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?
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.
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.
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.