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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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 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).

kids

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

Sir, Please Remove Your Hand From My Belly. Immediately.

I’m sure this topic has been written about extensively but I can’t help myself. I was at the park the other day with the tyrant also known as Fiona (she’s 20 months old now!). She was owning the park, flying down the slide, trying to climb up the rock wall meant for 10 year olds (that I can’t physically follow her on because I am the size of a house and have my own orbit). At 8.5 months pregnant, I surprise myself when I make it all the way to the park without having to stop for a snack break (let alone attempt to climb a rock wall).

So it’s only 9 AM because I won’t go after that because I’ll start melting once it hits 80 degrees (pregnancy is very glamorous) so we’re alone at the park (except for the geese that are NOT afraid of us and put the “squeeze” on us by coming right up to the edge of the park and daring us to go out into their field). All of a sudden, these 2 guys walk up and I assumed they were just casually strolling until they park it on a bench nearby. The weather is unusually crappy for summer in Minnesota: super humid, 85 (feels like 100) and kind of misting/raining. I brought a towel to be a dutiful slide wiper-offer for Fiona so she could get in her daily kicks.

One of the guys waves at me and points up to the sky and shouts, “RAIN!” It was barely sprinkling… as in, I wasn’t worried about my IPhone sitting out. I’m on level 199 on Candy Crush; trust me, if anyone’s worried about their phone getting destroyed (and all that hard work), it’s me.

This guy was probably late forties and had a huge smile on his face. Fiona said, “HI!” with a huge smile and walked up to them and started dancing. My little ham. I walk over in case she attacks them with hugs (or, let’s be real about my biggest concern, they pick her up and run away). The guy LITERALLY STANDS UP AND TOUCHED MY BELLY FOR A FULL 7 SECONDS (I counted) and said, “What are you, 7 months pregnant?” I was horrified. Not only was he way off (although let’s be honest, I was a little flattered that I look like I’m ready to pop and he thought I had 2-3 months left but that wasn’t the important part!!) but he was touching my belly! It wasn’t in a weird, sexual way that made me uncomfortable it was the fact that, oh, I don’t know, A GROWN MAN WAS TOUCHING MY BELLY. I literally moved away while he was touching it, grabbed Fiona’s hand and said, “Well, have a good day. Hope it doesn’t rain all over you” and I put Fiona in her stroller and we left. I’ve never been more uncomfortable (okay that might not be true… I’m very awkward by nature).

Why is it that people think it’s okay to touch a pregnant woman’s belly? Have you ever walked up to someone that isn’t pregnant and stroked their stomach? Oh, that’d be weird? SO IS TOUCHING THE BELLY OF A PREGNANT PERSON! Okay, if you know me you can touch my belly— it’s hard not to when it’s likely in your personal space. If you don’t know me and just want to remember the days when you/your partner was pregnant… hands off! I wish this was a singular event but this is probably the 3rd stranger to touch my stomach this pregnancy (and the 7th from both my pregnancies). I don’t understand the motivation or frankly, the balls someone must have to reach out and touch someone’s body in such a weird way.

If you’re someone who touches pregnant bellies and you can’t help yourself, please enlighten me. Is there something I’m missing? Is it now socially acceptable to grab the belly of a stranger?

Here’s a picture of Fiona on the way to the park that day. I am no longer posting photos of myself because when I see a camera aimed at me I literally scream and ninja jump away (nothing against pregnant women… I’m all for women being beautiful at every size but I just don’t really want to see myself through a lens right now…).

Fiona- before walk