Working Myself Out of a Job

It is a cruel irony of motherhood that working yourself out of a job is the main goal.

My kids are racing at breakneck speed toward college, which means that my empty nest is just around the corner. It feels that way, at any rate. Our household is already abuzz with talk of colleges and majors and scholarships. Exactly five years after my eldest flies the nest, my baby will follow suit, and I have a strong suspicion that my transition from full, chaotic house to empty, quiet house will feel sudden and painful.

“But then,” I lecture myself, “What’s the alternative? Do you really want four emotionally dependent, adult-size children lurking around, unable to function as adults, playing Minecraft on your only TV for the next ten years?” Of course I do not want that. Minecraft is super boring to watch. Also, I want my kids to step into their purpose, to make their own mark on the world.

It’s just that I wonder where that will leave me.

I changed someone’s diaper for eight years straight. I hold a PhD in Entertaining Small Children While Waiting At the DMV, with a concentration in Splinter Removal From Thrashing Body Parts. I am good with the little ones. Little kids like me. They think I am Hilarious.

But there are no little ones in my house anymore. The secret has long been discovered that I did not, in fact, hang the moon. My son still laughs at my stupid jokes, God bless him, even though his sisters sometimes stare at me like I have two heads. All of them still like my meatballs, and that’s something. They still come to me with their problems, and that is a tremendous gift. But I am not the center of their world anymore.

And that is absolutely how it should be.

So I will continue to work myself out of a job. Become more Mentor and less Benevolent Dictator. I’ll coach them through making choices and living with consequences, cheer them on and speak hard truth with great love. I will cherish the cuddles that are becoming rarer, and find comfort in knowing that they know they are deeply loved. And I will watch, with awe, the increasingly frequent glimpses of the women and men God created them to be.

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Self Care and Navel Gazing

So, I recently decided that my relationship with my gym was no longer working for me. I felt the need for some space, some time to figure out who I am apart from that relationship, maybe even some freedom to see other gyms for awhile. Really, gym, it’s not you; it’s me.

But I think about my gym all the time. I dream about it. I contemplate going back. We had some great times, Gym and I. It was a serious, long-term commitment that we had, and I miss it sorely.

But I know that the relationship just can’t work right now.

So, that leaves me with the responsibility of filling some personal needs – needs for physical exercise and community – in other ways. Because when I stop connecting with friends and being active, my anxiety level skyrockets, and I gradually settle into a mental funk.

I gave myself permission this past month to kick discipline to the curb. My newfound freedom has been a mixed bag, at best. On the plus side, I’ve carved out more time in my schedule. And, of course, I’ve enjoyed the Reese’s eggs, which contain the absolute perfect proportions of chocolate and peanut butter. On the other hand, I have slid into that slightly depressing zombieland of inertia. Due to food allergies and a disappointing metabolism, I’ve exacerbated my asthma and am in danger of having to wheeze my way over to the Goodwill to buy a larger wardrobe. And having more time in my schedule has fed my tendency toward navel gazing, thinking way too much about what I feel like doing and what I want at a given moment.

Freedom to do whatever I like in the moment hasn’t really felt like freedom. Actually, it’s felt a lot like bondage.

Finding the balance of self-care without navel gazing is more difficult when I have less structure in my life. Not having every waking hour prescheduled feeds my tendency to make everything about Me. Staying out of that trap requires more discipline from me. It helps to remember that doing whatever I want, whenever I want is not freeing, because it points me in a direction I don’t want to go. I’m hopeful that I can do better this month.

But I still dream of getting back together with Gym.

Finding a Better Anchor

When I was 18, life seemed fairly straightforward. I would go to the university of my choice, become a professional musician, marry and have four or five kids. That plan held steady until the age of 20, when I scrapped the whole professional musician thing and decided to move into a drug- and gang-infested neighborhood to help start a recovery house for women. I met a guy who seemed on board with the marriage and four or five kids plan, and we started a new life together.

Fast forward a few years, to a stay-at-home mom with four kids ages 7 and under, adjusting to the reality of a single parent status that she did not anticipate. A bomb had exploded, blowing our intact family to bloody bits, and my job was to tend to my children in that carnage, while keeping myself afloat so that they still had one functioning parent. I almost didn’t make it.

This is what they call a Plot Twist. And while plot twists may be great fun when watching a movie, they can threaten to undo you when they enter your life and change reality as you know it. My great distaste for plot twists in my life may be why I hate Lifetime Original Movies.

But, like a Lifetime Original Movie, our Plot Twist was not the end of our story. Not by a long shot.

It could have been, though.

My idea of a fulfilling life, in which I felt safe and able to be a good mom, was anchored upon our Intact Family status. When that anchor was blown to bits, I had to change my anchor, or else go down with the ship.

And I learned something important, during a time when not one circumstance in my life could be counted on for stability. I learned that circumstances make lousy anchors. A padded bank account can evaporate from one illness. People we depend on can die or leave by choice. Tornadoes and hurricanes and freak accidents happen. In one fell swoop, any illusion of control we had is brutally shattered.

But there is God. He is strong, and he loves us, and he wants to use his power on our behalf, to bring us through impossibly brutal circumstances somehow better than when we entered them. If we will invite him into our chaotic mess.

Au Revoir, Bikini Body Mama

“Forty and Fabulous!” “40 is the New 30!” “Still Sexy!”

So proclaim the covers of every woman’s magazine, and at least one segment of every daily talk show. The message is everywhere, and it purports to empower the middle-aged among us, by preaching the gospel of happiness through bodily transformation. Exciting news, Ladies – we can still be seen as beautiful and desirable to men!

That is, as long as we jump through some hoops.

Hoops that usually consist of some sort of change in eating habits and the addition of an exercise regimen. It’s a Recipe for Happiness, right? Put in the right combination of dietary restrictions, mix with the correct amount of cardio/lifting/lunges/whatever, and Poof! Out comes Bikini Body Mama, hotter than ever.

I suppose that some women find this message empowering. After all, who doesn’t want to be seen as beautiful? At age 44, I sincerely hope I would not be silly enough to post a Bikini Bathroom Selfie onto social media. A big part of me would like to have the option, though.

But I’ve concluded that this Forty and Fabulous message is just a form of bondage, another way for women to feel shame over things that don’t even matter. Here’s why.

Four and a half years ago, I began a serious fitness regimen and a major overhaul to my diet. I lost 30-plus pounds and four clothing sizes, and I gained a lot of strength and health and self-esteem. I felt Forty and Fabulous!

For awhile.

But gradually, I began feeling like somewhat of a failure, because the recipe didn’t work like magic on my body. Despite the tremendous gains in my health and shrinkage of my girth, I did not transform into Bikini Body Mama. My rock-hard abs were hidden under skin that, after accommodating four babies in five and a half years, resembles nothing so much as a bulldog’s  face. My shoulders, arms, and back, always naturally padded, grew to linebackerish proportions with the development of those muscles. (Most women do not bulk up with weight training; I think I must be the exception).

But I was not giving up on The Dream yet. So, I tightened up my eating even further. After two months of cutting out all sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, and chemicals of any sort from my diet, I had shrunk a bit more, but was still far away from my Bikini Body Mama dream; no Bathroom Selfies were in my near future. And I felt like a Big, Fat Failure.

That’s when I decided that chasing the Forty and Fabulous dream was a stupid waste of my time.

I began to awaken to the fact that a good chunk of my thought life had been dedicated to thinking about my body, comparing it unfavorably to everyone else’s. This affected me, certainly, but what about my kids? Attitudes are caught, not taught. What were my three daughters absorbing through my constant self-criticism, even though I never voiced it aloud?

One of my saddest realizations is that I have allowed my feelings of failure to eclipse the very real successes I’ve achieved on my wellness journey. It wasn’t the dietary changes or the fitness regimen that were faulty. Both have contributed greatly to my physical and mental health. What derailed me is that I bought into the big Lie that our worth as women is determined by our outsides. We are beautiful. And bikinis don’t have one freaking thing to do with it.

Breathing Room

Like you, I’m busy. I work. I raise four kids by myself. I go to church, which keeps me grounded spiritually and connected to others. I have a hobby – working out at an amazing community gym – that keeps me physically fit and mentally sane, but which requires several hours each week. Not to mention piddly responsibilities such as laundry, car maintenance, grocery shopping, and other necessary Time Suckers.  I love everything I do. But, for over a year, I’ve been scheduled to the hilt.

Here’s my problem: I also require time to just be. To breathe. To allow my mind to wander beyond the logistics of how everyone will get to their activities this week. When I don’t get that breathing room, I’m no good to anyone. Grouchy and ungracious with my coworkers, Mommie Dearest at home, unavailable to my friends. Worthless, in terms of my ability to contribute positively (except, perhaps, that I give multiple people opportunities to practice forgiveness).

I’ve tried to push through my frenetic schedule of work/carpooling/home chores/church/hobby for awhile now.  But, in the end, I came to the conclusion that my schedule was unworkable in the long term. Something had to go.

But what? Everything I was doing was good – necessary, even. For awhile I entertained thoughts of quitting my (dream) job and going back to grad school, but I realized pretty quickly that the big draw of this idea was that I’d be able to go to the gym more and wear jammie pants a lot  for a couple years. Not a great reason to quit a dream job and go into debt – but it did point toward a real need, which is that I needed to create more margin in my days.

I came to the conclusion that my hobby needed to be put on hold for awhile. This was tough. I have dear friends at my gym. I’ve gained so much health and self-confidence and knowledge through being a part of that community for the past four years. It has been my sanity, my permission to focus on me for a blessed hour a day.

But right now, it doesn’t fit into my schedule very well. So I’m cutting it loose for awhile – sadly – but already, I’m feeling new energy as I create that space in my schedule.

Today, I did my first DIY workout in my garage, combining my need for exercise and my need to be by myself. I’m hoping that saying “no” for awhile to something good, in order to create more breathing room in my life, will enable me to get rid of the pervasive Overwhelmed Mom Syndrome that’s been dogging me for over a year.

How do you build Breathing Room into your life? Is there something good that you need to say “no” to for a season, in order to create a schedule that’s sustainable?

The Mom Stock Report is a Big, Fat Liar

Sometimes I feel like I’m waiting 18 years to see whether all my parenting investment will result in four Upright Citizens, or in something less than I’m hoping and praying for. It’s a long wait. And because I definitely lean more toward focusing on the result rather than enjoying the journey, I look for Signs to try to predict whether my Mom Successes or Mom Fails will prevail in the end.

It’s a bit like reading the stock market report. My Mom Stock is up when my teenage daughter seeks me out for input on a confusing relationship issue. When two kids are fighting, throwing hateful words at one another to wound, my Mom Stock plummets. Stock values are soaring again when I manage to remain calm during a Kid Meltdown. Then another meltdown happens, which I match by a Bigger and Better Mom Meltdown, and suddenly my Mom Stock is in the toilet, my children’s futures looking grim, indeed.

Sometimes, you have to put things into words to see how messed up your thinking is. I am typing this and realizing how I constantly read the tea leaves of my children’s behavior, to try to predict whether I will have been a Success or a Failure at this Mothering thing.

There is nothing I fear more than Failure. And failing at the most important job I’ll ever have is unthinkably terrifying. To try and ward off my monstrous fear, I grade myself – constantly – against the current behavior of four hormonal, far-from-adulthood children. No pressure, kids, but your every choice is a direct reflection on my current value as your Mother. Yikes.

If I need my kids to act a certain way in order to feel like I’m not failing, I’m going to try and control them every time, because my level of “okayness” is directly tied to how they perform. And that unspoken message, that they need to perform well for Mom to be okay, screams much louder than the spoken words, “Do your best and forget the rest.”

That ticker tape of the Mom Stock report lies. I need to stop reading it.

How My Son Chewed Candy And Saved Me Money At the Dentist

Today, the dentist who examined my 12 year old son’s teeth gave me the Bad News – a baby molar was blocking a permanent tooth, causing the incoming tooth to grow in at a weird angle. “This molar isn’t budging,” she declared, suggesting that we come back soon to extract the baby molar, to avoid orthodontia fees later on.

On the drive home, I offered my son thirty bucks if he could make that tooth come out before the month was over. One hour and one grape Tootsie Pop later, he showed me this:

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There are several takeaways from this story: 1. It is a big, fat lie that letting your children gnaw on candy always leads to worse dental health, 2. My son is very motivated by a lump-sum cash payout, and 3. Twelve year old boys are highly entertaining creatures who, when they are not showing affection through karate chops or surprise piggyback jumps while you are not looking, can channel all that energy into useful tasks, such as pulling out an unloose tooth to save on dental bills.

This Week’s Mom Fails

In order to help you feel better about your parenting skills, I offer you, free of charge, my Mom Fails for the week. Please keep in mind that it is only Monday.

1. My 10 year old was throwing a temper fit because she had to load the bottom rack of the dishwasher and NO ONE HAD RINSED THEIR DISHES (welcome to my world, Girlfriend). I told her, “No one wants to hear you throw a fit.” A bit later, she was grumbling under her breath and I invited her to tell me what was bothering her, so she told me, “I’m mad because you said no one wants to hear me throw a fit, but we all have to listen to you throw fits, and yours are way worse.” Touché.

2. I cut my 12 year old son’s bangs shorter than he likes them. I could tell he was upset and a little embarrassed, but he wasn’t nasty about it, which showed remarkable self-control for a sixth grader. But when his little sister teased him about it, he slugged her.

3. I forgot to reschedule my oldest’s Graduation Plan meeting at the high school, and they went ahead and held the meeting without me.

On the plus side, I stopped on the way home from work to buy salsa for the burritos because my son asked me to, even though I was BONE TIRED and a little grumpy from eating zero sugar the past two days. Plus, I made tea at 5:15 a.m. for my tenth grader, who was up early finishing homework.

I really hope my kids remember the good stuff more than the Mom Fails. I’m saving for the Therapy Fund, just in case.

Loved Books Are Like Old Friends

I love to reread my favorite books. Picking up a loved book is like visiting with an old friend, and I have several that I reread as the urge hits. This is my current reread. A memoir written by the real Maria von Trapp, it was published in 1946. I found it in a thrift shop circa 2000 and have probably read it 9 or 10 times.

Do you like to reread your favorite books? What are some of your favorites?10406362_10206552748684287_8010424970268590659_n