I often harass my kids about not using their better judgment…you know the old, “Well, if Ben jumped off a bridge would you jump too?” thing. Today, though, I need to have that conversation with myself. Last night I went a bit overboard while entertaining some friends. It’s one thing to be sick because you’ve picked up an icky virus. But, it’s ludicrous when you’re sick because you refused to listen to your own body telling you to knock it the heck off.
Medically speaking, I am not really supposed to eat and drink whatever I want because I had my gallbladder removed in 2002 when my first son was not quite 9 months old. My body cannot process high fat foods as well as it once did. The surgery was a medical necessity because, as an ER doctor so eloquently put it, my gallbladder was a “useless, completely filled beanbag.” I was having severe attacks that would leave me doubled over in pain for 4-10 hours at a time, and the attacks were becoming more frequent. Multiple doctors assured me that my beanbag gallbladder was damaged enough to become infected and potentially burst.
However, I was a young mother, sleep-deprived, and not really paying attention as the doctor rattled off post-surgical behaviors I would need to adhere to. He told me that I should be able to lead a normal life, but I would need to watch my fat intake to avoid digestive issues. In my brain, that meant that provided I didn’t try to eat a cheeseburger, fries, a shake, and a piece of cheesecake in the same sitting, I shouldn’t have any trouble. I’m a relatively healthy eater, so that menu seemed highly improbable anyway. And, any concern I had about what the surgery meant for my future went into a jar with my diseased organ. It was gone, and I was done with the stomach pain.
Or so I thought until the first time I really overdid it while eating. I hadn’t been paying attention to what I was consuming. And, that night I fell asleep feeling not quite right. I woke up just an hour later feeling truly sick. I started to think maybe I’d gotten a stomach bug or perhaps food poisoning. Nope. Turns out my body was working furiously trying to process all the junk I had eaten. After a sleepless, nauseous, and very uncomfortable night, you would think I’d have learned my lesson. You’d be wrong. Last night is a case in point. I still will occasionally forget that I should not eat whatever I want. And, since there isn’t a meter in my body that lets me know when I am reaching DEFCON 5 with regard to the amount of fat I’ve consumed, sometimes it sneaks past me one bite at a time until I am positively miserable.
As I was awake for hours last night, praying my food would digest faster and riding waves of cold sweat and nausea, I kept returning to this one thought: “Why do I do this to myself?” Certainly, I know better. This has happened to me more times than I should admit. But, it’s easy for me to ignore my body because it should simply do whatever my brain believes it should be able to do, right? And I need it to do a lot.
I think women do this quite often. We ignore our health because we are busy and don’t have time to deal with it. We push ourselves when we need to back off because we’re the mom and we have to keep things running. This is how last fall I let a cold become a sinus infection and eventually become bronchitis. It’s how I shoveled my way to 5 weeks’ worth of bed rest when I was pregnant with our second child. My employers don’t tolerate sick days or slackers, so I neglect my health and soldier on.
It’s wrong, though, how I’ve learned not to pay attention to what my body needs. I only have this one vessel and if I disregard it and it falls into disrepair, what then? Who will run my vast empire of laundry, dirty dishes, and dusty ceiling fans? Who will take care of my two small bosses in my absence? I need to remember that sleep is imperative, healthy food choice is crucial, and water consumption is compulsory. I need to use my better judgment. After all, just because everyone else is eating cheesecake and chocolate doesn’t mean I need to too…although I’ll definitely want to.
I have this small plaque on my kitchen wall that reads, “Who are these kids and why are they calling me Mom?” No. Seriously. Explain it to me. Some days I honestly wonder how I got here…and by “here” I mean “mother of two boys.” Okay. Okay. I know how it happened technically speaking. I just mean that I never imagined myself here. I’m sure many women envision growing up, getting married, and starting a family. I just never did. But five years after we got married, hubby and I found ourselves saying, “This is great, but now what?” Apparently our next great adventure after getting married, buying a home, and caring for two dogs just in case we decided to have kids, was actually having children.
I can’t believe I thought that becoming a parent would make my life dull. My life hasn’t had a dull (read: “quiet”) moment since the boys arrived. Raising them has been incredibly interesting. Remember before you had kids when you were worried about changing diapers and sleep deprivation? As if those were going to be your biggest concerns? HA. I giggle now when I think about it. It never occurred to me that there might be actual issues with my boys. I never imagined that they might have trouble with growth and development. It never crossed my mind that one of them might be ADHD. I certainly didn’t foresee my son feeling socially awkward or having a hard time making friends. Nor did I imagine how I would handle it when I found my six year old tying Barbie to trees or my eight year old researching “skinny dipping” on Google. Why is it that I have a million books on raising children, and not one of them tells me what I should do about my son with the killer gag reflex who vomits at least once during every dental appointment.
Through my time with my children, however, I have learned more than I did in 6 years of college and graduate study. What I couldn’t get in “book smarts” from college, I learn in hands-on lessons in real life. With my boys, I truly do learn something new every day. Granted, maybe I didn’t need to know that there is a gecko in Namibia that survives the deadly desert temperatures by using its large webbed feet to burrow deep beneath the sand it traverses during the day. I also probably didn’t need to know that baby powder, when completely emptied unceremoniously from its container, would take weeks to remove completely from the walls, carpet, and baseboards of a bedroom. I know I didn’t want to know that boogers are virtually impossible to pry from heavily textured walls or that you can pick up a so-called permanent tooth that has been knocked out and shove it back into its socket in the mouth, hold it there, and probably save it.
For each thing I’ve learned that maybe I didn’t feel I wanted to or needed to know, though, I have also learned something about myself. I pick my battles more carefully these days. I understand that sometimes it’s just best to cut your losses and that doing so doesn’t have to imply failure. I’ve become much better at problem solving and much more adept at improvising. I’ve learned that worrying about things doesn’t affect their outcome. I now know that sometimes even when things don’t work out as I’ve planned they have still worked out just fine. I’ve also learned that I am much stronger than I ever thought I was.
Parenting has been my life’s greatest adventure so far. It hasn’t always been a pleasant journey, but it’s been infinitely educational. Please remind me of that the next time Luke pukes in the dentist’s chair all over himself, me, and the floor, and I’m looking around as if I have no idea whose child this is. Please remind me that there are lessons to be learned everywhere in life. And then remind me that Spray ‘n Wash will remove regurgitated chocolate milk from a khaki sweatshirt if you catch it quickly enough.
A couple years ago after years of virtually non-stop time with my small bosses, I needed a break. Being the infinitely good sport that he is, my husband agreed it was a good idea. So, I booked a ticket to the city where I was born, Buffalo, New York. Hubby was surprised that I would pick Buffalo as my private vacation destination, but I told him that it wasn’t getting away if it didn’t involve two flights’ distance between us.
So, on Friday, June 12th, 2009 (yes…the date is engraved in my memory), I started my first solo adventure in 8 years. Sure. I’d traveled during those 8 years, but not entirely on my own just for the purpose of fun and relaxation. This was a HUGE deal. I was actually going to be free to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted for three full days. My mind was dizzy with possibilities. Aside from my luggage, I had no baggage. I felt lighter than I’ve felt in years.
Although I’d made plans to see friends and family during my visit, I made sure to allow myself one 24-hour day of complete solitude. So, on my first full-day in New York I made a promise to myself: I would do only what I felt like doing, even if that meant staying in bed in my hotel all day and reading. I had no obligations, and I was going to suck up every minute of that freedom.
That day was my personal heaven. I had no specific plans. I would go where the spirit led me. I planned to check things off my to-do list that I didn’t even know were on my to-do list. I ran the track at a local high school because I had to see what living at altitude would do for my running game at sea level. (It didn’t help as much as I imagined it would.) After that, I purchased an enormous vanilla latte, which I leisurely enjoyed while getting ready for the rest of my day. Uninterrupted, ridiculously long, hot shower? Check.
Around 11, I grabbed a bottle of Classic Coke (no Diet Coke…this was serious), my iPod with its portable speaker, and some snacks and hopped into the rental car. I love to drive, but I perpetually have a destination. I was so excited to just drive and see what I would find. About an hour south of Buffalo, I saw a sign for Lake Erie State Park. How could I pass that up? It was cool and overcast, but I could not resist the opportunity to walk on some sand, sit by the lake, listen to the waves, and just be. I sighed just now thinking about it.
After lunch at the lake, I got back in the car and found myself in idyllic Chautauqua watching the sailboats glide effortlessly while I snarfed down my favorite salty snack, Bugles, with another Coke. (Yes. I was living life on the edge.) Then, just for giggles, I fired up Facebook on my iPhone and updated my status to “Having my best day EVER.” Hubby loved that.
Later, I wound my way carelessly back toward Buffalo on quiet highways through quaint towns that looked like they would have inspired Norman Rockwell. I stopped once to walk briefly around Ellicottville, but mostly I just drove and enjoyed the treed countryside and my unending iPod playlist. Finally, around 6 p.m. I landed back in Buffalo. I set my GPS to locate my all-time childhood favorite sub shop, John and Mary’s. I ordered my usual (ham and provolone with mayo, lettuce, and tomato) and drove back to my hotel room to enjoy it. It was warm. I temporarily freaked out. Had they given me the wrong sandwich? Nope. The bread was fresh from the oven. I nearly died.
Every woman should take one day a year just to be truly on her own, to remember who she is and what she likes to do, to relax and exist in her own skin…not as wife or mother but as human being. If you haven’t tried it in a while, you really should. Your family will survive a day without you. Who knows? In your absence, they might realize how much you are worth. Maybe we should make it a national holiday? We could call it Mother’s Day.
My life is filled with worriers. It’s getting to the point where I am going to have to refuse any new friendships with people prone to excessive worry. It’s that bad. My husband and his entire immediate family are worriers, which I find quite interesting since they are some of the most fortunate people I’ve ever known. My husband will actually worry about things in the past. Seriously? Dude. They’re OVER. Move on already. And, now I realize he has passed this worry habit on to our oldest son. Joe’s constant worrying is about the only thing that worries me. Today he asked me to get rid of our stove so we won’t be killed in a natural gas explosion. Oy.
When I was young, I too worried a great deal. I worried about big things I could not control, like my parents dying or nuclear bombs exploding. I worried about ridiculous things too, like a sniper spraying our comfortable suburban home with bullets as I walked by a window or my being bitten by a shark (good luck with that while living in Colorado). On a smaller scale, if I didn’t finish my math assignment, I would be awake all night imagining that the next day the teacher would certainly call on me to answer the one problem I didn’t complete. I was a fairly neurotic child.
Then, during my 8th grade year, something marvelous happened: I got chickenpox during finals week of third quarter. My report card arrived the following week during spring break, and there were several Fs and incomplete grades. I was horrified because I had always been an A student. I sat there at home on spring break stressing about that report card and what it meant to my GPA. But, guess what? Nothing bad happened. I simply had to make up the tests, and the grades would be adjusted. It turned out to be no big deal.
I realized then that sometimes unfortunate things happen at inopportune times but the world continues. Of course, there are things that are far worse than not getting straight A grades. I understand my friends’ reasons for worry. But knowing that worrying about things will not change them, I have chosen not to waste my time. Some things are far beyond our realm of control (like our children dying unexpectedly) and other things can be remedied or will eventually work themselves out. And, even if they don’t, life goes on. Perhaps it goes on in a way we didn’t want it to, but it does indeed go on.
I saw a news story this morning about a suburban Denver mom who was driving her car when two tires came off a semi going the opposite direction on the highway. One of the tires bounced across the median in the interstate and landed directly on the roof above the driver’s seat. She was killed instantly. Her husband had been following her in another car and witnessed the event. It’s a horrible, tragic story. I bet her husband has been rolling around some “what if” thoughts in his head. But the fact remains that the what ifs don’t matter. All that matters is the outcome. Whatever happened happened. It’s our responses to life’s surprises that make a difference, not our anticipation of them.
If I had one wish for my friends, it would be that they relinquish worry. It is such an incredible waste of a mom’s precious energy and mental talents. I challenge you worriers (you know who you are) to resolve to move forward and stop wondering if your kids will turn out all right. They will. Choose to put your energy into changing things you truly have power over rather than considering things you can’t control. Accept that, although life is unpredictable, things have a way of working themselves out. Know that what ifs are worthless and just let them go. Vow to channel your inner Bobby McFerrin.
Don’t worry. Be happy.
(You’re singing it now, aren’t you?)
Recently, I decided that I needed to start writing again. So, using the New Year as an excuse, a little over a week ago I threw together a web site on my Macbook, gave myself a publishing schedule, and vowed to find myself again through the written word. What I’ve found in the past week, however, is so much more than I expected.
I started writing when I was around 12. While I was in junior high and high school I wrote dark, brooding poems about nuclear annihilation and social unrest, and then in college I composed pointedly cruel diatribes about disingenuous boys, prose that I am certain would have made Alanis Morissette proud. My girlfriend Kerry and I filled spiral notebook upon spiral notebook with a handwritten soap opera story, the idea for which originally came to me in a dream. After earning my MS in Professional Writing, I worked as a technical writer for State Farm and then later as a scientific writer and editor for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. But my most regular writing was done in journals, which I religiously kept from 1981 until 2001 when our son Joe was born.
I stopped writing, I suppose, when I finally felt that I had nothing to say. I hadn’t really planned to become a stay-at-home mom, and the struggle to accept who I was because of my choice was brutal for me. I was awkward in my new role and, aside from feeling rather unimportant, I was either I was too tired or too bored with myself to write. What was I going to journal about, anyway? Sleep deprivation? Dirty diapers? The latest round of “Guess What Substance Is Stuck To The Wall”? It was dizzying how dull I had become in such a short amount of time.
Then, as my boys grew, I robotically assumed the socially correct mantle of Suburban Super Mom. I hosted play dates. I cooked healthy meals. I decorated the house. I scrapbooked and crafted. I volunteered in the neighborhood and at the boys‘ school. I was doing everything “right,” but I wasn’t really happy and I wasn’t really myself. I reasoned that I no longer wrote simply because I was too busy. The truth was, however, that I could not possibly have expressed much about a life I was sleepwalking through while wearing someone else’s shoes.
And, now that I am writing again, I sadly find myself at a total loss for words to express how it is affecting me. I can only liken it to the times when, while living in other states and returning to Colorado, I would cross the state border and upon seeing the Welcome-To-Colorful-Colorado sign suddenly feel as if my heart, shrunken upon departure, had reinflated to its proper size. If I had realized ten years ago that putting aside writing would mean putting a core part of my being in cold storage, I might have found a way to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) more often.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise this past week, though, is the way I feel when someone tells me how a few words that I wrote summed up how they have been feeling too. I started writing this blog mainly for me, just as I kept a journal. And, while I hope no one ever reads my journals…EVER (seriously….no one needs to know just how incredibly immature, insane, and inane my comments were for two entire decades), I’m glad to know that something I am saying on this site now is relatable to someone else. So, thank you for reading whatever it is I’m writing as I try to sort through my scattered and yet incredibly hopeful and optimistic warehouse of thoughts. And, thank you even more for commenting, sharing my posts, and proving that I was correct in assuming that I was not alone in feeing lost and disenchanted, nor am I alone in wanting more for myself than what I chose for myself. I suddenly feel as if I am in great company.
I’ve heard recently from a couple friends who said they could never do what I do because they don’t have the support, money, or the time to train for events, take classes, or otherwise find adventures. That’s a common and fairly legitimate complaint. Women are swamped with obligations. I recognize that I am lucky. I have a supportive spouse who happily hangs out with our boys so I can disappear. I also have an extended family living nearby, which means I can find reliable, competent (and free) sitters when I need them. And, my children are now in school most of the year, so I usually have a few free hours each weekday to myself without interruption. All of those factors make the life I am creating for myself vastly easier to maneuver than if I had a full-time, paying job or was a single parent or had a husband who was not quite as family-oriented as mine is.
However, the more I reflect on this, the more I think the real problem is that women are too adept at creating roadblocks that keep them from what they truly want. Heaven knows I did it for years. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a woman (including myself) say, “I feel guilty leaving my kids alone for so long,” or “Our schedule is already too packed to add another thing to it,” or “My husband wouldn’t know what to do with the kids if I wasn’t around,” I’d be living in a beach house on Kauai. From the minute our children are conceived, by nature, necessity, and society, we are awarded the role of primary caregivers. We’re judged if we don’t take that role seriously. If my husband flies to Utah for the weekend to go skiing with friends, no one says to him “Wow. Who’s gonna take care of the kids while you’re gone?” Conversely, though, if I take a weekend for myself, I can almost guarantee you that there is someone out there ready to award my husband a medal of honor for successfully parenting in my absence. When it comes to raising children, the playing field has never been level.
My point (and I do have one) is that we women allow this unfairness to continue. We take on everything when we could learn to let some things go. We enroll our children in so many activities that our entire day is overwhelmed with obligations for someone else. We agree to volunteer for things we could not care less about. We say, “I’ve got it” and “I’ll do it” rather than saying, “It’s someone else’s turn.” We put everyone else first. And, then we sit back and complain that we have no freedom when we’ve fostered our reality by allowing guilt and societal pressures to permeate our personal space.
It’s not easy to find time to work out. It’s difficult to negotiate fair trade with our spouses. It’s hard to convince our children that they should be without us once in a while. And, it’s challenging to tell others “No.” It’s taken years for my children to understand that we are a family, and that in a family each one of us has a right to choose once in a while. I know that deals have to be made, discussions have to be endured, and priorities have to be changed if we as a family are to carve out any time for my personal pursuits. It’s never been easy.
Ultimately, though, I think women need to stop making excuses, put on big girl panties, and stand up for what we need; otherwise someday we’ll find ourselves with an empty nest and no hobbies, interests, friends, or memories to occupy our time. You have to make some tough choices now and possibly disappoint some people if you’re going to make your life one worth looking back on. Maybe you think the struggle isn’t worth it, and it might not be for you. But, my biggest fear has always been regret. I don’t want to be in that senior center someday watching The Price is Right alone (because that show will last longer than cockroaches after a nuclear blast) and feeling abandoned, empty, and disappointed. I really hope I’ll be playing cards with friends and recounting my experience climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I haven’t climbed that mountain yet, but I have no doubt that if I put on my big girl panties, save some money, and negotiate a bit, one day I will make it happen.
A couple years ago, I found myself in a peculiar place. Despite having everything a woman could ask for (a handsome and supportive husband, two sweet boys, a beautiful home, myriad friends, good health, and financial security), I was depressed. Every day I would wake up and just go through the motion of living as if someone had switched me to automatic pilot. I was someone’s mom and someone’s wife and I had things to do and no time to think about anything else. I was so far gone that I didn’t even realize I was depressed. My mother had to point it out to me. When she did, I denied it; but I knew she was right. Finally, after years of moping and coping, I decided was tired of who I was or, rather, who I wasn’t. I started wondering what had happened to me. Where had I gone? And, I decided something had to give.
After several long conversations with my spouse, we agreed that I needed to make myself a priority again because (let’s face it) my attitude was making everyone else miserable. I needed some outlets. I was plugged in all the time to what was going on with everyone else and there was nowhere for me to plug in something for myself; I was drained. So, we installed three new outlets in my life: 1) exercise, 2) time with friends, and 3) travel by myself. And it’s because of these things that I decided to start Moms Into Adventure.
Many women seem to lose themselves when they become wives and mothers. The indoctrination begins when we’re young girls: you find the handsome prince, you get married, you have a family, and you will be fulfilled. But, as wonderful as marriage and family can be, they can take a lot out of you too if you aren’t mindful of your needs. If you don’t take time to recharge yourself, what can you provide to others without grudge, annoyance, or negativity? When I made time in my life for exercise, my attitude about myself began to change. With each bike ride or long walk, I became more fit. I started to look better and in turn I started to feel better about myself. The better I felt about myself physically, the more capable I felt. In 2009, I did my first metric century road bike tour, I walked 50 miles for MS with my dear friend Celeste, and I took my first solo trip since getting married. Those three things made me feel strong and independent again. I remembered who I was on the inside.
It wasn’t easy to make these changes. It took time and practice. I had to throw off excuses. I had to be creative to fit everything into our already busy schedule. I had to find a sense of humor some days when plans fell apart and I had to adapt. To motivate myself to exercise, I signed up for events that I would need to train for. My family had to make some adjustments too, my husband most of all. He began spending more one-on-one time with the boys without me. The three of them started having more father-son adventures. But as a result I was a lot less grouchy when I was around them, and our family time was much more pleasant. It’s a process, not a destination. I work at it every single day.
Two years ago I made a conscious choice that changed me forever. I wanted to feel alive and not just to be alive. Ask yourself if it is really enough merely to exist within the framework of the life you currently have? Take the time to listen to the answer in your heart and reflect on it. If you realize that you need more from life, you have to make it happen. No fairy godmother is going to appear and give you the you that you would like to be. You have to envision her, create her, mold her, and nurture her. Remember this: “She didn’t try to change the world. She changed herself, and the world rose up to meet her.”
What are you going to do for yourself this year? Make a decision and follow it through. Bring a friend along with you. Have an adventure. You only live once.