Are you a zombie? Am I? Would we even know if we are?

I watched “The Greatest Showman” the other day. It was a kind of spiritual journey for me. The sound track has been echoing in my head ever since. There were so many lessons, so many truths about living life embedded in the lyrics.

greatest showmanOne of the biggest is to simply wake the hell up.

In the song “Come Alive,” we hear a call to more. To figuratively “come alive.” To get off the treadmill and to become truly present in our lives.

To those of you who know me well, it’s a familiar mantra. I’ve often talked about getting stuck on life’s treadmill or the hamster wheel, but here in the middle part of my life, despite being aware of this tendency of human beings, I have often questioned if that is in fact where I am at: stuck in a rut, going through the motions.

     

     zombieYou stumble through your days

     Got your head hung low

     Your skies’ a shade of grey

     Like a zombie in a maze

     You’re asleep inside

     But you can shake away

 

    ‘Cause you’re just a dead man walking

     Thinking that’s your only option

     But you can flip the switch and brighten up your darkest day

     Sun is up and the color’s blinding

     Take the world and redefine it

     Leave behind your narrow mind

    You’ll never be the same

 

It goes on to say:

     And you know you can’t go back again

     To the world that you were living in

     ‘Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open

Jackman is addressing a psychological truth here, though I doubt he even realized it.

brainOur brains are literally wired for novelty. Our brains are continually taking in so much stimulation that, if nothing changes, our brains decide that we just don’t need that information and so we don’t even perceive it. Essentially, our brain defaults to auto-pilot, or the zombie mode that Hugh Jackman refers to in his song.

What does this look like? Let me try to explain.

Have you ever been in a deep sleep, but bolt awake when the fan, the AC, or the furnace stops running? Why do you wake up when the background noise stops?

Because it’s a change. Our brain is listening to everything. Our brain hears the blood rushing through our veins, the ice dispenser when it drops ice in the middle of the night, the traffic on the street in front of your house. Our brain literally controls what we are aware of. It is continually making judgement calls on our behalf–and sometimes it gets it wrong.

For instance, if you’re a parent, you’re probably pretty familiar with conversations that go something like this:

“Gavin! Get down here! I have told you 5 times to pick up you backpack.”

“Geesh, Mom! Why are you so mad? All you had to do was ask.”

“I did–5 times.”

“No, you didn’t. This is the first time you asked.”

Sound familiar? It should, or something quite like it.

charliebrownThe reality is that, to kids, we are really pretty much like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon: “Waa, waa, waa, wa, waa…”

Our children are so used to the sound of our voices in the background that our brains literally tune us out. It is not your child deciding not to listen (or at least not most of the time), but their brain says, “Oh, this is normal, nothing has changed and so you don’t need to hear this.” But when mom’s voice switches to an angry tone the brain says, “Uh, oh. This you need to hear.”

Our brain does this in all areas of our life. What’s new, what’s novel, what’s different, it tells us is worth seeing. What is normal, expected, mundane–not so much.

This can cause an enormous problem in our day to day lives if we’re not careful.

Couple problems

One of the biggest and most common problems I have heard about in marriages is “he stopped seeing me.” I know that was the truth in my own marriage. The thing that we fail to understand is that that is not the exception–it is inevitable unless we make a conscious choice to keep seeing, to keep changing, and to keep our significant other in the forefront. He or she becomes “status quo” and in the language of the brain “nothing has changed” so we don’t need to notice or see, and we stop seeing.

One of the most frequent regrets I have heard people voice is not appreciating the time they had with their children enough before they are gone. It falls into the same category: once we get used to something, we stop seeing it and appreciating it. The adage “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” embodies this truth. You really don’t know until something changes, the change being the person leaving–and all of a sudden, often when it’s too late, you are aware of just how much that person meant.

birth photoIf you’re a parent, think back to what you felt the first time your firstborn was put into your arms. Do you love him or her any less today that you did that day? But how often do you feel now what you felt then? It takes a choice, a determination to think about, and focus on those little people you love so much, and then it all comes flooding in.

My children are growing. My son turned 14 this year. I have four years left with my little fella (not so little anymore–towering over 6 feet tall). The years have sped by, and I am all too aware of the moments lost and not savored. I have made a choice to choose to actively see my children. To force my brain to think about and appreciate these little miracles I get to live with, at least for the time being, on an almost daily basis.

We do the same thing in all areas of our life. We get used to the routine. The job that once thrilled us becomes “normal.” The activity that once excited us becomes “mundane.” The landscape that once filled us with awe becomes the background. Emerson talks about this in his work “From Nature.”

 “To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At             least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the                       man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.”

Jim Elliot QuoteEmerson didn’t know the neuroscience that caused this “superficial seeing” but he had certainly observed it–as have we all if we are honest.

One of the choices I have made this year has been to be more present. In this modern world we live in we are inundated with noise. Being present requires reflection, and reflection can’t be had when there is a little glowing screen in the palm of our hand distracting us. I’ve made the decision to put that glowing screen down more often. To put it out of sight. To mute it.

To be present in my world.

I’ve also made the decision to consciously see what my brain thinks I don’t need to see. Most days on my way to work, I prayed that God would help me see who and what I needed to see. I consciously looked for the divine moments, the real life moments I was put in this job to be a part of.

You have to understand, in the life of a teacher, the moments fly by. We are assaulted with questions and decisions, class after class, and if I don’t make a conscious effort to see my students, I can go through the entire day jumping from crisis to crisis and/or just hitting auto pilot through my lessons.

But I didn’t get into teaching just to fill young minds with knowledge. I became a teacher to make a difference.

By being conscious, I was able to help students with real trauma and loss in their lives. I was able to inspire some. I was able to let them know that there was someone there who cared. How many of these encounters would I have missed if I hadn’t made a conscious effort to see?

How many did I miss because I am still a long way from living this way every moment?

I want to live with my eyes wide open. I want to see what’s right in front of me. The people who matter the most. The people who need me the most. The possibilities that are right there for the taking–if I only have the eyes to see.

Do you have the eyes to see those moments in your own life? The ones that really matter? The ones that are so very easily overlooked?

If not, in the words of Hugh Jackman, stop being a “zombie in a maze, flip the switch, and come alive.”

I promise you, you won’t regret it!

 

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Divorce and Pregnancy: they make experts of us all

Divorce is kind of like pregnancy–everyone feels entitled to give you their opinion.

Never will you find people more willing to dish out advice than when they know that your marriage has fallen apart at the seams.933cf99a612349ffefc40a9518266f8e

They will tell you how to feel, when to feel it, and how long to feel it for.

Everyone has an opinion on how you should grieve, how long you should grieve, and how long you should wait before you should get back in that saddle.

And the thing is, everybody has a different opinion, and not a one of them knows what your particular story is or what mine is either.

They have not walked a day in the life of you or of me. They don’t understand the years of grief leading up to the final acceptance that this broken thing can’t be saved. They don’t understand that the marriage has been dead for a long time. Or that the divorce was completely out of the blue and you were still head over heels for your spouse when he/she left you for another woman or man or just because.

bhb____empty_heart_by_burning_heart_brony-d9hadnq.pngFor some, divorce comes as a surprise, for others, like me, it’s the gradual admittance of what you’ve known for a long time–no amount of resuscitation can bring back to life something that is thoroughly dead. Flat lined. DOD. Over.

I’m a counselor and a Psych professor. I talk to the grieving and the hurting all the time. And there’s one thing I have learned along the way: grief is a personal and individual process. We can try to put labels and timelines on it, but the reality is, the process is going to be as unique as we are as human beings.

It’s time that we stepped back and stop dishing out advice and instead started listening.

But, that causes a problem. We’re not very good at listening. We’re into quick fixes. We like short and sweet platitudes that soothe our conscience and make us feel like we’re helping, when in reality, we’re handing somebody a band-aid and telling them to get over it.

Not in so many words, of course, because that would be rude. But we might as well just say it, because that’s what we mean. We want to pat them on the head, say that we care, but then get back to the business of living our own lives.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Psychologists everywhere are starting to  wave their hands to get our attention about this very issue. Our social media driven society is causing us to look for instant gratification and short fixes in the place of true and authentic relationships. We are replacing intimacy with connection, and the result is a society that is sinking into loneliness and low level depression (more on this in an up and coming blog).

And no where does it show more than in our relationships. Writing in the Atlantic, Stephen Marche reportsWhile loneliness has been increasing there has been an explosion in the number of psychologists, social workers, life coaches, and other “psychic servants”…We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.

As a counselor, I read that and cringe. Yep. That’s it entirely.AAEAAQAAAAAAAAXEAAAAJDQ0MzEzNWFkLTMzMmItNDViYi1hOTMxLTZjZjljYTk5MWZlOA

We leave the listening to the therapists, and we, the friends, hand out the band-aids.

My ex insisted that I see a counselor, even though I didn’t feel like I needed to see one. In an effort to get this whole thing over with, I went to one anyway. The therapist looked me in the eye at the end of my first session and told me that I didn’t need her, that I clearly was well adjusted and dealing with things well.

When I told my ex that, he didn’t much like what my therapist had to say. I shrugged and told him, “I have friends. When you have good friends, you don’t need a therapist to help you get through the normal stuff like this.” And, as a therapist, I believe that’s the truth.

There are issues that are too big for friends to deal with, but grief and loss, a failed marriage, when one is dealing with them in the “normal” way? Good friends are all you need.

n-CONVERSATION-628x314A friend who listens and doesn’t just send the occasional text or Facebook platitude. A friend who can look you in the eye and have the courage to say, “I think you’re wrong, but I love you anyway…”

Are you that kind of friend? You should be. If you’re not, then I would question your level of commitment to your friendships.

What kind of friends do you have? If you have the good ones, the ones who really listen, not just the band-aid pushers, make sure you give them their due. They’re rare and should be highly prized.

Let’s stop with the advice and the judgement. Let’s stop outsourcing the practice of everyday caring. And let’s start listening.

 

 

 

Being a Reluctant Hero: the true role of the parent

27d71d088b682abee8b4e7488530b1c4Last night I was snuggled in my bed with Arabelle. We were all cozied up in a pile of blankets trying to hold off the last effort of Winter to make any real impression on the north Texans this year. It was chilly, but honestly, I think he failed in his attempt–no real winter here this year.

Arabelle had her head on my shoulder and my face was nuzzled into her hair. It was one of those perfect moments that make life just so beautiful.

Unfortunately, the topic of conversation wasn’t quite so beautiful. We were chatting about all the pre-teen drama that little girls create, and boy do they create a lot!

As I listened to Belle’s tales of woe, I found myself thinking back to my own pre-adolescent years, and I wasn’t feeling very nostalgic! I cringed inwardly as the memories of awkwardness, insecurity, and immaturity came flooding back. Those years are just so hard! Doesn’t matter who you are: the outcast, the nerd, the average, or the popular, it’s just downright awful most of the time.

Everybody is insecure, uncertain, and too often hurtful to others, as they try to transition from a child into this strange new world of the preteen. Too often, out of that insecurity, girls can get really catty and be downright mean. I’d lived it, and now my precious little girl was living it.

images (1)I listened to Arabelle pour out her worries and struggles with a twinge in my heart. I wanted to protect her from these years, but I knew I couldn’t. At best I could help her get through them, and part of that would be helping my very sensitive and insecure daughter to not take things too personally, and to help her believe in herself.

With that in mind, when she began her litany of how she didn’t measure up, I countered with all of the wonderful and unique things about her. And I had a big list that I was determined would help her see her worth.

For every positive I laid out, she counteracted with its negative.

Finally in exasperation she sighed, “I wish I was like you! You’re perfect!.”

“Wait a minute, what?” I turned so I could look into her eyes.

“Well you are!” she answered back to my look of shock, and she began a long list of all my attributes.

Idownload (1) was a bit stunned. I sat up and blinked stupidly at her for a while and then finally said, “But you know how imperfect I am better than just about anybody! You live with me! You see the times that I’m impatient or when I lose my temper. When I’m not as thoughtful or as kind as I should be!”

“But mom, you always have a reason for those things.”

“But that doesn’t make them right! It’s still wrong that I do them!”

She shrugged. “I still want to be just like you. You’re my hero.”

Wow. I’m her hero.

I didn’t ask to be her hero. I don’t think I want to be her hero. But I guess it doesn’t really matter if I asked for it or if I wanted it–it’s what she’s made me–a hero, albeit a somewhat unwilling one.

Rather than feeling flattered by that pronouncement, I felt humbled and a little scared.

My mind flashed back to a conversation we had had earlier that day where I had done something that had so clearly echoed my own mother. “Ugh! Grandma just pulled a body snatch on me! Clearly that wasn’t a Mommy thing to do! How does Grandma do that?!”

Arabelle had laughed and said that being like Grandma wasn’t so bad.

I jokingly teased her that she needed to beware, because when she became my age, she would find herself echoing what I do and say in ways that she never thought she would, even in the ways she had vowed to never be like me. “It happens to us all,” I teased her. “I’ll do something and all of a sudden I’ll see a flash of my father doing the exact same thing in the exact same way…it’s kind of creepy!”

She was going to become just like me, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It hit me with a new clarity.

Contest-flier_1I’m her hero. She is watching me. She wants to be like me.

What I do and what I say, how I act and how I fail to act, all of these she sees, and many of these she herself will become. And in time her children, and her children’s children. Passed on from generation to generation…

The responsibility, when you really take the time to wrap your mind around it, is staggering.

All parents, at least all the good ones, realize that they are setting an example for their children. We understand that they are learning based on what we model, but I don’t think we fully understand what it means.

When we become parents, we really are like the potter with a lump of clay, but what we sometimes don’t think about is that, even when we are not actively molding that clay, we are still molding it.

In fact, most of the molding of that clay happens, not from our active working with the clay (active parenting), but rather from the inactive moments. The moments observed by those big, innocent eyes. Not only our observed actions, but our observed inaction. When we fail to act. When we fail to fight for something we believe in. When we let lethargy seep in and cause us to accept less than the best from life and the people around us. When we allow someone to ignore us, disrespect us, or knock us down, and we don’t defend ourselves. When we’re confronted with the obstacles in life and we don’t fight back, but instead give in.

All of these too are children see, and they will follow in our footsteps.

I find myself thinking of all the ways that I don’t want my daughter to be like me. Those are the very things that I need to work on. Yes, there are lots of ways I would be happy to have her follow in my steps I do many things well, but that doesn’t discount the ways that I want her to be better than me, more than I am.

4029757ce58eb958d4137859df44694fAnd I am realizing in a way I never have before, that the best way to do that, is to be more than I am. I need to become what I hope she will one do become, so that she has an example walking before her, one that I feel like is totally comfortable with her following–and I’m not there yet.

I know I can’t be perfect. I know I will fail and I will fall, and no matter how hard I try, those failures may hurt my daughter and she will carry some of that into her future. But I need to know that I did my best, that I became the best I could be so that she can be the best that she can be.

I didn’t ask to be a hero. I don’t deserve to be a hero.

I’d better do my best to become one though. There is a little girl who is watching me to see what heroes do, and one day she will echo the choices I made.

That’s an awful lot to live up to!

Mama to a Big Boy–a lesson in letting go

“Deez nuts!”

“Yo’ Mama…”

“Doritos and Mountain Dew!”

If that made sense to you (or if you at least recognized it–I don’t think I really understand it myself!), if you groaned and rolled your eyes, you just might be the parent of a tween boy.
Oh, and let’s not forget out about Pewdiepie, Sundee and Pizza Hut (and no, not the restaurant)… Household names, right?

Tween boys, I am finding, are a unique breed. Their testosterone goes into over drive, their sex drive rears its immature and somewhat awkward head, and all sense seems to go out the window.

It is an age of laughter (often derived from very inappropriate jokes), posturing if you’re lucky, and all out fist fights if you’re not, first crushes, first broken hearts–and the first time mom is shut out.

And I don’t like it.

As any mom of boys knows, there is a special bond between a mother and her son. Gavin was my biggest snuggler (and if you know Arabelle, that is really saying something!). I think I can say with confidence that I am his favorite person in the world. And I like it that way.

tween boyHe might get mad at me, but within an hour he’s coming up to snuggle with me on the bed or sit on my lap (and that, these days, is quite the fete with his long, solid body that seems to weigh at least a ton! My legs, and the arm he’s leaning on, go numb, but I’m not about to tell him he’s too big. Soon enough he’s going to be done with snuggles and cuddles on my lap as it is. I’m not ready to let that go until I have to–numb legs and all!).

Almost every night he asks me to take a walk with him. And on those walks, he used to tell me everything: his frustrations, his hurts, his first crushes–but not anymore. Mom is being pushed out of his private world, and I feel a pang in the vicinity of my heart. My boy is taking some of his first steps, a whole new group of firsts, and this time mommy has to watch from the sidelines. The first steps of true independence, of creating an identity away from mom and dad are starting now, and he won’t talk to me about it.

I know he had a girlfriend for the first time. I know she broke up with him five days later. And I know she hurt his heart. But he won’t tell me why or how he feels or how he’s really doing.

video-game-2_2362669bHe’ll talk about the latest Sundy video, or of Call of Duty and Mine Craft, endlessly, but ask him about matters of the heart, about matters that, well, matter–and I hit a wall of silence.

I know he likes a new girl. I don’t know her name. I don’t know if she likes him. I don’t even know if I know her.

I know his latest pranks, the latest scuffles and which teacher is the newest to find her way to his crap list. These are the things he tells me.

But the things that matter…? These he is keeping close to his chest. Who he shares them with, I don’t know–but I know it’s no longer me.

This is a weird thing. An uncomfortable thing.

No. No, that’s not it.

Let’s call it what it really is–it sucks. It is completely sucky, and it hurts.

It signifies the beginning for him–the first transitions into becoming his own man, independent and separate from our little family.  I want this for him; I want him apron stringsto fly…

These are his first steps as much as those first wobbly baby steps so many years ago. And I want to be there cheering him on like I did then, feeling the mixture of pride and the bittersweet pang of crossing a threshold.

But I don’t want to let him go!

But I have to…

It is a tug of war between what I want to do, and what I need to do.

This is a bitter sweet season of letting go. Whereas, my girls and I seem to grow closer as they near adolescence, my son is growing away. And I know, boys, when they grow away, they really do grow away from their mums.

I miss him already, and he’s not even gone…I’m proud of who he will become, but…I don’t want to say goodbye to the little boy that was.

 

When the Rose-Colored Glasses Come Off

When you are young, as with so much of life, you look to motherhood with a strong shot of romance and a healthy side of idealism.

mom and babyA co-worker brings a new baby into work, and everybody crowds around, oohing and ahhing at that amazing little miracle of life…and all you see is chubby cheeks and warm baby snuggles. (Not the tears–your own not the babies–and the 10th dirty diaper of the day or the growing mound of poo bespeckled laundry–again, not just the babies.)

You see the proud glow of a mother who watches her child achieve the winning goal, the special award, the winning medal…and you think of how brilliant your child will be and how proud he or she will make you. You see the look of pride you will wear and the look of envy the other mothers will shoot in your direction. (You don’t see the stress of playing chauffeur, the many dinners eaten in the car, the tears and arguments when said child doesn’t want to go to practice or is over-tired when practices translate into late, late nights of homework)

crying-babyYou see the mother soothing an adorable toddler’s tears away…(aww…isn’t she cute? —No, not really. After the fifth meltdown of the day, that cute baby voice is starting to sound like nails on the chalkboard and that little, red, howling face is the thing of nightmares)

To the young (and naïve) all of these inspire feelings of longing, a desire to be a participant in that moment, to be the mother, to feel the tenderness and pride. The rest of it is unknown or ignored. The rose colored glasses are on and the pictures of family bliss overshadow the known realities.

Maybe not everyone feels it, but many, even most, do. I sure did.

Outside_Looking_in_by_M_photographyI remember, before I was a parent, the longing I felt for a child. I remember the fear that I would never find a man I wanted to marry, or who would want to marry me, and the fear that I would never experience that–that I would be left on the outside looking through the shop window at what I couldn’t have, watching other women experience those moments. I would be on the sidelines–watching, wishing, but not participating.

For me, I got to experience this not once, but twice. I did meet a man, and we fell in love, and we had a beautiful, gorgeous, perfect little baby, and I felt the joy, the tenderness, the rush of pride, only to bury my beautiful little girl a year later.

Those moments on the outside looking in were all the more painful after that. Those mothers had what I had had, only it had been stolen away from me, and I feared that I would never have it again (the risk involved was just so great). I felt by turns angry and bitter, but most often, I despaired. What if, having known what being a mother was, I never got to be one again?

I remind myself of that frequently these days, so many years of chaos later. I remind myself of how much I wanted this, and how I almost didn’t get it.

When I lost Serena, I thought I knew what being a mother was. In fact, I thought I had a better picture than most, because I had experienced the joy being a mother was, but also the devastation it can bring. But the truth is, I didn’t really understand what being a mother was at that point.

look_at_life_through_red_tinted_glasses_by_andela1998-d68zvuuDespite losing Serena, I still wore rose colored glasses. My eyes and my heart were full of the tender moments, the warmth. My mind was filled with remembered snuggles, and the memory of that unique baby scent, the soft cheeks and that perfect little nuzzle spot just between the edge of the jaw and the neck…

I had not yet experienced the daily grind of parenthood. I hadn’t faced the discipline and arguments, the tears and “I hate yous,” the endless emails to teachers to try to turn zeroes into passing grades, the wrappers on the floor and bookbags in the doorway. These were not something I knew.

I didn’t yet understand that to be a mother was to put one’s self in the back seat, to place another completely and entirely above oneself. I did not know that it meant that my life would be filled with mundane moments of caretaking, or that the peacefulness of silence would be something I only fondly remembered, but never experienced.

I did not know that my wants, my needs, my own desires would be in such subjugation to the needs and wants of others.

I didn’t understand.

I wish I could say that I always handle it with grace, but I don’t.

I wish I could say that losing Serena makes me always remember to appreciate the gift I have in my children, but it doesn’t.

I wish I could say that I never feel angry, or bitter, or resentful of all that I have given up for this dream of motherhood, but that would be a lie.

I do feel resentful sometimes. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I lose patience. Sometimes I wish that I could travel the world like I did before. Or I think fondly of a time when my to-do list wasn’t so long that it went straight out the door and wrapped around the block. There are those moments.

mom-daughter-share-ice-cream-607496-printBut there are also the other moments. The love, the tenderness, the laughter. There is the knowledge that I finally understand what the Bible is talking about, to truly put someone above yourself, to be willing to lay your life, not your death, but to lay your life down for another. That is so much harder.

That is motherhood–day in and day out.

It is grace. It is selflessness. It is sacrifice.

It is not perfection, but being able to admit when we’re wrong, and to keep trying when we want to give up, and sometimes loving the unlovable until they are lovable again.

I am not a perfect mother, but my children are perfectly loved, and everything I gave up cannot come close to everything I have gained from having them in my life.

I am lucky to be their mother. It is a privilege–sometimes I have to remind myself of that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

What do you do with your cookie, and what does that say about who you are?

hand-holding-cookie-bite-taken-outWe’ve all had that moment when we’re about to take a bite of the last chocolate chip cookie, and we’re anticipating the burst of flavor that will come with it when our sister/brother/friend/son/daughter/etc. comes on the scene and says, “Oh! A chocolate chip cookie! I want one! Where are there?!”

What we do in that next moment is a window into who we are, a window into how we live our lives, and it is a window into our heart.

Do we, scarf down the cookie quickly, and only then admit it’s the last one?

mouthfulDo we shrug and say “last one” and then take a huge bite from the cookie?

Do we break the cookie in half and cheerfully offer the other half?

Do we offer the other half, but feel a tug of reluctance, begrudging the loss of half of the cookie?

Or do we cheerfully hand the last cookie to the person we love because we’d rather make them happy than have the cookies ourselves?

It’s such a simple thing, a simple test, and we have moments like these every day of our lives. How we respond in these moments defines who we are on a basic level.

I’ve watched this played out among my children. Gavin would scarf the cookie down without a thought, fearful that I would tell him he had to share. Arabelle would hand you the cookie. Lily would struggle somewhere in between.

Every year for Halloween (or almost every year–we made an exception last year) the kids pick a theme and we all dress up, even mom and dad, according to that theme. This year the kids chose Wizard of Oz, or rather the girls did, and Gavin graciously deferred to them this time. We spent weeks discussing who would be which character from the very first days of October.

wizardofoz_085pyxurzLily wanted to be Glinda, the Good Witch, so Arabelle agreed to be Dorothy. I went online and found a Glinda costume, purchased it, and two days later Lily excitedly tried it on. She postured through the house, admired herself in the mirror–she was thrilled.

But then, a couple of days later, she changed her mind. She didn’t want to be Glinda anymore; she wanted to be Dorothy. Arabelle graciously said she would be Glinda (luckily the costume also fit her) so that Lily could have what she wanted. No harm, no foul. Great.

But then a couple weekends ago, I promised Lily that we would go to the store to buy her Dorothy costume, and as we were browsing the costumes, we came to a beautiful Wicked Witch of the West costume. Arabelle’s eyes lit up. “Mom, can I be the Wicked Witch instead?”

I was stuck. We already had the Glinda costume (and Lord knows I can’t fit into it!). I had promised Lily the Dorothy costume…

“Well, hon, I guess that’s up to Lily. If she’s willing to be Glinda, you can be the Wicked Witch.” Remember, just a few days before, Lily was thrilled with the idea of being Glinda.

When Arabelle asked Lily if she wouldn’t mind being Glinda as they had originally planned, Lily started balling, “But I want to be Dorothy!”

Arabelle patted Lily on the back and put her arms around her. “It’s okay, Lily. You can be Dorothy.” Great response from Arabelle. I wwas so proud of her, but…

But it wasn’t okay. I watched as Lily, without a thought, accepted her sister’s change of heart. And I watched the disappointment bloom on Arabelle’s face.

I pointed out to Lily that she hadn’t even considered for a moment what it was her sister wanted and whether or not she should let her have what she wanted instead of Lily getting her way.

crying-little-girlShe began crying again, “But I want to be Dorothy!”

“Yes, I understand that. But Arabelle wants to be the Wicked Witch. Why should you get what you want instead of Arabelle getting what she wants?”

“I don’t know.”

“You need to think of what your sister wants too, Lily; you’re being selfish.”

There in the middle of Target she started wailing, “You called me selfish!”

“No, Lily, I said you were being selfish. You have a choice in whether you are selfish or not.”

But the problem was, she didn’t want to choose to not be selfish. Though Arabelle tried to pretend that she was okay with it, she had gotten quiet and was obviously sad. Lily cared enough to ask her what was wrong, but when Arabelle told her, Lily would start crying again, stating, “But I want to be Dorothy.” She didn’t want Arabelle to be sad, but she didn’t want to give up what she wanted to take away that sadness either.

The whole exchange really bothered me, and stuck with me. Later that night, I pulled Arabelle aside to tell her how proud I was of her, that her heart, her love and care of people, was something rare and beautiful. I marveled at how she always put others before herself.

support-groups-empathy-signHer response humbled me. She said, “If I have a choice between someone else crying, or crying myself, I’d rather be the one crying.”

Wow. I felt like that statement shined a light on my own shortcomings, my own failure to live up to the example of my nine year-old daughter.

Would I willingly take on pain and hurt to spare someone his/her pain? I would do it for my family. I would do it for my husband, my children, my nieces and nephews, my brother and sister, but would I do it for anyone? Arabelle would. I’ve seen her do it. And even if I was willing to do it, would I do it with the grace and openness of Arabelle, or would I begrudge the action and feel resentful?

I fear it would be the latter.

And then I thought more of Lily and her reaction. She doesn’t want people to hurt, but she doesn’t really want to give up her wants and needs to take away the hurt of someone else. She feels compassion, but it doesn’t translate to action.

How often are we like that? We see the pain of others, we feel badly, but we don’t reach out to them, we don’t try to ease their pain. We see what ISIS does to children, and we feel awful about it, but not enough to try to find a way to help. We know that there are motherless and fatherless children all over our own country, and we feel so badly, but we don’t want our lives rocked or altered by the needs of a troubled child in our own home.

Compassion without action is nothing but a mask concealing selfishness.

And my little daughter has held a light up to my own selfishness. I am humbled.

What kind of person are you? Do you give the cookie away or do you keep it for yourself?

I fear that I split it in half, but give it away with a twinge of regret or even resentment.

I need to do better. I need to learn the lesson my nine year-old is teaching me.

CAM01287-1Thank you, Arabelle, for your kind and generous spirit. I am so grateful God put you in my life.

 

Two of the Most Important Things Every Parent Needs to Teach Their Children

This is a big transition year for me and my crazy household, and if I needed any visual reminders of this, I wouldn’t have to look far. I can find those reminders all over my house…most frequently in the form of training bras.

Wait a minute…what?!

Yep, you heard me right. Training bras. And I keep finding them everywhere.

As if it is not weird enough that my little baby girl is wearing a bra, I am confronted with this reality on a regular basis. No out of sight out of mind denial allowed! Nope. They are everywhere, and no, that is not an exaggeration! It’s like having a constant visual reminder of the new territory we have entered.

I find them in my bedroom (not mine, hers, in my bedroom!). I find them in my bathroom (again not mine!). I find them on the dining room table (what the…?!). I find them folded and nicely sitting on the bottom of the stairs… (again…why?!) I find them in the middle of her bedroom floor (at least this makes a little more sense)…hanging from her bathroom door knob (again, makes more sense). But the point is, I find them everywhere!

And if I needed further reminders of this weird threshold we’ve crossed, the eye rolls, shrugs in answer to my questions (questions that in the past would have initiated long, enthusiastic conversations full of hand gestures and sparkling eyes), and the exasperated groan that the address “Mom” has taken on (I miss Mom sounding like an endearment…) readily supply all the necessary evidence.

Only my littlest still calls me Mommy–and she makes it sound like a badge of honor!

The other two make it sound like a synonym for silly or stupid or embarrassing.

We’ve definitely crossed into a different world, one in which mom is no longer cast as the hero. (Sigh… I liked being a hero!)

I have to face it. Suck it up, Mommy! It is time to adjust. Take the bitter pill and swallow it down.

My babies are no longer babies, and every year that passes, they are going to need me a little bit less.

But that’s the point. That’s the objective. It’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay–it’s as it should be. I’m teaching them, and  giving them the tools, to be independent, capable, mom-free individuals.

birds1Fly, little birdies! Fly!

It’s right and it’s good, but it also puts things into perspective. I find myself really taking stock of our time. It’s like I feel the sands of the hour glass sifting through my fingers. My time is limited. My impact will change and lessen. I want to be sure that what I give them is what matters most. I feel a sense of urgency, as if my opportunity to imprint upon them with what is most important will soon be gone.

What do I what to imprint on them? What do I want to make sure they take away more than anything else?

When I ponder this, I come down to two things that I want to make sure that my children leave my home knowing.

loveThe first is the most important thing that anyone can ever know: that they are loved unconditionally. That no matter where they go, who they become, what mistakes they will make, there is always someone in their corner who will love them, fight for them and never ever give up on them–no matter what.

How do we communicate this to our children?

By doing.

By loving them through every mistake and every disappointment. By spending time with them and talking with them. By giving hugs and kisses and snuggles. By taking long walks and listening to their anger and tears, disappointments and fears. By laughing together and playing together. By forgiving and being humble enough to admit when we’re wrong and forgiving some more.

Too often I see families who are so busy, they forget that it is these simple moments that build the foundation of a family.

It’s not the gifts we buy, the activities we do, or the vacations we go on.

Your child doesn’t need the latest and greatest this, that, and the other thing. They need you. They need to know that you care, that you are engaged.

mother-sonIt boils down to quality time simply being together–and that doesn’t have to cost a dime. A game of cards or a walk before bed–one on one time with your kiddo where you are 100 percent focused on being with them, listening to them. No cell phone. No TV. No distractions.

When my children look back at these years, what are they going to remember?

Are their memories going to be of a short-tempered, overworked mom who was rushing them from one activity to another?

Or are they of snuggles and cuddles? Walks and laughter?

Are the latter moments frequent and strong enough to outweigh those short-tempered, frazzled moments, because we have those too…we’re only human after all!Which will leave the strongest impression?

I need to self-check. I need to continually remind myself to make a focused effort to make sure that, no matter how tired I am, no matter my level of stress, when my children need me, I turn off the TV(or in my case, put down the book), turn off the cell phone, and pay attention.

I need to model what being engaged means. I need to model love and forgiveness, humility and compassion–so that they know they are loved and so they know how to love.

give backThe second thing that I want to impress upon my children before they leave the nest is that they have a responsibility. They are not put on this world to be happy (though I hope they will be). They were not put on this planet to achieve their personal dreams (though my hope is their dreams will be molded by this understanding and so they will find them fulfilled). They are on this planet to leave it a little bit better than when they found it. They need to give back.

I remind my children on a regular basis that it is not simply about what they want…Yes, I ask them what they want to be when they grow up, but I follow up with a reminder that it’s not just about what they want to be, but what God wants of them, and how they plan to give back to this world.

I refuse to have my children leave my home believing that they are entitled. I want their focus not to be on what they deserve, but on what they can do for others, how they can make this planet just a little bit better.

Of all the lessons I can, and will, teach my children, these are by far the most important.

the_sands_of_timeAs time slips through my fingers, I am making a concerted effort to ensure that they will leave my house knowing how greatly they are loved (because my heart aches with love for them, in their highs and in their lows–in their triumphs and in their failures), and also being equipped to love and spread that love wherever they go–determined to give back.

If I can teach my children these things, no matter my failures as a mother, I will have succeeded.

Confessions of a glassy eyed, frazzled, (sometimes crappy) Mother

I live in a state of overwhelmedness.

I am not alone. Though I am a newly evolved creature, only evolved in our modern times, there are many of us.

You see us everywhere, though you don’t know it.

Racing from our homes early in the mornings (earlier than many of you even have to be up)…

Dropping our children at day care (preschool, elementary school, etc….insert any of a number of locations, or several different ones as the case may be)…

Rushing to soccer practice (ballet, baseball, gymnastics, football…pick your poison, or more likely poisons)…

Racing around the aisles of the local grocery store as if we were at the roller derby (glancing at our watch and then making a crazed beeline for the checkout while biting back a naughty word we never would have said in public a decade ago)…

We’re everywhere, (doing an endless list of duties) though you don’t recognize us.

We look like everyone else (well except for the slightly glazed look to our eyes that sets us apart if you  pay attention).

Perhaps there is a bit of a frantic, harried air to us, if you know what you’re looking for (Who am I kidding? We probably look frantic or completely dazed depending when our last cup of Starbucks was consumed–easily identifiable, well at least as half cocked!) .

Who are we?

We are working mothers–a new breed of mother. An exhausted, overwhelmed, and often discouraged group of women.

Synonym for working mother?

insainityInsane.

in·sane
inˈsān/
adjective
1. in a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction; seriously mentally ill.
     synonyms: mentally ill, mentally disordered, of unsound mind, certifiable
2. characterized or caused by madness
     synonyms: maniacal, psychotic, crazed, hysterical
3. in a state of extreme annoyance or distraction
     synonyms: mad, crazy
That sounds pretty much accurate. Insanity–caused not by the chemistry of the brain, but rather the chemistry of the circumstance, or more accurately, “Life-stance.”
working momCircumstances imply that it can be changed or altered, but, unless I somehow miraculously end up single without children in the morning, I don’t see that a change of “circumstance” would really alter the state of existence which keeps me certifiably insane (or at least I feel like I could be) half the time.
I am, by varying degrees, alternately crazed, hysterical, mentally disordered, affected by moments of extreme annoyance and/or distraction–all on a daily basis.
To be a working mother means that I am being pulled in a million different directions, by a varying number of sources, at any one given moment, in other words, simultaneously.
Mad_HatterI am wearing so many different hats, that you might call me the “Mad Hatter.” (wink, wink, so very punny!)

What this means in reality is that I am tired all. of. the. time.

I never feel like I am giving enough to anyone (and that is usually, sadly, true), and so most days I feel like I suck.

I suck at everything.

I suck as a mother. I suck as a wife. I suck as a person. I suck as a contributing member of society.

I have an invisible F plastered to my forehead. F for failure. F for fool–for I am a fool to think I can do so much and somehow do it all well.

failureThere are simply too many irons in the fire, and that means that something is going to burn–or so often, lots of somethings.

juggling_momWhen you’re juggling so many balls, they begin hitting the floor, and then, I, the juggler, feel like I suck.

It’s not that there are more balls in the air than anyone could possibly handle.

The problem is me, the juggler. The finger does not get pointed at the ball, it is pointed at me. When that ball hits the ground, I hold the blame. Me. No one else.

I’m not the mother I want to be, the wife I want to be, the teacher I want to be–and I am certainly not the “me” that I want to be.

I can’t be, and I know that in my head, but the heart… well that is something else entirely.

And as if living under that perpetual shadow of guilt isn’t enough, then there are emails like this one from my 6 year old’s teacher:

Dear Heather and Aaron,

Lily has left her backpack in the car today.  It seems that she has a habit of misplacing things.  Please help her to become better organized and  ready to go.

Thanks,

Ms. ———-

It’s the end of May and my 6 year-old forgot her backpack for the second time this year, and I get a “you’re a crappy Mommy” note from her teacher.

parents-to-blameAnd this isn’t the first time.

I get one when I don’t have the opportunity to read with Lily because of one of my son’s late night baseball games.

I get one because I forgot to sign her folder on a night we really did read.

I get one because Lily, wanting to read on her own, misplaced her “book baggie book,” and, for a couple of days went to school without it because things were too busy at home to search the house from top to bottom and find said book that somehow ended up at the bottom of the toy bin.

I get one to encourage me to come have lunch with my daughter, because the stay-at-home Mommies do that and the children of us sucky working mothers are feeling left out.

I get one that encourages me to volunteer in the classroom like the stay-at-home mommies do, after all, it’s not fair that only some mommies do it all.

I seem to get one for ever real and imagined shortcoming this teacher believes I have.

Every time I get one of these notes, I feel the judgment being passed on my parenting. I feel the pointed finger and the scowling face. I feel the recriminations.

Working-Mom-Ecard-e1353971518875But the thing is, I already feel guilty most of the time. I don’t need her help in that. I feel guilty for the things I miss, the things that I am too busy–or too tired–to do, or to do as well as I wish I could–when my kids tell me about a last minute project at 7:00 at night and we have to scrounge around the house to try to make something work, when my daughter is a living painting and I can’t get off of work to see her, when my son has his “graduating from 5th grade Awards Breakfast” in the middle of my fourth period final and, instead of going, I have to settle for pictures.

I don’t need a disparaging note to make me feel like a crap mother–too often I already feel that way.

I am not alone in this. I think all working mother’s exist in this state, though to varying degrees I’m sure. It doesn’t matter that we are doing what is necessary to keep our families afloat.

working mom 2It doesn’t matter that we struggled with low level depression through the “stay at home” years, and this is a necessary component to our emotional well being.

It doesn’t matter that by working, I’m able to provide my children with the big house with the pool. Or that I’m able to pay for football and gymnastics and camps and lessons and all the things that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.

When my children turn sad eyes to me because I can’t go to their presentation, all the reasons for doing what I do, don’t seem enough. When a teacher (who has never had children herself by the way), points out my failings, all the benefits in the world fall short.

All I can do is do the best I can, and pray that it is enough. That my best will be good enough. That the good I am able to do, imperfect though it is, will outweigh the dropped balls and the metaphorical “scorched dinners.”

I may not be able to be the room Mommy, but no one loves their children more than I do.

I might see my husband like a ship passing in the night (much less having an actual date with the man who started me on this whole path to insanity!), but he knows (I think) that everything I do is because I love him and our children.

And it might take me a decade to write my book (hopefully not–I’m shooting for July), but it will get done.

At the end of the day, all I can do is the best I can do–and hopefully love makes up the difference.

Just another pretty face–being an adolescent girl–it’s all in the packaging

My daughter has started asking me what the songs on the radio mean.

That meant I had to actually start paying attention to what I was bee-bopping along to, because, I realized, half the time I had no idea what in the world the songs were about.

So, I started paying attention. I started actually listening to the words . . . and I was a bit dismayed by how many a)were about sex, b) were encouraging very negative behaviors, and c) were about sex. Did I mention how many were about sex–casual, meaningless sex?

tove loI’ve never really thought that deeply about the messages of many of the songs I listen to. I put the radio on and find myself enjoying the beat and the style, and so sing along without really knowing what I’m singing, or if I do, it really doesn’t penetrate, and, up until now, my kids were too little for it to really matter.

But now my nine year old daughter wants to know what they mean…and I find that I don’t want to tell her.

How do I tell her that, “Oh, honey, this song is about a girl who does drugs and goes to sex clubs because she misses the boy who dumped her so badly? (Tove Lo’s song so aptly named ‘I get high all the time’)” Umm . . . no, I just switch the station whenever that song comes on.

taylor swiftOr how about the new Taylor Swift (my girls love her–a model for young girls??) song about hooking up with a guy for the weekend because he looks good ( not because he is good, nope, just looks good) and she doesn’t really care if it lasts or not (song named “Blank Space”) so long as she has a good time. . . do I want my daughters to think that sex has no deeper meaning than if you find someone good to look at or not?

Or how about all the songs that objectify women. That’s fun. “Oh, honey, this song is just about how a woman’s only value is in how she looks and whether or not a guy can get her into bed . . . ” I’m not ready for that conversation yet!

The tendency for Hip Hop and Rap to throw around the “bitch” word and refer to women in all sort’s of sexual ways is notorious, and frankly, those songs are never playing on my radio, so let’s look at the genres that do get played in the family car…

sexismHow about Keith Urban and his “Little Bit of Everything.” For those of  you who haven’t heard it, here’s part of the first verse:

“I want a cool chick that’ll cook for me

But’ll dance on the bar in her tan bare feet

And do what I want when I want and she’ll do it with me.”

Nope, not sexist at all. :/ Is that what I want my daughters to think a healthy relationship in the 21st century looks like?

The lookism that is rampant in our culture, the objectification of women, is sadly something that I have become numb to on a conscious level–I don’t notice it that often except when it hits me over the head.

Having my precious, sweet, innocent daughter ask me what a song means was one of those “hitting me over the head moments.” Knowing that my tween daughter is about to walk into this ugliness, where her creativity, her innate goodness, her bright inquisitive mind are all going to take a backseat to her pretty face and a body about to blossom kind of pisses me off. My daughter is amazing, and so much more than how she looks! She is so much more than whether boys think she’s hot or not.

But this is what we do to our girls. This is adolescence for a female.

aibileenI want to wrap my daughter up and keep her safe from the ugliness out there–but I can’t. It’s our world and she has to live in it. So, I need to figure out how I can combat all the negative messages she receiving on a continual basis.

I just recently got around to watching the movie “The Help” (a truly outstanding movie with so many rich ideas I might have to devote a blog to it at a later time). What Aibileen said to that little girl–on repeat–really stuck with me. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Notice that she doesn’t say she’s beautiful– though she could have. She doesn’t mention how adorable she looks–though she certainly did look adorable. She focused on what that little girl really needed to know about herself. That she was kind. That she was smart. And that she was worth something.

That is what I can do for my daughter. I can remind her of who she is and what really matters.

Three boys playing tug-of-warMy son is a very handsome little fella. Every once in a while someone tells him that.

More often, he is told that he is smart, that he’s athletic, that he’s got potential. When he gets compliments, they are things about him. It’s not that he’s not good looking–it just doesn’t really matter that much for a boy. I mean it helps, but it’s not what’s most important.

My girls on the other hand, the vast majority of their compliments are about how they look. They continually hear that they’re cute or pretty or skinny–but much more rarely do they hear that they are kind or smart or talented, though they are all these things and more.

Their father and I tell them that they are smart and good and funny and talented, but the world around them focuses on how they look. Are our voices enough to make a difference?

Back in my dating years, I was always floored at how deep and intelligent guys who should know better were drawn to the pretty faces of shallow and flighty girls. This always stumped me.

peny-and-leonard-leonard-penny-32729301-1224-792Half of the guys I crushed on were just sort of  “meh” in the look department. It didn’t matter that much to me. It was their minds or their wit or their passion that drew me, not what they looked like. Don’t get me wrong, there has to be attraction, but attraction was so much more than what they looked like!

Nearly every guy I knew thought he deserved a drop-dead looker (even if he was a less than stellar specimen of the masculine race). And so many of them wouldn’t consider going out with an amazing girl because she was plain. This never made any sense to me.

papertowns2John Greene in his book “Paper Towns” puts it so well. “[It’s] always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people would want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste.” It makes no sense, but when it comes to females, that is what society (and guys) tell us is the most important factor when it comes to date-ability.

He furthers this idea in his book when he refers to a character who is popular and sought after by the guys in the protagonist’s school. Greene states about this girl: “She may be hot, but she is also 1. aggressively vapid, and 2. an absolute, unadulterated, raging bitch . . . [we]have long suspected that Becca maintains her lovely figure by eating nothing but the souls of kittens and the dreams of impoverished children”– and yet, the boys came swarming. Here was an awful, hateful girl, but her good looks made all that was negative about her disappear.

What is wrong with us?

I always marveled when I was young at how important it was for me, and for us as girls, to hear affirmation about how we looked. What did I do to contribute to how I look? Was it some great fete? Did I expend great effort? Was this a great achievement on my part. No, no and no. It was simple genetics–something I had no control over, and yet something I am told over and over again, is the most important part of who I am.

According to this idea, we are set up from the beginning to succeed or fail and nothing we do is really going to alter the outcome. Doesn’t really seem fair to me.

As a parent, it makes me angry–and it makes me feel so futile, the one voice in the noise of a society that says that how they look means so much less than who they choose to be.

helen of troyBut this isn’t a new problem, it’s not uniquely 21st century and it’s not uniquely American–though perhaps the prevalence of the idea is more oppressive because of this age of social media. This is a problem that is as old as time, and for all our gender equality, we don’t seem to be making any inroads on this particular facet of the problem.

In her book “Reviving Ophelia” Mary Pipher states “In early adolescence girls learn how important appearance is in defining social acceptability. Attractiveness is both necessary and a sufficient condition for girls’ success. This is an old, old problem. Helen of Troy didn’t launch a thousand ships because she was a hard worker. Juliet wasn’t loved for her math ability.”

She goes on to say that “America today is a girl-destroying place” and that “Girls have long been trained to be feminine at considerable cost to their humanity. They have long been evaluated on the basis of appearance and caught in myriad double binds: achieve, but not too much . . . girls are trained to be less than who they really are.”

I don’t want that for my girls. I don’t want my girls reduced to less than the dynamic individuals they truly are. I don’t want them to look for their value in how the male gender perceives them. I don’t want them to think that sex is something to approach casually or that it has no real meaning attached to it.

Somehow I need to fight this tide and help my daughters know that they are amazing, brilliant human beings, and not just pretty girls.

tween girls

It is our responsibility as parents, teachers, women, and human beings, to let girls know that their worth is in who they are–not in how they look.

Well, hello there! Long time no see!

comfy chairThe other day I had a rare day off with an empty house. My children were at school, my husband was at work, and for the moment, it was just me and my own thoughts, a turn of events I have become unaccustomed to in recent years.

I smiled in bliss at the solitude, appreciating the absence of sound. I settled into my comfy leather chair, snuggled beneath my favorite afghan with a steaming cup of Joe in hand, ready for a nice long chat with myself, a veritable wandering into the hallways of my own soul, reconnecting with an old familiar friend.

But this time, I greeted my solitude, and myself, as a stranger. When I tried to connect with my thoughts, I was overcome with silence–like friends too long apart I had become awkward in the presence of my own mind. My thoughts tumbled around my children, my husband and my job. They skittered amongst the practical, the responsible, the mundane. The thoughts of reflection, of self-knowledge were gone, their whisperings lost in the clanging of necessity. All I heard was the noise of the practical, the thoughts of others, ideas borrowed from books or the radio, my voice, the voice so uniquely me, was silent.

It is a very uncomfortable thing to come face to face with one’s self and to see a stranger. It is a feeling a do not like at all.

I used to be intimately acquainted with my own thoughts. I started a journal at the tender age of ten when I was too young to put much beyond the literal happenings of my day onto the paper. But, the practice led to introspection, which led to reflection. I grew in my knowledge of myself. I discovered who I wanted to be. I reflected on my place in the world and how I interacted in it. I knew who I was, who I had been and I had a clear picture of who I wanted to become. I don’t know this any longer.

It is not an altogether new thought, this reality that I am no longer intimately acquainted with myself. It has risen to the surface, a bubble appearing on the surface of a pond to disquiet the surface by its presence, but the ripple caused by the bubble spreads and fades, and that knowledge is ultimately forgotten in the noise of adulthood, of motherhood and marriage, and the clamor of needs.

disappearNow, I know who I was, but not who I am, nor who I want to be. In this moment of quiet, I confronted the stark reality that I as an individual have gone “Poof” up in smoke, no more substantive than the roles I fill. Me, the individual, this woman named Heather, exists only in relation to others, take them away and there would be nothing to ground me, I would drift away like a bit of fluff in the wind.

From the comfort of my chair, I stared unseeingly out my windows to the gray day before me and wrestled with the questions. How do I, when there is so little time and not enough of me to go around as it is, become re-acquainted with myself? How do I delve passed the responsibilities and the grinding of daily necessity to find the me that I am, not the me that I was?

I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a teacher. All these are things I am.

But these are all roles I fill, parts I play. I am more than the sum of these roles I play for others.

Who is Heather, the woman? Who am I apart from necessity and responsibility?

I was stumped.

Freight-11-728x400This year the reality of this freight train called life has come crashing into my consciousness. My son and my eldest daughter are transitioning from childhood to tween-ness and all the craziness that entails. My baby is not a baby but instead an increasingly tall, long-limbed girl as if she were a piece of taffy that God pulled from both ends, stretching her out. My husband and I have been married for fifteen swift, fleeting years (dear God! How did that happen! Surely I am not old enough to have been married for so long!). And this summer marks my twenty year class reunion. Excuse me as I swallow passed the lump in my throat . . .

I remember going to my ten year reunion and there was another class who was having their 25th reunion. I remember thinking how old they were, and how far removed from high school. I remember feeling so incredibly far from them, as if they were at a place I could not quite conceive of myself as ever reaching . . .

But here I am, a breath away, nearly there–and the breath within me stops, and I feel a suspicious knot in the vicinity of my heart. I am so busy with living, that I am not living, and my life is speeding past and soon I will be old.

CAM00708-1The High School I teach at is putting on a play of “High School Musical” and the director sent a campus wide call for high school pictures from all the teachers so last night I went digging through my old albums to see what I could find. It took a while. Apparently I left almost all of my childhood behind when I left my little rural town for the big city, and I didn’t really look back. I left almost everything at my parents’ house. I uncovered one year book and just a handful of pictures. One of the pictures was of my mom and I on graduation day. I recognized myself. That’s the me I know, the me I remember. That’s still how I look, isn’t it?

The more I looked at the picture, the more I realized that that girl is not me and I am not her. I looked at my mother in the picture and realized that I am the age my mother was when I graduated (actually, I’m a couple of years older!). I likely have more in common with her than I do the girl brimming with youth and hope.

I looked on that girl as a stranger and wondered what she would think of me if she were to meet me today, as I am now. How would she view who I have become? Would she think I’ve accomplished anything worth accomplishing or would she think that I had settled, defaulted to the original setting of life, the treadmill, that factory setting?

Would she recognize me as once being the her she is or would I look so entirely different that I would be nothing more than a stranger she just happened to be meeting?

Perhaps it’s a mid-life crisis, or perhaps it’s an epiphany brought on as I sense the ever-widening distance between myself and the students I teach, but I find myself realizing that we can never allow ourselves to become too busy to know ourselves. That is simply not okay. We cannot be a stranger to our own minds, our own dreams and aspirations. And we cannot rest on old dreams, the aspirations of our youth.

Marriages flounder and struggle and die. Fingers are pointed, blame is passed around. We declare, “I am not happy” as if our spouse is to blame for the lack of happiness we feel. “I don’t love him anymore” we say, not realizing it is hard for someone to love us, when we ourselves are lost even to ourselves.

mom self careHow can someone really love me if I don’t know who I am? And how can I love myself if I don’t even know myself? And how can I be happy if I don’t even know what I want?

I value my role as a wife and mother too much to give them a pale copy, a shadow of the woman I was meant to be. And I can’t become that woman if I don’t know myself.

Knowing who I am, who I want to be, is a responsibility too–and it is one that we, as women, too often neglect. We need to move it up our priority list. We need to give it time.

Do your husband a favor. Do your children a favor. But most importantly of all, do yourself a favor. Don’t become a stranger to the person you are. Take the time to reaquaint yourself with the you you have become, and take the time to figure out who you want to be in the future. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your family.