Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pigeonholed: The Motherhood Dilemma

 

I've become a lackluster blogger at best. And when I do put fingers to keyboard, it's often in an attempt to sort out life's more difficult moments. Putting words on paper, even the virtual kind, have a way of making things seem more plain. Chosen paths appear less rugged and convictions more steadfast. This blog never had a clear direction, and so it ebbs and flows based on the seasons of my life. This season is one of contemplation and a focus on the future. And so.

I will start by saying what I've said many times: being Kiddo's mom is and will always be my greatest accomplishment. Raising a compassionate human being with a strong moral compass in the world in which we live is nothing short of miraculous. Jared is my version of a miracle. And it hasn't been easy. Not for one single second. Even when he's tucked into bed looking all angelic as he tends to look in slumber, I still ruminate on what it is to raise this difficult yet remarkable creature.

Motherhood is not without sacrifice. But you know that all too well, don't you? Whether you're in the messy midst of it, or they've left the nest (but are never far from your mind), or you're trying with all your might to bring a little piece of yourself into this world. It's hard work. It's an emotional minefield.

I'm sure my story is tucked away somewhere in the archives of this blog, but it bears retelling: Kiddo came into my life when I least expected him. (I will make one important distinction: he was unexpected, yes, but not an accident. Never.) I was 20-years old, wholly unprepared for motherhood, and therefore being very careful. As in two prophylactics careful. But if you know Jared, or any child like him, you know he is much too strong-willed to be told I wasn't ready. So I came to be a mom before I'd really even become an adult and the rest is history.

Whoa Nelly do I love that magnificent boy. He is everything good in this world wrapped up into one being. Motherhood, for me, has been a love story. A story of finding one's soul mate. The Notebook of parenting.

I will never regret the past decade spent raising him. Putting aside my deepest desires, at times, so he may one day realize his own. But now that he's older and on the road to self-sufficiency, it's my time. Time to explore and come to understand different facets of my marriage, my personality, and my purpose. To find that dream career and brazenly chase after it.

The time has come to work; to finish school; to establish my career. It's what I have always wanted. These dreams predate motherhood, but found a place on the back burner while I tended to other needs. And to be honest, while I worked on finding myself. Many obstacles, mostly self-imposed, stood between me and what I wanted for the future, but I have come to understand and acknowledge that I wouldn't have been so successful (or focused) in my endeavors had I not taken the time to sort myself out first.

Along the way, however, I fell into a societal pigeonhole. Two weeks ago I applied for a job at a local hospital. Their application process is clunky at best: an online job history with pre-filled categories and zero opportunity to elaborate on your qualifications and abilities. (I had to choose "other" more often than I was comfortable with.) There was no way to attach a resume or cover letter or in any way explain a decade-long absence from the workforce. A couple days ago I received an email saying I was not going to be considered for the position. Excuse me while I tend to my damaged ego and crestfallen spirit. You see, I can't attend grad school without 2000 hours of hands-on patient care under my belt. Never mind my bachelors degree or additional training...I have no recent work history. I don't even qualify for the most entry-level job in patient care because their initial employment filter didn't have "mom" in the job history drop-down menu.

Further complicating things is the fact that we are new to the Pacific Northwest, having moved from one side of the continent to the other less than a year ago. Starting over comes at a cost: it means saying goodbye to friends, yes, but also connections. These days it's about who you know, or so they say, and I don't know anyone (in healthcare, anyway).

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, and I now realize I should have done more to nurture my future as well as my offspring over these last few years. A very part time job to keep my skills sharp and my foot in the door. To establish and maintain professional relationships. More time should have been spent considering what the in-between would look like. After all, I was aware of the 2000 hour requirement even before I signed up for that initial college class 6 years ago. I was under the misguided impression that I could merely step back into the workforce when the time was right. But this isn't The Good Wife and I don't have a Will Gardner in my life. Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda.

I talk a lot about finding that line that separates Mom + Wife Sarah from Sarah Sarah. About practicing independence. About remembering that I have wants and needs outside the home. Set aside the roles I play and I'm a living, breathing human being with interests of my own.

Along the way I've learned an important lesson, and my current situation is driving it home: Sacrificing my personal needs for the sake of motherhood hasn't made me a better mother.

Martyrdom doesn't equate to a better marriage or superior parental experience. In fact, the opposite is true. Having outside interests probably would have brought more balance into my life, resulting in less hand-wringing over missed homework assignments and the 20 minutes he spends putting on underwear in the morning. My existence became all about the two men in my life, and I'm not sure that was good for anyone.

Yes, my kiddo needed me. But I needed me, too.

And so. Here I am. We are our choices. And while I don't think I made the wrong choice by any stretch, I wish I had chosen differently. (Tweaked, maybe?) That I had instilled a better sense of balance. If I can pass along even one word of advice to new moms, it would be this: don't forget about future you. Your whole life, not just the motherhood part, deserves to be nurtured and attended to.

And for those of you in my position, don't despair: when one door closes another opens. Sometimes you just have to look for it. If there is one thing motherhood teaches you, it's to pick yourself up and dust yourself off.

And that cold mac 'n cheese eaten off a high chair tray totally counts as a meal.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.

 Epictetus

I'm in one of those periods where things seem bigger than they are. Harder. And while these phases are usually short-lived, it sure doesn't feel that way when I'm in the midst of it.

Kiddo is tough right now. An amalgam of hormones and growing pains and the process of finding his own identity has left us all more than a little out of sorts. There's the sorting through my own feelings of heartbreak when it comes to the idea of stepping back and letting him live his own life. There's the struggle to find a middle ground with Husband, whereby we same-page parent; two vastly different personalities raising a single child can be difficult to navigate. There's the fear that he will never remember his assignments or approach his teachers when he has a question and will therefore always lag a bit behind. There's the fear that he will never realize his true potential.

Then there is the worry of adding a job to the mix. Who will oversee his homework and bring him his track shoes when he forgets them and how will we schedule monthly orthodontic adjustments without affecting his school and my work, and, and, and. Also, when do people who work all day go to the dentist or doctor or get their cat groomed? How will I manage any sense of normalcy working 12-hour days?

And that's where the questions end and the maybes begin. Maybe I should put off grad school until Kiddo is out of school. Maybe I should put off working until Kiddo is more self-reliant. Maybe I'm meant to do something else with my life. Maybe I won't end up getting what I want. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. The maybes and what-ifs could bury a person alive, you know?

Thankfully, I've done some work on myself over the years. When things get to be too much, I know right away. That telltale fluttering in my chest and jumpiness in my belly that signal I've had my fill. I can pause and take stock. I've become proficient when it comes to identifying the root cause(s) of my anxiety. I know what works and what doesn't when things begin to spiral. I know when to dig in my heels and when to walk away for the sake of perspective. I'm also able to admit when I can't manage it on my own. This may or may not be one of those times.

This is me lamenting about the difficulties of life for a moment. Yet I'm keenly aware of how the world works: Stress is inevitable. Motherhood is an emotional minefield. Living your life alongside another person, no matter how deep your love and affection, is complicated. Understanding where you end and another person begins is not always so easy.

If there is one thing these periods in life teach me, it's how good I have it. I have a husband that has my back, even if we are mid-row and I'm being very ox-like in my stubbornness. He takes over parenting duties, no questions asked, so I can take a breather. He combs Airbnb for a little seaside retreat so I can get away, and never once mentions that he is getting the short end of the stick. He gives much more than he takes and loves me even when I'm unlovable.

I have a child who is healthy, smart and compassionate. When, in the midst of trying to reason with him, a tear falls from frustration, he is the first to come over and hug me. He tells me he loves me every time we hang up the phone, even if he's surrounded by his listening peers. He is my arch nemesis and my very best friend wrapped into one rapidly growing body. He's the best thing I will ever accomplish in this life.

I am fortunate to have attained a good chunk of what I want out of life. I also realize it wouldn't have been possible without those two knuckleheads. You see, Husband supports even my wildest dreams and never, not ever, thinks they are out of reach. He teaches me patience and kindness every day. Kiddo makes me want to be the best version of myself; to lead by only the best example. They are my Wizard of Oz: I always had brains, heart and courage, but I didn't know it until they showed me.

While a bit of introspection is always good in these cases, it alone doesn't carry the power to whisk my anxiety away. It takes a combination of things to manage my nerves:
  • Starting today, coffee is off the table. I've been experimenting with matcha powder to give me that boost I need without the jitters. (Recipe recommendations?) Tea is where it's at, and only in moderation (unless it's herbal).
  • Exercise is in. My 10k steps/day goal is back on the table. I'm always amazed how much my body craves physical exertion during times of stress while my brain works so hard to prevent it.
  • An apple (or two) a day... The first thing to fall apart when things get hairy is my diet. I start craving salty, sugary, refined carbohydrates and nothing else will do. Which leads to heartburn, restless sleep, and brain fog. Which makes me feel worse. Lather, rinse, repeat. The best way I've found to break the viscous cycle is to plan my meals in advance. The benefits of meal planning are twofold: it does wonders for eliminating a crappy diet caused by eating on the fly, and it helps me find comfort in organization rather than my tendency to flounder.
  • Be open to Western Medicine. I like to handle things sans pharmaceuticals, but I am open to getting a second opinion. I've made an appointment to get acquainted with a new provider and will see what she has to say. True story: after a year of taking an antidepressant for anxiety in my mid-twenties, I went to a new GP and complained that not only was the medicine not helping, it was making me feel worse. To which she replied, "Then stop taking it! Seek counseling, exercise, and start actively trying to manage it." I was chagrined by her bluntness, but she was right. I'd been standing idly by waiting for things to fix themselves. Within a month I was enrolled in school full time, seeing a therapist regularly, and practicing yoga three times a week. Finding the power to control my own anxiety was pretty darn life changing. But I never dismiss the possibility that a day may come when I won't be able to manage it so effectively. (Note: Obviously this isn't the answer for everyone. I didn't have any additional health issues and acted only under a professional's advisement.)
  • Hit the books. This one's a biggie. When I'm overwhelmed and freaked out, I gravitate toward hours of mindless television. Which serves to make my anxiety worse. Last night I was casually watching the Seinfeld episode where Elaine and Jerry are at a bakery getting a chocolate babka for a dinner party (Black and white cookie! Jerry's non-vomit streak!). Meanwhile, Kramer and George are at a liquor store trying to get wine and yada yada yada a comedy of errors ensues. I've watched this episode at least a half dozen times, and can associate nearly every folly with a Seinfeld episode. Yet I felt my heart puttering and stomach clenching. It wasn't funny, it was stressful. So why was I sitting there, mindlessly watching TV, ignoring the fact that I was feeling terrible? Same goes for Words With Friends, Instagram, and every other form of media that serves as a proxy for my ruminating thoughts. I turned off the tube, picked up a book, and started catching up on my reading goals. The relief was immediate.
  • Express yourself. Whether it be blogging or photography or any other hobby, self expression is essential to feeling normal. It's important for me to keep it in check, though, as I could easily heap a million projects on my plate and create a whole new facet to my anxiety. When I choose just one or two things I enjoy doing, and do them without obligation, I start to feel so much better.


Friday, March 6, 2015

been there, done that

An ode to life lately...


Costa Rica. What else is there to say? It's Costa Rica. (There is a lot more to say, actually. A post is in the works. I was being cavalier.)


Husband loves flying. I do not. There are no phobias or fears, just a general dislike of sitting in one place for many hours with little opportunity to move or establish a personal bubble. I don't mind crying babies or battles for overhead bin space, but I DO crave the freedom to move my body. I've never felt more akin to a sardine than sitting in the middle seat of the economy section. The month of February brought a lot of air travel. I vote to bring the glamour back to aviation for us mere mortals.


Delayed flights, however, present an excellent opportunity to catch up on one's reading goals. While drinking frivolously flavored caffeinated beverages and consuming mass quantities of sour gummy bears. Also, I posted an ode to my beloved Patagonia computer bag while admiring it at the airport. (I wonder if there are statistics on how many saccharine Instagram posts are written in airports.)


Eastern Montana: Skyline views for days. Brown, colorless landscapes. (so. much. brown.) But boy do Montanans know how to do the most important meal of the day. (I can totally dig the "vacation breakfast".)


The Girl Scouts are no joke. They know we are particularly susceptible to those sweet little gems this time of year. I imagine a cookie campaign in February is much more lucrative than in, say, May. Rest assured the ring of my doorbell by a cute, cookie-carrying little girl did not go unanswered.


I feel a deep kinship with my poor New England brethren, so I almost feel bad posting these photos. Almost. Sunshine, blooms everywhere, sunrise by 7a ... our first Pacific Northwest spring is pulling out all the stops. I shed my coat and ate ice cream for lunch the other day, then drove home with the windows down. (I'm sorry, Massachusetts. That was rude.)


Bluer skies have liberated my body from its overwhelming desire to do nothing but eat cookies (see above) and binge watch the contents of our DVR. I'm going to make that 10,000 step goal my bitch. (Right? Right!) (Early morning walks are made much easier by the presence of the multitasking stud muffin pictured above. Typing emails and taking names from the trail.)


The discovery of a darling little bakery. (That lemon curd scone has visited me in my dreams ever since.)


After almost 7 beautiful years together, I retired my geriatric laptop and said hello to this sleek, sexy machine. I just hope I can learn the ins and outs of its operating system before a) I abandon Shiny New Guy out of sheer frustration or b) another 7 years has passed. You're an enigma, Windows 8. (Not to mention the accidental right clicks. Well into the thousands.)


A Sunday afternoon involving paint-your-own pottery and a cat lounge. Mother-son bonding at its finest.

 Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Taking Stock | 02


Making: a new resume, which is harder than it should be (does the 1 page rule still apply?)
Cooking: all kinds of new things... so many recipes to share (last night was one pot pasta)
Drinking: Detox, Stress Less, Tummy Tamer and Honey Lemon Ginger teas
Reading: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Wanting: a way to take underwater photos with my DSLR (sticker shock!)
Looking: for the perfect job (i.e. best grad school experience + least offensive hours)
Playing: Sam Smith. Always and forever. (+ a healthy dose of Hozier)
Wishing: I could kick a lifelong nail biting habit (the urge to gnaw is fierce!)
Enjoying: seeing my husband more often + sunnier days
Waiting: for t-shirt weather (65 degree days butter my bread)
Liking: the idea of a family vacation. Mario and I have been discussing the whens and wheres.
Wondering: if and when another season of Serial will begin (my house got so clean during Season 1)
Loving: where we live; the PNW speaks to my soul
Hoping: to visit the tulip festival during spring break
Marveling: at Kiddo's athleticism + Husband's work ethic
Needing: sensible heels that can take me from job interview to date night
Smelling: the candle burning on Mario's desk (Chardonnay)
Wearing: black skinny jeans more days in a row than is probably appropriate
Following: Erin's newletter
Noticing: bright, cheerful colors emerging everywhere. Mother Nature is coming to life.
Thinking: what it will be like to join the workforce again after all these years (noticing a theme?)
Bookmarking: this article that matches your personality type to your ideal city (Paris!)
Giggling: at this lip sync battle—which prompted Kiddo and I to re-watch all of them
Feeling: loved. content. excited. nervous.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Sometimes you have to go back (to move forward).


Each year I come to expect the hubbub that is the first quarter. It's Mario busiest travel season by far, and January and February are, well, January and February.

When we last spoke I was nearing the end of my class and prepping for Costa Rica. One ended and the other began. We soaked up the sand, sun and surf, behaved like social butterflies, and reminded ourselves we are Mario + Sarah, not just Mom + Dad. (Photographic evidence to come.)

We dragged our tanned, salty hides home. I took my state certifying exam (I passed!), and we began settling back into post-vacation life. Mario (finally) made the transition into his new position, with its significantly reduced travel schedule, and I began contemplating the very real prospect of rejoining the workforce. I'd almost completely unpacked from our trip and was on schedule to break a personal record for fewest days spent with a lingering suitcase on my bedroom floor.

Then I got a call. You know the type: the calls that inevitably come but we are seldom prepared for. A person from my past, someone integral to my childhood, had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. So I (re)packed a bag and hopped a plane to Montana late last week.

Although saying goodbye is never an easy thing, this was particularly complicated. It meant the reuniting of siblings and unfamiliar people I had never met but with whom I was very much connected. The dynamic of my family is an emotional labyrinth; I never leave these things unscathed. I am one of four children, and we all cope in vastly different ways.

The heartache and healing I experienced in a matter of just a few days was profound. Anger, sadness, guilt, regret, despair... I ran the emotional gamut. Sometimes we are forced to access those pockets of emotion we've long since buried; to crack them open and deal with issues we thought were no longer issues.  I have been known to mistake the softening that comes with the passage of time as reconciliation, though they are not one and the same. Wading through the murky waters of emotion, especially involving family and one's own childhood, is rarely easy. But we are usually better for it.

Entering into 2015, I wasn't anticipating so many of life's natural complexities to occur so soon or in such rapid succession. I suppose that's the beauty of things: we don't get an advanced screening of our own lives.

Now I'm on the other side. March has brought newness and healing and cherry blossoms. After years spent living in New England, I'd long since forgotten that spring actually occurs in spring. Tulips, in the loveliest shade of purple, are budding around the tree in our front yard. An urgent call to a landscaper was made upon the discovery that our rose bushes and hydrangeas had already birthed baby leaves and would have consumed the house by June had we not intervened.

Kiddo had his first track practice yesterday (sprinting + pole vault are his chosen disciplines; breath holding during vaulting practice is mine).

Husband is wearing shorts (a Montana boy through and through, that one; he comes from hardy stock).

The days of driving Kiddo to school in the dark of night are behind us. (Thank goodness.)

This is the first spring in a long time that feels like the dawn of something new. This time last year our move was still months away and we had not had a single house showing since we'd listed it the previous September.

This year there is no holding pattern. No what ifs. No uncertainty outside those inherent to life as human beings.

For the first time in ages, are absolutely where we want to be. We are settled and secure; content.

And better for having to jump some hurdles to get there.





Thursday, February 5, 2015

Lately. As in, January.

This last Sunday I tackled the snarled mess otherwise known as my camera roll. Two months worth of snaps were clogging up precious GBs and something had to be done (seriously iPhone 6... four hundred photos and you're full?). So I went about transferring photos from the VSCO app back to my camera roll and my camera roll to the Cloud and from the Cloud to my computer. (Is there a simpler way to do this, I ask).

In the process I realized I was creating January and February photo folders simultaneously. And while most of us would be just fine skipping the first month of the year altogether, it still exists. (Should we start a petition?) Events took place and I have the photos to prove it.

Because I live by the motto "It didn't happen if you don't have an iPhone photo to prove it", I'm dumping January right here on this page. All of it. Even though New Years feels like three months ago, it wasn't. (I chalk this up to the fact that I forgot to take my Vitamin D pills for, like, four days straight. SAD is real my friends. So is self-diagnosis via WebMD.) (Also, that isn't actually my motto. I made it up just then. But I'm seriously considering using it as the tagline on my business card. If and when I get one.)

What I'm saying is, life happened. And it looked very similar to this, only slightly less filtered.


Meal planning. It really does exist outside of the blogosphere. It's rather wonderful in that it makes me look and feel especially domestically inclined. It also distracts from the fact that I seldom never vacuum.


The sunrises lately. My goodness. They're making Sunset look bad.


Pacific Northwest fog is quite magical and mysterious. Our street has been looking especially Privet Drive-ish as of late.


If Vista had a Twitter feed, he'd be right up there with Katy Perry in number of followers. He's such a card.


Where have hot pots been all my life? It has been declared: Our next house is going to have a built-in hot pot station. Also, see how seriously Mario takes his hot potting?


Pho comes in at a close second. Homemade or otherwise.


Every home should have a Thinking Fez. Obviously.


I wasn't planning on attending the Costa Rica trip until the second week of January. Our childcare fell through, the timing was off yada yada yada I decided to go after all. So the fact that my passport expires soon + has my maiden name (understandable since we've only been married 8.5 years) became a bit of a concern. (I'm lucky to have made it in and out of Rio last year with all my passport shenanigans. I dodged the bullet that is Brazilian prison.)

Anywho, all this hemming and hawing meant a trek up to the passport office in Seattle to get that bad boy expedited. Which meant a day in Seattle. Which is never cause for complaint.

I heart you, Seattle. 
(And Mario.) 
(And Storyville Coffee.)
(Not necessarily in that order, though it depends on the day.)


A drive up to Seattle calls for a squirrel mask. Duh.


An authentic Mexican food stand is worth its weight in gold. I want to plant a big fat kiss on the cook every time I take a bite of one of his burritos. (You're welcome for that bit of mental imagery.)


Gah! These two. For ever and ever and ever. Amen.


 I started and finished a craft project in the span of two days. A personal best. Husband ate a little crow... though with several totes in the garage full of craft projects in various stages of completion, who can blame his skepticism when I declare my undying love for a cross-stitch otter.


Teva ankle boots. For ever and ever and ever. Amen.


Dill Havarti + smoked salmon + rice crackers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Not enough brew in the world to keep me functioning. And I live in the coffee capital of the United States.


Graffiti art that blows my mind every. single. time.

It's was real, January.