Thursday, July 28, 2011

Against the Current

I took my kids kayaking this weekend. I got them settled, showing them how to turn and paddle, in the little cove by the beach.  They figured it out pretty quickly and were soon ready to venture further away. Chloe led the way, and Chaucer brought up the rear. The way they kept their little sister between them, this instinct to protect her, was a beautiful and sacred sight. 
I caught up with them on the other side of the width, of a long and narrow lake. They had beached their kayaks and were playing by the shore, finding leeches (ew!), tadpoles, minnows, crawfish and sunnies, as well as rocks, sand patches and sticks. We stayed awhile, and then they wanted to head further down the lake, to a particularly sandy spot. I considered the wind and the current, for the lake is really part of a river system, and asked Sally what she thought, since she is the youngest, just turning six in May. She really wanted to do it, and my adventurous side took over, so I said OK. My older daughter and son started to pull Sally’s kayak back out into the lake, wanting to help her. She insisted on doing this herself, which is really no surprise, since one of her famous lines since she was two is, “By Self.” 
We reached the sandy beach easily and played there for some indeterminable, beautiful, no telling how long perfect stretch of time.  The times that you dreamed about before you had a family, the perfect moments. I soaked it in, acknowledging and realizing this was one of those moments. 
When it was time to head back, the big kids took off. It didn’t look harder and you couldn’t see the current, but Sally had a noticeably harder time now. I had an abundance of patience and paddled around her over and over, coaching her on what to do. At one point, she fell off, startling us both. I was amazed at how fast I buried my fear and told her she was fine, she had on a life jacket and I was there. I was doubly amazed at how fast she hopped right back on the kayak, sitting astride with her paddle in hand before I could finish my comforting. 
Changing our family’s lifestyle feels much like swimming against the current. As I have started sheepishly telling people in my real life (the ones who still don’t know about this blog, this other side of me) the reactions are different. Many people, if not all, identify with the “I’m tired of this. This is too hard. We are too busy”...etc conversation. But rarely, if ever, do I find someone who really is ready to embrace the change. They know its not good, but can not even envision how to change it.  Others are busy, but comfortably so. Some have cynically given up, saying things like, “I don’t want family time.  All that time is spent as a referee and listening to arguing and sitting in our messy house.” 
My son has a small group of friends who are very athletic and good at many sports. Some are signing up for three sports this fall.  Most are doing two sports, because this is the first year they can do football. I have still signed him up for none, although I am still open to maybe one. Football is three nights a week from 6-7:30, and weekend games for 8 weeks.  Soccer is two times a week and weekend games. When I ask these parents how they do both, they respond, “We are half assing both of them.”
All of his very best friends will be on this football team, and I know he would like it. And even if I build in down time to just play, all of his friends will be too busy. 
This is paddling against the current. It is harder than going with the current. My husband, kids, and I might fall off our kayak. We might momentarily lose track of where we are headed. We might be scared, or uncomfortable. I will remember how quickly I cast away my fears trying to comfort Sally after her fall, knowing she was safe and would get back on her kayak. I will remember how quickly she and I rebounded. 
I will continue to paddle upstream, envisioning our destination of a different life.   

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Take Back My Family Update

I fear making commitments for various reasons. (This could be the focus of another post.  Or book.) But, I am going to make it a goal to post on Thursdays about my Take Back My Family Project. 
The project officially begins in September, with August being a planning month. The first action item being refraining from signing up for fall activities.  We need our weekends back, and our evenings. We need to rest, recharge, and find room in our dailiness to make space for the inevitable rising of the tides. 
Theories are always easier, well, in theory, than in reality. This first declaration encountered only one major challenger: my oldest daughter. She is very social, very needy, and very demanding.  She does many things, and loves them all.  She is also perceptive and realistic, if not a good time manager, like her mother. She knows she is tired, doing too much, and has little time for unstructured play dates with her friends. She also has not found her “thing” yet, and struggles with the idea of giving up anything.  While trying to make major changes that work for our entire family, I am also trying to honor who she is, be flexible while looking at options, looking at possibilities and spectrums, rather than the ALL OR NONE mentality that comes so naturally to me. 
My husband and other two children weren’t phased by my suggestion.  In fact, my husband agreed immediately.  My son and youngest daughter have generally been less invested in their activities, and generally easier going about anything. They are fast friends, and can play for hours at home, both together and independently.  My fast moving, very active son, much to everyone’s surprise, craves downtime and alone time at home more than anyone. 
A situation has come up where my son’s soccer team is switching clubs and in order to stay on his team, which is very good for him in so many ways, he may be required to play in the fall.  Ugh. 
Already my plan feels like it is slipping.  My instinct is to wholeheartedly say no, we have made our decision, and it is only for a few months. Or to say, let’s do it, we can figure it out. I lean heavy into the All or None Wind, and am trying to find the balance between being completely inflexible, while trying to weigh each family member’s circumstances.  
I question the wisdom and the possibility of changing from  an over scheduled, frenetic, tired, stressed high strung family to a calm, governed by seasons and wind, homemade granola making , peace loving, yogic family, overnight. Also, Pam’s warning about how hard it is on some days to have kids home hovers in the air as I listen to all the bickering and whining while I  secretly check my calendar to count the days until they go to camp. 
I need to remember that the change I want comes slowly and from deep within, not quickly or from the surface.  I also am learning that this is not a one time choice, it is a choice that we will have to make every day, while negotiating the changes and specific needs of all of us. 
We will not be perfect, and will have to constantly rebalance. This is hard as I don’t have yet a specific goal, question, or value to refer to as we are making each decision. I know we need to change, I’m just not sure how to do it. 
Hitting obstacles before even the planning month begins could be deflating. I am surprisingly excited for this first little test. It is like a hike in the mountains, and this is the first little stream we have to cross. It is negotiable, but I have to pay attention.

Friday, July 15, 2011

It's All Fulfilling

My grandmother turns 87 today.  I called her yesterday. I listened to her talk for about 10 minutes or so - mostly about her health, and about her wonderful neighbors.  This used to bore me, and I would wonder if old people ever talk about anything else.  Now I am starting to listen, really listen.  I even find myself talking like this sometimes.  And it’s nice to have an ear.  And, frankly, that is the answer to How Are You?

 Then she asked about us.  I yearn desperately for my answer not to be “just busy.” I am aware.  I pause, and try to think of a different answer.  Just running from one thing to another.  Or swim, tennis, soccer .  Often I say, “I have become the mother I made fun of before I had kids. Back when I knew everything.”  Everyone says they are busy.  Some view it as an accolade, the busier , the better. There are so many opportunities, and people want the best for their kids. Maybe I was like this. Sometimes I am still like this.  I dictate our busy schedule just to get the “gosh...” or oh......Now I am embarrassed about it. Who would do this much?
My grandmother did not judge me.  Not a bit.  She, somehow, understands.  She came of age during the depression and knows to her soul how it is to be without.  She now lives in a Mobile home park in Tennessee, always something in need of repair.  She gets by on a meager income, and buys fresh veggies in the summer and freezes them for winter. But she is so thankful and thinks she lives in a castle.
So, I embarrassingly tell her some of the things the kids are doing and begin to explain my quandary , and how I feel guilty for not having family time and more dinners together.  She says they are lucky to have all that and they are lucky to have y’all as parents.  You think about it.  You are aware.  You give up yourself for them.  Whatever choice you make, it is a good one.  If they are in many activities, they are fine.  If they are home, they are fine.  It is all fulfilling.
It is all fulfilling.  Now that is a new spin. You don’t hear that one every day. 

Now, how different would my days be if I simply started every day with that affirmation?
She went on.  It doesn’t really last that long.  And then you move into a new phase.  And that’s a good phase too.  They start getting older, coming into themselves.  That is really fun to see.  And while they are coming into themselves, you start getting yourself back, start having more time to see who you are now, and how you have changed. You get to enjoy them in a different way.  It’s all natural and normal. It’s all part of life. 

So, don’t worry, honey.  We all question how we raise our children.  We all wonder if we are doing it right.  We all make mistakes. And I say, if you are thinking like this, you are doing it right.  Just love them.  And everything will be fine. They’ll be fine.  You’ll be fine.

It is all fulfilling.

Happy Birthday, Nana.  I love you.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I am Taking Back My Family

I am taking back my family.  It has been lost to kid’s activities, husband’s work, social and volunteer obligations, organized sports, and more.
I am not following a particular plan -- I am not sure there is one out there, but then again, I’m sure there is -- do I want to make it harder on myself?  or do I just want to do it my way?  I like so many ideas, want to use several, but want to make sure it is specific enough to my family, and simple enough to work. 
Why this fall? Why now? What was the last straw? Perfect storm, I guess. I learned several years ago that May is awful.  Awfully busy.  Finishing school projects, lots of end of the year celebrations - skating show, dance recital, but also the beginning of summer activities - baseball, soccer, and with the entry into country club land last year,  swim team and June brings golf, and this year, tennis three afternoons a week.  So a couple of years ago, I just added June to the crazy mix.  Oh, and my husband travels most weeks.
I hate all the bitching and complaining, no matter how valid it is.  So, I decided to be thankful for all we have, and all the opportunities, and to jump on, hold my breath, and be happy (dammit) for these two months.  I gave up trying to fix them healthy meals, and succumbed to the fast food draw.  I let all three of my children play both baseball and soccer....and continue to add other things. This worked for a couple of years. 
I knew this year it would be harder than ever for different reasons so I hired a girl to help a couple of evenings a week starting in late April/May.  And to work 2 or 3 days in the summer.  Her purpose was to help me get kids to events.  Period.  I simply could not be in two places (or three or four) at one time. 

My husband got a serious sinus infection this spring that shut him down for about six weeks.  He struggled through work, but weekends he laid on the couch in pain, couldn’t help me or our kids, or himself; and he couldn’t shake the infection.  I spiraled down, not realizing that I was holding on for the weekends. I had my own mini-crises, went on a retreat, and starting my personal journey back to health. 
I also started getting some feedback about one of my kids - she sort of , well, has an edge.  At first, I let it sit, but then I began hearing it more and more - from others as well as seeing it.  She began acting out, and, at six years old, was surprisingly not able to keep our family’s stress hidden under our roof. Her edge, the way she talked, the way her eyes darted, the way her body tensed -- finally broke me.  I had to do something.  
I chewed on this a couple of weeks.  I was beginning my journey, taking what I needed, and starting to heal.  Yes, very important work that was benefitting them.  But, shit, I am doing it on a wing and a prayer and minute to minute.  How in the world are my 10, 8, and 6 years old supposed to do it? 
Reading about the great summer life, beaches, walks, down time, lemonade stands did not make me nostalgic - it made my stomach sick.  We were (are still as I write this) rushing to tutors, violin lessons, swim team, tennis, social events, soccer. 

A few weeks ago, I looked out my back window at an old green wagon that somehow appeared in my yard. I hadn’t seen it in a couple of years. One of the kids had found the time to drag it out and use it.  Well, I didn’t actually see this.  For all I know, God himself dragged it out and put it in the center of my view.  A searing pain went through me.  For years, from May until October, we ate most meals on our back deck.  Then the kids would play in the yard until bedtime.  Our deck now has bird seed spread all over, and leaves and sticks have been placed there by the wind.  There is no longer a lego box at the ready for after dinner play. 
I silently longed for those days for a few minutes.  Remembering their angelic faces being smeared with bar be que sauce and a big smile, children thinking they are too big for booster seats but eating the entire meal on their knees, baby bouncy chairs on the table, and stories about fairies in our woods.  And, then, as if I was a motivational speaker speaking to thousands (I hope my neighbors didn’t hear), I exclaimed out loud, “NOT YET. NOT MY FAMILY.”   They are not grown and gone, they are 10, 8, and 6.  
Thus began my quest to Take Back My Family.  We are doing this somewhat methodically, and somewhat by the seat of our pants.  We are hashing out the details of what we want it to look like.  Right now, it is a vision.  I am working on a balance of setting goals and making big changes, yet keeping it attainable.  I am excited and scared. 
I’ll keep you posted. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Friends and The High Road

Who are your friends? What does it mean to be a friend? Do you have different kinds of friends? 
Do you like friends who tell you what you want to hear? The correct answer to this loaded question is no.  But, if I am honest, yes, sometimes I need that. I want a friend who can be honest with me, one that I can be myself around, that helps me to be a better me. I like friends that make me laugh. I value honesty over most anything, and acceptance is a fairly close second. 

Do you have many friends? Are there room for more? Really.  What about the fact that I don’t have time for the ones I have now? Do we need to weed our friend beds? 
Is there a balance between “I have never had issues with anyone” and leaving a trail of friends behind over the years?  Are certain friends good for only periods of time, like a coupon that expires? Do you consider it a failure for a friendship that has run its course? 
Are some friendships built on a false life?

And what do you do when a friend hurts you? Do you work it out? or write it off? What boundaries are non negotiable? 
My husband always speaks of taking the high road, and not burning any bridges. While I  sometimes think that he denies himself, and those that he holds most dear, I am learning about this road. Instinctively, I either take the low road, or fly over the high road on my way out. 
A few years ago, my husband took my girls to a playground.  My youngest was at the top of a slide and my oldest had climbed up the slide to help her. A lady then tore into my daughter and my husband, citing the rule book in her head about slides being one way roads that go down, and uncontrolled kids and on and on.  My husband chose to ignore her, grabbed our girls and came home.  My oldest daughter, the ever indignant six year old, came home running up the stairs ranting, spurned, as I often am, by her righteous anger. Steve, coming soon behind her, disgustingly calm, proceeded to offer his fatherly advice, “ I explained to her about not stooping to other people’s levels, not burning bridges, and how we like to take the high road.” 
My daughter screamed her response to his unemotional speech. “ MOM DOESN’T TAKE THE HIGH ROAD, RIGHT MOM?” Her implication being that road was for pussies, a road our alliance would never take. 
Part of my intrigue with relationships is exploring not only friendships, but how I act in these relationships. I have had friends come and go without incident -- either outward or inward-- these are not the friendships of which I speak. I have had relationships that I have backed away from for different reasons. Something inside me realized that they were not healthy or good for me.  And I have had friendships end painfully. 
When I look at those that ended painfully, I realize that there was conflict and my flight response took over.  For whatever reason, lack of skill or lack of desire, I did not stick it out.
Over the last few years, I have gained some skills, or coping mechanisms.  I have learned to compartmentalize.  With husbands and children, and husband’s friends, and children’s friends, relationships tend to compound. Friendships become tenuous when a  mother’s instinct to protect her child trumps everything else. 
So, I have tentatively reentered relationships that I had backed away from. I have entered them guardedly, and understanding the limitations. I am not in flight, and not giving up on my ideals. But I am acknowledging that you can’t run away from everything, and there will always be difficult situations and people with whom you don’t always share the same values. I am not denying my feelings, and I will protect myself and my children, while learning to live in a world that has many truths.  
I am trying the High Road.