Friday, October 21, 2016

It just takes some time

One thing that keeps popping up in my conversations and blog feeds lately is mental health. There seems to be shame in talking about mental health issues or talking about having a hard time with things. I've been surprised by friends who have "admitted" to mental health issues after reading some of my blog posts.

Mental health is very important to me. For starters, my husband works on submarines which is a hard and challenging field. There are sailors that struggle strongly with mental health and it directly affects their performance at work. My husband and I have had many conversations regarding the importance of mental health, both as the active duty member and as the spouse. Secondly, I know a lot of people that struggle daily with their mental health. One of my best friends has had a long road with depression and I've cheered her on as she's made brave and positive steps towards her mental health. With her, acceptance has been huge to help with her depression-- being able to talk about it as another aspect of life instead of treating it like a shameful subject.

The conversations surrounding mental health are often approached with a condescending or pitiful attitude. "Oh, you have depression? Why? What's wrong?" Depression isn't linked to one event or something being wrong or aimed at a person or specific situation. Certain events can definitely be linked to worsening (or improving) depression, but it isn't something that is "fixed." There are good times and hard times-- like doing the bunny hop. There can be extended periods of time where depression lays dormant and then, for seemingly no reason, it can slowly sneak up on you and-- sometimes without you realizing-- you find yourself in the throes of a major depressive episode.

Depression can make simple life tasks way harder than they need to be. Making decisions in the midst of a depressive episode can be paralyzing. The ability to choose one option over another is difficult if not impossible and day to day tasks seem insurmountable. Instead of viewing day to day "challenges" or inconveniences as part of life (the sink full of dishes when you try to make breakfast, ran out of coffee, dripped jam down the front of your shirt), these things become blown out of proportion-- heaped on as yet another bad thing happening. Small things that wouldn't normally register an emotional response often draw up overblown feelings, often grief or anger (lines at the gas station when you are running late, a toddler throwing a tantrum when trying to leave the house, dinner taking longer than expected). The ability to talk about such things without judgement is imperative, especially with someone who has long struggled with depression. Asking, "Why are you reacting like this?" in an accusing tone isn't going to help a depressed person find a more appropriate response to a situation. Instead, letting the depressive person talk about their feelings tends to be the better approach in those situations, "My depression is in full swing and I honestly feel like crying right now over this."

But there are varying degrees of depression. I myself have struggled with it much deeper in the past, but this year definitely drew the depression up in me. When I think about the rest of the time we have left at this duty station, it feels like a long, never ending, lonely amount of time (no matter how many months left my paper chain). My mom helped me realize that I wasn't in control of my mental health and so I started taking positive steps for my mental health. It is hard to make that a priority. Being the mom, things aren't tailored to support my mental health. I have school pick up and drop off, playdates, preschool, sports classes, household responsibilities, on and on... the list of things I have to do is long and so time consuming that I rarely have time for the things I want to do. "Real talk" is hard to come by. Opening up to new friends is terrifying. Being vulnerable at a park bench while keeping an eye on 4 kids while nursing the 5th is basically impossible. On top of that, my husband is on submarines and so I'm left juggling all of this on my own with his schedule constantly fluctuating.

The steps that I have made have improved my mental health greatly. I wake up feeling lighter, without a sense of dread, even when my day starts by cleaning poop footprints going down the hallway (Ugh. Real talk, right?). I can handle the challenges thrown at me: a screaming toddler and a screaming baby as I try to get argumentative kindergartners ready for tumbling while our 2nd grader demands to know exactly what time we are leaving and coming home so he can play with the neighbor kids. I can approach my physical health with a better attitude; I don't feel so frustrated and limited by it. It may not be the best right now, but it will get better after surgery.

I've had friends confide in me their post-partum depression and the shame and guilt they felt not wanting to hold their babies or how it hit them months later when they stopped breastfeeding. I've had friends tell me tearfully the affect their C-section or traumatic birth experience had on their mental health. It seems post-partum depression is embarrassing and hard to talk about, which I can understand. If someone hasn't dealt with mental health issues in the past, it can be confusing being hit with them all of a sudden at a "happy" time in your life.

I think what makes mental health so challenging for women to talk about is that we are supposed to manage it all. We are supposed to make Pintrest lunches while balancing home and career and kids and spouse. We are supposed to dress well, eat better, and have vibrant social lives with our "squad." We are supposed to be swept up in newborn bliss the moment we give birth. We don't mean to, but we often compare ourselves to friends and neighbors that emulate aspects of our lives that we wish we were better at. A friend that started a successful small business, a friend that-- gasp!-- finished their novel and is getting it published. A friend who's children are always so adorably dressed and seem to actually enjoy wearing the cute outfits instead of bumming, "Can I change when we get home?" It is hard not to feel left out when you hear other people meet up or text or talk and you think, "Why not with me?" Or a friend who lives near family. Or has a great baby-sitter with availability. Or just the friend that seems to have it together and enjoys life. It is hard as women not to think, "I wish I was better at that. I wish I did x, y, and z without such a struggle. Why can't my kids do that? Why can't I do that? Why am I failing at this?"

Depression takes it that much further. It prevents you from opening up to people about the areas you are struggling. It makes you feel weaker than you are, worse than you are, and doesn't let you know that these feelings are temporary. Depression tells you, "You are bad at this forever and no one likes you." While life is only saying, "You are struggling right now. You are depressed. You have skills. You have gifts. You have things to offer and maybe this area isn't your strong suit, but you do have talents. Hang in there, girl. We will get through this." There is a feeling of hopelessness that comes with depression-- a feeling that you will never measure up, that you will never get over it, that you will never succeed, that you will never connect, even if you try.

A friend asked me today when I was mentioning what a struggle things are lately with my post-partum complications what exactly she could help with. The question took me by surprise because I feel like I need help... but with what? I feel overwhelmed, tired, uncomfortable, hurt, stressed, lonely, and like some areas of the day I genuinely need an extra set of adult hands. But how do I pinpoint those areas? What exactly would help make things better for me? I've been marinating on the question since she asked, but I told her what popped in to my mind at the moment, "Not feeling so alone."

What makes mental health so challenging as a military spouse and as a mother is that we get hit by the double whammy. We have to manage our households-- no matter how that breaks down, working moms and stay at home moms alike-- and we have to do all of this in far away places. We don't live next door to our parents or within driving distance of our best friends. We don't have someone up the road to bring us a meal or to pop over after the kids go to bed to finish that bottle of wine. We have empty houses and empty schedules. We have new friends that don't know that "normally" I feel better than this, "normally" I handle things better, "normally" I don't panic over x, y, and z. The feelings of loneliness are often the hardest to overcome. It is hard to explain, "See, this is what I'm 'normally' like and this is me now. This is what I need to work towards..." with people that don't know you. It is so frustrating when you know that you are not putting your best foot forward, but how do you do that when battling mental health issues? How do you show your "true" self and get the support you need to get your feet back under you?

So I think talking about mental health is important. I think that even saying you are struggling is a good thing. I don't think we have to have it all together. We are all doing the best we can. We all have ups and downs and things we are really good at and things we struggle with. Maybe some of those areas aren't the most obvious to us right now (maybe you can only see what you struggle with), but hold fast and know and believe that one day soon, you will shine. It may not be where you wish you could shine, but there is something uniquely you about you. You may not be stationed somewhere where you have a built in support network or a "squad" (geeze, what is a squad anyways?! Seriously... is that hipster for friends?!). But there are people that love you and need you and miss you and care about you and think that you just being you is great. They love you for who you are, not what you bring to the table. They love your chaos and your mess and even the things you really, really suck at. Your mental health matters. And it may not feel like it matters much to anyone at present, but it does. And the small steps that you are making to keep it strong are noticed (even if the only one noticing it is the guy at McDonald's who wonders if you do anything other than haunt the playground and drive through). One day you will be stationed somewhere else and perhaps it will be a duty station near old friends and perhaps it will bring in new friends. But, girl, you gotta make the most of this duty station. You've got to dig your heels in and make your mental health a priority. Make positive steps. If those don't work, talk to a professional. GET HELP. You matter. YOU MATTER.

I'm not even joking. Put Shake it Off on repeat. Listen to Jimmy Eat World. Do the damn thing, girl. You got this. Your mental health is important.

Making other plans

The process for fixing my complications after delivering baby #4 and baby #5 is underway. I had my first pre-op appointment this past week. We knew heading in to this past pregnancy that it would be my last pregnancy, but it feels very different on this side-- empty womb and scheduling my surgery, which includes a hysterectomy.

During the appointment, I was asked several times (very seriously) if I was done having children. Regarding pregnancies, the answer unequivocally is YES. Before getting pregnant with baby #5, we talked to my OB to see if another pregnancy would be safe. My OB had told me the pregnancy would be uncomfortable and my complications would be worse post-partum, but, dang. It was the hardest pregnancy I've gone through and the worsening complications post-partum have not been fun. On top of the complications, caring for 4 children while pregnant with my husband on submarines was hard, hard, hard. There are few positive moments that come to mind when I think about this past year. I never want to go through that again. And my body still hurts. Getting 5 children to bed is quite difficult when I can't lift or carry a baby by that time of day. I am so excited for my life post-op.

As for am I done "having children..." That is more complicated. When I think about getting pregnant and having babies, the first thing that comes to mind isn't all the complications or the difficult pregnancy. I think about the newborn days and wrinkly baby skin. I think about the way a clean baby smells and their sleep sounds. I think about chubby baby hands clutching Sophie and baby laughs when older siblings play peek-a-boo. I wish I didn't have these complications. I wish that I could do a long-term birth control so that my husband and I could discuss at our leisure whether or not we are done having children, instead of my body deciding for me.

But, there isn't an alternate universe with an alternate me who's body can support having 10 children. Instead there is just me and my one womb that is out of commission. The upcoming hysterectomy has brought to surface my feelings regarding our lost pregnancies and our lost children. I've been thinking of our family in terms of how many children total we have instead of how many living. What if we had all those children...? What if we hadn't lost them...?

It's hard sometimes not to get caught up in the what if's or the sadness and longing over babies that I wish I had known longer. But that isn't the path that our lives went down. Instead we are here, with our 5 precious children, unique in their own ways. As I did the after school run around yesterday, I was mentally running down a checklist of things I needed to add to our grocery order. That's when it dawned on me that I will never have a menstrual cycle in my 30's. That's not a horrible thing. As we went in to the Y for our boys' classes, I started thinking, "I'm going to be able to work out again this spring." When I had our 2nd grader carry the baby upstairs for me after our busy day, I realized, "I'm going to be able to carry the baby for as long as I want to soon... I won't have to use the stroller even for short errands." The list of positives is long.

It is hard to close this chapter of my life, especially one that I have enjoyed so immensely. Children are exhausting and pregnancy is hard, but I've loved welcoming each new child to our family. I've loved our growing family and now our busy house. So, it seems, our family is done growing. We will no longer watch my belly grow and wonder if it is a boy or a girl (or how many are in there). We will never have to line up childcare for delivery again (THANK GOD). We can finally start getting rid of clothing that our youngest boy and little girl have grown out of. (As a hoarder, that has been real hard. Thank goodness for my best friend who runs a tight ship and helps me out in this department.) Part of me feels like I've had my child-bearing days taken from me when maybe I am not as done with my womb as I'd like to be. Maybe that's true. However, nothing will change from my frustrated feelings. My complications won't go away. Future pregnancies wouldn't be safe and delivery and post-partum would be even worse and harder. And so I'm letting it go, little by little. I'm watching each milestone go by with baby #5 and soaking it in-- one month, two months, three months, almost four months. The first bath. The first smile. The first coo. The first time she deliberately moved her head and eyes around the room, seeking out where her momma's voice was coming from. These precious moments are ours to hold on to.

I sing our boys John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" all the time. Some of the verses have stood out to me lately:
Before you cross the street, take my hand
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans... 
Before you go to sleep, say a little prayer
Every day, in every way, it's getting better and better...
  Every day, in every way, it's getting better and better.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Heart of worship

In all the years that I've been blogging, I've been trying to get a blog post about Facebook written. I wanted to write a post about the good side to social media, how it is a useful tool for military families. It seems that every month someone else takes a Facebook hiatus. You see their Facebook status, "Hey, friends! Taking a break from Facebook. You can reach me on my phone." They come and go doing this and I've never really, actually understood why people do it.

For me,Facebook has always been a positive thing. My husband is in the submarine force and we move every 1-3 years. I make friends in one state and then we move away from them. Facebook has been a great way for me to stay in touch with my real friends-- that I have in real life-- that I don't get to see very often. Because many of my friends are also military families, friends that we had in past duty station move near us or we move near them again and Facebook is a great way to stay connected with them. I've also enjoyed using Facebook when we move somewhere new. I join local groups. I post in Navy spouse boards, "Anyone lived here? How do I plug my kids in? Where's a good Mexican restaurant?" I've formed meet-ups, events, groups, clubs, all through Facebook that translate into real life. I use Facebook to meet up with local friends and to stay in touch with far away friends and to stay plugged in with people that I love and care about.

I never used Facebook as a substitute for real face to face friendships. It has always been a tool to facilitate friendships that are far away and to remain plugged in to new and local communities. I've had friendships grow from Moms of Multiples groups and playdates and co-ops and I've loved that. I've loved using Facebook that way. I've loved seeing my far away friends post about their own moves, their kids, their lives. I keep my friends list pared down to only people that I actually communicate with and who communicate with me-- people I visit when I travel, people I call and text, people who are not "online" friends, but real, actual friends.

And then we had this past PCS to the Pacific Northwest and everything changed. My last pregnancy was extremely rough-- complications that I am shortly getting surgically fixed. My husband is back to sea duty on submarines and this time we have 5 children (compared to 1 child last time) and 3 of them in school all day (a huge transition for them and myself). We are homeowners for the first time ever. We have all of these huge life changes that hit us this past year and it has been breathtaking keeping up with it all. I've struggled making "that friend" here who just gets it-- who shows up with lattes and a listening ear. Who cares for my children's hearts. Who always has time. Who treats me like family. Who brings me in to the folds of their family. And I rested my entire happiness outwards. I became desperate and alone, trying to find that friend, trying to make it work, trying to juggle all the different balls we have in the air while also managing our household. As a result, I dropped every single ball and became overwhelmed and depressed trying to get them going again.

I had a conversation with my mom several weeks ago where she suggested that I might need to seek some outside help, counseling and possibly medications, and I agreed. I was overreacting in almost every area of my life. I was crying at the welcome desk when children's classes at the YMCA were full. I was feeling strong feelings of dread and anxiety as the evening hours creeped up every night, the bedtime routine with the kids no longer fun or challenging, but massively overwhelming and exhausting. I was driving from place to place, dropping our kids off, running errands, and crying. Crying when the handles ripped on my grocery bags. Crying when my online grocery order was late. Crying for no reason and every reason.

So I decided to sit down and take a hard look at my life choices. I set a date-- if I make positive changes in my life and still feel overwhelmed by this date, I need to get in to counseling and talk to my doctor. Until that date, what can I do to make myself feel less overwhelmed? I cut things out of my calendar that weren't bringing me joy. Sure, in of themselves they aren't bad things, but was I enjoying them? Was it something I had to go to? Was it bringing something positive into my life? If not, I cut it. I realized that a lot of my conflict was doing things that I enjoyed with the children. So much of my time parenting is getting through things with 5 children-- doctor's appointments, Costco, morning routine, swim lessons... What do I do with my kids that I actually truly like doing with them? So I added some fun things. They may weren't big things, but they were things that gave us a connection that weren't arguing over picking up toys or getting shoes on, but time to breathe and just be. And because I cut out so much from our schedule, I now had time to just sit at the rock wall at the YMCA and encourage our kindergartners to the top of the expert wall and to sit at art class with our toddler and to talk to our infant as she bounces about in the Excersaucer.

And as I cut these things out of my schedule, I realized that even before I made those changes, I wasn't having face to face interactions with adults. All of my interactions were online or in text. I am living across country from my family. I stay in touch with them almost exclusively through technology-- group texts, video chatting, Instagram, Facebook, phone calls. I don't see my family face to face unless it is a special occasion or after tremendous effort while traveling. I didn't want the bulk of my local friends to communicate with me that way as well. The online interactions were making me feel worse instead of better. So as I moved towards a positive direction with myself and my children, I was still getting that desperate feeling of, "Why don't people want to hang out with me?" I was seeing posts of people doing meet-ups or going out or whatever-- innocent, normal, not directed at me posts-- and instead of being like, "That's a cute picture." I was feeling hurt and alone. I started looking at my own feed, full of pictures of me and my kids at home-- never hanging out with friends-- and feeling even more alone, more frustrated. On top of that, I was crying over pictures posted by my far away friends, my heart missed them, missed that time in my life when friendships were easy, when I wasn't feeling so alone, when my kids were also nurtured through my friendships. One day it just hit me-- this isn't what social media is about.

That's when I realized that Facebook wasn't worth it to me. Facebook isn't supposed to be a struggle. There is no reason that I should have to wrestle with my feelings looking at a social media's newsfeed. This isn't other people's problem-- there is no reason why people should have to censor their posts due to feelings I'm projecting on their posts. No one was making veiled statements about me, or their feelings toward me, or anything. It was all how I was processing things and taking things personally. What would change in my day to day life if I deleted Facebook? Nothing.

So I did. I started small and saved my pics and left Facebook. And what has changed? A lot actually. I am no longer feeling frustrated or alone from a website-- an online website that is in no way a representation of friendships that I may or may not have here in the Pacific Northwest. I realized something else too. Perhaps I never have that friend here. Perhaps this whole duty station is spent as I spend it now-- me and the kids. Will I leave here feeling broken? Will I leave here feeling like I wasted 3 years? How will that affect my kids? I don't want to "waste" this opportunity that we have here. This area is beautiful. It is family friendly. It has a lot to offer and my kids are thriving. I don't want to miss that. By the time we leave here, our toddler will be approaching school-age. I want to make the most of this, to leave here and feel like I experienced the Pacific Northwest. So I made a countdown paper chain of exactly how many months I have left here (hey, that helps me realize it will come to an end) and I stopped making my happiness contingent on things I can't control. I can't control friendships I may or may not make. I can't control feeling like I belong or that I'm included. And maybe those things will never come to pass. And that's okay too!!

I am still me. I still have a lot to offer. I will not let one duty station swallow me or break me or make me question my worth. I am taking my own Facebook hiatus-- maybe indefinitely. I am carving out my own niche here. I am opening myself up to the experiences that God has in store for me here instead of pushing for experiences that I want him to have in store for me here. I've had this song on my mind a lot lately, "Heart of Worship" by Michael W. Smith. Here is the first verse:
When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless your heart
I'll bring you more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what you have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You're looking into my heart
God isn't looking for a beautiful song composed perfectly for him. He's looking at our hearts. I've made everything so complicated and, really, that's not what it's about:
I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about you,
It's all about you, Jesus
I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it
When it's all about you,
It's all about you, Jesus
I'm going back to the basics, finding myself in Jesus. Trusting in his plan instead of constructing my own. And hopefully when we leave here, I don't have a long list of regrets, but precious memories of family time and our children growing and things I've accomplished.

As I've striped down my schedule, I've felt lighter. I've felt happier. I've enjoyed my time with the children and those crazy moments where everyone is crying and diapers are everywhere and I have no idea how to make it all work have regained their humor when I recollect them. I am no longer overwhelmed or drowning. I am looking forward to each day. The evenings again are positive (though still and always my least favorite parenting time of the day! Haha!). We end the day cuddled together reading stories or under blankets with popcorn talking about holiday plans and summer plans. The best part though was last night when my husband kissed me on the forehead and said, "You seem to be so much happier lately, like you are really enjoying things."

I still have that date marked on my calendar, but I don't see it as a bad thing. I think that when I finally reach that date, I will be able to see how far I've come over these couple months as I come back to the heart of worship.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

We've lived here for one year...

We have been living at our "new" duty station in the Pacific Northwest for a year now. It has taken me awhile to post a blog post since baby #5 was born. To be honest, I don't feel like I've been in the best head space. It was a really hard pregnancy-- physically and emotionally. For me, this has been the hardest year of my husband's Naval career. Adjusting to life back on a submarine-- while pregnant with 4 children in tow-- has been hard. It is hard always having to "figure it out" and "make it work" and do it alone, all while also trying to be supportive of his crazy hours and exhaustion and manage the children and house. Ah! And since baby #5 has been born, I've needed to get back in shape and in the swing of life again. On top of the complications I had after baby #4 (which were much worse this time), I had a whole other set of complications after baby #5. It just has been challenging.

Emotionally, I feel like I'm focusing on all of the wrong things. I feel like I'm trying to get back to "normal," which is impossible with a submarine schedule and kids going back to school and our twins' first year of kindergarten (that they don't want to go to) and pregnancy complications. I've really missed my family. I felt it a lot going through this past year, but since baby #5 was born, I can't help but focus on the distance between us. Living across country from family is hard! I had retained placenta and needed a D&C 2 weeks post-partum. It was a scary time. Plus we had to find childcare for our children, bring the nursing baby to the hospital (who I immediately had to nurse in the recovery room), and take care of 5 children all while recovering from a D&C. I missed my mom so much then. Then we came down with a stomach bug and our toddler became dehydrated. We spent 6 hours at urgent care having him monitored and pushing fluids and several repeat doctor's visits. It took days for him to get better. This week our 4 boys had dental check-ups and well-child check-ups, our twin kindergartners both have parent/teacher conferences, and our oldest started 2nd grade(kindergarten starts next week).

It has been a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff for me to figure out and a lot of days where I feel like, "What the heck are we doing here?" Sometimes submarine life makes me question why. Why do we live so far from family? Why do we move so often? Why are we dealing with these long hours? Why do I spend most of my days by myself with the children? I think about all the things that could be different: how different this past year would be if we were living next to my best friend or my family, how different it would be if we had an established community around us, how different it would be if my husband worked a job where he could be there to support me... I keep thinking, "If I was at my parents' house, they would have worked from home... they would have taken time off... they would have driven the kids to this appointment or gone with me to that appointment..." Instead my husband works erratic, long hours. I'm doing the children's bedtime routine by myself. They go days without seeing him. I went through bedrest by myself. I took care of all the children by myself while our toddler was so sick with the stomach bug.

So I feel like I'm focusing on the all the drawbacks. I feel lonely here. We have made some really amazing friends here, but our day to day life is spent alone. Most days last year the only time I saw people outside our home was during school pick up and drop off. I love being a stay at home mother and I love our children. They absolutely crack me up and I just love their personalities. However, going through day to day to day to day life with just me and the little people is wearing. I don't have anyone to laugh about the shenanigans with or anyone to say, "Me too, sister." I need the playdates where the moms get together with drive through coffee and the children go play while we chat. I need people to text and say, "Where are you?" I need girls' nights where we all show up with spit up on our shirts but we are trying so hard to be glamorous again in wedge heels and skinny jeans. Parenting is thankless. So thankless. I made lasagna from scratch last night and sat at the table nursing the baby while our 4 boys complained that they weren't hungry, they don't like that... on and on (and none had even tried it yet!).

Last night I decided to bring our boys to a class at the Y. When we showed up, the room was dark-- lights off, no one in the room. Someone told me the class was being held somewhere else so I dragged all the kids across the building-- it wasn't there either. I dragged all the children back up to the membership desk to find out there was no class that evening and, even if there was, we couldn't go because you had to register for it, and I hadn't. The boys were done-- upset, crying. I was frazzled. Long story short, I ended up crying at the membership desk. I must have looked like a crazy lady. We stayed for awhile longer and I let the boys climb the rock climbing wall before I drove them back home. On the drive home, I started crying again. Our boys chatted happily about what they had accomplished (two of our boys climbed to the top of the rock climbing wall) and all I could think about was how I really had wanted to sit and write while they had been in the class, how I hadn't had a moment to myself all day, how I was headed home to an empty house to get all the kids in bed by myself.

I've written many blog posts the past several weeks and haven't published any of them because they haven't had a positive ending, nothing to bring it all together, nothing inspiring or uplifting. But last night on the drive home I had that moment where I felt God speaking to my heart. We were listening to the Christian radio station, which we have on quite often in our van. There wasn't a specific song that came on, but listening to the praise songs I started thinking not about what we had been "dragged" through this year, but what God had supported me through this past year. I thought about all the praises we have. I thought about what a busy, hard year it has been and how constant God has been for me. The worries of this year have been overwhelming-- my health, the baby's health, my husband's schedule, on and on.

After the children were in bed last night, I thought about this coming school year and all the changes we have coming our way. This year could be just as hard for us. I could spend just as much time home alone with our children. God never promises that we will make best friends at every duty station and live vibrant social lives. We do have friends here and we do have a circle of influence and maybe God just wants me to keep on keeping on. Who knows if I will get any "me time" and accomplish any of the goals I set for myself here. Who knows if I will ever see how I made a difference here. Who knows if I will leave this duty station feeling like it was "worthwhile." God never promises us happiness. But he does promise us joy. For the first time in awhile, I didn't go to sleep thinking about what a stressful day it had been or how overwhelmed I am or trying to find deeper meaning in our day to day life or what "the point" of this duty station is (I'm always trying to find "my purpose" or "mission" at each duty station). Instead, I focused on finding my joy. We have so much to be thankful for and there are so many reasons to praise God. Normally I feel like my "purpose" at each duty station is outside of the home. Instead, I think this year my mission is to find my joy in the day to day life, regardless of how far away I live from my mom or how many people I interact with (or don't interact with) each day.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Where did the time go?

School is starting up for the 2016-2017 school year and everyone is starting to post back to school pictures. This year we will have a 2nd grader and twin kindergartners. While I am (nervously) excited to have three children in school, I cannot believe how quickly time has passed. And I feel like I'm not the only one who feels that way. So many of the back to school posts say, "Where has time gone?" There is an expression that always pops up in the mom circles: "The days are long but the years are short." When I think about our twins, this is how old I think of them in my mind:


And instead, they are big bad upcoming kindergartners now.

And our oldest... I still think of him as a preschooler.

Instead, he's now the oldest of FIVE children and our towering upcoming 2nd grader, at 4'8":

The first days of preschool were shocking to me as well, disbelief that we now were at an age where our children were off to school on their own. Disbelief at how much time had passed. Disbelief at how adorable and grown up our children looked with little backpacks and serious, drawn faces, anxiously excited to find out what preschool was all about.

I know they aren't that big. I know that in the scheme of things, 2nd grade and kindergarten are still baby ages. But, back when our first was a baby and a toddler, school age kids looked so big.

I couldn't wrap my head around how quickly time would go. How quickly things would change from newborn days and around the clock diaper changes and feedings, to toddler ages and stages and tantrums and constantly learning new things (good and bad), to preschool age with those tantrums and new learning experiences (again, good and bad), to school age. Yet here we are. Our oldest is now the gangly older kid on the playground that moms with toddlers glare at. Our twins are now the kindergartners barreling through the toddler playdates. And our toddler is now a big brother himself.

It feels like our family is bursting at the seams, busy and moving and fun and growing. And time rolls faster and faster and faster. Milestones happen without us even noticing and the ages and stages that took a million years with our oldest whirl by with our twins and our toddler and happen in the blink of an eye with baby #5.

I feel like I'm finally realizing just how short these years are. The years that these children are ours 24/7. Where we are the only influences in their lives. Where we are the only people they want to impress. Where we are the end all, be all to them. It is fleeting. And each year grows them more and brings in amazing changes. They are turning in to such wonderful people with wonderful ideas and friends and relationships. Seriously, my heart bursts with pride at the people they are becoming. But I keep thinking about how full our arms are now...

...and how time keeps slipping away from us. Our little guys are becoming bigger guys. Right now when I sit down to feed the baby, I have 4 boys that crowd around to snuggle me and play with baby #5's baby toes as she eats. In a couple of weeks when school starts, our house will be quieter. And the year after that, our toddler will start preschool and it will be even quieter. Our days are getting busier and my lap is getting emptier. For goodness sake, our oldest is nearly as tall as I am.

These years aren't easy. It isn't easy managing a toddler and newborn twins. Or a kindergartner, toddler twins, and a newborn. Or a 1st grader, preschool twins, a toddler, and a newborn. There are days that I want to pull my hair out, that I want to cry, that I look forward to when my days will be a little quieter and Costco trips will be a little easier and when I can drop them off at school and actually get things done. There are days when the packed lunches make me scream, the homework makes me scream, the sick kids make me scream, the laundry, the neediness, the constant fighting, the endless lists of things to buy... My plate is never empty and it rarely feels like I'm making a difference or that I'm appreciated or needed or wanted... But then I think all the way back to the beginning.

All the way back to our first bath with our first baby. To our first pregnancy test. To the babies we've lost. To the babies we've had. Through all the years of parenting we've gone through. Look how far we've come. Look at how quickly it went. In the blink of an eye we handled so many things. We got through so many hard days and sleepless nights, to now. It flew by.


It makes me wish I could go back and do it all over again knowing how fast it would go. I feel like maybe I would be more patient. Maybe I would approach things with an eye on the long game. Maybe I could grasp how quickly 5 years can fly by. In 5 more years we will have a 7th grader, twin 5th graders, a 2nd grader, and a kindergartner. All 5 children in school. Maybe this is what makes parenting so challenging: I have an idea of how I want to parent, but it isn't until later that I can see how I should have been parenting. Or what I would have done differently. Or what truly doesn't matter. All these battles I fought that really didn't mean a thing and all the ages and stages I struggled with that naturally took its course and went away on its own. All the tears I shed over things that didn't matter. How harshly I judged myself and how much I worried and how hard I was on our kids. How I anxiously waited for stages to pass and now I would love to go back and do them all over again. What I wouldn't give to hold each of my kids as babies and toddlers again or to tell my past self, "It's okay," and to enjoy some of those little moments that were so challenging to me then.

But I am who I am and it is what it is. What's done is done. All I can do now is love them to the fullest I can. In 5 years I will be looking back to today wondering where the time went, how my little kids became such big kids.

So this is what parents mean when they say, "Where did the time go?" Because, truly, how does it go so fast?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bedrest with 4 kids

My first trip to labor and delivery for contractions was at 27 weeks. Each week after that I've had to take it easier and easier. I haven't been able to drive the children anywhere or take them out of the house by myself for almost a month. Now we've had preterm labor and steroid shots for baby #5. I've been on modified bed rest for a couple weeks. My OB has told me to keep taking it easy and do the minimum and I'm supposed to lay down and drink as much water as possible each day. My other favorite part of the instruction, "If you have someone to help with the children, you should use them."

It sounds easy enough on paper, but our day to day life is not conducive to bed rest. My husband is on submarines and we have 4 boys: a 7-year old, 5-year old twins, and a 1.5-year old. Managing our house (with minimal assistance) and 4 young children while being on modified bed rest has been challenging. So here are my tips on surviving bed rest with 4 children:

1. Limit errands

I'm about to have to totally hand the Costco run over to my husband, but so far it has been my one time of the week that I get out of the house. Obviously he is pushing the cart and managing our boys there, but I do enjoy walking around and picking things out for the next week. It is also nice doing something "fun" out of the house as a family (we absolutely love getting berry sundaes in their food court). For everything else, I shop online. Amazon, online grocery shopping, free shipping... I watch for it and I utilize it! I wrote a blog post on utilizing online shopping and cutting down errands.

2. Cut back the schedule

When I first started taking it easy, I limited social engagements. I took the kids to places that I could manage them easily, like open parks without much walking to and from the vehicle. Then slowly, I had to start declining all social engagements. In the end, I was involved in one club, our preschool co-op, our 5-year olds' preschool, and our oldest in 1st grade. Even then, I had to back out of the club and the preschool co-op until the only things left on our calendar was school drop off and pick up for our older 3 boys (1st grader and preschoolers). It was too hard finding help/childcare when I was exhausted and running around all day with things I didn't have to be doing (and not taking it as easy as I needed to). At the end of the day, the only things I can't back out of are: feed the kids, take them to school, and survive the bedtime routine. I have to have energy to get through these tasks and it makes for a happier house when I'm not stressed over all of the extras.

3. Find help

This one is really hard. I've thankfully managed to find some baby-sitters to help out on evenings that I just can't make it through (busy day for me or busy evening for the boys). It is so nice to have the children bathed and put to bed while I rest. But for most of our tasks... it all falls on my shoulders. We've had to really adjust how we do things, like scheduling our Costco trips during times my husband is actually home (which sometimes means we have to wait a week or make a mad dash on his one day off). Sometimes help is really good delivery food and sometimes it is saying yes when your friend offers to drop off a pizza for dinner. Help can be letting the kids do things in ways you normally would have a little more participation in--like unloading the dishwasher or sweeping the floors or putting away their own toys. We had to reorganize certain areas to make them more kid friendly, like the toy closet and our preschooler and toddler's closets. We wanted them to be able to access things without adult supervision and, more importantly, put things away entirely on their own. Having moved to this area less than a year ago, it has been slow going at times finding help from brand new friends, having 4 children and being pregnant with my 5th (plus it being a complicated pregnancy from the beginning). Thankfully I've been able to work out a couple childcare swaps with friends for OB appointments during the 2nd half of this pregnancy because it was very difficult going to all my appointments with 3-4 children in tow during the 1st half. Since I have to take it easy, when swapping childcare days, I keep all the kids on the first floor of our house and turn on a kids' movie. I also plan an easy snack that they can all eat at the table. I do have to get up and down a bit more than if it were just my kids at home, but, for the most part, it isn't much more work than taking care of my own 3-4 kids (depending if my oldest is at school or home). Now at 34 weeks and having to spend so much of my day lying down, this isn't as feasible as the past couple weeks, but it has been worth participating in for childcare during my OB appointments.

*I want to add under this category: finding help can also be moving things around in the house so your day is easier. My husband majorly baby-proofed our house to make it easier being at home with a toddler. I have door locks, drawer locks, baby gates... etc. Anything to help keep him contained so I can actually (or possibly...?) put my feet up for a minute. This also applies to finding your comfortable spot and moving things to within reach there. I have a spot I like on the couch and we made sure I have easy access to outlets (using an extension cord) and a good spot to put my water.

4. Easy meals

Why do children need to eat everyday? And it isn't even just everyday. It is 3-5 times a day everyday. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner... and one more snack, Momma? Throw in sippy cups and spilled drinks and our life revolves around the kitchen. I had to reorganize the pantry to make it a bit more kid-friendly-- easy snacks within reach and supplies for our oldest to pack his own lunch. On top of their snack needs, the pregnancy has affected how I eat meals. One day I'm eating at every meal; one day I'm snacking all day. I love Costco for all their healthy easy snack and meal options. We buy a pack (or two) of Annie's Macaroni and Cheese every time we go. They have freezer meals. They have packaged snacks: granola bars, fruit snacks, dried fruit, apple sauce pouches... They have cheese sticks, Go-Gurt, Cuties... Costco. I love you. But all this easy food at home means kids being able to easily feed myself and my family. One of our current favorite lunches is cooking a pound of pasta and throwing on some of Costco's basil pesto sprinkled with Parmesan. If we are feeling fancy, I cut up some fresh tomatoes to go with it. The other important factor for meal times is knowing where to grab or order a quick and easy meal. The other night we ordered in Dominoes, though we also have a list of places my hubby can run into for fresher, healthier options (um, grocery store pizza definitely qualifies as fresher and healthier than Dominoes). Are you ready for a true confession? I keep hard boiled eggs and Ramen handy at all times for super easy meals.

5. Stick to one floor

When I am home with our little kids, we are either upstairs or downstairs. I can't run upstairs because our preschoolers are fighting or our toddler is causing mayhem. So I plan our day around what floor we are on. I move laundry in the morning before coming downstairs and then finish it in the long stretch of the afternoon when the boys want to come back up to play in our loft space. For most of the day, we are downstairs. I have our oldest help carry my things downstairs for me in the morning and I set up camp on the couch. That way I have a place to rest and easy access to all the downstairs amenities (kitchen, backyard, art, television, etc). The other nice thing about this floor arrangement when on modified bed rest is that each of the floors are "new" to the kids at some point during the day. When they are downstairs, they can whine about how they want to be upstairs... and vice versa. It keeps them entertained and keeps me from doing the stairs 12,000 times a day. Another tip: employ the children on stair trips. If I run out of diapers downstairs, I can send even the toddler up to grab another one. Our 7-year old is clearly far more capable at following complicated instructions ("In the drawer next to my bed, I need you to grab my chapstick..."), but even saving one stair trip is nice because, inevitably with 4 kids, it feels like I go up and down and up and down those stairs all day.

6. Household chores

This could probably be combined with finding help. A huge saving grace has been having a housekeeper throughout this pregnancy. I have no idea what I would do without her. Through the majority of the pregnancy, the boys and I would pack up on housekeeper days and go get breakfast out and then do a park trip. Now, while she cleans the master bedroom, we hang out in the living room and then lock ourselves in the master while she does the rest of the house. One of the best things about having a housekeeper is that she does all our deep cleaning, so I can have our boys be fully responsible for all the maintenance cleaning in between housekeeper visits. They sweep. They vacuum. They wipe down counters. It saves me a lot of effort not following after them to get everything "just so." They are learning how to clean bathrooms and the like and I am not having to do it-- nor would I able to keep up with it all right now anyways, even if I wanted to. The biggest thing that I have to keep on top of them about is cleaning up their messes at the time they make them. We try to do this anyways, but now on bedrest it is crucial. I cannot have them dump out every toy bin and then expect me to help them sort out what goes where. Big messes are very overwhelming for 5-year olds and under (even our 7-year old) and it just isn't something that I can undertake right now. I make sure that before they move on to a new activity, they clean up the old activity. It does make me feel like that I'm often nagging them from the couch, but they are actually getting into the swing of it and I've caught them more than once cleaning up messes without me asking-- behavior that I greatly rewarded.

7. Indoor entertainment

Wrestling. Why does it always have to be wrestling?! I spend so much time telling our children to stop wrestling. We sit down to watch a movie or play a game or do anything and one nudge leads to a punch leads to a head lock leads to at least one bleeding child. I feel like wrestling and wild play are two things that will drive me crazy before the end of this pregnancy (that and children asking repetitive questions). Here are the indoor activities that we have been using to pass the time while I take it easy:
  • Movies. Thankfully, several of my children do like movies. Of course they never can agree on the movie and some of them only watch movies in the right mood, but peer pressure is strong and so they tend to cluster if the majority is in favor of watching movies. One of my favorite tips is Netflix Streaming. It is so great to be able to change the movie without having to get up and pop in a new DVD.
  • Art. Our 5-year olds are very in to art. They could spend hours doing art. Our oldest will occasionally sit down and do art and our youngest will often spend a lot of time at the table where art is to eat the crayons, but even entertaining 2 of the 4 is nice. It is especially useful when our oldest is at school and our youngest is napping. I make sure that all of their art supplies are not only easily accessible to them, but easy for them to put away as well. This is a huge step in letting them do art while on bedrest. Otherwise, what would I do when the toddler gets up and finds scissors, glue, and markers everywhere? I'd be chasing him down to take supplies away... or cleaning the walls like we had to do a couple weeks ago.
  • Accessible toys. Accessibility is key. Whether your kids like playing with play sets or cars or costumes or whatever, if they need your help getting everything down, you will either be dealing with a lot of whining when you say no or a lot of getting up and down and up and down. The next biggest part is it has to be easy for them to clean or you will have the same problem. Our toddler has one big bin for toys in his room. Our older boys have bins for Lego Duplos, playsets (Playmobile/Imaginex/etc), costumes, stuffed animals, and cars in our loft space. I have everything else out of reach, meaning the small "real" Legos, K'Nex, puzzles, and board games. These are things that they cannot easily clean up and that, frankly, I don't want to deal with right now. Sometimes when we are doing upstairs time, I will pull out puzzles and the like for the boys to play with and that is always a fun treat. I can get a lot of laundry folded with our two 5-year olds busily doing "big boy" puzzles in the loft space and our toddler sitting on the floor next to me doing toddler puzzles.
  • Imaginative play. A fun thing that I have started the past couple weeks isn't totally new in our house, but the frequency of the games is. I pull out various things for them to play imaginatively with, such as flat sheets to make tents or large plastic bins to use as boats or lots of little cups to sort things in... the list goes on and on and sometimes the location of the activity is what makes it so fun. For instance, I never let them play in my master bedroom, but while the housekeeper cleans the house I let them build forts with the sheets and that was a treat. Or when I put a whole bunch of bowls and wooden spoons in the family room for them to make music with-- whoa! Sometimes having house rules and designated areas for certain activities automatically lends itself to childhood magic when you intentionally break the rules. "What, Momma?! We can have snacks on the couch?!" Another fun activity lately is using baby #5's real baby equipment for their baby dolls, like the bouncy seat and bassinet. Obviously I supervise this with 2 5-year olds who would be quite pleased climbing in those things themselves as they pretend to be the baby, though it has actually lead to long periods of happy cooperative imaginative play.
  • Cooking. This one, sadly, isn't something that we can do everyday. If I had a long or hard day, I am not up to being on my feet to cook dinner with the kids. However, we do try to cook breakfast and lunch together when we can. They love being given tasks. It makes them feel like such big kids when they prep and prepare their own meals. I also shamelessly have had our 7-year old make boxed macaroni and cheese for us all on really tough nights. The benefits of us cooking together are abundant: quality time, hands on learning, enforcing math skills, foundation for reading, building confidence, pride in their meal... on and on. The drawbacks are that sometimes it is exhausting and too trying on my patience. There are days when the boys have short tempers and I don't feel well and I just don't want to deal with it. There are other days when I have every intention of cooking together, but I'm having too many contractions. So we play this one by ear.
  • Reading. You would think this one would be a given. Ah, I love reading with our kids-- normally. Now, it is a major chore. My lap isn't big enough for 2 5-year olds and a wiggly toddler. It hurts to get elbowed and bumped and jostled. I'm majorly uncomfortable with contractions and my hips and I don't want everyone piled on me at any given moment. This we also play by ear. I have been able to employ our 1st grader more and more lately. He really has an interest in the topics that our 5-year olds enjoy (Batman... Batman... Batman...) and so has much more patience for the, "Who is that guy?" comments on every page of the book ("Oh, that is Penguin"). We do read and I have sat and read for 2 hours straight. I just tell them no a lot more lately than usual, depending on how I'm feeling when they ask.
8. Outdoor entertainment

This has been absolutely clutch to my sanity. My husband built a gravel pit (instead of a sandbox) for our boys to play in in our backyard. Our toddler loves it. He goes out there and will scoop and pour gravel for almost an hour with no interruptions. Our 5-year olds go outside and do who knows what... sticks, bubbles, chalk, yard balls, gravel pit... Our 7-year old loves "relaxing" outdoors after school, usually by himself; I feel like that is his time to decompress. Having a safe, enclosed space for them has really helped me get some time with my feet up or an opportunity to complete a downstairs task without "helpers" underfoot. I open our windows and backdoor when they are in the backyard and that way I can see them and hear them. A good tip, especially with the toddler, is that sometimes outdoor time can be too much of a good thing. If they spend too much time outside-- just like inside-- they get irritable and short with each other. The hard thing about outdoor play though is that I have a lot more work bringing them inside than when they are bickering indoors. With that in mind, I have them come in when I sense they are getting "done." I also will tell them if I really need a minute to get some rest, "You guys can go play outside for a little bit, but if I have to keep getting up and down, I'm going to have to call you in." Rotating outside time throughout our day also keeps the day feeling a little "fresher." Sometimes I will have them go out for a bit after breakfast or before lunch and then again later in the afternoon or while I'm making dinner. It adds a little variety.

9. Fighting boredom

Even with rotating floors and activities, the kids get restless. We have days where they are whiny and bickering and days where I am in a horrible mood from a sleepless night (or for no reason). We all are ready to get out of the house, see friends, be somewhere else, hit up our favorite local places... I can't wait to take the kids to get donuts and then walk to the park. Really, I can't wait to just walk anywhere. I want to get back into the swing of life. Sometimes on those days the best solution is separation. I send the kids to their rooms to play quietly for awhile, keeping the toddler with me downstairs on the couch. Often times when the 5-year olds are in that foul of a mood, they fall asleep with a little enforced quiet time. When I am the one needing the break, I will sometimes move us all upstairs and close my bedroom door, letting the boys know I need them to quietly play while Mommy rests. This usually lasts for all of 5 minutes before someone is knocking at my door tattling or bleeding or the wild play is so loud I'm getting more stressed than relaxed, but there is that one time where they actually play kindly to the toddler and keep their voices down. Other times, instead of separation, I feel like the boys need some face time and attention. I judge what it is they need. Face time? We read stories or I turn off electronics and we chat. I ask them about they've been drawing. I have them draw me things or show me things or ask them questions. Quality time? We pick a movie and I have them all pile on top of me or we just sit and snuggle for awhile as I read and eventually they all doze off in my arms. It is hard. I can't cheer them with my countdown, "Only 6 more weeks until your sister is born!" 6 weeks doesn't mean anything to them and-- if it did-- I highly doubt a month and half more of this schedule would be very encouraging to a 1st grader and preschoolers. I try to take advantage of spicing things up whenever I can. If my husband is actually home early or has a day off, I make sure they are dressed and ready for some good out front play where they can ride bikes and shoot hoops and run up and down our street. We buy treats when we are out, like ice cream at Costco, or a ginormous box of Otter Pops for the afternoons when they need a pick me up in the backyard. We get new release movies and make a big deal of a "movie night," like pulling out bags of candy or blowing up the air mattress to make nests in the family room. Those little things are fun and keep things a little bit more interesting around here, though the days are long, long, long.

10. Staying positive

I've re-written this part of the post a lot of times an so I feel what gets me down through all of this comes down to 2 main points for me. The first being guilt. I feel like that if I known how hard this pregnancy would be, I would have had my surgery for my complications after baby #4, which makes me feel like, "Why did I bring this on myself?" Do not misunderstand me: I want this baby so bad-- boy or girl. (I am so, so, so glad we are finally having a girl, but we were going for this one last baby regardless.) I will be so glad to hold her. I just feel like, should we have pursued other options? What is this doing to my body? What am I doing to my family? All of that. The second part of this piggy backs of the first: no matter how you slice it, bedrest with lots of kids is hard. The only other time I've been on modified bed rest is carrying our identical twins and we only had 1 toddler then. It has been a far different experience this time with school drop off and pick ups and homework and meals and needs for 4 children... it is hard and tiring. I sometimes feel like I only have the energy to do the basics and that a lot of the other stuff-- some even essential stuff-- I am dropping the ball on. The other day one of our boys fell down really hard. It was a struggle getting to him and, afterwards, I couldn't pick him up or do much for him except force him to limp over to somewhere I could sit to check out his owie. I know what a burden I'm putting on my husband. He has been working crazy hours (if you've ever had a spouse on a submarine in shipyard, you know what I'm talking about) and he comes home to do all the dishes, take out all the trashes, do anything he can to help with the kids, and on and on... On top of that, his only days off are used up doing errands and chores, often all day long (literally until after the kids go to bed). It hasn't been easy.

With that said, staying positive can be hard, especially fighting contractions and thinking negative thoughts or wondering how I will get things done. Being tired (both myself and my husband) has taken its toll on our moods and communication. When I find myself spiraling I follow these steps:
  • Is what is bothering me an actual "big deal" or a small nuisance/minor setback?
    Whoever said, "Don't cry over spilled milk," obviously never attempted bedrest with 4 children. Children are messy. I don't know how many times a day I hear "uh-oh" only to find that phrase to be a vast understatement (an entire Costco bag of chips dumped upside down on the ground!). These little messes are big deals for me-- the repeated and extended crouching down to pick them up-- and they aren't even part of my bare bones daily obligations! It is hard not to lose my cool during those times. "Why are you touching this?" "Why are you in this room?" "Why are you doing this to me?" But they aren't. They are children. They get curious and disobedient and attention-seeking and bored and life happens. Those are the times I take a deep breath and ask them to help me pick it up. It may not be cleaned up perfectly (I currently have the streakiest floor in America), but it is no longer sticky or being dragged all over the house.
  • Focusing on one day at a time... one hour at a time... one minute at a time...
    I don't have any idea what the next weeks will look like, when baby girl will actually get here or how my complications will affect my recovery post-partum. What I do know is that I can put one foot in front of the other-- right now. Narrowing my focus when I am exhausted before lunchtime helps take the panic out of the, "Oh, my gosh, how will I survive this entire day?" thought. I get through the morning hustle and bustle and through lunchtime and through school pick and suddenly it is evening and I'm winding the kids down and slowly getting through bedtime routine. And then another day has passed. I breathe in, I breathe out. I fill another water cup, make another snack plate, clean up another mess... slowly, slowly, slowly...
  • Making goals.
    This one is personal and ever changing. One day my goal is take a shower before bedtime. Another day my goal is to sit outside with the boys while they play. Another day (after a hard couple days) is to spend as much time lying down as possible. When I am really tired from contractions and kids and life, my goal is to make it one more day without going into labor-- to make rest a competitive sport that day. The goals may be small, but it does feel nice at the end of the day to at least accomplish something I set out to do.
  • Vent and complain and wallow.
    Well, this is actually horrible advice. But every once in awhile I have needed to just let go of "keeping it together" and have a bad day. A day where I cry and a day where I'm stressed and a day where I text my best friend way too much about the most mundane of complaints. Having that support is so nice. Even if it is a friend that texts you back or has been there or just has a great listening ear. Of course we want this baby and of course we love this baby and of course we think this will be worth it, but, it is hard.
No lies, it hasn't been easy. Physically I am drained from weeks of contractions and back and forth and taking care of the house and kids (thank goodness for prescriptions to get sleep at night!). Emotionally, I can't keep everything straight. It isn't just a lot on my plate, but my husband's as well and it has been very trying. Thankfully we have been a great team, though there are still moments where the frustration and tiredness takes over and we have a ridiculous argument over nothing. I am wish I could fast forward time to when this pregnancy is over because it is exhausting. I wish it was over now and yet I'm glad baby #5 has baked longer. I'm ready to get the children back on schedule, my life back on schedule, to see people (it is so lonely), to feel better. I feel like when people ask how it's going my best response is, "Hanging in there!" Because the dark circles under my eyes, my aches and pains and complications, my frustration and feeling of impotence, everything my husband has had to take on... it is just hard to sum it all up. Pretty much that angry feeling you get right before you start crying when you don't want to be.

What are your tips for surviving bed rest with older children at home?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Speaking up for equality

I am really naïve when it comes to politics. First of all, it never crossed my mind that a transgender person would have to use the bathroom for the opposite sex. Why would a transgender female-- a female-- have to use a men's restroom? Have I just had my head buried in the sand? Is that really what it has been like for transgender people before now?

I feel like this whole topic of bathroom equality brings up a whole slew of issues that I can't even begin to delve into. I don't know the answer for all of this-- prisons paying for gender reassignment, school locker rooms, on and on. It is a huge subject, a lofty subject. My guess is that any transgender kid in high school is having a much harder day than I am though and, as a momma, that breaks my heart. This topic gets my gears turning.

First of all, I don't understand the anger regarding the bathroom debate. Do I suddenly feel public restrooms are a danger? Hell no. Public restrooms and locker rooms have been a danger from the beginning. I am the mother to 4 young boys. Our 7-year old 1st grader is 4'6" and weighs almost 80 pounds. He wears a boys' size 8-10 and a men's size 4.5 shoe. Whenever I take him with me into the women's restroom, I get glares and muttered remarks, "Too old to be in here..." Our oldest is not a leader. He is a trusting, naïve, sweet 7-year old boy. There is no way when I am at a fairground or a movie theater where the restrooms have more than one entrance that I would let him go into the men's room by himself-- where I cannot go. There is no way when I am road tripping alone with our 4 boys that I would let him go in the men's room by himself. I do not have a fear of transgender people. I have a fear of sexual predators. Wolves in sheep's clothing that look for those small opportunities when our guard is down for a moment. What scares me are cases like Adam Walsh's, where the toy department becomes a hunting ground. Or when walking home from school or running into car trouble become dangerous.

Second of all, in a lot of the articles, blog posts, and news stories on the subject, a common theme seems to be having someone sexually assaulted in a public restroom tell about what happened to them-- which somehow should prove bathroom equality is at fault. What about the people raped when leaving work later than usual? Or stopping at the gas station? Or going to a party? Or getting a ride from a family friend? Or a child staying the night at a friend's house? Or walking home from school? Or doing any number of trusted activities?! Every time I read these posts about how dangerous public bathrooms now are, my blood boils. Sexual assault should never be minimized or regulated to bathroom equality. This makes a mockery out of what is happening to sexual assault victims, past and present. No one will now be raped because "men" or "gays" or "transgender sexual deviants" suddenly have access to women's restrooms. No. People-- men and women-- will continue to be raped by sexual predators no matter what those predators' sexuality or genders may be. This is not new. This has nothing to do with the LGBT community. This has to do with sexual predators, who come in all forms.

Third, feminism. Ah, feminism. As a feminist, mothering 4 boys has opened my eyes to a whole new perspective. From the daily "boys will be boys" comments to the expectations placed on each of their shoulders. Yes, it is still a Man's World-- pay, equality, on and on and on-- though this bathroom debate his given every mother to girls and every woman a soapbox-- keep those men out of our restrooms (which, in itself seems to shut out the entire population of male sexual assault victims). As a woman myself and a mother to boys-- ah-- it makes me pause. Why is there such a strong support system for the LGBT community? Because it is a hard road. Think of Matthew Shepard. It makes me sick. Feminism calls for equal rights. Knowing my struggles, it makes my heart ache thinking of their struggles. What if that was my boy? I can't even type that without tearing up. Equality. It matters.

Fourth, equality matter so much. I am vocal about my faith. It is included in my blog posts and my daily conversations and all my parenting choices. It is part of me, who I am. It is in every fiber of my being and it is how I identify and process the world. My life is my testimony. And it sounds so silly to say it out loud, but we live in America. Our ancestors came here for a reason-- freedom of religion-- for that one reason alone. I cannot imagine living in a country where my beliefs and my convictions and my way of life was wrong or illegal. I can't imagine having my basic human rights violated. I can't imagine feeling shamed over my day to day choices. I can't imagine telling people how they have to live or feel or love or any of that. My faith is a choice-- a choice I made. Equality is so important. It is important for us to protect that.

Finally, I start thinking about the bigger picture. What is making people so angry or uncomfortable over the bathroom situation? Do they truly believe that now suddenly they will be victims? Do people have a fear of the LGBT community? Do they feel it violates their own personal convictions? I also start questioning myself-- what am I missing here? I don't pretend to know a lot about politics. I find a lot of it confusing, unpleasant, and upsetting. It feels like there are so many problems in the world and what politician can fix them all? At the end of the debates, it feels like the solutions are all "making the best" type answers. I think sexual predators find a way to commit violent acts regardless of bathroom laws. I think people-- all people-- deserve equality. I think a lot of things in our country need to change-- laws, budgets, education, attitudes. I think there are bigger issues out there. I think if you are going to boycott Target, you need to include Disney.

I don't know why I wrote this blog post. I really try to stay out of politics and I really try to avoid these types of topics on my blog. I am surrounded by this topic right now. It is on all the blogs I read, it is posted on all my social media, it is on the news, in my magazines... It feels like so much is being said about it and it is hard to remain silent when it makes me so emotional. I can't support the idea that the transgender community are sexual predators. I can't support the idea that public bathrooms have overnight become a danger. I can't support the idea that rape is tied to bathroom equality. I can't support that this is only a women's issue. Staying silent feels like agreeing to those notions. I'm sure I will start getting comments about what I'm missing in this debate or emails about why I'm wrong. I have only walked in my shoes and lived my life. I think what this is missing is grace.