There’s a little bit of magic in all 0f us, and it’s called the mind

Savoring-ChocolatesWhat would happen if you were to eat something unhealthy but believe it was good for you … or something healthy but believe it was bad for you?

I doesn’t matter, right? If it’s healthy, it’s healthy. That’s simply a fact.

78653217_2And no matter how often you tell yourself that pan of brownies is actually good for you, it doesn’t make it so, right? I mean, that’s common sense.

Or not.

Wait a minute…what?

I can’t possibly be telling you that you can just think the calories out of your brownies?! What kind of quack am I?! I mean that’s ridiculous! You’re just going to stop reading now. Obviously, I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But wait, just for a minute. Hear me out.

Okay, so you can’t make those brownies into a carrot stick no matter how hard you try, BUT it seems that what we believe matters more than we think. Our body responds to how we view something. How our body reacts and interacts changes based on what we tell our brain is true.

This shouldn’t be as shocking as it sounds. We do things like this all of the time.

Seriously. No joke.

Take phantom limb pain. One of the ways we handle it is through something called mirror therapy. We quite literally trick the brain into thinking that the missing limb is still there–even though it’s not.

By using a mirror, we envision a leg where there is no leg, and the brain responds sort of like this:

“Oh! Dear me! My mistake! So sorry! There is a leg there. I see it now. Well, let me just get rid of this pain for you. My mistake. Won’t happen again!”

And poof! The pain goes away.

Are we still missing the leg?

Absolutely!

Are our nerves still sending a static message to the brain?

Yep.

But we’ve tricked the brain into believing there isn’t a problem.

How about another example: stress.

Are you stressed?

stress-300x266I’m stressed.

I’m not sure you can live in this modern world and not be stressed.

For years we have been told that stress is bad for us. It makes us sick. It can even kill us.

Many have mistakenly believed that stress can cause cancer. Research has never supported this. Though there is a correlation between stress and cancer, there is nothing that backs up the idea that stress causes the cancer. A basic research principle there: correlation does not equal causation.

We are now finding out that we have been demonizing stress to our own detriment. Stress itself is not bad. It is only the belief that stress is bad that gives stress the power to harm us.

Huh? What kind of psychological mumbojumbo is this? I’m losing you again, aren’t I? Hold tight. It sounds like mumbojumbo, but it’s not.

It’s backed up with research, and it’s pretty amazing. Check out this TedTalk and let the experts say it better than I can myself: Kelly Mcgonigal TedTalk Trust me, it’s worth the watch.

163808-Good-Morning-Let-The-Stress-BeginStress itself is not bad for us. In fact, we need to take our stress response and make it work for us.

I decided to take this concept and consciously practice it recently when confronted with a crisis in my own life.

As a professor of Psychology, I am very aware of the cycle of the stress response and exactly what is happening in my body when the fight/flight response is triggered. I felt the acceleration of my hearbeat. I felt the blood pumping in my veins. I was aware that my lack of appetite was due to my body focusing its energy on more important needs. I was aware of the the cortisol flooding my system to ensure that I had energy despite my lack of nutrition. I was consciously aware of my body’s response to the crisis at hand, and I told myself just what I was told to tell myself: this is a good thing. This is my body helping me to rise to the challenge and to overcome.

Phase two, I called my friends and family. Remembering the second part of Kelly Mcgonigal’s TedTalk, I got the people who love and care about me involved. I didn’t try to do it on my own. I didn’t let pride or embarrassment keep me silent. I knew I needed friends, and I called them. And they came, because my friends and family are awesome that way!

This was the second worst crisis of my life, only topped by the diagnosis and subsequent death of my first child.

It was bad. Really, really bad.

in-times-of-great-stress-or-adversity-its-always-best-to-keep-busy-to-plow-your-anger-and-your-energy-into-something-positiveAnd yet, I handled this crisis better than any crisis in my life. My body empowered me to deal with it, and my very belief that it would, ensured that it did. It didn’t make the situation any less terrible, but I handled it so very much better!

And I am continuing to handle it so much better, because, though the initial crisis is over, the stress and the aftermath are going to take a long, long time to deal with, and the continued stress I feel can sap my energy and will, or it can feed me.

I choose the latter.

I know my body is designed to help me withstand and overcome just such situations, and I’m going to let it do just that.

The Huffington Post puts it this way:

This isn’t exactly new material. Think of Shakespeare’s wisdom that “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Or this affirmation by 19th century Christian religious thought leader, Mary Baker Eddy: “Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionably to their occupancy of your thoughts.” (See #9 on: “10 Positive Thinking Books That Might Change Your Life.”) 

In other words, the more research we do, the more the link between our spirit/soul/consciousness and our physical selves becomes evident. What we think matters. Negativity hurts us physically. Whether it is our inner dialogue telling us how we don’t measure up and how we can’t ever achieve what we want to achieve (for more on this concept see my earlier blog: Queen of Schmucks ) or whether it is telling ourselves that our biological stress response is bad for us, negative thoughts take a toll on our physical bodies.

We need to change how we think.

How do we go about it? Well “Forbes” magazine breaks it down and gives us some practical steps in how we can begin to change our mindset about stress and make it work for us:

Tembracestresshen, follow this three-step process for cultivating a new stress mindset over the next month:

Step 1.

Acknowledge stress when you feel it, notice stress in your body.

If you have a difficult time noticing what you feel in your body, try meditating for just five minutes a day.

Step 2.

Welcome stress by knowing that it’s a response to something you care about. Can you connect with the positive motivation behind the stress?

What is at stake here? Why does it matter to you?

Step 3.

Make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting time trying to manage stress. Think of something you can do now and take action aligned with your values and goals.

If you believe the research, this short intervention can change your life.

Changing how we think is hard. It takes conscious effort and time. We can’t change our thinking over night.

For the optimists out there, we have a built in buoy system that makes it a whole lot easier.

For the pessimists, it might well be an uphill battle–but it’s a battle worth fighting.

It just might save your life.

Advertisements

A Lot Less Commercialism… and a Little More Christmas, Please!

Christmas seems to have snuck up on me–again.

texas christmasI don’t know if this is a result of living in Texas where December is more in line with the fall of my childhood, or perhaps it’s from the general chaotic pace my life has taken on, or maybe it’s some other factor that I have yet to identify. Whatever the reason, I’m staring Christmas in the face, and I feel totally unprepared.

ChristmasTooEarlyI used to put my tree up on November 1. I figured that, so long as we had passed Halloween, it was fair game. It wasn’t a matter of finding the time, but more a waiting a respectable amount of time before putting up that first sign of Christmas. I was ready and waiting, a runner poised for the blast that singled “Let the games begin!”

My Christmas shopping used to be done by December 1, and the only thing I needed to scramble for were a few extra stocking stuffers. I leisurely wrapped the gifts while listening to Bing croon about the white Christmas I could already see outside my window. I savored the season: enjoying the moments, admiring them, fingering them one by one.

christmas_stress_shoppingNow it’s more of a mad scramble, a dash from one event to the next–a chaotic sprinting, not a leisurely stroll.

The tree is put up in stages. First there is the bare tree, then days later it acquires some lights and maybe a ribbon or two. Finally, when we can all fit in a spare couple of hours together, we add the ornaments. And then at last the tree bedecked in all its glory to remind us that, yes, Christmas is coming (like a freight train), despite the blue skies and sunshine outside my window!

mom paperGifts are bought in a helter-skelter, often last minute fashion these days. Presents are wrapped only to be opened moments later–literally moments later. No enjoying that pretty wrapping paper peaking from beneath the tree branches. No children having days to wonder about the mysteries wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. There’s no shaking of the boxes, wild guesses, and the peeled back corners of gifts that sit under the tree to tantalize the little people in my life. Nope, there is a still puffing Mama who did a wrapping marathon only to thrust the presents into the eagerly waiting hands. I barely wipe the sweat from my fevered brow before the little people are tearing that pretty paper off and all my efforts are now crumpled in a heap on the floor…

And then there is the Christmas baking…don’t let me get started on the Christmas baking!

I used to love the smells wafting through my kitchen, the strains of the Trans Siberian Orchestra in the background, and the cup of Joe or the glass of red in my hand (depending on what strikes my fancy at the moment). I relished my role in my husband’s family as the maker of delectable desserts (it probably helps that their idea of a Christmas spread is cookies and pie bought at the local supermarket, but never mind that, I relished my role as the Martha Stewart of Christmas yumminess). They waited with anticipation for me to walk in with my homemade oreo cookies, my peanut butter bonbons, and what ever else I decided to throw into the mix that year.

They start anticipating early, at Easter, throughout the summer (never mind that I have spring and summer versions of dessert decadence), already anticipating the Christmas treats that are to come.

Oh, the pressure! I created this beast and now I have to feed it!

cooking messAnd the baking, no longer the savored Christmas experience, is something that I smoosh into my hectic Christmas Eve morning somewhere between the candlelight service (which they now have early in the afternoon which allows us to maintain our scavenger hunt tradition in the evening) and the scant few hours of sleep I’ve managed to cram in with all those last minute Christmas errands the day before the stores begin to close up shop and tell us procrastinators to “go the hell home! We have families too!”

Ah, Christmas. Still my favorite time of year, despite how quickly it comes and how quickly it’s over! How I miss the time to savor you as you so deserve!

My house may not be decorated to perfection, my array of treats might be appallingly scant, and the gifts might yet be crammed in shopping bags in the corners of my closet, but somehow, I don’t think that is what my children are going to remember (I know that’s not what I remember, though I’m pretty sure my mom was probably the chaotic, sweating, marathon running mess that I am today!).

Family-exchanging-presents-at-ChristmasMy children will remember, not the presents or decorations, but the time spent together. They will remember the traditions, the games, and the warm fuzzy feelings that Christmas will bring their way for years to come (until they have kids of their own and the chaotic insanity becomes their very own!).

I find myself reminding myself that it’s not about perfection. It’s not about a beautifully set array of cookies and perfectly wrapped presents. It’s not about the perfect kids’ craft that results in perfect little treasures for grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles.

The kids won’t notice the clutter around the house. They won’t notice that there are only two kinds of cookies this year. They won’t notice that the handmade presents are a bit less spectacular this year.

And I shouldn’t either.

Christmas CardIt’s time to stop running around like a crazy person and settle in and just enjoy being with my family.

And it’s time to remember what this season is really all about. Not the great commercial rush it has become, but something so much more–infinitely more.

Sometimes I need to remember that.

You can only do what you can do, and really that’s not the point of it all anyway.

Merry Christmas from my chaotic family to your own! May it be perfect in its imperfection!

I hate to break it to you, but summer is going the way of the dodo bird…

mean-old-ladyWhen you think of teachers, usually a few memorable ones will pop to your mind, the best of them or the worst of them. For me, the first who always comes to mind is Ms. Putsky, my first grade teacher. She was ancient back then, so my guess is she’s long gone by now, which is a good thing for all first graders everywhere. She was awful. She came from an era of corporal punishment, and though that age had moved on, Ms. Putsky had not. She was known to break rulers over hands, to intimidate and to mock. Political correctness–hell even kindness–was not in her repertoire. I remember her moving my desk to the front of my class, breaking all my pencils, calling me names, and, on one occasion, even throwing away my shoes (they clicked in the hallway when I walked and it annoyed her). I had many wonderful teachers along the way, but sadly, she is always the first to come to mind.

Whether a teacher with a positive influence or negative influence comes first to your mind, the reality is someone does, because a teachers influence us all. There are certain people from certain professions you might go your entire life and have no interactions with, but a teacher, well, none of us can go through life without living day in and day out with them, at least for portions of our lives. Which is one of the biggest reasons I chose to be a teacher, to have influence, to give back, to be a positive influencer, not a negative memory like Ms. Putsky is for me. Most teachers go into the profession for similar reasons (God knows it isn’t for the money!).

teacherWhat people don’t realize about teachers is, though we may love our jobs and love the big or little people we pour ourselves into, there is a large part of us that lives summer to summer. After all, if we’re going to pour ourselves out and into others year after year, we need  the chance to refill, or we too, will turn into a Ms. Putsky in our dotage–that’s what happens when you’ve poured it all out and yet you’re expected to keep pouring from an empty watering can (though, I have to say, in the case of Ms.Putsky, I think she just hated children and derived pleasure out of tormenting us!)

When we first step through the door of our classroom in August, we are already having a few stray thoughts of what we’re going to do next summer (often, the things we somehow didn’t have time for that summer). Throughout the first semester, the thoughts are fleeting, but they’re there. We start making lists. We start noticing all the things that aren’t getting done because of all the piles of grading we have, but those tasks have only been shortly abandoned, and though we might look at the yard work that is needing to be done, the floors that need a deep cleaning, things have only been neglected for a short time, and so they don’t press on our consciousness too terribly much. Besides, we think, with Thanksgiving Break and Christmas Break, surely we can at least catch up on those to-do lists then.

teacherburnoutAnd we do, at least somewhat. The only problem is that this list gets inevitably longer every day that passes, and, if, like me, you have a young family who seems to absorb mommy’s time like little sponges, you can never really get everything done that you had hoped to do, so you start telling yourself spring break, I can catch up on all of this when spring break rolls around.

The only thing is, that by spring break a teacher is starting to burn out. The constant social interaction (especially for the non-extroverts of our profession) is wearing us down. The piles and piles of essays to get through start to feel like a ball and chain around our mental ankle. The school responsibilites and the home responsibilities seem to press in, and by the time spring break hits, well, that to-do list, pressing though it might be, takes second seat to the desperate need for a break. So, instead of crossing things off that list, the list gets longer.

summerThat is when we teachers start thinking and dreaming about summer break in earnest. We start making lists of all the things we will accomplish: the home improvement tasks we will tackle, the deep cleaning we will do, the piles of books we will read, the places we will go, etc.. We begin our countdown and we watch that approaching day in June with at least as much anticipation as the students, and when that day finally comes, we think we will actually get everything we hadn’t had a chance to do during the course of the school year–finally–done.

The only problem is, at least for me, it never seems to happen that way. Here I am, looking up and it’s mid-July, my summer is half over, and my list is still so incredibly long. I blame it on the little people in my life. They seem to add two things to that list for every one I cross off.

mombalancing actI have to admit, I look at my childless teaching friends with a fair amount of envy (yes, Heidi, I have you in mind!). Whereas so much of my time is spent feeding my children (someone should really warn pre-mothers that they will need to prepare three meals a day for those little darlings…that means shopping for said meals, cooking said meals and cleaning up after those said meals…how much of my time disappears in that cloud of smoke?), cleaning the piles of laundry that they seem to go through on a nearly daily basis (how many shirts can my son wear in one day!! And why does he have to change back and forth from clothes into pajama pants throughout the day creating more and more clothing that makes it’s way down my laundry shoot?!), cleaning up after their general mayhem (the debris that somehow ends up scattered throughout my house on a daily basis resembles a small tornado in force, magnitude and destruction), carting them from one summer activity to another (next year I think I am going to keep track of the miles and minutes that I rack up from being the chauffeur…I think it would be quite shocking), and entertaining and spending quality time with those little people (by far the most enjoyable of the time-consuming tasks). There goes the bulk of summer, poof! And I haven’t even touched the things that I want to do or the special projects that have been waiting patiently for me to finally get to them over the course of the long academic year (it makes me tired just thinking about it!).

good-lifeWhereas, my childless teacher friends (Ahem, yes, you again Heidi) get all that time to do all sorts of things: traveling to Houston, traveling to Las Vegas, traveling wherever the whim takes them…going to concerts and shows, fancy restaurants and movies, reading the piles of books that I wish I could read…their time is their own. It has been so long since my time has been my own…

So, yes, here I sit half way through my summer, and my house still has not entirely gone through its deep cleaning. I still have not sorted through and organized my garage, much less my attic. My bathroom is, as yet, unpainted, and the dining room chairs, well, I had almost forgotten about my intention to paint them this summer. The great pile of books I intended to be through by this point sits largely untouched (I’ve gotten through a few, but there are still so many waiting!) and the book that I intended to be done writing by the end of July still has a little less than half way to go, and only two weeks to meet my goal. Sigh…

Back_to_schoolAll of this, and I am starting to see the words “Back to School” pop up in ads and at stores. My children have begun wondering who their teacher will be for this coming year, and I feel the second half of the sands of my summer slipping through the hour glass at an alarming rate.

How much of my to-do list will be pushed off to next summer, and then the next, and then the next, until my little birdies fly the coop and my time is my own again?

And yet that doesn’t make me any happier, for if I was to choose between the two, my time or my birdies, I would choose to keep those little loves close every single time.

To-do lists will always be there. Concerts and vacations will always be there, but they will not be, and how I will miss them when they go!

first-day-of-college-cartoon1So, as much as I hate cleaning (and I really do HATE it!), and as much as I beat myself up for the never-ending to-do list that never diminishes, I am glad for the opportunity to spend this time with my little sponges. Soon enough, they aren’t going to want to spend their precious summer moments hanging out with their mom!

I think I’m an endangered species . . . I’m an introvert

New-Years-Eve-Party_1I’ve been radio silent for a while. Have I been exceedinly busy with tons of holiday activities? Have I been dashing from one social event to another?  Maybe I’ve been out of town with a party every night and an activity every day . . . ?

No, no, and no.

I’ve been in my cave. Yes, my cave. And yes, I’m a girl. It’s not only guys who need and have a cave. I have one too.

You see, I am an introvert living in an extroverted world. That’s no easy thing! And sometimes, sometimes, I need to retreat, recharge, and frankly pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist for a while (not easy to do when you’re mother to three little people!).

multitasking-mobile-devices-660x429We introverts tend to be very misunderstood by our extroverted sisters and brothers. You see, for us, parties take work. We don’t thrive when surrounded by great crowds of people. We don’t look forward to the weekend for all of the clubs, parties and events that await. We don’t feel the need to share every waking moment via text or instagram. We don’t keep our phone in hand waiting for any incoming texts so that we can respond to with some funny quip or snarky comment and feel continually connected to the world at large.

Nope. Our phones are on silent most of the time. Heck, they might still be in our bag. We might even forget to check them, for a day, or maybe even two. We might even misplace them and forget about them until there is someone we have to talk to or if we need a timer or something.

When you seeing us sitting in the lunchroom alone, or out for coffee at a table by ourselves with a book or maybe a computer, it’s not that we can’t have company. It’s that we don’t want company. Don’t pity us for our solitude. It’s what we want, what we crave, and something that is so very difficult to find in this crazy busy, over sharing, nauseatingly social world of ours.

My friends know this about me, because they really, really know me. Why? Because I’d much rather have one or two really awesome friends, than be the most popular mom on the block. And because they know me, they give me space to quite simply be me.

They don’t get angry when it takes me a day or two to text them back. They don’t get all pissy if I don’t feel like going out. They get me, and I get them. And it works.

So, why was I radio silent? Because I was hiding from you, all of you. It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s just that it all takes so much darn WORK!

I am a teacher. A very social job. I’m bombarded with questions, required to make snap judgment calls on a regular basis. Sometimes I am required to talk almost every single minute of my working day.

grinchAnd then I go home. I go home to three little kids with their endless questions and needs. I go home to a husband who I haven’t connected with all day and there are more words. I feel a bit like the Dr. Seuss’ Grinch: “Oh, the noise, noise, NOISE!”

It’s not that I don’t love my students. Most of them are pretty great. And I certainly love my children. And Aaron and I never get enough time to talk as it is, BUT it becomes sensory overload to the introvert. It fries my circuits. I start to short circuit, and eventually, I just shut down.

woman-curled-up-in-chair1This time I shut down and escaped to the world of Kim Harrison and her Hollows series. I read and read and read. And for once, instead of impatiently having to wait for the author to finish the series, I have the luxury of having the WHOLE thing from start to finish at my anxious fingertips.

Yes, I reluctantly emerged from my cave periodically and spent time with my family and kids (and had some great times and memories as a result), but I anxiously anticpated the return to the fictious world. It’s not just that I love to read, it’s that I NEED it.

And then, one day, battery is full. My mind beeps, and I can go back into this crazy social, fast paced existence called the modern world. I have the energy to expend.

So, all of you extroverts out there, be patient with the introverts in your life. It’s not that your husband doesn’t want to talk to you when he comes home, it’s that he has nothing left. It’s not that your friend doesn’t want to hang out with you on Friday night, it’s that she has nothing left. It’s not that your dad doesn’t want to spend time with you, it’s that his very existentence is spent providing you with all the cool gadgets and wants that you desire and he’s fried.

We all don’t want to party ’til the sun comes up. Some of us would much rather curl up in a chair with a good book or zone out on the couch watching whatever professional sports team happens to be in season. Some of us find this modern world draining and solitude, not socialization, is what charges our batteries and keeps us going.

He’ll go the party with you, if you give him the space he needs in return. It’s how we work. How we’re wired. And society doesn’t give us much space to be what we really are.

We live in a Photoshopped Perfect, Plastic World

emotional vomitI have a cousin who is prone to emotional vomit.

Yes, she spews her emotions (typically rapidly changing from one extreme to the next) all over social media. I know every problem she has. I know when she’s not feeling well, when she’s angry at her boyfriend, when she decides that she HATES somebody–everybody (And boy! She holds no punches, dropping f-bombs and oozing hatred with every syllable), when she’s depressed, when she’s filled with self-loathing, and when she’s ready to give up on it all.

It’s all right there–in black and white–for the whole world to see.

Many times I have thought about saying something, but I know too well how she would respond, so I keep my peace. It’s simply not worth it. She will not hear. She’ll just point her anger and hatred in my direction, and frankly, who needs that?!

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way, because last week, when she posted something especially venomous, people started weighing-in. They told her (and there were many of them) in gentle, and not so gentle terms, that facebook was not the place to air all of her problems.

As I expected, she pointed her canon at them and started unloading. Most of what she said, does not bear repeating. But one thing was telling. “You guys don’t know the half of my f&^%$#@* life, So, until you walk a day in my d*$# shoes. . . Yeah sorry I don’t have 3beautiful kids an awesome husband and a family who supports me.”

Why was this telling?

photoshoppedBecause her assumption is based on a fundamental misconception: that who we are on facebook is an honest reflection of our lives. She honestly thought that the view she was getting of peoples’ lives on facebook was their reality, and when she compared that to her own life, she became angry and bitter.

I’ve blogged about this before (check out The Grass is Always Greener . . . ). Most of us do not do what my cousin does. We do not spew our worst days, our failings, and our heartbreaks all over facebook. We post our special moments, our successes and our good times. We post our best selves. We want the world to believe that we are doing it, that we are living the dream–that we’ve arrived.

This is a cultural failing that we have–this impossible grasping for perfection. Even our models, the most beautiful among us, are photoshopped, because even they are not perfect in their beauty. We, especially the women, live under a continual pall of insecurity because we cannot attain the unattainable–we cannot look like the     photoshopped images we see on a daily basis.

I absolutely love Meghan Trainor’s song “All About that Base,” because it addresses this head on. We are making generations of women feel as if they are inferior because they cannot be, what no one can be.

Facebook can have the same affect. We post only the pictures that make us feel beautiful, the moments that show that we are special, the events that paint us as successful. Our facebook selves are photshopped selves. They are the selves we wish we were, not the selves that we really are.

We are a disingenuous culture. We are rarely honest with anyone, even ourselves.

perfect familyTo the casual observer on my facebook page, I might look like I have it all together (with the exception of the loss of Serena which I am fairly open about). I have a handsome, intelligent husband, three beautiful children, a great house, and a great job. I get to have vacations every now again and do fun things. I look happy.

And sometimes I am.

But there is another picture. Another side.

Facebook knows nothing of my struggle with insecurity. It shows nothing of the days when I hate my body and feel too keenly my fading beauty.

Facebook knows nothing of the years of struggle with depression after losing Serena.

Facebook knows nothing of the shame I walked when Aaron lost his job and for six months we struggled to even pay rent–when, despite the humiliation, we found ourselves walking into the human services office to see about our options with public assistance. It knows nothing of the shame I felt every single time I had to scan that EBT card.

Facebook knows nothing of the resurgence of my temper in the wake of grief and stress. It does not see the ugliness I show when I am pushed beyond what I feel as if I can bare. The times I yell, the times I snap at my husband and children, the times when I end up sobbing from the weight of it all.

Fmom-chaosacebook does not see when my house is a wreck, and the dishes pile up in my sink, and the laundry starts to pile to the rafters. It does not see the relentless and endless drudgery of cooking and cleaning for a family of five. It does not see the times when I feel reduced to a cook and maid, a faceless, powerless drudge.

Facebook does not see the ways Aaron and I have wounded each other by both word and deed.

Facebook does not see the many times he and I have wanted to give up, to walk away, to say, “We’re done! We can’t do this anymore!”

Facebook does not know, cannot know, because I refuse to show it.

Facebook does not see–so you do not see.

barbieYou see the window dressing. You see the outer shell I choose to show.

Every once in a while, we give a window in, but it is only a window. It is a snapshot. Not the reality.

Do not compare yourself to these Facebook Selves, these shadow selves. They are allusions, projections, phantasms. They are not substantial, attainable or replicable.

Do not compare yourself to me or to anyone else.

Do not compare your life to someone else’s life.

Because, I promise you, you will be comparing yourself to something that does not exist.

How can I know this? How can I promise such a thing?

perfect lifeBecause no one is perfect, no matter what you think. And no one has a perfect life, though to an outward eye it might appear as if they do.

No life is without pain.

We all hurt. We all bleed. We all have moments when we feel as if we can’t possibly keep breathing, keep walking, keep standing.

Not one of us is untouched.

For some, the pain starts when we’re children, and we never know life without pain. For others, childhood leaves us untouched, and we enter adulthood with shining eyes and expectations of a perfect world, but at some point, somewhere on our journey, pain will find its way in.

People die. They get sick. They leave.

Sometimes, the ones we trust the most betray us. Sometimes the ones who should have our back, are the ones who slide the knife in. Sometimes our heart bleeds, it breaks, it shatters.

And everyone, every single person on this planet, will have these moments–because these moments are life.

The amazing thing, the wonderful thing, is our capacity to endure.

I've learned that you can keep going long after you think you can'tWhen we feel like we can’t keep going, we can and we do. When we feel like we can’t possibly take one more thing–when it comes–which it inevitably seems to–we find ourselves somehow battening down the hatches and fighting our way through. Sometimes we cannot run, or even walk. Sometimes all we can do is put one foot in front of the other, and that’s all we have. That all we’ve got to give. But we do it. One. Foot. At. A. Time.

How do I know we can do this, when life pummels us, and people fail us, when we fail ourselves, how do I know we can push through?

Because we exist. The human race is still here.

We live in the height of human existence. We live a life of plenty: plenty of food, plenty of the basic necessities (clothing, house, healthcare) and plenty of leisure/extravagances (entertainment, hobbies, options, etc.).

Historically, people lived in want. They went to bed hungry. They had limited, or no, healthcare. Death was a frequent visitor.

If anyone had a reason to give up, they did–but they didn’t. They kept living. They kept loving. They kept walking. They kept fighting. They gave us a future.

I am an anomaly having lost a child. Most people, at least in the developed world, do not have to bury their children.

In the past, they didn’t just bury one, but instead, usually several.

Men very commonly lost their wives in childbirth. Women lost their husbands, and, when they did, what options did they have to provide for their families? They either married again or were forced to walk paths that they never would have chosen.

keep goingLife was hard. It was ugly. It was survival–but they did just that–they survived. And because they did, we are still here today.

We need to end this delusion that perfection is possible. We need to stop hurting ourselves and each other with this endless striving for what does not exist–the perfect life and the perfect person. We need to stop pretending that it does exist.

We need to give others grace to be imperfect.

We need to give ourselves grace to be imperfect too.

My husband cannot be the prefect man that some writer has created in a book, or that some actor plays on tv. Those men don’t exist outside of words that were created by a clever person and put on a page. My husband can’t be that man. Neither can your husband.

Neither can I live the photoshopped lives that I catch on the pages of social media, the images I see in magazines, or the brief glimpses into others’ lives that I am allowed, when they choose to show me, what they choose to show me.

I can’t live those lives, and neither can you.

They don’t exist. They’re not real.

perfectPeople are not perfect. Our lives are not perfect. . .

And that’s okay.

Let it be okay.

Give yourself a break.

And give the people around you a break too.

 

 

 

No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks.

I came home last night to a distraught daughter. images

I wanted nothing more than to curl up in my leather recliner with a book, and disappear for a few minutes after my long day, but, instead, I found myself in that same chair, with my 8 year old third grader cradled in my lap, as she wept and wept.

Why, you ask was my little one crying? Did someone pick on her at school? Did she skin her knee? Is she the target of all the bullying we’ve heard so much about lately?

No, no and, no. But she is a victim.

She is a victim of expectations and perfectionism. She is a victim of standardized tests and insane expectations. She is a victim of a generation of extremes. Either the kids feel like they need to be perfect, driving themselves in their need to achieve: academics, athletics, community service–or, they go to the opposite extreme and skate by doing as little as they possibly can (except maybe in the athletics department), spending most of their time on their phones or playing video games.

sleepI see it everyday at school. Granted, my school is an extreme. The kids drive themselves to exhaustion in their effort to outrank each other. They give up their passions and they give up their sleep. They put their dreams on a shelf to get dusty, and, eventually, to become forgotten altogether. They forsake their childhood while still children, and exile the high school experience to the dusty corridors of “If I only had the time . . . ”

Or they do nothing. They exist. They come to class, do as little as possible, and spend every spare second on their phones. They feel like the very fact that they dragged their lazy bum out of bed, and sat that same bum into one of my chairs entitles them to a passing grade.

Okay, so maybe that is a little unfair. After all, some kids do fall in the middle. Some kids have found the balance of the pendulum. But truly, the vast majority seem to fall into one extreme or the other. Over achieving or lazy bum.

I am not a stranger to perfectionism. I most certainly was a perfectionist in my youth. My class was very competitive and I wanted to compete, so I drove myself. I joined everything there was to join from choir and basketball to forensics and theater. I was big into community service. I was so busy competing that I forgot to play. I rushed through college in four years, testing out of whatever I could so that I could finish first. I rushed into adulthood and responsibility. I was that kid. The kid who was all work, all acievement– and no fun.

But today . . . today it seems so much worse.

My perfectionistic nature drove me to my perfectionism. My exceptionally gifted class drove me to my perfectionism. School itself did not drive me to this unhealthy balance. State testing was something we did, but no one paid a whole lot of attention to the results. I did not always feel as if I was compared to the others in my class. And, truthfully, there really wasn’t any feeling of expectation until middle school. Yes, we were encouraged to do well, but it was not a competition. We did well, so that we would learn what we needed to learn, so that, when it counted, we would be prepared.

cryingAs I listened to my daughter cry because she scored low on her reading istation test. As I listened to her weep, because she was “Terrible at spelling! Terrible!” As I listened to her tell me she wasn’t as smart as the other kids, I felt anger stir. I was indignant. I became livid.

My daughter is in third grade. She should be playing. She should be happy. She should be carefree.

She should not be weighed down by school. She should not feel like she is competing for her academic future. She should not even be thinking of her future in anything but abstracts term! School should be fun, a place of learning and growth–academic and social growth–not of stress and pressure.

She has hours of homework most nights. She has more homework than some of my high school students. She’s eight.

My daughter reads–without me having to remind her to do so. She loves to write–she is always writing stories. She practices her flash cards–because she likes to.  She is very bright–but she is worried, already, that she is not good enough.

I have a problem with this. I have a problem with my daughter who will likely be a straight A student all the way through her academic life already feeling the pressure of school. I have a problem with these standardized tests that expect all children, no matter their birthday, and no matter their developmental speed, to achieve the same levels at the same time. I have a problem with a system that makes these children feel not good enough, because a certain skill might take them a little longer than it takes someone else. With this, I have a problem.

It’s bad enough that, day in and day out, I see so many gifted students forsake their love of art or music in the name of success.

I found it so telling that, when I asked my students at the beginning of the year what they wanted to do with their lives, 90% of my honors kids said they wanted to do something in the medical field. Success means math and science to them.

As it did to me back in the day. It’s what the smart kids do. It’s what their parents tell them to do. What the counselors encourage them to do. It’s what society expects them to do.

I was going to be a doctor too . . . until I realized that I hated math. Until I acknowledged that, though I was good at it, I hated biology. Until I realized that, I would rather make less money doing something I loved, than make more money doing something that I hated.  Just because I was smart enough to be a doctor, did not mean that I was supposed to be a doctor.

easelIn a million ways I see my students’ love for the arts. I read of their love for music and dance. I hear of the artists with abandoned easels . . . the dancers who’ve retired their dancing shoes . . . the athletes who have abandoned the courts.

All in the name of success.

In the name of perfectionism.

To be the best.

Because they are smart enough to do it.

Even if they don’t want to do it.

Just because they can do it.

Almost daily, I tell my daughter that she does not need to be perfect. Every day, I tell her her best is good enough. Every day, I remind her that there are things more important than school.

Yes, I am a teacher, and I say this.

I lived this. I see so many of my students living this. I don’t want my daughter to live this.

ChildsDreamI don’t want her to give up her childhood while still a child. I’m not ready for her to stop dancing yet. I’m not ready for her to be anything, but who she wants to be. Not ever.

I don’t want her to take on the stress and pressure of unreasonable expectations. I want her to LIVE–not simply succeed.

I want her to play. I want her to dance. I want her to soar.

There is time enough for her feet to be firmly planted on the ground.

For today–for now–I want her to live in the clouds, in the land of dreams, where anything is possible, and where her best is good enough.

I want her days to be about friends and dolls. I want her childhood to be filled with songs and swings. I want her evenings to be filled with pretend worlds and wild imaginings–not with math and science. Not with spelling. Not with tears.

I look at my high school kids, and I wish that so many of them knew what I know now.

I wish that they knew that they need to forge their own path, not the path their parents think they should take.

I wish they knew that medicine is not the only road to success.

I wish they understood that there are more important things than money and success, and that all the money and success in the world are not enough to make them happy if they’re doing something they hate.

I wish they understood that high school is as much about memories and moments as it is about books and homework.

There is time enough to be adults. They don’t need to let their childhood go so quickly. They never need to let go of their dreams. Nothing is worth that. Not even success.

growing_up

 

I’ll have a pan of brownies, a Bud light and a book on the side please–I’m a little bit stressed

Everybody has heard of the “Stress Eater.” Lots of people fall into this category. When they get stressed, they go buy a chocolate bar or, better yet, they eat a whole pan of brownies. Pretty typical. Pretty normal.

Image

Or the stress drinker. When you’ve hit that stress point where you feel like you’re going to break, do you grab a Bud Light from the fridge? Or maybe you’re more a merlot kind of gal. Again. Normal.

Image

Normal was never an adjective used to describe me. When I get stressed, I tend to lose my appetite. Well, except for the sweet tooth. I mean, let’s be honest, when does cheesecake NOT sound good, right? And though an occasional glass of wine at the end of a bad day is not something that I’m opposed to, it’s just not something that I’m ever going to make a habit out of–it’s just not me. No, when my world becomes too big for me to handle, when the daily grind feels like it is going to grind me into flour dust, I don’t reach for a Kit Kat or a Sam Adams–I reach for a book.

A book you ask? Okay, well that’s weird. Like I said, I never claimed to be normal.

I fall into a very small group known as “Stress Readers.” What, you’ve never heard of that before? Well, fine. I confess, I just made the term up. Still, it totally fits–so looky there, I made a new word (or term, whatever)!

Ever since I was a girl, when stress hit, I would escape. I would run from my reality and live someone else’s for a while. I would live their problems and get through them all from the comfort of my bed, leather recliner, sunroom, etc. (Depending on the year, my reading spot of choice differed). I would feel what they felt, and thus, separate myself from what I personally was feeling. I would read until, finally, one day, the stress would feel manageable and I would re-enter my own reality. Of course I couldn’t just take a hiatus from my life until that moment happened, but somehow the hours reading gave me an emotional buffer from its impact in the meantime.

Image

Through the years, this has morphed and changed. As a kid, Terry Brooks and his “Sword of Shannara” series gave me my first taste of escapism. I then quickly moved on to Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin (yes, I have been a fan from the beginning folks! Not a bandwagon groupie like most of you! 😉 ). I re-read those books more times than I can count. When my problems loomed large and I felt like I would be swallowed whole, I  would become Daenerys for a while and conquer the world, Image

or fight and scrape with Arya, proving my spunk and courage to all who knew me. Image

The books were so much more than books–they were worlds where I was able to be a different version of myself–they became alternate realities where I was tougher, spunkier, wittier, and prettier than I was in my normal life. And somehow, when it was time to re-enter my own skin and get back to being myself, I did so with confidence and a knowledge from all of those whom I had walked with and so my life seemed more doable, more achievable, and I felt more like its heroine–not just a girl struggling through.

Image

When I was a stressed out mom with three little ones all at home, I have to admit, my crutch, coping mechanism, whatever you want to call it, failed me. How do you escape when you are the go-to person for needy little ones? You don’t. And so for the first time in my life, I rarely read or had any opportunity to escape. I can honestly say that those were the most stress filled years of my life. I wept often. The weight of my stress felt like it would crush me into a formless mass of goo. I think in a lot of ways I survived those years, I didn’t really live them–and I certainly wasn’t able to escape them.

But now, I am in a different phase of my life. My kids are a little older and so they are a little more independent. Guess who’s back? My handy little crutch. And with age and wisdom, I have mastered the art of stress reading. It is not a “one size fits all” kind of crutch anymore. Oh, no! There are different types of escapism for the different levels and types of stress. For your average, run of the mill stress, I still run to fantasy or dystopian worlds. Though my authors of choice have changed because, as we all know, George Martin seems more interested in doing anything BUT writing and if I waited for his next book, I might die (or he might) before it arrived! So, I have branched out.

I have found a lot of fodder among YA authors: Alison Goodman, Libba Bray, Sherry Thomas, Cassandra Clare and Veronica Roth among others. Oddly, in the adult section, there seems to be fewer choices. Charlaine Harris was my favorite until she tanked the Sookie Stackhouse series with very possibly the WORST finale in the history of writing. I stumbled on Gillian Philip who is quite good, as well as Jim Butcher and a few others.

But when the stress gets really rough, I find even fantasy takes more brainpower than I am capable of and so I retreat to light, fluffy chick lit or romance. Kristan Higgins and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are my preferred choices, but unfortunately, I’ve read all of their books and so I’ve been forced to wander further afield. I’ve found that Susan Wiggs’ and some of Nora Roberts’ (sometimes–some are way TOO fluffy) books can do in a pinch.

When the stress reaches epic proportions, and remember, I am a teacher, and there are most certainly times during the school year that I simply cannot bear to speak or even listen to one more syllable or when I cannot read another word (imagine grading 200 Freshmen essays in the course of a few days)–days when my brain is complete and utter mush, on those days I succumb to a TV series marathon for my escapism stress relief. I feed my family dinner, help kids with baths and homework, and then I retreat into my bedroom with my computer and my friend Netflix and begin to burn through every single episode of a series.

For instance, “Walking Dead.” Life had hit the high intensity level when I turned to the zombie apocalypse for my alternate reality. I mean, what eases stress more than the end of the world as we know it and unthinking, gory, once humans trying to make a tasty snack out of you? Not to mention that, should the zombie apocalypse ever become a reality, I now know everything to do (find a remote farm in the middle of no where) and what not to do (ever trust anyone ever again). Escapism and educational!

Image

So, what’s your “vice” of choice? We all have one–something that helps us get by when life has us in a death grip. Any tips? Have you found the fail safe stress relief strategy that will make the mountain into an ant hill? Any good escapism must reads or sees? Share my friends! I’m running out of stuff to read! 😉

Ready! Set! ROAD TRIP!!

So, I’ve been a bit silent on the blog front. It was one crazy summer!!  You forget how nice and peaceful (at least comparatively) it is to have your older children at school leaving only one at home . . .  until summer break rolls around and the inevitable rounds of bickering, tattle-tailing and sound barrier breaking games begin and remind you that the stress of the school year is more like butterflies floating around and birds singing than the stress that is now your life.

There were days when I felt completely shell-shocked by the time my husband came home. All I could do was stare at him blankly. It’s what I like to call MAJOR stimulation overload! This partial introvert starts to report an error signal in such moments. It’s as if my brain starts shouting, “MALFUNCTION!! Must stop! Shutting down now!” And just like your computer when it shuts down, forcing closed any running programs and becoming unresponsive, well, that’s pretty much me. My face is like a black screen with one little blinking light that does not respond to any of your commands. It just . . .stares back at you . . . blankly . . . blinking . . . but not responding. Yep. That’s pretty much me this summer!

So, what do you do when your kids are driving you crazy?? What do you do to bring sanity back to the chaotic cacophony of a mother’s summer? You plan a cross country trip of course!

Did I mention that said cross country trip is all by yourself with said children?!

Okay. So maybe that wasn’t my brightest move ever! But children overload was trumped by the desire to flee the debilitating heat of a Texas summer. So, yes, I piled my three children into our little PT Cruiser and the kids and I hit the road for our annual trek from Texas to Wisconsin. Yes, I drive it by myself, and yes, we do it all in one day without stopping. Maybe I’m a bit crazy. Yeah . . . I suppose I kind of am . . .

This year, might have been enough to have given this “I can do anything . . . I am woman hear me roar . . . power Mama” a dose of very much needed sanity! You see, somewhere in the middle of Missouri, our overly helpful bank decided to put a hold on our check card due to these unusual out of state purchases. After all, they wanted to protect us!

 Normally, though it might have been frustrating, it wouldn’t have been cataclysmic. However, in the chaos of getting me and my three heat-weary, sibling overloaded children packed and out the door, I had forgotten to take my typical trip to the ATM for the “just in case” cash I usually bring. Yep. All I had was that frozen bank card and a twenty at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon . . . well besides my three cranky, bored children who had already been cooped up in that little car for almost 12 hours! 

Yep, Mama lost it! Tears, drama, and I have to admit, some fairly bad (okay, VERY bad!) language came pouring out of me all at the same time. I think I called my husband about thirty times in a half hour trying to get to him before the bank closed, and failing to get a hold of him, I called my poor mother and poured out my tale of woe to her regardless of the fact that she was 1000 miles away and unable to do a thing for us except worry. Not exactly fair for her, but I was desperate!

Luckily, my husband finally received my frantic SOS and skipped out on work to high tail it over to the bank and play the hero, which he has to do way too often to suit this independent, strong-minded woman of the modern world! I’m so glad that my husband isn’t averse to playing the knight in shining armor to my damsel in distress. (The truth is, I kind of like knowing that I have a knight in the back ground who can come and “fix it” when I can’t do it myself.  While you’re at, feel free to hold the door open for me . . . whichever feminist decided to throw THAT baby out with the bath water  . . . let me tell you . . . !)

Needless to say, next year, when that colossal road trip rolls around, I might have to rethink doing it by myself, or at least consider not doing it all in one day . . . And I will DEFINITELY have cash as well as my bank card . . . and maybe a credit card too . . . just in case . . .

It was the Best of times, it was the Worst of times . . . it was Summer Break!

            This is the first year that I looked toward the coming summer break with sheer terror mixed in with the anticipation. This was the first year in a long time that I have had only one child at home during the day, and though she can be pretty crazy, she has no one to argue with, therefore, it means no bickering, no tattling and so no Mommy refereeing. Though I have to be pretty hands on with Lily, it has been a fairly peaceful year.

            Summer break means all that is going to change.

            I love my kids. I enjoy hanging out with them. The closer it comes to the end of the school year, the more I begin to think of all the fun things that we’re going to get to do together. It means more snuggle time, more hugs and kisses, more chats, more laughter. It means long days at the park and it means lazy days at the pool. All of this with three of my favorite people in the world!

      

            But, you see, I am no longer a young, idealistic, novice mom. I know that it also means long days of bickering, whining and refereeing. It means that I will now have three children to interrupt me every thirty seconds instead of just one. It means there will now be three children hollering for me across the house and finally poking their heads in when I’m going to the bathroom. It means absolute chaos!          

            Summer break began for us last week Friday, and just as I knew would happen, we have had some great times. We’ve had pool parties, play dates, picnics and visits to the sprinkler park. We’ve had fun with friends and cuddles with family. It sounds idyllic!

            But, as I also knew would happen, they came out of the gates bickering. Every single one of them wants Mommy to his/her self and each one thinks that they should have sole control of the remote.

           Knowing this was inevitable I was proactive. I filled my calendar with fun things to do and planned out a school chart so the kids would continue working on their reading and writing all summer. I planned out a chore chart (I mean, there’s no reason they can’t help more when they have so much free time on their hands, right?). I tried to think of anything and everything.

            Even being proactive, it doesn’t seem to be enough! It’s only week one, and this Mommy feels like a computer when it has had too much input in too short of a period of time and it just freezes. My brain does that same thing when I am bombarded by my three children all at the same time, it just freezes, and I find myself simply staring at them with that deer in the headlights kind of look. My brain just stops working!

                                  TOO . . . MUCH  . . . INFORMATION!!!!

             And yet, I know that these are the times I am going to look back on, the days I’m going to wish were back when they’re gone. I’m not going to remember the bickering and the squabbles. I’m going to remember the days when Gavin still wanted to read with me and the times when Belle wanted to take a walk holding my hand and chattering my ear off about all of the things that are most important to her. I’m going to remember that last summer when Lily, by any stretch of the imagination, could be considered babyish at all.

            The chaos is just as much a reality as the good times, but somehow, that just doesn’t seem to matter, at least not right now in the few moments of relative quiet I have managed to carve out of this crazy day. I look at them and I see them growing, sometimes I feel like, right before my eyes. These moments are going to be gone before I know it and I know that I would take all the chaos to have them back again when they’re gone!

 

           

 

         These are the magical days of childhood, where Lily is still so free and unselfconscious to burst into spontaneous song and dance, and Arabelle is uninhibited enough to snuggle up with me in bed, and even Gavin is still young enough to sit on mom’s lap, even though part of him hesitates, wondering if it’s still okay.

 

 

 

 

                            These are the heart and soul of Motherhood

                              and I’ll take the bad along with the good any day!

Teetering on the Verge of Insanity

         This is part two of our journey after losing Serena. If you missed part one, feel free to click here to read the first blog titled “Is God Just a Big Cosmic Bully or What?”      

 

           Usually when a woman gets pregnant, it is a time of excitement and of joy. It is a time of the high pitched squeals so characteristic to women. Usually the news of a baby on the way brings a flurry of hugs and well wishing. There is an aura of elation that overshadows any lingering fears you may have about parenthood or the pregnancy. It is an emotional high. Usually.

            For us, after Serena, it was something quite different. At the best, the news of our pregnancy brought a weighted silence followed by a “Well, we’re there for you.” At the worst, it was greeted with accusations “How could you be so careless!” and recriminations “I will never forgive you if you make me walk through that again!” (The extreme irony of the latter comment floors me to this day ! What this person felt in grief at the loss of Serena was the palest shadow of the hell we experienced and yet her concern was not at what we would have to go through all over again, but what she would go through!)

            When I found out that I was pregnant with Gavin I think I went numb. I swear my heart stopped beating for a second and my blood turned cold. When my heart started again and the blood resumed pumping, it all rushed to my head and I felt like I would faint. God help us! The decision had been made for us and I felt by turns a numb hope and a bone-crushing fear.

            I told myself it would be okay. It had to be. God wouldn’t make us walk through that again, not so soon? I mean, He wasn’t that cruel, right?

            But, I was by no means certain. Walking through what we did with Serena had shown me that I really had no idea of what God would or wouldn’t do. I had learned the hard way that He cared a whole lot less about my happiness and comfort than He did about some overarching big picture which I couldn’t see much less understand. I had experienced the very real lesson that being a Christian does not exempt us from pain and hardship. I could not say what God would or wouldn’t do. I felt like I was standing on the edge of some great balck nothingness that was going to swallow me alive.

            So, in my lack of faith that God would take care of it, I appealed to Fate and to Chance. Yes, there was  a 25% chance that the baby would be sick, but the odds that we would roll that number twice in a row . . . no one could be that unlucky, could they?

            I remember sitting at our table and rolling a four-sided die over and over again trying to convince myself that the odds were with us. It didn’t work, especially since I had met a mother online who lost four children in a row to SMA. (And she was a Christian too by the way!) God didn’t stop her from walking through hell over and over again. Why should I be any different?

            We were referred to a geneticist who walked us through what SMA really was, how it worked and what we were looking at for the pregnancy. We would need an amniocentesis at 17 weeks. The sample would then be sent off to one of the two labs in the country capable of analyzing at the DNA level. They would look to see if there was at least one copy of the gene necessary for reproducing neurons. If at least one of us gave the healthy gene, the baby would be okay, if not, well . . . .

            The assumption was that if the baby wasn’t healthy, we would abort it. If anyone has ever had a reason to consider abortion, it was us. We had walked through the pain, the grief, the absolute hell of watching our daughter get weaker and weaker. We had watched our daughter stop breathing and felt our hearts stop right along with hers. Time and time again my husband had breathed the life back into her little body to give us more time . . . until eventually there was no more time. If anyone had a case for abortion, it was us.

            And yet, we barely needed to discuss it. It wasn’t an option. To abort this baby was to say that Serena had never deserved to exist at all, that the days she had were meaningless. Serena had lived and she had loved. She had known happiness and joy in her brief days. She may not have had many of those days, but could we deny her the few she was given to spare us grief? Could we do that to another baby?

            The idea of walking through it all again was unbearable, but the thought of taking away even the few days given to our child was simply unconscionable. We needed to know if the baby was healthy, but we would have it regardless.

            It took a month to get back the results of the DNA test. I lived on the brink of a panic attack. I could barely breathe. Luckily, two weeks before we found out we were pregnant I had started a new job and I had started my graduate program. I immersed myself in the busyness. If I was too busy to think, I would be too busy to let the emotions in, so I tried to box up the grief and fear and I put it somewhere in the back of my heart and I kept moving, one foot in front of the other.

            In the moments between classes and work I found myself listening to the song “My Immortal” by Evanescence on repeat. The words of that song seemed to express my grief in a way I couldn’t. I remember sitting in my car singing that song and sobbing, briefly indulging my pain before drying my tears, squaring my shoulders, gritting my teeth and willing myself to go to work, smile and pretend that the world was still good.

            At one point in one of my classes we had to take a stress test. It looked at all the things that are considered stressors, added them up, and then told you where you were at. My score blew the top off the test. In fact, my professor asked if anyone had scored over a certain point and I raised my hand sheepishly. The whole class just stared at me when I shared the score. I shouldn’t have been functioning. They didn’t even know what to say.

            The test hadn’t taken into account the effort of will. How did I keep functioning through what should have paralyzed me? I wasn’t a quitter. I could barely breathe, but I wasn’t going to quit. I wasn’t going to let life win. I was going to keep walking. Somehow, I was going to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I lowered my head and just kept moving. I was too stubborn to give up! I may not have been living, but I was existing and I was faking the living part really well!

            Every time the phone rang, our hearts stopped. We would stare at each other. Neither of us wanted to answer it. As much as not knowing was torture, to know, if the news was bad, would be hell itself. Was it the call we were waiting for? With bated breath we would answer and with part relief and part frustration we would answer the phone to find one of our parents or a friend on the other line.

            Every day, for an agonizing month, we waited with our heart in our throats, until finally, one day, after class, as I was about to leave for work, I got the call. It was a boy, and he was okay.

            I couldn’t stop sobbing. I tried to call Aaron, but the truth is, I probably scared him half to death because I COULD NOT STOP sobbing. I tried to call work to tell them that I was going to be late, but I couldn’t stop sobbing. I just couldn’t stop.

            I was going to be a mother again, and this time, I wouldn’t have to watch my child die. This time, I would get to see him grow. I would get to hear him say “Mama” and I would get to feel his little arms around my neck. This time I would get the joy of motherhood, not the sorrow.

            The truth is, my heart was too broken for joy. I didn’t feel the same rush of elation that I had felt when Serena was born. I felt like Humpty Dumpty. I didn’t know if “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” could ever put my broken heart back together again.

            The reality is that my heart is still not put back together. There are still craters and fissures and barely healing wounds riddling my heart, but every time one of my children tells me that they love me, every time I feel their warm little arms around my neck and their soft cheeks nuzzling mine, each day I get to see them grow a little bigger, my heart heals a little bit more. (As if on cue, the cutest little three year old just came and whispered in my ear that she loves me . . . her little lips brushing my ear. Like I said, it heals a little bit each time! :))

            This is Gavin now. He just turned eight!! He is an enormous blessing. He held our marriage together. He kept us sane. He was counting on us. We couldn’t allow the grief to swallow us because of what it would do to him. We weren’t ready for him, but God knew we needed him anyway!

            Finding out that Gavin was okay, was not the end to our journey of fear. We had two more children after him, and the truth is, our journey with Lilian was the scariest of all in many ways, but that is a story for another day. 🙂