Friday, September 30, 2011

My Quest to End the Stupid Battles

My feisty grandmother died almost five years ago.  I don’t think about her every day anymore.  And I’m not sure when that happened.  She wasn’t sickly or elderly ever.  She just had a heart attack and died one night.  I am grateful for that, really.  Because she will always be strong and vibrant to me.  Because of this, it took me a couple of years to realize she was really gone.  
I have a  very rough draft an outline of a book about her.  I write this as evidence that she is not easily, nor quickly definable, so I won’t even attempt it now, as this post is really about me, not her. 
I was of adult age, but without children.  I asked her to do something she didn’t want to do and she replied,  “I don’t want to” or “I don’t feel like it,” or “No”, or one of her favorites, “Hell no.”  I may have tried to convince her for a minute or two but I know I didn’t try long.  When she didn’t want to do something, she wasn’t going to do it.  Period. 
What I did say was this:  “I wish I had a grandmother that was a pleaser.” 
And she replied, “I wish I had a granddaughter that wasn’t a smart ass.” 
I open with this story because I was about to open with explaining what a pleaser I am.  And then the thought of anyone that I know in my real life reading it began to consume me.  They would laugh, discredit me, and try to expose me as a fraud.  And chew me up and spit me out.  
But I am more of a pleaser than people realize.  By people, I mean everyone.  Friends, family, kids, parents, husband, and especially myself.  I am finding a little joy in realizing this fact.  
First and foremost, I am a straight shooter.  I tell it like it is.  I call a spade a spade.  I can see how this could be perceived as not being a pleaser.  Because sometimes what I have to say is not always pleasing.  I have learned over the years that the truth doesn’t always have to have sharp edges, and I have acquired a light filter.  (Yes I have.) But life is complicated enough than to have to try to be someone I am not, and this, directness, if you will, is as much a part of me as my  hazel eyes and  the Mississippi of my youth. 
The other reason people may not think I am a pleaser is my refusal to do some things.  I do many things.  And I do many things I don’t like to do.  But every now and then I adamantly refuse to do something I don’t want to do.  To hell with the consequences.  And every now and then, I may do something that no one else thinks I should do, to hell with the consequences.  And many times, an apology should accompany these actions, but most times it doesn’t.
This is a good segue into why, actually, I am a pleaser.  
Except there’s one more thing. Damn, that realization was a really good segue, but I need to explain one more thing that again, some would argue.  I am often, sometimes a pretty easy going, low maintenance person.  I can hear certain people laughing and guffawing and coughing in protest now.  Like my husband.  And my father.  Actually, since the birth of my third child, and getting to know her over the last few years, I have come up with a pretty good description that probably most would agree is accurate. 
I am really laid back and easy going, except when I’m not.  
This may sound funny, but it is the best truth.  Another way, although not as accurate, is to say I have a long fuse.  So, I generally don’t care what we do, how things are done.  And if I do, and it isn’t done my way, I generally won’t argue, I’ll just carry on.  If I do have and state my opinion, if it’s a battle to get it done my way, I just won’t fight it. 
There are basically two times I will fight it.  If I feel very strongly about it from the beginning and deem it battle worthy.  Like when our kids were babies, I didn’t want them to have juice.  Steve wanted to give them juice all the time and said kids drink juice.  I explained about the sugar content and training them to like sugar.....etc.  Now, many people are amazed that our kids only drink milk and water.  They don’t like kool aid, most juices, pop (or coke or soft drinks depending on where you live).  In essence, our kids don’t drink sugar.  Battle worthy.  
The other time I fight it (what is it?) is less admirable and more foggy and something of which I am not proud.  I fight and spit and spew when I am done.  Just done.  Done with everything.  Now, I can hear it.  Here it comes.... everyone does that, you do a lot for your family, you are not taking care of yourself.  Yes, thats true.  But it makes me react over little things as if they are BATTLE WORTHY.  Like the color of my daughter’s head band not matching her outfit or the way my husband loads the dishwasher or the teachers saying to act as if school started fifteen minutes earlier than it does.  
Here is a summary of what I have written so far:
  1. I am (more of) a pleaser (than most realize)
  2. I am usually laid back. (except when I am not)
  3. I fight WORTHY BATTLES. 
  4. And I fight stupid battles when I am not taking care of myself. 
MAY I INTERRUPT THIS POST FOR A MINUTE? All bloggers are writers, and many, many have written, or are writing books.  Many writers say they write to discover what they know.  And many writers say that they don’t know what they are going to write when they sit down to write.  I used to think this was a crock of shit never believed this until I started experiencing it, EVERY TIME I SAT DOWN TO WRITE.  OK, so now that I have acknowledged that I never know where my writing is taking me, may I say that I am getting a little tired of every piece of writing coming back to the same thing: YOU CAN’T TAKE CARE OF OTHERS UNTIL YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.  I am tired of this.  I want to move on.  I get it.  I get it.  This is like memorizing the Canterbury Tales.  I worked and worked on it.  And now I can never forget it.  It became so ingrained that I named my son Chaucer for Christ’s sake.  I can only hope that this lesson that keeps presenting itself over and over like an unwelcomed guest, will become as ingrained as the Canterbury Tales. 
Life has become better since I have started taking care of myself.  And actually learning and experiencing what that looks like.  Writing has become almost as vital as air itself.  If I don’t take the time to write and reflect, I am crabby, unproductive, selfish, and unloving to those I love the most.  
My mother is visiting, and she is much more of a doer than I have ever been.  (Someone has to be, right?)  She comes and does many projects that make our lives much more manageable and healthy.  We have always done projects and it forms a core of our relationship.  Although these projects are benefitting my family and me, and not her, my heart has not been in it. I wanted her to know how thankful I am for what she does.  I wanted her to feel like she is helping us and accomplishing something.  I wanted her to understand that I want her around even when she isn’t working.  I love to hear her voice in the morning, and smell the smell of my mama being around. But I don’t want to do projects now.  
You see, I have a new air.  I am smothering without my pen.  
The struggle for me, the pleaser, this week has been giving up my new air so my mother would feel loved, useful, welcomed, appreciated, adored.  And the irony is, in all my efforts, I feel as if I have failed.  
I don’t want taking care of myself to be a stupid battle when I am on empty.  I don’t want taking care of myself to be .... in your face, fuck you, I’m doing what I want.  I want it to be like eating and bathing and breathing.  Just something you do every single day in order to live.  
So, in a cloud of guilt and heaviness, I told my mother this morning that I just didn’t want to work on these projects.  I wanted to spend time with her, but I need to take care of myself, so that I have more to give. I have learned a new way to be.  A life where I don’t have to trudge through every day.  I didn’t know there was an easier way. 
And do you know what she said? 
“O.K.  All you had to do was tell me. Enjoy your morning.” 
I didn’t know it could work like that. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sometimes I Do That

I know the right thing to do to care for myself, and sometimes I do it.  I know what isn’t right, and sometimes I do that too. 
I meant for this to be a quote but I can’t find it or remember it exactly.  But this is the message I took, so I’m starting there.  
I started yoga about 10 years ago.  I quit the same day because those freaks would bend in scary ways and talked about breath and breathing as if their life depended on it.    And all that stillness, all that un-exercise, just made the lists longer of all that I wanted to do.  And I kept being in positions where I could see my feet and I didn’t want to add pedicures to my list.  
I kept hearing benefits from people, NORMAL people I should add.  So I would try it again every six months or so when there was absolutely nothing else to do except rearrange my sock drawer.  I never liked it while I was there because  I felt insecure and had a lot of growing to do the people were weird . However, I did feel better afterwards.  
Sometime a few years ago, I needed somewhere I could go without my kids and they had a childcare I became pretty hard core, and started going 4 or 5 times a year.   I didn’t, still don’t know what ayengar or hatha or vinyasa meant.  But I liked this class because at the end you got to lay there and do nothing and listen to him say that some people considered this the hardest pose.  I felt smug because I was good at it and didn’t think it was hard at all.  Plus, I could do this and make my list for the day.  Talk about multi tasking.  
He would also go around and give ...... mini massages? touch therapy?  at the end.  He would touch my temples and rub a couple of circles and do funky things on my forehead, face, ears, and neck with  his voodoo aromatic oil.  Now, don’t go thinking I am a touchy feely person because I was practically forced to let him do this.  Before he did this, he asked all of us to lay in shavasana and close our eyes.  He said he would be coming around and putting a curse and laying hands or some other tree hugger word.  If we weren’t comfortable with this, just lift our hands slightly right now to let him know. Well, of course I peeked to see who else was sane would not join in this seance  thought this was a crock of shit  would refrain.  When no one else raised their hand, I froze.  I had to think quickly.  If I am the only one who doesn’t do it, then I bet they will all join him and confront me with some sort of intervention.  I felt trapped.  Sort of like when a grizzly bear is mauling you, you don’t fight back.  Just play dead.  So I would incorporate that strategy.  
It reminded me of a time when I was in Indonesia getting a $10 massage and I tried to tell the girl not to touch my feet.  She just didn’t get it.  And I ended up loving it. 
Same with Tory’s touch.  It was one of the first things that relaxed my body and mind.  I still can’t explain it to this day.  This laying on the hands lasted maybe thirty seconds.  But the life force was inexplicable.  I started going every month or two just for the few minutes of shavasana and the 30 seconds of this laying on the hands.  
So, last spring when I was in a bad funk, I returned for the laying on of hands. Except now he had this huge following and the class had like 50 people now and he didn’t do this anymore.  Of course.  
But I had been to Kripalu and tried meditating with Dani Shapiro, so I would do a version of meditating during shavasana.  I guess I learned to quiet my mind because I would not leave there with a list of a million things to do. 
And the yoga grew on me, and I began to become attached to Tory for different reasons.    He was in a motorcycle accident this summer, and hasn’t been able to come for a couple of months.  Last week, we were told he is much better, but he would not be coming back.  He has been there close to 10 years on Tuesday mornings at 9:15.  And then they said they were going to try several guest instructors for a while before they hired a replacement.  
While I can’t write much more right now about the impact Tory had on my life, I know for a fact he would not want us to miss him.  Really, he wouldn’t.  Even if he missed us, he would not want us to miss him.  So, almost immediately, I accepted his leaving and opened up to find someone else to learn from.  The girl last week sucked. I really liked the sub for this week.  She was warm and whole and delicious and kind and I left thinking the world is full of good people.  
And I left with my version of the quote at the beginning.  Taking Care of Myself is becoming a much bigger theme in Take Back My Family than I wanted it to imagined.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Times, They are a Changing

Our family life is much better.  I want to tell you all the things I’ve done to make it that way.  And let you know what a hero I am for rescuing my family.  
But I can’t.  It’s my husband.  He got on board and has taken flight.  He literally does everything at our house.  He works full time.  I don’t get paid for anything I do.  He does most of the grocery shopping, most of the cooking, most of the laundry.  He pays most of our bills and budgets our money.  He does lots of random projects too - he fixed the Wii, got our locks replaced after the scary stuff this summer, mows the grass at the Lake House, waters our plants, changes lightbulbs.  And more. 
I could tell you what I do (and I just might before this post is over) but thats not the point.    The point is that he has not traveled in several weeks and has really stepped up at home.  In the past, even and especially the most recent past (six months or so), he has done many of these things.  But he did them begrudgingly and with venom.  
“Of course he did.  Why in the hell aren’t you doing these things?” you might ask.  And if I were honest, I am struggling a bit now.  Because now he does all this, and he has changed.  He is joyful, happier, and has lost all judgment of me.  Honestly, I feel as if I am in a movie and I have a fatal disease, and now they are ready to make it on their own without me.  Or the other movie about the man who is having an affair and is suddenly happier and doing more to assuage his guilt.  

One of the more subtle changes in our Take Back Our Family is accepting each other for who we are.  I am in the beginning stages of it.  So that means that I am trying to accept myself for who I am, instead of trying to be someone else. If this concept were linear, I would first accept myself, then my husband, then my children.  But since nothing in life is linear, I will probably start and finish with myself, if there is even a finish.    I am working, we are working on loving who we are, not changing it.  
Sometimes these theoretical musings become so vague that they are not productive without a trite detail to bring it into focus.  Without doing a complete genealogy report, let’s just say that my husband is a typical hard working mid westerner coupled with the fact that he is a dyslexic first born of four, charting him at Type A times ten. I was raised in the Deep South, where naps and reading and thoughts and rocking and talking formed the core of my very being.  He is at his happiest mowing and caring for the lawn, whereas I would be happiest reading in the hammock for the day.  He doesn’t know how to “work” a hammock.  
So, it is not surprising that we have different approaches to housework.  That’s fine and good.  But my husband is a perfectionist, and not only unrealistically expects himself to be perfect, but he also projects that on me.  It has taken me over 16 years of being with him to figure this out, though.  That fact is staggering.  Note to self:  Fill children in on this detail early in their relationships so they can spend the first 16 years on something else.  
Honestly, I would work and work to get things right for him.  Doing laundry his way, doing the checkbook, cooking dinners.  And it was never quite right.  I didn’t realize this and he didn’t either.  We were both just being ourselves.  I gave up on the checkbook early on.  Perhaps my way wouldn’t have worked long term, but it worked for a single 20 something.  Say I had $500 in my checking account, and I charged $50 on a credit card for dinner.  I would just deduct that from my check register, so that when it came time to pay the bill, the funds would be there.  He thought that was ridiculous, refuting the accuracy of my checking account.  So, who cares? He made more money and wanted to handle the money and I didn’t want to fight it.  Fine.  
Without going into every detail of our laundry and cooking life, just understand that I finally gave those up too.  Over the course of the past six months or so, I realized that I was spinning my wheels all day on shit like this, and never being enough to anyone.  I did laundry.  I just didn’t put matching up all the socks at the same importance as the national debt crises.  Sure, mornings are easier when the socks are matched up.  Evenings are easier with a cocktail.  It doesn’t always happen.  Move on.  
Ever since my kids were little, it has always overwhelmed me that these little beings HAVE TO EAT AT LEAST THREE MEALS A DAY, EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Yes, I cook.  I actually like to cook.  I would spend so much time planning, and cooking only to be met with complaint after complaint after complaint.  Kids eat a bite and say they are full or thats disgusting.  And complain of hunger before the dishes are even cleaned.  Steve would say my meals were too complicated.  Just make it simple.  Fine.  Or just coordinate the finishing times of each item.  Or just add a little garlic.  (He IS a chef by trade.)  Or he would come in and make something else.  Or complain that they kids needed something else besides cereal and fruit and milk for breakfast.  Look, I ate Fruit Loops for breakfast for the first 18 years of my life, and I am fine.  
I spent years trying to please them, and it was never enough.  I spent years trying to show him what all I was doing.  I spent some angry years telling him if he didn’t like it, he could do it himself (or go to hell or some other negative non- Buddhist gentle approach).  But I kept trying to please.  
And then I laid down my sword.  Peacefully and without fanfare. I told them I was no longer giving my all so that they could have full lives, especially when they all treated me like it was their God-given right and not experiencing gratitude. I quit doing anything for them that I didn’t want to do or deem absolutely necessary.  I told them to expect cereal for breakfast and a ham and cheese sandwich for dinner every single day.  Anything more than that, consider it a bonus. Period.  I started reading and writing again.  I take quiet times.  I am happier.  
I am not sure what happened with Steve.  He continued to do the laundry, but he seems to enjoy it.  He cooks and cleans.  He doesn’t seem mad about it anymore.  I think he quit fighting me.  He quit expecting me to be who he wants me to be or who he is or who he thought I was.  I think he is happier because his clothes are folded and put away  just the way he likes them.  He is happier with his meals and what the kids are eating.
We are all learning a new way of being.  The kids are saying thank you when I cook dinner or breakfast.  They are thanking me for rides to friends or activities.  They are asking about my day. 
It’s not perfect.  Picture day is today and several days ago my oldest daughter said I needed to make her a hair appointment for her pictures.  I said that even if you would have asked nicely, I wouldn’t do that.  We are not spending that money for school pictures.  She said get Ann (a favorite babysitter).  I said no, we are not spending that money - I will help you straighten your hair.  She went off on a spiel about how horrible I was at hair and that definitely wasn’t going to happen.  Yesterday, she realized I was serious about not paying for the stylist or sitter, and said OK, you can do it.  And do you know what I said?  NO.  I am not doing that for you.  You were disrespectful to me and I didn’t deserve that.  Figure it out yourself.  (I never would have done this in the past. NE-VER.)  
So, last night I showered and read while my husband learned to use the straightener and enjoyed a half hour with our oldest daughter.  She was thrilled with her hair and I think he was secretly proud too.  
The times, they are a changing.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Nod to Me, Transitions, and My Daughter

I know, I know.  There are so many things wrong with this.  I do realize how inappropriate it is.  A friend posted this on facebook and I did not repost it, so as not to offend the sensibilities of other family and friends. 
On my favorite mornings, I go to Starbucks with no agenda, grab a cup of coffee, and peruse some blogs.  Sometimes I read comments and click on a new website and an entire new world opens up.  Today I skimmed Renegade Conversations and found this quote: 
"Just being yourself, being who you are, is a successful rebellion."
(Author Unknown)
This can be tricky for me because I have so many selves, so many different parts of me that are becoming more and more compartmentalized.  I can be outgoing and chatty, or I can be silent, introspective and removed.  I can be very productive in many things, and I can sit in front of the computer and accomplish nothing.  I can be funny, but not on demand.  I can be the mother everyone wishes they were, but I can’t sustain it for 24/7. 
I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks; I guess I decided I was taking a September Break.  I have been busy with all September brings, and each year it hits me like a ton of bricks because I always forget the effort that merging into a new routine involves. I recently read something that stuck with me.  I can’t seem to find it again, but it was about transitional times.  I think the writing was referring to bigger transitions than just back to school, but I went with it.  The gist of it was..... just roll with it, don’t rush it.  So often, this time of year, I hear from parents, friends, teachers, administrators... to just get in a routine, settle in, and let’s move on. This piece said to honor the transitional time for what it is.  A chance to stretch and learn. 

So, I haven’t posted because I have been embracing the transition.  Our lives are not perfect and frankly, far from what we want them to be like.  However, I think our Take Back My Family project is starting to pay off.  I wanted to be able to quantify our changes and maybe I will do that again in the future.  For now, we feel better.  The energy is better in our house.  I am laughing with my husband more. The kids are playing together more and not as harried.  
I am honoring the juxtaposition that we were swimming in the lake last weekend to cool off, and last night I was covering our tomato and cucumber plants  to protect them from the freeze.  
I am also constantly awed, amazed and enamored with the educational challenges that my daughter must endure due to her dyslexia, as compared to my relatively easy flight through the schooling of my youth. 
So, the inappropriate photo above is a nod to me, transitions, and my daughter.  It is my more irreverent self that is rarely expressed here. It is a nod to timeless transitions ,whether they  are seasonal, or once in a lifetime.  It is a nod to my daughter, who fights daily for things that I never had to work for and never appreciated. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Just Any Other Day

My youngest child started first grade today.  I haven’t had many of the overwhelming feelings I expected to have.  I was not super sad.  I was not excited.  I was not looking forward to all three of them being in school.  I was not super focused on her. 
I was not looking forward to the Back to School Coffee.  I went to the one on Tuesday for the parents of grades 2-5.  I am not going shopping to celebrate.  It feels like just another day.  
I am a bit concerned that it feels like just any other day.  I was concerned about our busy lifestyle and how that kept me from feeling too much.  Now that I have slowed down, I find that I can still be the Master of Not Feeling Too Much.  
If you knew me, you would know that I am the opposite of a neat freak, and it is normal for breakfast dishes to stay on the counter until after lunch.  But, on this morning of my youngest child’s first day of first grade, it suddenly became very important for me to clean the countertops so that they shined like the top of the Chrysler Building. I became very concerned that our coffee grinder was not functioning properly because every morning more and more loose grounds find their way on to the countertop.  I was scrubbing the caulk and remembering that we put in unpaintable caulk and that needed to be pulled and recaulked with a paintable option. 
My oldest daughter wore a special outfit in honor of her little sister’s first day of school.  My husband made her French Toast, one of her favorites.  My son got her backpack ready and put it next to his. Chloe gave Sally a special headband and fixed her little sister’s hair. I decided that I would reorganize how we all keep our socks, they are always getting lost and its hard to keep track of all of them. 
Mornings are often hard, especially with all the ADD in our house. After it took 45 minutes for my son to get his shoes on, I look out the window and see him jumping on the trampoline, his shoes laying on the ground.  My husband and daughters are in the jeep waiting on us. Knowing I needed to go, I stood at my kitchen window for a full three minutes and just watched my little boy bounce to his heart's desire, just like any other day.
I tell her to get out of the jeep so I can get the standard first day of school picture.  My heart wasn’t in it.  I didn’t get a good picture but I didn’t really care. My son rode with me and Steve took the girls in the jeep.  Chaucer wanted to get in early so I considered just dropping him off and going but decided I should go in, since it is her first day of first grade.  
I took her in, snapped a couple of pictures, kissed her goodbye, and left before the bell rang. 
I kept telling myself it was just any other day.  


Sigh.  It isn’t as easy as I thought. Go figure.  
This Taking Back My Family thing I mean.  August slowed us down as only August can. It wasn’t perfect.  But it supplied many perfect moments. I should tally all the perfect moments I can recall from the summer, both the busy sports part of summer, and the lazy days of August summer.  
By the end of the sports season, I was so done with all of it.  I was thinking, who really cares if you can swim a length of the pool faster than anyone else? What really matters is taking care of your body.  And being a part of a group. And feeling good about yourself. 
I was also a little bummed that I didn’t really enjoy many of the sports moments.  It all seemed like such a pain to get everything together, all their clothes and equipment, all the scheduling, carpool organizing, and food organizing.  But the actual games were often fun and exciting.  And certainly the children loved those events.  I was constantly disappointed that I couldn’t make every game, only because I was at another child’s game or event.  
I ask myself what could I have done to make those moments smoother.  Not only the early summer, but the school year too.  I curse my ADD and my lack of organization.  I clinch at the thought of how much better my husband and my kids lives could be if I could just organize everything better.  
It’s not like we were doing anything we didn’t like.  We just didn’t have enough down time and all was too stressful.  But maybe it was my fault, for not being able to do what the other Moms do. What is so hard about planning meals? Just do it.  Or keeping up with their clothes and equipment.  Just do it.  Or being happy about doing it. Just be thankful for your family.
We can’t really just fall off the grid.  It isn’t good emotionally either.  The kids need activities and people and lives, and I can’t be everything to them.  Perhaps if I try harder. Because maybe I kind of liked all the busyness and whirlwind.
Holy Cow.  I feel like I am 20 years younger and talking about a boyfriend I broke up with a couple of months ago.  Maybe he wasn’t so bad.  Maybe it was all me.  If only I tried a little harder.