Breathe In. Freak Out.

“Patience is a virtue.” I don’t remember which elementary school teacher of mine used to say this, but I remember hearing it a lot as a child. Perhaps it’s the millennial in me, but this is not my strong suit. When I want something, I want it now. When I start eating healthy and working out, I expect to be a size four by the end of the week. When I order something online, I start tracking the shipment immediately. I’m the kind of person who studies checkout lines intently and will send my husband to one while I wait in another in an attempt to limit our line-waiting time as much as possible. Patience is just not in my nature, but I never truly realized how little I possess until I found myself with a toddler.

 

Calvin started testing the boundaries a little when he was a crawler, but they day he started walking, our lives were never the same. All non-board books had to be either hidden or donated for fear of destruction. Decorative collectibles and souvenir trinkets were quickly broken or packed away. Picture frames became toys, pots and pans became drum sets, and decorative blankets became napkins. Everything suddenly felt like chaos, which did not bring out the best in my anxious, impatient, slightly obsessive self.

 

As we entered this messy, chaotic, sometimes dangerous stage, we also found ourselves on the cusp of the dreaded tantrum stage. As he continued his mischievous ways, leaving me often feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, he began expressing his feelings of frustration with me as well. He’d ask for a banana, I’d give him a banana. Then he’d throw himself on the ground because he didn’t actually want a banana, he wanted yogurt. Scenes like this were playing out daily, leaving both of us feeling frustrated and out of control. He’d be on the ground crying, I’d be holding back a scream. It was tense. It was unpleasant. Worst of all, it was cyclical. He’d make a mess. I’d get stressed out. He wouldn’t get his way. He’d get frustrated. I’d get overwhelmed. Then we all cry and do it again.

 

I quickly realized that I couldn’t teach Calvin to effectively manage his emotions if I wasn’t capable of effectively managing my own, so after a little research, I started my mindfulness journey. I hopped on Amazon and ordered a book entitled Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham. Dr. Markham explains, “If, instead, we can stay mindful – meaning we notice our emotions and let them pass without acting on them- we model emotional regulation, and our children learn from watching us….You can count on finding yourself hijacked by fight-or-flight hormones at times, but if you can train yourself to notice when you start to lose it, you have the choice to return yourself back to a state of equilibrium. That peaceful place inside ensures that our actions are wise and loving.” Isn’t this what we all want? Don’t we dream of being peaceful and wise as we parent? She goes on to give practical advice for each stage of parenting, but rewiring how you respond to your feelings of frustration, anger, etc. is NOT. EASY. It’s a battle for me every time.

 

Since starting my “mindfulness journey,” I’ve experienced times in which I was able to stop, recognize my frustration, analyze its source, take deep breaths, and respond to the situation like a goddess of Zen. For example, yesterday Calvin was angry that I wasn’t playing with him while I was trying to clean house, and I was frustrated that he kept pulling at my shorts and whining. At one point, he made me drop a vacuum attachment, and dust went everywhere. I just wanted to yell and cry and drop our vacation money on a maid service. Instead, I stopped what I was doing, acknowledged how Cal and I were feeling, and talked to him. I said, “I know you’re feeling mad. I know you want Mommy to play with you. I want to play with you too, but I have to get some chores done. Let’s read one book together. Then you can decide if you want to stay in your room and play or go watch a video.” It was a beautiful moment, right out of a parenting how-to, if I do say so myself, and, better yet, it worked! But….there have been other times….times when I didn’t want to freaking breathe or analyze feelings or have rational baby discussions. I just wanted to scream, so I did.

 

I’m really hard on myself after I lose it. I feel like a failure, like a horrible mother, like an out-of-control she-monster who is undoubtedly scarring her child for life. I’ve come to know this “mom guilt” all too well, but I have to stop, in times of calmness, and acknowledge that I’m doing my best. I’m reading and praying and sharing and listening and doing all I know how to do to be the best mama I can be, but I have to accept that I’m going to fall short sometimes. And, maybe that’s ok. Maybe it’ll teach my son that nobody’s perfect. Maybe because of it, he won’t be so hard on himself when he’s older. Maybe? I don’t actually know, but I can count on one thing: I will get mad again. I’ll try to be better next time and the time after that, but, more importantly, I’ll try to cut myself some slack. I think that will bring me peace as well, and I hope you too can cut yourself some slack. Perhaps, next time we feel angry or frustrated, we take a deep breath, and, before analyzing our feelings, we remind ourselves that we’re doing our best and that our babies will always know love.

 

May peace be with you…and that tiny human of yours.

 

 

 

I’m BaAAck! – Why I left and the co-meltdown that inspired my return.

It’s been about seven months since I’ve written. I have a half-written post about Calvin’s first birthday still saved on my desktop. He’s now eighteen months old. At first, I made excuses: “The birthday party plans took all my time.” “It’s busy season at work.” “Just one more episode.” But, the truth is, I was scared. It took more courage than it should have for me to even start publishing a blog in the first place, and, as time went on, my fears were only fueled by my own self-doubt. I started to dread opening my Instagram page, dreading the thought of seeing model mothers. Feelings of inadequacy flooded my mind every time I saw a post from a successful mom blogger. Even moms who seemed to embrace imperfections seemed to do it so perfectly. They’d write about how things aren’t always perfect, but their photos told me another story. My insecurities were consuming my every thought, and I felt it must be better for my mental health to just avoid anything that made me feel unfit. So, I just stopped. I stopped writing. I stopped reading. I stopped looking. I just stopped doing anything that would make me vulnerable to feeling inadequate. Then, two weeks ago, we started the fall semester of Calvin’s music class.

I may not have an Insta-worthy house or wardrobe. I know that I should spend more time meal-prepping and less time in the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru. I definitely need to work on my patience. I don’t give 100% of myself to my family 100% of the time. I’m very aware of my shortcomings, but I can give myself credit for something. I try my very best every day to fill my son’s time with healthy, meaningful activities that stimulate his development. He doesn’t use the iPad or watch videos on my phone. He gets two hours or less of screen time, watching only programs that promote learning or physical movement. We read, color, do puzzles, stack blocks, and spend tons of time outside playing and learning about nature. He goes to swim classes and yoga classes and music classes. He goes to Sunday school with other toddlers. He goes to the daycare at my gym. We have passes to the aquarium and the zoo and visit both regularly. Despite all of this, Calvin still seems to have social anxieties. He’s shy and timid and has separation anxiety. He doesn’t like to play with or even around other kids, especially rambunctious kids. Every single time (I’m not exaggerating. It’s Every. Single. Time.) I take him to the gym’s daycare, I get a message saying I need to come get him because he’s inconsolable. We’ve been paged at church to come back for him because he won’t stop crying. He’s undoubtedly the strongest swimmer in his class, but I can’t move him up to the next level because he can’t handle going in without me. If another child approaches him on the playground, he immediately finds me and hugs my leg. It makes me sad that he doesn’t enjoy playing with the other kids. It breaks my heart to see him cry when I drop him off at church or the gym, but I always take comfort in knowing that it’s not abnormal and that he’ll likely outgrow it.

However, when we started the fall semester of his music class, things changed for me. There were no summer classes, so Calvin hadn’t been to music in about four months. During the spring term, he was shy and clingy, always staying in my lap, but he seemed to enjoy the instruments. Knowing that both the musical and social aspects of the class were good for him, and seeing him learn new songs and dances over the summer, made me excited to sign him up for the fall course. I was confident that he’d be more interactive. He wasn’t even walking in the spring, so I pictured him coming back into the class and really showing off how much he’s grown physically and mentally. I pictured him learning the songs, dancing, and perhaps even working up the courage to start running around with familiar kids. I just felt so certain that this class was the ticket to getting him out of his shell.

On the first day of class, I packed him in the car, full of hope and excitement, ready to show off my smart, funny, musical boy! When we arrived, he started inexplicably crying. I popped him out of his car seat and set him down on the sidewalk believing that letting him walk in by himself would both distract and calm him. Then he fell, and this was a real fall, not just a toddler stumble. Blood, tears, and screams shifted my excitement to anxiety. I took him into the bathroom, cleaned him up, and did my best to calm him before class. No such luck. He was still crying when we walked in. Still crying when class started. Still crying while other children played. Then, during a freestyle dance session to the tune of “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire, all of the toddlers took it upon themselves to get into the most adorable dance circle you’ve ever seen. Phones and cameras aren’t allowed in this class, but even the teacher pulled hers out to capture the sweet moment. Every kid in the class was enjoying the purest bliss of music and friends, every kid, except mine. Calvin was still clinging to me for his life, still crying, and in a moment of vulnerability like I haven’t felt in a very long time, I lost it. I clung to him, clutching him as close as possible, and I cried with him. It was one of those cries that just fell out of me, one that I couldn’t control. I was sobbing. It was as though I was letting out something I didn’t even know I was holding inside of me. The song ended. The class went on to play with instruments and practice new songs, and I just kept weeping. Calvin was able to pull it together at the sight of a pair of maracas, but I just couldn’t. The thought of my child missing out on something great because of fear and anxiety just hurt my heart so deeply. Watching those sweet kids dance and play, knowing how much my boy adores dancing and playing, knowing how special and playful and smart and hilarious and wonderful he is, yet realizing that he’s too afraid to share his huge personality with others just made me ache. I cried through the rest of the class. He fell asleep in the car while I was still crying. I collected myself. Then he woke up from his nap. I saw his sweet little face and lost it again. I cried again when Joe got home and again when I went to bed.

I can’t explain it. I know that I was unreasonably upset. I know that nothing is wrong with Calvin. I know that it’s okay that he was having a bad day and okay that he was nervous. I know all of that. I knew it before and I know it now, but I didn’t know it then. I believe I felt something exclusive to motherhood, a sort of culminated, paralyzing fear for my child. I felt it build every night when he was a newborn, checking his breathing obsessively, and every time I’ve trusted someone else to watch him, every time I’ve buckle him into a car seat, every time I’ve thought about his future. I worry constantly, and I suppose that constant worry just built itself into a fountain of uncontrollable waterworks on that particular Wednesday during music class.

As I collected my thoughts and reflected throughout the following days, my mind drifted back here, back to a space where I intended to share my struggles, seeking clarity and perspective and unity.

I will never have a flawless Instagram feed. I refuse to edit my photos. I refuse to edit myself – my experiences, my body, my family. I won’t. Maybe that means that no one will find me interesting. Maybe that makes me and my story unattractive to most, but, you know what? That’s fine. Because I’m not here to be flawless or “perfectly imperfect.” I’m here for me. I’m here for Calvin. I’m here for moms who sometimes cry inexplicably and uncontrollably. I’m here for moms whose hearts ache for their children, who understand what it feels like to have your whole heart walking outside of your body, who know unconditional love and know that “unconditional” means blood, sweat, tears, poop, vomit, boogers, dance parties, breathless giggles, bedtime stories, and those tight-squeeze hugs that melt you into puddles. I’m here because motherhood is not like anything else, and I’m back because I don’t want to make it up alone.

Even if Calvin’s Mimi is the only mother reading this right now, I want to acknowledge and thank every mother who may stumble in here. Thank you for your selflessness, your compassion, your sacrifice, and thank you for sharing your parenting journey with me, if only for five minutes.

Talk again soon? Let’s.