I’m 37 and I have purple hair

It’s that time again, folks.

It’s birthday time!

This is going to be another stream-of-consciousness post, which often tend to be rambly; you’ve now been properly warned.

This particular birthday brings up a bit more of the feels than usual, because this year the days of the week and the dates of the month are the same as they were in 2003, when I had my cancer surgery 17 freaking years ago.

I had to start prepping for surgery on Sunday the 9th, which meant no solid food after noon that day. My family took me out for brunch and I ordered my usual Belgian waffle with fruit and whipped cream. Normally, I’d never finish it, but that day, knowing solid food wouldn’t pass my lips again for at least a few days (it would turn out to be 4 full days), I said challenge accepted and I forced myself to eat every. last. bite.

Monday was my birthday. I only remember dinner that day, where I sat at the head of the table and ate chicken broth and jello while my family had pizza. God that sucked. I opened some gifts, but mostly just wanted to go to bed so I could get the surgery over with as soon as possible.

Surgery was on a Tuesday. They took me in over an hour late, and if you know me, you know I operate based on strict, rigid expectations. I couldn’t handle waiting any longer and had my last (of many that had preceded this horrible process) waiting room meltdown. By the time they took me in to get me prepped, I was a complete wreck. I was under so much stress that they couldn’t get a vein for my IV (juuuust this year I finally stumbled across the name for the reason my veins close up under stress and my fingers go white when it’s cold – Raynaud’s Syndrome) and allllll I wanted was to be fucking unconscious.

That Tuesday was the worst day of my life.

Wednesday was the day I was told my mass was cancerous.

Thursday was the day I was allowed to eat solid food once more – my reward for the anticlimatic post-surgery fart.

Friday was Valentine’s Day, of course, and I finally got to go home.

All that hell was 17 years ago! It was a lifetime and yesterday all at once. A lot has changed in that time. The experience has most definitely shaped the person I am now.

I’m using change as a rather rough segue theme, here, but that’s how my brain works. My birthday will forever cause me to simultaneously think of the past and the future and how they affect each other in my life.

In general, I don’t like change. It’s jarring to me. Even positive change. Which means that being the mom of two young kids is almost constantly jarring. These little creatures are constantly changing, wtf!! Having to keep up with them and everything that comes with them is exhausting. And by everything, I mean everything. Schedules, routines, schools, teachers, homework, clothes sizes, equipment (meaning, you need bottles until you don’t. you need diapers until you don’t. highchairs, packnplays, all of it), language, skills (my kid can SPELL! F-U-C-K.), attitude, their preferences in everything (food, TV, toys, clothes), their phases and habits (one kid finally eats! the other currently does not.)

On an average day, keeping up with all of this isn’t so bad. I get the feels here and there when I need to give away all the rest of the 2T clothes, or sell the cloth diapers, but then there’s the time my kid wrote me the sweetest letter in school. Or when I covertly spelled S-N-A-C-K to my husband in front of the kids and my son GOT IT.

But the bigger changes give me varying levels of anxiety.

My mom friends going back to work (don’t leave me!). Seriously, our lives are so busy that simple life changes might as well mean that one has moved to the moon. I’ve worked hard to build friendships here in Oregon and to maintain friendships far and wide, but if I’m being honest, I feel like they are stunted because of the season of life we’re all in (parenting young kids). Building friendships in fragmented in-person playdate conversations and random text messages is super hard, y’all. What’s scarier still is that I only see the seasons getting busier and situations getting trickier, and it sucks. (Another piece for me is that some of my mom friends will read this, so this is me being vulnerable in putting it out there.)

Kids getting busier with school and sports and activities and not knowing what or how much to put my kids in and worrying how this will affect my energy level and mental health. It’s hard to know what my kids will like or be good at or will want to stick with. I don’t want to do too much, but I do want them to do something. And do we do what everyone else is doing? My comparison monster gets the best of me sometimes, and it’s especially strong on the extracurricular activities rat race front of modern parenting. Pair that comparison monster with a moderate case of parenting-related FOMO, and there’s a great recipe for rumination-fueled anxiety. Tell me I’m not alone in this!

Me going back to work. My biggest concern here is about dramatically increasing my workload and thus having a huge negative impact on my energy level and mental health. By dramatically increasing my workload, I mean that I’ll add all the stress and responsibility and time away from home/kids/husband while still needing to get done everything I already do now, most notably all the invisible, logistical work. Will I be scheduling doctors appointments at 1am because that’s when it needs to happen after work and dinner and cleaning and making lunches and maybe some TV? This is majorly why I’m dragging my feet in starting this process. I’m finally getting some breathing room within this parenting life, and I’m more than a little hesitant to give up that extra time.

I can feel the changes looming, you guys. They are there, just there, on the horizon. They won’t be all bad, I know, but right now, it’s all unknown.

I suppose, in some clumsy attempt to tie everything in this post together, the lesson is that I’ve handled some pretty dramatic changes in the past, and so I will again, with as much awkward grace (oxymoron?) as I can muster.

So I sit here, in this Starbucks, on this sunny(!) Monday just having had a pretty great massage. I’m 37 and I have purple hair. Right here, right now, life is pretty good.

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The Jelly Bean Jar

At our wedding 6 and a half years ago, we had a cute little candy table set up.

Most of the candy was put in these mason jars I painstakingly decorated with lace, burlap, and ribbon. We had, among other things: mints, taffy, and jelly belly beans.

A lot of the candy was left over after the wedding, and I wanted to keep a few of the jars I had made, so we consolidated the candy in the jars I wanted to keep. Fast forward to when we moved to Oregon, and the jars now live on the windowsill in our kitchen.

We don’t eat candy very often. Well, let me be clear – we eat the good stuff quickly, and the rest just kinda…sits there. Plus, the wedding candy kinda became more decoration than treat.

Fast forward again to when we had kids, and to when my youngest kid decided that she’d rather start pooping in her pants than in the potty (the latter she had been doing for weeks already). Kids are wondrous, folks. Simply amazing little creatures.

Mama had had enough and, after much screaming and sanitizing and laundry, we decided to try rewards as a last resort. My first thought was that we’d have to go out and buy some M&Ms.

But wait!

We had three cute little jars full of (old) candy that wasn’t being eaten, right in front of me as I did the dishes at the end of every exhausting day! I promptly offered my daughter a jelly bean the next time she went poop on the potty, and pointed to the jar that was backlit by the spring sunlight coming in through the window, illuminating the sugary beans like they were sent straight from heaven.

It worked like a charm!

Now, because we were giving my youngest a magic poop bean every time she delivered the goods, my oldest saw an opportunity.

Hey, he said. (he didn’t really say that) I want one, too. (that he did say)

And so, for the past, I don’t know, 6 months or so (maybe 9? my brain is mush), we’ve been giving each kid a bean, when we’ve been home, for a deed that normally should be going on unrewarded.

After a short while, it was clear that my genius had paid off, and that my daughter’s skill mastery of potty training was here to stay. But, another problem was looming.

How do we stop the rewards?!

Surely, I’d created two monsters. Obviously, they’d go off to college thinking they deserved a godforsaken jelly belly after every empty colon produced. Clearly, I had failed as a parent. I had gone in without an exit strategy! Rookie mistake! Sorry, future roommates and partners.

But wait!

We had a finite number of jelly beans! Of course! Again, the answer had been staring me in the face as I stood at the sink, doing endless freaking dishes day in and day out. The jelly beans would, one day, just run out. There would be no more.

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The Last Jelly Bean

This problem solved itself, ladies and gentlemen. I made the announcement, and they accepted the news in stride. The countdown to the End of the Jelly Beans became somewhat of a thing, from then on. It was to be an exciting milestone for all involved.

So. I’m sure you know what recently happened. My baby girl produced so much poop so many times and ate her way through that jar. She no longer needs the jar. She no longer asks for the beans. The circle of life was complete in that the beans became the poop for which the reward was the beans. I propose that the chicken-or-the-egg phrase be officially replaced.

So thank you, Jelly Bean Jar. You served your purpose not only in looking cute at my wedding, and on my window sill, but you also saved me having to do a whole lot of laundry.

Now, let’s raise a glass to the Jelly Bean Jar. Here’s to stale candy doing what I could not- getting a stubborn little girl to do something that shouldn’t require rewarding in the first place.

Period. Full Stop.

I’m here to tell everyone – all parents really – that you have permission to set boundaries for yourself and your kids in reaction to everyone, anyone, for any reason and at any time. Period. Full stop.

And unless you’re being abusive to your kids, then nobody gets to tell you that your boundaries aren’t valid. Like, ever. I mean, they can try, but they will fail.

Because guess what?

BEING THE PARENT MEANS YOU GET TO DECIDE WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR KID.

Not a stranger on the street. Not a neighbor or a friend. Not your cousin or sibling or parent or the babysitter. None of them are the parent or legal guardian, so it simply ain’t their job.

This is such a simple concept that it blows my mind when people don’t understand it.

And then, because I’m a therapist, I take a step back and try really, really hard to understand why someone may not understand such a simple boundary of how the world works. From my experience, people who either don’t understand boundaries or perceive them as unkind are people who did not grow up with firm boundaries and/or were not taught how to set healthy ones.

To be specific, boundaries are some form of communication or action that communicate a limit or expectation for how that person wants to be treated. Boundaries have two parts: the first part described above, and then the second part is the consequence – what the boundary-setter plans to do if that expectation is not met.

(I just wrote the above off the cuff, but I’d like to add the Wikipedia definition I just looked up because it’s much more succinct: “Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.“)

Imagine someone grew up without these. Imagine that person could do whatever they wanted growing up and had no consequences. For a kid, that sounds like a pretty scary, lonely, and unsafe place to be. Not being taught how to act with respect and integrity must land a person in some confusing and frustrating situations growing up. A common reaction is to blame everyone else for these problems, because the alternative is often too painful to entertain.

Now imagine that that same person has grown up and is being told how to act or what to do by another person, and is being given consequences to boot. Especially if this new boundary-setter is not perceived to be an authority figure, the reaction probably wouldn’t be positive.

There’s often backlash, or an attempt at manipulation, or accusations that the boundary-setter is being mean and controlling, or simply ignoring the boundaries and blowing right through them.

[Side note: my above growing-up-without-boundaries scenario was the kindest, most benefit-of-the-doubt explanation I could think of. Worst case scenario when a person blows through your boundaries is that they are being abusive. The simplest red flag for abuse is when the perpetrator does not hear you say ‘no.’ When a person ignores your ‘no,’ it means they are trying to control you or the situation. And gaining power and control over another person is what abuse is all about.]

Even though I get it on a conceptual level, these people are so fucking hard to deal with.

How do you explain to someone that boundaries aren’t mean?

And yup, they are about control, because I have control over myself and my life and my kids – AND YOU DON’T.

It’s one thing having to set a boundary one time with someone who is a reasonable human being: “Oh crap, you don’t like when I do that? I’m so sorry, I won’t do it again.” Best case scenario, right? Because it’s quite another thing to have to set the same boundary with someone who is boundaryless again and again and fucking over again.

Setting boundaries, like raising children, is exhausting. It’s having to stay firm and respectful and consistent in following through with consequences. Again and again and again until forever. It’s teaching little people how to behave in the world and it’s teaching big people how you, as an adult, wish to be treated (or how you wish your children be treated).

And when I’m setting boundaries on behalf of my kids – that’s where the stakes are high. My bitch mama bear comes out and I take no prisoners. No, dude on the street, my kid does not have to smile for you. No, lady at the park, you cannot touch my baby without asking me first.

My kids are depending on me to protect them until they can protect themselves. And they are learning from my example. They learn bodily autonomy and the value of consent when I say, Do you want to give _____ a hug? Because you don’t have to if you don’t want to. And if someone gets mad about not getting a hug, then that is their problem (and also a huge red flag!). Not mine, and sure as hell not my kid’s.

I’m setting the boundaries for them now so that they can do the same for themselves (and their kids) in the future. Because I don’t want my kids to grow up without boundaries. It’s dangerous and scary!

And for those adults who might recognize that they have negative reactions to boundaries being set – instead of writing off the boundary-setter as mean, you might want to take a look at exactly what is being asked of you. Is it truly unkind, or are you just not used to hearing “no”?

At the risk of rage-filled rambling on forever, I will wrap this up. While this may read as a tutorial for an audience, it’s actually directed at myself. It’s my way of reminding myself that I’m doing right by myself and my kids; no amount of negative and manipulative reactions to my boundaries will steer me off course because they [the reactions] aren’t mine to carry, deal with, or worry about. Period. Full stop.

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Do any of you out there have trouble setting boundaries with boundaryless people?

What are your coping strategies?

 

 

 

 

 

2020: There will be multiple abs

Happy New Year, y’alls!

I felt the urge to mark this milestone, the passage of time by writing. An attempt to reflect a little more deliberately.

It’s the end of another year, and I felt like this year was on the upswing, which is saying a lot. I’ve had a very tumultuous several years lately. My daughter just turned frickin THREE, started preschool, and folks, we’re finally out of the tiny human slash baby phase, and oh man, it feels so good. We’re getting rid of diapers and some strollers and the high chair and baby toys…and making room for Frozen dolls, Legos, big feelings, and books.

Speaking of books, my oldest turned FIVE and he’s starting to effing r-e-a-d. The other day, I spelled s-n-a-c-k-s to my husband in front of the kids and my son PUT THE LETTERS TOGETHER AND SAID THE WORD. I’ve never been so simultaneously proud and horrified. I’m now going to have to learn French (or work on my Dutch, ja?) because my kids already know too much sign language and Spanish (seriously). Also, my son’s entry into kindergarten sparked this huge turnaround in terms of his behavior and maturity level. Finally, he’s not melting down during every little transition. And finally, he’s decided to EAT FOOD TO LIVE (not every day, but it’s progress!)

Because both my kids are in school now, this fall I got 6 glorious hours a week to myself. I joined a gym, and you guys, I am the proud owner of an ab. It’s real and it’s spectacular.

It’s been a big year and we’ve all gotten some breathing room; it’s been a life-saver. Right now I’m in the middle of winter break where both kids are home with me full time again and I seriously can’t remember how or why I got through having them in my hair and watching me poop and screaming in the house every. single. frickin. day.

I can feel the days, weeks, months getting more crammed and hectic as the kids get older and more active. As I continue to try and keep a lid on that, I’ve been enjoying having more intelligent interactions with them and watching them turn into little humans. Dare I say it, parenting has gotten easier, for the moment. I plan to enjoy it as much as I can, for as long as I can.

As for me, well…eventually the plan is to go back to work, hopefully part time. I’m dying to do therapy again. But, as soon as I start thinking about all the logistics, I feel incredibly overwhelmed. First, I have to reinstate my license which means spending lots of time and money getting my continuing education credits. That also means finding and paying for childcare while I do that. Then comes the job search, cover letters, interviews (all of which I loathe with the fire of a thousand suns). Any job would have to feel worth it (a privilege I recognize that I have). It’d have to pay enough and be close enough to home. It would either have to be super flexible OR I’d have to magically find childcare to pick up my kids and then there’s early release days and teacher work days and breaks and holy crap. Without family here, or a professional network, all this put together sounds like Mount Everest.

I know, I know, one step at a time. And I’ll do that. At some point.

As for now, I’m enjoying the small bits of time I’ve gotten to do what makes me happy. In the past year, I took two painting classes! And one was a bucket lister because I got to work with oils for the first time – LOVED it. I Marie Kondoed my entire house this year, more or less. It’s a work in progress, as I love to shop for just the right storage containers. We took our first major family road trip! I completed NaBloPoMo for the second time ever. I became secretary on the board of my local MOMS Club chapter. I was able to volunteer in both my kids’ classes. I made it to my first Women’s March (hopefully there won’t be a need for too many more of those). I saw NKOTB, and, more importantly, THE BACKSTREET BOYS! Dear lord that was fun! I ran my second 5k ever, through downtown Portland where we got to stop for donuts and beer mid-run. It was all about moderation, my friends. We went tent camping and went to an airshow, both of which were much better experiences (read: no kid breakdowns) than the first time we attempted them. I’ve also read 21 and a half books this year, whereas in previous recent years, I’ve only gotten to read about one a month.

Also this year, I am happy to report that anxiety was way down, and I got considerably more sleep and exercise. I can’t emphasize enough how amazing this part has felt.

WHAT A GREAT YEAR!

I’m so glad I took the time to actually list all that, because that does feel like a full life, doesn’t it? I’m grateful.

I’m confident that 2020 will be even better.

There will be multiple abs, just you wait and see.

 

The Last Day

You guys, this is the last day.

I did it!

I’m actually genuinely super impressed with myself, because almost every single day this month I was able to generate original content, and some of it was actually kind maybe good-ish.

And, the fact that I was actually able to write about my daily life without too much trouble, means – wait for it – that I actually have a life! Actually!

Before, when I had tiny babies and was largely housebound and unable to string words together to make coherent thoughts, let alone get pants on my ass, I didn’t feel like I had much to say. It was the same shit, different day. Literally. At least now, my kids are growing and changing rapidly and I’m running to catch up and I have some time to myself to collect my thoughts. We’re also able to go to better and more interesting places, have more lively conversations.

In short, life is getting more interesting. And I’m thankful.

I hope, for those of you who stopped to read this thing, that you enjoyed it. I hope it was amusing at the very least, and at the most I hope it made you laugh, made you think, and made you get to know me better and want to be my very best friend. I like warm hugs.

Also, THANK YOU. If I didn’t care about anyone reading my stuff, I’d write in a private diary. So thanks for stopping by; I really appreciate it.

Now I am off to decorate my house for Christmas and then redo everything my kids try to decorate. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. Stay warm. Stay sassy.

Stay psycho.

 


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Frozen Terror

Aaaand now I have two sick kids in the house. Ugh.

To put a funky spin on things, because normal illness isn’t fun enough, my oldest woke up last night in a sweaty, fever-induced screaming night terror. Well, technically he didn’t wake up, but my husband and I did. Thank goodness my other sick kid slept through it all. Oh, and it made the cat nervous in the service as well. Don’t get me started on how weird our cat is.

Most things about parenthood make you feel powerless, but this one pretty much takes the cake. And dear baby jesus, they are aptly named.

Took me a long time to calm down and get back to sleep after that.

The funniest part? My son was screaming lines from Frozen, which would have sounded way creepier had I not immediately known the reference.

Creepy because the line was, “HE HAS NO BONES!!”

I guess Frozen-inspired nightmares run in the family?

Maybe we need to lay off the Disney raves for a while.


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Some People Are Worth Melting For

Lately, I’ve been introducing my kids to more Disney movies with increasing intention.

I loved Disney movies as a kid – heck, I still love them – and I can’t wait to instill that love and share that love of magic with my kids.

Before now, we’ve seen a smattering of random Disney flicks, but last weekend I borrowed Frozen so that my kids would be in the know once the hysteria for the sequel hits young kids’ cerebral cortexes (cortesies? cortesi?) as of today.

I first saw this movie when it was new, which was before I had kids. What I particularly love about the story is the emphasis on family/sibling/sisterly love over romantic love. Not that you often have to choose in dire situations where you’re going to turn to ice forever – because everyone gets to have both – but you know. So it’s fitting that my kids are seeing this for the first time together, and that I get a front row seat.

We probably won’t be seeing Frozen II: Even More Ass Cold until it comes out on DVD because I’m still not positive my kids can sit through the entire thing in the theater (So no spoilers, please! I still don’t know who Olaf’s biological father is!). Along those lines, there’s a part of me that ABSOLUTELY CANNOT WAIT until we can get our butts to Disneyland but there’s noooooo way on this green earth I’m doing that until my kids are old enough to stand in line and be tired and hot and not completely fall apart.

Until that time…we have the movies, and the family sing-a-longs. And today, we met Anna and Elsa at a local mall.

And then we came home and did Frozen-themed Cosmic Kids Yoga, WHICH IS THE BEST THING EVER, btw.

When we were eating dinner, my son blurted out that the Anna and Elsa we met today weren’t real.

Was that because they weren’t like the cartoons in the movie? My husband asked.

My son shook his head yes.

But I went up and whispered to my son that they may not have been the same as in the movie, but they still had the same magic.

They had magic?! He looked at me like I was nuts.

Sure they did. The magic of the movies and the stories and songs and love and how cool it is to be a kid…or still feel like a kid. That Disney magic lives in all of us, if we just believe.

I hope he believes for a good long while.

 


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Did you know that boys can wear pink if they want to?

We were having dinner the other day as a family. My kids were talking about what they were gonna do when they grew up.

My son said, “When I’m a daddy, I’m going to go to work!”

My daughter chimed in, “YEAH! When I’m a daddy TOO, I’m gonna work!”

My son corrected, “NO! You can only be a mommy, cuz you’re a GIRL! And mommies stay home, they don’t go to work!”

My stomach gave a lurch.

I interrupted them – both my husband and I did – and we together explained that some daddies stay home and some mommies go to work. And that me, this Mommy, used to work, and that someday soon, I will again. And that we know mommies who work!

I totally understand that kids his age are very concrete, very black/white, right/wrong, what have you. They need to categorize in order to understand the world, and all those shades of gray can be confusing. Girls do this, boys do that! Easy-peasy. Plus, my kids have never seen me work. Why would they think any differently? To them, whatever our family does is familiar, natural, expected, normal.

I’m just very quick to point out that gender stereotypes don’t have to be followed if we don’t want to. I don’t want my kids feeling like they have to be put in a box, act a certain way, be a certain way, in order to be liked, accepted…whole.

One time, I took my son to get some rain boots. I was going to pick them out myself, but I figured I’d let him choose because then he’d be more likely to actually wear them. I was going to pick out some dark-colored ones from the “boy” section, but when I led him to the kid rain boot aisle, I made sure to motion to ALL the rain boots, the “boy” ones and “girl” ones. He looked at some pink ones, put them down and then mumbled that oh, those are girl ones.

How do you know that? I asked

Because they’re pink. He replied

Did you know that boys can wear pink if they want to?

(Pause.)

And you can choose whatever color you’d like.

Okay.

He still chose some “boy” ones, and that’s fine (they were freaking awesome, actually. they were green alligators with fucking sunglasses on, that’s how cool they were). I just want him to know that 1) there actually are boys who choose pink and mommies who choose to work, that there are many shades of gray and they are all okay, 2) he has the choice, for real, it’s not just lip service, and lastly, 3) he has my support whatever his choice.

I just hope that, if I say it enough, my kids will hear and understand. But it’s so hard when they’re mostly seeing family and friends and a world that strongly encourages and rewards adherence to gender norms. Because if they can’t see it, they can’t be it.

Hopefully I can help them see it.


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For the first time

My little girl

letting me braid her hair for the first time

had to do it on the sly

while she watched Frozen for the first time

so full of questions

who is that? why was he mean?

told her she’d look just like Elsa

with her beautiful braid.


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