared that she doesn’t sleep more than 2 hours every night. It’s not a competition, it’s comradery.

Tired mom

  • The Chatty Cathy: this is the parent that clearly needs some adult interaction. Many days- THIS IS ME PEOPLE. Craving adult interaction is totally normal when you stay home with littles all day. This person will ask you which kid is yours and then immediately talk about how cute your kid is. Then, they’ll quickly move into where their kids go to preschool, how long they’ve been doing gymnastics… whatever they can get out in the 30 minute class.
  • The parent who JUST WANTS TO READ THE NEWS—I’ve also been this mom before. There is constantly noise in my house and I never get a minute to myself. Those 30 precious minutes of quiet, where my kids are being supervised by someone else, are so infrequent that we need to make the most of it. To this parent, this is the time to get in touch with the world. You get 30 minutes each week—live it up.Woman on Phone
  • The one who brings a friend: there is always a set of parents that come together and they talk nonstop to each other but to no one else. This actually isn’t me… I like the quiet too much to sign up for a kids activity with someone else (let’s get real: my kids are WAY too badly behaved for my friends to see them on a weekly basis).

Young Women Travel Together Concept

  • The one with the perfect child: this is the person who literally stands at the window for all 30 minutes and is hanging on the teacher’s every word. At the end of the class, they march up to the teacher and ask how their child is doing… this person wants Simone Biles as their child. This person tells their friends that their 3 year old can wipe his ass already… I can tell you right now: this is never me either. Also, neither of my toddlers wipe their own asses. Add that to my resume.
  • The one who’s child has NO interest in the class. My son, Oliver, literally laid down during his gymnastics class when he was 2. He gave 0 fucks. I took him out after the second class because I wasn’t about to pay for him to lay down for 30 minutes. I feel bad for the parents whose kids want to go to the bathroom every 7 minutes just to spice it up a little. THAT WAS ME until I put myself out of misery.

superhero kid.jpg

  • Finally, the grandparent. This is the angel that was sent to rescue the stay-at-home-mom or dad and take their child to gymnastics. Who knows if the parent works full time or actually gets an hour or so to themselves (or, more likely, with their other children!).

And I Haven’t Looked Back…

I’ll never forget the look that one of my friends had when I told her I was resigning from a job I love. She said, “Stevie…. You could be throwing your career away. Is that what you really want?”

The answer, my friends, is of course not. My mom was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lung Cancer last year… after one round of chemo she was in remission! YAY!

And then it came back…. Fast. Stage 4. Due to a million other things happening in her lungs as well, she stopped seeking treatment because the chemo was putting her in the hospital and she was unable to enjoy the life she built for herself with her family… her kids and her grandkids.

My mom is the best person I’ve ever met. She constantly puts others before herself, never asking for too much. She’s truly a Minnesotan because she’ll never actually tell you when she’s disappointed. She’ll just keep inviting you until you say yes. My mom is also the strongest person I know… in the last 5 years that woman has been through hell and back and she came back with a smile on her face. The most important thing to her is family and her grandkids adore her.

When we found out the cancer was back, I thought I could do it all. I could be a great wife, mom, stepmom, daughter, and leader at work all at once. Unfortunately, something had to give. I was leading an incredible team that I loved and I couldn’t give them my all. I was missing doctors’ appointments with my mom and I was missing time with my kids. My mom has been living at my sister’s house and EVERYTHING fell on my sister’s shoulders because I was too busy. I don’t know how my sister did it for so many months.. I knew one thing though: something had to give.

I quickly realized that I couldn’t stop being a wife, mom, stepmom or daughter… I had to resign the job I love. The strangest part? I wasn’t sad at all! I still love the position I held and I love the team but I knew for a fact that it was the right call for my family. You can always return to your career when the timing is right… you can’t choose when to be there for your family.

What have I learned? At the end of the day, literally nothing matters besides family. And I mean that. Clothes, THINGS, eating out at restaurants, going to the movies, vacations…. All of the things that come from extra income: none of it matters. I’ve quickly learned that my love language is quality time spent with my family. I spend WAY more time with my kids and I’ve been able to spend WAY more time with my mom, my sister, and my nieces and nephews. I’ve learned that THIS is what matters.

And I haven’t looked back.

The 7 Letter Word….

Anxiety. I have anxiety.

WHEW. I said it. I already feel better.

Oh wait—- I don’t feel better? It isn’t something we’re supposed to talk about? It’s something I’m supposed to deal with on my own or with my doctor, but not in a public setting. Oh wait, not my doctor, I shouldn’t get medicated for it. I should see a therapist…. But wait…. If I see a therapist, is there something wrong with me? But my life is so perfect? What on earth could I be anxious about?

WTF!?

In the last year, my family has been incredibly lucky in many ways (my oldest is getting good grades, my husband and I both received promotions, and my middle child stopped being THE WORST all the time)….. but there’ve been plenty of shit moments. The shittiest of shit moments is when we found out that my mom isn’t getting better. This has been the hardest year of my entire life.

My anxiety has gone THROUGH THE ROOF in the last few months. And, ladies, I have to talk about it. Why? Because I can’t get better on my own! How many times have you shared something that’s happening to you/around you/because of you with someone who can relate? Sharing our problems doesn’t weaken us… it makes us stronger. Asking for help doesn’t make us incapable…. It makes us human.

In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says: “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” I am not perfect… oh no. I bite my nails, I raise my voice at my kids, I even (GASP!) drink too much wine! However, I know that through it all, I am a good mom. My anxiety has made me a better mom. Some people might read that statement and think I’m crazy. Let me say it again: my anxiety has made me a better mom.

My oldest, Alexis, has started showing signs of anxiety: she gets physically ill after finding out she failed a test, she threw up when her dad and I were too hard on her, and she will completely shut down if she feels attacked. My anxiety makes it easier for me to identify and help her through her episodes. I will rub her back for 2 hours after others would give up, I will sit next to her without touching her just to be there. I don’t get it right every single time but I am patient enough to figure it out because I go through it as well.

My middle, Fiona, has started getting so worked up when she doesn’t feel listened to that she literally can’t stop taking loud, shallow breaths. She doesn’t feel better until we make full eye contact and breathe deeply 5 times together. I HOPE that my 4 year old doesn’t have/develop anxiety but I am here for her if she does.

Everytime I have an anxiety episode or a panic attack, I have learned to let the people surrounding me know. It allows me to excuse myself and retreat into silence where I can focus on my breathing and not worry about what people think.

Since I started sharing with family, friends & coworkers about my anxiety, I have never felt more supported. I truly feel liberated after opening up and becoming vulnerable about anxiety….. so much better than when I used to say, “excuse me” and run into the bathroom to cry.

I wish every work environment was as mindful of mental health as the one I’ve worked in for 6 years. I know that others aren’t as tolerant because I recently spoke with someone about anxiety who said, “you just have to train your mind to work through it.” When I mentioned the chemical imbalances in your brain which create anxiety, this person said, “well… I worked through mine without medication so I know others can too.”

Instead of telling others what to do, I think our job as humans, as women and as moms is to say, “What can I do? How can I help?” or better yet, “Let me take this off your plate. Let me pick up your kids from school today.” Sheryl Sandberg has shared that after her husband died the best thing a friend did was to NOT ask what she can do to help…. That places the burden on the person grieving or hurting. Instead, tell the friend WHAT you’re going to do for them- “I’m coming over with coffee in hand…. What kind of cream cheese do you want on your bagel?” During a panic attack, I can choose jalapeno cream cheese. I can’t, however, come up with a list of things that you can do to help me. I would never suggest that a friend asking what they can do to help isn’t incredibly kind, but my point is that there’s a better way of offering help.

Since I spoke up about my anxiety, I’ve felt an overwhelming sense of support. People are stepping up to help me when I’m weak and cutting me slack when I say “no” to events that I would’ve previously said yes to.

Struggling with mental health isn’t a weakness… being strong and talking about it is the best way I’ve found to deal with it. I just hope that anyone who suffers from anxiety has the support they need. If you suffer from anxiety and don’t feel supported, please talk to someone about it– even me! Sharing about my experience has become one of the best decisions I’ve made…. I hope you’ll do the same if that’s what is best for you.

Thank you to all of my friends and family for the support you’ve given me. I love you all.

Confessions of a Stepmother

So it’s been awhile since I posted… as in 4 months. Yikes! With the holidays, time just flew by. But both the kids are down for naps right now so I finally have a moment to myself… time to blog!

Recently, I’ve noticed some people say that I have “2.5 kids (as in, 2 and a half kids).” I know that when people say it, they don’t mean anything offensive or negative about that. Honestly? That’s one of the most offensive things to say to someone who is a stepmother or stepfather.

Why?

A typical family unit functions with 2 parents and their children. In some cases, it’s one parent and children or, in our case, 4 parents sharing 1 child (and each set of parents having 2 of their own as well). No matter how you do the math in this situation, 2 (our kids) + 1 (Chris’ daughter, my stepdaughter) never equals 2.5…. it’s always 3. My stepdaughter, Alexis, is just as much mine as my own children. When I married Chris, he had a 7 year old daughter. Upon marrying him, I got the most amazing gift ever— a stepdaughter! I’ve watched her grow since she was a toddler and I’ve been there for her every step of the way (and I will continue to be there for her no matter what!). What’s just as important, though, is that she’s been there for me. When we were in the Catacombs in Paris, she held my hand and led me to the exit while i was hyperventilating in the dark, underground space. When we were in Universal Studios and my husband swore I would love the Jurassic Park interior where you’re on a bridge some 40 feet up, she told me, “Close your eyes, hold my hand and I’ll get you off the bridge. Trust me.”

I do need to be honest about something: my relationship with Alexis is different than it is with Oliver and Fiona. I see physical attributes of mine in Oliver and Fiona and they automatically look to me when they are hurt, scared, or need someone. On the other side, I see my own mannerisms in Alexis. While she doesn’t look like me, I noticed this look a couple of months ago she gave me when I said something to her. It was this, “Do you think I’m stupid?” look with one eyebrow up and a smirk… that is so me! It’s just as exciting to see Alexis imitate me and look up to me as it is when I notice that Oliver has my exact eyes.

Alexis will always turn towards her father when the scary part in Harry Potter 7 happens. But she ALWAYS calls for me when she can’t sleep. She knows I’ll sing her any song she wants and rub her back until she falls asleep. It’s our thing… and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

So, next time you’re talking to a stepmom or stepdad…. please keep in mind that being a stepmom or stepdad can be harder than being the biological parent to a child. I know, since I’m both. While being a mother and a stepmother makes me two types of moms, it doesn’t change the fact that I have 3 children. It doesn’t matter if my Alexis is in AZ with her mom and stepfather or here with us… she is constantly on my mind. Her joy is my joy, her sadness is my sadness…. I’m there for her every step of the way. She is mine! (that shouldn’t sound creepy and possessive, but motherly and loving).

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Alexis (12), Fiona (2), and Oliver (1 week at the time) in October!