How To Grow Up

Momma, how did you do it? How did you grow up?

Darling, I fumbled, I fell, I tripped, I stumbled, I took wrong turns, and my mistakes numbered more than a few.

I prayed. I cried. I yelled. No one knew. No one understood. Growing up is hard. It is a solitary business that one must do alone.

But even at its worst, even at the lowest points I want you to know I am there. I can’t do it for you. I can’t rush to the rescue. I won’t be your knight in shining armor because you have to learn to save yourself, but I will be steadfastly by your side when you need a break, a hug, an ear, and place that feels like home. Don’t get too comfortable though. I can’t be your everything or else you will turn into nothing. I can be your safe space. You must be your own saving grace.

Growing up is something you must do alone. I cannot be there for the whole ride, you must seek out who you were meant to be, but know I love all that you are.

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To My Husband- Thank You

When you get married you never know what it is really going to be like. You dream of happily ever after but you don’t give much thought to what it takes to achieve happily ever after. You don’t factor in what effect kids and work and moving will have on your relationship. When things get tough, when days are hard, nights are short, and life isn’t everything you thought, what then? How does your marriage hold up to those stressors? Does the person you chose to spend forever with take the time and energy to make your marriage work? Do they make you and it a priority?

I didn’t have a good model of what marriage should be. I didn’t have the best example of what a husband and dad should be. Things could have turned out pretty awful in that department, but instead, I have a partner in life who will allow me to show our children what marriage looks like when both people are equally invested, and they have an amazing father who never leaves them wondering if they are loved.

He travels for work, but I don’t feel the weight of doing it alone like I could if he didn’t make family a priority. If I need to vent or send lengthy texts about life he doesn’t tell me he is too busy and he doesn’t pass it off as not important. He responds, he listens, and he validates that sometimes parenting is tough and hard and sometimes the kids are just little assholes. If the kids need help with math and he is out of town he finds the time to text or FaceTime with them so they can understand their homework. He has been in the middle of work dinners and stepped out into the lobby to help a crying child with their math. This also helps the crying mother who was never good with math. Maybe I married a Math Ph.D just for these moments.

When he is home he is all in. 3 soccer games in one day—awesome let’s do it. Take all 5 kids to the movies—no problem. Reading books in crazy voices, playing outside with the kids, and throwing the ball to the dog is just a regular weekend here. He teaches the kids to value Momma too. Stepping in to remind the kids not to be disrespectful and to help out around the house without whining. He is constantly lifting me up in front of them. Telling them how hard I work, what an amazing job I do, and how I have so many special gifts that make me the best mother for them. As a stay at home mom it could be easy for him to take it for granted and not say anything about the job I have staying at home, but he sees it for what it is and makes sure the kids see it too.

He took a week off of work and did it to be mom for a week. He made breakfast for the kids everyday, he made lunches for the kids, handled drop off and pick up from school, he did dishes and dinner, and dealt with homework. He set up a facial for me so I could just relax for an afternoon. When I would try to help out he told me to just rest or read a book. He knows I don’t always make time like that for myself so he encouraged me to make that time just for me.

So for his birthday I just wanted to tell him thank you. Thank you for showing me to trust and love unconditionally. Thank you for loving me that way in return. Thank you for being the best father I could ever imagine. Thank you for working so hard to provide for our family. Thank you for always being our biggest cheerleader, and I hope you know that we are yours. Thank you for being the one that adds laughter and ridiculousness to our world. Thank you for being the steady, the constant, and calming force in our family. Thank you for sticking with it in good times and bad. IMG_4408

The Gall of That Kid

So I am outside shoveling the 7 inches of snow that accumulated overnight, and of course, I didn’t bring my headphones, so I can hear the tap tap tap from the window. I look up and the face of my lovely 7 yo is staring at me. I smile and continue to move large mounds of snow. It also happens that this must have been a really heavy snow because there are branches down everywhere, and the tree next to my car has branches frozen and weighed down to the top of my car. This means I am also hitting trees with brooms and cutting away branches. Still, I hear this tap tap tap. Looking up I see my lovely 7 yo is staring at me. So this time I up it to a smile and a wave. I quickly get back to my work because there is a driveway full of heavy white powder before me and a car hiding underneath a small mountain of snow. It is cold. I have on a hat plus fuzzy earmuffs. I am out here alone while my kids enjoy the warmth of the house and the entertainment of the television. Still there is a tap tap tap. I decide the time has come to ignore this 7 yo. It seems he does not like this approach so he ventures out to the front porch. I look up and wait for him to tell me some deep revelation he had about religion or science or anything really. After all he has been tapping at the window for 20 minutes. No. He says, “ Have you found the charger for my Kindle yet?”

My mouth must have dropped to the floor because I had to pick it up off the ground to respond, “Does it really look like I give a flying flip about your charger? It is the last thing I care about.” He must have sensed he crossed the line into dangerous territory because he quietly backed his way into the house to tap tap tap no more.

The sheer obliviousness amazed me. The audacity to wander outside while I was battling nature simply to ask for a charger astounded me. Yet here we were. He is lucky I didn’t bury him in the snow right then. I am already plotting ahead to the next snow. I will have him shovel the drive while I tap tap tap the window and ask him if he has gotten around to making my vodka soda.

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The Family We Made For Ourselves

We live in the Midwest, the suburbs of Chicago, and we survived the polar vortex. Temperatures were -22 with a windchill of -55. It was cold. We are used to 0 degrees, do we love it, no of course not, who does? We dress appropriately, keep blankets by couch, light the wood fire, and we are good to go. -22 is a bit different. School gets cancelled for those temperatures, and the main thing, our 100 year old house, with mostly original windows, does not retain heat— AT ALL!! When it hits 0 we are accustomed to our inside house temp being 63 and not going anywhere. So, I was worried when I heard about the projected temperatures for Chiberia 2019. Our house would turn into ice, and we would turn into popsicles. It was not going to be fun.

In steps our family away from family. We don’t live near family. We don’t have grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles to turn to, we are alone here in the suburbs. Our families are both in Kentucky. We picked Chicago because we were still a car ride away, but it isn’t a quick car ride. There is a lot we miss out on by being away from family: built in babysitters, cousins, grandparent relationships, a cheering squad at sports games, a helping hand with basically anything, people to hang out with during long breaks, and people who can’t really say no because they are family. I mean, maybe they want to, but they won’t. We don’t naturally have that. We never have. Ever since we started our family we have been away from family. It has been hard. Part of me hates it. But we have been blessed with a family away from family. I really don’t know that I deserve it. I am totally introverted, but in the end we found a family that has become an extension of us. Maybe God looked down and saw that I was a complete hot mess and needed all the help I could get. No matter the reason- I am grateful. Always grateful.

This isn’t something to be taken lightly. When a family with their own busy schedules, nearby family, and jobs take the time to open their hearts to you and your wild zoo of kids, it is a miracle and a blessing. We aren’t always easy, not all of us are loving and kind all the time, and still we are loved. We are broken and full of flaws, but our friends see us and smile. They know our house doesn’t get or stay warm in the winter, so they invite us, and our ridiculous puppy, to their house until it warms up. No questions. Don’t say no. Just— what time will you be here and what food should we have in the house? On top of that it is my daughter’s 5th birthday and they were just as excited about it as we were. They bought her gifts, made her a special dinner, sang her happy birthday, and loved on her just as much as we did. Even if it wasn’t Chiberia 2019, they would have done it anyway. We disrupted their house, their schedules, and did I mention there are 7 of us plus a dog, but there was never a question.

I don’t know how it works. I don’t the secret formula for gaining a family away from family, but I am so grateful we have one. We share holidays, birthdays, vacations, and just days with people who love us in all of our dirty glory. If you find it—cherish it. Hold it tight because it is a little slice of heaven on Earth.

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Time to Get Back in the Stirrups

After I had my last child I got my tubes tied, and I haven’t been back to the gynecologist since. No need for birth control no need to go. I saw enough of the obgyn during my 20s and early 30s. I practically lived there for a decade. It got to the point where I was not at all uncomfortable just scooting the edge of the table with my knees apart. After all those years being on quite intimate terms with that particular doctor’s office once I had my last child I figured we needed a break. It has been about 4 years since I went. I probably could have held off a little bit longer, but lately I have been concerned about my health. No reason other than my mother died in her 40s, and while I am not there yet, I see it and fear the next few years of my life will be spent worrying about every single ache and pain or potential pain.

I called and made an appointment. The sooner I could get in and have my mind put at ease that all my female parts were healthy the better. The flip side was that if something were wrong the sooner I could get it fixed the better. I put the date on the calendar and waited. About 4 or 5 days before my appointment something happened. I started my period. I wasn’t really sure what to do. I could reschedule but it might not be for awhile, and then I would have to sit with my hypochondria. Also, as my periods aren’t super regular, I wasn’t sure that this same situation wouldn’t happen again. I decided to suck it up and go. I figured this doctor sees poop and blood during delivery so my period wouldn’t really matter. Still, it felt a little dirty and a little wrong. I went back and forth in my mind, but I already had everything lined up to go so I went.

I told the nurse and she didn’t even care. She didn’t flinch or anything. The doctor came in and I told him. He wasn’t phased either. I am glad no one was telling me how weird I was for scheduling this exam during my period, but I didn’t expect them to be like this is just another day in the office. Though in all fairness I guess it was. It all went like it should and has the other thousand times I have had exams until he examined me rectally. Um. I knew some doctors did that to get a better feel-so to speak-but I was not prepared, so now it was my turn to act like this was just another day at the gynecologist. To make it causal I ask, “So, everything looking good down there?” I wonder if this was payback for coming in on my period. “Oh yeah everything looks great,” he replies. Lovely.

I guess putting self-care and myself back on the list isn’t always going be pretty. Turns out that it will be a little messy and uncomfortable. 57419701787__AAF77B03-1A05-471C-9C8C-AC92B7EDD375

She Chopped It Real Good

She was born with a full head of hair. I mean it was glorious, amazing, and everyone loved it. Every single person who saw her commented on how much and how amazing her hair was. As she got older it never really fell out, it just got these awesome blond highlights. People would pay hundreds of dollars to get natural highlights like these. I never cut bangs into her hair. I remembered my hair from the 80s and never would my daughter have to suffer that dreaded blunt bang. Never!!! So tiny pigtails and hair barretts were a staple in our house. Once when she was around 3 she got into some scissors and trimmed a bit off, but only a little. Enough that we had to take her in and she became the most fashionable 3-year-old with her bob. She totally pulled it off. Again the comments on her hair came rolling in.

I think it must have gone to her head. She began to tell people she was going to become a hair stylist. Originally it was doctor, but now it was hair stylist and fashionista. She practiced wearing different clothing styles and different fake jewelry, but she must have tired with these because at the ripe old age of 5 she decided that she was going to put her hair stylist techniques to the test.

She came downstairs shirtless but with a blanket wrapped around her head. She complained of how cold she was, but didn’t want to put a shirt on or anything like that. I thought nothing of this. She asked for a yogurt and went to sit down at the table with the blanket still wrapped around her. She looked like a nun. She began to stare at me. Really just stare me down. What did she want? What was she trying to say? I had no idea. Finally, she came back to the living room with the blanket just around her shoulders now. Something was different. She was different. Did she put a ponytail in her hair? Did we need to brush it? Then slowly the light bulb went on. She had cut her hair. I mean like she really went to town. She had bangs! Those dreaded bangs I had tried so hard to avoid! The left side of her hair was virtually gone. The back was various lengths. Um… this was more than just a trim off the end. This was a butcher job. This was like you slept with gum in your mouth and it got everywhere so your mom had to just chop it out willy nilly.

I was too tired to yell. When you get to your 4th kid doing ridiculous stuff you just lose the will to yell. It will do no good. I just looked at her and told her we would have to cut it. That in the end it may not look good. I told her it would be short. Very short. No more ponytails, no more pigtails. I told her she might cry when she sees what it looks like. I said that she did it, so she had to just deal with it. She took me upstairs to show me where it went down. She had cut all her Barbie dolls’ hair too. She took all the hair from everyone and placed it in her toy kitchen sink.

We went in to get it fixed. She wore a vest and fake pearls. She is her own glamorous girl. I sighed. She may have to have some type of pixie cut. I know it. We warned her. She knows it. In the end she survived. I survived. She showed us and herself that she has her own sense of autonomy and bangs can be great. I guess 5 isn’t too young to start pushing for your own sense of self and identity. She doesn’t love or hate her hair, but she does love the bangs. Those stupid bangs I fought so hard to avoid.

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To Medicate or Not

When he was two he broke the toilet and emptied chocolate sauce all over our apartment. When he was in early elementary he peed in a garbage can, at school. Later elementary school consisted of visits to the principal, many meetings over how to help him achieve his best self, standing desks, balls for seats, reading breaks out in the hall, and a constant wonder if the best way to help our son was to medicate him or not. Middle school brought about new challenges with organization. He isn’t at all. Papers everywhere, papers lost, homework done but not turned in, missing assignments, struggles fitting in socially, and all of it on a larger scale. We knew medicine could be like lifting a fog from his life, but we worried about all the things parents worry about. Would the already skinny child become dangerously skinny, what about dependency on the medication when addiction is already strongly indicated with people who have ADHD, shouldn’t he learn to find ways to cope outside of and off of medicine, and what about his personality? We had concerns and he did too.

Would medicine dampen him so much that he would be unrecognizable to us? Would he be listless and tired all the time? He isn’t afraid to speak out, which is part of the problem, but can also be seen as confidence, not being afraid of adults, and brave. He thinks outside of the box in so many ways and can quickly make connections between multiple things. He does various impulsive things, but is also very cautious. When he is interested in something he becomes very interested in it. He learns all he can, reads books, articles, and makes lists. What if that curiosity were to disappear? What if the desire to delve so deeply vanished?

We didn’t just sit on our hands. He met with social workers and school psychologists, he went to therapy, we talked to the teachers and principal to find ways for helping him out throughout the school year, we put him in sports, he had routines, and none of it seemed to help. He asked for a weighted blanket, he asked to try essential oils, and we started using melatonin to help him sleep. He was always in the loop and very much a part of every conversation we ever had. He is the one dealing with this every day so he should very much have a say. He was put on medicine to help with anxiety and depression. This did help some, but it was not the solution. There were still notes home, detentions handed out, and phone calls about behavior.

Finally, we decided it was time. His grades were starting to take hit. Not because it was hard, but he just had a hard time keeping everything together. All the balls were in the air and he started letting this thing slide and then that thing, and while a B average is totally acceptable it was starting to show signs of falling below. He was at a point socially where it was just on the tip of his fingers, but he couldn’t quite get there. The teachers were all starting to notice that as he was so at ease with them now that his behavior was showing this as well. At home we noticed things getting much harder as well. We could keep the course. We are his parents and we are allowed to make that decision. For years people have been suggesting medicine and we haven’t done it. It would be nothing more to keep doing the same. However, something switched in us. We saw he could be more. We saw we could make it easier for him. We also knew that just because we try a medicine doesn’t mean that we have to stay on the medicine. To try it, to see how it works, that doesn’t mean you have to stay on it forever. It doesn’t mean that you have to take it everyday if you don’t like the side effects. It was worth a shot though. What if it was the thing that made the difference? Shouldn’t we try? I take medicine for my depression. My husband took ADHD medication while getting his Ph.D.

The day we went into the office to get the medicine my heart was racing. I was holding my breath without even meaning to. When the doctor was prescribing it he looked at my son and said, “I think you will notice a big change and things will get better.” I seriously almost cried. Get better? He was always perfect to me. He was always my son. He was always everything I could ever want, but it was hard for him. It was hard for us. The fact that it was so hard for him is what hurt. That is what made it so much more painful. In his words and actions and withdrawals and angry lashes out we could see that being him was hard. If this pill could make being him easier and not so distressing, well, what had I been nervous about?

Within just 48 hours— it was amazing. Was he still a pain in the ass sometimes? Yes. Did he still sass and fight with his brothers and complain about taking the dog out? Yes. The things that did change: his planner was filled out, rubrics made it home, teachers were writing notes that said-Great Participation! Great Leader! At soccer practice his coach commented that for the first time since he has known my son that there was actual participation and focus during practice. I got an email from a teacher stating she noticed a remarkable difference in attitude, work ethic, participation, and overall demeanor. We hadn’t yet told the school we put him on new medicine. All of this came from people who have been dealing with him all school year and had no idea he was on medicine.

Will he be perfect? No. Do I really want him to be? No. Does he notice a positive change? Yes. Does he welcome it? Yes. Yes, he will still do therapy. Yes, we will still keep an open dialogue. Yes, he still meets with people at his school. He loves his weighted blanket and likes the smells of essential oils. He gets a say. We get a say. Together we are helping him be the best he can be.

jackmom