Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Part in the Clouds

The storm has broken. At least that's what life feels like lately at my house. After months and months of working on making our son feel good again, I think we are close. There are still some cloudy days with short spurts of storminess, but I feel like we're finally hitting a good stride with him.

That said, my entire body feels exhausted! We've had an entire summer of being on high alert. We've analyzed every move we make, trying to make sense of what might trigger our son's mood swings. Ultimately, there is no one thing that predictably triggers the roiling storms that sometimes take over our house, but we are getting better at battening down the hatches and trying to tame the beast within that looks a lot like my son.

One of the most profound events of the summer happened just last week. My daughter, whom my husband tells people "basically poops sunshine and rainbows," and who has born the brunt of our son's malice for months on end, finally broke down. This bundle of joy has spent months shrugging her shoulders whenever her brother is mean to her and rationalizes "it's not my brother, that's just Bull (the bully in our son's head) acting out again." I've been amazed her how well she's taken the abuse from her brother. I've marveled at how calm she is while I feel like throwing a fit of equal proportions to our son's when he's mean to my daughter. So, when our son finally turned the corner and we started to feel like we were getting our son back a little more each day, a couple of unexpected blow-ups felt especially heart-wrenching for all of us.

Well past bed-time, our some was treating us to a major fit, when I thought to send our daughter up to our room to hopefully get her to sleep. As I walked into her room, I was welcomed by a sobbing girl, so different from her usually amiable self. Between jagged breaths she cried out "I miss Jojo! I miss Jojo!"

I felt the same way, but it was a million times harder to hear her say it. This struggle has affected all of us in different ways, but to see this eternally bright spot in our house finally hit the breaking point was beyond tough. I made our daughter tell her brother what she'd said, then held her, tears streaming down my own cheeks.

The next day, our house free of turmoil, I made sure to tell my son once more what his sister had said,  and hoped it would sink in. I don't know if it did, but I feel like my kids are enjoying each others' company more these days. My son is nicer to his little sister. My daughter's glow has returned. And hopefully, just hopefully, the worst of this storm has passed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Seeing Your Worst Self in Your Child

In my last blog post, I mentioned the normalcy of basic things related to parenthood. There are things we all go through as parents that are perhaps funny, perhaps mortifying, definitely life-altering. On a walk with my kids I was thinking of the person I was before they were born and who I am now. I know I'm way more patient in some areas and less so in others. I don't flinch (as much) at having to clean up someone else's vomit, poop, or other bodily fluids. I'm way less selfish (not to say I don't have my stash of dark chocolates that I'm hesitant to share). And while it would have been harder for me to advocate for myself pre-babies, I have no qualms about doing so for me or my kids now.

Overall, I know that these two little humans we are raising have changed my life in absolutely amazing ways.

Some days, that must become a mantra.

Over the last few months our family has been faced with challenges bigger than we have ever before had to deal with. In addition to my husband's father's slow decline due to dementia, and our best friends' battle with cancer, my own unexpected surgery, and the normal chaos that comes with the holidays, we've had to fight demons of a different sort altogether.

I have for much, if not all, of my life struggled with depression. When I was a child I didn't know how to be social with other kids and would get teased a lot so I came home crying more days than I can count. My mom was not one to question if this was normal, or if there could be some help for me. She fought my endless tears with spankings and other physical punishments. After many years of therapy and help from doctors I've gotten a pretty good hold on my sadness and anxieties and though they surface once in a while, it's manageable.

To have to deal with these feelings on your own is hard enough, but to see these feelings in your child is heartbreaking. You can't climb into your child's head and hold them and tell them everything will be all right when a monster has taken them over and you no longer see your baby looking through the eyes you know so well. You do all you can to help your child, but everyone just says it will all take time. Small changes are made, which we won't see the results of for weeks, but in the meantime, you are helpless. Your child - your whole family - is a victim of this invisible monster that contorts your child's face and makes it not their own. Your child's voice spouts words that would normally NEVER be said. You are physically and emotionally exhausted and feel like you're walking through a minefield. Which you are.

As a parent, I've punished myself in thinking it's my genes causing this pain in my child. It's so familiar to me - the feelings my child is experiencing, but they are feelings I've always hoped my children would never have to face. Thankfully, I've learned that my feelings largely come thanks to a chemical imbalance, not because I'm a horrible person (as I was taught to believe as a child). I know that that is what my child is experiencing and we are taking a very different approach to combatting the war in that little head.

To anyone out there going through this, know that you aren't alone. Mental health is just as important as physical health. As we've also learned, don't be afraid to be an advocate for your child. If a doc doesn't seem to be the right fit, there are plenty more out there who can help. Don't be afraid to push a little where your child's health is concerned.

For now, we celebrate the little victories. The week without any explosive behavior. The days where we can pull our child out of the darkness and feel almost normal for a while. Things are getting better, but it's like crawling through sand trying to get my child back to who I know he is.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Bursting Through the Parenting Bubble

Whew! The holidays are over and the kids are back in school, and now I have a moment to write.

This topic is one I've had in mind for a while now.

A little more than a month ago I was chatting with a coworker of mine after a baby had done some stealth spitting up in various locations throughout the nursery (just for context, I work part time at a YMCA nursery). I laughed as I told her of how vividly I still remember the day when I realized I no longer smelled like spit-up from my babies. As we laughed and she shared a similar story, she looked at me and said "I wonder if we all have these same experiences and just don't know it!?"

I know it seems like a simple question, but I thought this was quite profound. It's something I've often wondered myself.

In my experience as a stay-at-home mom, I felt like I was parenting in a bubble. I went to all the ECFE classes, and chatted with other moms about things going on with my kids, but largely felt alone and without a village, so to speak. Whether it was because we were all new moms and embarrassed to admit to small uncertainties or what perhaps felt like personal failures, other moms just didn't seem to share in these kinds of experiences when I would mention them at the time.

Now being on the other end of those very young years with my kids, I find myself giving assurances and advice to parents I meet through my job, and I've had a few thank me afterwards for making them feel like what they were going through is normal.

I don't necessarily have a solution for fixing this, but wouldn't it be nice if we knew we weren't alone?   Don't we all just want to know that our situations are normal, and tough, and we'll get through it? If anyone out there is feeling this way, just know that you aren't alone.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Brave Enough to Listen to the Signs?

As you all know by now,  I've been on a search for a job for a few months. I've had a few nibbles and have sent out dozens of resumes and cover letters, and am still continuing on the search for my nest new professional path.

With this new job search, I've also had to put aside my attempts at gaining employment as an artist. Don't get me wrong, if I found a great job for an artsy gal such as myself, I'd jump for it, but those jobs don't pop up too often. However, I've had to admit that I'm a horrible self promoter and seller. I'd much rather make art than coordinate showings, fairs, and pay attention my ETSY shop (oh shoot! I need to update that! - see?). If I had more money, I'd hire someone to do all of that for me! :)

Amidst all these changes, realizations, and admissions going on in my busy brain, I feel like the Universe is chiming in on my internal dialogue. I hadn't shown my art, or sold much of it, in years, but some friends of mine - the lovely owners of Salon Sparrow in Linden Hills - recently asked me to hang my art up to liven up the place, and they let me participate in an awesome open house where I could sell my prints, cards, and softies. Not only did I sell a painting, I sold several prints, cards, and a softie! Another sign from the Universe seems to have come from the mouth of fellow artist Rachel Vogel. In discussing all of this with her, I mentioned how I've been wanting to become a children's book illustrator and there wasn't even a second of pause before she said I absolutely need to do that. She not the only tone to tell me this, I've had several friends and acquaintances say the same thing on the last year.

So today I took the leap! I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I don't know where this will lead, but I'm excited about the possibilities. I will keep you posted if anything comes of it. But just taking a step forward feels like a bit accomplishment to me.

Wish me luck!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Boo! Ooops! Sorry I Scared You!

I love Halloween! I don't know if it's always been my favorite holiday, but as an adult I look forward to decorating for this holiday more than Christmas, and have much less stress associated with it, after all there are no presents to buy, just costumes and candy and a few decorations.

That said, I had an interesting conversation with my good girlfriends last night.

As a little background, we all live in the same community here in Minnesota. It's a small first-ring suburb of Minneapolis that has a quality of a small town in that you get to know people in the community by sight just by living here long enough. You can't make it through a Target trip without running into several people you know, and it seems like everyone you know knows several other people you know, even if you did't know they knew them. :)

My aforementioned girlfriends and I all have kids that are roughly the same age, but many of them go to different schools, my kids' school being the strictest and sometimes too PC of them all. I will frequently ask if new policies enacted in our school have been mirrored in theirs and usually the answer is no, with perplexed headshakes and chuckles. Last year it was the institution of a very strict snack policy which allowed only certain very healthy foods in the classroom. Last night, my question was on Halloween in their schools.

Officially I think all or our schools have "Fall Parties," with the understanding that we are really celebrating Halloween, though we're not allowed to say so. The kids are allowed to dress in costume and we play games, have snacks, and do art projects with a leaning towards the Halloween theme. This year, however, is different - at least at my kids' school. It was announced this year that some students find Halloween too scary and therefore our Fall Party will indeed be a Fall Party with no ties to Halloween.

It doesn't seem like it should be a big deal, right? And it's not really, but part of me is really sad about this. Like Thanksgiving (which we are allowed to acknowledge in my children's school even though they go to a Spanish Immersion school where the countries focused on do not celebrate it), Halloween is a distinct American tradition. Sure, it's celebrated in some other countries, but it's as American as football, baseball, and apple pie. The value of dressing up and being able to create another identity for yourself - being able to express some part of you in a way that isn't done so on a daily basis through normal, everyday clothes and routines, is so important and enriching (as said by my friend Rachel, who is a kindergarten teacher).

All of the schools in our community are IB schools - that's International Baccalaureate for those unfamiliar. This means that they have a distinct focus on a global view of the world and their educational focus. Though my kids' school is not an official IB school, we follow they same curriculum and have a global viewpoint simply by being a Spanish school. My friend Jen had a fantastic point, which is, we seem to have adopted such a global point of view that we are no longer able to embrace and celebrate our own culture. We have devalued uniquely American traditions in an effort to embrace everyone else's.

Is there something wrong with being an American in a global society? There are very few things we seem to be able to claim as American. We are such a hodgepodge of other cultures and traditions that we don't have many things that are just ours. We've gotten rid of all ties to religious holidays in the schools, which I see as fine as an effort to include all, regardless of religious affiliation, but Halloween is a completely secular holiday and should be looked at as such.

I've frequently questioned why, as a Spanish Immersion school we don't celebrate Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday which honors and celebrates deceased ancestors and incorporates elaborate skeletons in it's decorations. There is no answer for this question, other than my own assumption that if Halloween is too scary, then the skeletons of Dia de los Muertos would really be too much.

I'm sure these policies will not be reversed now that they are set in motion, but I for one will be mourning the loss of my favorite holiday in my kids' globally minded school.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Keep That Spark Shining!

I realized the other day that I have written about being a mom, being a job seeker, and being a person, but not much about being an artist. 

At my kids' school their counsellor has worked hard over the years to get them in tune with their "spark" - you know, that thing that makes them who they are. I love this idea - it is a great way to show the kids what they are good at and focus on the positives in their lives. 

I would say that I am good at a number of things - writing, relating to other people's children, putzing in my garden, making lasagna, you get the idea. But the thing I've always felt a special connection to was art. It's the one thing that as I do it, time escapes me and I don't know if minutes or hours have passed. Most of what I do is self taught - though I've taken a couple of classes here and there, I don't have a degree in fine art. All I do comes from inside me somewhere. I've always loved to draw, and was fascinated by paint but was too scared to try it. For my birthday one year, my awesome husband bought me everything I needed to paint, and said "There, now quit your whining about not know how to paint and just do it!" It was a struggle at first - mostly in figuring out what to paint and how colors work together - but one day I copied a painting by an artist I love whose painting was used on a CD cover we had. I realized I'd done a pretty decent job and started studying her works to emulate her style. After many years my style has become my own with obvious influences by this artist - Pattsi Valdez, a contemporary artist in LA. 

The dumb thing is, though, that when I'm stressed or feeling blue, the one thing that should bring me out of it, falls to the wayside and gets neglected in the corner until I'm feeling better about things. I've tried to paint or create when I'm unhappy or stressed and I usually wind up making mistakes and getting frustrated and just walking away from it. Art is my happy place, where unhappy thoughts aren't welcome. i know some people explore those deep, dark, brooding places within through their art, but I just can't do that. There's enough of that stuff in the everyday world. I need to create places that make me happy. Places that I would love to crawl into with a book and just live for a while. All that said, I'm very happy that in the last couple of weeks, the cobwebs have been wiped off of my brushes and paints and I've been working on several pieces simultaneously. I've even been exploring some new ideas, and even using people as subjects, which rarely happens in my works as I'm not so good at painting them. 

So what's the point of this blog? It's simply this: don't lose your spark! Hold it near and dear, and even if you have to set it aside for a little while, always, ALWAYS come back to it. It's this spark that defines us, if not in the world, to ourselves. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I Plead Guilty

The dog is whining, the dishes await, dinner isn't cooking itself, and yet I'm here writing this blog. There's this part of me, some rebellious part, that loves that I'm not doing these things I'm "supposed" to be doing. And another that feels guilty for not tackling my long to do list and a million other things that could be done around the house.

This brings me to todays topic. Mom guilt. It's neck and neck with Catholic guilt but unlike being a Catholic if you're really good at being a mom, your guilt probably never goes away. My apologies to Catholics if this offends - I am only speaking from my experience through friends and family with ties to the Catholicism.

We mothers are champions at feeling guilty about everything we do and everything we don't do. We feel guilty about passing along genetic factors that we have no control over. We feel guilty for not spending every moment of the day with our babies. We feel guilty when our children say we're being too harsh or too overprotective, and we feel guilty when we are too lenient or relaxed.

If you're not on high alert every minute of the day, you must be a horrible mom. Right?

Why don't we as mom's seem to talk more about the hard things we go through? I'm not trying to be whiney here, I promise. My point is more one of community building. I meet so many young moms going through the same things I went through 5 or 6 years ago when my kids were toddlers and preschoolers, but I assure them it's all normal and give them advice on how to help their situations. They are so grateful and almost surprised that other moms go through the same things. Are we, as a society too concerned with appearing to have the perfect family that we can't open up to others who could probably use an ear or at least a reassurance that they and their children are normal? That what they are going through is the same thing you are? I wonder if we could get more respite from guilt if we chose to see other mothers not as competition in the game of who's family is better, but rather as other passengers on the same ride down a bumpy and rough road.

It's not easy being a parent. Why not try to help others along the way? You may just wind up helping yourself.