And The Title of Champion Weirdo Goes To…Me!

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I….am a weirdo.

Now, those who have known me from childhood are already rolling their eyes and muttering, “Tell us something we don’t know….”, even as they recall my outer weirdness: Getting stuck in a tree at recess (elementary school)….green carpenter’s pants with red tennis shoes (my favorite outfit in the 8th grade!)….loving Air Supply when everyone else was into hair metal (high school)….the purple plaid pants that I loved so much I even wore in a drama, sigh…..

So yes, I had my own brand of nerdy geek going long before this pronouncement.

Somehow, I managed to squelch that after graduation. I moved to the city, pursued my degree, got a nice job, married a great guy, secured a promotion and a move to a bigger city, served in youth ministry, and maintained the facade of being a nice, normal adult that fit in with society at large.

But my inner weirdo kept screaming to be let out.

It started at around age 30, when I rediscovered the library and began reading more than text books and work literature again. But instead of just mysteries (my fave), I began to devour books on simplicity. Seeking a simpler life. Finding my inner happiness away from the surrounding materialism and clutter.

I stopped shopping at malls (except for big clearance sales or true necessity) and began scouring thrift stores, yard sales and church bazaars for unique treasures. My inner weirdo began to smile again.

I began job-sharing with a friend at work, and found time to write, to live, to breathe. My inner weirdo began to hum.

I started to dabble in growing things with the hope of not killing them until I’d had a chance to eat them first. My inner weirdo begin to sing.

Even as motherhood and life threw me into turmoil, the inner weirdo clamored for attention and freedom. I tried to fit into the mold expected of me. Be THIS type of Mom…THIS type of neighbor….THIS type of woman.

I’m not even sure what finally liberated that inner weirdo. Acknowledging that I’ve had failures in life — and accepting that it’s okay? Maybe. Admitting I will never be the perfect mother (whatever the heck THAT is) and being okay with that, too? Well, my kids already know I adore and enjoy spending time with them, and that’s more than many have. Knowing that I can’t please everyone, that not everyone will like me, not even (gasp!) family? The benefit of getting older is finding the freedom to let go of others opinions of you. And letting go of your opinions of them. (Why can’t we figure that out at 20?!).

My inner weirdo enjoys having a half-dozen cats…gardening all summer…camping instead of luxury vacations…hiking alone in a woods…the occasional writing project…the eternal hope that I’ll get serious and write a book….and reading a good book for so long I lose track of time.

My inner weirdo does cartwheels over canning projects…finding an old plate to love at a thrift store…meeting my kids wardrobe needs several sizes ahead at yard sales…washing and reusing ziplock bags….figuring out one more thing I can make at home instead of buy…handwashing and solar drying clothes…and going on decluttering binges several times a year.

My inner weirdo enjoys the freedom of homeschooling because it works for us…giving my children a multitude of inexpensive ways to encourage their imagination and creativity…taking unexpected travels with the Husband’s job…giving my oldest wings to pursue her interests in all things art and crafty (and closing my eyes at the mess, sigh)…teaching the youngest to try something new, even as we work together to help her control her body and temper on tough days when health issues arise. Because no one else is going to love her through it like me, her weirdo mother — or love her more.

My inner weirdo gets that by the world’s standards, I’m not…normal. I’m not marking my accomplishments with pay raises, promotions and transfers (but if your inner weirdo needs that, bully for you!). I’m not seeking fame and fortune (Except as a writer. Someday. If I ever write that book!). I drive a vehicle to the wheels fall off, and then figure out a way to put them back on. Because it’s fun! I’d rather take my kids to explore the beach for days on end than hit an amusement park. We go to the zoo on free days instead of buying a membership (because then we’re guaranteed not to use it!). We spend every sunny summer day at the pool. And I’d rather grill out with friends than eat at a five-star restaurant any day. Even if it means missing out on a chance to have a babysitter and a meal I didn’t cook that one or more persons won’t like or will need help cutting up. And that’s saying a lot!

I mean, I dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail someday. For six months. With bears. Alone.

See? Inner weirdo.

And with any luck, when it’s all said and done — my kids will be just fine with their weirdo mom.

And if I’m really lucky, then maybe — just maybe — they’ll want to be weirdos, too.

Enough

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Felt guilty lately, Ladies?

Guilt over not working out. Over eating that piece of cake. For not having rock-hard abs. Or not throwing an extravagant birthday party for a three-year-old. For not freaking out that the 5-year-old isn’t in a Harvard-prep school. For working outside the home. For being a stay-at-home mom.

For not volunteering more of our precious free time (if we have it!). For not visiting or calling enough. For our children’s behavior in public.

And let’s face it — we guilt ourselves. Over everything we do or don’t do. For our mistakes, perceived or real. For never being enough daughter, friend, employee, volunteer, wife, mother.

For simply not being…enough.

Recently, someone who is well aware of my life, its craziness, and what is required to take care of everyone around me made a comment implying that I neglected my children. My crime? Spending time on the computer. In fact, I was accused of spending all day on Facebook.

This accusation was beyond laughable. For one, I would LOVE to spend all day on Facebook. Well, I say that now. I’m sure I would tire of it when the need to seal food in canning jars or obsessively straighten the living room for the 18th time that day took over because there are crayons, empty snack plates and children’s books everywhere and that‘s the ONE ROOM that should stay neat.

But just to browse my friends’ walls or look up interesting pages? Sounds like heaven! Instead of trying to read before the kids get up, or in snatches between interruptions every two minutes for breakfast, a snack, lunch, clothing, another snack, a piece of candy, a lost item, requests to play with friends, tattling on those friends, or to referee a fight.

When I do get the chance to spend some time on the computer, my activities probably look neurotic and unfocused. I check Facebook while perusing Craigslist for something I’m seeking, while pulling up recipes for dinner ideas (because I’m bored with cooking right now!), while researching a new article on my youngest daughter’s health issues, then checking back on this gardening topic, while looking up local classes available for my kids, don’t forget planning ideas for upcoming canning days, to firing off a short email to a friend I haven’t chatted with in awhile and probably fears I’m dead, while looking up a new homeschooling lesson, to researching writing opportunities, and maybe actually writing an article.

See why I’d rather spend the day on Facebook?!

My initial response to the comment was anger — and defense. I felt justifiably attacked. I also felt betrayed by someone who knew me better than that. I adore my children, in spite of how difficult motherhood has been.

But then I realized that this was nothing more than guilt being laid at my feet.

When we can’t get someone to do what we want, we try to guilt them into feeling they should. I’m a mom — I’ve pulled this trick before.

“How can you not take care of your toys after we’ve worked to pay for them?”

“Why do you treat your sister like this? We’ve raised you differently.”

“Why do you leave everything for me to clean up — do you think I’m a maid?”

Okay, sometimes guilting kids is the only way to get their attention when they’re on their own planet. But it’s time for the guilt-laying on women — especially this woman — to cease.

I am a full-time mom to two amazing youngsters, one of whom has special needs. She makes daily life difficult in a million small ways. There is often no peace around her, I’m up to my elbows in dirty laundry or I have to sequester her before she does something to someone or herself. She ends up in bed with me nearly every night, meaning I don’t get a lot of uninterrupted sleep. The other day, I had to physically carry her from a neighbor’s house because she refused to leave and locked herself in a bedroom. It took her a half hour just to stop screaming and crying.

I homeschool. My 7-year-old is currently working a year ahead and will be starting third grade this fall. She is the first person I have ever taught to read, and her sister is (hopefully) soon to follow. A failed attempt at a special ed class for the youngest last school year means I am educating her at home, as wel. In spite of her resistance to learning. Which makes lesson planning fun around here (eye roll).

I care for my mother, who lives three hours away, is housebound and is not social. Any change, including my bringing in additional help to keep my sanity, is met with complete and utter resistance. So for now, I’m her wing man.

I just survived my husband’s second hospitalization in 3 ½ years that nearly ended very badly because of unexpected health complications. A long recuperation at home. Major schedule adjustments.

And then there’s just the daily aspects of life in our household. I do the laundry, grocery-shopping, meal planning, cooking, dishes and cleaning. It’s rare that I get a real break from the kids. I mow the lawn and do yardwork because I enjoy it, need the exercise, and am trying to keep my husband from pulling plants instead of weeds.

I will not win a Martha Stewart award. I don’t have time for elegant dining, elaborate cooking or crafts. I am not married to my house. It is mostly clean and happily cluttered. Windows could be washed more often but we can see out of them. We have cats; ergo, we have cat hair. My children think the floor is the best spot for their clothes. And toys. And art supplies. And my kitchen is a perpetual wreck because I love to can, and unexpectedly find the real me buried in those moments when I am creating something new to eat during the winter while hearing satisfying pings as lids seal.

I am not my children’s cruise director. I’m their mother and their teacher. It is my job to raise them to be responsible citizens, compassionate and caring individuals who see and reach beyond themselves, introduce them to faith, give them a healthy work ethic, teach them life skills and manners, and guide them through their formative years. I am not here to monitor every second of their existence or make sure they are never bored. Their creative sides will thank me someday.

So it’s not fair to lay guilt on someone who wants to (gasp!) have a little bit of a life beyond taking care of everyone else around me.

I’m going to take time to connect with people on a daily basis, whether in person or via a computer keyboard. I need to converse with more than just a 5- and 7-year-old, or insanity is the least of my problems!

I am going to continue to seek out answers and ideas to help my youngest through her health struggles. I’m the only one doing it, and I’m not going to apologize for second-guessing doctors and doing my own reading. Thank God I did, or I’d still think she “just had a virus”.

I’m going to continue to educate myself on a variety of topics, so that I don’t become stagnant and stodgy at 46. Life is about learning. If I’m done learning, I can hang it up.

And I’m going to write, regardless of what anyone else thinks I should do with my precious time. I’m not sure where it’s written that motherhood means having dreams of any kind is sacriligious. That we’re supposed to give every waking moment to our children. That everyone else’s needs and wants are to be put before ours. That we are to care for everyone around us constantly — and then care for ourselves, too, because no one else does.

Ladies — drop the guilt. Do what you have to do — and then do something for yourself. Have that extra piece of cake. Call that friend and spend a half hour on the phone. Say no. Say yes. Go after your dreams again, even as a little one clings to your leg and you’re trying to get melted crayon out of the carpet for the tenth time that week.

I have a need to write. To read. To learn. To seek. It’s who I am. Whether I ever achieve anything beyond my blog and a small freelance career remains to be seen. But I’m at least doing that — and I’m not interested in satisfying anyone else’s idea of what my life should be.

No more guilt. I am enough.

And so are you.

Girl, Interrupted (CONSTANTLY!)

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I often wonder how pioneer mothers got anything done.

‘Ma! Junior is looking out my side of the wagon!’

‘Am not! Ma — she’s touching me with her rag doll!’

‘Can I have a bread and jam snack? Can I cut a piece of smoked ham? Can I open a jar of pickles?  Can I have a cookie? Can I eat that pie?”

‘But I don’t want to milk the cow….I’m thirsty NOW!’

Am I the only modern mother/wife that rarely has two minutes alone in her head before some sort of chaos erupts — or I’m needed yet again?

Before children, my free mornings allowed me time to journal, plan my day and do some writing. I’d get a work out of some type in several times a week. Yes, I worked. But in my free time, I read voraciously. Tinkered with writing. Planned for the future. Looked forward to life.

Enjoyed some solitude. (I no longer know what that word means — and just for the record, it’s taken me a week to write this due to continual interruptions!)

Now — if I’m lucky — I migh have a half hour to myself in the mornings before someone realizes Mom is sitting down, quietly enjoying the peace and a cup of coffee.

And needs me.

Some mornings might be relatively quiet with the youngest (and I can usually tell within a few minutes of her rising what kind of day it will be). Interruptions might only be at 5-10 minute intervals. (Can I have breakfast? Would you pour me another glass of milk? I want a different breakfast. I need the TV channel changed. Can I make a craft?)

Then, there are the days where I envision life bearing down on me like the giant, rolling rock in Indana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Where any plans I made can be chucked, because no one is going to allow me to get them done.

Many of the distractions are due to sibling rivalry, made more difficult with my youngest’s special needs and her refusal to care if she loses privileges. (She’s touching me. She’s on my side of the couch. She’s in my way. She won’t leave me alone. She’s playing with my toy. But i WANT that toy! She’s stupid! She’s hitting me!!….well, you get the idea.)

But the mental distractions are also overwheming. After all, I have girls. Girls that need to talk. And talk. And talk. Constantly.

A few days ago, I was outside picking dandelions to make syrup, and my oldest decided to weed the nearby fruit bed. The dialogue with herself, the weeds, me (at intervals) and a passing butterfly were almost comedic. Except that she couldn’t stop talking. For even a few seconds. I’m not even sure she was taking the time to breathe.

We only get a few hours (on good days) with the youngest before moodiness and difficulty move in. She can’t leave her sister alone. She needs to argue with me over simple things (wear a jacket — it’s cold. Put your shoes on. Don’t leave the fridge open.) She makes messes and refuses to clean them up. She tells me what she wants for lunch, and then refuses to eat it because something is off half an inch on her plate.

And if I’m honest, the interruptions are not just limited to the children in my life.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and profess my selfish desires. I don’t need jewelry, cars or expensive vacations to make me happy, people!

I just want to know what it’s like to get up for periods of time — perhaps once a month — and not be everyone’s go-to person for the day.

To be allowed to move at my pace. To think about what I’d like to do that day, and not take anyone else into consideration.

To not talk to anyone, except myself and God (who is probably tired of my complaining!).

To have hours of time to sit and write. To find that creative place inside of myself that has been interrupted into hiding out of sheer survival.

To not be responsible for another human being’s meals, clothing, lessons, entertainment, happiness and safety.

To just be me. Alone in my head.

Uninterrupted.

But for now, I’ll — oh, never mind. Duty calls…..

The Catch 22

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I am about to let you in on a shocking secret. Are you sitting down?

Motherhood does not fulfill me.

I’ll let you catch your breath after all that gasping and clutching at your chest.

I know, I know…I’m female. Ergo — motherhood would be my highest calling, right? It would complete me. Fill in the empty spots. Bring me joy that nothing else can come close to achieving.

I’m sure that’s exactly how many women feel the moment their child — born of their body or of their heart — is placed in their arms. That all the questions are answered. The missing pieces fall into place.

I didn’t grow up wanting children. I don’t recall playing much “house” or “teacher”. I loathed baby dolls and wouldn’t even play with Barbies. Instead, my interests were puzzles and books, playing board games — sometimes by myself for hours, moving the positions for up to four players (geeky, I know!). I rarely babysat as a teenager — even for my sister, who was nearly four years younger.

We were 12 years into marriage when my husband got the itch. College was finished, we had completed a 5-year stint as youth pastors, and bought our home. The future was looking secure. He felt it was time.

Not me.

Besides the obvious — I enjoyed my freedom — I had too many nagging worries. I wasn’t sure I wanted children at this point in my life. Would I be a good mother? I regularly reminded my husband to help out more around the house — why would that suddenly improve with the addition of children? In my heart, I knew it was a decision that changed my life far more than it did his.

And I didn’t want to lose myself, to simply become “his wife” and “their mom”. Nameless. Having no identity or purpose other than caring for spouse and offspring.

I still had aspirations. In my youth, I wanted to be a writer. Then a singer. Then a music teacher. Then back to a writer.

Which is my real calling — down to the depths of my soul.

Numerous people urged me to have children. Told me I was missing out on so much. That it was better than anything I could have hoped for. That I’d regret it if I didn’t. That I’d be alone when I was old.

When my firstborn was placed in my arms, I felt the amazement. I was deliriously happy she was here (especially after 18 hours of labor and still ending up with a C-section!). I knew I would never love another creature more than this squirmy, red, screamingly-unhappy-to-be-displaced-from-my-womb being. Her sister’s arrival 20 months later brought about the exact same feelings.

But….not fulfillment.

Because — and let’s be honest here — I felt whole before having children. I didn’t feel anything was missing in my life. Other than the self-discipline to sit down and write a best seller.

And the brutal truth? Motherhood has not been a rosy, glowing story (not that it ever is, right?). At the age of 2, my oldest showed signs of being strong-willed. At the same age, I knew something physically worrisome was going on with the youngest. Her special needs diagnosis only confirmed my worries. And while it gave me a direction to find her help, it hasn’t lessened the difficulties.

My days are filled with chatter, bickering, noise and a struggle of wills. Most days, I am so overwhelmed by 8 pm that I do not want to talk to anyone, think about anything or be touched (which the youngest does all day long, often in a painful manner, due to her sensory issues).

Pursuing friendships takes more energy than I can spare right now. Leaving the kids with a sitter is too problematic due to the health concerns of our youngest. I rarely have two minutes alone in my head (it’s taken me a week to write this post, for example!), struggle with resentment and guilt like every other mom, and am simply too tired to take time for myself.

I have no idea what a social life even looks like at this stage in life.

But — I cannot imagine my life without them. I love and adore my children. They are an amazing gift, and I’m sure the struggles are strengthening and improving me in many ways. It’s a true joy to watch them become who they are meant to be; to be responsible for guiding them into adulthood. I am grateful for that responsibility, and take it seriously for the privilege it is.

Even as I long for more time to sit down with a cup of coffee and write that best seller.