The Spring of Panic Attacks

I learned to swim when I was 2 and I remember the rigorous lessons still. Actually, both Mike and I remember them and often imagine we must’ve met when we were 4 after panting for breath along the pool edge eating soggy crackers from our ‘dedicated’ Coach, Mrs. Marian. Growing up, I spent countless hours in that Country Club pool –  living off of snacks on my Grandma’s tab and basking in the sun most summers. I truly loved being in the water and to this day, the smell of chlorine brings me instant comfort and memory of a time when my afternoons consisted of the Simpsons and lessons at the Long Center.

I quit swimming for CAT when I was in 7th grade and I remember the disappointing phone call to tell my Dad that I was done. My Mom, historically-and-still the most lenient parent-cheerleader on the planet didn’t offer any resistance, but I knew the news would break his heart. My Dad swam all of his life too and till at least my high school years, he could swim 6 laps underwater without coming up for air and held unbeaten records at Dunedin High School. The man was and is a complete fish out of water most days.

But the thing of it is, I don’t remember if anyone asked me why I was quitting swimming. I quit swimming because I became terrified of swimming. Being the oldest of five cousins, I was the back my younger cousins latched onto during their own Mrs. Marian drowning-you-for-crackers stages when playing Marco Polo together. The fear of taking my last breath started logically – when there’s a two-year-old on a five-year-old, whoever’s on bottom might have taken their last breath. I have two vivid memories of this happening, coming up, and realizing no one was really watching for me because I knew how to swim. By middle school, on a competitive swim team (of which my mother thinks it hilarious to say I’d only get first if everyone else got disqualified because of my form and lack of speed), that Baby Fear grew. I’d do a 500 fly, get out of the pool, feel light headed, and think – what if I passed out while swimming? Who would see me then? I’d surely drown. That Buddy Thought grabbed onto my Baby Fear and fed itself lap after lap until it grew big enough to terrify me to swim and quit for good.

My fear of drowning robbed me of my love of swimming. I can’t even do butterfly anymore and it breaks my heart – it was my stroke for so many years of training and practicing (no matter how slow I was). Now, at 30, I love to workout. I do spin and I do weight lifting (however, I’d still nearly rather be shot than run). The point is I stayed on land to exercise, and while I found new passions, I was still hiding from a childhood-long fear – not just drowning, but of not breathing.

Enter Thursday, April 13th, 2017 at my favorite spin class. It’s worth noting that I don’t do any workout for the fun of it especially spin. I do spin for the taking out of all of my emotions on a bike for one hour. It’s me against the world against those pedals and it feels as though I can take out all of the frustration and disappointment I’ve felt this year one rotation at a time. It’s better than cursing at my sewing machine or getting frustrated at Mike or being short with my kids; endorphins are a disgruntled girl’s best friend! But back to this moment…Nearing the finish line, Julia throws out one last message to give it your all – let’s sprint to the finish! Sprint I did. I sped with everything I had and then, I couldn’t breathe. I slowed my pedal stroke and it didn’t give – complete and utter chokehold around my throat. I immediately strategized how to not pass out in a classroom of people and how I’d handle getting my kids out of childcare if I did. As my heart rate slowed, the grip started to loosen. I left feeling confused and scared. My fear of not being able to breathe came on land.

Over the next week, I’d catch myself not being able to bike too fast in spin to the severity of not being able to carry the groceries up the stairs. If my heart rate went up, the knot in my throat returned. I began to  connect the dots and I realized that this was more than likely panic symptoms. Not considering myself an anxious person, I felt my self-knowledge suddenly shallow and misplaced. Two weeks later, on a Monday night, for the first time ever, I understood the difference between pain and suffering.

Penny Simkin talks about this when she considers the sensations of childbirth. I always wondered what she was getting at – surely, there’s enough natural tools to help someone cope with what they’re experiencing in a spontaneous birth. And now, I get it and I am so much more empathetic to the mental battlefield that is birth and that is life. And I am also so much more prepared to fight back than I was that night.

I tried everything. I mean, loony-bin-level everything. I slapped my legs to ground myself. I sang songs I made up. I worshipped. I prayed. I tried distraction. I read my Bible like it is true. I took a shower. I tried to sleep. I tried to breathe. I tried to go up a mental elevator each floor meaning a deeper inhale or a deeper exhale. I tried to go to a meadow and the seashore in my mind. I watched Parks and Recreation. And no matter how at peace I could get my physical body, my mind could not turn off. It was wound so tightly and so confidently that I could or would wake up feeling like I couldn’t breathe that I couldn’t sleep. I went from sleeping consistently within 5 minutes of my head hitting a pillow to being up until 8:30 am after trying for hours and hours to go to bed.

I ended up going to the ER once the kids were up (and at a friend’s house). I must say, I have never been so happy to be medicated in my entire life. I slept. Overall, the experience itself was fine and helpful, but the fear of making the wrong decision about my health care moving forward was most overwhelming. My blood pressure came back excellent. My levels and thyroid were perfect. My presentation cheerful and sane. And here I was, in an ER with panic-level anxiety that seemingly came out of nowhere (although, it obviously did not) and knocked me out for the next week.

I didn’t want to be on a regular medication. I still wanted to get pregnant and I didn’t want to be on something that I would need to get off of by my third trimester (which not surprisingly, makes me seriously question its safety for any other trimester). I didn’t want to deal with side effects. I didn’t want to go on something and not want to get off of it (because let’s be real, it is so, so, so much more enjoyable to not live with the fear of a panic attack or learn how to cope with anxiety symptoms naturally). I didn’t want to have the cushion of not having to deal with my life and make adjustments. But I did want a serious backup medicine should things ever get out of hand again. And I agreed to go to therapy. That became my immediate treatment plan.

Honestly, I found touch, essential oils, Calm Now supplement, and acupuncture to be the best things to help with my anxiety. I was truly amazed at how much they each worked. I went from having a fear of night to a fear of not going to bed with Mike to a fear of staying up too late to a fear of new surroundings to feeling like myself (when I started going to acupuncture). Before then, I’d feel like I could make it through the day ok on the terms of my anxiety, which was like I was living my life in a cage. Anything that made me feel like I couldn’t breathe fully was trying – hugging, nursing Isaac against my chest, eating food that would make me feel very full or create mucus (especially bread and dairy), finishing a meal (I once had a panic attack from eating broccoli), hiking in higher altitudes. I learned intimately how important sleep was to my ability to mentally fight what I was feeling. The exhaustion to curb each ridiculous fear with seemingly obvious truth – something I’d simply taken for granted before – wore me out to the extent that I’d burst into tears from a mix of frustration and confusion. How did this happen and was this going to be how I had to live the rest of my life? There were often moments where I’d wished my results came back with a physical problem that felt specific and obvious.

I didn’t know how to explain to my friends or my family that something was going on that I couldn’t explain and that previously wouldn’t have affected me at all. I recognized that part of my problem was that I actually cope at a high level often, if not, always. I live at a 9 and I went to a 10 so fast that it felt like a bus hit me out of nowhere. I missed friends’ parties, slipped up on emails and felt like I couldn’t commit to anything well. I laid on a couch for the first week doing nothing but reading my Bible and then abruptly, headed back into reality. Mike helped however he could around the house, but the reality was that I was still with our kids all day, committed to attending some births, and felt lost in the chasm of this experience all the while. I was really searching for the finish line of summer and heading down to Clearwater where at least the go, go, go lifestyle included a break from our usual routine and far less dishes.

To be truthful, I almost cancelled our trip. It got bad enough when we were camping that I thought I couldn’t possibly bear two weeks without my Mike Safety Net. Or trying to explain to my family in the middle of an anxiety attack what was happening while simultaneously trying to not instigate my symptoms. But I knew I couldn’t because I learned something key in this process that has been pivotal for me – if you don’t fight fear, fear wins. Everytime. The rule of ongoing fear is that the more you feed it by telling your mind it’s a real threat or problem, the more you think it is and the harder it becomes to convince yourself otherwise. I had a lot of choice words for My Fear by the end of our Boston summer, and as downtrodden as it got me, time and time again, I knew it wasn’t going anywhere if I didn’t subject myself to it. I had to become susceptible to triggering my fear enough to confront it, but not be overwhelmed by it. I now knew it didn’t just live in the deep end of a pool. I knew it didn’t stay on a spin bike. I knew it crept and would creep as far as I let it. And I now had the tools for the times I didn’t want to fight alone and for the nights my mind couldn’t be put to rest on its own.

(To be continued in my The Summer of Getaways)

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Letter to 2-year-old Isaac

Dear 2-year-old Isaac,

It is amazing to me that you are 2 and that you are not a baby anymore; although, you are still this house’s ‘baby’ and I am having a hard time realizing you are now the age that Marin was when you were born. You have completely challenged just about every notion I had from parenting her, and I feel constantly caught off guard that you are an entirely different child – and that in many ways, is the narrative of our life together and this blog post. Your Story is the comical opposite of Marin’s in just about every way.

When I had her, I thought every labor was at least a day (or that mine were). Then you – well, I’m sure you know the story by now. When she was a newborn, I thought every newborn was the neediest, most overwhelming baby ever. Then you laid on my chest and nursed for hours while I read books to a Mommy-missing toddler because I didn’t have the ability to obsess over your sleep schedule. When she was a baby, she got easier and then easier, and I thought – wow, they really do get easier – *this* gets easier. And you got harder and harder and I got more tired and drained as I kept thinking by the next month you’d grow out of “it”. When she was a toddler, she was at my feet begging for my attention, and when you did your own thing, I thought “he doesn’t really need me” and tidied up the kitchen. I remember saying to a friend (honestly, this is probably from a year ago) – “Isaac just lives his own life”. And you did.

I’ll expand on that thought process because it is the current layer of unsanctified, brian-tripping logic that God has most recently placed His finger on. It pains me to say, because I take much pride in (but not for granted) the fact that our lives allow me to typically be the Mom I want to be to you every single day. So here it comes – I’m so sorry that I have passively parented you in many ways for two years. I often took advantage of your ability to entertain yourself with ease because with the mix of raising you kids, Bradley and doula work, and the need to keep a clean home with full bellies, I felt like my plate was always more than full. I had much anxiety around your complete lack of self-care and to constantly engage that drained me in a whole new way. My new found personal space became a battle of momentary freedom and hearing the sound of something or someone falling that makes you cringe or go running to the scene.

So in many ways, my solution was creating safe spaces and mentally spacing out. The first time I reflected on my shortcomings and sin in this area was when a dear friend handed me a cardboard box of homeschool preschool materials to use and try out with Marin. For some reason, this random art book was a fork in the road of my typical hands-off approach. In it, the author said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “now, you may be tempted to give your child this art book to give her something to do, but your child needs you to sit down and to help them. You need to model for them how to color in the lines or to do an activity in this book”. The flicker that became the flame was lit, and the epiphany that my active involvement mattered began. As I placed this thought under a Christian microscope (and as our church is now exploring the Book of James), this truth set into my heart: Christian parenting is active parenting.

The former notion that standing by and being available when you reached out would produce a wonderful adult over 18 years took its first blow. And then came the bigger blow, the really, ugly sucker punch: if we just had Marin, we could’ve settled for a good kid being our ultimate goal. And to be as frank as I’m willing to be with you on it, it totally freaked me out as a self-proclaiming Christian parent. You were the curve ball we didn’t see coming and it did something to me in the depths of my soul.

All of a sudden, good was total crap – so, so far from our top objective (but certainly, a product of it). I began to think about correction differently and the idea that something being a ‘phase’ didn’t give me permission to not consistently steer you in a Christ-like direction. To give an example, you had a long stretch of someone coming over, wanting to play with your toy, and you screaming “NO!” .5 second before trying to hit them with that toy because you didn’t abide by a “sharing is caring” philosophy. I’d bolt in your direction, probably end up removing the toy, often feeling like it didn’t really matter what I did – it was just a matter of time before it happened again. Enter playdate after playdate of just holding my breath and hoping that you wouldn’t whack someone or pinch my friend’s kid’s face before I could get to you, and I started to feel like you were a lost cause. We didn’t exactly teach you to rip someone’s cheek off – where in the world did this totally different result come from? How were you not another Bennett child carbon copy?

I began to explore that more. I realized your DNA wasn’t your excuse. Regardless of make-up or expectation, you were Isaac who (just like Marin) made mistakes, benefited from guidance, and needed Jesus. It just happened to look a lot different. And I know parents are always saying something similar of their second or third or ___ child, but I really thought I had let go my expectations from the start. What I failed to do was reorient my strategies and problem-solving duties, and I began to see that as we rounded your second year.

I don’t mean to paint a bad light on you because your territorial nature did have its benefits. Anytime you feel someone you love is being threatened, you waste no time in protecting them. You’re utterly fearless and while that’s landed you a noticeable forehead scar, it’s something I truly admire. You regularly tell me “I love her” about characters when reading books together, tell us when you miss someone, and have the cheekiest, heart-melting smile that has some serious heartbreaking potential (even if it’s only mine). You roam around the house on your one hip pushing trains and trucks and you make the cutest Dinosaur/Alligator/Lion roars imaginable. You have this indescribable, but so you, hand-clasping-and-wriggling gesture and wide-smiling combination when you are utterly overjoyed about something. (And I not-so-secretly hope that if you have children, at least one of them does it and I get to relive this excited expression all over again). You love all things alligator and dinosaur-related mainly by chasing someone with an alligator, nursing your alligator, or making dinosaurs tracks in playdough. Your motor skills are impressive and your ability to be appropriately careful to do a task correctly (like pouring water into a small hole from a glass) is remarkable because it is so different from the Wild Man you can also be. You love dirt, stomping around in the snow, and finding huge sticks; it breaks my heart that there’s not a backyard to plop you in to roam freely about to discover them all more. Ironically, you do not like when your hands are dirty – another sign that you are your Father’s son. You are a furniture parcore-gymnast-extraordinare, and the positions with which I find you hanging from the couch are oddly impressive. You love making pillow forts and playing Hide-and-Seek with Marin – and she has much patience for your ability to be ‘found’ by cackling in delight over a well-animated search. If given the chance, you would slowly pace on forever ‘riding’ your balance bike while proudly wearing Marin’s purple cat helmet no matter how many times it slumped over your forehead.

And in all of that, it broke me that people only saw you as the toy-ripping, “NO!” screaming, Tornado that was already living in his Big Sister’s shadows. And I so deeply hate that because I know that you are made for incredible things and we are just beginning to chip away and see them. You are a child of my dreams – so privately loving, so often misunderstood, and requiring so much of my mind and heart. Your gentle-nudge-requiring and direction-re-aligning assistance has been so incredibly satisfying for me as parent as it’s forced me to be one with intention and much reflection. You’re not going to let us get off easily with the same ol’, same ol’ and I love you dearly for it. You draw me into the everyday moments in a way that has really precipitated a desire to make a life made up of more of them. You are truly a gift from God to me and I am so thankful that the gospel gets to be shone to me daily by my Cheeky Boy whose blue eyes are the regular commentary of any stranger you meet.

I never thought in a million years that God would make himself known so incredibly through the daily lessons of parenting my babies, but He certainly has in no greater way than giving me you. I love your tenacity, and your Spirit of reckless optimism that makes you more like your Daddy than looks alone. I love your fire and the way you fight as if you are the single greatest force to be reckoned with. I love the way you softly say something you want, and the way you still fall asleep in my arms with your feet propped on my lap. I love that you still haven’t grown into your hands and that every time I call you “Meatball”, your sister calls out “Meatball Head!”. I love how you scamper around the house and that you are so goofy and playful. I love how you sit still looking through the pages of an open book. I love that you are daring and inquisitive. I love that you can be entertained by the water of our bathroom sink or bath and that you love to discover a good pool drain.   

In the coming years, I’m not side-stepping my responsibilities, and I’m not trying to just make it through accomplishing them or the day.  I’m letting go of the desire to fit you into our routine better and the frustration that what we did with Marin doesn’t work with you. I’m going to be a better follower of Jesus because of you and I am truly grateful that you have kept me on my toes and led me to my knees in prayer. Thank you for being the most beautiful, wonderful son that a Mom could ask for. Your name fits you well, you are my “Joy” and “Laughter”, and there’s no greater honor than being yours and Marin’s Mommy. Thank you for everything, my Sweet, Sweet Boy.

I love you always,

Mommy

A Letter to my Non-Existent Third Child

 

Dear Non-Existent Third Child,

I hate that I am writing you this letter and I hate that you do not exist. I could elaborate on all the things that I would love to share with you, or my dream birth (ha!…you don’t even know…), but I’ll save that for another letter.

For now, I want to write about all the things I’ve felt these last 11 months wanting to have you – to get pregnant. It’s honestly been quite the emotional roller coaster because you represent a lot at this stage in my life. This now, almost 30-year-old body, that won’t have half her kids in her 20’s – according to my original Family Plans of six (now you know, Universe). Oh man, did I confuse biology and reality – I thought one right after the other each of you would come.

As with most of my Mom letters, I like to compare my kids – because it says a little about what makes them a Bennett and what makes them uniquely individual. Marin was and is my Golden Girl – off without a hitch we went! From finding out we were going to try for our August girl to the positive pregnancy test two weeks later, the surprise announcements to Daddy and family turned out beautifully, and the inevitable call to Grandpa Bennett to tell him the Bennett predisposition to having only boys had come to a screeching halt – well, that was just plain fun and games.

Enter a conversation with our ped at Marin’s 1-year Well Care visit, and her perchance comment to say “So when are you trying for a second?” with a confident grin and my hip feeling just about back to speed it seemed so obvious to go for #2. The combination of being in love with your Daddy, having the sweetest daughter to share, and being foolishly naive about the fact that children do indeed cost money – well, there we were. And we stayed there. Longer. 6 months longer than with Marin. And I carefully added the months between those two, and when he didn’t come in June, I was ok with breaking that tradition. And when their age gap went past two years, I thought it’s ok I can’t say “#twoundertwo” or some stamp that my motherhood was *hard* – but you know, I’m like, crushing it because I put it on Instagram.

But as the story goes, he came…wait, A HE CAME?! Not a girl? Ok, well, that’s cool because he’s healthy and awesome and like probably the most goofy 2-year-old on the planet today. But that took a little getting used to. I just imagined a sister for Marin and kinda went with it despite everyone telling me otherwise (even probably my own intuition).

I did get used to the he-bit. But the one thing I didn’t get over? That the second he came out (I don’t think there was any time separation here), I immediately thought and felt “I CANNOT WAIT TO DO THAT AGAIN”. Oh man, Isaac, really, really paved the way for you – that longing, man, it just stuck. And when I forget what I want, I come back to it. Nowadays, often.

And I have seen baby, after baby, after baby be born since (because I teach childbirth education and attend births as a doula currently). And I have seen the friends who we said we’d coordinate our pregnancies get pregnant and have their babies. And I have had the friends ask if everything’s ok and I’ve felt the wonder if maybe it’s me and Mike? Or maybe it’s me? Or should someone ask? Or will it just make me sad? And I have been asked probably the worst-feeling question of them all – “Don’t you have enough with two?”

So, I’ll make it perfectly clear – yes, I do. I do have enough with two. I kiss them and I hug them with the love I have left over from not having you (yet). And when I tell them I love them, I tell them I love them with the love I have for you too. And I have not felt empty – I do not want you out of emptiness or need. I want you because I want you. Because there is space in my heart still for you. A nook and cranny unseen, unheard, unnoticed – silently hoping you’ll come home to it. And maybe that’s why I’m in such a weird predicament.

I always thought I’d have babies because I just couldn’t live without having another one. But now, I see my two, and I see that after each of them, my heart has been filled beyond its former capacity. To a point I can’t imagine increasing. The space has grown, the chasm widened. Because now it’s not just my heart that wants you, it’s the hearts I’ve created with Daddy wanting you too. It’s some odd form of unprecedented multiplication – the way they love you, and the way you love them back, and the ways you grow without me with them. It’s exponential. Incalculable, really. And it’s the stuff that puts a Hallmark card to shame.

I see the less adorable realities at face value too. That once unbelievable and now laughably obvious fact, that children do cost money, or that having a house is worth saving for. I see the benefit of swim lessons or ordering a pizza on a Friday night. I see the summer road trips and the weekends away with Daddy (not necessarily now, but in the window of the not-so-distant future). I feel the rest of a full night’s sleep and how nice it is to rarely pump. I see the orderly schedules and the gym routines. I see the limited space on my lap, and feel the joy of reading “one more book” without a crying baby to rush to bed. And I see the kids’ room with his and hers bunk beds (laid out in my mind, anyways) taking up only one bedroom of Boston real estate.

So now my heart and my logic duke it out. They go tit for tat and they don’t play nice. Am I foolish? Am I selfish? Am I crazy? How can you put a price tag on a baby? A sibling? Who wants to go back to drowning when you’ve just gotten up for air? Often, the questions silently plague my mind because I’m too scared to ask them out loud. Not because I can’t ask them outright to myself, but because someone else could hear them too. And I’m afraid to create a foothold for the nonchalant “helpful” advice or a casual remark. Who has space to be sad, confused and vulnerable with an open invitation for a tourist’s two cents of your life?

It’s worth noting that this process has likely stalled from still breastfeeding Isaac. And it’s likely that my workload and Daddy’s hasn’t helped either. But what are we going to do? Do I wean him? Do we have Daddy work more, and me work less? Or the other way around? And I keep coming back to this one real dilemma – how do I put life on hold for my Non-Existent Third Child if that’s what it takes to have an Existent Third Child? I keep waiting for my nights to slow down – to not be an opportunity for me and Daddy to catch up on work or household tasks. I keep waiting for Isaac to not want to nurse anymore. Or never wake up at night. I keep waiting for life to come together in such a way that it says “it’s time”. And while that’s not happening, I know in my heart that I don’t want for things to change to make more room for you. I want you to make room by existing and demanding we do something about it.

Now I realize that I want having a third to be as easy as having a first. Or at least a second kid. But now, it’s more like having my cake and eating it too. I didn’t have to make this decision with Marin, and with Isaac, it didn’t end up coming down to this. Now, it’s reading about my adrenals glands and reducing stress. It’s charting cycles and having sex when you’re tired. It’s making romance in the form of Saturday pancakes and in a random text to say you’ll be home on time. It looks so, so different – way different than I thought – but my dream of and for you has not left.

Our nest still has room for you in it. We’ll do our best to get ready for you – even before you exist – but in the meantime, know we hope to meet you soon. If we’re lucky, you’ll be a Christmas baby – and don’t you doubt for a second that I won’t have a tree wrapped in lights for your debut. And if not, we’ll still be lucky whenever we meet you in 2018 or beyond. But hurry up, I want to meet you, and know you, and hold you and kiss every little inch of you. And this time, I don’t care at all whether you’re a boy or a girl because you’ll be my Existent Third Child and I love you no matter what.

Love,

Mommy

 

Letter to Four-Year-Old Marin

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My Dearest Marin,

As my eyes well up with tears, I just want to start by saying: Thank you. Thank you for the gift you’ve been to me and the gift you are to me. I not only can’t imagine my life without you in it, but I can’t imagine my life without your constant way of shaping me and transforming me day in and day out. It is truly impossible to separate you from my own identity because of the magnitude at which you changed our lives forever: you made me a mother (and Daddy a father). I will never look or experience the world the same again because I’m now forever Marin’s Mommy (and since, Isaac’s too). Every day, I’m challenged to see the world the way you do, to correct others the way you do, and really, to love them unapologetically like you do – with everything you’ve got, and then some.

Per usual, your birthday brings on much reflection of your Birth Day. There has been no greater, no holier, no more profound day in my life. I didn’t know it then, but that day would inform so much of who I am as a Mother, a Teacher, a Doula, and much more. I think about it all the time with sobering gratitude. The more births I see, the more appreciation I have for that day being filled with grit and collaboration and ending in sheer joy and celebration. I’ve never done anything harder or more worthwhile in my entire life (but I haven’t yet had to drop you off for your first day of school).

71513I often reflect on how birth is the perfect first act to parenting. You come in with expectations and hopes, you surrender and work hard, and you ultimately, can do a million ‘right’ things and it’s still in God’s hands. Now, four years later, I joke that you are my “Midwife Kid”. You beg me to go to labors and always ask if you can join me for class. You don’t miss a scraped knee or a broken heart – you are never far from those who are hurt and you are readily available to help them. I even joke that you’re the “true Christian” in our family – correcting bad attitudes, calling out any ugliness and sin, and asking Jesus for help. I am in constant awe of your display of ‘childlike faith’ and how easily my heart drifts from it only to return again with your not-so-gentle nudging.

You don’t miss a beat, Marin. You remember if I said I’d do something and don’t. It humbles me and reminds me of how important it is to show you to be true to your words and gracious – a lesson I’m still learning. You look forward to spending everyday with friends, and you slump in your chair in disappointment if at breakfast you find, I’m not carting you to a playdate that day. You love swim lessons, movies, treats, and trips to the park, and now, doing an afternoon craft with Mommy or making Friday night pizza with Daddy. Your Kuncle recently took you on a date, and after you talked about it the entire weekend, I realized how special one-on-one time is to you (still). (Since I wrote this, we’ve gone on a date to see Peter Pan and it will hopefully be the first of many more plays together! You try to wear the dress you wore every chance you get to twirl in it like Wendy and get upset when we have to change into pajamas for bedtime).141920Last year, was your first year as a “Big Sister” and while we all certainly adjusted, it was you who bore the brunt of this new addition to our family. You went from being the center of our little world to a part of it. When Isaac was little, I got comfortable telling you to wait or be patient – after all, these are two of the wonderful sought-out blessings I’d hoped for in adding a sibling. This year, I am learning to do the same with him. For what I waited seemingly-forever for, but was actually two years, I can now utter the words “go play with your brother”. You two love to take laps around the kitchen and playroom with your buggies and chase one another for hours. You make each other laugh, you fight over the same toys, and you watch out for one another. At your first day at our new gym, you went to hit the employee who was checking Isaac’s diaper and when she told me, I internally smiled knowing it was out of protection for him.

I think back to the initial insanity of two and smile sipping my hot coffee and writing out a to-do list in peace at the kitchen table. I’m amazed at the amount of time you entertain each other with little supervision and I worry about what that will look like next year when you’re school-age. On that note, apparently 4 will live in infamy as the year I worried too much about what to do with your education (after reading last year’s post, I’m noticing a pattern here). My typical hands-off, you’re-gonna-make it approach has abruptly hit a wall as my parenting style hits the-much-more-organized-and-mainstream public education phase. You are currently in a very well-done and interactive playgroup with a former kindergarten teacher, and if it is an indication of what lies ahead, it feels fun and playful, but overstimulating and exhaustive. Out of insecurity, I ask the parents with older children in elementary school about their experiences, and I wait to hear something that sparks my passion to send you away.

The luxury of enjoying leisure breakfast times and trips to our favorite hangouts seems to be a thing of the almost-past. I conclude that these must be ‘the days’ and these ‘days’ are a chapter nearly over – how do we have only a year left of this (less, actually)? How am I (what feels like) the only parent not wishing it to end or looking to get an extension? It seems unfair now that if you were born 2 days later, I wouldn’t have a choice. I’d happily wait my turn and for another year to enroll. But here we are, my August 30th baby – the girl I’d hoped would come in August for years.24263032Now, it’s a decision. And a big one that makes me not want to lift my head to see what’s ahead. In seeing how much your interest in learning your letters has been sparked from a couple playgroup sessions, I’m encouraged that you aren’t going to drop out or fail next year, but I’m concerned about what this means for us, or nap times, or Isaac and me time.

As my oldest child, you will always be the scariest one for me to raise. Which honestly, is a shame since you are the easiest in so many ways. Maybe that’s part of it – making the ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ choice has always seemed less obvious with you, but then again, your brother will always have the benefit of more-seasoned parents parenting him. It’s just so weird to hear you cry that you’re afraid you won’t fit in my arms anymore when I hold you on your couch before bed, or for you to recite my expressions perfectly as your own – you’re confident, oh-so-sweet, and you’re never one to turn down my hugs and kisses – and you’re slowly, but surely, growing up.

I feel the same way I did when you first weaned – what will this next chapter hold? How will we manage it or how will we look different? And I feel so ridiculous because to so many people, this next phase is just a next phase. For me, my often-flaky-but-still-there desire to homeschool isn’t rooted in fear, but really, the desire to spend more time with you than not. Or to have the best part of our days be together. But then, I know it will still be different too. Every year has, every year will. I’m a really good play-based parent, but what about when we have to intentionally do a workbook together? What will that look like?

3740414443But if I were honest with myself, while the pictures and videos take me back to some of our sweetest memories together, the best is always ahead of us, Marin. I don’t miss nursing you right now and I don’t miss that winter when Isaac was first here (although, I miss his babyhood). I don’t miss not sleeping and I don’t miss you not wanting to walk up the stairs. In all the missing, there’s a lot of not missing. But the thing is – as a parent, you always remember the best of each phase and treasure it. And I certainly do.

So with the future fast approaching, I’m not giving into the belief that our best days are behind us and I’m not holding you back either. My sweet Star, you will always shine bright, no matter what we do with your schooling or how many siblings you have or how many times we nail it or completely screw our parenting gig up – God’s destiny on your life is too great and wonderful. I am doing all I can to actively rest in that and pray for you and over your precious life. You have been such a gift from the first dream I had of you (just days before our first positive pregnancy test) and no matter what the path is ahead, I’m not losing sleep over our bond at this point. I know it’s there, and like a chapter in your favorite book, we always pick up right where we left off.

No matter how near or far you are from me 8:30 am – 2:30 pm next year or when it’s miles away, one day, too. I love you, my Peanut, my Sweetheart, my Silly Lady, and this Halloween, my Hillary Clinton.

Love you, always and forever,

Mommy

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Ending 28: The Omnipotent God [Part 4 of 4]

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  • The Omnipotent God

 

The main consequence of letting God rule and reign over your life is that you can’t anymore. Whether you see that as unfortunate or fortunate is up to you and your story, and where you’ve placed God in or over it.

So let me say this, as blatantly and as boldly as I can, it was not the plan for me to be a (part time, full time, kinda-some-uh-the-time) working parent. It was not my (initial) dream. I was not twiddling my thumbs idly waiting for an opportunity to come. I was not discontent with being “just a Mom” or feeling like I was wasting my time by raising my delightful children. I left my admin job on July 2nd, 2012, and my first thought was “I am so excited to not work for forty more years”. Book closed, commutes abandoned, arms open to the days of child-rearing ahead! And so the story goes…

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I had my first baby and in the words of award-winning, local midwife, Nancy Wainer (and probably countless others), “the midwife inside of me was born the day that I gave birth at home”. I am going to share more on this explicitly, but having Marin was the most monumental and spiritual moment of my lifetime. God lit a desire in my heart that has not gone away, no matter how hard I’ve tried to put it out or hide it, no matter how many times I’ve handed Him my carefully laid out agenda. That fire is there, and I wrestle constantly with the timing and possibilities for it coming to fruition. But it is my deepest belief that wherever God takes me in life, and in this specifically, He is going to use me to blaze a trail in the most unique, God’s-about-do-something-big kinda way.

When I began this 28th year, I was starting to teach Bradley childbirth classes. Another provisional instructor reached out, and when we met, she mentioned another affiliated teacher who I hadn’t yet heard of. She encouraged me to reach out to her and I did. At 8 months pregnant, Rebecca happily met with me and it is the utter grace of God that she was not only generous with her time, but that she willingly referred her students to me to attend their births. I had casually mentioned that I was hoping to attend some hospital births to benefit my teaching, and by the end of that evening, I had two referrals for doula clients. Our conversations and meet-ups and chemistry continued and it has now blossomed into a doula partnership and friendship with someone who is in more ways than work, out of my league.

I have said this about my husband, and I’ll say it about this – if I had tried to make it happen, it never would have. When I wasn’t forcing things to work out the way that I’d planned, they fell into my lap in the most God-alone-did-this kind of way. I couldn’t take credit for this happening if I tried. It felt like if I didn’t take this opportunity, I was clearly not trusting God with the next step in this journey. So I am choosing to trust Him, getting my feet wet, and taking it one prayerful decision at a time. Things like childcare and working together with Rebecca have just-about-effortlessly fallen into place which is my consistent confirmation that I’m moving in the right direction.

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So while I know in my heart, I want to be primarily focused on mothering now and hope to be a midwife one day, I’m choosing to trust and let go of the plan I’d laid out neatly for myself four years ago. As I navigate this story inside the greater Story, I am more content with having the faith to take each day as it comes without knowing the bigger picture. I learned at a Mompreneur event that keeping my passion lit, by investing what I can now to keep it ablaze, is all it takes to be open to the next door God cracks open. I don’t know what that balance will look like with young children and a marriage to care for, and I am suspicious it doesn’t exist, but I know that all I’m doing now matters deeply to me and that I am grateful for what God has given me to do today. And for me, on most days, that’s enough information to make it until tomorrow without complaint.

So that’s that. 28 was seriously a great year where I truly felt the Lord’s Hand guiding and caring for me in what could feel utterly terrifying if I didn’t just embrace it as the adventure it is. God gave me new, exciting opportunities, I got to experience toddler Isaac which is just about the cutest (and scariest) thing ever, I got to go away with Mike to Vermont for a weekend, God continued to add to our neighborhood and build a wonderful community within walking distance, I got to see Marin’s friendships bloom, I learned how to budget wisely, and I felt the faithfulness of God in his preparation and purposes for my life. I am grateful for another year and I hope to not take one day of this life, or this coming year, for granted – even if it doesn’t start with organic, grass-fed pasture raised collagen peptides in my coconut milk coffee. I truly cannot wait to see what God has for me between now and the big 3-0.

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Ending 28: God, the Author and Perfecter of Our Faith [Part 3 of 4]

  • God, the Author and Perfecter of Our Faith

When I went to Florida this summer, the one job my Grandma asked me to do was to clean out my room filled with hundreds of Beanie Babies, Boyd’s Bears, and a boatload of junk that I was happy to donate or throw out. In some of the boxes, were high school notes and childhood pictures that embodied this Girl that I felt was rapidly slipping through my own memory of her. While I was happy to throw away my Spice Girl poster, I had this crippling fear to throw away anything that pointed to this ‘old Me’ in hopes that my kids could one day know who I was or used to be. Or perhaps, if I’m honest enough with you and myself, that I could go back to her – because that Girl is known to me now fully in hindsight and because she is fully knowable, she is safe. And prioritizing self preservation is always the first step away from relationship when we feel threatened and removed. (See last post for more details).

Can I just pause and say: Isn’t that just so human? When I think of God, and the fact that He is often asking us to let go of something for what is always something better (even if it is just the freedom to forgive someone – which make no mistake is a powerful gift), this perpetual self-preserved battle baffles me. But emotionally, that tension (that I allow to often dominate my life and decision-making) between who I was, who I am, and who I could be if I just surrendered to God’s hand in my life is the most joy-robbing sin I’ve ever lived. And it is the first sin and it will probably be the last one too – believing that we know what is best for us more than God.

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On the other hand, I started to see my Story in God’s Story this year. I saw the resilience and confidence that overshadowed a lot of pain in my childhood – and I said, “Lord, let me find that again. Let me live like that again”. Now, when I look back on all the bumps and humps the Lord has truly carried me through, whether I knew or served Him or not, I see the blessings, the ever-forming-me-into-who-I-am-today God who doesn’t quit, and the character building that could have never come had it not been through trying times and circumstances. I see it not through my pain, I see it through the calling that God has placed on my life and the plan He’s made for me.

For instance, as I’ve already mentioned, I kinda love sleep. As in, I am the first to fall asleep at a sleepover or I’d rather sleep than watch TV on any given night. So I often laugh to myself as to why I want a big family or am pursuing birth work because that’s kinda the opposite direction of this whole sleep-prioritizing trajectory. But when I talk to Mike openly, I have a fear of living a white, suburban, middle-class, ‘normal’ life and that’s because I didn’t have a normal childhood. I was raised on bar stools and job sites and my ‘home’ changed every 3-4 days. I literally would carry large bags of stuff from place to place and constant transition was mine and my brother’s normal. My parents divorced, and remarried, I had stepsisters and a stepbrother, and then I didn’t, and so on and so forth, as you may or may not imagine.

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And when I look at that, on paper, I think they were utterly nuts. As a parent, I see that they wanted us evenly and they were truly loving us as best as they could with what they could in the circumstances surrounding those decisions and it makes much more sense to me. So at this crossroads of life – now forced to decide how we raise our own children – I think, “what childhood could have better prepared me for this exact moment in my life?”. Births and babies don’t come when you want them to, they can happen slowly or suddenly, they have emotional mountaintops and valleys, and the only guarantee is that they are going to change.
And I know I am the parent I am today because of the parents they were then – probably thinking they were failing too – and in reflecting on my own wins and losses, God is using my mistakes and victories as an ultimate victory for my children. God is not wasting my good or my bad, but using them for the benefit of my children (and those He’s placed in my life), and isn’t that just the loveliest thought for us Christ-professing parents (and individuals)? I lean on that promise constantly and I thank God for far-removed hindsight that gives perspective and re-definition to our pasts. 

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Ending 28: Who Loves Ya, Baby? [Part 2 of 4]

 

  • Who Loves Ya, Baby?

 

If you asked my family about how I was from about four-years-old on, you’d get some good stories, eye rolls, and “Ashley!”s. They’d say I blossomed again as I ended high school, and for what it’s worth, they wouldn’t trade those in-between years – at least for the opportunity to see me live them again now as a Mother myself.

Despite the good, the bad, and the certainly ugly moments of my own childhood, I have always been hyper self confident (to a fault). I don’t think I have ever doubted I could do something if I wanted to do it or that people wouldn’t love me (that sounds arrogant, but I already warned you it was ‘to a fault’). I’ve gotten the large majority of jobs I’ve wanted, I’ve helped materialize goals of ours by picking up side jobs, and I have many more goals ahead that don’t intimidate me because of my track record in doing well at getting stuff done (in a sea of track records of forgetting birthdays, being 5 minutes late to everything, and not resting well). I’m far from perfect, but I have a decent understanding of what I’m good at – and an even clearer understanding of what I’m really bad at.

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And what I’m bad at is an ever-present thorn in my side. That tension between who I am and where I’m going grows and grows as I begin to look at the sidelines for approval and my value begins to teeter-totter on the opinions of others. Sometimes, my cheering squad is full and sometimes the stands of my story are painfully empty and quiet. This year was met with a little bit of both – my faithful Fan Club and those who couldn’t see my wins no matter how many points I put on the scoreboard – and this post is about what they both taught me. 

You will never win at loving people when winning someone’s love is your ultimate goal. With those who require more effort for their approval, the harder you try, the more you fail. For every step you take towards a person – who is unwilling to be wrong or give you the space to be human or love you without strings – when your identity is based on their opinion of you, you can easily walk away from the person that God’s elevating you to be. It’s not as simple as ‘losing yourself’ in some spiritual discipline- it’s the you you try to be to compensate for the you that doesn’t win their approval instead of you that you could be if you let God rule and reign over your life. I found myself stuck in that conundrum time and time again, and finding my security and score for the day based on the need for someone’s approval, acknowledgement or understanding of my actions was crippling – for both of us. 

On the other hand, I realized that you can’t live to make the people who delight in you happy either. For years, I’ve been conditioned and pleased to make decisions that make my family happy because I love them and they love me unconditionally. Making them happy wasn’t out of a need to win them over, but a desire to make them even happier within their happiness and love for me. I thank God that foundationally I rarely doubt the love of God because my family has never made me feel that I could outrun or compromise their love for me – that is truly a gift I take less and less for granted. But, I’ve come to terms that I do a lot of things that they don’t approve of and I’ve gotten more secure about them over time – from how Mike and I dated to moving to Boston to staying at home with our children – the list goes on and on. And God began to show me, in my fear of making a decision that was more likely than not going to not win everyone’s approval, that leading to this point, I  have made a lot of God-ordained, hard, pretty dumb decisions because I wasn’t seeking someone’s official stamp of approval to do them and they have utterly impacted the trajectory of my life and my legacy for the significant better. The faithfulness of God is so obvious in hindsight, isn’t it?

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The two polar ends of my belief spectrum rapidly flowed into one another in unhealthy ways. The reason I found people getting under my skin and felt the weight of my own disappointment to them was because my lifelong process of making most decisions to earn someone’s love and approval was no longer panning out like it had before. The rosy-colored glasses that my family had always seen me through didn’t apply to those who didn’t assume or hope for the best in me.

God began to remind me that I didn’t need to earn my love or worth to Him, and it is allowing me to love without the expectation to be loved and accepted back. In Christ, we are asked to meet someone where they are and to love them there and not to expect them to live and love exactly like usIn Christ, whatever He’s asking of us is for our good and the good of those around us. This is probably going to be a lifelong struggle for me and the tension from it weighs so heavy on my heart. What God began to teach me through my hip injury was what I believe to be a long line of ‘no quick fix’es as I push onward towards the Finish Line of life. As a friend encouraged me – I need to pray more. I need to not run from this and instead allow myself to be filled with the purposes for Christ that God has placed on my life alone. I need to fight the fear of being alone in _____. I need to learn to let go and embrace the people God has placed in my life – even, and perhaps especially, the hard ones that push me towards Christ head on.

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