Thursday, April 25, 2013

You Never Know What the Day Holds

It was a rough morning. Kids are tired, possibly on the verge of caving in to a cold. I won't complain about it, because it is pretty standard in my life by Thursday.

When I said to EL, "Good morning, Lovely!", she rolled over and yelled, "Alone! Leave Me ALONE!!" I can't help it; this always makes me smile. At a week over 3 years old, her voice is so tiny, but carries so much power.

I know all this is likely a secret sign that we are too busy, even though I try to keep our weeks mellow.

Five-year-old Amp was fiercely searching the home for her favorite water bottle which she takes to school each day. Our leave time, 7:30, had passed. At 7:32, I ran outside to the car to look for her water bottle.

I saw a woman sitting on my porch with a suitcase. Assuming she was looking for my upstairs neighbor, I asked her if she was waiting for someone.

"I'm not safe. I'm just creeped out. I'm not safe. I don't know. I just need to clear my head. I'm not safe."

She is a calm woman, well-spoken, clean with fresh make-up on. I ask if I can call someone for her. She says no. I ask if she lives in the neighborhood. She keeps saying the same sentences: "I'm not safe. I'm a good person. I just want to be happy. I need a room. I need somewhere to clear my head. I just want to sit somewhere. I don't want to go to a shelter. They are creepy. Everywhere I go I am creeped out. I don't have a job."

As a woman who knows the struggles of a home that suddenly becomes unsafe, I had a lot of empathy. As a woman who has volunteered most of her life with women's issues, I wanted to help. But the reality is that my morning clock is still ticking. I still have to get my daughters to school and I still have to get to work. Hey, on time would be nice, too.

I dropped off Amp at school and parked the car. EL was still screaming, and had been the whole time. I went home. She was still there playing on her cell phone.

I wrote down some numbers on a piece of paper: the neighborhood community center, a center for battered women, a community help line, the district police, and a few other organizations I had volunteered with. I even wrote down the address of the closest library if she just wanted I wished her well, told her there were many people who wanted to help. She just had to call. They could all do a better job of helping this woman than I could.

She asked if I would buy her breakfast before I left. I said I couldn't. I felt guilty I didn't run back inside and, at the very least, grab a banana for her, but I was already going to be late for work. And I definitely didn't want to leave my cranky 3-year-old in the car, or get her in and out of her car seat again.

I called my mom  and my neighbors. I went to my social media circles. The advice was helpful - detailing more organizations who might help, and also words of caution. I wanted to take this woman in my car, bring her to a safe doorstep, but her picture of need may not have been the whole truth.

I was shaking inside. I know what it feels like to have your immediate physical safety threatened. I had my daughters in the car, so I didn't feel I could give her a ride. We fought long and hard for our safe, happy, healthy, home and I am sensitive to protecting every element of that safety.

She may not have looked homeless or battered, but I know first-hand that abuse has many different looks to it. Maybe the abuse was over a long period of time and this was the morning she took her stand. I flashed back to the night I packed a backpack of clothes and diapers, woke my children and left my house. If I didn't have close family and friends, where would I go? I'm pretty sure a random porch wouldn't be the answer, but I didn't have time to question how and why she ended up where she did.

Wait a minute, I did ask her those things, but they were without answer.

I called the police. Was she missing? Was someone looking for her? Was a batterer looking for her? Was she mentally ill? Off her meds? A grifter looking for a free meal? A con artist casing my house?

The answers were unknown, and still are. I went to work, rattled, unsure if I had done enough, the right thing, the safe thing.

An officer called me an hour later, said she was still there, had a cup of coffee, and said she had left her boyfriend's house after an altercation. The officer gave me her name and address. She lives 7 blocks away. She told the officer she was waiting for a ride from a friend.

That was a little different than the story I got, which also had my mind wandering. But maybe the friend was a shelter on their way or a desperate family member looking for her. maybe not. I couldn't help but wonder if I was a helpful neighbor, or a suckered victim-in-progress. If it was the latter, hopefully the police presence squashed any criminal plans that were brewing. If it was the former, hopefully she is able to find herself some safety, too. I may never know the full story.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Positivity Reminder

It's been a rough week in the news. The full week of rain doesn't help in the matter. As I was perusing some old files, I ran across an old blog post from Dec. 31, 2008, a time when I was particularly stressed out, and got a glimpse of hope from the kindness of a stranger. I felt it was a good reminder that a small gesture can have a big impact, so I'm sharing it again:

Here's the scene right before the holidays: The kids were terribly sick, and I also picked up the worst flu in the history of flus, nobody had slept in days, papers were piling up on my desk and EVERYONE was beyond cranky.

 We trekked to the doctor’s office and left with numerous prescriptions for all and headed to the pharmacy. There our agonizing 40-minute wait 
As we waited, we walked through the aisles to pick up a few small items in hopes of brightening our spirits. The kids picked fruit snacks and stickers and I opted for several products boasting promises to cover the black circles under my eyes.

 We approached the checkout counter with $100 of prescriptions and treats, and the woman behind the counter said she had a coupon for my cosmetics.

I told her I had already read the store flyer and, sadly, there was no coupon. Then, she pulled out a small box of coupons, organized and labeled, and explained they were from the Sunday paper. Huh? She continued to say that she likes to cut coupons and share them, sort of like a hobby.

Now, I am a busy momw who is used to paying more for convenience. I have honestly spent more than five dollars for a gallon of milk at a gas station because I did not have time to run one more errand. And here is a woman who cuts coupons from the paper for other people as a hobby?

 That coupon saved me two bucks on my total bill. This may not sound like a big deal in most people’s world. However, that day at that moment, it was like winning the lottery.

We left the pharmacy with medications, fruit snacks, stickers and cover-up products in hand. But thanks to the random kindness of this woman, we left with more than that. We left with a belief that we WOULD heal, we WOULD be healthy again, we WOULD sleep through the night once more, and my complexion WOULD return to normal.

This inspiration made me promise to myself that, in 2009, no matter how small the deed, I would “pay it forward”— hopefully to a mom with puffy eyes and a few sick kids behind her. 


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

TODAY Moms Gets It All Wrong

Yesterday on Facebook, I looked at a quiz from TODAY Moms about stress. Maybe you saw it, too.
(If not, you can see it here.) It was about what, specifically, is stressing moms out these days.

Immediate problem #1:
I despise the image chosen to accompany the quiz and the connotations of a mom pulling her hair out, unable to handle her unruly children in the background -- even if I know what those days feel like.

Moms are pretty tough, and on the worst of days, I think we handle ourselves better than that. But it is that exact type of image that has become one of my pet peeves in how the media portrays modern motherhood. It's as if they are trying to make up for years of portraying the perfect housewife and mother on TV and in advertisements. But this flip side is just as inaccurate.

The busier days, the tantrum-ier days, the sicker days, the can't-get-anything-done-and-nothing-goes-right days. I like to think of those as the exception days. And even at that I can handle them just fine. It's part of my contract with motherhood. 

Subsequent Problem #2:
The sample question was about which was worse: being called into the principal's office or your boss's office? Interesting. I could talk about that.

But then... Who has a more stressed out life, stay-at-home moms or working moms?

I'm only going to say this once. ENOUGH, ALREADY. Enough of the comparisons, the who-has-it-worse comparisons. No matter "what kind" of mom you are, you a.) don't need a label, b.) don't need to be judged about it, c.) have your own challenges and successes and your own set of rules to make it work.

Let's for one minute, stop and support each other, and work as a community -- preferably a community that doesn't find value in ranking mothers or pitting them against one another.

Sure there is stress in parenthood. It's an important gig with a ton of responsibility. There are worries you never imagined you would have in your pre-motherhood life. But there is stress in non-parenthood. Remember those pre-kid days? Yeah, there was stress there too. I'm pretty sure it wasn't motherhood that brought stress into life, although it does add a whole new set of stressors.

Additional problem #3:
When asked to list the specific stressors of motherhood, this disappointed me the most: one of the boxes to check was "staying fit and being attractive."

I would prefer those be separate distinctions as they are not nearly the same thing. Not all of us are at the gym to be more attractive. Hey, imagine this TODAY Moms, some of us want to feel healthy. Hell, maybe some of us manage stress with a run on a treadmill. In one sentence, women, specifically moms, were demoted into superficial beings who are just at the gym so they can "be attractive."

One of my personal parenting struggles has been carving out time to go to the gym or take a run, but it's not the struggle to "be attractive." It's a struggle to devote that time to myself -- to feel good, to stay healthy, to keep my immunity strong, to model good behaviors for my children. It's not about body image. It's about health.

And there were few things about health -- or even about stress or stress management -- on this survey. Here's hoping that the "results" of this online nonsense will reflect a brighter picture of moms. A picture that shows the strength, the perseverance, the love, the capability that is a mom.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Supermom or bust!

This morning -- very, very, early on this Monday -- my daughter reminded me that I promised her a Gatorade. It's a special occasion when Gatorade makes an appearance in our kitchen, but I bought it yesterday on our shopping excursion.

The trouble is, at 6 am on on a Monday morning, I have yet to take all the groceries out of the trunk from Sunday grocery shopping.

I'm not one to mention/complain/small talk about the weather, but here is my exception. See, if there are any readers out of the Wisconsin area, just know that it is mid-April and Milwaukee just got snow. Not a lot, but the sight of snow in April is heavy on the soul. It's been cloudy, rainy, cold and my productivity has been WAY under par. My to-do list is ever-growing and if I don't do it, no one else will. There are benefits and drawbacks to single momhood. Being the only adult in the house is often great, and often challenging.

So when my daughters and I returned home from shopping yesterday, I put the refrigerator and freezer items where they belonged and left the rest. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Besides, we had a dinner play date that we were for. But 5-year-old Amp has a sharp memory and clearly remembered the items we bought, and specifically begged for a morning Gatorade.

With two cups of coffee under my belt (but still in my pajamas), I went to the car to fulfill her request. Something was different. The ground was wet, and it smelled like spring! Suddenly , life was different, better, hopeful. The sun is barely out, but it's warm(ish) and spring(like). I'll take it.

I'm starting my Monday with the hope that we can have one great week. Homemade lunches, healthy dinners, a few trips to the gym and maybe attacking some of my to-do list. Oh yeah, and some of the spring cleaning. Get the girls to school on time (all week), get my daughter to her doctor appointment on time, turn in a successful daycare fundraiser, paint my nails, get to work early enough to get rockstar parking at least twice, park properly at home as not to get any more parking tickets, get my wanna-be garden started, rearrange the back yard ..... Yes, it's a good week ahead. Hibernation is over, and Supermom is reemerging! I'll track my progress and post it by the end of the week.

Friday, April 12, 2013

What My Daughter Doesn't Like Today

She's been 3 years old for two days, and I hope I can chalk this up to growing pains. Sitting at my desk at work and her piercing screams are still echoing in my head.

Here is a list of what my makes my daughter yell "I no like it!" "I no want it!" or "LEAVE ME ALOOOONE!"

Today, EL does not like:

The shirt I chose for her this morning.
Wearing socks at all.
Wearing black shoes.
Ponytail holders.
The car door being open.
The car door being closed.
The closed car door being locked.
Being in a seat belt.
The way we took to school this morning.
Dropping her big sister off at school.
The Hoan Bridge.
Lake Michigan.
The truck that was driving in front of us.
Turning left.
Her daycare center.
Her mom leaving her at the daycare center.

Ah yes, it's been that kind of day. And it's only 9:07 a.m.

Walking into the center, I held EL and she flailed her entire body around. We lost two shoes in the process, and a stranger brought one back to me, and I found the other in the hallway. It all reminded me of my older daughter's Great Shoe Debate of 2011. It seems that my entire family has shoe issues.

Our mornings are on a such a time restraint. I have to wonder, as I'm dragging my screamy, kicky daughter around.... is it worth being on time? Would giving her a few minutes to "scream it out" to herself in her room make it any better. Being five minutes late would be worth it, even though being 5 minutes late to my job guarantees I will have to park farther than two blocks from my building. But still, worth it.

On the flip side, it could be a day where screaming for a few extra minutes in her room would still mean she would scream and fight our morning routine. So maybe not worth it at all.

Getting three of us to three different locations five mornings a week has proved to be the hardest part of our year. I keep telling myself... only one more year to go. And somehow, that's not that reassuring, but at least I know it won't be this way forever. In another year and a half, my daughters will be at the same school. And it won't be a day soon enough.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

When in Doubt, Stay Small

It's so easy to doubt your parenting skills. I generally try to stay away from that kind of self-doubt and focus on more positive things. As a solo parent, it's not like I have anyone to bounce ideas off of, so I rely on family, friends and a few others moms. So, once in a while, it's easy to feel you have dropped the ball on "doing it right."

There are days when I think I'm the best parent ever, when we get everywhere on time, easily. Dinner is made from scratch and I attend my exercise class AND get to shower and wash my hair. And there are days, well, there are days I don't feel good at any of it. Most days, I try to keep my expectations low. I'm happy if the girls get to school on time and have a vegetable with dinner.

And then there are birthday expectations. In theory, I wanted to make thank you gifts for EL's daycare teachers, who have cared for her since she was 4 months old. In theory, I wanted to spend quality time in the kitchen with my daughters making cupcakes (which we would decorate by hand with homemade frosting, of course). And sprinkles. Definitely sprinkles. Everything would be EL's favorite color: yellow. It would be a ray of sunshine on these unending days of rain. In theory, we would have a nice, celebratory evening with our small family and be well-prepared for

I love the chance to cook and bake, but the day's exhaustion set in quickly. I picked up store-bought cookies for her classmates. Hey, at least they were all-natural. I didn't make thank you gifts for the teachers, but made sure there were enough cookies for the adults, too.

That night at home, we bought a pack of 15 yellow balloons, but only blew up four. We had one close friend come over for make-your-own pizzas. Instead of rolling our own dough, I bought a pre-packaged pizza shell and let the girls pile on cheese and olives. They collectively turned up their noses at any other topping. There was a store-bought cake. And candles and singing. And then there was sibling rivalry, fighting, and crying. *Sigh*

But the girls eventually settled down. I asked EL what her favorite part of the day was. She held up three fingers and said: Candles.

For her, it wasn't about homemade vs. store-bought, awesome parent vs. less-than-awesome parent, big party vs night at home with the people she sees every day. I was just those three yellow striped candles. Simplicity.

Whenever I start to feel I have to go overboard to make a day special, I'll remember that moment. And I'll tell myself as many times as I need to hear it, that I'm doing it all right.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Adventure-seeking: Then and Now

I’ve always sought out life’s adventures: skydiving on the weekends, rock climbing, road trips at a moment’s notice, wilderness camping vacations … and if serious camping doesn’t sound adventurous, you haven’t seen the movies (or read the books) where people don’t make it out alive.

I was a woman without fear… until I had a child with no fear. These days my life consists of a different adventure: parenting two young girls, aged 3 and 5.

Instead of training to pack a parachute, now I’m trying to plan the best possible way to get to the grocery store and get over my children’s aversion to food shopping. It's also a personal goal to leave the store with a bag or two of food. Yes, on a few occasions I have abandoned my cart and left the store empty-handed. Well, I guess holding a screaming toddler doesn’t count as empty hands, but you get the idea.

I enjoyed my former life, but I don't miss it ... too much. To my delight (and exhaustion), even the most mundane of days can quickly take a turn into a tale of adventure.   So while the circumstances of my life have changed, the adventures really haven’t. I’ve just got two little people with me along for the ride.