Summer, self-care and boundaries.

selfcareI’ve noticed something this year.  Many women are simply not taking care of themselves, myself included.  I see it in their eyes.  I hear it in their voices.  They call me with stories of exhaustion, worry and plain old frustration.  I’m there for them.  They are there for me.  There is one thing missing from all of the support they and I give and that is a permanent solution.  That solution is self-care and the inclusion of boundaries in their lives.

My friend Julie sent me this picture just one week ago.  I was sick and instead of just saying “get better” she nailed the real issue right on the head.  “Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.”  This quote by Parker J. Palmer stunned me but didn’t really impact me until just today.  Did I mention that Julie is also a healthcare provider?  She has seen me for over twelve years dealing with sicknesses that were definitely brought on by lack of self-care.  Diabetes, viruses that won’t go away and shingles.  These are brought on by a lack of self-care, a lack of stress management and tendency to worry about things that are not even mine to worry about.  OK Julie I think I have finally got the message!  I’m going to print out my own blog post (this one) and put it on my refrigerator!

I just returned last night from a couple of days in Florida with my children.  On the drive home from the airport I had a very mild moment of anxiety.  My children were sound asleep and I was about seven miles away from home.  All of the sudden I couldn’t see the road.  My vision started to fail me and the road became a series of images that flickered instead of remaining steady.  My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest.  In a moment of panic I searched for a place to pull over but there was road work taking place and the shoulder was blocked.  I didn’t feel like I could make it to safety, and in that moment I realized that if I didn’t pull it together I was going to lose control.  I was on the brink of a panic attack and called home to hear my husband’s voice and thank goodness for Suri because there was no way I could dial the phone.   He didn’t answer.  I was on my own.  So I started to make my mind go blank instead of thinking about the situation and I started to breathe.  Slowly I began to feel like I had more control, I calmed down and got home safely.

I attributed the experience to night driving until the moment I woke up this morning.  My chest feels tight and small pin pricks of heaviness are invading my brain.

What the hell is going on?   It’s summer!

It is stress and even more importantly, a lack of self-care and stress management in my life.  Each one of my children are facing major developmental changes.  One child turns 21, one child turns 13 and one child turns 10 this year. Each of them are so very different and the sibling rivalry and clashes are at an all time high.  I feel like I’m living in constant referee mode.  My husband has some projects at work that have literally taken him away from me for the last year.  He is mentally and physically absent most of the time, even when he is home.  He and I have aged greatly as a result.  Our bodies are unhealthy and our minds are even more so.  I give too much of energy reserve to everyone and I don’t save one drop for myself.  Not one drop.

I’m worrying about shit that just doesn’t matter.  Are you?  I’m tired.  I wonder if while on vacation, my mother and father noticed that I have turned my reactions off most of the time.  While my children are torturing each other, I often take my gaze and look elsewhere.  This is not because I don’t care.  I do this because I feel like I’m a hamster in a wheel, breaking up the same damn fights, teaching the same lessons and repeating myself over and over and over again.   I do the same with my husband.  He talks about one thing.  One thing.  One thing.  It’s work.  Then he talks about work again.  And again.  I listen.  Sometimes with half an ear, sometimes with my entire heart.  Hey and my eldest had a party in my house while I was away!   I read him the riot act last night.  He can have friends over and oh by the way, he is responsible for every single one of their actions.  No he cannot claim ignorance that plastic cups are in our hot tub floating or at the bottom of the tub.  Oh and hope you enjoyed that party because it was the last one and you owe me money for my missing beer.

Calgon take me away!

IMG_1027I know what I need.  Boundaries.  I need to set them and I need to give myself the love and courage to live with them.  Here are my own realizations that I am just now writing down and will post on my own damn refrigerator! I need to work out and get rid of stress.  Staring at the walls and drooling doesn’t work.

  1. My friend’s problems are not my own.  No more CONSTANT internalizing and worrying about their shit.  This is not because I don’t care.  I do!  I just can’t keep a constant level of their stress in my heart.   I have my own life to fill up my time.   I will be there for my friends but I will not carry their load on my back.
  2. My husband needs to leave his work at work.  No more churning the family up over and over.  He needs to get on the treadmill and release his own stress or better yet work in the yard or fix something and get his mind off of the crazy!   I will not feel guilty about having him parent more with me.
  3. My kids need more fun time with me.  My relationship with them needs to be full of more happy times and not just being a referee.  Seeing them smile and enjoy Florida was amazing.  We need more times like this at home!
  4. I may not text you back and if I do it may be hours later not seconds.  It’s Ok if you do the same.  If I want an immediate reaction I will tell you or CALL you!
  5. I’ve already started living more and more “away” from Facebook and social media.  This will continue.  This is not how I enjoy my friendships.  I enjoy my friendships through laughter, dinners, hiking and rides to Middleburg, not through “likes” on the internet.  I don’t want to see the constant self branding, passive aggressive digs or rants.  That’s negative energy.  Thanks but no thanks.
  6. No more worrying about stupid shit.  So the laundry isn’t done.  Oh well.  How the hell did I get to a place where I care so much about doing laundry?  Seriously I have issues.
  7. More laughter.  Much more.  More time with the friends that laugh with me!
  8. I will bring more perspective into my life.  See number 7.  Life is really good.  I don’t need to have stress reactions or anxiety based on stupid crap.   I can only be responsible for myself.
  9. I will take positive action and do things for myself while  enforcing these boundaries.  Like now.  I’m getting onto the treadmill.

Happy summer!  Treat yourself to some love and perhaps some boundaries.

I feel better already!

“What do you DO all day?”

LaundryI was at dinner with a friend.  She is a very successful executive, lives in an affluent area, doesn’t have kids and is really fun to be around.  We were having a glass of wine when all of a sudden she said “you are such an outgoing and talented woman, what do you do all day?  I mean I know you stay home for the kids, but what is next for you, what’s next, what makes you feel fulfilled?”

I chose to down the rest of my glass as thoughts raced around my head, trying desperately to formulate a very intelligent answer.  I didn’t succeed.  My very deep ability to reflect and formulate a well thought out response simply abandoned me.  We all have reasons for doing what we do.  When I was a single mom I had to work for financial reasons.  I now have a choice that many women do not have and I currently stay at home.  Some mothers work and juggle their careers and their kids and after school activities. Some mothers work out of their home.   We all have one thing in common.  Sacrifice.

This did not come out in my brilliant answer.  Sorry ladies, I put us all back a couple of decades!

“Laundry.  I do laundry.   I do loads and loads every week.  I put clean clothes in small baskets for the kids to put away and they stay in those baskets until they make it back to the dirty pile.  That’s what I do.  I’m a hamster in a wheel.”

I truly have the chance to redeem myself.  I’ve gone through some emotions thinking about this answer and I’m happy to say that I now understand myself better and the choices ALL moms make, whether they work or stay-at-home.

“I am a mother.  I have made a conscious decision to sacrifice myself for the good of mankind.  I don’t always use my interpersonal skills to sell a company’s product or service.  Sometimes I use those skills to put more good into the world.  Through my children, these three boys, I have the chance to give back..   It’s a ripple effect.  The kindness, the guidance, the character that I instill in them will be magnified and ripple into future generations.  So although sometimes it is difficult and my days can be full of mundane tasks, deep down I know that there is nothing more important than the sacrifice that I am making for future generations.  What do I do all day?  I live a life of love and sacrifice.  I am a mother.”

My dear friend is correct though.  Although I am a mother for life there is an aspect of “what’s next.”  My children are getting older and are more independent.  Am I ready to retire?  Should I commit more time to the blog?  Write a book?  Go back to work?  What is next?  I don’t know, I really don’t, but I will make an effort to enjoy the journey.

I would love to hear your thoughts on motherhood, staying-at-home, working, just all of it.  What makes you happy?  What fulfills you?  What’s next?  If you’re not a mom I would love to hear about that also!  This is YOUR life.  These are your choices!

 

Celebrating Life and the Night I Spent with a Star

imageIt is 4:00 am in the morning. I am wide awake. My husband and I traveled to California to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday. We have an early flight back to our three children, two dogs and suburban house in Virginia in two hours. At this very moment, I am sitting on a small comfy couch in a cottage that used to be the home of a man named Charlie, the former caretaker of Mission Ranch. Walking into his cottage was surreal, as if I had stepped back in time, and I can’t help but think that he would smile at the excitement I felt at just being in his former home. It felt personal.   Being here made me feel like I am now woven into the fabric of the ranch’s history. These past two days have caused me to reflect on how experiences truly make life worth living.

My heart has been affected by my stay here.

The party was a surprise. Her husband picked us up from the airport and took us to the ranch. The land reminded me of Sweden in that it was untouched, frozen in time, and for me, a place where my soul could breathe. Sheep grazed in the valley, flowers and ivy brightened the various shutters and windows. A gentle fog covered the green hills. This was no ordinary place. I will never forget my brief stay.

We came in on a Tuesday and we are leaving on a Thursday. In this short time we have been to Pebble Beach, drove the coast of Carmel, had a luxurious dinner at Casanova, hiked amongst Redwoods and spent the night with a star. That star was not the owner of Mission Ranch although I and others were affected by his attendance, that star was our dear friend Lena. Continue reading

Through the haze; the curse of having a piss-poor memory.

bad-memoryI’ll forget that I wrote this in a couple of months.  A great idea about a blog post will strike and I will have to search my blog to see if I have ever written about my memory or lack thereof.   True story.   Been there done that.   I suffer from what is not clinically known as a piss poor memory. I go through life in a haze. My childhood friends ask me most ridiculous questions. Don’t you remember so and so? Don’t you remember my mom’s foyer table? What did you eat yesterday?   And I look at them with a dumb look on my face.

My memory has always been horrible. Continue reading

Jump for joy!

jumpforjoyI have just finished watching my son play in the backyard.  He has been jumping on the trampoline for the last twenty minutes.  I picked him up from his after-school activity, parked in our garage and he threw down his backpack and ran back outside.  “I need to get my energy out mom!” he said.  He jumped up and down with obvious joy.  The leaves from previous years gently blew around on the ground and the smell of spring was in the air.

I couldn’t stop smiling.

He would then suddenly stop and sit and gaze into the woods.  I wondered what deep thoughts he harbored when suddenly he would bounce back up in such an abrupt manner, that even Tigger would have been surprised.   Bounce!  Bounce! Bounce!  The joy he felt was infectious.  My heart started to burst wide open, because after all, isn’t it the most simple things in life that truly bring happiness?  For a brief moment I thought that perhaps I would sneak out there one night and bounce around.  I still may try that; alone and in the dark during a time when no one would see!  Perhaps I will need to wear Depends.  You ladies know what I mean.  Childbirth doesn’t make it easy to bounce.  I’ll also need a sports bra.  OK got it.  I will be prepared and I will bounce. Continue reading

Put on the purple hat with authenticity and confidence.

Purpleauthenticity

Live an authentic life and don’t worry about what others think!

Years ago I remember laughing over Erma Bombeck’s essay with my friend Birgitta.  We both loved the message about living life in an authentic manner and putting on “The Purple Hat.”   If you are not familiar with this essay I have included it at the bottom of this post.  The message means even more to me today because I’ve realized that since becoming a mother I’ve been guilty of allowing a bit of my light to dim.  Motherhood, sweatpants, conformity, criticism from peers and getting boxed in by the mommy crowd has put many of us all into the same clothes with the same purses and the same haircuts.  How ridiculous is that?  And it goes beyond clothes into how we are all living our lives.  How many of you have done the same?   We are hiding, blending and conforming.

I’m kind of tired of it. Continue reading

Mommy medical degrees. Moms! You rock!

Sick kid humorMy eldest son is twenty years old.  When he was younger he had sensory issues.  He hated to color and would complain that his hands hurt.  He couldn’t stand to wear jeans because they were too scratchy.  Strong smells caused him to get sick whether we were in a restaurant, at a school event or in church. This doesn’t even include the normal childhood illnesses.   I’ve seen more than my share of vomit, stitches and broken bones.

When I got remarried I thought it would be a great idea to have two more kids.  There’s an age gap of eleven years between my eldest and my youngest child.  Do you know what that really means?  It means that I have had twenty years of uninterrupted and constant childhood sickness in my home and I have another ten years ahead of me!   My house is a wreck.  To top it all off, I have three BOYS so we have had several cases of man flu when they are not truly sick.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve earned my medical degree. Continue reading

Love is patient and love is tough.

lovepatientWhen I was young my mom bought a book entitled Tough Love.  She was looking for guidance on how to love and help a family  member that was struggling.  The premise of the book, from what I remember, was that love is not always easy but may require some very tough stances and positions in order to help and support a loved one.  What my mom didn’t realize at the time was that she and my father were already employing many of these methods with their own children on a daily basis.  I can tell you firsthand that my parents were experts at setting boundaries and following through with them.

It was a beautiful sunny day when a dog darted out in front of the car.  I was in college, on the way to class at the University of Maryland.  The man in the brand new Lincoln town car slammed on his brakes to avoid plowing into the dog and I, in turn, slammed into him.  We both pulled over to the side of the road and he proceeded to walk house-to-house  to find a phone.  To my surprise he called the ambulance and the fire department.  He asked if my parents paid my insurance and proceeded to complain about neck pain.  The police officer that came to the scene asked me to write down what had happened and also noted that the gentleman was quite limber until the ambulances arrived.  I got a ticket and the officer told me to challenge the ticket in court.  It was clear that he did not plan to show up to my court appearance. Continue reading

There is strength in forgiveness.

strengthinapologyTrue inner strength and courage lies in one’s ability to apologize and to forgive.  This truth is a scary one because it may require an open, beautiful, and exposed heart.  A conflict with another human being, regardless of who it is, is truly never one-sided.  Understanding the complexity of our interactions and emotions can be difficult but can also be enlightening and rewarding.

I knew I would make many mistakes when I became a mother.  That’s why I decided that I would apologize to my own children when I messed up.  When I speak to my children, especially after making some stupid mistake, I remind them that in many ways I am still this little ten-year old girl who somehow became a mom and is trying to figure it all out.  Isn’t that really the truth though?  Sure we acquire more wisdom as we age, but I for one still have the heart of a child.  I don’t think I will ever truly stop learning how to do this motherhood thing, how to do this life thing, how to do this living thing.

I screw up.  I apologize.  Even to my own children.

It is such a powerful act of love.  Honesty is a key ingredient.  Honesty with yourself and honesty with others. Continue reading

Shining a light on fatherhood.

shutterstock_257089360When raising my boy as a single mom, I naively believed I could be both a mother and a father.  Single handedly I planned to work hard and overcompensate so that my son didn’t see any difference when he compared his life with other kids’ lives.  I would love him, support him, cherish him, provide for him and rock my responsibilities.  I had no idea how important a father would be to his development and emotional well-being.

I had no idea.

Today I understand the importance of having a positive male role model in my son’s life.  Both he and I were lucky to have incorporated a variety of influences into his journey towards adulthood.  The impact on his social and emotional development has been beneficial.  Sometimes, as a mom I can be too nurturing which can, in turn, interfere or tip the scale negatively when it comes to my children’s self-esteem.   When mom does everything for her child it also prevents the child from learning independence.  A father’s approach provides the balance to that scale.  Of course, the opposite can also be true.  I think that sometimes men don’t truly understand how much their actions can impact their own child. Continue reading