Parenting is Blind Man’s Bluff

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Please, for the love of all that’s holy, tell me I’m not the only one that has a consistently difficult child. I suppose I should feel grateful that I have this little thing called parenting perspective, so I’m not a jerk to other moms, but the truth is that I just mostly feel like crap about it. We’re supposed to shower our kids with love and care, not count the days until they move out. This is the sentiment that started this blog and it is definitively #notpinterestworthy. :/

I’ve made a lot of progress in dealing with my challenging, 6-foot-tall teen, and I still just mostly want to stab my eyeballs with an ice pick most days. I honestly don’t see a lot of options beyond riding out raising him and hoping for the best. Parenting is this really (sometimes) crappy conundrum where you’re solely responsible for the actions of another person when the truth is that you have zero control over their choices. I can lecture myself hoarse, and he will still, ultimately, do what he wants.

This is crap for me. Torture, really. I am probably one of the most reasonable people you could ever meet, but it makes zero difference when you’re a mom. If I had a “real job” as a manager, I would never be expected to sit and smile and be constantly patient while the people around me treated my attempts to accomplish things with all the respect of a talking Charlie Brown head spouting utter nonsense. The logical part of me knows that parenting really is an other-worldly environment full of unrealistic expectations. There is no other place in the world that an adult interacts in that is held to a higher standard, and I live in this space all. the. time. I don’t have a “day job.” I don’t send my kids off to school for most of the day. I’m with them, 24-7.

I’ve always been told that we’re all the “perfect parent for our kids – just what they need,” and I truly hope this is the truth. In reality, I wonder every single day if it is. Did I coddle him too much as a toddler? (He was the baby of the family for almost five years before his brother was born.) Did I not hug him enough? Is he difficult because I have come to expect it from him, and he just lives up to that? Would he be insufferable if I didn’t try so hard to teach him respect for others, boundaries, responsibility? I have no clue. I have no way of knowing, but I still torture myself with the questions and sometimes feel utterly sunk in self hatred of my inability to be the Perfect Mom for him.

I think the hardest part of this is that I know he’s a good person. There is so much potential there, and I can just taste how amazing that would be if he would point things in a more healthy direction. I have no way of seeing the future. I have no way of knowing if any of my minute adjustments to my approach or my creative attempts to reach him will hit the mark. I won’t know until he’s grown and gone and it’s much too late to fix any of it. This fact is so, so hard.

If you know anything about me, it’s that I like to be good at what I do to probably a ridiculous extent. It took my therapist about three sessions to peg this as an inherent quality of mine. This is probably the number one reason I’m crafty. I can’t throw in the towel and “change hobbies” when it comes to what I actually spend the majority of my day doing. Parenting is a labor of love, and it twists my heart and turns me inside out with the sheer hard work of it. So, when you see me pouring gallons of soap or sewing new wardrobes in a month, it’s not because I’m superhuman. It’s because I need to feel a sense of accomplishment. I need something in my life where there is a method and a process and a consistency that I can count on. In this long-term game of blind man’s bluff, little successes along the way remind me that I may, just maybe, have what it takes.

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It’s Been a Swimming-Through-Jello Day

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Today is a bit nuts. I have a million balls in the air. I had to send (and resend) a few invoices for our family business, there is some loan paperwork that I need to upload (we’re refinancing), my kids are all on homeschooling protest today, and I can’t figure out how to get some tech stuff for both the blog and my Facebook business page to work properly. (Check me out at The Essay Assistant on Facebook! I’ll make your writing sing, too!) Truthfully, I’m doing way too many things right now, and it’s all just frustrating me.

I’m not even going to lie. I like instant gratification. Raising kids and building businesses is anything but. Some days everything that flows from my fingers is gold, and sometimes I painstakingly wrench the words from my keyboard. I remember being sick as a kid and drifting in and out of feverish, twilight sleep. My brain would register the experience like I was swimming through jello. I could see and hear and remember everything, but it was sluggish and in slow motion. To be fair, I think I had a vivid imagination as a child because I also remember jerking awake from the brink of sleep and having it scare me – I somehow convinced myself that the devil was touching me. (This may be a sign that you’ve been raised in extremism. Just maybe.) While I have outgrown the latter feeling that was largely a product of superstition, I still have days where I recognize the sensation of swimming through jello.

Having kids is one of the most surreal experiences in life. I guess it’s all I know, so I can’t say how it would be different it were, well, different. I can imagine, however. When my day goes south, it’s like I’m mommy Edward Scissorhands – don’t get too close because I’m likely to accidentally-on-purpose (figuratively – calm down) cut you on my sharp edges. It’s disconcerting when this happens, but it’s also motivating. I’m not perfect. Some days I’m not even close to adequate, but I have a built-in motivation to get up, dust off and try harder.

I am well past the boot camp years of parenting, as one of my friends describes those endless, long years where your kids really don’t pull any weight themselves. I’m lucky to have older kids, even a few adults. This is amazing not only because I get a break and some freedom and some help (and access to their cars because mine is iffy), but because I get to see the product of my many long years of work. All my adult kids, well, like me. I like them. They’re good, responsible people and don’t hate me. They see the bigger picture now and can grant me grace for days where I was barely keeping my head up. I think (I really hope) that they even admire me and want to be like me in my best ways. (Please just get rid of the less admirable stuff. Ha!) They know ALL my weaknesses (do they ever!) and still love me. This is one of the most amazing gifts of motherhood, but it doesn’t come from picture-perfect moments that make good Instagram and Pinterest posts. It comes from swimming-through-jello days.

I just put my youngest kids to bed, and the words are flowing a bit easier than they did earlier. My husband is home which usually means the kids are magically angels, and I’m about to close my computer, relax for probably the first time today and snuggle under a warm blanket. This day is already fading into a memory, and I am so relieved. Tomorrow will better because days that hit bottom can, after all, only go up. That may well be the greatest gift of a bad day.

 

I Forgot My Kids Yesterday

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Don’t go throwing tomatoes at me or anything, but that title is, admittedly, clickbait. I didn’t ACTUALLY forgot my kids. Not that I haven’t done that before. Once. It happened one time. We drove to church in two vehicles, and both my husband and myself thought my youngest daughter had gone home with the other. We realized when we got home that neither of us had her, and were on our way back to get her when she got dropped off at home by a friend from church. We live all of a block and a half away, and she was only mildly traumatized. That’s the only time!

Yesterday, I knew where my kids were. They were at home. With me. My husband was out of town the day before, and I’d gotten up to make my kids some breakfast, then lazily climbed back into bed with a cup of coffee and my Facebook feed. (It’s been drizzly, grey, rainy, fall weather here. It’s kind of a cross between full-on fall and lingering Indian summer considering that my tomato plants are still alive! What the hey?!) Until my sister-in-law texted me, “Are your kids coming today?” Crap! It’s 9:05 on Wednesday! They’re supposed to be at their reading class. Gah! So, I frantically instructed them to get dressed, get their shoes on, find their coats and I did the world’s fastest (worst) hair brush on my daughter before we ran to the car and dropped them off 20 minutes late. (She also lives just two blocks away.)

THIS has happened before. More than once. Heh. Luckily, I work with other moms who also have real lives and understand that some days just go off. To be fair, I don’t have a set schedule that is the same for all my kids on every day of the week. I’m not getting all my kids up every morning and getting them on the bus before I get on with my day. (Though, I have longingly realized more than once this year that ALL my kids would be in school at this point if that was our life.) We go in all different directions with a different schedule all through the week. Normally, I keep track of the littles pretty well, and my older kids just manage themselves. But, when what I can only loosely call a routine gets thrown off, I drop balls. There was probably a time that I would have been bothered by that, but it’s kind of par for the course now.

One of the points of this blog, I think, is to communicate that you’re not alone. Life is complicated. At the risk of being cliche, we compare our own outtakes to other people’s highlights, and that’s not real life. While Pinterest-worthy moments look warm and fuzzy on social media, my life is really full of flubs, mess-ups and dropped balls. I’m more likely to forgot to bring my kids to class than to painstakingly document our afternoon baking adventure. (Just kidding. At best, my kids would be watching my daughters make something. Ha ha!) The good news is that when my children grow up, they will also likely live real, imperfect lives. At least they’ll be prepared. There’s that.

Life Lessons From the Sewing Table

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I’ve been sewing for 21 years, and it’s something that I can almost do in my sleep it comes so naturally to me. Still, we all have days, and not everything works out every time. I had a little hair-pulling moment today when I was “whipping up” a hoodie for myself, and it made me a little introspective.

First, I was watching my friend’s kiddos today because she took a much-deserved day out with her husband for her birthday. (If I’ll watch your kids, you know that’s true love. Mwah!) For some dumb reason, “babysitting” is different in my head than having the exact same kids just “playing over” for the exact amount of time. I have no idea why that is. Maybe because I know that I can’t send them home at any moment if they all start to bounce off walls. Which they inevitably do. My kids still had to do school, and it’s never a good time trying to convince them that schoolwork is a valid use of their time when friends are around. We got through it with minimal whining, though, and I sent them all downstairs to watch TV while I finished sewing. Because, OBVIOUSLY, the perfect time to NEED to get a project done is when you’re juggling 3 children’s school books along with 3 spares. Go big or go home! (My craftiness seriously takes on a life of its own. I either haven’t sewn for months or YEARS, or I’m eating/sleeping/dreaming/breathing it compulsively. It’s just how I roll. I do this with my other crafts as well. My husband is incredibly tolerant of and used to that side of me after 22 years. Heh.)

After I got the kids settled down doing something other than vegetating in front of a movie like I’d planned because they couldn’t find the remote, I started putting my hoodie together. This is a pretty quick process, generally. There was a little more detail work because there’s both a hood and a front pocket, but I was plugging along. After pinning the hood on, I basted everything together (because unpicking is the devil. Ahem.) and checked. to. make. sure. it. was. right. before proceeding. And, OF COURSE, it was FINE. So, I jumped over to my serger and went on to firmly attach the hood on BACKWARDS. Yes, indeed. Upon turning my hoodie right side out and moving onto ironing the hem, what would my wondering eyes behold but the back of the hood nodding at the front pocket. Wah, wah, wah! (Did I mention unpicking is the devil?) But, I did unpick it. Because this was nice fabric that I had a vision for. So, I painstakingly spent about as long as it took me to actually sew it picking out stitches so I could turn around that stupid hood.

I have no idea why our brain does things like this. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring cognitive dissonance in the last while, and it’s amazing how we see things exactly how we want or expect to. It’s nuts, really, but we get used to things and start filtering out everything that doesn’t match that vision – like hoods that are looking backward despite the fact that there was A POCKET to mark the front. I rarely make mistakes like this period and almost never when I’m working with something new or different because all the possibilities are open. I’m not going to wax eloquent about the deep meaning there – I’ll leave those conclusions to you. But, it did make me stop and think, and maybe you’ll find some aha-moment in it yourself. I find those in the oddest and most assorted places when I just notice.

P.S. After all that trouble, I don’t love the hoodie. Waaaahhhhhhhh! I think I should have broken up the floral, it seems slightly short and because I hemmed instead of doing a bottom band, the kangaroo pocket is sitting too low. Jerk. Maybe I’ll throw it in the corner of the closet and reassess next month when I’m less mad at it in general. You know, with fresh eyes, it might seem okay after all.

 

 

I Have Homeschooling PTSD

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I seriously HATE doing school with my 11-year-old. I think people have the mistaken idea that homeschooling moms have extra patience; what I really have is PTSD. Don’t get me wrong – he’s a smart kid, but he just hates school, especially language/phonics. He’s been doing similar stuff for years, but he still acts like putting things in alphabetical order is akin to college-level calculus. Some days I just roll with this, but other days it makes me want to stab something with an ice pick. With my first four kids, I participated in a private/co-op school, and I wasn’t exclusively responsible for teaching any of them to read, and I have that same advantage with my kids now. My oldest was reading chapter books at 6, and my other kids were pretty much on-track as well, though some (my adult daughter) aren’t much for reading for fun. We had moved when my 11–year-old was in kindy, so it was up to me at that point. And, I suck at teaching reading, apparently. It is tedious, brain-melting work when a kid isn’t particularly cooperative. While he’s pretty much caught up in his reading skills now, it was slow going, and he’s still a really bad speller.

I am not a good teacher. Not even close. I have both a sister and two sisters-in-law that are unbelievable early elementary teachers – as good as any that I’ve met with a degree. They are creative, committed, enthusiastic and come to their class prepared every single time. That’s not me. I show up and get it done, but it’s pretty utilitarian. That works fine for my kids that don’t mind school. (My 7-year-old daughter has always been completely into learning, and we get everything done and out of the way in record time.) If all my kids were like that, I’d probably be one of those self-righteous moms that thinks that parents with kids that struggle are just slackers. I mean, I am a bit of a homeschool slacker, but it’s not an issue with most of my kids. Luckily for me, kids are pretty dang resilient, despite our failings. My kids do fine, in spite of me, really, rather than because of me. My oldest son is studying for a degree in computer science, my adult daughter works at an office job for an engineer, and my 17-year-old works part-time around her class schedule and teaches piano, so I’ve done okay so far.

I think (at least, I really hope so) that all moms have things like this – things that we have to do, that are important to us even, but that we really aren’t that great at. I consider myself extremely lucky to have other moms around me that are also passionate about creating a healthy learning environment for kids and are willing to spread that love around. While I’m sure that more of you public school than not, the idea of having a tribe in your corner is pretty universal. My co-op tribe inspires my kids and brings out the best in them in a way that I just can’t. (For example, I have never heard my 11-year-old whine at a co-op teacher. Ever. He just does his best and gets on with it.) They tell me that they appreciate what I bring to the table, though I can’t help but feel that I get the better end of the deal. Sometimes, just knowing that someone else knows what you’re dealing with makes it so you can get up and fight (hopefully not with your kid – Ha!) another day. That, in my opinion, is priceless, indeed.

 

Utah’s Prop 2 and Chronic Pain

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I’ve always been pretty dang healthy, despite the fact that I could stand to lose, oh, 50 lbs. I’ve also never dealt with anything major with myself or any of my kids outside of a few stitches and broken bones. My 17-year-old daughter has been accident prone since she was tiny, so it shouldn’t surprise me that a pretty strong majority of doctor’s visits involve her. Still, chronic pain is a new for our family. She had ankle surgery last month, and her ortho surgeon just diagnosed her with complex regional pain syndrome. As a mom, it’s so hard to see your child suffer and be told that there is really nothing that they can do for her. She is scheduled for physical therapy to retrain her brain that normal nerve stimulation is, well, normal. Still, we’re pulling our hair out trying to find some sort of relief while she heals. She can’t really sleep at all. I wish I could take the pain for her. I would.

I’ve told people a lot of times over this year that ignorance is a luxury that not everyone has. This is hitting home right now as Prop 2 is a huge issue here in Utah – the effort to legalize medical marijuana will be on the ballot in November. When you’ve literally exhausted all options for treatment in both OTC and prescription drugs, and you can’t find help that doesn’t have serious, serious risks, you better believe that I would consider medical marijuana if it was an option at this point. (We’ve already tried CBD which is legal in all states.) My daughter was prescribed hydrocodone after her surgery. She ended up using 3 pills out of 30 during her initial recovery, and then we flushed them. Utah has an opioid addiction epidemic and one of the highest rates of antidepressant use in the country. These drugs are highly, highly addictive and so dangerous that, as a mom, I hesitate to even consider them for my daughter because several months of intense pain is more desirable than a lifetime of addiction of painkillers. But, what do you do when it’s the only way to find relief? I know of people who pick up and move to a different state in order to treat seizure disorders, obtain appropriate relief for cancer treatment or deal with chronic pain issues like my daughter is experiencing. It seems absolutely insane to me not to provide the option forĀ  treatment that is not only pretty dang effective but also ridiculously safer than the pharmaceutical alternatives.

I am a pretty conservative mama still, despite how much my perspectives have changed. The proposed law in Utah, from what I understand, allows for extracts, tinctures, oils and edibles but not smoking or whole leaf consumption. I’m not particularly excited to see weed all over mine or your neighborhoods but it is unequivocally safer than the alternatives. I understand that there are risks, but, in my opinion, the benefits outweigh the risks, and I will be voting yes on Proposition 2. When the conditions the THC can treat become more than just theoretical, it just makes sense to provide safer treatment options to people who so desperately need them.

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You Had a Birthday, Shout Hooray!

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First, if you get the reference in the title today, you might be a Mormon. (Do other denominations sing that little birthday ditty? I have no idea.)

My son is going to turn 11 in just a few days. We do birthdays understated here. For my husband, it’s a step up because he was raised in a family that didn’t even always acknowledge birthdays. He has several siblings with birthdays close to him, and he was an ADULT before he ever had his own birthday cake. (In a fit of cosmic irony, him and I have birthdays a day apart. Ha ha ha!) In my family, they were celebrated faithfully, but we didn’t do anything big. When my oldest son turned 3 (18 years ago if you want to do the math) I did a “big” birthday party for him. You know, where I had a snack spread and goodie bags (I think?) and invited all his friends (aka about a dozen cousins) to help us celebrate. I don’t remember consciously deciding to never do it again at that point, but, um, I never have. Yes, you read that right. I have never again thrown a party for any of my other kids.

I can just hear the shocked gasps. My kids don’t get parties??! No bounce houses or party bags? No pile of dollar store gifts from their friends? Yea, no. I think at some point after that first trial run, I realized that doing that forever for multiple kids wasn’t sustainable, and I voted no. My kids enjoy going to other people’s birthday parties. (In fact, I think my youngest son was supposed to go to his friends’ yesterday, but I didn’t get home until late, I didn’t have all the info, and my day had already devolved beyond recognition. So sorry he missed it!) Honestly, I don’t think it even occurs to my kids to care one way or another. We always have cake and ice cream and a few modest gifts with our immediate family. If they happen to have a friend playing over that day, I’ll let them stay for dinner and cake. But, I don’t want to track down people to give invitations to or make a presentable cake (I suck at this. For real. A Kindergartner could decorate a cake better than me.) or spend a lot of money. I know this is incredibly #notpinterestworthy , but we’re seriously all so much happier without the stress.

Actually, it’s not entirely true to say that none of my kids has ever had a friend party – just that I haven’t planned or thrown it. My oldest daughters are 19 and 17, and they started planning their own parties when they were in their early teens. This works fantastic for me. They got to have everything how and when they wanted, and all I had to do was pay for a few snacks and provide a few rides. We were all happy with this arrangement.

Lest you think that I’m just too lazy to do cool things for my kids, I’ve sewn for, oh, 20 years? I taught myself when my oldest was a baby. There was a good ten years when I had 1-4 kids that I sewed every. single. item of clothing that we all wore, down to our undies. They had completely custom wardrobes – think things that go for $50- an outfit in Etsy shops today. I have also homeschooled my kids since, well, my oldest was 3. I’m with them all the time. So, I certainly do things for my kids, it’s just not extravagant birthday parties. (Why I feel like I have to put in this disclaimer… Because we moms judge each other? :/ )

I’m a people watcher, I guess you could say. One thing I’ve noticed is that kids almost always take their cue from the adults around them. Children that have helicopter parents tend to experience more fear, in my experience. Parents that have guilt about some specific lack tend to have kids that feel deprived about it. The truth is that my kids aren’t any more scarred by the lack of parties than yours are by being forced to wear clothes from Walmart and Target. I think kids find what’s normal to them, well, normal. And, there’s no need to feel mom guilt if your normal is different than your neighbors. Trust me, you don’t want to be subjected to my pathetic lack of finesse at birthdays anyway.

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