Calm amidst the chaos

025I found my holiday spirit.  Unlike my husband and my girls, I am not ready for Christmas immediately after we have finished our Thanksgiving meal.  I tend to obsess and worry about all the things that need to be done – purchasing gifts, purchasing cards, addressing the cards, mailing the cards, wrapping the presents, decorating the house, and managing all the logistics and scheduling of all of our holiday parties.  I love celebrating with our friends and family.  It is just a lot to handle.  I like to dip my toes into the holiday season, one task at a time.

I found my holiday spirit this past weekend. It came in the form of a sweet four year old who is SO EXCITED about Christmas. She asks every day how many more days until Christmas, how many more days until this family party, and when do I get to see my cousins. Skeeter rekindled in me the spirit of Christmas – the warmth of family and friends. I listened to Christmas music and started addressing our Christmas cards. I joyfully Christmas shopped and then snuggled with my littlest angel. She reminds me again and again to embrace life like the gift it is.

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The power of community

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I had planned a quick trip to Kohl’s to pick up a few Christmas gifts. I made my way through the store with confidence. I faltered in the home goods section. All the picture frame choices overwhelmed.  I struck up a conversation with a woman who was looking for a frame as well.  We got to chatting about art and how tough it is to frame pieces of art.

We spent a few minutes chatting about the holidays and gift giving.  One thing led to another, and she mentioned that she was a new grandma.  Her daughter had given birth to a sweet baby girl three weeks prior.  As is my nature, I immediately asked how the mama was doing.  This mom hesitated for just a moment, and I saw that look of sadness.  Then she proceeded to tell me that her daughter was struggling.  I fumbled in my purse, and I pulled out my Postpartum Progress card along with my blog business card.  I spent a ton of time educating the mom regarding all the resources available to her daughter and herself.  I am so grateful that I was there to have that conversation in the middle of a busy store around the dinner hour.  God had a hand in calling me to speak to that woman.

I gained a whole new perspective from how difficult it must have been for my mom to see me struggle.  I cannot fathom how helpless she must have felt.  She would try to gently suggest things, and I rebuffed those suggestions.  I know the pain and isolation of depression, and I tried to convey that to this mom.  I also spoke about my inability to make decisions or articulate my needs.  I also spoke with her at length about involving her daughter’s husband.  The spouse or partner is the one that is typically the best gauge of how the new mom is doing.  I am praying that this holiday season finds this mom, daugther and granddaughter with a tiny bit of hope and the loving arms of our community of Warrior Moms.

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To my fellow mamas

I have spent the past two weeks reading and sharing posts about the verdict of the Michael Brown case. My heart breaks for his parents who will celebrate their first holiday season without him and with this case and their city torn apart. Racism is still prevalent. We cannot continue to keep our rose-colored glasses on. I have met so many amazing women through blogging who are terrified that their brown and black sons will always be seen as suspicious. I know that I still have to work to do. If I want to be an ally, I need to call out myself and others around me. We make snap judgements all the time based on how people appear. That is how we are wired. I recognize that, and I take steps to counter an initial reaction. Look people in the eyes. Say hello.  Smile.

My husband and I talked with our girls about Ferguson.  We tried to be as candid as possible with them.  As I pondered how to talk to them about this and read a bunch of resources from different friends and educators, all I could heard in my mind were two distinct song.  I thought of two separate songs from two very different musicals – Children Will Listen from Into The Woods and You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught from South Pacific.  Music is my heart language as my friend Charity says, and sometimes lyrics are more impactful to me than just words.

Children Will Listen

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be

This means that I need to take my words and my actions to heart.  If I want my girls to recognize and value diversity, I need them to tell them and show them through my actions.  When I pretend I do not see race, that is a detriment to my young daughters.  They describe their friends with physical attributes.  Friends have black skin, brown skin, pale skin, blond hair, brown hair, red hair, black hair, blue eyes, green eyes, and brown eyes.

You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

This song speaks to that systemic racism and prejudice that is deeply entrenched within our communities, our schools, our government and our criminal justice system.  Children are taught through words and actions.  My takeaway is to tell my girls that everyone is unique and different.  As Munch says “if we were all the same, the world would be a really boring place”.  We learn so much from each other through the art of storytelling, reading books and memoirs by diverse authors, listening to music, eating diverse cuisine, and watching plays and musicals that celebrate our individuality and uniqueness.  I do not have all the answers, and I still have work to do myself.  I need to be the change that I want to see in others.

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Fitness Fridays: Self-care Is Not Selfish

003I could repeat this title to myself over and over in hopes that it would sink in.  In the depths of my postpartum depression and my postpartum anxiety, I could not fathom doing anything that did not involve my husband or my daughters.  I felt so much guilt about being a working mom that I did not want to spend any time apart from my family.  I was hyper attached and miserable.  In order to be the wife and mom I want to be for my family, I need time to myself.  I need time to be physically active, and I need time to nourish my creativity.  Fitting in exercise and time to journal or write seemed like an insurmountable challenge to me at the time.

Now my husband and my daughters force me out the door on weekends to get in a run or a workout if I start to become irritable.  Fitness has made such a difference in my life and my mental health.  I can run or sweat out my frustration and my anxiety. I have found a fantastic group about local mamas who are runners.  We meet up to run together a few times a week.  These women inspire me, and I so wish I had gotten to know them sooner.  I isolated myself so much when I was struggling.  The more I practice self-care, the more resilient it makes me. I keep stepping outside of my comfort zone which is where all the magic happens.

So my challenge to my readers is to try something new – take a class, join a group that you’ve always been interested in, submit your writing, audition for a show, read at a poetry slam, take a new exercise class.  I would love to hear all about it.

P.S.  It was my week over at Postpartum Progress.  The lovely Becky Schroeder of Sunny Imperfections posted this, and A’Driane Nieves of Butterfly Confessions shared a survey to help increase our outreach to moms of color and underserved communities.  Then I closed out the week with a post of my own.

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In honor of a WWII veteran

MyGrandpa Pody late paternal grandfather, John L. Pody, served as part of the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II.  He in the Aleutian Islands just off of Alaska.  His skill in fishing and hunting helped keep his fellow soldiers warm and dry throughout the harsh Alaskan weather.  He also got reprimanded for hunting seal while on guard duty, so he wasn’t always an angel.  He did not talk much about his time in the service.  I tried to engage him in storytelling, but he preferred to talk about his family.

Grandpa loved to tell stories about his children, his grandchildren, and his beloved wife, my grandma Marie.  He seemed calm amid the chaos of a busy household.  The noise and the commotion never seemed to bother him. My grandpa was most at home in the outdoors, hunting and fishing. I spent hours with him in nature.

He made such a huge difference in my life. Grandpa helped a nervous first time mom feel more confident in my decision to nurse when he mentioned that my grandma nursed all seven of her children. I felt like someone important to me validated this decision.

When I suffered the loss of a dear friend, I went to be with my grandpa to regroup. We didn’t talk much. We just fished. I needed the company and presence of someone who would not hover. My parents are amazing, but they tend to hover when I’m in crisis. At that time I needed quiet to reflect and grieve. My grandpa and his cabin did just that.

When my husband and I got engaged at my grandpa’s cabin, Grandpa spent an hour talking to us about his marriage with my grandma. His advice on marriage was invaluable. It brought tears to my eyes when I heard the love that he felt for her. I knew then that I had made the right choice to marry my husband. Thank you Grandpa for your service and your unconditional love!

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Family Ties

Grandma PodyAs I started to research more about postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, I discovered that depression and anxiety have a genetic component.  I started doing my research and polling all of my relatives.  Had anyone struggled with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like I had?  None of my aunts had struggled like I had.  I knew that I was missing something.

I realized that my grandma had two nervous breakdowns before she was even twenty years old.  Grandma took “nerve medicine”.  I finally found out that she was on anti-anxiety medication at the same time that I found out she had struggled with postpartum depression after one of my uncles was born.  I just remembered pills that were two different colors – black and turquoise.  Grandma had her medicine, and it never occurred to me to ever take those pills.

As I look back on her life, she practiced the ultimate form of self-care – an afternoon nap.  She has been gone over twenty years, and I can still hear the echo of her voice in my ears. As I struggled to come to terms with needing to stay on my medication for the rest of my life, I realized that this is part of a chemical imbalance in my brain.  It is genetic.  I wish I could go back and talk to her about what it must have been like to struggle with postpartum depression when no one acknowledged it, when people only whispered about mental health.  My grandma had a number of risk factors – a miscarriage, an alcoholic father, an unplanned pregnancy, and a previous history of a mood disorder.  I cannot begin to comprehend how she raised seven children while helping my grandfather run our family business.  An accomplished piano player and a former schoolteacher, she adored watching her children and grandchildren perform.  I relied on her steadying influence as I struggled with the transition of my mom going back to work full-time.  Grandma always made me feel like I was her favorite.  I received her undivided time and attention.  I feel her influence every time I sing and dance with my girls.  She truly was a Warrior Mom whose love is reflected in her large extended family who still tell her stories years later.

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Fall purge

Winter is coKeep Calm and Get Organizedming to Wisconsin; we woke up to snow on Halloween morning! We spent our weekend preparing for winter.  We raked the lawn, and we started cleaning out our closets.  My girls both had their birthdays, and we knew it was time to clean out the clutter.  It is time to make room now before the holiday season gets any closer.

I never thought of myself as a neat freak, but chaos exacerbates my anxiety.  Clutter to me feels like chaos.  If my external environment is out of control, how can I keep my internal environment in control?  Mix in an artistic Munch who adores creating art – origami, Wonder Loom, Weaving Loom, jewelry making, painting, drawing, and making her own books.  Munch’s room is her sanctuary from her little sister, Skeeter.  Skeeter adores her big sister, and she wants to do everything she does.  My sweet Munch values her down time as a time to read and create.  I want Munch to have her sanctuary, but I also want to be able to walk into her room without stepping on a project or tripping over toys.

The compromise that my amazing husband suggested was to come up with a list of  projects that we can work on as a family to clean and organize throughout the winter.  I know that I am guilty of storing things in both girls’ closets, and I want to bring those projects back into our room.  When a project is out of sight, it is out of mind for me.  I am hopeful and confident that we can make a dent in purging some of our gently used toys, clothing and books to donate to those in need.  We are so blessed, and I want my girls to realize how blessed they are with material possessions.

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