Am I My Child’s Only Advocate?

Once upon a time, I was married to the Teen and Eco’s father.

But now he’s dead. Taken away by suicide, falling prey to the demons of depression. And I wonder if it would be worse or better if he were here. At the very least, I often think, there’d be someone else who would love my children as much as me.

I know that studies show a genetic link to numerous mental health issues like depression, anxiety, addictive personalities, and suicide. A risk factor for suicide is a parent dying by suicide.

The highest risk is for teenage boys who have lose their parent at that fragile age range.

Teen and Eco were toddlers, barely 4 and 2 respectively. But the risk is there. The worry is there.

Teen struggles with ADHD, anxiety, and depression. It’s not managed by medicine, only therapy. I’m on the fence about starting an ADHD medication. I’m not sure why. Eco is on meds. Perhaps the stigma remains even as I try to remain open-minded.

Eco struggles with the same diagnoses, but he’s managed with medication, specifically for the anxiety and depression. Moreover, he has a counselor he sees weekly and a psychiatrist who manages the medicine and symptoms. The words “personality disorder” has been brought up a few times, but at this point I’m not sure what that would mean. The psychiatrist is quick to reassure me that their words are simply to educate, not to diagnose. The counselor is quick to point out the age (11 years) is a tricky one and that sometimes waiting is just a thing that is needed before further answers will be provided.

I always feel better in those appointments, with people on my side. But out in the world of non-professionals, the world that stigmatizes mental health, I feel very alone, especially when dealing with Eco.

I’m left with a fiancee who is struggling to understand that mental health is a real thing. I’m left with people who think that his outbursts are pure disobedience. I’m left with adults that tell my son that the reason he has no friends is because he interrupts too much, that he’s socially awkward at best.

It’s destroying relationships and bringing up walls between myself and others because I am a mother cobra ready to strike if someone harms him. But sometimes I can’t strike until the damage is done. His wounds are real and raw and terrible.

But adults would rather a silent, submissive child, even if it means destroying his entire spirit.

I love his spirit.

I love him.

I like him.

I love all of his little quirks. I love his imagination. I love that his favorite place is inside a book store or library. I love that he devours whole books in a day. I love his grandiose ideas. I love the empathy he has for animals. I love his future dream of becoming an ecologist.

He just has barriers that sometimes have undesirable symptoms. And I’m trying my best to give him the tools he needs to thrive, the tools he needs to grow.

It takes a village to raise a child.

But the village isn’t here.

The village isn’t here the neurological child. How in the world can I find one for us?

Pandemic Schooling: Thank you Teachers

This is not quite homeschooling, because homeschooling, while challenging, does have a million perks. I loved creating a mesh of weekly plans, shopping for curriculums, and adding my own touch of field trips for practical application of our studies. I loved the fluidity of it, the ability to change it in response to the needs of my children.

This ain’t it.

It’s also not really public schooling, because normally there’s friends and field trips, concerts and school dances, there’s sports! But this…is either online or mostly online.

It’s frustrating to everyone. Teachers. Parents. Students.

Our school has had two zoom hacks since it started. They’ve started an investigation, of course. We’re definitely not the only ones, either.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/wgntv.com/news/children-parents-spammed-with-porn-during-kindergarten-orientation-on-zoom/amp/

The online world can be a dangerous one and parents should be aware of the dangers and discuss them their children. This is an entirely different set up for kids and their parents. Especially those who need to work out of the home AND work remotely. This divided attention means more work for parents (and, statistically, mothers).

It also means more work for teachers. For teachers that are also parents, the extra work (paid and unseen) is unreal. Teachers have to adapt to a new style of teaching, have to be IT support, have to deal with frustrated students and parents, have to adapt curriculum, grade it all, organize it all, and still balance their own home lives, and, and, and.

I have to thank our country’s teachers, because they’re doing this while some of the public is angry they have it “easy” working remotely. They’re doing this while funding continues to decrease. They’re doing this being caught in political fire.

I don’t think any of us were prepared for a school year of this when we were told to take two weeks “off.” But I’m so grateful for all the dedicated teachers that are showing up for our children, even while being criticized.

The Loneliness of Motherhood

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

Motherhood can be a lonely, lonely thing. Which is strange, isn’t it, because mothers are almost never alone.

In the age of social media, the irony of lonely while surrounded by people, wanting companionship while feeling touched out, is being shared by parents in droves. Articles, tweets, and a few Instagram pictures are followed by hashtags about being tired or touched out or being the “bad” mom who forgot today was crazy hair day at school. Or it’s the article or post that touches lightly on the subject of postpartum depression, never during, but always after.

Usually, these glimpses provide a place for other mothers to tentatively reach out and give tiny snippets of their own stories. Solidarity, my sisters! Or, how brave to post such honest things! Or it’s just a way to laugh at the reality.

And laugh we must because sometimes this loneliness is more than a portion of motherhood. Sometimes it’s a weight, it’s stifling, it’s smothering.

Let’s laugh to keep from crying.

Motherhood can be lonely. But why?

I wonder if it’s because we’re pack creatures, social animals that really do need a village. Maybe it’s not children that need a village to raise them, but mothers that need a village to support them.

Today, motherhood is endless nights of half-assed sleep because lying down means running down the endless list of things that were done, things that were forgotten, and things that need doing. It’s nights debating whether an earlier bedtime for self should occur, or if the book, the show, the wine, or the game is worth a few less hours of sleep. And this has to be debated because at this point she probably just wants one single freaking hour of time alone, an hour to read or drink wine or peruse Instagram or just not be touched. But, of course, regardless, the next day will start early, too early, because of all the prep that has to happen before the day even begins.

Time to wake up and teeth and wash faces and find matching (sort of) clothes. Yes, maybe pjs that pass for clothes can suffice for daycare, but they definitely can’t be the pjs with smeared peanut butter and you definitely can’t pair it with a Halloween mask. Please eat breakfast, but make sure your teeth are brushed. Where’s your book bag. Did I brush my hair? My own teeth? I forgot to finish my makeup, but at least I drank my coffee. It’s fine, we’re late, let’s go!

Motherhood is giving up every first sip and every last bite. This is such a truth that it’s become a joke. How many memes and posts and videos and cartoons have you seen with moms hiding in broom closets or bathrooms just so they can scarf down a chocolate bar without guilt (or maybe with guilt, but the chocolate helps)?

Motherhood is a love that’s so big and strong and overwhelming, that it gives you strength on the days that the little ones test your patience. It’s a love that overpowers the basic survival instinct. I know without even thinking about it, I would give my life for any one of my children, no hesitation. I’d step in front of a car, a train, whatever.

And yet.

Can I please just finish one piece of pie without a little tiny food gremlin coming over and sticking toddler sized fingers into the crust? Please.

Motherhood is lonely in the weirdest sense because you’re constantly surrounded by people who respect almost no boundaries.

Motherhood has you touched out and craving people, frazzled and craving adult talk, tired and craving alone time.

And no one warns you! No one warns you about the days that feel endless, just about the years that pass quickly. No one warns you that there will be days that you just want to sitforonegoddamnminute without someone using your body as a jungle gym. No one warns you that motherhood is exhausting because there’s no real start time, but there’s definitely no end, no sick days, no PTO, no pause.

And so when all these feelings hit, you just feel lonely and upset that you’re probably the world’s worst mother, because you’re not fawning over your child every second of every day. It feels lonely because most of the emotions you feel throughout the course of the day are hard to pinpoint and hard to explain. It feels lonely because how many times can you vent about the same thing? It feels lonely because the baby you were pining for, dreaming about, love so much, wanted so much, maybe after a loss, maybe after years of trying, maybe after an adoption process, etc, etc, etc….maybe after all that, they’re still just a child and you’re just a mother who is like every other child-mother combination. You’re still just human and you need breaks, but motherhood never seems to break.

But when cries for help sound like complaints and the best people can say is, “Babies don’t keep!” It’s not very surprising that it’s lonely.

Currently, with a raging pandemic, this loneliness can hit even harder, especially for new moms who may not have the normal support that would have been provided otherwise.

Motherhood is lonely. And it’s okay to acknowledge that. And it’s okay to vent. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to say you’re overwhelmed. It’s okay to not have all the answers. It’s okay to reach out for help, personal or professional.

We need to know it’s common to feel this way and that professional help is a viable option.

Vent away. And if you have no one to vent to, feel free to shoot me a line. Sometimes talking, writing, helps.

No Kid Hungry: Why You Should Jump on this Chance to Help

Children are out future.

I think that’s the meaning of life: pushing for better so that our children have better. They are what continues our existence. They hold our memory. They carry on our culture, our beliefs, our traditions.

Everything that we do, that we create, that we advocate for, should have the thought of children in its fabric. After all, it very literally

That is why No Kid Hungry is pushing Congress to increase SNAP benefits by 15%. Even though it may not seem much to some, to those who need it, it’s a lifeline.

Covid-19 has impacted more than just the health of the nation. It has also worsened the financial situation of many families across the nation. That means that many more are now food-insecure.

What is food insecurity?

Food insecurity means that an individual or household has inadequate access to food due to limited money or resources. Unfortunately, children have no say in what household they are born in. Of course, there’s a bigger issue there, as poverty is not some strange choice people decide upon. But, regardless, children are born into a set of circumstances and that can be the decider on whether they go to bed hungry or not.

Like it or not, even with a developed country like the United States, too many children find themselves transient homeless or food-insecure. It’s not some obscure reality, either. 1 out of every 30 children is homeless. More than ELEVEN MILLION children live in food insecure households. And the current pandemic is ensuring that that number only grows.

Children should not be homeless or hungry in a country that boasts about freedom and opportunity. It is up to us, the adults, to ensure that this is not the reality of so many.

As a child that did grow up transient homeless, as a child that used to go to sleep so that she could skip over the hunger pangs of missed meals, this could not hit closer to home.

My children don’t deserve any more or less food than any other children in the United States. My children don’t go to bed hungry. Yes, I worked hard to break free of the cycle of poverty, and so I know intimately how hard it is to do. I know that in many ways, the system is designed to keep one down. I know that the system needs a lot of reform.

But…

In the meantime…

Our children shouldn’t starve.

No kids should go hungry. Make your voice heard. Write your representatives. It’s worth the fight. For our children. For your children. For theirs.

“It’ll be Fine.” Invalidation, Dismissal, and Lifeguards.

One of my dear friends is pregnant with her first baby. During the time of Covid-19, it’s already uncertain and strange. Baby showers, classes, and tours are all either non-existent, online, or reduced. Add the insecurity of the job market, balancing safety with not being too overly paranoid, and the weird limbo that everyone lives in currently with growing a human being inside of one’s body…it’s a pretty crazy time.

For her, it’s beginning to feel more and more overwhelming, since this first pregnancy for her means adding a sibling to her blended family. Covid-19, of course, complicates this even further, as her postpartum period will be balancing healing with a newborn with older children with school with keeping her sanity intact.

Where is her partner in all of this? Mostly working. Which is the setup that everyone (mostly) enjoys. Financially, he’s the heavyweight in that household. Which works well until one matches a demanding job with demanding hours with family. In that case, work doesn’t accommodate. And so, being the one that will be just staying home, the household and parental duties land on her.

The only advice I could offer (that I recommend to everyone, EVERYONE) was to get a postpartum doula.

“Seriously,” I gushed. “I didn’t even know about postpartum doulas until kid number 3. And even with older kids and my partner to help, they were amazing.”

My friend laughed and said she had tried explaining that to her fiancee, but he shrugged it off.

“It’ll be fine. We have my mom down the street, the girls can help, and when I’m home, I’ll help, too! It’ll be great.”

My own partner did the same thing, somewhat offended. “What? Why? I’ll be home for two weeks. And then we have the older two. And my mom would happily come over all the time. She loves to see her grandbabies. And my friends would gladly come and help.”

It’s not the same. It’s not the same. It’s not the same.

Everyone reading this blog post who is currently or will be pregnant: Hire. A. Postpartum. Doula. And if you cannot afford one, reach out anyway, because 1) payment plans and 2) sometimes there are doulas who can offer free services.

Note: Doulas are worth all the monies. And there will be a future blog post exploring why the privilege of having a doula means they deserve money for their emotional and physical labor, but also the barriers that exist for those who would benefit the most from doula work. Yes, it’s a bit complicated.

And still. A lot of people will be met by that simple refrain: “It’ll be fine.” A wave of the hand. A shrug of the shoulders. A (seemingly condescending) smile.

“It’ll be fine.”

And then a feeling will sprout beneath the ribs, a worry, a flutter, a weight. And then people will wonder, Will it be fine? Am I being too overly dramatic? Maybe I’m just being paranoid. Or Why don’t they understand? I don’t know how to express this.

It’s very reminiscent and I believe it’s very related to the sexist beliefs that women tend to be emotional. And emotions are illogical. Emotions are easy to wave away. And then add pregnancy hormones to the mix and partners are more likely to think of any worries (especially extreme ones) as a hormonal fluctuation that will dissipate with quick reassurance.

But it’s not reassurance.

It’s a dismissal of valid, legitimate worries. It’s invalidation of someone’s experience. This dismissal discourages any ability to talk it out. It is the opposite of what needs to occur. Maybe the worries could be easily addressed. But at this point, there hasn’t even been any acknowledgement.

This sexist belief permeates everything. Women are less likely to be believed at the doctor’s office. There is a reason that the root word of “hysteria” mean uterus. Long ago, the uterus was blamed for all disease. And while that may seem absurd today, the biased belief that women are more likely to be “dramatic” or “hysterical” or “emotional” means that many times, women are misdiagnosed or told, “You’re fine.

Complicate the matter further by having the audacity to be overweight, a person of color, gender nonconforming, etc…well, you get the idea.

And what does a doctor’s biases have to do with a relationship? Well, kind of everything in the sense that this belief is sexist and sexism is systemic. That is why a partner in a loving relationship is more likely to wave away fears and anxieties. Yes, pregnancy hormones can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety or depression in prenatal or postpartum time periods. However, this doesn’t mean that symptoms should be overlooked, ignored, or dismissed. These are the time periods where people are the most vulnerable and less likely to explain how and why they need help. And, thus, it is imperative that partners challenge themselves to push past the “It’ll be fine” refrain that society and our culture has conditioned them to respond with.

Postpartum doulas are amazing. And I will advocate for them forever, even if my own partner still doesn’t understand the impact that they had on me during the postpartum periods. It’s why I recommend them to friends, family, and strangers alike. And that’s why I try to be an advocate on the behalf of others. Sometimes when you’re in the midst of the worry, anxiety, or depression, it’s difficult to ask for help.

I always hate (and I have unfortunately said it myself when I didn’t know better) the suggestion, “Let me know if you need anything!” Because that places the emotional labor on the person. It’s like telling people, “Have fun swimming! Let me know if you start drowning!” Lifeguards don’t wait to hear a clear call for help, because if you’re already drowning, how can you open your mouth and yell with water pouring in?

But then how do I know when someone is struggling? Well, that is a blog post for another day, which I promise to post and link very soon.

Lifeguards are trained. As a partner, friend, or family member, it’s good to train to be a lifeguard for the important people in your own life. And remember that a lifeguard doesn’t work alone. It’s impossible to be someone’s everything.

Zoom Meetings, Not Enough Coffee, and Sexism

It’s about twenty minutes to 8 o’clock. I’ve slept about 6 hours last night, not necessarily in a row, and I’m already craving a second cup of strong coffee. I’m not sure it’ll make a dent in the fatigue I’m carrying, but it’s worth a shot.

Right now I’m working remotely. Right now my children are learning remotely. Help.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

The toddlers have been shuttled off to daycare by their father. (Breakfast, diapers, potty, teeth, clothes, where are her shoes??, wait is this yours, don’t forget the check for our sitter, bye, kiss, kiss, hug, bye.) My oldest two, the teen and almost teen have been forced into the shower (just barely) and are now scrunched up behind their personal school tablets, working some Google docs (I hope) until their first Zoom meeting of the morning. My own work day starts at 9 am and I’m pretty sure my own Zoom meetings cross over school Zoom meetings. Which means I’ll have to disable video and microphone periodically to run out and fix technical glitches on the kids’ computers. I’m sure my job is thrilled. But they probably don’t mind too much as I make up for lost work by starting my day earlier than ever and ending later than ever.

Article after article after article explains how difficult this juggling is and how it impacts the careers of working moms. The literature seems to go on forever about it. Ultimately, it boils down to the sexism that exists within both parenting, relationships, and the workforce.

Complain about having to juggle everything and you’re told that it is what it is. You chose to have children and now you have to deal with having children. It’s a little infuriating.

Also, even if the response of, “Well, you wanted to have children…now you have to parent…” wasn’t soaked in sexism and judgement, I don’t know anyone who imagined this scenario. Raise of hands to show who dreamed of orchestrating a bastardized version of “homeschool” via public school during a mismanaged pandemic, while also handling everything else. Yeah, me neither.

“You’re not the only one struggling.”

“Some people are worse off.”

Also just as insulting a response. Clearly we’re all struggling. Obviously everyone’s situation is different. But other people’s struggles do not diminish the very real physical, mental, and emotional impact the current state of affairs has on parents, and especially mothers. There is no Personal Problems Olympics where people compete and the winner gets to take home the prize of Guilt-free Venting.

Throughout my years as a mother who has mostly worked out of the home, I’ve been told (especially by other mothers), “I don’t know how you do it! You make it seem so easy! You’re always so calm and collected.”

It kind of feels like being complimented on how strong of a swimmer I am while barely treading water or borderline drowning.

The truth is, and I try to explain this every time, that I’m as overwhelmed as any other mother. I don’t do anything more or less than other people in my same situation. And I also don’t know where the requirement of being the perfect picture of calm and control came from. Why is that part of the Mom’s Code of Conduct? Can leadership get together and strike through that part?

Maybe we should also stop judging ourselves so harshly. Most of the time when we see a mom who seems to have it all together, we covet her grace and multi-tasking abilities. At least, that’s what it seems like to me when people compliment my mothering. And, frankly, that’s what it is like when I see women I wish I could model myself after.

And after all that, when I pay them the same compliments, they tend to respond the way I do sometimes. “Girl, I am a mess. But thank you. I’m trying.”

And that’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? We’re all trying. We all need help. And there’s some weird unspoken rule that we’re supposed to look like we got it.

Mothering is labeled “team lift” but someone taped over it.

Before and After

Once upon a time and long, long ago, I was alone.

That is, I was not a mother. A daughter, a sister, yes.

Motherhood is the most crushing and awesome events of life. I mean that very literally. Well, almost. No, I haven’t been literally crushed under the weight of responsibility of raising little people. But it has felt so heavy that at times I cannot breathe.

I do find it awesome. I know we’ve all seen it, that little cherub face, looking out at a display of fireworks, a coveted gift, or even just bubbles, with simple awe, completely enraptured by the moment.

Before I was a mother, I yearned to be a mother. I’m not sure what the driver is behind that emotion or desire. Sometimes I blame the environment in which I grew up: full of children, big families, and tradition. It made sense to continue this. Sometimes I blame the other facets of the environment in which I grew up: latchkey child, forced to grow up too quickly, wanting someone to love and love her back.

Regardless of the reason, I became a mother, sooner than I am advising my own children.

Married, yes, but also still a teenager. My 30-something-year-old heart drops into my stomach when I think of one of my sons coming home to tell me that they are about to become a father only a few years from now. Universe help me if that ever happens.

Motherhood has been everything I thought it would be, nothing that I could have anticipated, and so much more than I ever imagined. I know it sounds romantic, but I also mean that in the negative.

I could drown in the chorus of “Mom” that is sung every day.

I could cry when I swipe through my Instagram feed, images of my beautiful four rolling through.

I want to run away to a remote island when little tiny hands have touched me several hundred times too many.

What is silence? Don’t we all teeter between the idea of a little extra sleep and a few hours of “me” time (whatever the hell that means).

And so, I feel fulfilled and stressed and anxious and loved and like enough but not enough. They say it takes a village, but I cannot find my village. It’s so segmented and full of advice columns, stuffy opinions, and questions.

And so, this site was born.