Bumpy roads

Yesterday we started out our day at home, like usual, but things didn’t go as planned. Against my better judgement, my teen had been out late three nights in a row, which meant he was exhausted. This led to an atypical morning and I accepted that he likely wouldn’t be getting any school work done before we had to run off to play practice at 11:30. When the time came to leave, I’d finished my first grader’s work but not yet main lesson for my fourth grader. I saw it was a gorgeous sunny day, so we packed up our things and took to the park.

We are in the middle of a Norse mythology block. Yesterday we discussed Loki’s story and painted from it.

This morning I managed to quietly get out of bed before the toddler and had the house to myself while I did a quick tabata. I took the trash out to the curb and got to see the full moon and the sunrise.

When I woke at 4 am this morning, I woke with a sudden word in my head: control. This is the problem for my teen. He feels like I’m trying to control him. We’ve been having huge struggles with him lately. I mean, to keep it in context, I know it isn’t that bad. He still wakes up every morning and comes to me for a hug; he’s not drinking or doing drugs; he’s not sneaking out at night, etc. But we’ve been having big struggles with finding balance between freedom and responsibility. He’s such a different person that I am, that I find it leads me to loose my patience with him and fall into old habits of exerting control, which in turn just make him buck more wildly.

So, back to this word that came to me. I realized suddenly that I need to stop trying to exert my force on him, because when he feels like he isn’t in control of his own life, it just makes things worse.

Parenting pushes and stretches me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I know people think I have it all together but I mess up so often. I suppose that’s all we can do. Mess up, dust off, make amends and go forward.

Enduring

Sometimes the path is hard. It feels hard to put one foot in front of the other. The bushes along the path scratch up your arms and legs. You stumble and trip on the rocks on the path. You fall down and cry. You sit in the middle of the path, sobbing.

You also know that you must go on. You know that the path won’t always be so difficult and you must put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward, even if you don’t progress for a while because you keep backtracking to see what exactly led you to this hard path. In the end, you’ll get there.

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My planning is done. Everything is tidy. Our first day of school begins today. Grades 1, 4, and 10.

Last night was very hard. Parenting teenagers is not for the faint of heart. My first reaction is to cancel today and feel angry and sad about my plans being derailed. But I know my other children would be so upset to not begin, they are so looking forward to today. And I don’t want to wear the martyr hat. So, I remember I’m the captain of the boat and I put one foot in front of the other and navigate into unknown territory. I let go of expectations and just jump in and see where it goes.

I’m sure tonight I’ll post plenty of pretty pictures that will make some out there feel less-than or jealous that I have it all together. This is why I’m sharing this blog post. I think sharing our struggles, the truth behind the pretty pictures, is a gift to others. We are all human. We all have our struggles and fall down on our face sometimes. It’s easy to pretend it’s all roses with the internet. But the truth is: life is hard sometimes. Parenting is hard sometimes. Mothering can sometimes makes you feel like your heart has been ripped out. We must endure and push forward. Feel it all, give ourselves a hug and keep putting our feet down for the next step. That’s all there is to do.

A time of reflection

I haven’t blogged in nearly two months. It has been a time of adjustment and reflection. There have been some bumpy days (weeks?) and I’ve had to do lots of inner work and refining my own habits to find a sweet spot again. I’m getting there.

I’ve joked half seriously that I should start a blog called ‘Things My Kids Tell Me’. Not with the purpose of complaining or making jokes, but so that other moms out there don’t feel alone in their struggles. It can feel so isolating and depressing to think to yourself that the (unkind) things your child says couldn’t possibly be said by other kids, because no one you know has ever shared such things. I mean, we don’t really talk about it. Social media is full of the edited happy moments and lots of happy faces. But that’s not real life. And no matter how amazing you are as a mother, it is no insurance against your child saying hurtful things to you. Because what comes out of their mouth is a reflection about what is going on within them. I’ve found again and again how powerful it is to speak up and share with friends what happens within my house. It is sure scary to be vulnerable in that way, but I’ve found again and again that it not only is healing and helpful for me to share but that other mothers then feel less alone. Mothers then open up to me about the things that go on in their homes and how they’ve struggled. Our culture doesn’t do vulnerability very well. So, it takes intention and practice.

In our house, we’ve been in the thick of the 9 year change. I think we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but that light is still a far way off yet, truth be told. I’m remembering how absolutely vital the inner work piece is and how making time for mediation and mindfulness and fun are is not optional. It is necessity. I’m reminded again and again that the only thing I can be in control of is how I react. So, I’m in charge of me, and that’s my main job as a parent.

I have taken some photos here and there of our homeschooling and life. Things are moving along nicely and we are settling into a workable rhythm. Lots of grace is given, daily. Grace, flexibility and self-compassion. Those are my tools lately.

Stumble and trip

I’ve decided to share some of my personal struggles in the hopes of helping some other mothers out there. We all have our own journeys ahead and behind us and they are all unique. But I have come to know of the power of sharing those journeys with one another.

A few years back, when my third child was a baby (she’ll be 6 this summer), i was struggling in a very real way as a parent. I felt unhappy and resentful and STUCK along with a big dose of martyrdom.

I had recently become a full time stay at home mom and underestimated how difficult that could be. My sense of worth was gone, having been raised in this culture that tells us that we are our occupations and paychecks; I was with my kids pretty much 24/7; I felt my lack of social network strongly now that I no longer saw people through my work; and my ‘job’ of homemaking seemed endless (it is) and unappreciated (it isn’t).

My oldest son was 9, and in the thick of the 9 year change, and were we struggling! I didn’t know how I’d make it through it with him.

I was yelling daily. I was hiding in my room to cry in despair, regularly.

And I felt like the worst mother.

For me, this was a downward spiral. I felt like a horrible parent, and then that feeling would translate into me being even more mean as I felt so horrible about myself. I’d have a day here and there where the weight lifted, but then I was thrown right back into it. I’d often cry in bed at night from the guilt of the things I’d said to my children (mostly, to my oldest), and from the knowledge that I wasn’t being the mother I wanted for my children.

I felt so isolated because who could I talk to about this and not feel fear of being judged? My poor husband couldn’t help me much. He would just tell me that I good mother and to not be so hard on myself. I was certain that none of my mama friends ever felt the way I was feeling. (By the way, this isn’t true!) And I didn’t even know anymore who friends were. Most of my contact with them was through social media and just left me feeling more alone.

Looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was that turned things around for me. Likely because it was a combination of many changes that helped.

Here is my best recollection of what helped me.

  • Finding Waldorf

This will be a whole blog post of its own, so I won’t tell the whole story of how I found Waldorf education and philosophy here. But this was the first step. This helped lay the foundation of me learning how to run a busy household (which i had no idea how to do even though I’d been a parent for 9 years at that point) and enjoy it, how to enjoy homeschooling again, how to begin getting back in touch with my spirituality, how to enjoy parenting again. Waldorf (specifically Waldorf Essentials/Melisa Nielsen) was a game changer and felt like coming home.

  • Leaving social media

This was a hard one for me. And I was scared to do it because I thought my time on Facebook was my “social” time, since I was a stay at home mom. But after finding the 99 Days of Freedom challenge, I was inspired to just do it. It was life changing. After I got over the hump of the hard work of breaking my addiction, I felt like I had time to breath again. I ended up staying off Facebook for over a year. It was fantastic and life affirming. I read books again, did a ton of crafting and in general, I found so much free time that I didn’t know I had! I did eventually go back because of the usefulness of the groups, but my long break changed the way I view and use Facebook. I see it now as an anti-social time. It is a tool that can be quite handy but i essentially unfollowed all my ‘friends’ and 90% of my time is in groups that are beneficial to my life (local homeschool groups, babywearing groups, Waldorf homeschool support group). Leaving Facebook made me a better mother, for sure. I no longer spent time reading about what other people were doing, feeling inadequate in my own head, a feeling that would often linger long after logging out . Instead, i was fully present with my children and began to remember what it felt like to just BE.

  • Meditation/Mindfulness

Specifically, i found the Mommy Meltdown Cure created by the amazing Sigrid Kjeldsen aka The Joyful Mother. I was lucky enough to be in a small mindfulness coaching group that she led for a year or more, and it was incredible. Life changing! Words don’t suffice to share what it brought to me. Peace. Love. All of that good stuff. She’s now gone on to greater projects, creating a community called Motherhood Rising. She is amazing and I highly recommend her.

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I’ve come a long way in 5 years. But I still trip and stumble. I still fall flat on my face, even. Like a few days ago. But I know how it get myself up when that happens and forgive myself and have self-compassion, apologize to my kids, and remember all we have is NOW.

One of my favorite poems, by Mary Oliver, it brings me right back to the present and grounds me when I read it.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees,  the mountain and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

Inspiration

The last couple of weeks have been challenging, in my own little world and in our shared big world. I’m not going to go into the details right now, but I feel called to share some of what inspires me at the moment.

#1 The three humans who are walking and running across multiple state lines to get to the Democratic National Convention at the end of the month. Seriously, these guys are an inspiration to me daily right now.  Here is screenshots of some of their FB posts.

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Wow.

ok, #2 John Lennon

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I think about him nearly daily lately. And his two songs, Love is Real and A Working Class Hero, run through my head frequently.

#3 Love.

I know this is broad, but just remembering that the definition of a miracle, according to A Course in Miracles, is chosing love over fear. That is a miracle. I’ve been thinking of this almost constantly, as I wade through the deep waters of parenting, and watch what is going on around the world and in our country. I saw this quote today by one of my favorite people/authors, Kyle Gray, and wanted to scream, I loved it so much.

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Yes.

I’m so grateful for the inspiration that surrounds me when I just open up my eyes and pay attention.

In the words of my favorite contemporary poet Mary Oliver,

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Growing

This week has been full of ups and downs. I took the kids camping alone with some homeschooling friends. It was their first time really camping. Between being on-call for births for 9 years and then being pregnant and having a small baby/toddler, camping just never happened for our family. But, the kids loved it and we’ll be going again very soon. I’m taking them camping for four nights to fiddle camp in a few weeks, and then we’ll be taking a family camping trip in August sometime. (We need a pet sitter, though, so if you are local to me and know someone , let me know!)

The camping was good.

It was the recovery that was hard. Of course, we had the usual mess to put away, laundry to clean, and sleep to catch up on, but it was the meltdowns that were trying. I assumed that my oldest, I., would not have any issues once we got home since he seemed just fine during our trip. How wrong I was…

It may have been the break in his usual rhythm, or the lack of sleep, or something else. I don’t know. Within about an hour of being home, he totally lost it at his brother and then spent the rest of the evening angry at everything and lashing out at everyone.

I spent a good part of the night crying. I know my own thoughts are what cause me the most anguish. Thinking about how he’s 12, and we are still dealing with his lack of control of his words; worrying that it’ll never get better; feeling like I can’t take him anywhere since the meltdown just isn’t worth it; even wondering in what ways have I screwed up so that my 12 year old can’t handle life.

But. But, I have to lift my head out of the vat of those kinds of thoughts. It took a while, though.

When I went to say goodnight and talk about everything, he said something that triggered me all over again. I went to sleep devastated to have heard him say that he can’t change, that this is just how he is.

Thankfully, when I woke the next morning, my head was clearer and I realized something important. He said that because he doesn’t believe he can change, not because he doesn’t want to change. Such a simple shift in how I saw his statement, but it really helped me to have perspective.

Perspective to realize that my job is to hold the space for him, and never waiver from affirming to him that he can change and it will happen. When I told him later that morning that I know he can change, he sadly said, “You think so?”

I know I have to believe in him enough to not give up on him.

This is hard at times. I have three children whom I love desperately. When one is attacking another, even with words, it takes every bit of commitment and effort from me to not lose it at the offender. Because, he’s also still my baby. I can remember holding him when he was seconds old. The desire to protect the other children is so strong, though. And I must protect them. But not at the expense of the offending child. Because I know all too well that when he’s acting like that, it’s because he feels bad inside, and the meaner he is to his siblings, the worse about himself he feels. The last thing he needs is me to tell him (or convey to him without saying it directly) is that he is bad. That is throwing gasoline on a fire.

I don’t always succeed. I’m human. I have my moments, or days, even, when I miss the mark. But this is where self-compassion comes in. And forgiveness. Forgiveness for myself and towards him. That’s where I’m at today. Remembering that in the end, all there is is love and I can return to a place of love anytime. Letting go of thoughts of the past (what he’s done) or worries of the future (what if he never changes?) is the most loving thing I can do.

Be here now. That’s all.

Random Thoughts Saturday

-Incredible thunderstorms today. This kind of weather makes me feel charged. My chickens thought the world was ending, however.

-I haven’t had kid-free time in weeks. And when my husband took them out today for an hour, I felt this panic, like I must enjoy each second as the clock ticks away. I dream of having 5 or 6 hours free. Once my youngest is a few years older, I am going to have to take myself on a once a year weekend retreat…ALONE. No talking. No urgency of things to do. Just silence.

PSA: using styrofoam as mulch isn’t a good idea. Someone did this at our house who knows how many years ago, and I’m constantly battling styrofoam. And of course, the chickens are obsessed with it. I think I got practically all of it finally out yesterday. It only took 2 hours of digging (and I’ve spent hours working on it in the last few months).

-After spending the afternoon digging up sheets of styrofoam, I then found myself driving a baby crow out to a wildlife animal rescue center. I didn’t find the bird myself, someone else did and it was brought to me. That center rocks, they are amazing. That is my third time I’ve has to give them an animal, all birds.

-Some days, I feel like I’m balancing on the boundary of  sanity and losing it with the incessant talking that happens in my house. My children are incredible and smart and have so many wonderful things to say and ask such interesting questions, but there is a breaking point of how much talking one person (okay, maybe just ME) can handle. Wow! I know others can relate.

-This week, we re-homed two of our chickens. They went to I.’s farm/outdoor school and I know they’ll be happy there. Our yard feels so much emptier without them, but I know it’s for the best. Nine chickens were too much for our yard, it couldn’t handle the damage of nine. I think seven will be just perfect.

-Does anyone else feel like we are in a Twilight zone episode? Things are so strange and crazy and nothing seems surprising anymore, politically.

-I turned 35 this year and I’m blown away by the things I’m still learning about myself. I mean, you figure you know yourself pretty well by the time you are 25 or 30, right? At least I did. But, this year especially, I am realizing that I’m just now starting to get to know myself and my place in this world around me. That’s likely a lifetime revelation. I feel simulatanously overwhelmed and excited by what lies before me. So much unknowns that haven’t been written yet.

Giving myself a hug

A dear friend brought the teachings of self-compassion to me last year. She introduced me to the work of Dr. Kristin Neff. If you haven’t heard of her before, check out her TED talk. She also has a book, but it was a bit too scholarly for me. Instead, the book on the topic that really spoke to me was by Dr. Christopher Germer. So good.

Self-compassion is what I turn to when I have a child screaming in my face. It is what wraps its arms around me when I lay myself to sleep at 8:45 because I just need the day to be over and am thoroughly exhausted with interacting with a child who has held onto his seething anger at me for over 5 hours.

Sometimes I first fall into self pity, but that is a pit that only makes me feel worse and leads to seeing myself as a martyr. Not a path that leads to much peace and love.

So, I’m so grateful that I’ve learned self-compassion. It is so simple and seems so obvious but it is so far removed from our modern culture.

What does self-compassion look like for me? Talking to myself the way I’d talk to a good friend in my shoes. Sometimes literally giving myself a hug. Having empathy and compassion for myself when I’m in really stressful and challenging situations.

This morning, I’m also thinking about self-appreciation. Kristin Neff has this great article on her website on the topic. Gosh, I needed to read this. Today. This morning at 6am as I am preparing for my day. Focusing on my faults go hand in hand with feeling like a martyr. When my child acts in a way that I can’t understand, shows zero gratitude, and is lashing out at all of us, my mind’s default is to start highlighting all the mistakes I’ve made and all the ways I am not doing a good job as a parent.  Crazy, isn’t it? When I stop reacting to what is happening around me, I can acknowledge that I know that my child is a child. He’s still emotionally immature. His behavior is not a reflection of me. His lack of gratitude for all I do for him isn’t personal and it doesn’t have to be a blow to me. His behavior and attitude is a reflection of his immaturity and the fact that he’s a child!

So, this morning, I’m reflecting on appreciating myself. I don’t need to wait for others to appreciate me, including my child or my husband. As Neff writes in the article,

William James, one of the founding fathers of Western psychology, once wrote that “the deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Luckily, we can meet this essential need without depending on other people to approve of us. When we treat ourselves with the same kindness with which we treat our good friends, we’ll have the support and care required to help us thrive.

I close with this quote from Dr. Robert Holden. I must remind myself of this daily. How often do we believe it is external circumstances that dictate our happiness? I do, all too often. But happiness is a choice. And it is a choice I want to make.

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Pausing

THE FOURTH SIGN OF THE ZODIAC (PART 3)

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

So why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

-Mary Oliver

My body decided to take things into its own hands. I went to bed last night, telling my husband how desperately I need sleep and a break. I woke up this morning sick. I haven’t been really sick in four years.

This past week has been the most challenging physically and emotionally that I can remember in ever. Caring for children, 24/7, with constant sleep interruptions, has just been too much for my physical body. So, I have been forced to literally lay in bed all day, with a fever and aching head.

I wish I had a tribe. I’ve never been very good at creating that. I’m too much of an introvert, perhaps. I wish I had someone to watch my kids so I can sleep. But, I’m thankful for Sparkle Stories and Little Bear. They did afford me a little rest.

Ive been offline all day, but I just hopped on as I’m feeling slightly better and can sit up now. I saw the poem above by Mary Oliver and the tears just flowed when I read it. Today has been a crying day. Lots and lots of sobbing. I think I’ve been holding all the stress in for this past week. It’s been coming out today. Like a detox, this sickness is.

Love is all that is real. It is all that endures. Even this ick feeling is transitory. The only thing that is real is that which never changes.

This morning I found myself big time resisting. Angry that I was sick, annoyed at my body and so frustrated that I could do nothing for my children. After a few hours, I caught myself. And the book The Surrender Experiment came to mind. Saying yes to what is. Saying yes to what comes to me. So, once I surrendered, I actually felt less pain, though I’m still sick.

Letting go of the oars and letting the river of life sweep me along. I’ll be feeling better, in time.

Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.

How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?

-Mary Oliver

Some days

This journey of parenting and homeschooling and being home with our kids full time is awesome. And yet, some days, it brings me to my knees and makes me question everything. That was my day today. So much crying, screaming, fighting, and other big feelings, it almost knocks the wind out of me. I saw this today and thought, YES! This is only sane way for me to move forward though days like this.

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A child screaming that they hate me?  Accept it, as it is what is happening. (Doesn’t mean that I like it, of course). A child crying LOUDLY for 30 minutes in my arms because she wanted to stay longer at the park?  Accept it, as it is what is happening. Embracing the moment actually does help me to move through these hard moments and not give in to my desire to go hide in my shell, in the quiet (if only I was a turtle).

I went through a dark period a few years ago where days like this would have me in the depths of hopelessness and overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, and it would linger for days or weeks. I’m very grateful to have navigated my way beyond that trap of my thoughts and into a new reality. We still have these sorts of days, and I still have dismal thoughts pop in my head while we are in the midst of them.  But my spiritual practice is my lifeboat now. Meditation and prayer, self-empathy, and embracing what is (letting go of resisting), remembering we are all whole and perfect (imperfectly perfect, that is) including my raging child, and that my thoughts about what is happening around me is the source of my suffering.

So much gratitude for sleep each night and a brand new day each morning!