Thursday, September 08, 2016

A Full Scale Come Apart

I don't know if you are familiar with the phrase "having a full scale come apart", but it is great, so descriptive.  I heard it somewhere months ago, maybe a southern author because it has a very southern feel.  Anywho, it is like a melt down but worse.  See, a melt down implies a constant slow fade into nothingness - think of a candle melting down.  A come apart is that same thing but it is happening with force and velocity - think spontaneous combustion.  Well, I had a come apart two Sundays ago.  It took me awhile to write about it because I have really been processing the whole thing.  What sparked it?  Why was it so destructive?  What do I do about it?

It was a lovely Sunday morning and I was in high spirits.  We has gotten together with the neighbors the night before, the men sat on the neighbor's porch and the ladies sat on our porch.  I felt like I had genuinely made friends; like, I really dig these ladies.  I am still probably going to be on my best behavior for awhile (you know, no crying jags) lest they decide I am too much, but I felt good about the whole thing.  We were getting ready to try a new church, we were actually leaving on time, it was all good.  Until it wasn't.

We walked in to this church and it was a large church just like our old church.  It seemed like your standard modern church building but I swear to you everywhere I looked the women looked like Stepford Wives.  I am not 100% sure there were any men there at all, I only saw the sea of perfect women.  Everyone looked fancy, like they were going to the Kentucky Derby but without hats.  I swear I checked the website and it said "dress code - come as you are." It said nothing about we like to do it up around here.  Y'all, I am not even kidding when I tell you I felt invisible.  When I left the house I felt cute and hopeful and full of potential.  Suddenly I felt like none of those things.

I realized I was totally judging all these books by their fancy covers, maybe they were Goodwill books just like me.  I talked myself off the ledge.  For a hot second.  Then I got lost trying to drop my kids off in Sunday school.  I felt the tears coming but I couldn't stop them.  I started whimpering to Jeff that I just wanted to go home, I didn't belong here.  Really?  It is church, EVERYONE belongs there.  So what on earth was the matter with me?

I sat through the service that was a prompt one hour, though it felt like seven.  When we picked the kids up, the first thing out of both of their mouths was, "We love it here!" Of course you do.  You couldn't love the church from last week that I loved.  You know, the one where everyone was wearing jeans and looked like they were hanging on by a thread just like me.  Here came the tears again.  And then it happened - the come apart.

It was like an explosion.  I was sad and angry and certain I was going crazy.  I yelled then I sulked.  I tried to pull it together but I just couldn't.  Could. Not.  Then I slept.  I think I had exhausted myself with the shear intensity and volume of my emotions.

That was a long awkward day at Casa Mochal.  Monday came and I tried to get back in to a groove but I was still just slightly numb.  Then Jeff said he thought we made a mistake coming here and that the kids and I should move back while he finished out his contractual year and we would try to find something in Chicago.  What!?!?  I really thought that was all I wanted but when I was given the option that was the last thing I wanted.  I do think we were supposed to come here.  I do think God has something for us to do here.  I don't want to go back because it will never be the same.   Suddenly I was panicking.  It was my crazy behavior that had caused this mess.  Why couldn't I be normal like other women and just not act like a wounded bear?  that day though, I had the luxury of being able to control my emotions and a reasoned conversation ensued.  As Jeff and I talked about it, he said that he thought we would be fine eventually but that he was worried about the collateral damage until we got to fine.  Like I said before, the ride has to end, but would I survive until we could get back to the safety of the station?

So then I started thinking about what was going on inside my brain.  I looked up symptoms of every mental illness I could think of to make sure I didn't have one of those. Turns out I am just crazy, not mentally ill.  As I went about my daily life-packing lunches, making breakfast, doing laundry, I pondered my come apart.  I sat with it and rolled it around in my mind.

The days were getting brighter.  I went shopping with my neighbor and it was super fun.  Once you have been to At Home together an unbreakable bond is formed.  Even as I started feeling better and better I was thinking about my come apart.  After all that pondering, I still couldn't put my finger on what had happened to send me in to such a downward spiral.  Then while I was singing in church the next Sunday I realized what my problem was.  We were singing a song called Good Good Father and the chorus says "You're a good good father, it's who you are. And I'm loved by you, it's who I am."  That's it!  Who am I?

I have always struggled with defining myself by my external circumstances.  When I worked I would introduce myself and immediately tell you where I worked.  Work defined me.  When I started staying home I struggled with my new identity because vacuuming did not seem like nearly as cool of an identity marker as my fancy PR agency.  Then, over the years I found my purpose in volunteer work at church, in school, wherever they would have me.  That became my identity.  I was the giver.  I actually quite liked that identity - it felt the most authentic to me.  I know that I am supposed to find my identity in Christ - the daughter of the king - and on my best days I can totally find that sweet spot.  On most normal days though,  I can not quite get my tiara on straight enough to rest secure in that.  Just telling it like it is.  I work to find comfort in that but it is not innate for me, even after 13 years of following Jesus.

So there I sat, trying to figure out who I am.  I decided to be super authentic and fess up to the "real" me.

I am an uptight hippy.  I am an orderly gypsy.  I love rules but sometimes I want to break them.  I love Jesus, a lot, and I talk about that.  A lot.  I yell at my kids more than I wish I did but I also love them more than I ever imagined I would.  I love dogs - all dogs.  My husband is my rock and if the love I have in my heart could make its way to the surface and show up in my actions we would never have another issue again.  Unfortunately, some days  the love I have for ironing is what makes its way to the surface and I am not as kind as I want to be.  I have thirty pounds to lose but lately I like Mexican food and margaritas more than I like skinny jeans.  I am not fancy.  Fanciness scares me - I never feel like I am enough in the face of fanciness.  When I lived in LA I spent a lot of time feeling like I wasn't enough. That is bad for my soul, so I try to avoid it.  I love people, even fancy people - they scare me but I love them.  My heart gets filled by doing stuff for other people.  I don't like brown.  I wish I ate more vegetables.  I love to watch TV - no really, I love it.  I have a tender heart.  I talk really loud, especially after the aforementioned margarita.

You see, I want to be myself and be accepted and loved for that so badly that I can feel the sting of tears when I think about it.  I wish I didn't care what other people think, but I do.

So that is me.  I am a hot mess but I sort of feel like we all are if we are being honest.  Or maybe honest isn't the right word, maybe vulnerable is the right word.  I am a paradox on many levels and I don't claim to be the same on Tuesday as I was on Saturday.  I have some core tenets that I try to stick to but I am a work in progress.  The passing of each year changes my perspective on at least one thing.  The fluidity of it all is sometimes hard for me.  I think as I looked around that church I saw bits and pieces of myself in all those other people but I could not find anyone who was enough like me to make me feel wanted.  I somehow came to the conclusion that if no one is like me and I don't have it all together than all these other people MUST ACTUALLY HAVE IT TOGETHER.   Holy hotdog, the only thing that scares me more than fancy people is fancy people who have it all together.  I just can't!

The thing is after breaking it all down I can totally see the faulty logic.  It is like watching a magic trick in slow motion.  It is all just smoke and mirrors when you really look in to it.  I don't know a single woman in that church but I can say with absolute certainty that at least one of them does NOT have it together.  Because really, do any of us have ALL of it together?  Nope, I do not believe that we do.  I had found the source of my come apart - I was trying to be someone I wasn't and it made me cray cray.

By the way, the church that I was sitting in when I had this revelation was the exact church that had been witness to my come apart the week before.  I swear they replaced the whole congregation.  No one looked perfect and fancy and mint julepy.  They were all wearing jeans and getting their worship on just like me.  I am not sure where all those Stepford Wives went.  Perhaps all those people were simply reflecting my own identity crisis back at me.  What do you think?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grace, Gratitude and Goodwill

Our theme for this week has been grace and gratitude.  Jeff is out of town which meant I was going to have to tackle mornings on my own.  I normally love mornings.  I am a morning person, but I really like to have some quiet time in the morning before everyone else gets up.  The problem is, school starts at 7:40 which means I have to get up at 5:00 to get in any meaningful time before the rest of the gang has to get up.  It just has not happened since school started.  As it is, I am getting up at 6:00, to get them up at 6:30 with the goal of leaving at 7:20.  So mornings around here sound something like a SWAT team training exercise.  "Are you focused on your next thing?" "Today is P.E., do you have the right shoes?"  "Go, go, go - there is not time for bed making!"  Add to that two dogs that need to go out, a cat who likes to leave occasional poop presents in our bathroom and a coffee deprived mom and it is a recipe for disaster.  I knew that going into this week, so I decided we needed to head it off at the pass.  I read somewhere that it is impossible for gratitude and anxiety to exist in the same space, so I wondered if the same thing could be said of gratitude and grouchiness.  I decided to try.  My mantra was gratitude not grouchiness.  I threw the grace in there because sometimes I found myself failing at the whole gratitude thing so I had to give myself some grace.

Parking lot that for a minute, let's talk about grouchiness.  I feel like it is a great catch-all word, but slightly deceptive.  Think about Oscar the Grouch, the green guy who lives in the trash can on Sesame Street.  He can not find anything positive to say - at all, ever.  That is the portrait of my grouchiness, nothing good to say, only nastiness coming out of my mouth.  You know - complaints, criticism, griping, etc.  While Oscar may have been pretty harmless, my grouchy ways are not.  There is nothing worse than sending your kids out the door in the morning with criticism ringing in their ears.  I know this because I have done it.  It makes them feel bad it makes me feel bad and then I have six hours of stewing and berating myself before I can apologize.  Definitely not harmless.

Back to the gratitude experiment... I discovered that gratitude and grouchiness can exist in the same space (dang it!) but you have to really work at it.  Sort of like rubbing your tummy and patting your head - it can be done but it doesn't come naturally.  That was good news for us.  As we focused on gratitude we weren't griping at one another as much.  When we said, "thank you God" for what we did have, we were less likely to think about what we didn't have.  There has still been sadness and loneliness and all the other things that were there before we started our gratitude experiment, but they didn't feel quite as powerful.  In fact, some of them seemed to subside a little.

Grace and gratitude have helped us out tremendously this week.  It felt foreign and awkward at first, and honestly, I had a hard time actually feeling my thank yous initially.  As I got in a rhythm, it came more naturally.  When I didn't feel it or just couldn't be thankful, that is when the grace part came in.  When I was cursing the dumb lace up basketball shoes that cost me precious minutes to get on in the morning, I had to give myself grace.  Giving myself grace also did not come naturally for me.  It still doesn't but I am forcing the issue because it is terribly hard to be grateful when you feel like an ass.  When you give yourself grace, you can let your guilt go and make room for gratitude.

We have had some trying times this week.  Maisy disappeared for two hours and came back injured.  Sis got braces and is feeling a bit insecure.  Sam confessed that he misses AGS so much he still says the GUS pledge in his head every day after the Pledge of Allegiance.  There have been tears just like every week since we moved here, but we are making it through.  Life hasn't been as hard as I thought it was going to be this week.  I even went thrift shopping for the first time since we moved here.  I CAN NOT express gratitude for the Goodwills here.  I went to four,  they were all terrible.  I am choosing to offer the Goodwills grace instead. : )
         

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Myth of Continuous Forward Progress

I struggle with the concept of continuous forward progress.  All our lives we make progress.  You go from third grade to fourth grade, you go from being an Assistant Account Executive to being an Account Executive.  We are constantly moving forward.  It is great, except of course, when it is not.  What about when you take a step backwards? Or worse yet, when you take one step forward and two steps back?  Are you failing? Is it still progress?

This concept has been a point of contention for me on so many different occasions.  When my mom died I was a mess.  Like an unholy super sized hot mess.  I would think things were getting better than they would suddenly get worse.  I was lost.  When my dad was sick in the hospital he would seem to be getting better one day and then the next he would be really ill again.  I was so perplexed.  This was the first time I identified the myth.  I was grilling his doctor and he looked me in the eye and said, "healing doesn't happen as continuous forward progress..."  What in the world?  Why on earth not? How can you possibly measure success?  Most importantly, how do you know when you are out of the woods?

So here I am many years later and while I know that there really is no such thing as continuous forward progress, I still long for it.  I want to have a good day followed by a better day, followed by a fantastic day and then I will not have any more bad days.  Yep, that is the fairy tale I want.  The crummy thing is, I know it is a fairy tale but when it doesn't happen I struggle.

This week I felt like we had turned a corner.  The kids made friends.  I went to a PTA Meet and Greet where I met people and greeted people-winning.  My sister-in-law and niece came to visit, score, our first visitors!  You see, building blocks to my house of happiness.  Then today it crumbled.  We all cried, we were tired, we said things we didn't mean.  Sad feelings were magnified...by a thousand.  And for some reason it feels like my blocks never even existed in the first place.   Why is that?

It's funny, I was also thinking about contentedness this week - or more precisely my lack thereof and I am realizing these concepts are linked for me.  I have a hard time holding on to my happy.  This is why forward progress is so important to me.  When someone says it isn't about the destination, it is about the journey.  I nod my head and smile but I secretly think - CRAZY TALK.  I know this about myself and I recognize it as a flaw.  I am just not really sure what to do about it.

I think that is part of what this blogging journey is about.  I want to work on holding on to my happy.  I want to recognize that even when you take two steps forward and one step back you are still not at the starting point.  I have to remember that continuous forward progress is a myth but movement is movement and it means I am doing it.  I am meeting a challenge and doing the best I can and that six months from now, the days I went backwards won't be that memorable.  Instead of fleeting happiness I want to cultivate lasting joy.  Now to figure out how...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Day One


Today is the first day of school.  Not going to lie, I am probably more nervous then the kids.  Friendships are such a big deal to me.  It took me a really long time to learn how to be myself.  I spent most of my school years being who I thought I was supposed to be.  That works great except everyone has a different opinion of what that is.  Cue, schizophrenic posturing.  I really came into my own as an adult, more specifically as a wife and mom.  There are definitely elements of my school age, college and working adult personalities that are still with me but I have gotten to a place where I actually like my quirky, type-A, mom self...most of the time (thanks for that hormones.)  

All this to say, my kids are not like that.  They are just themselves.  They don't seem to care about being cool.  (Em's exact words, "Mom, I don't think I will ever be cool, but that is ok.  It is more important to me to be smart because that is the gift God gave me and if I don't use it then I am wasting it.") She wants to be liked, but she wants to be liked for who she is.  She doesn't want to pretend to be someone else.  That is one reason leaving Batavia was so hard.  She had some really good friends, at school and in her theater group, who got her and loved her that way.  

Sam just wants someone to play video games with and a compatriot for recess.  He is one of the most loving kids I know.  He had some kids in his class last year that had pretty significant emotional needs.  He was always the first to stick up for them., tell them things would be ok or invite them to a playdate.  He is Jeff - easy-going, kind and lovable. 

As I was praying for them this morning, I just asked God to give them a pal for lunch and recess.  The idea of them sitting alone at lunch or playing alone at recess is almost more than I can bear.  The ridiculous thing about that is that they would probably be just fine, but this mama's heart can't take it.  I even packed Em a peanut -free lunch in case the new friend God has for her has to sit at a peanut free table.  (It is good to cover all scenarios when worrying about your kids!)

My children, especially Em value friendships the way I do.  They are social kids.  They want someone to lean on and they really want to be that for someone else.  They also just want someone to play dolls and legos with.  As mature as Sis is, she is still a little girl who likes to play house.

So, with all the feels going on this morning, I could not keep it together.  I was doing so well until I pulled into the drop off lane.  Then I was cheerful crying, you know where you try really hard to pretend you are not crying while talking in a totally unnatural voice about how great everything is going to be. "You guys are going to have a g-g-great day!"  "I c-c-can't wait to hear a-a-all about it!"

As we got to the actual spot where you open your door to get out, there were fifth grade kids welcoming every child that got out of the car with a friendly "good morning!"  The poor girl had the audacity to look at me and say, "have a great day!" Then came the ugly cry-the heaving, sobbing, I actually can not see out of my liquid eyeballs right now cry.  Thank goodness the line to get out was moving slowly and I could sort of make out the maroon mini-van in front of me.

What to do with myself now?  I went to the paint store, because nothing else is open at 7:40 when school starts here and I could not stand to go home just yet.  I just silently weeped as I tried to pick a sunny yellow for the walls of Em's room.  I pulled it together long enough to sort through the 50 shades of whitish/grayish/taupeish paint I was considering and then took my multiple paint chips and got back in the car to cry some more.  The good news is at this point I think I am all cried out.

Someone will be kind to them today, I  know this because that is just how God works.  They may not meet their new BFF, but they didn't meet their Batavia besties on day one either.  If all else fails, I will take them for cupcakes - if I survive the pick up lane.




Friday, August 12, 2016

Brighter Days

Two nights ago, I had the most amazing dream.  My friend and I were on a big red roller coaster and I was terrified.  I was screaming bloody murder and crying and completely losing my mind.  My friend,  on the other hand, was happy - screaming and throwing her hands in the air.  The ride was one of those that goes backwards so you can't see what is coming, you know, the worst kind.  I could not for the life of me figure out how she was so calm.  She leapt off the ride exhilarated and I got off complaining and crying.  I asked her how she could enjoy that crazy ride.  "It was so scary,"  I said!  "You couldn't see what was coming," I cried!  Then she looked at me and said,  "but I always knew it would end."

The reason this is so profound is because this particular friend has been in a difficult season with her job for three or more years.  She is a teacher who stayed home with her kids but then she wanted to go back to work.  She found a job, then wasn't brought back the next year.  She had a long term sub job, but it wasn't the right fit and she wasn't brought back when the other teacher came back.  She spent a year subbing but was really hoping for a permanent position.  Just the other day, she got her dream job in a school she loves with a team she adores.  Now, I have been through this season with this friend and I have seen her discouragement but always she came back to "I know God has a plan and His timing is perfect."  I have learned so much from her.  In this dream though, I learned the ultimate lesson.  Even though she could not see the twists and turns as they were coming she always knew that each terrifying drop would eventually end with her safely back in the station.

I know it sounds completely CRAY-CRAY to say God spoke to me in that dream, but I am certain that He did.  I awoke from the dream filled with hope.  I just knew that the boxes would all get unpacked and the stuff around the house would get fixed.  The kids would make friends and I would too.  Joy will be had, maybe not on the actual ride, but I know that the ride will end.  

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

It Has Been Awhile

So, clearly life happened and I gave up blogging.  I am not sure why I didn't go back to it, other than I just found it harder and harder to find time to compose cogent thoughts.  Also, I think Facebook sort of took over in the thought sharing category.  I am still not convinced the world needs to know everyone's thoughts and opinions all the time, but alas I seem to be one of the few.

Why pick up this blog now?  Honestly, because I am struggling and I am looking for a place to get some mental relief.  Here it is August of 2016 and my kids are seven and nine and a half, my husband works for an entirely different company and oh yeah, we moved to South Carolina last week. Leaving my home was hard, really hard.  I have moved  five other times in the course of my life but this one has been the hardest.  In Batavia I had amazing friends, my kids went to a great school full of good friends for them and I felt established.  I had a house I loved (although I am sort of having ex-boyfriend syndrome with the house - you know, you forget all the bad stuff and only remember the ONE time he brought you gas station carnations.)  But, more than anything, I had order and routine and places that were mine with people who knew me and liked me - the real, quirky me.  I could find things in Target; even secret, online-returned, deeply discounted things that were stuck on a back end cap.  I knew which light switched controlled the same light even though they were at opposite ends of the hallways.  I has stash spots for my miscellaneous junk.  You get the idea.  My friend Lorie once said, "one of our greatest desires is to know and be known."  I don't know anything and I am not known by anyone.  It makes me sad.

I am trying not to be negative, although often I am not trying hard enough, because the whole family is struggling and as Jeff says, "mama makes the weather." If I can pull it together and not be a pill everyone else is more likely to do the same. I also know that Jeff struggles with feeling guilty.  He brought us here for a job.  Although, we believe with all our heart that this is God's plan for us,  but when I look at the boxes and the chaos and the never-ending to-do list, doubt creeps in.  I get a terrible case of the "what ifs."  What if this isn't God's plan?  What if we never find a church?  What if I don't make friends?  What if this house never feels like home? What if I never find my way in Target?  Or my biggest, most real fear right now, what if I never find joy again?

I know all the Biblical lessons on joy and that they don't come from circumstances, etc, etc.  I know that I am to find joy in my relationship with the Lord and that joy is different than happiness.  I have talked about all of these concepts a million times in Bible study but at this very moment I've got nothing.  I feel like an empty cavern. I feel far from God, which seems odd given I am residing in the "Bible belt." I feel perpetually confused and out of control.  I know that control is a total illusion but I  don't know where to go or what to do.  I have amazing friends, lots of them and they are all a phone call/text message away but I don't even know what to tell them.  "Hi, I can't remember what light switch turns on the kitchen lights and it sends me in to a tail spin every day?"  "I can't find my gum ball machine painting and the thought of losing my $10 painting from At Home makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry."  "There are so many boxes in every room and I don't know where to start which means I can not even make a list which means it feels like the walls are caving in on me."

You see, even as I type this I feel like a selfish, brat.  People move, it involves boxes, get over yourself Erika.  Quit being a victim, stop letting your feelings dictate your day.  I want to give myself a good pep talk/butt kicking but I just can't.  I think that is why I decided to come back to the blog.  I have been through cycles like this before.  I know they end.  I know that when you are able to look back and remember the really hard days you can be even more grateful for God's mercies.  You can laugh about your neurotic need to master the Target and find a home for the lunch boxes.  So I am writing about the beginning so that when the end comes I can remember the rescue.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A New Day

For some reason it feels like January 1 to me.  Around the first of the year I am always filled with a sense of optimism.  I feel like I can make changes, start fresh, reboot.  Mondays often tend to feel like mini-New Year's days for me but today really feels like a fresh start.  I think it is because I have seen my husband for more than one hour for the last seven days. Sam's birthday was fun.  We had a great trip to Notre Dame for graduation and yesterday we did yard work.  None of this sounds extraordinary but it is.  It is totally extraordinary because we were a team.  We were a team in getting the car packed.  We were a team in handling the kids in Chuck E. Cheese.  We were a team when the kids got tired and cranky.   Jeff is an amazing, involved, active father.  He was also completely overwhelmed for most of the last seventeen months which left him for little space to be on team mommy.  He still helped out but I tried not to ask to much and he did not instinctively step up the way he normally does.  After about the first three months I just sort of got to used to it and it did not feel like to much of a burden but now that it is over I realize that it was really hard.  It was just hard feeling like I carried the weight of the family rock.  

I am trying not to whine because I certainly know that there are people out there who have it worse than me.  There are single parents and there are women who are married to inattentive unavailable men.   There are workaholic dads and moms who leave the other spouse to carry the entire family load.  I get that, but I am not in that boat.  I married a man with an amazing sense of work-life balance who comes home from work and is completely present with me and the kids.  I married a man who offers to take the kids and enjoys taking the kids so I can have a break from them.  I married a man who will take his children to the auto show or the air show or any other crazy busy public venue...without me.  He has no fear of changing diapers or wiping tushes, he brushes hair and teeth without being asked.  He reads stories and plays "tickle tickle tickle daddy eats a pickle."  But for seventeen months he has not had a lot of time to do those things and if he has the kids so I can take a break, then I am not getting to see him.  Most evenings I spent on the couch watching whatever while he studied.  I missed just sitting with him and talking with him and being with him.  I have him back and I am grateful for that.

This MBA has been good for both of us.  Jeff has grown personally and professionally.  It has stoked a desire to lead and rekindled his sense of who he really is.  It has been good for me in a different way.  While I find myself feeling a little jealous of his new found sense of self but I come away with a new found sense of who he is also.  I am so thankful for him and who he is and what he does for our family.  Maybe in the following months I will have a chance to learn more about myself and who I want to be as our family grows up and evolves.  Maybe not, I don't know what will happen but I do know that I am not alone on team mommy anymore.  Today that is good enough for me.