Category Archives: Self-Care

Downtime

 

 

These days it’s crazy easy to pack our schedules. To fit in two and three outings a day, an art class or two, and heck, why not stop at the park with friends because, you know, it’s a good chance to get energy out (for our endlessly moving kids) and what’s a few three or four hours of fun before bedtime?

And it’s not just a packed physical schedule either, but mental ones as well. Like for me, every moment of free-thought time and filling it with audiobooks or podcasts (a favorite pastime for me while driving) or if I’m desperate for a TV show and story, propping up my laptop on the counter during the ridiculously, time-consuming process of cutting veggies and washing, I swear, the endless supply of dirty dishes (to the point where I had no idea we actually had that many dishes!).

Well, turns out, all those events and outings, and stuff my brain’s chewing on, that’s kinda a lot. And it really starts to add up.

Not that there’s anything wrong if that works for you and your family. But what I’m learning is that time at home is critical, especially for my family.

We’re a bunch of introverts.

If I schedule both weekend days with socializing everyone is getting ready to have their own personal meltdowns and not just the two-year-old (he just gets the distinct advantage of it being, mostly acceptable, to stomp and cry and scream). So, I already look at my schedule with more awareness than most folks. Yes, I could have swimming with friends the same day as we have a play date at another’s house… except I’m gonna be exhausted, and yes, my kids will be having fun (but exhausted, and hence, cranky)… but then I still need to handle those pesky details like bedtime and teeth brushing, and of yes, you kids do need to get fed three times (or more) a day.

Then, of course, there’s my goal of being a patient and empathetic parent with my kids. They’re constantly moving in and out of their own BIG emotions throughout the day. If I’m barely hanging on by a thread, it’s a good chance I’m probably gonna lose it and yell (and then immediately regret it).

And yet, even with my awareness, I still make mistakes.

Or maybe not mistakes. Really, they’re just choices.

Sometimes I am quite aware of what I’m walking into and what situation I’m setting myself and the kids up for, while other times it’s a straight-up opps! And then other times, I still push us a bit more.

Maybe it’s a once in awhile thing, like visiting dear friends up in Montrose one day and the next have my three-hour hair appointment, which while wonderful and desperately needed (I got some super cute pink highlights, by the way), it also meant I was socializing for three-hours and I’m now freakin’ exhausted. Oh, and it’s not like I can go home and kick up my feet. Nope. I’m full aware that I’m on kid-duty because poor Sean has dealt with a distraught Eric because his mommy abandoned him in his complete and total, utmost need. Meaning: I left him… at home… alone… with daddy. a complete and total toddler tragedy, yes? Anyway, soon as I walked in the door I told Sean to check out and take a nap. He needed it.

But the point here, is we need downtime. Your family will certainly have different mileage than mine, all four introverts that we are, and for us, we need that downtime with a capital N!

Every week I almost feel like some kind of battle-planner, marking in the large events, from going to Disneyland or the Aquarium or driving through downtown LA to visit my parents or friends. The next day needs to be like nothing. Maybe we can handle a short afternoon stint, like swimming and invite some few friends over (certainly something physical for the two-year-old). Or, maybe not. And really, if I want to do stuff like playing board games or reading or art with my kids, especially Kate, well, when’s that actually going to happen if we’re always on the go? If we’re always up and about?

Plus, I still got those damn dishes to do.

And the endless snacks for all these outings to get prepared, along with the backpack and Eric’s necessary change-of-clothes (I bring several). Then there’s me, doing this crazy (or, it feels crazy at times) gig of trying to run my own writing and publishing businesses, and I’ve got to get those things in the schedule too.

Turns out, there’s only so many hours in the day. Even more important, there’s only so much brain computing power this mommy-me has.

By the end of the day, I’m shot. Just, done. Brain’s working on its low emergency mode and to do anything creative at all? Or heck, even read a book? Wow. Sometimes that’s a feat! And do some giant mental exercise of playing a board game (and against Sean no less)? Yeah. Not happening.

So… downtime.

It’s critical. Probably more so for my family than yours, but I think we when we find ourselves on the go so much, visiting with all these wonderful, exciting people in our lives and all the opportunities we’re continually faced with, all the choices we have… and I think we actually start missing out.

On the little things.

Like cuddling on the couch with me on my laptop getting in this blog post, somehow managing to type with Eric sprawled on my lap watching Wall-E and Kate, pressed against my side, asking for my help as she does the puzzles in, “My Monster Can Read” app. Or when Kate sets up her board game, Unicorn Glitterluck from HABA and says to me, “Mommy play? Come here, Mommy, play.”

I need to be able to close my laptop, with no worries or stress — what I was working on can get done later (because I’ve scheduled downtime into our week meaning I can get it done later), and then, just play with her. Then play again because she had such a great time, and now Daddy’s up so we can all play together!

We’re starting to move into art because Kate’s interest in this area is growing, and this is part of the self-directed, homeschooling journey we’ve chosen for our family, to follow their interests… so I certainly can’t ignore her when she’s giving me this big ol’ hints in bright pink My Little Pony drawings, now can I? Or when Kate starts writing out numbers as her auntie rolls a bunch of dice for her Dungeons and Dragon character (hmm… I guess we’re gonna start those game sessions early so Kate can join in too!).

And it’s not just about Kate or Eric either.

It’s me too.

When my brain is stressed, trying to gauge the timing of everything, the endless little lists that need to be complete before I can walk out the door with my kids (teeth? clothes? shoes? hair brushed… well, no one will notice and we’re seriously running late). It’s overwhelming. So overwhelming that I can’t possible be creative at that moment.

And that’s what I need to start protecting, as well as making time for.

Being creative.

Or more to the point, daydreaming.

I used to be so good at this day. Boring day at school? Boring office job? Oh man, I had the coolest, craziest adventures going on in my head. But it also helped me fall into the stories I was writing… thinking about the characters… hearing their distinct and personal voices.

I know darn well that I need this quiet. If I want even a shot to tell a story I need to give myself the quiet time to simply let my creative voice come out and play. I need to turn off the podcast, because while informative and fun, I need to be bored. Bored enough to start hearing and seeing the story come to life.

And I’m really, really bad at this part.

I mean, there’s so much I want to do and so very little time I actually have, and this whole daydreaming thing? Oh, it’s so easy to put it off as “less important.”

Big ol’ sigh right here.

Which is about when I get stuck on a story. The words flowing out my fingers ground to a halt. I mean, sure I can keep typing, and with every darn word it just feels wrong. Like the story is starting to spiral in some direction that I can’t see, or even where it needs to go.

That’s one of my first clues that I’m missing something. That I lost the story or the character did something that they wouldn’t have done. Or I didn’t jump to the right place in time.

All I’ve got is this feeling, this creative gut-thing and it’s little (quiet) red-flashing light.

If I’m to busy, if my brain is overwhelmed and overworked, I practically miss it. Then I have to go and cut about 7,000 words of the new novel and redraft cause I was kinda missing the real important character emotion in there, or, at least the one that this particular story needed.

But, I’m learning.

Really, I am.

It’s taken a lot, of trying and trying again. And I’m constantly looking back at my weeks and days, looking at everything I’d like to accomplish and just what I and the kids can realistically do. Also too, that I need to be flexible. Sure, I’ve got some staples, like every Friday I host a Nature Day outing that’s open to all ages of homeschoolers, and while I used to never miss, I’m feeling the need to be flexible again. To go to Disneyland with Grandma or some friends (especially when it’s a hit-or-miss with people showing up). But that means I can’t stick in a whole lot in those mornings (or expect to do a whole bunch when we get home). I usually get in my fiction writing for that day and that’s it. So, Thursday can’t be over packed with outings or visits, or as I’ve learned, even short Disneyland trips (we tend to not want to move much the day after).

I just got a new scheduler that allows me to pencil in the week’s activities and goals. It gives me space to write and I can flow through the week, even write in times for when something needs to start and can it, really, fit in? That’s helping. It helps too to see across the top what my goals are cause if I fill out the whole box chances are, I’m not exactly being realistic.

Like I need to start getting videos of Kate and Eric to send to our speech pathologist. I’ve got a 2-week block to get it done, and it’s important. It also takes a lot of time. I can plan for that now. I can go with the flow if one day it doesn’t go well (or the actual video got messed up).

But I think the biggest part is really looking at yourself, at your family, and being aware. Temperaments, energy levels, driving time and do you honestly have enough time to make dinner from scratch and get everyone to bed before the sun actually rises and you’ve got to start the process all over again? And how about your own daily movements, hmm? Do you have time during the week to get in your hour-plus yoga session or go rock climbing?

I think this goes double for us homeschoolers.

I mean, there’s so much we can do! There’s so many opportunities, places to visit, classes to take, and why not jump into as many as we possible can?!

Well, you can.

And then it will either work for you and your family, or it won’t.

Or you’ll find yourself craving some of that quiet at home. Of maybe just taking the afternoon to bake some cookies, letting your two-year-old playing in the flour, measuring out cups to his heart’s content (and knowing full-well that’s not going in the batter if you actually plan on making, you know, actual yummy tasting cookies). Or perhaps cracking open some books, sitting and reading and seeing if your kids come wandering over because they want to cuddle and be read to.

If we’re constantly on the go, constantly moving, how can we allow for these quiet times when the real magic can happen? The real special connection when it’s just you and your kids.

Or, for me as well, me and my creative voice?

We each need some amount of the quiet, of this downtime, and it’s really, really hard to see it for how valuable and how precious it is. And it’s hard to look at the schedule and start saying “no.” Start crossing off visits or memberships (because then you feel this need and responsibility to use it).

Allow yourself, and your family the quiet, and then just wait and see what kind of magic happens.

Because really, it’s something truly special.

Like noticing that Kate had drawn butterfly and rainbow marks from Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash (if you don’t know, they’re My Little Pony characters). At that moment, I had no idea how well Kate knew them, even picking out the exact colors from the chalk to match the character’s colors (and without looking to double-check). And yet, when I stopped moving, when I gave us all this moment of quiet, I got another glimpse into her amazing little mind.

This, right here, is why we homeschool. This, right here, is why I’ve chosen to be a parent — and this particular kind of parent.

And I’m so glad to have paused long enough to see and experience this joy with her. (And then she asked me to take a picture and send it to Daddy, which, we did.)

So, think about your busy, busy days and remember to sometimes pause and see just how many rainbows and butterflies your young one is dreaming up.

 

Finding Joyful Moments

 

Let’s be honest here: when life is hard, when parenting feels like the hardest, most thankless job on this planet, finding joy can feel like pulling teeth (or downright impossible). And yet, there’s something to be said when you take a breath, step back, and try to find some small positive nugget in an otherwise unending gauntlet, trial of a day.

Because it works.

Because suddenly, when you find that one little piece, suddenly the world doesn’t seem quite so against you (or your children plotting to single-handedly destroy you). I mean, sure your day probably still sucked, you probably still yelled and lost your cool, and there were most likely tears (from the kids and you), but that one little piece, that one glimmering, positive thought, is like a beacon.

You’re trying.

You’re doing what you can.

You are doing something in the direction you want, the kind of parent you want to be, in the way you want to be connected with your children. It’s not a whole lot, but that little glimmer is hope. And sometimes all we need is hope to keep from falling down into those dark pits of sadness and loneliness. (Hope and a few good, nonjudgmental friends who are willing listen while you pour your heart and failures out to them. These friends are essential, I’m telling you.)

Our “job” as parents, this role we’ve chosen, it’s 24 hours, 7 days.

You may have no breaks. You may have no family around to lean on. You may not have money to pay for a babysitter or a mother’s helper to give yourself a small ounce of a break or the essential connecting time with your spouse or loved one (without having to referee a knock-down, drag-out fight between kids or getting the toddler and his chocolate/sticky hands before he runs wild touching everything in your house). You may also, like me, have children who fall outside the normal, who walk to their own beat, who don’t care about society and their stupid boxes and decided to create one of their own (or hell, to just sit on top of the damn box).

This parenting role is hard.

This parenting role is also, incredibly so, joyful.

I am constantly reminding myself of this. When the day is upside down and all I want to do is crawl away and cry (you know, those kind of days), I still, somehow, try and remind myself… to find the hope, to find one little joyful moment. Even when I’m upset, when I’m at my rock-bottom lowest, I have this little voice in the back of my head reminding me: if you connect with them, you’ll feel better.

Sometimes, I’m in a position to do this. Sometimes, I still want to have a tantrum myself.

All that is good and easy to say, I know. ‘Hey! Just think happy thoughts and magically your mood will turn around you.’

Yeah. Parenting life don’t work that way, but there are a few things I’ve found that work.

Call a friend. Or text. Or whatever.

Just someone, a compassionate adult who you feel safe with to reveal the awfulness of the parenting moment you’ve just survived (or are trying to survive). Connect with an actual adult, a human being who can wipe their own butt, and let out those feelings to them. All of them.

You need to be heard. You need to be felt.

When I call Sean at work he almost always picks up (if he’s not in a meeting) because he knows I’m hitting the panic button and I need support. And often times, that little bit is all I need.

Journaling is good for this too, and so is actually writing out what your grateful for about your kids (I try to actually list what’s so frustrating, but in a positive light, a way that their temperament or actions is actually good for them). I’ll be honest, I don’t get to this nearly enough. I usually reserve journaling for those really hard times, when I can’t let go or when I’m so disappointed (in myself) or so worried/afraid. I write out what happened, throwing in every judgmental thought about myself (and my kids) that I can think of. Then, I state in facts, as if I were an observer without judgments what happened and why. I try to list what my feelings were in that moment, and the needs I had that weren’t being met (I do this the same with the kids). I then try and list what I could do differently next time. This isn’t to say next time will be perfect, but this exercise is really helpful in deconstructing the situation, helping me ‘get under the hood’ of why I reacted the way I did. It also gives me a plan for the future. Plans, though, especially with parenting (and especially when the tactic you’re taking hasn’t been hard-wired into from your own childhood) often fall apart. It’s called practice. The simple act of reflecting and thinking forward will give me the barest hint of a roadmap, but one that means if I keep on going, keep on trying, I will find success.

I’d journal more, if I could, but finding the quiet time in this house, with my little Eric getting into everything, isn’t working. I’ve decided to reserve the quiet moments for my own writing or my publishing business unless again, I’ve hit a really hard bump and I need that time for reflection.

I’ve also found that removing ourselves from the house, getting outside for some fresh air, is huge. To be honest, the house is generally the battleground that all these big emotions take place in. Which, makes sense. We all feel safest there. It’s also the place with a whole lot of rules (no, you can’t stand on the entertainment table, no we’re not having four bananas [or chocolate] for breakfast). By leaving the house, getting outside, getting movement… it satisfies a lot of our individual needs, even ones we may not be aware of. Eric might be needing more movement. Kate might be needing space from her Godzilla brother. I just need to be left alone god-damn it!

When we go on walks we automatically invite connection between us. The running ahead of me, glancing back and smiling. Or jumping in place and then looking at me to show me how darn cool that was. All of those moments, eye-blinks, really, are chances to reconnect as a family, to get us back to center after a particularly bumpy moment.

And with all seriousness, I’m the one who’s usually most resistant to reconnecting.

The kids, I swear, it’s like magic. The second the door opens and they go running down the hall barefoot, all is forgotten. All is forgiven. I’m the one still carrying the baggage. But by going on a walk, or going to the pool, it’s giving me enough space, enough time to mentally calm down. It’s enough to finally bring me back from that angry/frustrated place. And when I do, my kids, including Eric who is currently the source of much frustration, they’re waiting for me. With a smile. With complete joy and love in their face.

They’ve already forgiven me.

They’ve already moved on.

Now I just need act like a grown-up (or truthfully, like a child) and follow their lead.

Yes, I know, easier said than done. If you follow this blog you know my son is hitting right in the middle of the two’s, gets incredibly frustrated and physical (with me) when he doesn’t instantly get what he wants. He also doesn’t talk yet and that adds to his frustration. Sometimes it takes all of my control to not lose control (and some days/moments I’m way more successful than others).

But I keep trying.

I keep listening to that little voice: find the joy.

At least, I eventually do. I’m no miracle-worker over here. I’m generally overtired and overworked… and also so incredibly grateful to be home with my kids, to be helping them on their journey, one that is as different and unique as they are. Sometimes all I need is a 30 minute break of someone else stepping in and managing the toddler. Often, I don’t get that.

Those days are about surviving and doing the best I can with the resources I have.

I try to be honest with myself, and kind. Kindness because I’m not perfect, because I am tired and I am overwhelmed. And after I take those deep breaths or go outside and get some much needed movement in…

I see the absolute joy in Eric’s face. His complete love for me and his love of swimming and he wants to share that.

With me.

And I get to see his growth, his expanding awareness of the world, how he’ll jump on the couch and look at each adult in turn to make sure they saw just how awesome what he did was. Or his growing understanding (or maybe even just willingness) when we ask him to do something. Or how he’s finally got this potty training thing down.

Or Kate, who’s making leaps and bounds with language. How she’s answering simple questions now and how she will go to Eric when he’s upset, kneel down and rub his back saying, “It’s okay, Eric. It’s okay.”

Little moments of joy… little moments of success… even when we’re in the middle of some seriously hard times. Because, and I know it’s hard to remember in the moment, the times won’t always be bad. In fact, the very next moment can be an amazing one!

Parenting is all about the fluctuations, the movement. It’s a straight-up rollercoaster and it’s hard, especially when there’s only two adults doing everything… bringing home the bacon, actually cooking the bacon, the required house-cleaning, laundry, and never-ending dishes. And, let’s not forget the actual act of parenting. You know, teaching and guiding our young ones to be kind, caring individuals. Talk about a tall order here!

And as is often reminded to me, it’s when we make mistakes that we have the opportunity to learn the most. A mistake today, an unkind word or reaction today, means tomorrow you can do better. You can learn, about your kids, yourself, and then find a new way, a new path, for tomorrow.

Give yourself a bit of grace, my dear parent.

We are doing our best, every day, every moment.

Often times, all we need are those little moments, a little bit of space and quiet, to calm down and meet our children in that place of love, and forgiveness. Because really, they’re already there waiting for us. All we have to do is let go of our own feelings, all that frustration, anger, worry, and meet them with loving, open arms.

They always come running because they love us, for exactly who we are, as imperfect as we are.

Talk about a true gift.

The Hidden Toll of Parenting

Our bodies, as human beings, are crazy resilient. I mean, really. They can put up with a lot …. months (or years) of poor sleep, eating McDonalds Chicken McNuggets by the pound (me, in my youth, anyway), the constant stress pouring in from every which way possible, from family, work, heck, even getting on the freeway and driving to Grandma’s. And yet, at some point, our bodies slam the breaks on and says, “Enough is a enough, dude.”

Let’s go ahead a little one or two to that mix and see what happens. You know, children. Especially young children who you can’t reason with (or beg), who have their own very clear needs and who really, really couldn’t give a shit about yours (like sleeping).

And while we’re at this, let’s up the ante some and add a special needs element just for fun.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

It is the most beautiful, rewarding journey I’ve ever been on — and it’s also the one that’s tested me beyond what I thought was physically and mentally possible.

And, I’m far, far from being out of the woods.

I realize my recent posts have this kind of desperate tinge to them, but what can I say? This is the life I’m living. It will get better, it will get easier, but right now, right at this very moment? It’s hard.

Hard.

And there are days when I feel so completely alone, trapped by the needs (re: demands) of my two-year-old, and I’m doing all I can to simply keep breathing (and somehow still being the parent I want to be). Eric is literally smack-dab in the hardest part of his young years. He has the usual ‘can’t-wait-even-a-second’ when he wants something, which then usually results in a crying, screaming meltdown, with hands (and sometimes feet) flying and doing his best to smack me.

Why? Because he knows I don’t like it.

Now, I’ll be honest: it’s getting better. Sometimes he’s a foot from me with both hands going and he’s aware that while he wants to hit me he’s not supposed to.

Why am I mentioning this?

Because every little positive step forward counts, and when you’re right in the thick of things when all you can see of the forest are the pine needles sticking into your eyes, you’ve got to hold onto the positive things. Just like the potty training bit, which is finally, finally coming together. We’re almost there. Not that we’re “done” (done in my mind is when I almost never have to think about it), but Eric’s initiating on his own, and he’s communicating with us when we’re out of the house and he needs the potty.

That’s huge.

Huge.

Especially from a child who’s been completely reluctant to use any form of communication… unless he darn well feels like it. Ah, the stubbornness of kids. (And the intense, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me stubbornness of late-talkers. )

And while I have some positive moments throughout my day, some little successes whether it’s the potty or Eric engaging in play with Kate or me, it doesn’t take away from how crazy hard life is right now.

For Eric, all his feelings, his intense toddler emotions, it’s compounded by a ton of frustration because he has no functional words yet. He doesn’t even have the word “no.” And Eric’s not taking this mid, two-year-old stage with grace the way Kate did. She saw the communication piece as this great giant puzzle… “Hmm, how can I tell Mom that I want to watch a Tinker Bell movie even though it comes from the strange red Netflix button?”

And yes, she’d figure it out. That was in her personality.

Eric? Not so much.

Like, really, really not so much.

If Eric wants to have four bananas for breakfast and I’m in the middle of saying, “No,” (with good reason, I might add) and there he goes. His switch has flipped and I’ve got to stop what I’m doing (usually in the midst of making an actual breakfast) and help him through those emotions. This means being present and calm (ok, I try really hard to stay calm but flailing hands certainly has an effect on my inner cool), sooth him with understanding (and hopefully words he can understand)… and just ride it out.

I have to support him.

I can’t get mad or leave the room. Or yell. Or let my own inner frustration (re: tantrum) out.

Time outs don’t work for us (even if they’re actually for me and I shut myself in the bathroom). Now, this might work on some kids. Not Eric. He gets even madder and goes right for that thing he knows he’s not supposed to do. Like bang the gate surrounding the very expensive electronics. Or climb into the toilet.

You know, toddler things.

Your family is gonna have different mileage here and oh boy, do these two-year-old years vary. Your family is gonna have different needs. Heck I’ve got two kids and they handled this stage completely differently. Kate ran off and cried in her crying castle. Eric wants to hit me.

Throw in any kind of special needs, from late-talking and sensory, to those of you parents with even greater challenges (who have my utmost respect and awe for), and these years are just tough. Tough. And as I’m slowly (sadly) realizing, there’s not some magic technique or spoonful of sugar that’s gonna make these moments go away (or any easier). It’s part of their development and us poor parents, we got to do our best and help the frustrated kids through the ginormous disappointments in life.

Like not eating as many bananas as you damn well want.

And sleep?

Oh, dear lord, do I miss sleep. Even right now, on a good sleep schedule (for us), I’m looking at only 3-5 hours of solid, consecutive sleep. The rest of my morning is dealing with Eric waking up every 3 hours. If I’m lucky, he goes to bed immediately. If not I’m up for an hour, comforting him, helping his body settled back down.

You’re probably wondering why the heck I’m bringing all these challenges up, why I’m listing out each reason why life is so freakin’ hard life is right now.

I just had a blood test confirm what I already knew: the sleep deprivation and stress has taken its toll.

I mean, I knew this was most likely the case but I didn’t really know. I do now.

My blood work is wonderful. Really. Green all across the board from cholesterol to Vitamin D. Except, I have inflammation. Inflammation that is directly related to sleep and stress.

Well, shit.

Now, I’ve suspected this for awhile now. Parenting my two young kids has taken a toll on my body. But the question remains (and it’s a big one): what the heck can I do about it??

I mean, it’s not like I can just decrease my stress by handing my son off to daycare (if you haven’t been following my blog, just know this would not be a good move for Eric).

Also, since March I cut out almost all sugar. I had to. All the broken sleep, when we went through that terrible patch for six months, I needed to stop the sweets and give my body a chance to heal (it did, and still is). My poor metabolism was shot and I was putting on a few pounds. Not a lot but enough that the negative self-talk in my head was adding more stress, not to mention feeling bloated and icky all the time.

Again, I focused on what I could do: not eating the sugar and focusing on sleep. Not that I can control how often my kids wake up at night, but how much caffeine and alcohol I was drinking, how long before bed, even making the bedroom more sleep friendly. I even added an scented candle, nature music, and an acupressure mat to my bedtime routine.

It’s helped.

But the question is, what do I do now?

I mean, the blood test confirmed I’ve got some inflammation issues and the sleep guide the Dietitian sent me is all great… except I’m already doing it. And it’s not like I want to be waking up 2-3 times a night. It’s not my choice. It’s my kids’ choice. You know, those little individuals who I have zero control over.

And I think that’s what’s so frustrating about this. I have all these wonderful recommendations to help with the inflammation, but it feels like half of them simply don’t apply to me. Because I’m a parent. Because the reasons for the sleep, for the stress, are because I’m a parent.

And a parent of a very frustrated, right-in-the-middle of being a two-year-old… you know, exactly what he’s supposed to be doing at this developmental stage.

I know darn well the best medicine for us is time. Eric needs time to grow and mature, to settle in with his language, with his sleep. I know in my heart that’s what he needs except… what about me in the mean time? How much of myself, my own health, is getting sacrificed in the process?

How can I focus on my own self-care, on healing my own body, when the cause is my children?

The answer is no. The answer is also yes.

I mean, there are some things I can do, small minor tweaks to help myself out as much as possible, but the source of the stress and the sleep deprivation, well, that ain’t goin’ away (probably not even when they’re grown up with families of their own).

And sure I’ve got the stress of Eric’s frustrations, the instant explosions he’s having these days, but I haven’t even touched on the anxiety I feel about an upcoming video consult with our speech therapist. I mean, here I am, Ms. Confident when it comes to this late-talking journey, and I’m still scared. Scared that she won’t see the progress that Eric has made, which has been huge for him. Yes, he’s behind. Yes, he’s not where other boys are at, but oh my gosh, we’re making progress. We’re making these huge stride forwards, even if on the outside they only look like little itty-bitty steps.

The point is they’re there.

All of them.

All the visual referencing, how Eric will engage with people he trusts and likes in some kind of play, or will show off to his aunt and uncle as he falls splat-face-first on the couch.

But I’m still scared that our speech professional will just come back and put more worries or doubts in my mind. I don’t need those doubts. They’re not gonna help me. Not now. Not when I know we are already doing everything that Eric needs, and honestly, everything he’ll accept. (Strange speech therapist, who he doesn’t know, trying to play with him? Prompt him when it comes to play? Oh hell no.)

All that above?

That’s stress.

It’s a hidden kind of stress, something that most people who look at me will never see. I generally don’t talk about Eric and his journey because again, I can’t have your doubts or judgments in me. I simply can’t. I’m already treading water here, doing my best to support my kids in the ways that I know they need.

Which again… all this… it’s taking a toll on my body.

And truthfully, there’s not a whole lot left I can do to make it better. I’ve been focused on thinking creatively, of thinking outside the box, but the challenges of my particular family means I can’t just drop them off with a baby-sitter or a co-op or a daycare. Maybe in a few years, sure, but not now.

I know I’m not there yet, and while there are things I can’t simply make go away (fear of the upcoming video consult), there are other things I can do.

Like my self-care. Like making sure that every day, I leave the house for at least 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of just me, my thoughts, and no kids. I need that. I need a chance to breathe. I mean, really truly breathe… without every exhale wondering what the heck the two-year-old is banging into now. I’ve already talked with Sean about this. I understand it’s hard for him when Eric’s screaming because Mommy is leaving without him, but I need this more.

I need time with no kids.

I’ll grab my laptop, a book, a journal. Maybe I’ll do some writing, maybe I’ll just sit outside, and again, just breathe.

I’m also setting up times when a mother’s helper can come over and play with both kids. This isn’t going to give me any alone time, but it will take some pressure off. Maybe I can cut up veggies for dinner then or write an email the requires my whole brain actually paying attention. Or hide out in the bedroom and work on my publishing business.

I guess what I’m saying, is I’m asking for help. Mostly from family at this point, but I’m asking. And, I’m prioritizing my time. When Grandma comes over for a visit, instead of doing the dishes or working on food, I’m going to leave the house. Again, time for me and me only.

That’s so not an easy thing for me to do, but I’m gonna do it.

Small, little shifts.

I went out to breakfast with a dear friend and I left feeling amazing. Like I was filled with this wonderful energy. I’ll do that more too. Just getting away and connecting with someone who I know will make me feel good.

I’m going to surround myself with the right kind of people. People who add to my energy and happiness rather than take away from it.

Again, small little shifts.

This stress of parenting, especially right now, it’s real. And I’m right in the thick of it.

I know too, I’m not alone. I’m not alone in feeling trapped, frustrated, at times, even depressed. And those of you who have kids who walk to a different beat? You’re not alone in all those feelings either.

And I’m here to say: I get it.

I mean, I can’t get exactly what you’re going through, but I empathize with you. And I applaud you. Truly. With all my heart. It takes a courageous person to embrace being different, whether you have a special needs child, you homeschool, or you’ve chosen a different way of parenting than the norm.

At times parenting is a real lonely journey and we have no choice but to keep moving forward, keep doing our best. It’s hard and it takes a physical toll. It does. And it takes a mental and an emotional one, so let’s all recognize that together. Let’s all recognize that the journey is wonderful, and it’s all really hard and draining, especially as every day we try our best.

Because you know, when your little child smiles at you, you know, without a doubt, it’s totally worth it.

Yes, yes it is.

But we, as parents, we matter too.

So take the time to care for yourself. Do whatever it is you need to feel whole and healthy and alive. Maybe we can’t do a whole lot, but even doing a little bit, it matters.

Just like you.

You, dear parent, you matter too.

Parenting: A Roller-coaster Ride

There really is no question about it: parenting feels like you’re getting strapped into a rollercoaster, shoulders pressed firm and hard to that rubber-plastic chair, and then just holding on.

Sometimes, for dear life.

Sometimes, in utter and complete enjoyment.

And within all that, all those curves and loops, those corkscrews you barely saw coming, you have these wonderful moments of pause, as you catch your breath and continue to climb higher (with the telltale ‘click, click, click’ of the track), and you finally get a chance to see where you are.

How high you’ve climbed…

And how far you’re gonna fall next.

Then, you get to do it all over again.

But even that analogy doesn’t quite work because it means that us, as parents, have no control. And while there are a ton of things we can’t control such as… my dear children, can you please sleep through the night? Or, is this really the time to get chicken pox and be housebound for two weeks (or four since Eric’s probably getting it next)? When in fact, there’s actually a ton that we can control, even if it doesn’t feel like it at times (especially with the younger ones).

My little Eric still isn’t a great sleeper. It’s better, though. I mean, I’m getting a solid couple hours of sleep as opposed to six months ago when I was lucky to get 2-3 consecutive hours. I can’t control his sleeping. At all. What I can control is me. It’s my choosing to drink less coffee, eat dinner earlier, finish my wine two hours before bed. I’ve started a bedtime routine, complete with candle, nature music, and an acupressure mat. Oh, and bedtime? Yeah, I’m heading into bed, lights off, by 8:30 these days. I have to. My little guy thinks 4:30 a.m. is a perfectly acceptable time to start the day.

This new bedtime means I’ve had to cancel plans with friends, to say no to dinner dates and Moms Night Out.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely.

I’m getting a solid four hours of sleep in, and when I do wake up to take care of Eric, I’m falling asleep easier. I’m also not as angry because I’m no longer living on that edge of being crazy and desperate for sleep. I feel good, mentally, physically, and I can tell my body is finally healing from the years of massive sleep deprivation.

I’m a long way from being done with the sleep ride, some nights are still just bad, and when both kids tag-team me? Oh, dear lord, meet Zombie-Chrissy the next day. But overall, it’s creeping towards better. I’m focusing on what I’m eating, on daily movement, and overall, it’s hitting my big reason for wanting to do all this… to be a patient, calmer, person with my children (and to be honest, with myself as well).

The new changes are working. I’m not yelling as much, I’m in a better position to be present and centered during those times when even the holiest of saints would have their work cut out for them (and you know exactly those times in parenthood I’m talking about).

I decided to focus on what I could control, and then, got creative.

Not that I’m always successful on the creative part. In fact, I’m still on this rollercoaster ride when it comes to fitting in board games with Sean and and my friends. And fiction writing? I’m still figuring it out.

With the writing, what makes it challenging is because I’m facing a high-ass brick wall filled with stuff that I truly can’t control. Mainly, my son. I can only fall into my worlds, into my storytelling, my writing, when I’m away from him. Why? Well, he has some pretty strong beliefs about being separated from me and has zero issue letting the whole world know about it (so locking myself in the bedroom with ear buds in ain’t gonna cut it; my poor subconscious spends half the time shaking her little head saying, “it’s not safe to come out yet.”)

I would love to write while the kids are sleeping. Except… I’m a morning person. By the end of the day I am dead-tired exhausted. Okay, then, that means I’ve got to wake up early… you mean, earlier than 4 a.m.? And wait a minute — I can’t do that, I’m working like mad trying to recover sleep!

I know of other writers who drop their kids off with other moms and take turns with this co-op babysitting. Kate is almost ready for that, especially if she trusted the mom, but Eric? Oh hell no. Nope. Not gonna happen. A huge part has to do with language; I am literally Eric’s foreign translator in this big scary world of rules and people who can’t stop talking. The other part is just his temperament. He is very, very attached to me these days and not even his dad looks forward to those times when it requires me to leave the house. (Translation: so everyone joins me when it’s time to get my hair done.)

I’m writing this all out, sorta like thinking out loud, and I’ve realized I’ve only been focusing on the reasons why I couldn’t write or couldn’t use the same methods of writers can with their young kids. I mean, there’s no doubt about it, my language-challenged son can’t be treated the same as others his age, but I really need to start shifting my focus…

And moving it back into the realm of what I can control.

I can make the effort, physical and mental, to grab my laptop, get dressed, and head outside to write while Sean’s still home in the morning before work. An hour, or maybe just 30 minutes. Let’s say I don’t even write, but just the act of getting up and getting some actual alone time… that’s gonna go a long way to helping my subconscious feel safe again.

And I throw in that part about “you don’t have to write” because there are days when I can’t.

I mean, straight up, we’re going through the intense middle of living with a two-year-old. Eric can be very opinionated, stubborn, and has zero patience. I’m gonna make that real clear: very. And it’s not like you can even attempt to reason with the guy (again, language issue)! There was straight up one morning, I’d gotten about 3 hours of sleep, been up since 2? 3:41? There also poop involved in the bathroom sink, while I was trying to make breakfast (and hence not able to respond to Eric’s crying). It was not a good morning. I lasted as long as I could but eventually burst into the bedroom bawling my eyes out. Sean got up, watched the kids, and I locked myself in the bedroom and just played with doing some book covers.

I played. And I got a bit of myself back.

I was able to finish that day, and then the one after that.

Some days are just not easy. (Not kidding… I ended up walking out of Disneyland with a crying, screaming toddler, who was trying his best to hit me in the face, all because he couldn’t have the French fries he saw some lady carry out on a tray. Didn’t mattered that I offered him other food or to go to a place that didn’t have a line. Didn’t matter one damn bit. He was upset and the only choice I had, after being present and calm with him, was to walk the whole mile to our car.)

Then some days are totally fine and chill. Those are almost the worst because it’s so deceptive… like, you think this is what the new norm is like, the new routine, and then you start having these grand plans, gonna pull out my story and write, get back into publishing… which is about when the two-year-old decides to skip his nap.

For three days in a row.

Yep. We’re in the nap-skipping stage too (imagine me crying in sadness right here).

It’s also one thing for me to tell this to you and quite another to see it. My mother-in-law just saw the tiniest glimpse of The Eric Meltdown, and we were actually having a good day, and she was like… no, I’m not real comfortable with you and Kate going on a ride at Disneyland and leaving me with him.

Sigh.

It’ll get better, I know. Heck, every day it’s getting better.

But then some days are straight-up like that roller-coaster. I’ve been strapped in (maybe?) and I’m just holding on, trying to keep breathing and not lose my shit.

Some moments I’m successful, some moments I’m not.

I’m trying hard to forgive myself, to be patient and gentle, especially on those days when I really, really need it, to not strive for that completely unobtainable goal of perfection (you all know that doesn’t exist in parenting, right??).

I’m not perfect.

But I’m trying to be a good parent.

I’m still working on being a writer, and because I worked on those covers, it got me interested in this one series I hadn’t written in awhile, and I’m pulling out and updating the world glossary for it, and there’s this little voice inside me, my own little two-year-old, that really wants to jump out and splash in the mud naked.

One of things I can do, one thing that is in my control, is going with the moment when I feel it. Not putting it on hold, but just jumping right on in and playing.

Just, playing.

I’ve realized too, the more time I give Eric before I leave the house (or disappear into the bedroom behind the locked door), the more connection he gets from me, the joy of playing one-on-one, he’s better able to handle these short moments of separation.

So together, as parents, let’s flip the lens and look at what we can control.

What can you do to help promote your own self-care? To get the sleep you need, the food and exercise? The autonomy and creativity? For me, this is what my writing gives me. But for you… your kids, your family, your life, all of that will have a different line up then mine, especially in terms of priority. And only you (and your family) can figure that one out. I urge you to do the work, to sit down and think creative, to shift your focus and put the power, this control, back in your hands.

And also, take time to acknowledge those in your life who are trying to help out (especially when it comes to your sanity). I realized I hadn’t done this enough with Sean. We’d played a board game and everyone was having a really awesome time… except for me (mostly because of the worst combination of random elements possible). The next day, he listened to me and heard how upset I was, especially since playing the game meant I didn’t go to bed until 11:30 (it was his Father’s Day board game event). Later that day, I thanked him and told him how much I appreciated him just listening to me. I needed that support, and I needed that hour without the kids because I was at my wits end.

Thank the people in your life, thank yourself for doing everything you can, even though you’re not, and never will be perfect. And then, shift your focus. Look to what is in your control, because seriously, it just feels better to focus on the positive and what we, ourselves, have the power to change.

I may not have any control over the chicken pox, but on the bright side it’s meant I’ve had to completely free up my schedule. I can take this opportunity to connect with my kids, do painting and board games, or roughhouse on the floor, all those little things that are so easily pushed to the side when I’m focused on cooking meals or getting everyone out of the house. And another added benefit, we’re connecting with friends and getting some one-on-one play in. I hadn’t expected that, but we’ve all benefited. We’re enjoying ourselves and having fun. You know, all those moments of why we choose to be parents in the first place… those moments when the coaster clicks on up to the top of the hill and you’re looking around in breathless wonder of how really cool your life is…

Right before you plunge back down into the next parenting adventure.