Being a Friend

I’m getting to that age now where bad things are starting to happen to the good people in my life. Friends are enduring infidelity, divorce, death of spouses and parents – and I’m over here feeling like I should have my super-friend badge revoked for incompetence.

Humbling

Remember how you felt the moment you realized you knew NOTHING about life? Mine came while I was being beaten by the hands of postpartum depression after my first son was born. I had done everything right so my expectation was that everything would GO right. My exceptional pregnancy routine would result in nothing but the best start for my baby and for me. WRONG.

One year into my battle through the darkest hell, (complete with one baby surgery, one full compliment of super-prohibitive baby allergies, and several total losses of perspective, lucidity and self control), life had beaten me swiftly and consistently into my humble new place in the world. What everyone else described as a bit of ‘humble pie’ felt more like having the ignorance of my youth slapped out of me at the jaw, followed by a prolonged period of eating crow.I was no longer anything special or important, but it came with a certain empowerment.

There is so much power in letting go of your convictions, judgments and alienating attitudes about shit you know nothing about. It was the single best thing that’s ever happened to my ‘person’,  but it’s made me hyper-aware of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and of everything I don’t know (which is most things).

What to Say

The trouble with worrying about saying the wrong thing is that it often results in you saying nothing because you know you don’t have a right to an opinion or a judgment about someone’s pain. So although your intentions are purely of compassion, your girlfriendy execution goes tits-up. The battle you want to fight alongside of the people you love most gets the best of you before you can even establish a game plan. You’re left paralyzed and guilty (this, I would imagine, is less than helpful to the person with the real problem).

Maybe the hardest part about watching your grandparents lose their life-long friends, your friends lose their parents, or watching  someone you love be drug through the trenches of disappointment and divorce is that even if you had the words – they wouldn’t make any fucking difference. It is what it is and it ain’t yours for changing.

If You’re Not Making it Worse, You Must be Helping

This is how I deal with this now: I stick my badge of inexperience right where everyone can see it and I lead with that. I don’t know how to lift their emotions, and I don’t know how to fix the assault on their heart.

There are a few things I do know though: I know how to listen without shock or judgment, I know how to cry with a friend, and I know how to do their laundry when they don’t have the capacity to mind the house and their kids are down to one sock. I know how to just be there – sometimes hovering and sometimes just a phone-call away. I’m trying this for now because it’s what I can offer in lieu of wisdom. And when the day is long, there is nothing better than just knowing that somebody’s got your back.

Balance – A Futile Quest

Married to Shiftwork

Trying to explain what life is like for moms of little kids is like trying to explain gravity to a chicken. Trying to explain what it’s like to have small kids with a shift working partner is harder.

The Shiftworkette exists in a strange purgatory somewhere in between single parent, and single parent with a roommate whose erratic schedule ensures that routine is never established.

For the record: there is no person in this whole wide world who appreciates my husband’s sacrifices more than I do. He works long hours, hard hours, and often while contending with and managing complex and dramatic workplace politics. Been there. Don’t miss it. Barf. 

I am a Canadian woman. I am so blessed to be living in a country where my family’s freedom and resource needs are abundantly met. I’m also increasingly aware that there are a whole bunch of flaws in our system where it comes to balance.

Remember the glow of your first pregnancy? (Yes, I know it was really just sweat from incessant morning sickness, but follow me here…) We were the best of friends with our  husbands. They were our ‘rock’. We were going to “co-parent”. Ha! We would continue to share responsibilities equally, and (get this!balance would emerge organically to support the dynamic of our adorable growing family. Masssssssive eye roll.  

And then the shift work offer came in and you thought – wait for it- this will give us more time together. He’ll get a whole week off at a time? Sounds dreamy, thank you!

You didn’t realize though, that when you agreed to that you were giving up the possibility of balanced domestic responsibility. Of balance altogether, really.

I’m Not Built for This

I do about four days before I want to choke the life out of anyone for anything. It isn’t justified and it isn’t fair, but I wrote it down so it’s staying there. I get nothing done the week that he’s away, so the week that he’s home is spent taking turns parenting the kids while the other runs out to do any of the one thousand items that need to be covered.

All the ‘Shoulds’

The problem that I see is that the stay at home mom really cannot win. If you’re exclusively a SAHM, you should really be taking on a part time job. If you’re a SAHM who tries to cram in some work time because you need the break (or you need the money!) your children are now ‘suffering’ in your absence.

If you’re a mother working outside the home, you must actively dislike your kids. And your house needs to be clean, and dinner should be made and you should be able to do all of this with a smile on your face and not a trace of fat on your ass. Subsist on stale closet goldfish crackers and develop the unshakeability of a brick fucking wall because if you crack even a little, the whole structure implodes. And if that happens it’s on you, mama! It was probably your fault anyway, the kids could feel your anxiety. (Don’t you love it!)

Recently, I was told that by giving my child a phone to watch in a restaurant that I wasn’t just giving myself and the other patrons an opportunity to consume an adult meal in peace as I thought. Nope. By letting this happen, I have instead engaged in what this spirited old broad called “raising the next serial murderers of our time”. Silly me. Moms. Can’t. Win.

It’s all barely manageable without superhuman tenacity, and if you add any kind of neurological challenge on the part of any member of the family (ADHD, depression, anxiety etc.) just say goodnight.

Balance is Out of Reach

The fact is, balance doesn’t exist these days. And it won’t for a while; even longer for many of us. All we can do is talk to each other and keep talking. Our husbands are good people, but they’re not here living this, after all. And he’s doing all he can too…maybe. The verdict’s out. I haven’t had time to ask him.

We can talk about positive self talk and self care, but the reality is that you’re probably better off doing away with any lofty fantasies of bubble baths and quiet cups of tea. Get used to the lukewarm bathwater you commandeer after your 2 year old is done for the night. Tell yourself that there’s no pee in there. Nope, no pee.

Reach out to the lonely mommies in your community in solidarity, be kind to yourself so you can be kind to others in your position. And most importantly, if you find yourself living through the small kid years in total bliss and I sound like a total nut bar to you right now, appreciate that with the totality of your being. Dinner together 5 days a week is a novelty occurrence for many of us.

Hang in there, warrior mamas. You’re not alone. Batshit is the new normal.

Making Italian

Photo by Piotr Miazga on Unsplash

We just came through four months of being sick. Four months of my 5 year old bringing home every god forsaken germ he could locate at the local Kindergarten, and blowing it on us. It pains me, really, to think of the number of things he must have licked in an effort to accomplish this incredible feat. But accomplish it, he did! Like a puppy looking for love, arriving at your feet with an avian corpse. It’s not that I’m overly enthused with the number of magpies anyway, but germy gifts are not gifts of love.

So we were sick. Stomach flu, head cold, ear infection, ear infection, chest cold, ear infection, and sometimes two at once! I think we have slept once since our adventure began and never once ate a vegetable that my mother didn’t cook for us. (Is it possible we also had scurvy?) Days would blend into weeks and the crying from the baby never, ever stopped.

Lots of days I pity partied until I either read my news feed (insert:Syria), or until something else happened to knock me off the pity stick that was, like, sooo up my ass. One day I’m video conferencing my friend, S, while in a sad attempt to make it to bedtime with my sanity and manage to feed the kids. ‘Feed them what?’ I thought. I forgot we don’t even own food anymore.

Back to the pantry – got it! Kids all like ramen noodles, right? I assume. I don’t think mine had had any before. So I’m doing it, but I’m slightly embarrassed to be feeding sick kids something so totally full of msg. And I’m not crunchy! It’s just that I feel like you wait until you have fully developed livers and kidneys before you fuck with ichiban.

So I tell S what I’m doing because I know she’s good peeps and isn’t likely to judge me (but also because if I don’t offer a play-by-play of my every move, what good am I?!). She could sense my defeat, my sense of ‘doneness’ with everything. Perhaps the unwashed hair and questionable substances smeared into my shirt gave it away? As if on cue, and with no judgment or other disparaging insinuation as to my parenting she announced, as this deep fried/boiled concoction came into her view, “Look at you! You’re making Italian!”  

“Obviously”, I say. “There is no substitute for nutrition, and my children deserve the best”.

Lean on your friends, the good ones will remind you to laugh.

CAREGIVERS OF CHILDREN WITH ADHD DON’T WANT YOUR UNQUALIFIED OPINION

Early in My Days as a New Parent, My Son’s Pediatrician Looked Up at Me While I Complained of Feelings of Guilt for Some Marginal Oversight.

“Now that you’re a mother, you will come to understand that everything is your fault,” she said. Truer words have never been spoken.

Recently, I was burned out. I needed a break from the demands and frustrations associated with motherhood and its complexity in general. I sought spiritual wisdom, as I often do, at an extended meditation program where I was sure that I would escape my feelings of maternal inadequacy and of relentless, insurmountable stress.

Glaring down at me from a large screen was the guru I’d been waiting for. He began an intriguing lecture on our collective and growing impatience and need for instant gratification. I related this to my life, finding resonance in more than a few ways.  And then it happened. Even this man found a way to make me wrong when he compared impatience with his understanding that “when children can’t sit in a chair for 6 hours quietly, we call them ADHD and medicate them for being children”. I had come there to escape this kind of arrogance. Was this guy for real? Turns out that he was, and I’m not sure I should be surprised. After all, he was doing what many have the habit of doing – reducing this extremely difficult, highly emotional subject to just that – a symptom of our society and its lazy (impatient) parenting.

ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – the acronym hardly needs to be broken down these days. But for all our understanding of the term itself, we seem to have a pervasive misunderstanding of what it implies.

ADHD is a confirmed neurological disorder, affecting more than 5% of children. And while numbers and studies are abundant, there remains a kind of atmospheric indifference to the compelling evidence that this thing is real. Perhaps what’s missing from the conversation is an understanding of the complex and difficult-to-treat symptoms associated with this disorder, and the enormous challenges that can be presented to these children and their families. Perhaps what is missing from the conversation is a day in the life of one of their parents.

Parents Have Plenty to Consider

ADHD is not code for ‘can’t sit still’. If it were that simple, and it isn’t, the debate would scarcely need to be had. This disorder comes with a plethora of comorbid disorders such as anxiety, compulsions, sensory processing disorder (SPD), sleep disorders, emotional dysregulation, impulse control challenges and more. Often, parents and caregivers of children with ADHD are dealing with far more than just a kid who is ‘busy’. ADHD is indiscriminate in its manifestation, and difficult to diagnose due to a high degree of variability in its presentation. Moreover, this is a disorder that does not have a physical presentation. That means that “your kid looks okay to me, you just need to discipline him” really is irrelevant to the conversation.

The Treadmill of Responsibility

While it is true that there are instances in which these presentations are managed with soft approaches like therapy and coaching, the reality is that in many cases the benefits of medicating far outweigh the risks. The common rhetoric appears to reflect that parents are interested in medication as a ‘quick fix’, but this could not be further from the truth. The truth is, medication is only one piece of the puzzle, and can be difficult to access if you don’t have a doctor who is confident prescribing. While we want our kids to be thriving in the world with as little intervention as possible, abstaining from necessary intervention does not help these children interact appropriately with their peers, maintain friendships, make them available for learning (socially or academically), or develop important rapport with family members and friends outside of their nuclear family (relationships within the nuclear family are also often strained). So yes to medication, where appropriate. Yes to therapists and psychiatrists, and specialty parenting classes, and funding applications, and restricted diets, and sleepless nights, and marital discord, and endless parental guilt, and working with the teacher, and extra glasses of wine, and trips to your own doctor (if you can find time) for your own medication. Because we can do anything, but not everything. For everything, some moms need carefully considered medical intervention, too.

Just as we have come a long way in understanding the risk-benefit ratio of medicating clinical depression, ‘no medication’ still sounds good in theory, until someone you love is suffering unbearably. Furthermore, untreated adolescents suffering from ADHD are shown to be more susceptible to self-medicating with illicit drugs to control symptoms – because contrary to popular belief, this is no fun for them either.

And Another Thing

Advocates for more militant discipline and more conscientious parenting should consider the flaws in their thinking, and the stress that these family units are often operating under. Funding cuts in the medical and educational systems coupled with unhealthy levels of stress within the home often leads to caregiver fatigue and isolation. If it would make our critics feel better, though, we’ve all tried structured consistent discipline, too. Lots of it. 

So, if you or someone you know has had remarkable success overcoming ADHD with extra attention, love and cuddles, be eternally grateful. That is not the story for the vast majority of ADHD families. Our children are loved –  beautiful, intelligent, and gifted in as many ways as they are complex and challenging. With respect, if you haven’t got anything nice to say, get out of our way. We’re busy trying to accomplish what criticism cannot.

Being Real by Letting Go

Not Like the Other Girls

Photo by Bruce Dixon on Unsplash

Are you always the odd girl out? If so, you might be my people.

Women have capacity for connection. We have the capacity for real truth, real compassion, and real acceptance. Why then, do we feel so alone? 

I have gotten comfortable with my place on the far end of the personality spectrum. The hyper-frank oversharer whose bullshit radar is set to go off at the first sight of … bullshit. You know, the lonely end of the rink? 

We are doing it to ourselves. Killing our light by lying our way through conversations, not saying what we mean, and accepting our situations despite the intense sense of resentment we often feel. And while a positive outlook can benefit even the most desperate of us, it’s real nice when you reach that positive state of mind organically, so that you can feel it instead of mutter it to everyone you meet before retreating to your bedroom to forcibly unscrew your smile. Being fake is a fast track to isolation.

When Things Fall Apart

After having my first son, I was sick. I was real sick. Days and months ran together and seasons changed without my noticing. Apocalyptic thoughts and extreme anger toward my husband were only some of the challenges I was facing. When I spoke about how I was doing, I had no choice but to be raw in my description. I was living it so completely that I was shocked to find others recoiling at my distress, but I was too tired to lie.

Years later, I would come to find that many of these women had been struggling themselves, and they chose to forego the opportunity to be heard, as well as the possibility of being related to.

Somehow, in all of our ‘progress’, women have forgotten how to accept each other. Every time you tell someone that you’re happy when you’re not, and fulfilled when you’re running on fumes, you are contributing to the crazy psychological suffering that most of us have been trapped in since the days of our grandmothers.

One Anchor is All You Need

Of the women that I shared my intensely dark challenges with, only one ever looked at me and said “it’s okay”. The rest said nothing, and that is where the relationships stayed. I would only go to play-dates if I felt capable of presenting a false self, and most of our conversations were superficial. I lost friends who had been colleagues previously, and who couldn’t be bothered with this ‘new’ me. For someone coping with the loss of their former independent and astute self, these were not exactly the kinds of experiences that facilitated healing in me. It made me feel contagious. But I had one anchor to cling to, and she saved my life. We saved each other.

The next time a woman tells you that she’s struggling, try empathy instead of disbelief. Try a hug, try a drink, try remembering not to help them retract and pretend. Be the woman that other women can come to when they need to hear that not liking their kids today is perfectly normal. Angry with your spouse? Normal. Totally overwhelmed? Normal. Eating antidepressants like candy? Also normal. Want to throw in the towel on domesticity and the child rearing game? Totally. Fucking. Normal. Because life and all its lessons wasn’t designed to be a cakewalk, but it wasn’t designed to be pinterest perfect either. If we give each other permission to tell the truth and still be accepted, we stop the cycle of self-judgment too.

Find Compassion Through Struggle

I haven’t been on top of my mental health consistently since having kids. Moderately high highs, followed by long drawn-out lows have been my reality and the more honest I get with others about that, the more friends I gain. It’s simple psychology. Nobody wants to be the first person to fuck it all up, so I do it for them. After all, we’ve all wanted to burn the whole thing down at some point, haven’t we? 

The friendships that I’ve fostered in the wake of the creation of these ‘safe zones’ have been soul enriching and lasting. We look out for each other. We bring dinner when dinner is needed, we pick each other up after long ugly cries, and we help wherever we can help – because it’s okay to need it. We aren’t superheroes and we aren’t meant to be; our struggles tend toward similar issues of varying degrees and should inspire us to accept ourselves and our needs. 

Start with self compassion, and extend it to the people in your life. You might find the conversations that result lead you to a new level of love for yourself. You might find that you’re perfectly normal. You might even make a friend.