I knew what kind of day we all needed after a frantic text at the close of Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee auditions Sunday afternoon. My youngest daughter Skeeter had succumbed to the same tummy bug that had kept up Munch the night before. This bug kept both my husband and I in a state of constant alert for each cough. Munch barely slept Saturday night, and so neither did my husband or I.
High on the excitement of listening to more amazing stories and caffeine, I managed to stay alert and present until that text. Rochelle and Alexandra hurried me out the door, so that I could be home with my babies. I knew it was the right decision when my sweet Munch asked me if I had to work the next day. I told her no. I told her that I was taking a whole day off just to take care of her and her sister. The delight in her eyes made that working mama guilt bubble to the surface. I squashed it down, and I knew I had made the right choice.
Our day was full of movies, snuggles on the couch, lukewarm Sprite, water, oyster crackers, chicken noodle soup, books and naps. I even got in a nap. We divided our time between the living room and our comfy bed. I even let them bring snacks into our bedroom and eat the dry cereal in bed. We needed that day of love and togetherness.
When I began my foray into Listen To Your Mother, I had no idea the stories that I would be privy to at auditions. Storytelling is a tradition as old as the human race. In our connected world, we lose sight of being present and really listening to stories. As a mom of two little girls, they can talk my ear off. I am a distracted listener and an habitual multi-tasker. This trait made me seem unkind and not caring. I also had horrible recall of stories and conversations. I simply was not present.
LTYM changed my life. The whole audition process made me a more compassionate listener. We see ordinary people tell extraordinary stories. It made me realize that I can never truly know a person’s story until I hear it from them. Everyone wants to be truly seen and heard. Each story touches my heart, and I leave auditions feeling grateful for this opportunity to hear these sacred stories. Stories are how we make sense of our world, and it is a blessing to listen to them, distraction free. It has made me a better listener to my little ladies. I ask them now to stop telling me a story if my attention is not focused entirely on them. I crave those moments of their day that they decide to share with me.
My sweet Skeeter,
My heart broke the first time I heard you ask where your baby photo album was. I felt like such a failure. Why couldn’t I have managed to put together a photo album for you? The truth is that I was barely able to function until you were nearly a year old. I was unable to make decisions; picking out clothes to wear or what to eat for dinner paralyzed me. The thought of uploading photos and printing them out seemed terrifying.
Flash forward three years later. The weather is frigid, so your dad declares it a day to remove the clutter from our house and get organized. I finally decide to pull out the mounds of photos and start to organize them. This task would have sent me running for the hills back when I was truly struggling. It is daunting, but I am reveling in this experience. I finally found the album that I had bought especially for my sweet Skeeter. We were able to put the first two photos in there. We need to figure out where the other ones are before we can put the rest of them. Your smile warmed my heart. You matter, and you were so wanted, sweet girl. Never forget how much your mama loves you. What pained me most by looking at some of those photos is how dead my eyes looked in those pictures. If you could see behind the mask of the happy mama, you would see anxiety, rage and sorrow. I also realized how few pictures I took of myself. I have a bunch of pictures of you and Munch. I could barely fake the smile required for the camera, so instead I delighted in the joy of my sweet, growing girls. I promise to take more pictures with me in the frame. I love the life that I live, and I want you to have pictures of me when I am gone.
After six weeks of no running, I finally ran this afternoon. It was a brisk 21 degrees Fahrenheit. I ran just under a mile and three quarters. The first mile is always the toughest, especially in cold weather. I regretted not putting on warmer mittens and not using my face mask.
Other than the wind I felt fantastic. I had forgotten how much of a meditation running is for me. It clears my mind. I do not run with music because I had to run in the street. I need to be able to hear. I use the cadence and rhythm of my feet to keep me going. Plus I spent the night before at a rock concert so my ears needed a break.
Winter running is not for the faint of spirit. The cold and wind took my breath away at first. Once I got through the first half mile, I was warmed up. No excuses for not getting out there unless the windchill is dangerously low. Running centers me. I need that in my life to ground me.
If you speak to any of my college roommates or my work colleagues from my pre child years, they will tell you that I am NOT a morning person. Motherhood reluctantly pushed me into becoming a morning person. My darling daughters are also decidedly not morning people. Skeeter in particular shouts at us to “turn off the alarm!”. I have written previously about my struggles with the morning routine here and here.
A major factor that has relieved some of the morning stress is that I only have one place to drop off both Munch and Skeeter. When school started this year, I heard the angels singing. The logistics of coordinating multiple drop offs and picks ups wore both my husband and I out last year.
I started off the year with high hopes of getting us out the door. I tried games and contests like my husband does. My girls do not like to be hurried, and my perfectionist nature manifests itself in calls to hurry up. Mindfulness does not come easy for me at all. I want to be more deliberate in my parenting.
I realized that I had an opportunity during breakfast with my girls. I could talk to them about the day, about current events, and about what I am writing. If I leave them unsupervised during breakfast, they end up teasing each other and neglecting to actually eat. I took charge and started steering our conversations. We have discussed everything from racism to body image to our #oneword for the year. My word is believe. Munch’s word is namaste. Skeeter’s word is color.
For me, depression does not manifest itself in sadness. My postpartum depression manifested itself as postpartum rage. I felt the weight of the depression like lead that threatened to suffocate me with a lack of energy. Any energy that I had was exerted in fits of rage. I felt like a monster who could not control her emotions at all.
Anything would set me off – dishes not being done, someone driving too slow, my baby wanting to play instead of nap, my three year old for needing me to lay down with her until she fell asleep. The rage ate at my spirit, threatening to destroy all my relationships in its wake. My husband took the brunt of my wrath. It is my single biggest regret from those months that I struggled. He is the love of my life, and he is my best friend. When I think of the burden he had to endure in silence, my heart aches. I am so grateful for the unwavering support and unconditional love he showed me. Even as I despaired that he would run for the hills once I started treatment and got a diagnosis, he reminded me that we took vows “in sickness and in health”.
Today on this #DayOfLight, I am sending out a message of hope to anyone who is struggling. You will get better. You are not alone. Never give up hope.
So this week started out with me giving myself a first degree burn on my dominant hand by spilling coffee all over it on Monday morning. I scared the crap out of my girls and my husband who was home sick that day. I stayed home Thursday after toughing out all day meetings on Wednesday. I had to take a sick day because I knew I had a sinus infection. Today we shorted the circuit in our kitchen and fried the toaster. I was not watching the girls make the toast; otherwise I would have warned them that a fork and a toaster that is currently toasting is not a good mix. I am blaming my momnesia on an antibiotic fog and chronic sleep deprivation.
At work and online, I felt this sense of everyone trying to come together to find solutions and work together. This type of work brutal. It is such tough work to change our habits and try new things. It requires lots of soul-searching and figuring out where I can improve. Sometimes it goes really well. Other times, I fall flat on my face. I dust myself off, and I get back up. I keep reading and learning and working to understand.
Three things warmed my heart today – the love of a community for some of its tireless advocates, the love of an online community sending so much positive energy to a mama who’s struggling with scarce local resources, and my two sweet girls. I talk to them often about my struggle with mental illness. I tell them in terms that they understand. They know I take medication daily; I call them my “patience pills”. They know that I see a doctor, and that Mommy likes to talk about her feelings, their feelings and even Daddy’s feelings. My Skeeter finally got it that I had a hard time after she was born. She seemed so sad for a few minutes. I held her, and I told her what I did to get better. Then my sweet Munch piped up that “lots of mommies have a hard time”. Skeeter said, “It doesn’t matter the color of their skin. They all need help”. I hugged these two amazing souls that I have the privilege to parent and reiterated my promise that Mommy would be there for them when they have their babies. I told them that they can tell Mommy anything. I will understand, and I will help them get the help they need.