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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

Thyroid Disease: The Struggle is Real

Thyroid

If you were to ask a group of people living with a thyroid disorder about their biggest frustration, I think their answer would unanimously be the feeling that no one is listening.

The exhaustion would be up there on the list, the “just not myself”-ness as well, but I don’t think anything compares with the knowledge that nobody gets it, and the feeling of being alone, even helpless, while your everyday life and well-being are at stake. Having a thyroid disorder can lead to a very solitary existence.

Back in my early twenties I took a workshop to learn more about children with autism. The instructors wanted us to feel what it was like to be in the mind and body of an autistic person and so did the following exercise. As we all stood in a completely blackened room, unable to see our own noses, they played the radio, ripped paper, feather-dusted our skin, spoke aloud, spritzed us with water, spritzed scents in the air and waved a hairdryer around. The intention was for us to experience a complete sensory overload—and it completely worked. I don’t know what it’s like to have autism, but in those few minutes my ability to understand autistic people expanded immensely. One could say I became empathetic in a way I hadn’t been before.

I wish I could create such a demonstration for the family and friends of those living with thyroid disease, as well as the doctors these patients turn to for help, that would accurately provide a first-hand experience of what it’s like to have your thyroid be out of sync. Obviously this would be unethical, but if I could create a demonstration for the purpose of this empathetic exchange, I would have to recreate the fatigue of prolonged insomnia and muscle weakness, a racing heart, a decrease in mind function, an inability to control hair loss and weight gain, an inability to control mood and emotions, an increase in anxiety or depression, sexual dysfunction, intolerances to either cold or heat, and the list goes on. At its essence, I would need to recreate a sense of being out of control of body and mind and self at all times, and tack on the sense of solitude one gets when being ignored. I don’t assume that many people would willingly sign up for such an exercise.

So how do we expand empathy and understanding when this is what is needed? Here are some ideas:

* Be curious about the symptoms, ask questions, try to understand what the person is feeling.

* Listen. Don’t ignore or turn away. Pay attention.

* Don’t assume or compare. One person’s tired is not the same as another person’s fatigue.

* Read books. There are several that offer eye-opening accounts on how the thyroid affects lives.

* Recognize, even if and when you can’t understand, that the person before you is feeling out of control, needs help, and ultimately just wants to feel themself.

The reason I focus so much on empathy is because of another common misconception (read, frustration) involving the thyroid: that a little daily pill fixes everything. The truth is, it doesn’t. We aren’t talking about a common cold, we’re talking about hormones. Hormones affect every aspect of our physical and emotional selves, and the thyroid produces the mother of all hormones. Treating thyroid replacement medication like it’s a multivitamin doesn’t really make much sense.

It takes from months to years to find the right medication and dosage. Even then this dosage can be temporary as women’s bodies age and change, as stress factors change, and as other hormonal developments such as those brought on by pregnancy and menopause compound with the already taxed thyroid. Our bodies are constantly in flux, and our ability to maintain a sweet spot in hormonal balance becomes more like a dance, a constant flow of actions and choices geared at optimizing health. The thing is, it’s better when you’re not dancing alone. What I’m saying is, there is no pat answer or pat dosage, no one-size-fits-all solution to feeling good. The sooner this is recognized, the sooner we can get down to the business of helping people to feel good.

In decades past, a woman living with an undiagnosed thyroid disorder would likely have been considered clinically depressed or bi-polar, even institutionalized as a result. We’ve come a long way since then but we have a long way to go still. If I were to turn this into a call to action, it would be a call to put away the blank stares. It would be a call to treat women’s hormones as a whole, since they affect the whole. It would be a call to listen rather than ignore. We have a duty to improve the lives of others. As a friend or partner this may mean showing patience and compassion. As a professional, this may mean doing more to ensure a patient feels “themself.” The minimum isn’t enough.

Lastly, if you are the one struggling with a thyroid disorder, remember that the onus is on you to secure the above. Demand empathy, demand listening, and demand good health. Help others to understand because without help they won’t. The worst decision a person can make for themselves is to use this illness as a crutch. Release the crutch, decide to be better. When no one else is listening, listen to yourself.

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.

quote4motherhoodandbalance

-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

A Letter to My Daughter

Goose,

A couple of days ago I was thinking about your birthday, which led me to to think about the day you were born, which got me all choked up and then led me to scoop you up for hugs and kisses.  In return you cried to be put back down so you could go back to feeding your dolly.

I also got choked up singing Happy Birthday.  After weeks of practicing with you so that you wouldn’t be freaked out when everybody spontaneously broke out into song, in the end all I could get out was the first “Happy birthday…” and then spent the rest of the song hiding my face and trying to compose myself.

As another song goes, (albeit a song before both your time and mine), You made me so very happy/I’m so glad you came into my life…  You are a sweetheart.  You are feisty, stubborn, independent, a poor listener when we want you to listen, and too observant when we don’t want you to be.  You are incredibly sensitive to our feelings; I can’t step on a pebble without you worrying that my Oh! means I am hurt.  You are so smart, just so smart.  You whine for attention a lot, but at the same time you are one tough cookie.  As much as you run to me when you are hurt, you also pull away from me in order to deal with your hurt on your own.  Sometimes I worry that you`ll be too much like me, too reserved, too OCD, too willing to go it alone.

I joke a lot about you having too much of your dad in you.  I joke that if your dad is both a diva and a tough guy, that you inherited the diva and Oscar (Bam Bam) the tough guy.  But in truth, it`s because I see so much of me in you that I write this, because I want to be the one to always encourage you in the ways that I always could have/should have/wish to/need to encourage myself.

What I wish for you, my daughter, is a life full of laughter.  I wish that your voice be loud and clear, that when someone makes you feel you are not worth hearing, that you turn around and tell them all the ways that you are.  Don’t be shy.  Don’t swallow your words, they will choke you.

I wish you, also, to be a listener; we learn by listening, and we learn about people by listening.  Learn about everything, but don’t stop learning about people, it will help you to be a fair and effective communicator.  I can’t stress this enough, communication is the key to eliminating life’s stresses.

Don’t be scared to have fun, but use your head.  We swam with dolphins in Mexico a few weeks ago.  When the adults were swimming far out in order to be pushed back by dolphins, you were frantic for it to be your turn to do that too.  I didn’t really want to be the one to remind you that you’re still a little girl yet, and not quite ready for that stunt, but it was my job to do.  I hope you get to go back to that one day, when you’re big enough, and have that experience, because it’s good fun, clean fun, and you deserve that.  Stay away from the dirty kinds of fun, be smart with your choices– friends, activities– and I promise you that in the end, your life will be so much more full.

Love.  And more love.

Eat good food.  Exercise.  Be healthy, and don’t take your body for granted.

You don’t watch a lot of TV now, and I like that.  It’s good, keep it that way.

Learn moderation from me, but learn the value of right and wrong from your dad.

Don’t settle.  Don’t ever settle.  Don’t settle in love and don’t settle in vocation.  If you find yourself in a relationship where you are not acting as friends, as equal partners, as a team, get out.  Don’t ever fear not finding someone else.  And if you find yourself in a job that is weighing you down, not stimulating you, not utilizing your resources, and not respecting you, recognize it and move on to something else.  I hope you are able to find your life’s calling at an early age, but if you don’t, give every job your all, be the best, have a work ethic.  But if the job is crap, it’s your responsibility to find better.  Nobody expects anything of you other than that you be a good person, and do right by yourself and others.  We don’t expect you to be a doctor or lawyer or astrophysicist.  You know you best, do what feels right, trust your intuition.  But do something.

You are responsible for yourself.  If you make bad choices, there is nobody to blame but you, and nobody can change things but you.  But you can definitely, and should always, ask for help.

You come from a family of dreamers.  Ambition and entrepreneurialship are in your blood.  Don’t forget that dreaming must be followed by action.  Without action, your dreams will always remain where they are, within you.  Don’t waste them, show the world what you’ve got.

If you don’t want kids, that’s alright.  If you do want kids, that’s great.  As your Papa always said, they’re the reason for life.  All I ask is that you be forgiving with yourself.  Whether you decide to parent full time or to maintain working both out of the home and in, you will always have people asking something of you.  Give something to yourself, too.  As someone once told me, we are each a cup, needing to be filled.  It is only when our cup is overflowing that we have something to give.  So prioritize.  Prioritize your marriage, your children, your career– and yourself.  Anything else will have to wait.

Messes can be cleaned up.  Be flexible.  Be organized, but be flexible.

Delegate.  Please don’t fall into the trap of trying to do everything yourself.  No matter how capable you are, always ask others to pitch in.

You are not always right.  Also, you are not always wrong.  It’s ok to admit it, either way.  There’s no getting around your stubbornness, but don’t fight to be right just for the sake of being right.  But if you are right, fight.

Except with your mama, because your mother will always be right….

Just kidding.

Not really…

I will do my best to do right by you.  I will do my best to raise you now in such a way so that in 10, 15, and 20 years from now you will still be coming to me as you do now.  I will try not to hover, not to be paranoid and overprotective

The past six months have been difficult for you at times.  You went from being our only baby to being our oldest baby.  You are now a tenacious toddler; you’ve been in your “terrible two’s” since you were thirteen months old and you are a trying little thing.  You hit your brother.  You know where my buttons are, and how to press them.  You smile when you are in trouble and enjoy discipline.  But although there have been times when my level of frustration far outweighed my patience, you’ve never been anything less than what I want you to be, and have always been so much more.

You’re asleep now as I write this.  In the morning when you wake, I’ll open the door and it will be a crap shoot as far as what I will find; either a super smiley, happy little girl, or a still tired, tantruming kid.  But even in your worst tantrum, you are still my absolute most favourite daughter in the whole wide world.  Just wanted you to know.

With all my love,

Mama

(not Maria, as you seem to think we are on a first name basis these days…)

-mtg

Originally published July 2, 2013

Remembrance

I always feel conflicted on Remembrance Day. I am a first gen Canadian, my parents were born in Italy,and their parents were involved in the war.  My maternal grandfather was a lover, not a fighter, but had no choice but to enlist under Mussolini.  My grandmother was forced to work in a gun factory.  She tells horrible stories of blacked out windows all day long, and bomb raids around the building where she worked.  These were not good times.  But I am a proud Canadian and am grateful for the freedoms we have, freedoms that were fought for,grateful to those who fought.  But it was my grandmother’s guns fighting Canadian soldiers, and Canadian soldiers fighting my grandfather… what a hot mess.  War is a hot mess.

I don’t have the will or energy to write a long post tonight.  But when I think about that, I think, how free I am to be able to make such a choice– a choice to write or not write on a blog that is a hobby– nobody is mandating my time, nobody is forcing me to be anywhere or do anything beyond my will.  Being overly fatigued is a state of being, but indulging it is a choice I am able to make.   This was not the case for my grandparents during the war, this was not the case for Canadian soldiers.  I am grateful for the freedom to indulge.

Had my grandparents not survived the war, I wouldn’t be here feeling grateful for my freedoms.  Although they were “the enemy,” I know them as good people who let me stay on their sofa bed for weeks at a time during summer vacations giving me milk and cookies in front of the tv before bed; good people who let me pour sugar over my Cheerios each morning and who nicknamed me cipolletta (“little onion”) with love.  But had “the enemy” won the war…. we won’t even imagine.

Lest we forget that this was a world war, and that good people around the world died.  Some of these good people had the choice to be a part of the war, many of these good people had no choices at all.  Lest we forget that the world was brought to arms by a few bad people who had more power than they were worth.  Lest we forget that freedom prevailed.  Let’s not do that again.

Red Tractor Designs

-mtg

Originally published November 11, 2015

The Whole Truth

I have a secret: I am not a perfect mom.

I’ve struggled a little over the past two years with this concept of parenthood, struggled not to be too obvious when I don’t know what I’m doing.  I’ve struggled, even, over the course of writing for this blog, because I love writing, and I love writing about my kids, but I don’t want people to actually know that I’m usually just winging it.

I lose my patience.  I get tired and run down, I shout when I know I shouldn’t.  Even when it’s my fault for getting them overtired to the point that they’re crying or whining, my fault that they’re driven to the edge, when Grace’s body turns to jello in my arms, or she’s thrashing about as though possessed by demons, still, when I’m tired my patience is low and I shout just to make it all stop.

Sometimes I check out.  Like in the middle of a tantrum, or when I’m leaving Oscar to cry himself to sleep, I just walk away and take myself to a mental safe place far, far away.  There could be chaos whirling all around but there I’ll be, in the eye of the storm, peeling carrots as calm as can be, as if there was nothing happening at all.

I love bedtime.  I love my kids and I love spending time with them, but I love bedtime.  I feel shame in admitting this, but there it is.  Bedtime rocks.  It is me time, it is couple time, it is my guilty pleasure.  I used to be offended by Samuel L. Jackson’s Go the F**k to Sleep but I’ve said these words so many times to myself that it would be hypocritical to not give him props for at least being honest.

There are times when I really mess up.  Like, I use feeling words with Grace because I want her to learn to speak through her frustrations rather than lash out physically, but then I’ll get frustrated and physically manhandle her into a Time Out rather than use my words.  I’ve used positive reinforcements for particular behaviours and then taken them away when other behaviours come into the mix, effectively making a mess out of everything.  There are times when I forget, because of how well she speaks and how much she understands, that Grace is only two, and my expectations of her should be the expectations of a two year old.

I’ve driven with the kids not properly in their car seats.  This is a big one and my stomach turns at thinking about it.  But there was a time with Oscar where I put his bucket seat in the car and I thought it was in, but a while later while driving around a bend I heard, click!, and I knew that he hadn’t been fully attached all that time.  Of course, my sister-in-law was in the car with me.  And there was another time with Grace, where I put her in her seat, turned on the TV because she asked for it, went around to put Oscar in the car, and by the time the groceries were loaded and the stroller was folded up and packed in, I had completely forgot that I hadn’t finished strapping her in.  We were on the road before I noticed her level of mobility in my rear view mirror.  Of course, my mother-in-law was in the car with me that time.  Also, I never told my husband about either of these incidents.  (Sorry, honey).

Sometimes I think about how sweet it was to care for Grace when she was a baby and I am sad, especially after I hear myself growling GRAAAACE over and over over the course of an afternoon.  And when I’m putting Oscar down for a nap, I hold him extra close, and I stroke his hair extra softly, because I know it’s only a matter of time before he’ll be doing things on purpose to get my goad and I’ll be yelling OSCAAAAARRR!!!!!  And that’s probably when I’ll have another baby, just to have a daily reminder of the sweet times.

I have used chocolate and candy as bribes on multiple occasions.  Not as rewards.  Bribes.  Plain and simple.

I drink coffee and I drink wine.  I know I’m breastfeeding but I do.  I’m careful about my timing, and I’m not saying I have a lot, but there are some things in life you just have to keep for yourself and these are mine.  I am not a purist, although I know many people who would tell me I should be.

I am currently using pink diapers on Oscar.  Grace doesn’t want to wear pull-ups to bed anymore, and I have almost a full pack of pink princesses lying around, and they wear the same size… and there’s no guarantee that I’ll have another girl the next time around… and there’s no sense in wasting them…. right?

I hope he never reads this.

Anyway, there you have it.  I am not a perfect mom.  I have made a ton of mistakes.  I just figure I may as well be open about it because hiding it is too much trouble.  When I’m with other moms and comparing ourselves as moms are wont to do, sometimes I feel great because I know I’m not screwing up too badly, and sometimes I feel like crap because I’m not a supermom.  I do what I do and the best I can do it.  But I’m far, and I mean FAR, from perfect.

And now my daughter is awake so I’m going to go make her some homemade pancakes with blueberry smiley faces on them…. Which would be great and perfectly okay, but, more likely, I’ll shove a bowl of yogurt in front of her and say Eat!

-mtg

Originally published August 21, 2013