My Story

A couple of years ago I was in the darkest, scariest place I’ve ever been. I was diagnosed and treated for Generalized Anxiety Disorder before my kids were born. I got better.

Then we went through a bunch of life and just as things started to point up and get happy and exciting, bam! I had an intense and long-lasting mental breakdown.  Looking back I think it probably came then because my mind knew it was the safest time to not be able to hold on.

There came a day when I knew I was in a dangerous place. I was sitting on our porch waiting for my kids to wake up, in a state of something near prolonged paranoia. My mind had crafted the most horrible non-reality and I was living in it.

Hopeless. Terrified. Thinking that at 42 my life was ending- not by suicide but by the number of years I’d lived. It was not depression. I still found moments of joy with my children, but those moments were quickly sent to the depths of a dark and all-consuming abyss.

When I look back at that woman I feel so much compassion for her. I want to comfort her. I want to sit with her, hold her hand when she wants it, make her delicious food, buy her the most comfortable clothes, and find her the resources and tools she needs to move out of that space.

In retrospect, I did do that for myself. It’s exactly what I did. Sitting on my porch that day I knew that if I could not find a way to turn things around starting right then- there might be no turning around.

I got on medication. I started taking a particular B-12 and Magnesium. I reached out to a friend who had made herself visible about a similar struggle. I asked her for resources. She gave them to me and I used every one. I did a lot of work. Hard work. Work I really did not want to do but I also knew where I’d end up if I did not.

To be crystal clear: some people with mental illness cannot change their outcome no matter how much work they do or what kind of medication they take. Literally every day of my life now I pause and offer love to those people. It’s a tragedy and I have so much compassion for people who have to live in that space all of their lives. 

As I sat there trying to think of a simple, basic, actionable step that I could actually take, I evaluated what, if anything, made me feel better and what made me feel worse. Again, I was very lucky to be able to do this even though I was in such a horrid place.

Food and Clothing- Interesting, Huh?

The first couple of things that came up for me were food and clothing. I had been on a near lifetime of enmeshment in diet culture- constantly berating myself for what I did or did not eat, obsessing about food (either what I’d eaten, wanted to eat, or what I “could not” eat). It was, literally, all-consuming, and decreased my self-confidence, self-love, and self-worth.

Though I was a full-fledged member, I did not yet know about diet culture. All I knew at that time was that I did not have the mental space, energy, or resources to think about food for one more second of my life. So I stopped. I was in crisis and what I weighed, or if my cholesterol got high (I had not learned about diet culture yet remember) it did not matter. If I didn’t take my obsession with the restriction of food off the table to move toward feeling better, I wouldn’t have survived long enough to have my cholesterol matter.

The truth is, poor mental health is fatal for many. Just like Cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. I needed to do whatever necessary to increase my chances of survival. So I stopped thinking about food and ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I had no idea at the time that this would become one of my core self-care tenets. You can read about it by clicking here.

The next easy actionable step I could take was to wear clothes that made me comfortable. I had long given up shapewear and heels, but I was still wearing clothes for the main purpose of trying to cover up my fat. I spent hours and hours in dressing rooms looking for the best option. Comfort did not matter. The style did not matter. All that mattered is if it helped cover up the worst parts of me (oof. It’s so hard to know those words were true for me for so long).

I started wearing leggings from LulaRoe (I’m not going down the rabbit hole with you. I don’t sell them. I wear them. I love them.). I wore clothing from J. Jill because it had an elastic waist, a great cut, and incredibly comfortable materials. I found t-shirts that were comfortable and fit well and wore them with shorts.

As it turns out, wearing comfortable clothes was another core tenet of self-care for me. Each night when I picked out my outfit for the next day it was a gift. It was a way of saying to myself: “tomorrow you will be comfortable all day. When things are bad and you do not know what to do, the comfort of your clothes and body will not make you feel worse. They will not be a distraction from getting better.”

Other Things

Gratitude, self-talk, listening to music, self-compassion, changing the voices that I allowed in my head (which is how my Podcast started  Click here to read more), sleep, play… all of these were other practices I would adopt in the name of survival. What I did not know then was that all of it was helping to raise my self-worth. Low self-worth had led to low self-love for me. Couple that with poor mental health and it is no wonder now that I was near death.

If you met me now and I did not tell you, you would have no idea of where I’ve been. I’m stable. I’m productive. I’m happy. I’m optimistic. I’m authentic.  I’m engaged (in life. I’ve been (mostly) happily married for 16 years). I’m friendly. I’m conversational. I’m excited. My passion is back. Though I am not at all new-agey, I really am stepping into my power and it is awesome.

But I was there. And now I am here.

Learning what real self-care is combined with medication is what saved my life. If I had been practicing these sooner, I never would have lived in the depths of despair.

You don’t have to have poor mental health or be at rock bottom to start using real self-care practices. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom who loves her life or a corporate executive who travels 50 percent of the year doing work she adores, we are all being fed a list of “must-dos” when it comes to taking care of ourselves. Too often, I believe, these come from people who have not practiced it themselves and their self-care directives are superficial.

I think it’s so important that we all start to learn what taking care of ourselves really looks like. Personally, I don’t know of a better or more beautiful way than sharing our stories.

Pondering Jen is a place where I will share my story in hopes that it will help other women. I look forward to learning more about your story, too, if and when you are comfortable sharing.

Be sure to sign up for our newsletter over there on the right and follow us on our social media channels. Click these links to follow us: Instagram. Facebook. Pinterest. Twitter. 

Welcome. I am so glad you are here.

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Be the Change You Wish to See in the World As An Action Not a Quote

Last week I published a post about weight loss and how it makes us fat. (Click to read). I was impassioned and shared the post around anywhere I could. I desperately wanted women to know the truth about diet culture. The more I thought about how many women, like me, have spent so much of their life wasting so much time, energy, thought, and resources on losing weight -when it actually makes you gain weight- the more confident I grew sharing the piece.

It was shared on a page about diet culture where it ended up getting attacked. “Fatphobic” and “cringe-y” were just two of the insults quickly thrown. They got mean and more descriptive.

Imagine My Embarrassment

I cannot exactly remember what I first felt when I read the words that described my writing. I think it was a sick to my stomach feeling with the realization that I had hurt people’s feelings. (This is not a people-pleaser behavior, of which I am recovering from. Rather, it stemmed from me being ignorant and not fully understanding the weight of what I was saying). What I said was offensive -even to myself. I just did not know it until it was pointed out.

As the comments came in I realized that some who were throwing the critiques likely had not read the piece. When this used to happen to me I would completely dismiss the person’s comment and call them out in a not very kind way about how ridiculous it is to comment on a post you have not read.

Maybe the title of my piece was offensive but the content of the piece was anything but (I thought). If these people would just take 5 freaking minutes and read it they would not be making any of these comments! I guess I was annoyed.

I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years though. I’ve grown so much. After my mental breakdown the world became different. I had to learn what real self-care looked like. For me that is engaging in causes that feel unjust to me in a way that won’t send me back to the depths of despair and disconnection.

Be the Change

So, in this case, I paused for a moment. I took a look at what these commenters were saying. I stepped back for a moment and considered my words from their perspective. When I really looked, it did not matter whether they had read the article. The very title of my piece was hurtful, offensive, and perpetuated the very myth and damaging stereotype they have spent so much of their lives trying to debunk. It did not matter what my words after that said. Whether or not they read the post, my words would have been tainted anyway. I was wrong.

Instead of being defensive or justifying what I had written, I engaged. Instead of looking for a winner and a loser, I had a conversation.

See, November 2016 changed a lot for a lot of people. Many of us were left in disbelief. The impossible happened and it was incredulous. We couldn’t imagine it getting this bad but it has. When I woke up the morning after the election the first thing I said was “this is what happens when we don’t listen to each other”. I believe those words still and that single morning changed the way I look at everything. I knew I needed to be the change I wanted to see and I had to be it hard.

But How? Have You Even Been on the Internet?!

So I listend. I engaged. I asked questions. I considered. I detached myself from the emotion and embarrassment I felt so that I could change my piece to make it inclusive.

image of woman in front of computer with text "be the change you wish to see is an action not a quote"I have to tell you, this experience was beautiful. It was humbling in a way I have not experienced before. Admitting how little I know is not something I have ever had a hard time with. I have a hard time though when it seems like people are just trying to be trouble makers. I’ve assumed the latter far too often.

The conversation that followed the initial attack was so helpful- for me, and for my piece. My piece will now benefit more women. More women will be able to read it and receive it’s message. And you know what? All I had to change was the title.

Hopeful and Empowered are Good Results

A lot of times I have felt hopeless about how to affect change. It’s easy for me to get lost thinking one person is not enough to make a difference and get overwhelmed with the possibility of it all. The conversation this group and I have had over the last week affected change on a global level. It did. I have no doubt. What a powerful and empowering realization.

Some of the folks on that thread were absolutely just looking for trouble, or maybe they were just angry. Maybe they are fat and have faced discrimination and hurt their whole lives and were reacting to the awful title I had written. No matter which parts of this are true we modeled something different that day- we modeled understanding, vulnerability, kindness, compassion, humanity, growth, and making the world better for women. Worst case this thread was shut down to the ridiculousness of trouble makers with intelligence, honesty, and a willingness to listen to each other. Best case we unintentionally modeled discourse for the greater good in front of a whole bunch of people.

So What?

Lest anyone think I am trying to pat myself on the back (well, I mean, I am. I am really, really proud of myself for how far I’ve come, but that’s not why I’m writing this). I used to be the angry one. The one who lashed out quickly, shut the conversation down, and shut people up- and don’t get me wrong- sometimes it was absolutely justified and necessary. It became my default though and I carried the weight of the hurts I’d caused for a long time. For me though, now, being the change I wish to see involves more listening. It requires me to replace winning or losing with a conversation.

Instead of being filled with shame this last week for behaving like an asshole and getting in an internet war I have become less ignorant, had more connection, and feel steady and confident moving forward in social justice issues because now I know I can trust myself to be the change I wish to see in the world.

I don’t know about you, but for so long I thought this nice quote was for big important people- people with lots of reach and influence. This week I learned that’s not true at all. It’s for all of us who have the mental space and capabilities to practice it in our every day lives, even when it’s hard.

 

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Weight Loss Makes you Gain Weight, Did you Know?

A few weeks ago I pondered losing weight to make running easier on my knees. (Click here to read). Since then, I have learned a term that encompasses all I have been learning about personally over the last couple of years; diet culture. I will do a separate post with resources because it is a an important topic.

I had learned some time ago that diets don’t work- as in, this fact is scientifically backed. They may work for a few people in initially losing weight (though most do not) but research shows that such a small number of people keep the weight off after a few years  that they may be statistically insignificant. Most people, like me, gain back far more weight than they lost. This makes me understand yo-yo dieting in a different way. Quite literally, and factually, dieting makes us fat, or fatter.

image of woman on mountain text reads "Weight loss makes you gain weight did you know?"If that’s true, which it is, why would I choose to diet again if my desire is to have less for my knees to carry, not more? This is what I’ve been pondering over these last few weeks.

My decision? I will not actively try to lose weight. I’ve been on that vicious cycle for the last 10 years. Every time I lose a few pounds I gain double back. I try to lose the newfound pounds and it happens again. And again. And again.

There’s a part of this decision that lands like a thud in my chest. Does that mean I will never be thinner? Does it mean I will always be this size? Maybe. Logically, I should be glad about this. If I stay this size it will be the second year in a dozen that I have not gained weight. But giving up that thought of losing weight leaves a piece of me grieving. I’d always believed I’d be back to a cute pair of jeans and black t-shirt.

What’s that? Why can’t I wear that now? A-ha. Good question.

My body may stay this size and shape and I will keep working on being okay with that. It may mean I have to give up running soon, or sooner than I would if there were less weight on my knees. That’s sad for me. It’s who I am now, though, and I have to adjust accordingly and learn to love her.

Weight Loss and Diet Culture Really Are to Blame

I’m not one to shirk responsibility anymore but diet culture got me here. Misinformation. Untruths. Profit driven lies. Myths fed to the medical community and projected onto patients.

But what about health? Surely being thin is healthier.  I am still learning about this, however, what I know for sure after the self-educating I have done is this; if people were really concerned about the health of overweight people they would stop talking about weight loss. They would stop shaming. They would stop talking about how many pounds they’ve lost and how they did it. They would stop promoting food restriction, elimination, and calorie counting. This wouldn’t be for the sake of feelings, it would be for the sake of health.

The research is in- diet culture makes people fatter. If you believe fatter is unhealthier and you care about people’s heath, you should stop talking about weight. Otherwise, it’s not health you care about, it’s something else.

Maybe it’s the morality of thinking someone who is thin or has lost a lot of weight is better than someone who is or has not. Maybe it’s a way to make you feel better about a different shortcoming you have. Whatever it is, it can no longer be called health. Diet culture makes people fat. If you believe fatter is unhealthier, and you say you care about health, you can no longer talk about weight loss. Yes, I said that twice.

Reconciling All These Years of Attempted Weight Loss

I don’t feel resentment or anger in looking back at what caused me to gain all of this weight. The initial circumstances were beyond my control but the years that followed were too. (I was ready to type were under my control and changed it. Yay for paradigm shifts!). If I were encouraged to eat what felt good and stop obsessing about food my weight gain probably would have stopped, or reversed itself all together, 20 or 30 pounds ago.

Maybe anger and resentment will come later. Right now though, I am grateful to understand more deeply why I will never restrict myself from food again. I will never eliminate another food. I stopped fearing gluten a long time ago, right along with sugar, chocolate, carbs, and French fries. I started to eat because I enjoy it and stopped obsessing about food.

Once I went through an initial binge period I stopped thinking about food, and thought more about whatever I was doing. Interestingly, my clothes started to feel bigger. As soon as I thought about losing weight a few weeks ago I started binging again without realizing it- getting ready for the deprivation I would provide myself in the interest of being able to run more. It’s so fucked up, isn’t it?!

You can hear more about that on my podcast episode here:

The Decision

So, my intentional choice is not to try to lose weight. Wow. We don’t hear that very often, do we? I will get back to eating what feels good to stop the obsession with food and the food items I “can’t/shouldn’t” have. I’ll keep eating lots of fruits and veggies, which I love. I’ll enjoy cooking again because so many limitations will be removed and I’ll release those limitations from my thoughts.

I have also set a boundary- I will no longer be part of conversations around weight loss, size, clean eating, keto, or anything else that perpetuates diet culture. (Full disclosure- I am full on Vegan, which may seem hypocritical but it’t not. For me, animals, or anything they produce, are absolutely not food. This does not stop with particular animals like cats and dogs but includes all animals. If this information causes to you to reconsider everything I have shared  please reach out and I will explain it. I will do this happily, patiently, gently, and kindly. For some people being vegan is absolutely part of diet culture. I am not one of those people).

When conversations about weight loss, diets, or eating plans come up, what will I do? I’m not sure. If it’s a group I don’t know well maybe I will excuse myself to the bathroom. If it’s people I am comfortable with and who understand boundaries I will kindly ask them if we could talk about something else in order to support my mental health. People who have boundaries will not be put off by this. They will understand and respect it.

So. Big decision. It’s pretty awesome though, isn’t it? Imagine knowing you will never diet again? Imagine knowing you can just enjoy your pasta and dessert and macchiato? Imagine no guilt, shame or berating and just being able to focus on the conversation instead? Wow! It’s very exciting! In theory anyway. In reality there’s lots of work to do to get there but I know it’s worth it. How about you?

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The Motherhood Groove

I was blindsided by motherhood. I had no idea how much it would change my life.

Before my oldest child was born, I was committed to keeping my life as it was whether children were a part of it or not. I held fast to my commitment to read, work, keep up with the house, maintain my relationships with friends, and my husband.

Then Owen was born. And I was not prepared.

For the connection I would feel for him, the way that life was only right when he was peaceful and touching me, the fact that with the birth of my first child, my eyes would be replaced with new ones.

Motherhood GrooveEvery desire that I had before children became distant in my mind, seldom receiving any consideration.  All that mattered to me was that Owen was comfortable and content.

I am not embarrassed by this. I do not feel ashamed that my priority suddenly became my children. I feel grateful. Now.

But for the first months, and years, I tried to maintain it all. I tried to work, and stay connected with my “self” (the definition of which was my pre-child self) and not let life change.

Of course, life had already changed and I was just pretending.

Twenty six months later my daughter was born and as she began needing attention I became a maniac. I tried desperately to meet the needs of both of my children all of the time.

I was constantly stressed. Even if both kids were sleeping, I was beating myself up over the way I had handled a situation or I was prepping the house for when they woke up.

I was either making lunch, putting away toys, or planning an activity. Anything to free up my energy and time so that it could all be devoted to them when they woke.

Somewhere during this time I stopped working. Entirely. I tried to take my children on outings planned around nap times and snacks and enroll them in music class.

My inability to accept that life had changed created both an inner struggle and tension between my children and I.  My life had no rhythm, and though I tried, I could not find a groove.

Then, without planning or realizing it,  Sydney’s napping became more predictable and Owen spent more time playing on his own. The house began to stay organized more easily as Owen began to consistently pick up after himself, and Sydney.  I became calmer. And several months ago, I realized that things were getting easier.

Owen and Sydney started playing together- frequently and for close to an hour at times. I often just sat and watched them. Amazed.  Mornings could be spent reading books together, watching a movie with popcorn or doing laundry.

Owen and Sydney joined in to help me prepare lunch.

As blocks were turned into structures, I sat on the couch in front of my children.  I read my book, or caught up with friends on Facebook. Music played quietly in the background.

Instead of cries of frustration and prayers of desperation, giggles and conversation became regular. Suddenly, it seemed that not only did I love my children, but I loved Motherhood.

As I reflect now on life since Owen was born, I realize there was nothing magical about this transformation. I gave up lots of preconceived notions about how things “should be”, and started doing what felt right to me, and made my children happy.  Expectations were altered or eliminated all together.  This removed unnecessary resistance and chaos from our lives and changed our dynamic.

We were no longer trying to force an outcome, we were going with what was in front of us. This is not who I am at my core.  Or, not who I was.  I am learning.

Every day is not perfect and neither am I.  I cop to my weaknesses and shortcomings regularly. But mostly now, I enjoy each day. Grateful for this amazing life-for spending most of my moments with my children. By choice.

And when Sydney turned two just a few weeks ago, instead of being filled with a feeling of bittersweet that she was getting older, I was filled only with joy, that my baby is so happy.

Because now I know that I am not fighting motherhood, that I am comfortable, gratefully sinking into it. That I appreciate nearly every moment and am giving my children the best part of myself.

The regret that I so frequently felt when Owen was two is now replaced with confidence. An assurance that comes from knowing  my children are more calmly loved and appreciated.

Instead of ending each day thinking of how I will do better tomorrow, I end it smiling with the knowledge that I have finally found my Motherhood Groove.

 

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Adjusting to Two Children: I Cried

It was 7:00 on Friday and both kids were asleep.  I came downstairs, sat down and I cried.  I cried like my high school boyfriend had just dumped me.  I knew that it was going to happen.  As soon as I felt my son drift off to sleep, emotion overtook me.

My husband had been away all week.  He left on Monday to return late Friday night.  Kris travels regularly, so I’m used to it.  But, this was a long week.  The weather was unlikely in July and unheard of in September.

The rain and humidity were intense, and at my request the air conditioners had been taken out the weekend before.  Given that we bed share and nurse, the heat made it too uncomfortable for either of my two children or me to sleep.  The morning after Kris left I got a cold that quickly turned into a sinus infection.

All in all I had done relatively well while being the only parent at home, particularly with these additional challenges.  However, my “relative” is not one that I like to use for comparison.

adjusting to life with two children I criedJust after Sydney was born the adjustment to having two children was difficult for me.  There was a slight return of my postpartum depression, but mostly the hard transition was due to my total lack of ability and unpreparedness to nurture two children.

My precious, wonderful, beautiful first born whom I had given everything to before Sydney came, must have been heart broken during these months. I know with certainty that the guilt from how I handled that time will never subside.  My patience had evaporated, and my praise and adoration must have felt like a distant dream for Owen.

For the first time in his life he had been yelled at, ignored, and repeatedly ordered to be quiet.  My precious, innocent, vulnerable, trusting little boy who gave nothing but love, and trusted me fully and completely with his life, emotional health and general well-being.

I was Owen’s world and his world was ruined.

My behavior this week with Kris away reminded me of what my first baby had to go through after his sister was born.  I’ve heard that every child has difficulty adjusting to family expansion.  For my family, my child adjusted just fine, it was me who couldn’t adjust, and it was my beloved first born, who suffered the consequences.

Those who had been through it before me could pseudo counsel me that my son was “just adjusting, he would get better, things would get better.”  He was my innocent, unsuspecting, undeserving scapegoat.  But this is what they had to tell me. What else was there to say?

And so, tonight I cried.  I cried because I couldn’t be the mother my son deserved and because I miss the uninterrupted bond that we used to have.  I cried because I would have life no other way than to have my daughter in it, and because I feel like I am missing so much of Owen’s development, as well as Sydney’s.

I cried because I can already see the love between my son and my daughter and it is the most beautiful thing I could never have imagined.  Mostly though, I cried because these gifts that I have been given, these wondrous lives that have been entrusted to me, deserve so much more than I can give them.  More patience, more nurturing, more explanation, more play time, more knowledge, more of everything wonderful, positive and beautiful in life.Things could be so easy if we had only had one child.  The bond between Owen and I would be so strong, and I can imagine the person he would be.  Still, I can’t imagine the person he would be without his sister.  And that is what allows me to eventually fall asleep at night.

After a long time, the crying subsided and I vowed that I would not let this emotion be lost.  I would store it away and draw from it the next time I was faced with the perfect storm of challenging behavior from my son, and my diminished patience.  I would remember that Owen only wanted my attention, my love, for our relationship to be what it was before.

Eventually, I did stop sobbing.  I thought about the wonderful moments of pure enjoyment Owen and I had shared earlier that day.  That while the babysitter was here I chose to take Owen with me instead of getting some desperately needed alone time and that our time was brilliant while we were together.

Somehow this dimmed the awfulness that my son endured from me over the week.  My tears, as they always do, ran out, and though my eyes remained red, I got myself together. I filed my feelings from the week away, a reserve of fuel during the next storm.

Then I opened the wine.

 

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Deciding to Homeschool and a Marriage

This piece was originally published on a different blog by the same author in 2012.

Deciding to Homeschool and a Marriage

My husband and I have so much to work on in our relationship. Here though, is the commonality that keeps us moving forward:

Owen (almost 6) did a very short stint in preschool. On his second day he did not want me to leave him, and he cried. I’ll never forget the look of fear and confusion on my baby’s face. The teacher convinced me that he would be okay, and I left.

I was shaking and I was dizzy when I got to my car. I finally turned the key and drove around and around. I called my husband and he stepped out of his office. “This isn’t RIGHT” I said. “NOTHING ABOUT THIS IS RIGHT. Owen was CRYING and SCARED and you didn’t see the look on his face that acknowledged that for the first time in his memory I did not listen to him and left him distraught.”

Never once did my husband say that Owen would be okay. He did not utter a single word that “kids get used to this sort of thing all the time”. He did not tell me that “mothers always feel this way”, or that “it gets easier”. He did not tell me that it was what was “best for Owen”.

Deciding to Homeschool and a MarriageInstead, we debated whether I should go back right then or wait until school was over. We both agreed that if he did not want to go back he would not; that if he wanted to be with his mother, he should be.

When I went back to the school, Owen was playing outside with other children. At this point lots of people will tell a mother in my situation that it really was for the best and that her child had only cried for a few minutes, so it was “worth it”.

This was not true for us. Something changed for Owen and I that day. He was more guarded, distant. He didn’t throw his arms around me and tell me about what a wonderful day he’d had.

Though it was a good one, Owen never went back to that preschool.

The next year we made one more attempt at school- never with tears and it was always Owen’s choice whether or not he stayed. I never felt right leaving him, and he never reallywanted to go. We both thought it’s what “had” to happen.

A couple of months later and without a plan, Owen attended his last day of school.

As Owen enters “school aged” this fall, my husband and I are still figuring out what all of this means. As we have some heated discussions, I am brought back to that day three years ago, sitting in my minivan, shaking and crying.

I recall the words from my husband “you are right Jen. Nothing about this is okay. We have wronged our son and we will adjust. Go get him. See if he wants to come home with you, and if he does, take him. If he wants you to stay and play with him and the teacher won’t allow it, bring him to a playground. It’s okay if the teacher is upset with you, or thinks you are making a mistake, she is doing what she thinks is best and we have to do what we think is best. He is ourson and we do things differently.”

I have come to realize how rare and difficult it is to ignore what those around us say in order to meet the needs of our children. With all that needs work in our relationship, this is the one constant that needs no adjusting: my husband and I are both committed to meeting the needs of our children. In comparison to this, fixing all of the other stuff is easy.

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Homeschool Fall: Moving Beyond Old Expectations to Unschooling

This piece was published on a different blog by the same author in 2016.

It happens every year. Fall rolls around and kids go back to school. Many of my fellow homeschool families are busy forming schedules and registering for classes. For us though, Fall is just like Summer, which is just like Spring, which is just like Winter. While we love the change of seasons, they don’t bring required changes to our daily routine.

It’s lovely. We chose this. It is what is best for our family. We are committed to living in a  way that fosters family connection, real life learning, and passion following. We believe that our children are people and are learning to practically apply that to daily life. With every fiber of my being I believe that this is best.

Homeschool FallBut still, every fall it happens. Without even realizing it I demand more of my kids. I’m upset with them for not “wanting” to do more school-like things. I get angry because we have spent another day not doing anything that looks like what a September day “should” look like for a 7 and 9 year old.

“Should”, of course, refers to what the rest of most of the world is doing- to what I did as a child… right along with what all my siblings, cousins, and neighbors did…. with what my parents and all of their siblings, cousins and neighbors did… starting school.  What September “should” look like is so deeply ingrained in me, that my anxiety from choosing differently peaks in the Fall.

Except I did not know that. I had not realized until this year that autumn does not only bring crisp air and beautiful colors, it also brings expectations and the reminder of how out-of-the-box we are living.

We are first generation homeschoolers. As Boston Irish Catholics, my entire lineage attended Parochial school- where the teachers and priests were always right, and Childism was the basis of their education and culture- where routine, inflexibility, and standardized learning were fundamental.

We did not simply deviate as far as homeschooling- we are Unschooling. This is perhaps the polar opposite of what my parents and their parents experienced as children. Living this way is not for everybody, but it is exactly what my family needs and I love it. I am grateful for our life…for our choices…for having the courage to step our of a box that was not working for us and trying a different way.

Yet here we are. Another Fall where I find myself unsure and floundering. Where I start thinking I should be “boss”, our schedule should be set, and bedtimes should be inflexible. Even though I do not actually believe any of this.

The “Fall routine” is so ingrained in me that its expectations subconsciously change my relationship with my kids. It disrupts their world- and mine. Every year.

Now I know- I am aware, and that changes everything. Next Autumn, I will be prepared. I will know what is coming and will acknowledge it.

As Fall next approaches, rather than letting anxiety and expectations creep in I will be able to say “hello”, tell them that they serve no purpose in this family line any longer, and send them on their way. I will remember the only changes we need to embrace are the colors of the leaves. I will breathe. I will relax into this life we have designed that brings us joy, growth, and connection. Most importantly, I will practice gratitude that my kids’ fall looks so different than mine did.

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Moving Away from Family

Note: this piece was published on a  different blog by the same author in 2013. 

Moving away from family is sad- no matter how exciting the prospects.

It’s not that I don’t want to go. It’s just that I don’t want to leave.

I have spent most of my life in a 60 mile radius. There was an exception for college, and for two years when I turned 4, but the rest of my life has been spent close to home. My sisters each moved away for a while, and for the first time since high school, my whole family has been back together- something I always wanted.

Moving Away From FamilyNow it is my turn; to try something new, to live somewhere else, to know who I am outside of the surroundings that remind me of who I am supposed to be. This is something else I have always wanted.

But now I have kids, and my son and daughter have grown knowing what it means to have ready access to their grandparents and aunts and uncles- to feel the confidence that comes from being accepted, loved and adored for who they are- by so many people. I didn’t expect my kids to have best friends at 3 and 5 years old. So it’s different.

It isn’t that we have to go- though we would be foolish not to- but it is more than that. It is a chance to experience a different climate, and new people… a lifestyle that offers outdoor activities all year long and sunshine 300 days each year. It is an opportunity to know a different part of our own country and for my husband to grow professionally in a way that is exciting for him and for us.

I look forward to all of these things. I am eager to experience understanding our family for our own dynamic; with different surroundings and people, and without the reminders that keep me boxed in to who I have always been. (Click here to read).

It’s just the leaving; the saying good-bye, the knowing that my dad is not a phone call away to remove a bat that has entered my house when my husband is away. It is the understanding that we can no longer visit my mom at work when it all is just too lonely.

It is the already longing for the impromptu sleepovers of my siblings… who are always child inclusive because my sisters and brother value my kids as much as I do. It is the wondering of who my own family will be without the support of my own.

I do not know how to reconcile this. I am unsure of how to prepare myself so that I lead my children to the exciting and positive experience we are about to have.

So I am trying to be with it. I am not distracting us. My tears flow freely. When my children ask what is wrong, I tell them; that I am sad. That I will miss my mom and dad and Momo and grandmother and Minna and Bridgey and Uncle TJ. I tell them that this is the place I have always called home- that the ocean is in my blood and that this is the blood of my family.

I also tell them that I am excited. I share all of the things that I am looking forward to- like stability, adventures, and exploration. I share with them that our whole family will never change and that the people they love are never more than a plane ride away. I remind them that all they have to do is call any one of these people and they will drop everything to come. Just as it always has been.

For now this will have to do. Once we are settled things will seem brighter. They will be fresh, new, and exciting. My children will fall asleep in the only home they have ever known; the space between my husband and I.

As time passes we will evaluate what continues to make sense for our family and adjust accordingly. In the meantime, we will take with us the unshakeable love of our family, and the knowledge that something as small as a plane ride can’t compete with connections that run deep as the ocean.

Click here to see how moving away from family turned our for my family. 

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Weight Loss as a Tool Instead of a Cultural Demand, Maybe.

When I was in my late twenties a specialist told me my knees were not capable of being a runner. So I ran a marathon. My knees had been problematic from my early teens. Running the marathon, fortunately, did not make them worse.

I didn’t even start running until adulthood. I had not realized how much a “runner’s high” would help my mental clarity and mental health. Different things help different people and this one helps me. So I became a runner.

Weight Loss as a Tool Not a Cultural DemandThere are times I’ve stopped running. When I was pregnant with my first baby and had Cancer it derailed a lot of things. I put on a boatload of weight (it was Thyroid Cancer), extra time was taken up with medical appointments and surgeries (both procedures and recovery). My first pregnancy, not surprisingly, ended in a c-section. Though I tried VBAC with my second, and went a good long time in natural labor, that too ended in a c-section. With a traveling husband, two babies, two c-sections, and thyroid levels that always needed adjusting, the weight never came off. Each pregnancy and thyroid fluctuation seemed to bring additional pounds with it.

So I spent a decade or so intensely berating myself- my laziness, my inability to stop shoving my face with food, how fat and slobby I looked in the clothes I bought solely to cover up as much of me as I could. I masked it at night with wine. That added to the pounds. Can you imagine a person feeling worse about themselves? Sadly, statistics and plain old conversation show you surely can.

But I wasn’t a fat lazy slob who couldn’t stop filling her face with food. I was a human who’d been through a tremendous ordeal and lived in a diet culture that capitalized on that. Fatphobia continued to prove it.

I hit forty (click to read)  and things got better- my weight did not decrease but my self worth increased. I started to see how diet culture is structured to make -women specifically- feel awful about ourselves. There are lots of reasons this is beneficial for a group of people, but that is for another post. I learned about Fatphobia, and that it is not just about saying mean things about people- it’s a practice that is discriminatory and keeps people from getting proper medical treatment.

I made the connection that scarcity thinking bred by diet culture caused me to eat more and eat things that did not make me feel good. It caused me to obsess about food. The more I obsessed, and tried to stop eating it, the fatter I got. I saw, with my own soul, that when I stopped thinking about what I ate, I ate less and had sooooo much more time to think about other awesome and exciting things!

So for a couple of years now I have basked in the living of a new found self-love. A relationship with my self that sees the many, many, many good things I have to offer myself, my family, my friends, and the world. I stopped thinking about the shape of my vessel that contributes these things and started appreciating that I have a good and healthy one.

Alas, here we are. I started running again at the beginning of the year with probably another 40 pounds on me since I ran the Boston Marathon. A couple of months ago I started to feel it in my knees. As my distance increased and my time decreased they were getting more and more uncomfortable.

So now, I am faced with a decision: do I want to try to lose weight in hopes that it will help me allow to do the thing that helps me so much? Or do I decide that I will look for other ways to gain that clarity and mental health benefit?

See, it’s a choice. I don’t have to be thin just because that’s what society values. I don’t have to lose weight to be worthy. The contributions I make to this world do not increase or decrease with the pounds on my frame. It is now a matter of practicality with a far different motivation.

If I decide to lose weight I will leave behind the berating and the belittling and the need to do this for others. It will be a logistical choice that will bring with it more cooking and thinking about food, temporarily. It will be no different than making sure I take a medication each day for my mental health- it’s just a thing I can do so that I might be able to keep doing the thing that makes me feel better.

The good news is I need not experiment with what will work for me to lose weight and still feel good, I already know what to tap into and what program to use. That makes it easier. What will make it even more easy though is knowing this choice -either way- has nothing to do with my value and self-worth.

I’ve never run to beat a time or win a race. I’ve never run because it makes me look better or to be part of a group. I’ve never even run with a group. I have always run because of how much it helps my mind. So if I decide to lose some weight it will only be so I increase my chances of being able to run longer.

Maybe your story of weight gain doesn’t start out as seemingly exciting as being pregnant with Cancer (YAY!). Maybe it feels like your story doesn’t justify your weight gain. We don’t need justification. We owe nobody an explanation. Trust me, we are owed an explanation for how wronged we’ve been.

Some of us have bodies we love and some of us have to learn to love the bodies we have. Either way, it is our body and nobody else should get to tell us what we are supposed to do with it. Run. Don’t run. Diet. Don’t diet (they really don’t work anyway. Like, truly, backed by science don’t work). Wear a bikini. Don’t wear a bikini.

For me, tapping into what makes my own body feel good makes my life bigger, brighter, happier, and richer. Whether or not I decide to try to lose some weight so I can keep running, I will not allow myself to lose all that I’ve gained because of how others think I should look.

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In the Interest of Learning: Changing My Perspective About How Much to Leave the House

A few Halloweens ago my two kids were ready to head out the door about 30 minutes before we were scheduled to leave for trick or treat, just like they are every year.

As we were walking around that night I said to my husband “well, I guess it’s not true that they never want to leave the house.” See, I had been struggling. I am an energetic extrovert (when I’m not in an introverted period). I like to go, go, go. I like to be out of the house doing things I classify as fun and/or productive. It’s the world I grew up and and it’s what I knew. It’s what feels good to me most of the time.

I have one child who is a homebody. They like to be cozy with their family at home. They like to have us mostly in the same space chatting, laughing and playing- sometimes independently, sometimes together, and sometimes independently together.

Costco Pizza
UNSCHOOLING

I have another child who also likes to be home sometimes. They also get a little stir crazy and like to go out of the house regularly. Because our children’s learning is our priority,  we take the preferences of everyone in the family into consideration and meet them as best we can.

There had been a frustration brewing about how to get all of our needs met with such different wants and needs during the day. As the leader of our family, this was exacerbated by my deep need to be out in the world amongst people. We had made a few adjustments that had helped but I could not get past expectations about what a day should look like.

I found myself thinking things like “they never want to do anything”. “They never want to leave the house.  Make no mistake, I only counted doing as things done out of the house. Eek! These statements were made from emotion and ignorance rather than fact, and I was caught there. I could not see what was actually happening because I was stuck in my vision of how things are supposed to happen.

So that Halloween was a big shift. Both of my kids were so excited to get dressed up and trick or treat in our awesome neighborhood. As always, we had a blast. I started thinking about what other things make my kids excited. Some involve leaving the house and some do not. One of the  many great things about Unschooling is that we can fill our days with fun things that happen wherever we want! I realized that night that having a good time together was really good for me, and of course, for them (duh!), and therefore their learning.

I started to realize that both of my kids love going to professional sporting events, theater, museums, shows, Costco as long as it’s not crowded, amusement parks, and other places I like too. My vision was so laser focused on something else that I missed what was right in front of me. I also began to understand how much doing was happening at home. So.  Much. Doing!

So I adjusted my expectations and the priority became enjoyment. To accommodate my own needs I started to really take note of what my kids enjoy out of the house. They love riding their scooters/skateboards and playing basketball and soccer with me. They mostly love to go swimming as long as I go in too (I’m pretty fun 🙂 ). They don’t like large crowds, chaos, or being physical in the hot sun. They like hiking in the Rockies where it is cool and mostly shaded. These are all things my husband and I love, too. And they all get us out of the house, happily.

Adjusting my expectations was a game changer. It mostly helped me to see my children for who they are and better tailor their learning environment. Happy, comfortable children learn better and retain more.

From time to time I still find myself needing to get out when my kids are comfortable to stay home. They are older so I have a little more flexibility but mostly they still like us to be together. So now, if I just need a quick people fix I suggest we run out for a slice of pizza at Costco, a Slurpee, a drive by Ikea (both kids love this because they love to see the flags and it feels European) or to the library. All of these are quick, fun-for-all-of-us things that don’t take any preparation or thought. They are easy and it allows all of our needs to be met.

Changing my perspective in this way has helped us to Unschool better, create more calm, remove resentment and entitlement, and create an environment where my children have more mental energy available to learn instead of wasting thought trying to convince me of who they are.

I’m glad I was open to the shift. Seeing my kids for who they are is the best part of Unschooling.

Author’s Note: This post is intended mostly for other Unschoolers. If it helps you to see things in a useful way, that’s great! If it feels totally incomprehensible to you, that’s okay too. Unschooling is a different way of living that puts learning at the forefront of a family and it takes a lot of learning on the part of the parents to understand it. Here are some resources if you are thinking of or are currently Unshooling: click here. 

 

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