A time of tragedy reminds me to redefine what is possible.
Last week a family I have known for years lost their eldest son in a tragic accident. They lost their first born baby on the day of his 10th trip around the son. The pain must be insurmountable. The grief unimaginable and the faith in this world must slip away almost instantly. I got the phone call about 4 hours after this beautiful young life had been taken and every moment since I have tried to reflect on and empathize with what this family is going through and yet the truth is I can't. It is not possible. For those of you that have experienced this loss and I pray that is none of you, you are the only ones who know this pain and sadness.
I have always wondered how a mother (identifying as a mother myself) wakes up the next morning without her child and faces the day without being filled with rage and anger that is unstoppable. It has broken my heart to witness from afar, that process and it has amazed me how strong this mother is, being in the face of absolute horror. While I know that she is shattered inside I also see a human strength that is comparable to nothing I have ever seen or witnessed before. We as parents are prepared to be strong for our children in order to shied them from fear or danger in our world. What we are also prepared for is how to honor our children should they leave us too soon but I believe that none of us believe we hold this strength because of the pain it also invokes.
I have been praying, meditating, fixating, pondering and processing for over four days now and I have come to a place of wanting to honor this young man whose life was stolen from him by looking at my life and my gift to be a parent differently than I have ever seen it before. Yes the days can be long, sure the nights of sleeplessness are draining and of course there are moments when things just feel too easy to put on hold. Here is the promise I made in honor of every child who has been taken too soon. I will honor the moments I have, time is linear and it does not go any direction other than forward. When it ends it is over and that is where I will finally rest. Until then I will do what I can to take advantage of every moment and to honor the space and time around me that is being a parent.
We as parents are stronger than we know, we have powers that are in us just waiting to be used. Those powers involve speaking with our children honestly about hard topics, advocating for our children when they need our help, fighting for what we know is right in this world so our children have a safe place to become parents themselves and sanity when even the most tragic events test us beyond what should be possible. You have a choice every day mom and dad, you have a choice to feel stuck or to move forward and make a life that fulfills you. It is not easy, but it is a choice.
What should the grief of widowed parents look like? We think we know because we have seen a movie or a documentary and the images perfectly describe an emotionally devastated adult ...or do they? What if losing a child looks like the strongest mother in the world being asked to carry even more weight? What if we find power within us that we never knew we had so that we can honor every human being, child and adult who was not given the opportunity to move forward one more day.
I want to dedicate this months newsletter to the Janusz Family. I have included a link to their fundraising campaign and if you feel willing or able to give in the memory of Aiden I would be immensely grateful. If you are not able to give at this time please say a small prayer, mantra or word for Aiden, a 10 year old gone decades too soon.
You know those days when you feel like you are super mom/dad. When the world is just throwing you fast balls and you are knocking them out of the park and then your dog pees on the neighbors carpet, your 10 month old eats dog food and you realize after the fact that you served moldy marinara sauce with ravioli for dinner? Okay well here is the thing, we all mess up. We all get it wrong, we all have moments of “who put me in charge”. So here is the good news, you are no longer perfect, you no longer have to strive to be and you never will be again. The stress is melting away right? No, it is not….there is some invisible perfection stream that pours through us as parents and just when we accept that we might be average or even A- at best that stream of perfection comes rolling in and we suddenly feel like we need to strive for anything but where we are.
My husband travels out of town a lot and that leaves me to a house full of chaos for more time than I would like to admit. I have tried for years to hold it all together, to not skip a beat and to always reveal only my good, organized self. In the last year I have realized that modeling an image of perfection is a dangerous parenting model. It displays an image of false identity, impossible goals and self degradation. There is a difference between trying your best, being disappointed when you cannot achieve to your ability, striving to be better and that of pretending like everything is effortless, easy and calm when really it is a shit storm of emotions. Our children look to us for their confidence, their self worth and their management tools which they use throughout their entire life. It is up to us to show them that failure is learning, that imperfection is beautiful and that even the best fall down sometimes (yes I stole song lyrics but they were just so spot on).
Almost every “oh shit” moment is a fantastic story a year down the road. Almost every parenting oops allows us to prevent even bigger mistakes and almost every feeling of self doubt allows us to be sure that we are still human, that we are reflecting on our surroundings and that we are doing the best we can, even when it might not be good enough for everyone around us. I saw a quote today that said something to the effect of “if you are going to judge the way I live I will expect you to pay some of my bills”. The general takeaway here that I want to convey is that if other people assume we will live our lives in order to ensure their own personal fulfillment than other people are not fulfilling themselves. Yes, we should be courteous and thoughtful and do for others as well as ourselves. This does not mean that when your 2 year old vomits on a 2 hour flight non-stop and people are looking at you as though you have failed at parenting in every way that you actually have. There are moments we cannot control, there are moments that will define us and there are moments that will teach us about the world but none of these moments are a failure of who we are. They are a moment in time. They are a memory, a story, a teaching tool. So I hereby grant you imperfection, it is the greatest gift a parent can get. Take it, go out in the world and shine your imperfection brightly, you earned it!
Exactly the same and nothing alike
Nothing can prepare you for becoming a parent. No matter what books you read or tips you get from seasoned parents, there will come a moment when you are drowning in the newness of it all. A time when for a moment you wonder if you will survive the transition you have just gone through; from being an individual to becoming a parent. It was amazing to me how quickly I went from thinking I knew what I wanted, even up to days before delivering my first daughter and the reality of what parenthood was just a few weeks after becoming a mom. After having my first daughter I could not conceive of having another child, even though I had always wanted multiple children. Deep down I deeply wanted a second child and in that desire I also feared that having a second child would break me or ruin the relationship I had with my firstborn.
People told me so many things, it was twice as hard, it was not nearly twice the amount of work, one and done is the way to go, you have to give your child a sibling, once you have two what is three or four….hold on people, can I have some solidarity here? Here is where as parents, we must learn to breath, in order to survive, in order to stay sane and in order to be who we want to be as people and as parents. People told me that loving a second child was automatic and I believed them, in the same way I believed that being a parent was a lot of work; insert the definition of empathy versus sympathize here because really, those who do not walk the path cannot fathom the shoes they would hypothetically be in.
What no-one ever talks about is what it is like to look at two versions of yourself within your children. That is what I want to touch on in this article because it is miraculous to witness. Biological children will have similarities of course because they share genetic components. Every parent I met who has more than one child talks about the similarities and the differences of what each of their children does the same or differently than their other children. While I do find these traits to be marvelous I have a harder time seeing them because of the wide gap between my girls (six years). I believe, yet do not know with any certainty, that children born closer together are easier to “compare” regarding eating patterns, what makes them giggle as an infant, different faces they make etc. The stages of each child are closer together and thus it is easier to recall one versus the other. Again, I am speaking to a pair of shoes I have not yet worn so pardon my assumptions here.
Lately I have been watching my girls and admiring who they are as people and projecting who they will become in their lives. In doing so I see two sides of myself and it hit me like a ton of bricks that children are most alike in their differences. They share half of me and half of their father and yet those fragments of each of us are so different between them. My daughters are the lights of my life, they give me purpose and meaning every day. Do I want a break? Absolutely and as soon as they are out of my arms I miss them terribly because I realize that in giving birth to two human beings I have handed over a piece of myself to each of them. Knowing that never again will I be whole without them, never again will I be whole with one of them, they together make up the best and worst of who I am, who I have been and who I will always be. It seems to be that comparing your children is not possible because they are both exactly the same and entirely opposite from one another. One may be athletic and the other a scholar. One might excel where the other falls behind. If we look at ourselves and really look deeply at who we are and what makes us unique I believe we will all see that our children are simply the parts of us that we have given to them mixed in with the influences of the world around them. So next time you look at your children side by side imagine yourself in two parallel lives and look at the wonderful opportunity in being able to be so uniquely different at the same time.
Question, don't judge.
Lately I have been pondering about the topic of how we as adults and how children look at the world around them. My thoughts have been centered on both the ability of children to accept those people and those things around them while also looking at adults and their seeming inability to do the same. I watch my six year old daughter navigate new social interactions and sit in awe of the way she and her peers are able to go from perfect strangers to best of buds within moments of meeting. I started asking myself; why and how we train ourselves out of this ability to so easily connect with others? When people are young they seem to accept what is before them as a reality of their own world. There is no wondering why a person is or is not the same as them, there is simply an understanding that they are, and so it is. We then age out of this beautiful ability to just accept our reality and we begin to question and challenge those things that are different and those things that do not fit into what we already know to be “normal” or expected of our immediate environment.
As parents we have a big job, we must navigate not only our own biases but those things that will potentially cause biases amongst our next generation, amongst our children. Both my own and my husbands family are a blend of Asian and American backgrounds. Our daughters are blue eyed, blond haired and white skinned but the same cannot be said about a majority of our combined families. My infant daughter is too young to question but my six year old has not yet began to ask or wonder about why she does not look like her grandparents, her cousins or her aunts and uncles. Her mind is absorbing the environment around her, it is accepting what is and experiencing everything as the pieces that make up her world. At some point I know she will ask why and I know she will ask how and at that point I will understand that her mind has shifted from accepting to questioning.
This shift is a beautiful and necessary part of development. It shows that there is growth and knowledge working together to make sense of things rather than just accepting the blanket truth that is put before her. It is the sign of an independent and strong mind. This is also the point in a child’s development when we as parents must be very aware of what we are saying, how we paint those around us and when we categorize an “example” of something as “the rule” of something. Our children will absorb all of this, they will look to us for the transformation of their accepting mind into their questioning mind.
Please remember that you, as the parents can help your children learn to look at the reality before them and question yes, but judge no. It is within all of us to judge that which is different and it is within all of us to question what we do not understand so it is of fundamental importance that we teach the next generation to question kindly, believe in finding a common ground and understand that just because it doesn’t make sense doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve to be.
Don’t Stop Believing
One of the hardest struggles I bare as a parent is that of believing in my own gut feeling or my intuition. There are dozens of moments a day where I am making decisions based solely on what I feel is right in that particular moment. With my first daughter I was more scheduled. I would decide to follow some sort of regimen and regardless of what I was feeling in any particular moment, I would stick with my larger goal as a way of proving that I could parent the “right” way. With my work as a parent advocate and a postpartum doula I have learned that parenting is fluid, not linear. There is no schedule to be followed except that of life. There is no way to expect that each day should run the same from start to finish. Although I struggle with this almost more than with anything else I would like to offer my insight and hope that someone out there, a parent or parent to be can learn from my struggle and live in a place of believing in themselves more than anything else.
There are so many resources for parents to follow that it has become more complex than it used to be to parent by some “right” way of doing things. I can walk into a bookstore and pick up books that will directly contradict one another while claiming to be THE way to parent. The newest fad changes before I can even finish a book about it. How are we supposed to parent in a world where parenting is changing faster than we can keep up? The only answer is don’t stop believing; in yourself, in your parenting intuition, in what your child needs, in the life you are creating before you. You will make mistakes, you will spend 45 minutes trying to sooth your child to sleep before the lightbulb goes off that she is hungry. Yes, you fed her already and no she shouldn’t be hungry but we all know that the shoulds get us down, turn us around and make us forget what it is to be the parent that our children need.
In any given day I feel as though I make mistakes which could have been prevented. I have to believe that it is all part of the journey. I have to believe that I am doing the best I can and I have to believe that without these mistakes I would be unable to learn how to be better, more present and more honest with myself about who I am as a parent and as a person. It will not always be easy and in fact it will probably bare more hard days than good and in the end we will miss every moment that is passing beneath our tired feet and exhausted eyes.
So I remind myself and I offer to you: Hang in there, never stop believing in the strength you have within you and always remember that being honest with yourself is the only true way to parent correctly.
Embracing the Change
Parenting teaches us many lessons that may not come easy and yet they come to us none the less. Life before parenting defines freedom, a freedom that feels both good and lonely in its lack of structure. I remember longing for the days when I could wake up in my bed knowing that my home was my landing point, not an in-between life phase but rather the place where I had settled. And then the word hits me like a ton of bricks…settled….into…what? My husband and I are quite nomadic by nature, I suppose all humans are and perhaps some of us simply embrace the age old tradition more than others. Months after meeting, my now husband, we moved to South Korea for a year, Michigan for a year, Houston for two years and Colorado for a decade. Letting the universe take us where it wanted and enjoying the flexibility while craving the stability that was yet to come. Once we landed and planted some roots in Colorado we found ourselves surrounded by the most fortunate of circumstances. Living in a gorgeous North Boulder home, with our daughter attending top schools in the area, working a flexible schedule and surrounded by friends that are irreplaceable. Yet this word; settled, was festering in the back of our minds. Not because we don’t appreciate what we have, not because we are not thankful but because we, my husband I are refusing to let the life we have prevent us from possibility. Possibility of failure? Of course, possibility of hard times? It is an option. But possibility is what keeps us going, what keeps us feeling connected to ourselves.
It is hard reaching for what may be next. It is hard to accept change and the possibility of what else is out there. We are taking this life that we have, fortune and all and we are moving it west to California. I wish I could recall what exactly happened that brought us to this point and perhaps one day, when the noise has quieted and the tiny footsteps have made tiny footsteps of their own I will. Perhaps I will be able to sit and stare at a wall of photos that so quickly and elegantly wraps up our life in a few sweeps of the eye. For now I know that we are trading in the gorgeous home and top tier schools for the opportunity to be closer to family, to have support for this family of four we have created and to follow this nomadic adventure that we love. We have spent 10 years in Boulder and while it has been filled with wonder and joy it has also been void of something that my husband and I treasure deeply which is the opportunity to travel and see this big beautiful world. Parenting without family close by is comparable to parenting on an island. The ability to feel supported and to let go of the stress even for a moment doesn’t exist. It is time for us to choose a life that allows a let-down of stress and of feeling like the Atlas for our family, holding up our entire world for fear of letting go even for a moment.
The hardest part is embracing the change, letting go of the stigmas that come along with cashing in your million dollar home for a box on the western coast. The anger that comes from leaving friends and the sadness born from starting a new chapter. It is not easy to pack up your life, to tell your child that she must say goodbye to her friends and to know that your best friends in the world will be thousands of miles away. We worry about our daughter perhaps because it is easier to worry about her being able to embrace the change rather than focusing on our own inability to do so. Children are incredibly adaptable, they flex when they fall when we might break. They see possibility where we see anxious environments and they let go when we as adults hold on as tightly as we can. It is not my daughter I worry about, she will be fine. Both my girls (six and five months) will adapt to our new world, they will find friends, thrive in their environment, learn from the world around them and build memories to fill the void of the world they once new. If we did not have this faith in our children ability to grow from this we would not be doing it. As adults this transition is not quite as simple, we hold on tighter to the chapters before now. We fear making the wrong decision, we ultimately worry that while we aren’t happy, we might be even less so if we change. So we stay, grounded, routed, sedentary, sane. So here we go, we are embracing the change and to quote an unknown genius “smile, tomorrow may be worse”.
I look forward to that wall of memories, to the split second my eyes will spend flitting from photographs of Boulder to California and how this monumental decision and change will be nothing more than an inch of wall space between to photographed memories.
STOP what you are doing
DROP into your feelings/subconscious/intuition
ROLL with it
Stop, drop and roll; three steps to easier parenting
We all remember being children and being taught the life saving three chant reminder for when a fire breaks out- stop, drop and roll. Well what if I told you that our old childhood friend is still a lifesaver and can make parenting easier than you think.
For every moment in parenting there is a point when we feel our stomaches tighten, our chest get full and our minds start to panic. In these moments what you need to do is stop, drop and roll. Stop thinking, your mind is your worst enemy. Drop, drop into your intuition, the subconscious of your parenting skills and the feelings in your body. Roll with it. You might not want your child to have blown out in the middle of a coffee shop but they did. You might need them to take a nap right now but the harder you try the more they will resist, that is the Murphys law of parenting. So, you have to roll with it and I promise you when you stop, drop and roll it will be easier, it will happen faster and it will cause less stress in your body and in your mind. I want to make something clear, following these three steps does not mean giving into your child every time they need something. There will be moments where you will stop what you are doing, drop into yourself and realize that yes your baby needs a nap and yes you have not had a sip of water or a bite of food in hours and you desperately need to pee. So in that moment rolling with it might mean grabbing a glass of water and a handful of potato chips, peeing with a screaming baby and then putting that sweet child down for a rest. Sometimes rolling with it will mean that you have to take care of you first.
There are times when we need to stop, drop into our own needs and roll with whatever our bodies, minds, and spirit are telling us we need in that moment. At times the world will want you to be something else and unfortunately the world needs to wait because all we can do is be who we are, feel what we feel and deliver the best we can in any given moment. It will not always be perfect, it will not always be pretty but it might be exactly what we need. This does not mean that we get what we want all the time…after all we are parents now so let’s just be real. We still will most likely only achieve a fraction of what we need or want in a day, especially in the first 18 months of new parenthood but that is a separate goal and one that might be quite unrealistic. When we decide to become parents we make a choice, not because we think it will be easy or blissful every moment but because it is what we want. Most likely because we stopped and thought about what life would be like without a child and made the decision to bring them into this world. We dropped the fear and insecurity of what might happen to our body, our relationship, our life, our career and followed the passion that makes us feel whole; parenthood. We rolled with it, we tried for as long as it took, we did the treatments needed and delivered or received as best we could. It is this mentality that got us here to parenthood and with the sleepless nights, the binging on easy to find or eat foods and the mental exhaustion we have forgotten how to be the parent that we knew we could be.
Tonight my six year old daughter asked from the dining room “ Mom how do you spell f^@% it”. The moments that get us are rarely expected, rarely appropriate and always have a good explanation. We have gone from having a little girl to having a pre-tween in what seems like a moments notice. The Disney songs have been replaced by pop songs, the fashion is getting quite colorful and the ability to understand, comprehend, challenge thought, process and question is happening faster than I can comprehend. My daughter has started listening to Rebecca Black; most widely known for her one-hit wonder titled “Friday”. The album is quite catchy and very pre-tween appropriate, or so we thought. One evening we realized that one of the songs quickly uses the phrase “f^@% it take my time” to which my husband and I cringed. Here we are, parents who pride themselves on being socially conscious, aware of influences and proud of the fact that our six year old doesn’t know what the F word is (or so we thought). I kid you not, three weeks before this event her dinner time comment was “mom, pho (pronounced Fuh) is the F word, it starts with Ffff”. Oh how quickly it all can change...So here I am the next evening, after realizing I was exposing my daughter to profane language; but assuming it was going right over her head and she inquires as to how one might spell “f^@% it”.
As parents, if we cannot laugh at ourselves and be aware of our imperfections we will never make it through. Parenting in today’s culture has become about an image of perfection that I would be the first to shatter if anyone was watching. I have spent the better part of my entire life wanting to be a mother, I earned a masters degree in child development and spent over a decade working with kids before I was married. I fail every single day at being perfect as a parent. I fail in the morning before (and after) having coffee. I fail throughout the day (today for example I forgot to cut the pineapple and inadvertently ruined my daughters life). You see the thing is this, we as parents are being looked at through more lenses than we can possibly imagine. We are seen as a child learning a new skill (adulting and parenthood) by our parents, we are seen as all knowing beings, gods by our children, and we are seen as any range of things by each friend, co-worker and acquaintance that we know. Now any image being looked at through multiple lenses is going to look differently depending on who is doing the looking and what vision they bring. Parenting is an obstacle course without a possible perfect finish. It is not about being perfect, it is not even about doing your best every day. Because let’s be honest, we don’t, we can’t do our best every single day. There are some days when we phone it in because of that third glass of wine last night, the fight with our partner, the trouble at work or the mental struggles we are going through as adults. Well guess what, it is okay, and it is real and what better model can we provide for our children than giving them a reality that is based in truth and not some misconception or concept of needing or supposing to be perfect. The environments our children are exposed to in their early years will be the environments they crave as adults. So go out there, don’t aim for perfection and when you need to just say “F^@% it!”
This is what Postpartum looks like
If you have ever struggled with postpartum depression or anxiety you have lived through some of the darkest days. It is like being in a Michelin star restaurant and suddenly not being able to taste a thing. You know the most amazing food is before you and you can’t experience it. For me, postpartum depression and anxiety blocks me from being able to enjoy all that I have dreamed of for the majority of my life. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a mother and I dreamed about what that experience would be like for years before it happened. When I became a new mom the immediate reality was much darker than I had envisioned. There were uncontrollable tears, there was fear, there was anxiety and there was an internal darkness that I could not shake. I felt like the universe handed me what I had been praying for and then cast it with a darkness that blinded me from the joy I longed for.
Postpartum is one of those words that people whisper with concealed lips or say with shame and discomfort. Postpartum is casted as a woman in shambles, looked overtaken by the weight of parenting and coated with an air of misery and sadness. I am here to reveal that postpartum can look very different. For me postpartum looked envious. I showered every day, I did my hair and my makeup and picked out clothes that were far from comfortable but made me look good. My nails were painted fresh every two weeks. I shed the weight quickly and dressed my daughter in adorable outfits. I baked cookies, muffins and biscotti to bring with me to parenting classes. I wrote thank you cards and had a smile on my face when I was out in public. I made steak dinners, cleaned the house, made love to my husband and hosted events for friends and family. This is what postpartum looked like for me. On the inside I was empty of joy, I was terrified; terrified to let anything look out of place or less than perfect. I was terrified, I cried when I was alone, I hid from everyone I loved, but only on the inside. Externally I was there but I was a shell of myself because there was nothing inside me to show up. I laughed at jokes I hated, I smiled at people that made me angry. I allowed others to need me so that I didn’t have to show them how badly they were needed. I hid it from my husband, my mother, my friends and myself. I would scream when I was alone, praying for the pain to stop. I would look at pictures of my daughter and myself with darkness in my heart knowing that the smile on my face in the photo was not genuine. How had I prayed so long for this moment and how was it so void of joy? This is what postpartum looked like for me.
There is no magic bullet, there is no quick fix. You deserve to feel like you again. No, this is not normal, no you do not have to fight this alone, no you do not have to fall apart to feel broken inside.
What does postpartum look like to you?
Being a First Time Mom, Again.
After the birth of my first child I experienced postpartum depression and anxiety. I remember people telling me “it was normal” to feel what I was feeling and I remember thinking to myself “if this is normal, something isn’t right”. I had my second daughter in November 2018 and had the amazing fortune of having my mother, brother and sister in-law here to help for 10 days after the birth. I delivered my daughter at 10:14pm at the Birth Center in Boulder Colorado and was home in my own bed before 3am that next morning. I slept in my own bed with my brand new daughter and a house full of people who supported and loved me so incredibly through the labor. Only 19 hours after delivering my daughter I was at my oldest daughters Kindergarten Thanksgiving performance, baby and all. I felt euphoric, alive, whole and complete in a way I had never felt before. Now I know that being a first time mom and being a seasoned mom bring two different experiences in and of themselves but this was something deeper than motherhood, this was support at the most basic, raw and primal level. After my eldest was born my mother had to leave three days after coming home from the hospital. The world caved in on me when she left and that cavern within myself lasted and festered until it became depression, fear and anxiety. I reached out to my doctor, I got help and I healed; it took me years to heal from the postpartum transitions I experienced. Becoming a mother was the single most incredible experience of my life. The joy and fulfillment I felt after both my daughters being born was incredible. The support and love I felt for myself was completely different after each birth and that made a difference.
Please do not tell a woman in the postpartum period that what she is feeling is normal. No experience is the same and therefore each is unique and while the ups and downs are expected, I believe that normalizing the depression and anxiety can be dangerous. Please tell her you support her, and are sorry she feels sad or lost or scared or anxious. Please do not tell her not to worry or to stop trying to do so much or that she needs to just relax. Please remember that a mother who is in the postpartum period is wounded and is healing and is for a short time transformed into something that is both perfectly primal and yet completely unmatched for society as we have it set up. A woman who is healing in her postpartum period should be surrounded by those who love and support her fully.
In 2019 I wish everyone support, love and healing as that is what we all deserve. Parents and non-parents alike.
I am a mother, not a wizard. I share what is hard, what is scary and what is real. The rest I leave to you.