Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"F" words

Most weeknights in our house look something like this: we're either eating dinner or finishing up, then TJ sits in my lap or lays on the rug and we watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy (or "Peppy" in TJ-speak). Yes, watching TV was one of those things BC (before children) that I had sworn never to do, but I'm somewhat convinced that this weekly ritual is helping teach TJ letters and words because he can already recognize several, pick them out of his magnet letter bin, and identify them in words. Or, in the case of Wheel of Fortune, if the letters he recognizes are selected, he points to them and says the letter. What's up, Sesame Street? You got nothin' on Vanna White's moves for this guy. 

I've been thinking about writing this post for a very, very long time. I've hesitated in part because I don't like to sound whiny or bitchy. But, after some serendipitous private messages and texts I've received recently, I think more Mom's need to know that they're not alone in their struggles to keep things afloat. Several women have shared how much my pregnancy posts have meant to them and shared with their friends, and that they value my fitness expertise in combination with healthy living and healthy parenting, but let's face it: being healthy is not just physical. NOT. AT. ALL. In fact, there are some days now when, despite my much improved physical fitness (not to mention my fastest ever 5K times), I feel like I'm drowning on dry land. I hope sharing a few of my thoughts on parenting-related "F" words help some of you feel like we're all in this village together, raising each others' children and what not, but the interwebs can help keep us connected even if not in person to give a much-needed hug or share a bottle (or two) of pinot. Here's a virtual ::cheers:: to my fellow mama's keeping afloat everyday despite the daily obstacles or learning experiences we encouter, and I will share a few of mine, beginning with the letter "F". 

Father's Day
I could, quite literally, write a book about my father. One day I hope to do so. In the meantime, let me just say this: until we had our own beautiful son and I am able to enjoy what a father CAN mean for a child, I loathed Father's Day to the extent that I felt I would wake up and every capillary in my body would rupture. Social media can be great for keeping people connected, but it can also remind you what you may have missed out on or, in my case, what years of therapy took to help me learn is not my fault (see "Facebook" below). I haven't spoken to my father since I was 23; he was not invited to our wedding; he has not, and will not (as far as I'm concerned) ever meet TJ or future grandchildren birthed by me. If I learned anything from my father, it was how to not be a parent. Despite having other positive male role models in my life, it was (and admittedly still is) hard to accept having a biological parent who never loved you and wasn't afraid to tell you as such. So, I have an even greater appreciation for my husband who is a wonderful, loving, involved, caring father and who will help show our son what it means to be a responsible man.

Hmm, here I am carrying on about what a crappy father I had and how Father's Day still has that nails-to-chalkboard effect on me, but don't get me wrong. I have forgiven him for how I was treated. However, you cannot forget certain things said, certain actions taken, certain decisions made... a domino effect of circumstances all leading to where things are now and ultimately, can you completely forgive someone if you cannot forget what happened? However, my mom helped me realize several years ago that allowing my history with him to control me today is his victory over me, and I refuse to allow that to happen. So, my guard comes down once a year in June, otherwise I'm fairly well-adjusted (I think) to the fact that my amazing mom had to carry the load of the traditional parental unit. 

That said, as a parent myself, I find that forgiving and forgetting mistakes I make with my own son are much, much harder. Guilt is a powerful motivator, a toxic web of regret and reflection, what-if's and I-should-have's, but at the end of the day, you just can't go backwards. When you're accustomed to the school model of studying for a subject, taking a test, passing (or failing) the test based on your preparation for said test, and moving on, it's quite the challenging paradigm to then NOT have a study guide and NOT be prepared for a test, of sorts, and then not pass the test, not sure how you went wrong... you get my drift. Parenting is truly the blind leading the blind, but no one ever tells you this. You google "night-time routine" or "increasing milk supply", for example, and you can generate 100 webpages of parenting experts, medical professionals, all these people who make it seem like you're a fucking moron for not getting it right the first time. Well let me tell you something folks- NO ONE is an expert on your child. No one. No two people are the same, we as health professionals understand this, so why is it that it's some kind of secret lie we opt to not tell each other that hey, this shit is hard and you've got to go it alone sometimes? Maybe we do share this with each other and just not emphasize the HARD part or the LONELY part, but man, it's both very hard and very lonely sometimes. 

Oh, Facebook, how we all love you, then hate you, then love you and love-to-hate you, the saga continues but in reality you're still going strong. I have been within seconds, several times, from deleting my Facebook account, and then opt out ultimately because I like feeling connected to and staying in touch with friends and family from high school, college, grad school, etc. I like the "visual" aspect of seeing travel pictures or family pictures, sharing articles, just connecting with people who I don't get to see as often as I would like. Here's the rub: sometimes, when you're dry-land drowning, seeing all these pretty, happy, puppy and rainbow pictures of bliss and perfection just make you want to vomit. Before you say well hey, what about all the cute kid pictures and travel photos etc. you post, you look so happy, you have a beautiful family, yadda yadda... well sure, who posts pictures on the regular of their kids having a tantrum in the middle of the Barnes and Noble cookbook section (us, yesterday), or my emotional meltdown while pumping in my office when my supply was low toward the end of my breastfeeding days, or the ripples on my thighs where bounce-a-quarter taught skin used to reside? NO.ONE. Well, there are some... there's an IG feed called "Women IRL" and it's amazing. Sometimes it's fluff, but sometimes it's like wow, you are having a much worse day than me, I'm going to just not complain about XYZ today. But, even then, you don't see raw emotions of mom's dealing with the tantrum or the ripply skin or the saggy boobs. You see what is shown to you, so you draw certain conclusions. Again, just like with my own IG or FB feed, you see (mostly) what is pretty and happy and worth the brag (or keeping forever, at least the internet is good for that...). What is real when we feel lonely and drowning? Reaching out to someone, in real life, who will listen and let you bitch, to share your concerns and let you cry or give you feedback (if you want it), real interaction with a real breathing human being on the phone or at your house, someone who loves you and cares about only you in that moment, tossing you that lifeboat when you need it most. 

During pregnancy I had this fear that I would lose touch with my friends who are not yet parents or who do not want kids. I was afraid I wouldn't have any mom-friends because we are SO busy ALL the time and I wouldn't have the chance to really connect with anyone. I was afraid because I read these shitty articles on FACEBOOK about how being a parent is detrimental to your social life, etc. Yes, time demands are tight and it is very difficult sometimes to stay connected with ANYONE, kid-less or with-kids, but in my personal experience I have found that friendship can and will blossom, especially with people whose kids are a similar age. Enrolling TJ in a montessori school was such a blessing not only for him but for me as well, I have met so many wonderful parents whose support was invaluable in surviving those first few months of returning to full-time work not to mention the multitude of random parenting questions I didn't have the balls to ask anyone else. As a tomboy, my network of close girlfriends with children is relatively small, so I only have a few girls I would consider "best" friends with young children with whom I can entrust my roller coaster of parenting experiences. But, to my pleasant surprise, online parenting groups are also a great source of support and reassurance as well as relevant information or general FYI's when needed. I find it so ironic that given all the negative feedback and unsolicited advice I was given while pregnant, I assumed raising a young child would be no different, but in reality it has been the total opposite. I have made so many MORE friends now that I am a parent, and if I didn't love my son enough as it is, he has helped me connect with other women when I have felt incapable of doing so to a large extent until now. 

Shew, I have to wipe away the tears to get this one out. I will end with "failure" because this word is all-encompassing when it comes to being a parent, right? FEAR...FRUSTRATION.... FALLING... so many "f" words that relate to what it means to fail as a parent in some way. I'm not a perfectionist by any means, but if you love your child, letting them down in some way is most definitely a form of failure. In any other aspect of life, making a mistake means you learn from it and move on. In my experience, this dynamic is not as simple when it's your child because he or she is YOUR responsibility. He or she depends on you, only you, for survival and safety and love and learning and all those other things we are parents are entrusted to do for our kids. Sure, other people are afforded this trust, but that is not without some serious reservations no matter who you are or what kind of resources you have. Dropping TJ off at school on August 13, 2014 was one of the most difficult days of my life, and ALL DAY I felt like a failure as a mom that I did not decide beforehand that I would want to stay home with him. You have no idea until you're in it that is what you will want. I felt like a failure for not anticipating those feelings. Eventually those feelings subsided and now I realize it was a great and safe decision, but that is only months later and after many nights sobbing behind my closed office door while pumping into a machine to feed my son the next day by a relative stranger. The whole process was so COLD and IMPERSONAL at first, and it was slowly killing me at the time. Now, hindsight and experience has demonstrated it was a great environment for him, and he is thriving in part due to their care and love for him. 

Fast forward to present day when I know his care circumstances at the school are fantastic, but I am failing in other aspects of my various "roles" outside of parenthood. Juggling... you drop one ball, you scramble to pick it up, you get back to rolling, and another one falls. It's a cheesy cliche but it's true, so painfully true sometimes you feel like you're drowning. So again, I say, for anyone out there who feels like this right now or next week or a year from now, know that you're not alone. Someone loves you and is there for you, wants the best for you, and you just need to reach out for help because you can't throw the lifesaver to yourself. Fear of judgement shouldn't overtake the fact that you're falling... friends are there, waiting to save you from yourself. 

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