Ode to My Son’s Left Thumb

It wasn’t that I didn’t notice you. When you arrived in my arms, I was thrilled to find you attached and healthy, one of ten perfect little appendages on chubby little hands, connected to the most perfect being I had ever seen.

I was so naive.

Because while I have never doubted the perfection of that tiny child, his screams certainly tested my dedication. This beautiful being cried and it broke my heart and then he cried some more and my head hurt.

I tried the pacifier, but my perfect little human responded with a kind of apathy I didn’t realize was possible of an infant. He didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t what he wanted.

I tried a blankie, soft and safe, but it held no appeal for his cries.

And then one night, one glorious night, he found you. I walked into the nursery, having noticed that our tiny human’s screams were somewhat lessened that night, and I found this beautiful sight:

Love at first suck

This was it.  This picture is the moment that the sparks flew: the stars aligned and you found each other.  And you have been inseparable ever since.

I don’t know why he choose you, leftie.  Perhaps you chose him.  Either way, this sweet child has never stuck his right thumb into his mouth.  It is only you, the left one, that he treasures so much.

At first, he found you only during sleep.

Sweet thumb, for you I have to thank many restful nights.

And lovely, cuddly, mid-day naps.

You helped on airplanes, on vacation, at home and in a carseat, assisting my little human into dreamland.

Soon though, the obsession and love between you grew, and he would find you during bathtime

And during playtime

Of course, like all good things, difficulties cluttered our path.

One time, in a classic rookie mom mistake, I cut the nail on you just a little too short.  There was blood.  I was horrified.  The child, of course, was more horrified, as he tried to soothe himself with his thumb, only to find it the source of his pain.

I was scared to trim his nails for weeks.

You have also interrupted plenty of photos to spend quality time in the germ-infested water of my sweet child’s mouth

 

One time, underestimating the loving bond between you and my son, I offered him the pacifier.  It was as if two great friends had been separated by a wall and tried desperately to return to each other.

This was that moment, see how the thumb searches for it’s connection.

I went home and threw the others away.

And you have been there since.  You and my son, best friends.

In sickness

In health

In exhaustion

Either way, I sing your praises.

Many parents stifle the finger-sucking tendencies of their littles.  I welcomed you.  Here you were, ready and willing to soothe his little self.  I couldn’t lose you.  He couldn’t throw you away.  You were always at hand (no pun intended), ready and willing.

So thank you, my son’s left thumb.

He can suck on you until he’s twelve, for all I care.  Because you have provided the peace a new mother craved.

The Milestones that Aren’t in Baby Books

“When all three of them could buckle themselves in the car.”  She sighs wistfully.  “For so long, I had to wrestle them all into their seats, then go through and buckle each harness.  When you can just hop in the driver’s seat and go?! Those days come again.”

Before becoming a parent, I bought a baby book filled with all the little milestones.  The day he rolls over.  The day he sleeps through the night.  The first word, first steps, first baby food.

What I didn’t realize is how little I cared about those milestones.  Yeah, they were fun.  They still are fun.  But the day my son shoved his own arm through his long-sleeved onesie?  That was effing exciting.

My dear friend Carole one day told me about the seat-buckling thing.  She is raising three glorious and hilarious humans, and she knows what’s up and down on the mother train.  In my newbie mama brain, she’s the great sage of wisdom bestowing her nuggets of motherhood wisdom in my ear.  This post goes out to her (particularly since she wrote half of these herself).

Ladies and gentlemen: The Milestones That Aren’t in Baby Books (in semi-chronological order):

Their first public diaper blow-out. Where were you?

When he pushes his arms and legs through the sleeves of his clothes.  Yeah, shoving a limp newborn arm into a giant winter coat is a terrible game of hide and find.

The first day they don’t unload every bookshelf or dump out every sock drawer. (One day I will have neat, beautiful bookshelves again…)

The first time they put a puzzle together on their own after you’ve helped them 3 zillion times.

When you can safely leave the house without a Tupperware of Cheerios.  I turn into a woman on the edge when I find myself without Cheerios.  Don’t have a meltdown, Don’t have a meltdown…

When you don’t have to carry his banshee-screaming, wiggly butt to the car and he can walk by himself.

The first time you cuss and they understand its a bad word…

…The first time they cuss because they heard you use that word.

The first time they “read” a book they’ve memorized word for word because you’ve read it to them 6 bajillion times.

The first time they use a kleenex instead of handing you the booger.

And when they can make it to the toilet when they’re sick and you aren’t scrubbing puke out of the carpet at 3am.

When they start actually helping empty the dishwasher instead of making more work.  Finally!  Having children pays off!

When they develop a sense of humor and understand why the knock knock joke was funny. For a LONG time they will tell the joke, then laugh, but can’t tell you why it’s funny.

The first time they teach you something. Not in an existential way, but truly something you didn’t know before.

The first time you wake up and no little one is in bed with you. According to my mom sources, this one is happy at the time, but turns to heartbreaking.

When the older ones start driving and suddenly you can reassign all your dropping-off duty to your child.

When you realize your kids are “friends” without Mom and Dad forcing it.

The biggest milestones by far?

Every time they do something that makes them need you less. Like getting dressed alone, or potty trained, or learning how to use a spoon. It’s the little things that turn parenthood into a magic show.

The Charter School Glory Days and the Title I Trenches

My first teaching job was at an upscale charter school for college-bound middle schoolers.  I loved it.  I was passionate about it.  I was great at it.

My current teaching job is at a public high school using Title I funds on an intervention class for at-risk freshmen (in this case, they are “at-risk” for dropping out).  I love it.  I am passionate about it.  I am sometimes okay at it.

They are the two sides of the education scale.  Soooooooooooooooo different, I need that many O’s to even start to get across the point.

 

Working with College-bound middle schoolers:

I ran my class with military precision, high expectations, and a non-negotiable pace. No unit lasted longer than three weeks.  Students turned in assignments almost daily.  My class was a well-oiled machine.  Even when I wasn’t present, my students followed directions.

When I asked for bookshelves, they delivered immediately.  When I requested a class set of books, they were provided.

The parents were so involved it was suffocating.  A parent emailed me on the second week of school to request that I move on to my next unit because it was “too easy” for her special snowflake and the girl was bored.  THE SECOND WEEK.

I had another set of parents that would email me within minutes when I posted an assignment grade and it was below a C.  Convincing parents to step back was my biggest chore.

The most scandalous thing to happen was a sixth grader caught smoking in the bathroom.  Another kid brought a pocket knife.  Both were expelled.

My students always had their pencils, they never asked to go to the bathroom, and most were pretty healthy.

I can honestly say that I taught my students important skills in the realm of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and behavior.

 

Working with at-risk freshmen in a Title I (AKA low-income) school:

My class is either a mad house of over-enthusiastic, off-task energy OR the students are literally asleep on the desk.  I aim for something in the middle and some days I hit it for a couple ten-minute bursts.  My units started out as academic powerhouses and have evolved into life-skills boot camp.  If I am not physically present in the classroom, nothing gets done.

The first time I walked into my room, I had to hold back tears.  It was a hot mess.  A window-less, eggshell white, cinder block mess.  Part of my ceiling is buckling and there is a crack running up the wall.   I immediately sent requests for furniture changes, permission to paint, necessary supplies.  Half of it was given to me no questions asked.  The other half, I was told by the district they wouldn’t provide, with no opportunity for negotiations.  How does one DENY bookshelves to an English class?

The parents are so distant, I have yet to hear from them.  I send emails and make calls every day.  Radio silence meets me.

The details I have gathered about students’ parents are dismal.  One student wrote on her Goals project that she wanted to be a “Dancer.”  And I’m not talking about ballet, I’m talking about stripping.  When I pressed for her reasoning, it became clear that “dancing” is her mother’s profession.

There are fifteen boys in my class.  Twelve of them come from fatherless homes.

I have a fifteen year-old girl who comes in every day smelling like cigarette smoke and I don’t say a damn thing.  Want to know why?  Because if she passes my class, she can go to an alternative graduation program and get her high school diploma.  If she doesn’t pass my class, she will drop out of high school.  I want to scream at her about the dangers of cigarette smoking, but instead I celebrate that she’s actually coming to class (because I know she ditches all her other classes) and hand her a breath mint.

A gun was brought on campus in January, so now the school holds random student-searches, where students are taken out of my class, their backpacks searched and their bodies wanded for weapons.  That’s the most scandalous thing to happen this calendar year.  It’s March.

My students are suspended so often that I had to make a deal with the disciplinary action team that allowed students in in-school suspension to still attend my class.  If I hadn’t made this deal, I would lose literally half of my class every day.  Daily, I have to have conversations about appropriate behavior.  I’ve derailed more than one fight in my room.

My students don’t bring anything to class.  One student doesn’t even come with his backpack, because it was literally stolen off his back two weeks ago.  I have a revolving supply of pencils and paper.  I don’t let them take supplies outside of the room.  Their journals, their worksheets, their pencils stay in my room because if they go beyond my door I know they will never come back.  I have to make double copies of everything I hand them because of this.

I have one student who has a skin disease so painful that he cannot sleep in his bed at night and struggles to stay awake in class.  How do you teach a kid about figurative language when their body is covered in scabs and he can’t keep his eyes open?

Some students are just apathetic.  They have been told their entire lives that they suck at academics, so getting them to even give half an effort is a giant win.

I can honestly say that every day is a different battle.  Sometimes I teach a student an important skill like using his words instead of smacking his neighbor.  Sometimes we have an amazing discussion about how our choices today are impacting our long-term goals.  Sometimes a kid voluntarily tells me that he’s sorry he messes around.  Sometimes a girl will hand me her cellphone so it’s not a distraction.

Sometimes, none of that happens and most times I don’t know why.

Most days, I try.  I can honestly say that I don’t know if they are getting anything out of my class.  I sure as hell am not teaching them Common Core skills, although I like to think a little academic skill trickles in.  I like to think that my frazzled determination sometimes pierces their thick apathy and a bit of wisdom gets in.  Perhaps, if nothing else, they have one adult who cares about them.

 

This is the battle that meets teachers on the daily grind.  Our jobs are demanding and fast-paced and tricky at best; they are heartbreaking at worst.  To my students, I have to be knowledgeable and available, loving and hard, silly and serious.  In the space of an hour, I can go from drill-sergeant to mother hen to nurse and back again to academics; while maintaining an awareness of my room so everyone can be safe both physically and emotionally.

I don’t know why I write all of this, other than to show the vast array of skill that is required of an average teacher.  This kind of nonsense is why teachers leave schools or the profession altogether.  And I’m not writing this for pity.  As I said above, I truly love my job, which is something I am proud to say.  I just want to offer a glimpse of my world.

 

How Postpartum Depression Totally Blindsided Me

I have struggled with depression before. The tendrils of pain and apathy have wormed into my head on more than one occasion. I have been on medication, I have been to therapy, I have owned my struggle as a generally anxious woman who has had bouts of depression both mild and moderate.

Having admitted that to hospital staff, when I gave birth I was immediately flagged as someone at-risk for postpartum depression. A counselor spoke to me two days after I gave birth. I was still wearing a hospital gown, my son slept peacefully in the bassinet beside me. I listened attentively to all her warnings, listened to the careful distinction between “baby blues” and true-blue postpartum depression (PPD), took her card, and assumed all would be fine. I knew the warning signs of depression.

What I didn’t anticipate was that PPD would be nothing like the depression I had battled before.

Yes, my PPD was more severe than my previous depression. But more than that, PPD was entirely different. It manifested in completely new and opposite ways, and despite my knowledge on the disease and awareness of myself, I didn’t realize I was drowning until I started to seriously consider taking my life.

It took serious suicidal ideation for me to realize that something was terribly wrong.

In retrospect, of course it manifested different. When you have a baby, everything about your life is turned upside down. Of course the “normal” triggers are completely different. Of course the “normal” feelings can ‘t be identified or routed.

I was blindsided because I thought I knew what I was looking for. In my mind, PPD was something that you directed outward. I thought it meant having thoughts about hurting your baby. I thought it was like “normal” depression, like my previous sentiments of apathy or “blank-ness.”

Here’s what it looked like for me:

Constant terror.

An overwhelming, consuming sense of inadequacy.

Conviction that I could “fix it” if I just tried hard enough.

I lived like that for the first four months of my child’s life.  Convinced that I could be perfect if I just worked hard enough, I slowly wound myself into a tighter and tighter ball of fear.  It started slowly.

First, relieved of the physical burden of pregnancy, I spent the first two weeks rearranging furniture and baby supplies, like there was a “right” way to do it.  I would often forget to eat because I was on the floor sorting baby socks.

Second, I ceased sleeping.  Now, this is normal for many mothers because the demands of a newborn are no joke.  The difference for me was that it became borderline impossible for me to rest.  Even if the baby was asleep, even if my husband begged me to go lie down, I would vibrate with anxiety that kept me awake.  I thought of all the possible things that could hurt my child.  I obsessed over all the little ways he could get hurt.  And if I fell asleep, I experienced vivid nightmares of these fears.  I often dreamt that he was suffocating in the covers, even though I never brought him to bed with me.  Occasionally, I would dream that he had spontaneously stopped breathing.  It was not uncommon for me to jump out of bed and rush to see my child, leaning over him to make sure he was still breathing.  It became so common that my husband’s first words upon my waking became, “He’s okay.  I promise, he’s okay.”

Third, my obsession grew and grew.  I consumed every bit of baby literature I could get my hands on.  I counted ounces of pumped breastmilk like it was liquid gold.  I started questioning my every move.  If I left him to play in his Rock n Play, I worried that I wasn’t holding him enough.  If I held him, I worried that he would be coddled and wouldn’t sleep on his own.  Round and round this went, toying with my sleep-deprived brain.  I began to think that my son was absolutely perfect and that everything I did to him was slowly draining away his perfection, little by little, because I couldn’t get it “right.”

I started to have daily (sometimes hourly) panic attacks.  I could feel them coming on: my breathing would get labored, my calf muscles would tense, my vision blurry, and suddenly I would find myself locked inside a closet, trying desperately to find my breath while tears ran down my cheeks.

At my six week postpartum appointment, I expressed some of this to my midwife.  Specifically, I told her about the panic attacks.  I don’t know if I downplayed it.  I don’t know if she didn’t hear me correctly.  What she said, though, extended my battle longer than it should have gone.  She said, “That sounds like new motherhood to me.”

So… this was normal, I assumed.  I felt ashamed for asking, and I buried my fears and my anxieties further.

The panic only intensified.  The obsession only twisted into something more grotesque.  But this is what motherhood looked like, didn’t it?  This didn’t resemble the depression and anxiety of my past, so I assumed it was something else, something I would eventually get used to.

I realized I needed help when I put words to my obsession.  I was watching my child sleep when I said to him, “If just try hard enough, I can be the perfect mother for you.”

Two things happened in that instant: 1) I knew that was totally unrealistic, 2) I knew I believed it with my whole heart.  I called my midwives and begged them to help.  This time, they listened.

Unfortunately, the gears of the mental health system grind incredibly slow.  I didn’t realize how dangerous I was, and every therapist I called had a six week waiting period.  A single week is an eternity when you have an infant, and it only is worse with PPD.  Days stretched so long, I often lost track and assumed weeks had passed, when only days, sometimes hours had occurred.  My perception was so warped.

I did get to a counselor, but if you’ve ever done counseling, you know that the first several appointments are very surface-level while they do background questionnaires.

It was too little, too late.

In April, around my son’s four month birthday, I lost touch with reality.

I’m not emotionally prepared to fully explore that particular time, so I will not divulge details.  Can you imagine?  It has been almost a full year since the worst of my PPD, and I am still haunted by it, enough that it has taken weeks to pen this particular post.  Even now, writing it down, it seems so very obvious how terribly I was suffering.  That is the disease that is PPD.

For me, PPD did not direct its attention towards my son.  I adored him, he was my world, and that lined up well with my perceptions of motherhood.  The problem wasn’t him or my perception of him, the problem was my perception of myself.  I could not be gentle with myself.  Which seemed normal.

Yes, there were other events occurring in my life at that time, events which certainly contributed to my spiral.  I can admit that, especially considering that some people in my life “blame” my PPD on those external events.  But it’s important to emphasize that depression and anxiety live inside a person and they cannot be cured by external stimuli.  They can be soothed, yes; but the healing must take place from within.

A little anxiety in motherhood is normal.  A little anxiety in everyday life is normal.  Consuming fear: not normal.  Obsession (even with your own child): not normal.  Physical manifestations of anxiety (AKA panic attacks): not normal.

New Mamas: If you are unsure, get professional help.  Just do it.  It’s better to get the help and feel even a little bit better than to wallow in even a moderate amount of pain or fear or depression.  My Achilles heel was that I thought I knew what to look for.  But PPD wasn’t like what I thought it would be.  Had I known better, perhaps I would have gotten help sooner.

And a word of positivity: I’m better.  After lots of therapy and medication and support groups, I’ve fumbled my way to something comfortable.  Soon I’ll write a blog post about that whole process.  My days are not always easy (parenthood in general isn’t easy), but it’s doable.  I enjoy it so much more.  I am better for my son, I am better for my family, for my students, I am better for me.

 

 

Featured image from this AMAZING photographer, Christian Sampson, who has a powerful photoset on mental disorders. 

The Universe (AKA My God)

Leaving Mormonism left a sour taste in my mouth, spiritually. Because I had been so inundated with religious nonsense during my college years, I graduated from BYU-Idaho on the verge of atheism.

Some time following my exodus from the Church, I found myself talking to a fellow ex-Mormon about spirituality.  Leaving the Church had left this particular friend a spiritual husk, completely adverse to anything within the hue of religion.  Driving down the street on a beautiful summer day, I found myself telling him, “I believe in a God. Not because I ‘know’ there’s a God [a term Mormons are really fond of using] but because… I just like the idea. And that’s enough for me.”

That idea, just wanting there to be a God, choosing to believe it for no other reason than that, restarted my spiritual engine.

When I felt ready, I attended a couple basic Christian services. But they weren’t… right, not for me.  I found too many things in common with the LDS God, and I knew I really didn’t like that guy.  It felt like leaving one abusive relationship for another.

Of course, “my” God could not have the same face as the Mormon God, or basically anything resembling it.  That’s the thing about leaving the Mormon Church.  It scars you like that.

Yeah, this guy.

My true spiritual quest started small and accidentally, like most good things.  It started with yoga.  Looking to get in shape in a kind of lazy way, I joined fitness-focused yoga studio.  If you’ve ever attended a few yoga classes, you know how teachers vary.  I found myself intensely drawn to the more spiritual teachers, who led their class with intention and poetry.

Then my personal reading choices shifted.  First was Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Something in it touched me.  Then I read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, which left me literary satisfied and spiritually hungry. I read a series of spiritual texts, including the Bhagavad Gita.  I started regularly visiting a Stupa, a Buddhist temple, several hours drive outside of my city.  The stupa, called Shambahla, quickly became a sort of “happy place.”  There, I felt free to calm my heart and mind.  I began to explore spiritual matters in a way that was deeply personal, in an environment where I felt no pressure or judgement (two things I felt heavily during my time as a Mormon).

The Great Stupa, Shambahla, AKA “Happy Place”

I began to practice meditation, I learned what mindfulness meant.  I bought several strings of malas and said “Om” out loud during personal meditation.  I burned incense.  I found myself in yoga classes with lots of arm pit and leg hair and body odor and natural light.

Mostly, I explored and I wondered.

I began to seek my own God.  Screw trying to find the “right” answer, what did want in a spiritual higher being?  I drew on concepts from all my experiences and I named it:

The Universe.

The closest defined thing I could compare the Universe to would be the Collective Unconscious.  The Universe doesn’t have a face.  It has no judgement, no demands, no hate.  It is love.  The Universe is an energy that runs through and connects all of us, and it nestles and thrives deep within us.  It is a divine within and without.  The Universe is energy at its most pure and beautiful.  It strives for peace, carefully nudging our lives this way and that to get us closer to our own and others’ happiness.  It’s the reason behind “coincidences.”  The Universe is the force creating the great tapestry we call life, and it surrounds us and lives within us.

This is the visual image that comes to mind for me. The great infinite that is a clear night sky.

I think that the Universe will continue to adapt in my mind, as I grow spiritually and as I encounter various challenges.  I also think that the Universe manifests itself differently to different people.  What a human concept, to put a single face on so great an entity.  I think all religions (even Mormonism) are venerating different masks of the same universal truths, and none have a cornered market on it.

There’s no special club for the Universe.  No secret words, no requirements.  It is inside of us.  To seek it is to seek ourselves and our fellow man, to quiet our mind and to be.  The Universe is the sound underneath all the silence.

And that is more than enough for me.

How I Survived My First Day Teaching

I survived my first day of teaching.  Glory, glory, hallelujah.

In fact, not only did I survive, I kind of loved it. Despite the fact that so many things went wrong it made my head spin, I’m excited to go back tomorrow.

What?  No.  That can’t be right.

True story folks.  I have feared this day for pretty much the entire summer.  Since April, nightmares have plagued my sleep about nude teaching, forgetting my entire lesson plan, and students who attack me.

This would be tame compared to what my nightmares look like.
This would be tame compared to what my nightmares look like.

Of course, the teaching nightmares never really end, do they?  I had nightmares ALL Sunday night before school on Monday. I didn’t sleep past 4:00 am because of all the “what if” scenarios running through my head. I was at school at 6:30 (even though we don’t have to be there until 7:30), just so I could make SURE nothing went wrong.

Here is everything that went wrong.

First of all, you know that nightmare where you walk into class and there’s no furniture?  Yeah, that was reality for me.  My charter school is brand new, and some furniture order on the East coast got mixed up and BAM: no furniture.  We borrowed ugly, old, mostly broken furniture from a local high school.  I had exactly one teacher desk and twenty four mis-matched student desks.  And nothing else.  My books were stacked against the wall.  I was told I couldn’t hang posters until after the furniture came in.  Not exactly the first impression you want students (or parents, for that matter) to have about your classroom.

Students were supposed to be taken out of first period for pictures. First period is my planning period. Excellent, nothing in my life was to be affected by this. HA. Well, the camera guy screwed up and wasn’t ready until third period, at which point they realized, “Hey, let’s take students out of Mrs. M’s class.” So I basically had three periods where students did nothing but take pictures and I barely got to tell them my name.

I got a nosebleed in one class. Like, a BAD nosebleed. Thank goodness: an aid was in the room with me. I threw my attendance sheet at her and ran out of the room.

I had lunch duty (yay charter school: we wear a lot of hats), and NONE of us knew what we were doing. Three teachers were assigned this and we kind of sauntered down to the lunchroom and were met with angry aids (we share our building with an elementary school) who wanted to know why we weren’t doing X Y and Z of something we were never told to do.

And THEN they wanted to argue with us about scheduling and convince our 11-13 year-olds to eat their entire lunch in 10 minutes.

THEN we had to drag the students outside (because admin has decided that middle schoolers need sunshine). The sixth graders happily ran around while the seventh and eighth graders acted like it was the most horrible thing in the world to be made to be outside on a playground.

And suddenly lunch was over. And I hadn’t eaten a thing. And I’m pregnant with the appetite of a freaking hippo. I shoved a granola bar and a handful of carrots in my mouth as I herded students back into the building. It was not pretty.

By seventh period, I literally could not stand up. I have a lovely pregnancy-related disorder that’s causing A LOT of pain in my pelvis. It gets worse with movement. After running back and forth for pictures, and chasing students around for lunch, I spent seventh period in a chair at the front of the room, which I’m 90% positive is one of those “Don’t ever do this on the first day” rules.

And you know what? I lived. In fact, in some ways, I kind of enjoyed it. We were all (including the students) laughing about it all. It’s a new school, new rules, new students. Whatever. There are worse things in the world.

Point is: you can handle your first day. Even if everything in the world goes wrong. You’ll live to teach another day.

 

This post originally appeared on https://secondarydreamteam.wordpress.com/ in August 2015

Quit “Shoulding” All Over Yourself

This is me, tonight:

I get home from work, I start to feed my baby. I look at his beautiful face, grumpy from hunger and I think, “I should’ve left work earlier.”

My husband invites me out to dinner, asks my mother to watch the baby. I think, “I should’ve asked her earlier if she could do this so that we could have more time together.” The next moment, I think, “Maybe we shouldn’t go out. Maybe I should spend more of the night with my baby.” I go out anyway.

When I get home, I take an hour and a half to chat with my mother. I watch the clock. “I should wrap this up, so I can get to the rest of the evening.”

I spend an hour in the bathtub. “I should wash my hair, I should get out of the bath to write or play that video game.” I don’t, because I’m reading a good book and I’m stuck inside it.

When I get out of the bath, I debate myself on whether I should write a little or play a little bit of video games, and I chastise myself because I should’ve spent my evening more wisely and it feels wasted.

How does that even make sense?

Let’s check my evening statistics: fed the baby, had a lovely date with my husband, caught up with my mother, had a relaxing bath with a fantastic book and I still have time to fit in another leisure activity. But I have a hard time living in those moments because I “should” on myself.

I spend a lot of time trying to think about what I “should” do. Like, a lot of time. Time is a precious gift as a parent, and it becomes a bargaining chip.  I budget my time more fiercely than I budget my finances (and I’m the kind of person that has an app on my phone to track every dime, so yeah, it’s intense).  But so much time is spent on this nothing, this obsession with what I “should” do.

One of my biggest struggles in parenthood is the desperate search for perfection.  I know, I know, nothing is perfect, but it’s hard to accept that when the project is your child.  In many ways, it was my deepest struggle with postpartum depression: I want to give my kid perfection, but I can’t.

So, in theory, I should (there it is again) be able to give him something close to perfection, right?  And here, ladies and gentlemen, I present: the root of my anxiety.

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There are lots of choices in life.  We move choice to choice, all day long.  Some choices are simple: what to eat for breakfast (although some sanctimommies will definitely argue with me on that one).  Some choices are those little choices, like what shoes to put on, what route to take to work.  Some “medium” choices for me are like what color to paint the house or what gift to give on a special occasion.  Then there are BIG choices, like where to move, what career field to pursue, who to marry.  My problem is that I treat every choice that involves my son or my time as a BIG choice, because sometimes that’s what it feels like.  And because I act like it’s a BIG choice, I stress over what is the BEST choice.

The simple fact is that there isn’t usually a BEST choice.  There’s not something I “should” do, except take decent care of myself and my kid.  And there are lots of ways to do that.

I’m getting rid of my “should”s.  Let’s take a big ol’ broom and sweep all that shit out.  I’ve got enough anxiety without trying to prioritize my anxiety.

How does one do that?  With conscious awareness and a tad of rephrasing.  Language is powerful, so if you consciously and carefully adjust your language, your perception of the entire world changes.

So here’s how this goes.  I am currently eating frosting out of the jar (true story).

Internal me: “I shouldn’t eat this.”

Conscious me catches myself saying this to myself, and I rephrase: “I can choose to eat this or not.  I choose to eat it.”

Power.  I recognize my choice and I own my choice.

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Current catch phrase

Here’s another example that happens pretty regularly:

Internal me: “I should get off my phone.” Sound familiar to you too?

Conscious me catches myself and one of two things happen: Option A: “I can choose to be on my phone or not.  Right now, I choose to put my phone down, without judging myself for the time I have spent on it.”  Option B: “I can choose to be on my phone or not.  Right now, I choose to be on my phone and I don’t need to justify that.”

Own it, sister.  Or brother.  Faceless reader, own your shit.  Don’t obsess with the “should”s because that is wasting time and emotion.

Quit shoulding on yourself.