YOLO

yolo pic

There are times in your life when you are given something, a message to heed or advice to hear, or a sign of sorts, and you’re meant to pay attention. And when you ignore it, as undoubtedly we all do, the messages tend to get louder.

I remember when I was a pre-teen, I received the book The Blue Castle as a gift. I read it repeatedly, and in the 30 or so years since, have thought about it often. As much as I adore Anne of Green Gables it has always been, for me, the L.M. Montgomery story which most touched my heart.

It’s the story of Valancy, an old maid by 1920s standards, living with her dreary family, destined for a dreary life, until the day she is issued a terminal diagnosis. This sudden news was her get out of jail card. It liberated her from having to worry about what people thought, what her family would say about this or that, and of all things, her propriety. She began acting on whim and literally changed her life, one spontaneous decision at a time. She got married, moved to a cabin in the woods and found love, in that order. And she became herself, her true self, the self that had previously been hidden away unseen. She learned happy.

As an angsty pre-teen, one who hated being kept on a leash, this story offered me a path, an escape into beauty, a way of living. I understood it’s truth and appreciated it.

But that doesn’t mean I was ready to hear and heed. It was way too easy to stew in feelings, brooding against the oppression I felt having protective parents. I honestly felt like my life couldn’t start yet, not until I moved away from home.

So I moved away for university, but my life couldn’t start yet until school was done.

And then…

And then…

Bills, mortgage, kids, school, work, hating this work, needing new work, more bills, that reno to do, homework, this bathroom is disgusting, so much work to do, so many things to plan for, and anyway, what’s for dinner?

There is always something going on ahead of me, just out of reach, that I need to take care of and plan for. Something that stops me from committing fully to living.

It’s that quote you hear about being on a train and waiting to arrive at your destination for the journey to begin. The destination is death. The journey is the train ride. We never get that. I didn’t. On a cerebral level maybe, but I never let it sink in.

There have been times in my life when it should have. I had a depression at 25 that I bounced back from, but rather than grabbing life by the horns I kind of sat back with the attitude that I got myself out of the hole, life needed to do the rest. Didn’t happen. There was that near car accident. And that other actual accident. There was that time I was standing at the edge of a cliff in Newfoundland and the ocean jumped up and threw a wave over my head, knocking me off balance. There are my thyroid flares, which are a constant reminder that I’m holding on to too much shit. My miscarriages. That time in my 20s when I had severe leg pains, and the doctor tested me for cancer, that was scary. And there’s that time a few months ago, when an unknown mass was found in my uterus. There was that “c” word again.

When you don’t listen to life knocking on your door, it will just knock harder the next time.

In life I have learned the value of humility, the deception of ego, the impact of karma. I don’t like to harp too much on anything concrete—I don’t like to say that I know anything for sure. But I do actually know one thing for sure, and it’s that I am responsible for this life of mine. Just me. Not the kid who teased me on the bus when I was a kid, not my mom for not letting me go to that party, not the boss who micromanaged me to insanity, not my kid for throwing that epic tantrum in public. Just. Me. This life is mine to live, or mine to waste. That choice it mine. That’s what free will means, I have the freedom and responsibility to make that choice.

And it is a choice. There is a light switch inside all of us that gets flicked, or not flicked, with every decision we make. Flicking the switch is not always easy, it’s actually often quite hard. There can be anxiety in your chest, your breath caught in your throat. It can require bravery and conviction. It requires a fair amount of surrender—also known as not giving a shit about the outcome. There are tools out there to help us.  Aisles of self-help books, yoga classes, vitamins, psychologists, and crystals. Mediation, exercise, diets and adult colouring books. But these are just tools, they can do no more than assist.

If you want to remove a screw from a wall you use a screwdriver. If you don’t have a screwdriver, you’re going to try a knife, a coin, your fingernails, a credit card, or even get in the car and go to the store to buy a screwdriver. But one way or another, you’re getting that baby out. You have conviction. You’re taking action. This is not a passive activity. That screw comes out not because of the tools used, but because of your conviction.

And it’s the same with life.

I know this. I have always known this.

The past few months have awakened this awareness within me. That switch has a glowing neon arrow pointed right at it. It beckons me. It says, you can keep giving a shit about meaningless shit, or you can come this way and focus on what’s actually real. What’s your choice? Are you brave enough to flick? Or are you too busy cleaning the bathroom?

Make. Your. Choice.

But, it reminds me, the next time I’ll just have to knock even louder.

 

In my life I have constantly sought moments of freedom via experiences I have chosen. Whether it be ziplining or skydiving or scuba diving, or simply long hikes or sojourns by the sea, these experiences have offered me temporary relief from caring about inconsequentials. They also have been tools, providing me nothing more than a few minutes of insight. It’s enough to know that more is possible, not enough to push me over the edge. Only I can do that.

Make. Your. Choice.

 

People use YOLO as an excuse to allow them to do stupid things. Selfish things even. Mid-life crises because YOLO. No. You only live once means be smart. Use your heart. Don’t take love for granted. Be a kind person. It means, you will die, so how do you want to live?

Make. Your. Choice.

 

It’s all the idioms and axioms and euphemisms you’ve ever heard of in your life. It’s the barrage of quotations and the advice you give to others that you never give to yourself. It’s much ado about nothing.

Flick the switch. Or not. It’s actually quite simple.

Live life, or not. Totally your call.

My call.

Am I brave enough?

Are you?

 

As for Valancy in The Blue Castle, it turns out she wasn’t dying after all. But man, did she live.

 

-mtg

Free to Be Me: All Anyone Really Wants

Be free

I’ve written a few posts on judgment lately, and it continues to be a subject at the forefront of my cerebrum. And on the subject of judgment I had a bit of an a-ha moment this morning, so I thought I would take the time to share.

I am a Christian-raised, practicing non-Christian, who loves the Bible. What I love about the Bible are the stories it tells, which in my own personal view are but beautiful metaphors on how we can each live better and more loving lives. One such metaphor is this one, which always stuck to the inside of my mind since I was a wee one attending Catholic school: “…First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Ouch. Talk about telling it straight. But how accurate is this statement? How totally on point? Most often we who dish have no business doing so in the first place.

My a-ha moment came because I was reading a blog post in which the author was quite tired of having to defend his religious faith. This struck me as interesting because of my own personal experiences, where I’ve grown tired of having to defend my faith outside of religion. And it struck me that with everything that is going on in the world today, everyone, everywhere is tired.

The way I see it, judgment acts as a swinging pendulum. On one side someone judges, on the other side the person judged incites reverse judgment as a defense. The cycle is a self-perpetuating-yet-mutually-destructive machine.

Let’s look at an example:

My son loves peanut butter, obsessively. My daughter despises peanut butter and won’t touch it with a ten foot spoon. Each breakfast my daughter judges my son’s peanut butter toast and refuses to sit near him so as not even to smell the peanut butter. This makes my son feel alienated, hurts his feelings, and makes him defensive of his right to consume peanut butter. In defense, my son lashes out at my daughter. Sometimes his hurt resembles reverse judgment of whatever toast topping my daughter happens to be enjoying. Sometimes it comes out in physical pushing or hitting (he’s three, by the way). Sometimes it resembles bursts of whines and tears. All are ways in which my son expresses his hurt, yet one of these methods is a reverse-judgment, one is violent, and only one is a clear expression of hurt. And yet, all clearly represent my son’s desire to simply eat his peanut butter toast in peace.

So, like with me and religion, in my desire to believe what I want to believe, I have at times in my life lashed out at organized religion, at times felt anger, at times felt alone and vastly misunderstood. The truth is that I don’t need to be understood, I don’t need anyone in my life to believe the same as I do, I don’t even need to discuss my faith with my loved ones, but I do need to feel like I’m allowed to be myself– totally, naturally completely myself.

Which is all anyone ever wants, the right to be freely themselves.

But it is in defense of my desire to be free to be myself that I lash out, often in unjust and unfair ways.

This, however, leads to the question, where do you draw the line? At an amusement park this week, two men seen hugging were told not to hug. The Black Lives Matter movement has been followed by voices shouting that all lives matter. In the US, much of the population continues to fight for their right to bear arms. In all situations, judgment has been at play, but cannot both sides lay claim to being judged? Cannot both sides express their desire to freely act on their beliefs?

Back in the day, I worked one-on-one with kids in a counselling role. As a part of my training I learned that under the word of the law, I was not allowed to disclose anything that was spoken about within the walls of the therapy room. Unless. Unless the child claimed that they intended on doing harm to themselves. Unless the child claimed that they intended on doing harm to another. Unless the child disclosed that harm was being done to them. Physical or emotional harm, this was the deciding factor.

Two men hugging does not do harm. The one who judged them did.
Black Lives Matter does not do harm. Those who judge the movement do.
Guns and gun rights do cause harm. Pointe finale.

With my son’s adoration of peanut butter I ask my daughter frequently to consider these questions: Does he have the right to enjoy his peanut butter? Is he hurting you by eating peanut butter (in our allergy-free home)? When the answer undoubtedly points to him causing no harm by enjoying the food he most naturally prefers to enjoy, the answer is simply to leave him be.

Leave it be.

Live and let live.

Mind your own business.

Keep calm and carry on.

Look to the log in your own eye.

All ways of saying, let your judgments lie, allow your brothers and sisters the freedom to be the people they naturally are.

But the onus also rests on us to not partake in the swinging of the pendulum, to not join in by reverse-judging out of self-defense, to not feed the monster. In A Course in Miracles it states, “Judgment, like any other defense, can be used to attack or protect, to hurt or to heal.” Meaning, there’s a way use judgment to your benefit, to use your best judgment to help you make the best decisions. We can all decide what to listen to and what to ignore, who to spend time with and who to leave alone, what fights to take on and what are not worth expending our energy on. Acting out in defense is a choice. Sometimes that choice is a worthy one, but sometimes, sometimes, we are only acting out because our feelings are hurt, and because all we really want is the freedom to be ourselves.

Why I Don’t Care About My Kids’ Higher Education, and Other Things

superhero-kids-day

So I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the point of it. And I’ve come to certain conclusions about the kinds of things I care to encourage or discourage in my children.

Call me crazy, but I don’t care about my kids’ higher education. I also don’t care what work they do in life. And I most definitely don’t care about how much money they aspire to earn. I… don’t… care!

I really don’t.

But there are things I do care about, and these are them:

1. I care that they want to learn and choose to be learners in life, with or without school. My husband and I each have five years of university education under our belts, we are educated folk. But although I value my education, there is so much that I value from my years at university that had absolutely nothing to do with what I learned in the classroom. And there is also so much I feel I missed, certain regrets that are rooted in my decision to attend university.

I remember when I was in my graduating year of high school, the teachers brought all of the graduating students into an auditorium to speak about the next steps in our education. They made it clear that if we were smart, our only choice was to continue to university, and if we were not smart, well, too bad. In high school I was known as a smart kid, the only outcome that I and my teachers foresaw was that I would go to university. I remember being excited as I flipped through university course manuals, devouring all of the possible learning I could have. When I got to university however, I was more bogged by deadlines than excited by the material, I was more bored by the structure than inspired to devour. I heard about other kids from my high school who had opted not to attend university, who had either taken a year off to travel, or who had gone to community college to learn a specific trade and began in the work force right away, who had started living their lives, and I couldn’t help but feel envy. I realized that while I was initially excited about university, in hindsight what I was actually excited about was living away from home for the first time. That is what was driving me toward university, not the actual education. I was a fully independent spirit who had chosen a means of independence acceptable to my parents rather than do what my 17 year old self really wanted to do, which was simply just to live on my own and earn money for travel.

I was learning, and I am grateful for what I learned, but I wasn’t following a deeper instinct I had, a deeper craving for life that at the time felt way more important than anything a textbook could provide. When I look at my university degrees on the wall, I don’t look at them with pride, but rather with a tinge of regret.

Now, my husband would not agree, his university education is in fact highly valuable to him. He did not feel as I did that his life was on hold, but rather that he was fully living a very important stage of his life. I respect that. And what I respect about it is that he knew he truly wanted to be there. Which is what I wish for our kids down the line. Not that they attend university for the sake of attending university, but that if they attend, it’s because they truly want to be there. Or if they attend a trades school, it’s because they truly want to be there. Or that if they decide to travel, or if they decide to enter the work force right away– that whatever it is they decide to do, it’s because they truly want to be there, doing that thing, and learning all they can from it.

There are so many forms of learning that life can provide. The most important, in my eyes, is learning to listen to our insides–our hearts, our guts, our souls– and marching in any direction we feel called toward. Whatever I or my husband or their teachers have to say, I feel my kids will serve their lives best by learning to listen to themselves first.

2. While I don’t care about what work they choose in life, I do care that they are workers, and I care that they choose meaningful work. If they choose to be waiters, they’d better be the best damn waiters in all of town. If they choose to be engineers, they’d better do their work with integrity and social awareness. If they decide to be doctors, they’d better remember that people are made up of many inter-relying parts, all of which require their due respect. If they choose to be artists they’d better damn well be producing art. And if they choose to be teachers, they’d better remember that their students are open vessels, capable of being inspired to go forth and make the world a better place.

While I don’t care about the work they choose, I care that they have work ethic up the wazoo, I care that they are doers, and I care that they are socially minded to bettering life in and out of the workplace.

I care that they’re happy. I care that they’re happy because when you are happy, the world is automatically a better place. I care that they are doing work that is aligned with their values, because when you are doing work that is aligned with your values, you automatically are grateful for the work that you do, and so do better work. I care that they are fulfilled, because when you are fulfilled, you are automatically more inspired to be service-minded and begin helping others.

3. I care about money. But I don’t care about how much money my kids earn.

I care that money allows us to do the things in our lives that we love to do. I care that my kids earn enough money to support whatever lifestyle they choose. But since, for example, living the high life in NYC would require they earn more income than, say, living in a one room cabin in northern Quebec, chopping their own firewood in the winter and growing their own vegetables in the summer, this is all very relative. Which is all that money is, relative. It’s just paper that people use to exchange for things they value. It’s purely subjective. So while in my life owning my own home was always something that held importance to me, I have to admit that it’s a huge pain in the butt. I continue to do it because it holds value to me, but I wouldn’t begrudge a child of mine for wanting to avoid the headaches and hassles of mortgages and maintenance. If my kids chose instead to work from their laptops and live like nomads, I would be OK with it, as long as they were working, and as long as they were consciously supporting their lives, and as long as they were fulfilled.

I want my kids to earn to live rather than live to earn. I don’t want their paychecks to be their only purpose in life. I don’t want them to be owned by their homes, I do want them to own their lives.

Parents throughout history have talked about wanting what’s best for their kids. Often these “bests” are defined by the parents in very specific ways, and often based on things the parents themselves found lacking in their own lives. We might hear, I want my child to be a doctor, I want my child to go to the best schools, I want my child to have solid investments, I want my child to give me grandchildren, or I want my child to run the family business. How often do we hear, I want my child to beat their own drum, and to march by the beat of their own drum?

I want my children to be courageous enough to choose for themselves. I want my children to follow their instincts. I want my children to care about society. I want my kids to live in eco-conscious rather than ego-conscious ways.

I don’t care if they don’t have ivy-league educations.
I don’t care if they are not six-figure earners.

I don’t care about what profession they choose.

I care that they be happy.
I care that they be free to choose.
I care that they love and are loved.
I care that their lives be filled with a million little gratitudes.
I care that they are good people.
I care that they are curious.
I care that they read.
I care that they serve.
I care that they are served.
I care that they value themselves above all.

I care that they share that value with the world.

That’s pretty much all I care about.

-mtg

My Dirty Little Secret: What I’ve Never Said Before About Myself as a Mom

image mariagiuliani.ca

I always knew I wanted to be a mom. It was an essential part of my story. In fact, I often feel as though my professional life was on hold while waiting for motherhood. I was that girl who liked to dream about the future, married with three kids and a house in the country (note, currently married with two kids and not living in the country). I never told anyone about it, but I quietly waited for that dream to become a reality.

I never understood it when people told me they didn’t want to have kids, and I never understood women who valued their careers as much as their kids. In the world I was raised it seemed that having kids took over your life, my goal was to allow that to happen. I planned to be with my kids as much as possible, to be home with them, to raise them. I wanted more than anything to be a stay-at-home mom and nothing made me more disappointed than, once I finally was a mom, having to return to work at the end of my first maternity leave. Placing my firstborn in daycare gave me many tiny deaths inside and the only thing that placated me was knowing that I was returning to work pregnant with my second child. I would soon have a chance to be home again. This was all that I thought about and all that I thought I wanted.

By my second maternity leave I was a different person. I kept my eldest in daycare and was happy to send her each day. She was home for only two months over the summer that year, by the end of which she was bored and I was ready for a break. Surprisingly, by the end of this second leave I was also ready to hand my second child over to daycare. There weren’t tears, there was willingness.

I was guilty over it. I didn’t want to admit it but I wanted my kids in daycare and I wanted to work. Deep down I was in need of something all my own, outside of my family. I wanted my own paycheck and to take my mind off the menial tasks I had become so obsessive over during my mat leaves (note, your dog will always shed, you can’t spend all your time following it with a vacuum cleaner). I wanted adult company and realized that I actually liked working and reminding myself that I was good at it.

Around my other mom friends who stayed home I lamented the fact that I actually needed to work, as though if I didn’t need to work things would have been different. I began working from home to allow some flexibility in my life but the kids were still in daycare. They were happy and I was happy. I got to do my work, I got to reconnect with my hobbies, I got to manage my home and I didn’t feel like my family was affected.

My time apart from my kids has allowed me to revisit and refocus my life. It has allowed me to come up with a plan. It has given me value as a person, woman and mom that I wasn’t experiencing before. That is not to say that being a mom full-time is not valuable– I know without doubt it’s value is immeasurable. It is to say that I did not feel valuable at the time and that I have since come to understand the measure of my worth, and it’s in time spent apart from my kids that this came to pass.

My daughter often tells me that she wants to be a mom when she grows up. I tell her she can be anything she chooses, and she always responds by saying that her choice is to be a mom like me. So I think I can’t be screwing up too much, and that it’s not such a bad thing to spend time developing my life outside of mom-hood. And that, if anything, demonstrating that I have interests in my life that don’t involve my kids is also valuable and a lesson worth considering.

This isn’t about being pro-working woman or pro-SAHM, it’s about figuring out what works best for you and doing that. Because I don’t think any family was ever well-served with an unhappy mother at the helm. I made a mistake way back when, in assuming I knew what kind of mom I would be. I cherish the time I spend with my kids, they are truly my heart… but my dirty little secret is that I love time spent apart from them too. I like not giving 100% of me to my kids because who I am has so much more to give. To them, to life, and to myself.

Will I regret not having spent more time at home with my kids? You know, I do have regrets from these years, but the regrets are mostly around wasting too much time wrestling with my guilt. Because really, my kids feel loved. And really, they are.

Life as an Introvert

woman alone

 

I am a loner. Meaning, I like to be alone. And it’s not just that I like being alone, I need to be alone for set amount of time each day. In fact, I’ve even been told that I, in particular, require more alone time than the average person. Alone suits me well.

This is not to say that I only ever want to be alone. I am married and enjoy spending time with my husband (thank goodness!). I am a mother and love time spent with my kids. I have a job that requires me to be a front man– in fact, all the jobs I’ve ever worked in my life have all required me to be openly service-oriented– and so I spend my days in communication with others. I enjoy talking. I enjoy the company of others. I enjoy the presence of family. Just, not all the time.

At the end of each day once the kids are in bed I require a solid hour to myself where I don’t want anyone touching me or speaking with me. I use this time to unwind from the sensory overload of the day. If my husband tries to speak to me during this time I am likely not to answer…. not… until… I’m ready. At work sometimes, if there are too many people around and very little opportunity to be alone, my brain will bug out temporarily. This will have me drift off to an imaginary land, even while surrounded by others. Escaping by myself in spirit is better than not escaping at all.

Being an introvert has nothing to do with shyness. I am not shy. I wasn’t born shy (I was born to raise hell truth be told). I did spend much of my childhood as a shy wallflower, preferring the outskirts to any real spotlight, but I can’t say that I’m shy anymore. I just sometimes choose to be alone. I just sometimes choose not to talk. I just often prefer the comforts of home to parties with strangers. I just often prefer my own company.

When I don’t get the alone time I need I become closed and cold. I turn into a grump, a real grouch that nobody really wants to be around (which is the desired outcome, although repelling people is not necessarily the desired means). When I don’t get enough alone time my brain begins to buzz, my body hums in an uncomfortable way– not so much hum, more like an incessant drone– and the buzzing and humming only gets louder, more annoyingly irritating the longer I go without rectifying the situation. I fall into a slump. I become overly fatigued in a my-brain-feels-dead kind of way. I act as a coffee-addict who hasn’t had her first cup yet, even if I have. Even if I’ve had many.

When I do get my precious alone time, I rejuvenate. It’s like each cell of my being was dehydrated and the time alone slowly replenishes the cells until I am back to my natural form. Like a withered plant sprung to life. Or those Dollar Store putty figures that quadruple in size when left in water. I have a sense of humour after time spent alone, even if I am only telling jokes to myself. I feel as though I have pep in my step, sparkle in my eye and bounce in my pounce. I dance. I chase my kids and laugh. I seek conversations rather than run from them.

I often use the analogy of the filled cup and I know it is an analogy that is overused, yet it’s just so apt. Me without enough time to myself is an empty cup, just a shell with nothing in it. Me, filled with the goodness of alone time, is me filled with something yummy and tasty and warm to the belly. Alone time gives me tingles up my spine. It gives me the same kind of happy place feeling I get when my three year old is stroking my hair. Time alone is a hug I am giving myself.

For an extrovert, alone time is the analogy above in reverse. An extrovert feeds off the energy of others and uses that energy to fill their cup. To an extrovert, the empty cup is what happens after too many minutes alone. An extrovert needs people like I need the opposite of people. My mother is an extrovert, she will continue to seek my attention even when I am holding a book a mere inch from my face. My husband is an extrovert. He likes to talk, I like to not.

Growing up my need for alone time turned me into an angsty teenager until I got my driver’s license and use of the family car, and then escape became my sanctuary. Finding alone time in adult relationships was never a problem either, not before having kids. I would always find a way to steal away while still balancing my relationship and my work. I could escape on my own to a coffee shop or dinner out and there was nothing to it. I didn’t even recognize my need for alone time as something that required voicing or scheduling. I would just go on a feeling, like I felt like being alone so off I would go. It wasn’t anything I ever put my finger on, just something I did. After having kids, and especially after having two, things became a little tricky.

My kids (like all kids) were always on me. They always needed me. They fed off me, tugged at me, peed on me. I loved it, I loved all parts of raising young babies. I loved being their favourite person and the one they called to. I loved feeding them and rocking them to sleep. But it was also too much for my sanity. Like it never ended. Like there were just little people taking from me all day long and I never got to be alone. My firstborn was constantly at the breast, she would never give me a break. My second was constantly in my arms. I was never alone.

The old joke about how a mom never gets to pee alone is true, and true because all moms feel a need for just a few minutes of peace and privacy. For an introvert that need can lead to the uncomfortable buzzing and humming mentioned above. I survived by cocooning myself at the end of each night. As soon as my kids were in bed so was I, vegging on Netflix just to drown out the noise. This wasn’t replenishing alone time, this wasn’t a long walk in the woods or gardening in the sun, this was the basic minimum needed to maintain composure. Even then, I’d say that composure is relative.

My kids are three and four now and as they grow older and more autonomous, as I have learned that finding time alone as a mom, wife, and worker is necessary to my personal balance, as I learn new ways to replenish myself by being alone. It doesn’t always take much either. I like to get up an hour before everyone else which has become my favourite time of the day. I like to buy a cup of coffee. That cup of coffee and subsequent minutes it takes to consume while still hot brings me immeasurable joy. I like to go for walks. I like to sit on benches in parks and do nothing. I like to listen to water.

I like to create. I love to create. I love to create so much that I have made a pact with myself to create all the time. Sometimes that creating is just random words in my journal. Sometimes that creating is writing posts like this. Sometimes I paint, sometimes I DIY, sometimes I decorate. Whatever it is, as long as I am creating I am alone. And loving it. And filling my cup.

The most important tool I have as an introvert is my mind. In my mind I can escape into my imagination. I can dream. I love to live in my dreams. It presents some difficulty with reality sometimes, yet there it is. My mind is precious to my life as an introvert. In those times when I can’t be physically creating I can imagine creation, in those times when I can’t physically escape a crowd I can mentally go elsewhere. In those moments when my kids have been on me all day and I feel like I need a break, I can take 5 minutes and imagine myself… perhaps on a beach…. feet in the sand…. with nothing tugging at me but the call of the waves.

I am a loner. I am an introvert. This is a defining quality of me. I have learned once again to understand the feeling I get when I’m in need of me. I’ve learned that even motherhood can’t stop the need. And I’ve learned that I’m a better mother when my cup is full. When the back of my neck is tingling I speak in soft voices to my kiddies. When the buzzing in my head keeps buzzing I shout to tune it out.

My kids want me to find time for myself (although they don’t yet know it). My husband wants me to find time alone although he may not understand it. I choose to be alone. Oftentimes. Because I need it. I require it. Because this is the life of an introvert.

-mtg

Yessing It Like Shonda Rhimes

yearofyes

I haven’t had cable television for over 10 years so Thursday nights have not meant to me what they do to some. I have one friend, for example, who has an entire ritual in place around her Thursdays in front of the tv. She looks forward to Thursdays in a way I didn’t understand. In fact, I only ever watched my first episode of Grey’s Anatomy once it came out on Netflix (at which point I watched all the episodes at once… until the episode where Derek was killed off, at which point I stopped watching altogether…. cause…. Derek!). But anyway, the point is that although I understood that a lot of people watched Grey’s I didn’t understand until that marathon how dramatically addictive Shonda Rhimes tv-watching can be. I’ve actually had to make it a point not to search for other Shonda Rhimes programming on Netflix because I know, if I find any, I will be sucked in as hard as the next guy.

So, when at my local library a few days ago, I noticed on display a cute little book with the words Year of YES written in large print, and under it, Shonda Rhimes, I became curious. It seemed to me that if she can write addictive television, that maybe there would be something to the book. Not knowing anything at all about Shonda before this book, this is what I have learned so far:

1- Grey’s Anatomy is the first program she ever worked on and ever created.

2- She was already a mother when she created Grey’s Anatomy.

3- She has had two more children since, both of which are younger than my two.

4- While creating storylines for Grey’s and having kids she also created and produced two other hit programs.

I have a hard enough time balancing things like feeding my kids and bathing them regularly, let alone keeping up with the demanding schedule of television production… BUT ANYWAY, again I digress.

So the reason I picked up Shonda’s book at all was not because of her name, because I didn’t notice that right away, but rather was because of it’s title. Year of YES. Year of YES. Year of YES. If it isn’t obvious, the book is about how Shonda decided that for one year she would only say yes to opportunities, however terrifying they seemed.

I don’t know about you but I am often reading blogs, books and articles of the inspirational variety, and more often than not I’ll read suggestions like, put post-it notes with the word Yes! on your bathroom mirror so you see it first thing every morning, or on your door so you see it before leaving the house, or plastered all over your house like wallpaper. While I generally think there’s something to it, I haven’t followed through. Not because I don’t think I should, mind you. Because honestly, I do. I am in serious need of a Yes-over and have been for many years– possibly my whole life.

I remember being in my early teens. A friend of the family, knowing that I am artistically creative, referred me to a company that was in need of some visual components to a presentation they were giving (this was pre the existence of Powerpoint). I spoke with someone in charge at the company, they sounded very professional to young me. It made me afraid to disappoint them by not providing a “good enough” finished product and so I said no.

No is what I said when I was in university, when I had a crush on a really great guy for months and months, and when he finally began showing interest in me I shut it down, fearing that I wasn’t going to be all that he envisioned me to be.

In my twenties I thought to start my own business selling self-designed note cards. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted with all my heart to be my own creator, but I quickly lost faith in my product and my ability to sell my product. Rather than approach new prospects I would simply tell myself, No, not today. Not today became everyday.

Now, I haven’t said No to everything in my life. I’m a bit adventurous, so when it came to traveling across the country alone, moving to a new province alone, jumping out of a plane alone (and without informing anyone that I was going to do it), these for me were Yes opportunities. Going to bars and concerts alone, zip-lining between Whistler mountains, renting a summer house in some remote corner of Newfoundland, all Yes.

But anything that had people counting on me, anything that wasn’t something I could do alone, anything that would require me to be out in the public eye and on display, these were always a No. I know it’s funny coming from someone who blogs about my life and is fairly open and candid about my flaws, but for me, with the written word creating a degree of separation, it is waaaay not the same. And by that I mean way less terrifying. Because terrified is how I feel when I am asked to put myself front and centre, terrified is how I feel when my physical and vocal presence matters to the success of an outcome.

HENCE why Year of YES stood out as interesting. Because a year of YES is exactly what I need.

I haven’t finished the book yet so I don’t know how it all works out for Shonda, although if she wrote a book about it I can only assume it worked out pretty good, but I’m thinking that if I were to create a year of YES for myself, it would have to place me in uncomfortable situations, speaking in public, interviewing for jobs I’m afraid to get rather than safe jobs I know I can get, putting myself on the line creatively, making myself known rather than an unknown wallflower, being public rather than private. My year of YES would have to include everything I normally, reflexively say no to. This is terrifying. To some not as terrifying as giving a speech to 16,000 people as Shonda is currently doing in the chapter I’m on, but by my own measurement, equally terrifying.

So terrifying that I don’t know if I can do it. So terrifying that I don’t trust myself not to say no.

But then I think, if Shonda can do it, with her three kids and Thursday night tv, who am I to say that I can’t.

Here I go….
Yeee……..
Y…yyyyeeee……
Yyyes….
Yes. (cough spit choke)
Yes!

YES
-mtg

 

The Woman Behind the Mom: Finding Balance in Motherhood

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Back when I was in my early 20s, my neighbours, a young married couple, found out they were expecting their first child. The mom-to-be, Cathy, was working full-time and continued to do so until her baby was born when she became a full-time mom. A few years went by and they had a second child; a few more years went by and their firstborn started school. Cathy began to reinvent herself. While she was still at home with her youngest she took the required training to become a registered real estate agent, she developed her image, she readied herself to re-enter the world as a professional.

I’m reminded of Cathy now, some 15 years later, as my own firstborn will be heading off to school in the fall, and my own desire to reinvent myself has ignited.

Reinventing the self as a woman is not necessarily about going out and finding a new career. It’s about finding balance. So maybe you are a full-time mom and spend every day having little people take from the well of mom, and are not finding any opportunity or inspiration to fill yourself back up. Or maybe you work full-time outside of the home, and your remaining hours are a whirlwind of family and kid-related tasks, only getting an hour to yourself at the end of each day. Either way, as a woman and a mom, you feel stretched in many directions, live with the knowledge that many people count on you, love your family and yet crave something that is outside of them. This is how it’s been for me: out of balance.

The first key to finding balance is to make a decision for yourself and take action. I noticed this with other moms when I wasn’t yet in a place to make this decision for myself. One decided, for example, that even though she could have stayed home, she really wanted to go back to her previous career. Once this decision was made she stopped trying to do everything and be everything. At work she prioritized her career, at home she prioritized her family. Another friend as a full-time mom made a decision to get her body into shape. It became a priority, something she did that was just for her, to feel good in her body, to gain confidence and to feel pride in her own accomplishment.

While these women were making these decisions and taking action, I was hemming and hawing. I didn’t want to commit too much time to working away from my kids; I didn’t want to commit to exercise because I thought perhaps that I’d have more kids. My perception around my kids and their need of me kept me at a standstill. This was not balanced.

Balance is getting out of the home an evening per week, whether on your own or with friends. Balance is volunteering your time to a cause that means something to you. Balance is carving out an hour per day to do something that brings you personal joy (aside from your kids), whether it’s baking, exercise, painting or reading. Balance is taking on projects that are all your own, for you, by you, from you. Balance is organizing girls weekends away from homes, partners and kids. Balance is not letting your work or career be more important than your family, but not letting your family be an excuse that keeps you from expressing yourself or your vocation. Balance is being confidently, fearlessly, happily, a mom with a mission. Balance is having yourself as that mission.

Balance, ultimately, is a state of mind. It’s allowing yourself to count. Allowing your goals to matter. It’s not about saying the heck with everything else—that isn’t balance. But in a life where your employers may make demands, your spouse may make demands, and your children most definitely feel entitled to all parts of you, it’s important to know you are also entitled to your time. And to follow this knowledge with action, by actually taking the time you need.

Currently, it is a Saturday morning. I have carved out this time to write because writing is my happy place. My kids are naked, running around the room gathering blankets and pillows into forts. They have emptied clothes from my closet with the intention of putting on a fashion show. I have not planned any activities to occupy them with today so they are finding ways to occupy themselves. And my husband, noticing that I have no intention of emerging from my bubble until my writing is done, is washing dishes and doing laundry. Currently, this is my balance.

I had a mom blog for a while and it went something like this: The first year it was all about the oh’s and ah’s of life with a newborn. The second year was about validating my mom-worth. The third year with a baby and a toddler, I barely made it to post anything at all. And in it’s fourth and final year, I made the realization that that blog wasn’t about the kids at all, but rather about the mom behind the blog. That is to say, being a mom is integral to who I am, but it isn’t all of who I am. And this is kind of what I’ve come to think motherhood in general, that we should be defining ourselves not by our kids, but by the women behind the moms.

It’s not that I’m not pro-kid, because I am. But I’m also pro-woman, pro-mom, pro-caring for yourself and pro-women caring for women. Because, I think, that makes us better women. Because, I think, that makes us better moms. Because, I think, that’s how we achieve balance.

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-mtg

How I Learned Not to be a Sanctimommy: Five Phases of Motherhood

I have been every kind of mom.

I’ve been the mom who didn’t want to make a big deal over a first birthday, and the mom who has stayed up until 3am making Pinterest-inspired cakes.

I’ve been the mom who stressed over every cough and rash, and I’ve been the meh-there’s-no-fever-you’ll-be-fine mom.

I’ve been the mom who gave my life to my kids, and the mom who gave myself a little of what I need too.

I’ve been the mom who cloth-diapered and the mom who was all disposable; the mom who only fed homemade baby food and the mom who gave up on feeding my toddlers altogether.

I’ve been the mom who wanted to be the mom who was patient and high-energy and on the parent committee. And I have been the mom who wasn’t any of these things.

Yep, I’ve been it all. And in being it all I’ve come to understand that motherhood has phases or stages that run parallel to the phases and stages of child development that you read about in books. And just as my children have progressed from newborn to toddler to child, as I have progressed—by times regressed—alongside them.

My own phases have looked something like this:

Phase One: The PreChild KnowItAll

Phase One began when I wasn’t even a mother at all. Over time I had built many perceptions on how children must be, how parents must be and how raising kids must be. I was very expressive in my opinions since I had oodles of non-parental experience to back me up. I honestly didn’t think kids were that difficult. In fact, I found them kind of boring and I was pretty convinced that raising a kid was on par with training a dog, and that if I could do one I could surely do the other.

I took a job nannying twins at one point, got the job without a hitch because of my oodles of experience. They were 12 months old when I started, total sweethearts, and everything was daisies and sunshine for a while. And then they turned two. And everything changed. What happened to the angels? How could they have become so demanding? What was with the tantrums? I mean seriously, who did these toddlers think they were? Their behaviour was unacceptable.

Around the same time my big sister got pregnant and had her first child, the first baby in our family. How awesome it was to have a baby around, how much I loved being an aunt, how connected I felt from the first moment I laid eyes on his crowning head in the delivery room.

And then he turned two. And… Well, see above.

If I ever had kids, it was gonna be different.

Phase Two: The First-Time-Expecting Expectation-List-Maker

Phase Two began the very moment I read a plus sign on the pee stick. This is where all my years of insight as a non-parent become hyper-analyzed in a calm and organized fashion.

On paper I made lists of purchases I absolutely needed to make. I obsessed over particular items as though the special co-sleeper bed would make or break my competence as a mother. I made lists of items to bring to the hospital, lists of gifts for my baby shower, lists of questions to ask my obstetrician and lists of phone numbers and reminders for my husband. I googled childbirth and birth plans as though planning actually made a difference.

What I didn’t write, but rather mentally listed, was are all the ways we were going to rock as parents and all the things I was going to do differently than my own parents. I knew just what kind of mom I was going to be. Other moms—older, already-been-there moms— offered me advice but I only listened with half an ear because, what did they know anyway? Because, for me it was gonna be different.

In essence, Phase Two is where I got my crazy on. It’s where I filled myself with hopes and dreams and aspirations and expectations; where I daydreamed about my children-to-be and about myself as their mother. I envisioned everything, from my birth story to lovingly breastfeeding to raising polite and well-balanced kids.

As I said, Phase Two is where I got my crazy on.

Phase Three: The Great Unraveling (a.k.a. The Great Holy-Crap-I-Don’t-Know-What-I’m-Doing-But-I’m-Going-To-Have-To-Fake-It)

Phase Three occurred from childbirth to around my 9th month as a new mother.

I remember telling a friend of the family that I had collected all seasons of Murder She Wrote to watch during night time feedings. She replied, You’ll be much too tired to watch TV! You’re just going to feed that baby and go right back to bed. I remember thinking, Well, who was she to know? (I mean, aside from a mom of three.) I had a whole vision set out in my mind of cuddling with my baby in the wee hours of the night, her softly feeding while I sat, quietly entertained by Angela Landsbury. Out of stubbornness I did watch for the first few weeks, just to live up to my word. But it wasn’t long before even the act of picking up a remote required more energy than I could muster. It wasn’t long before I was just bringing the baby into bed with me, even though I swore it was something I would never do.

Where in Phase Two the comments of others are annoying, in Phase Three they are crushing. When your baby develops colic or a rash from head to toe or doesn’t poop for ten days or will only ever sleep while being held, and when others make suggestions on your diet, when and when not to call a doctor, that maybe you should stop breastfeeding, or that you’re coddling your baby too much or that you should coddle more, and when you’re exhausted and covered in vomit and your breasts are leaking through your shirt, it’s kind of hard to maintain perspective. You’re all of a sudden responsible for the life of another being, decisions you make matter, and everything you thought would be easy actually turns out to be hard.

Phase Three is where I, an experienced and educated woman, become completely unglued. My confidence, my dignity, my ability to wear a clean outfit for more than two hours in a row, all were gone. This is where I began to get a hint, just a whiff, that perhaps I didn’t know as much about parenting as I’d assumed.

Phase Four: The Honeymoon 

From around nine months until somewhere between 18 months and 2.5 years, whenever the full wrath of the toddler began, there was a blissful lull when my firstborn was no longer so newborn-y that I worried about keeping her alive every second of the day. She’d gained weight, her head no longer wobbled, and she began interacting in fun and amusing ways. I started to feel like I knew my stuff as a mother. Each month she grew more and more, and along with it came more and more cuteness, and I posted photo after photo on Facebook because the love was so wild I just absolutely had to share.

The confidence came back.

This is also when I started to feel like a know-it-all again. I’d read all the books, I’d earned my badge of honour through my birth story, I’d survived the newborn days and now that my child was walking and talking I began to feel pretty good about this mothering thing.

My child was so adorably cute and generally amenable in Phase Four that whenever I looked at a mom with a kid who was acting out, the notion that my kid could ever act the same was incomprehensible. My kid had learned to say please, my kid liked to help tidy up, my kid didn’t fight me getting dressed. My kid my kid my kid…

Phase Five: The Fall-On-My-Knees Sweet-Mother-of-Mercy Awakening

So if Phase Four is like a bird sailing freely through blue skies, Phase Five is like that bird suddenly crashing head first into a patio door. One day my kid was a bubble of sunshine, the next a tantruming maniac. By then I also had a newborn in hand and between the two of them my brain would often explode.

My transformation in Phase Five began with a slow descent into oblivion, a space where I was more surviving than mothering. With each day of whining and tantrums and time-outs I descended a little further, then a little further, then a little further into the abyss, until the day finally came where all I could do was give in. My kids had done it, they had broken me down to the point where I was on my knees and at their mercy, humbled, completely, by tiny people.

What followed was a slow evolution upward. I was still the “hot mess” mom with the wild ‘n whiny kids, but my attitude had shifted. There was no space for judgment. I had learned the hard way— the hard way being the way I think most of us moms finally learn— that the only sane way to parent is to assume nothing and roll with the punches.

****

Not long ago I was dropping my kids off at daycare and there was a mom trying to help her child out of winter gear and up to class. The child was doing the bacon on the floor, totally hysterical. The longer this went on the more upset the mom (very obviously having a Fall-On-My-Knees kind of morning) became, and the more upset the mom became the longer the child tantrummed. My daughter turned to me and asked me why So-and-so’s mom was being mean. I turned to my daughter, full of the spirit of maternal comradery, and explained, No sweetheart, So-and-so’s mom isn’t being mean. It’s So-and-so that isn’t being nice and helpful to her mother.

There are moments when my kids are doing their thing and I am in the presence of another mom. Sometimes that mom is a Phase Four mom, looking at me in such a way that insists I should be doing more to control my kid. In those circumstances I often don’t say anything since I know I’ve been there, but that doesn’t stop my mind from imagining epic tantrums in their future. Other times I am in the presence of a mom who knows, and who will give an assuring look, or a wink and a joke, and together we laugh at the flailing antics of kids. Because really, what else can you do?

There’s a lot of talk about how moms judge other moms and how the judging needs to stop and, believe me, I think it’s absolutely true. I also recognize that I have been on both sides of the road, on one side criticizing, on the other cheering. And I’ve been the one walking the centre line with a kid hanging off each leg. And I’m not sure if it’s necessary to go through all the stages before reaching this point where we hug each other rather than criticize, but I kind of think we do. People aren’t generally equipped with enough foresight to know what to expect in any given situation and moms are no exception. Perhaps it would be bad for the development of the human race if we did have the ability to foresee our lives with toddlers… Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the case.

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All I know for sure is that karma loves parents. I’ve said and thought some annoying and ridiculous things in my past and karma found me and put me in my place. Going forward, whenever someone says annoying and ridiculous things to me, I have faith that karma will do its thing and all will be right in the world. In the meantime I know that I am doing my absolute best to do right by my kids. I think that if we would all just wear this knowledge around us like a suit of armour, that the judgments of others or even our own judgments would simply bounce off and find nowhere to land.

As I move forward as a mother I know there are more phases and stages to come. One day I will no longer have a toddler, one day I will have teenagers, one day I will be a grandparent. My only concern as I move forth into the many unknowns of my future momhood is this: that I am kind. Because I deserve kindness. Because we all do.

-mtg

The Time I Really Really Cried

When I picked Grace up from daycare yesterday, she was sitting at a table with some play food, a doll on the chair beside her.  Her teacher and I chatted a bit before she turned to Grace and asked if she was feeding her baby brother.  Grace, ever the literal one, knowing darn well the difference between a real baby and a doll, replied full with smiles, Nooooooo, silly, it’s just me and Oscar.  Quinn was growing in mama’s belly but then he stopped growing and he died.

True story.

In hindsight, perhaps we shouldn’t have been so open about the pregnancy with the kids so soon, perhaps we shouldn’t have given the baby a name too quickly.  But I was 10 weeks along before I knew there was anything wrong with the baby, 12 weeks before I finally miscarried.  My body had been changing and growing the entire time, I had a noticeable baby bump… and people werenoticing.  With two healthy beautiful pregnancies behind me, who knew?  Who knew…

I remember feeling nervous the day we went for our first ultrasound.  I don’t know why, but as I lay on the table with jelly on my belly, I told myself that I would not look at the screen until the technician said those magic words, “everything looks good.”  The words never came.  After a very pregnant silence I finally looked up and did not see what I was used to seeing at that stage of pregnancy, I definitely didn’t see a heartbeat.  Heading back to the waiting room, my husband tried so hard to remain positive, tried so hard to believe that everything was still fine but I knew the truth.  As I sat there watching all these other couples oogling over their black and white photos, and us empty-handed, I knew the truth.

The weeks that followed were honestly terrible.  I spent a solid 3 days on the couch.  After this I decided to buck up, to know that whatever happened was beyond my control and unchangeable, so I went back to my business although my brain was in a perpetual haze.  This lasted until the spotting came.  I went to the hospital then, I wanted answers, I wanted concrete proof the pregnancy wasn’t viable, and if I got that proof, I wanted the baby out.  Like, ASAP.  After hours of waiting I did get my proof, my hCG levels were decreasing, the baby was certainly dead.  They chose not to help me speed up the process of elimination.  They wanted it to happen naturally.  Bullshit.

My husband wanted to come with me to the hospital and I said no.  When I got home, he wanted to sit with me, and I said no.  He wanted to hold me, and I said no.  Specifically I said, Don’t touch me… all I wanted was to hide under my covers in the fetal position.  I knew he was also dealing with a loss.  I knew he also had feelings to sort through, but I couldn’t help him, I couldn’t hear his feelings.  What was happening in my body was still happening and I was just too raw.

For five days I waited, again in my haze.  Finally it began.  I remember it was a Tuesday.  I remember making inappropriate jokes over texts with friends checking in on me.  I remember feeling determined not to have this break me.  I picked the kids up from daycare that night and through a blizzard drove to the mall.  I spent that night with my living children, ushering them through the mall, having their photo taken with Santa, taking them to dinner.  I remember pushing the double stroller through inches of snow, totally cramped and hunched over, but refusing to give in to the pain.

Nobody ever talks about miscarriage until you know someone that’s had one, and then, nobody tells you how insanely awful it is.  Nobody tells you that you can have contractions, that you can feel the need to push as in a live birth, and just when you think the worst of it is over, it starts again, again and again until you think you will die from the blood loss.  Nobody ever talks about this, but I’ll tell you now, those were 2 days of my life I could definitely have done without.

Once it was over I became angry.  Really really angry.  Out loud kind of angry.  I planned for Oscar’s birthday party 3 days away.  I painted the stairwell.  I painted my bathroom and baked a birthday cake at the same time.  Until 3am.  Until they were done, because I was going to see something through to the end.  I worked to have Oscar’s birthday be as perfect as possible, and finally, when everyone arrived, I was lost because there was nothing left for me to do.  I didn’t want all these people in my house.  I didn’t want to socialize, I had no words to say.  I felt very alone that night, I remember.  And the next day, once alone, I cried.  I really really cried.  Out loud kind of crying.  And    then it was done.

After that I was able to move on, to think about Christmas, to enjoy my family.  I was full of the knowledge that it was meant to be, and probably for the best.  But it was months before I truly felt at peace with everything, and still now stop to think about how pregnant I should have been at this point in time, how far I am supposed to be to my due date.  I talk to Quinn sometimes, to let him know he was wanted.  I hope, somewhere out there, that he knows.

Poor Grace was so excited to be a big sister again.   Every once in a while we’ll be driving along in silence and out of the blue she’ll say, when we have another baby I’m going to be the best helper!  I’m going to change diapers and get you the cream and the wipes… and I remind her that we don’t have another baby.  She always says, I know that mommy, but one day we will.  It just won’t be Quinn.

-mtg

Originally published April 16, 2015

A Small Note, Dedicated To My Pre-Toddler Self…

You’re a jerk.

You think you know aaaaaaaaaaaaaaall about kids because you spent sooooo much time around them your whoooole life.  You know eeeeeeeverything there is to know because you nannied and camp-councelled or whatever.  Right.  YOU DON’T KNOW SQUAT ABOUT SQUAT.

And YOU.  You with your one child, your 9 month old all sweet and cute.  You’ve gotten the hang of this mother thing, you’re over the newborn newbies.  You think you know eeeeeeverything there is to know about being a mom and life is soooooooo easy.  YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

Because the moment will come– perhaps on a Tuesday afternoon while multiple children are screaming circles around you– when you’ll understand that you don’t know squat about squat; when you’ll understand that these kids are YOUR teachers.  And you will say to yourself what I am saying to you now:  Self, you’ll say, I was a jerk.  Man, what a jerk I have been.  And you’ll look at the people who have gone before you, perhaps people whose parenting your childless self did judge, and in that moment your two year old will slap you on the face, and you will realize that high-horses don’t exist for moms of toddlers.

-mtg

Originally published August 14, 2015