Mama Stands Up

Darkness.  I lay in the darkness feeling numb.  Am I awake?  Praying for that feeling a relief to wash over me like slipping into a steaming bath.  But that warmth does not arrive.  Instead panic flashes.  Hot and dry in my throat.  What am I going to say to my children?  I need to be brave.  But how can I dig for that courage when it’s not there?  It’s buried deep under fear, panic, shame and sheer disappointment that runs white hot through me.

For months, I have pushed this possibility to the side.  For nearly a year, I’ve laughed this off as an embarrassing joke.  But what I have really done is forced myself to believe in humanity.  Challenged my fearful mind to trust that good will win- it has to, right?  That the majority of humans care beyond their doorstep.  Feel a sense of duty to protect our so very fragile society and vote with their hearts.  The disappointment I feel is for the reality that what’s in my heart is not in the majority of the hearts across our country.  I struggle to reconcile the notion that I’m the minority in my values.

5:49am.  Cub walks in to my room and crawls into bed.  Warm, innocent hands wrap into my own.  Did Hillary win, Mom?  I hesitate.  Waiting.  Like I’m expecting something wise to come.  Instead, No, baby.  She didn’t is all that falls out.  He rolls over to face me.  Searching my eyes and my mouth, his breath whispering, heart pumping.  She didn’t win I say again.  This time a little louder, pushing my voice past the hardness in my throat, testing how the words feel in my mouth, how it sounds to hear myself say it.  Cubs eyes fall.  He knows that evil won today.

The piercing, jagged truth is, he knows what this means.  I openly shared my feelings for not supporting Donald Trump.  My children know all the reasons this man did not earn our vote.  I shared these reasons because I genuinely did not believe that others would be able to see past the truths, the facts, and support him.  Of course I knew some could but I had no idea so many would.  So now I feel duped.  So does my kid.  So now what.  What do we do?

Well for starters, I am not going to be silent.  I am not going to roll over and make the best of this.  I am going to Stand Up.  I am going to look for places where I can Stand Up.  And Standing Up now means something different.  I won’t be silenced by Facebook, like I realize I have been for so long.  Words on a screen that mean nothing.  No action.  Look, I shared an article!  Now that I’ve let everyone know what side of an issue I’m on, I can go back to posting pics of my kids, recipes or memes.  For fucking real?  You know whats different about activism now than during the 60’s?  You actually had to show up to Stand Up.  You couldn’t just post a pic of a Civil Rights March, hashtag it and call it a day.  You actually had to show up.

I hear people say about the election outcome, We did this.  Guess what?  I actually didn’t do this.  And I am sick of being the We.  The We are the people who voted for this man.  The We don’t hold the same values as what’s in my heart.  The We are the people who are just going to go about their business and ignore the fact that evil won.  That gender discrimination, racial ignorance, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration won.  I am not the We.  I am the Me.  And the Me feels like the only thing I can do right now is Stand Up.  I vow to seek out injustice.  And DO something about it.  No matter how small that is.  I will no longer smile apologetically at the woman holding a “WOMEN’S RIGHTS MATTER” sign outside Planned Parenthood.  I will hold a sign next to her.  Are you Muslim?  I’m in your corner.  Are you an immigrant?  A refugee?  Are you black?  Consider me your ally.  Are you gay?  I will hold your hand.  Are you a strong, powerful woman?  I’ve got your back, girl.  I will not look for fights but I will seek opportunities to show that I am not the We.

And I will do this in front of my kids.  I will encourage them to do the same.  To say nothing is not an option for me.  And as angry as I was at 5am, I feel that anger replaced with a sense of duty.  I have deactivated my Facebook account to push myself to use action as my platform, instead of a social media account.  I’ll dearly miss the pics of your adorable kiddos but this feels more important to me right now.  I need to challenge myself to act instead of post a status or share a comical clip from the Daily Show.  Now, I have a sense of how to move forward.  I may not be able to influence laws from my tiny town in a tiny state but I can let people know how I feel about them.  I am not the We.  I can show up.  And I will Stand Up.  And I hope you will too.  Because it’s the only way I know to get through this right now.

With all my heart, I wish you Peace, Mamas.

Back on the Wagon… Again

My name is Sarah Russell.  I am a yell-aholic.  I have been yell-free for eight days.

So here we are.  Day Eight.  Many, many events have taken place in the past month or so.  Mainly summer vacation hit me like a ton of bricks.  The first couple weeks were quite euphoric.  I was craving the lax of no school, no obligations, no pressure… Until that’s just what I got.  Sure, the relaxed nature of our days is easier in some ways but I am not sure the pros have outweighed the cons because something happens when you don’t have to answer to school, sports practices, preschool pick-up and bus schedules: You get lazy.  And I am not just talking about lazy like Oh I’m just going to lay around— no, no.  Lazy like, I’m going to take a little break from parenting.  Lazy like, I’m going to ignore the bickering for just a little bit too long.  Lazy like, I’m going to say sure to that (store bought) cookie because you can get it for yourself and I don’t have to get up from Pinteresting to cut you up a goddamn piece of fruit.  You want to watch TV for an extra hour?  Sure.  You want to play video games past the 20 minute limit?  Go for it.  Your brother kicked you because you– oh nevermind.  Get another cookie.

And as I am sure you can imagine, the cart plummeted off the cliff at the intersection of lazy parenting and children gone wild.  Ugh.  Something had to change.  I was unhappy.  I felt like shit.  The summer was passing us by and I was like an indifferent, stinky high school student on summer vacation.  And then it hit me.  This isn’t my summer vacation.  It’s theirs.   What was my problem?  I was so looking forward to slacking off and then I realized I was wasting their vacation by being self-absorbed and lame.  Mama Fail.

So we went on a trip and spent a week at the ocean.  It was amazing.  On our last day, we had a very stressful travel itinerary and I knew that to keep us from living in a constant state of chaos while one humiliating meltdown blends into another, it was gong to take everything I had in me– which was not a whole hell of a lot considering the steady BAC I was able to maintain for six straight days (impressive, I know).  The night before, I panicked and fell back on the No Yell Challenge.  It was the only tool in my cloudy, liquor-saturated box.  I needed the No Yell Challenge.  And I needed to get Husband on board.  We needed to work as a team- not as ring leaders of t this dysfunctional circus we had operated for  the last couple months.

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Despite the whining, crying and annoying complaining of the next 24 hours, I managed to remain in control.  I did not lose my temper.  And when I was close, Husband became quite adept at identifying the bulging vein in my forehead and stepped in as needed.  We even high-fived each other.  Twice.  As I sat, crammed in between a sweet child and a fat, crabby Canadian (both snoring with drool hanging from their lips), I realized that I can do this.  And I owe it to these amazing little humans I brought into this world to be better.  Better at playing with them.  Better at listening to them.  Better at  guiding them.  

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So here we are.  Day Eight.  I’m doing it.  I have not yelled.  I have taken deep breaths.  I work so hard every day to be patient, kind and attentive.  It’s tough, I won’t lie.  But I feel so much better at the end of the day.  Instead of the guilt-stricken recap, I wrack my mind thinking of little things I can do to make them smile the next day.  And then I do them.   I have left tasks unfinished to read to them.  I have forgone errands to take them to the beach.  I have put my phone down to play with them.  Relishing the feelings which swell as they grab for my hand, turn to smile at me or as I catch them pretending.  This is their summer vacation.  My summer vacation is over.  Or maybe it’s just now beginning.

Peace, Mamas.

Mama is Fed the F*ck Up

I don’t know how I got here but I am really struggling.  Patience are none existent.  Rationality has been exhausted.  My last nerve has been on extended leave.  What the hell is going on?  Well, I’ll tell ya.  My two year old has made a liar out of me.  Up until now, I never believed in the Terrible Twos.  Three was the worst in our house.  Three was the age of talking back, and fierce independence.  I thought the Terrible Twos were a load of shit.  Until I met Zook.

His whining has become the soundtrack to my life.  I swear, the crying and wallowing haunts me in my sleep.  He wants to help with everything.  Which is fine.  Takes a few extra minutes but I can deal with that.  If that was it.  But helping doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of my frustration with this child as of late.

Tonight was taco night.  Zook wanted a soft shell with shredded cheese.  Rolled inside.  Wait, on the side.  On the side of the plate.  Actually on the plate.  Yes, on the plate with sour cream to dip it in.  No, sour cream on the tortilla.  Okay, cheese on the side with sour cream in the taco.  Got it.  Nope, change of plans.  Sour cream out of the tortilla.  With cheese on the side.  What?  There’s still sour cream on the tortilla?  I can’t get it all out.  Now the tortilla is on the floor.  Now he wants a new tortilla.  With cheese.  And sour cream.  And tomatoes.  What. The. Fuck.

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I just can’t win with this kid.  I am certainly not a rookie Mama but lately, I am feeling like I am flailing through my interactions with this child.  I have no clue what is going to piss him off.  A dribble of milk spills next to his cereal bowl.  He wants cake.  In bed.  He wants me to fit the baseball through the egg-sized hole.  He doesn’t wait to sit in his carseat.  His shirt has a picky part.  His sock has an itchy part.  He wants to crush every Lego ship in the save-spot.  Please don’t hit Mama with the hammer.  Please, Mama!  Hit Mama, please!  Are you kidding me, kid?!

Being a Mama is so hard right now.  Tonight I literally felt like I could have shaken him.  Can they still get shaken baby syndrome at age two?!  I didn’t… But I could have.  I feel like I am on edge.  Like I have some kind of sick mental illness where I try to anticipate things that will piss him off and prevent them so I can alter the future.  You really don’t want to flush the toilet this time?  Really?  But you really like to do it.  Are you sure because if I flush we can’t have a do over.  Okay…  Maybe we’ll leave it for a minute if you change your mind…  What is my problem?  Am I enabling this?

I feel like I am failing him and myself.  And it’s really not fair to my other two.  I get that.  I feel like I used to be so much better at negotiating this kind of stuff but I am really sucking.  Exhausted, depleted, defeated.  Mama is tired of trying.  Tired of the whining, begging, screaming.  Tired of the meltdowns (his and mine).  Beyond tired of the struggle.  When is this going to get better?  I know this is a phase.  But honestly, the next person who says that to me should guard their throat because I’m not sure I can control the urge to punch.  It is a phase but we’ve been in this fucking phase for months now and it’s not really getting better.  I need an intervention.  (Self-medicating with alcohol has proved to be only marginally effective…)

We will overcome.  We will get through this.  The silence tonight is my therapy.  I need peace so that I can convince myself tomorrow will be better; that I will have more patience; that we can make it through this.  I need to hear  all of these things to convince myself I really don’t need to pack that bag and sneak out in the night.  I need to look in on his sleeping sweet face.  I adore this child…  Why does he have to be so fricken adorable?!  They really are cuter when they’re sleeping, huh?

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Peace Mamas.

Sunday Reset

Our week has come to a close.  The babes are sleeping.  The house is quiet.  For now.  During the last week, I yelled on Wednesday and Thursday nights.  Thursday was rough.  Kids were crazy.  No one was listening.  I stepped on a Lego ship.  Need I say more?  Wednesday, there was a fight about homework (really with the math games?!  Is there not another way for him to learn less-than, more-than?  Whatever happened to the alligator eats the bigger number?!) and it ended with a thrown pencil, crumpled paper and then bed.  No one was happy Wednesday night.  No one.  Overall, I have to say that the week went well (aside from the above-mentioned incidents).  This week, I renewed my pledge to a rule I made about seven years ago: Commit to No.

The rule is pretty simple.  If you say no, commit.  Don’t give in.  If you can’t commit (or don’t have the energy and know that you’ll give in,) don’t say no.  Here’s the thing: You will actually say yes more.  If you Commit to No, you will have to evaluate everything in a different light.  Is this really a big deal?  Can I really commit to no on this?  If the answer to either of these questions is no, say yes.  

About a year ago, I read an article in one of those parenting magazines written by a dad.  You know, those ones that you read and think, Who the hell is this guy?  God, I wish my husband would read this…  Are there really dads out there who write this shit?  The article started out with the dad read something about what children remember the most from what their parents tell them.  The dad decides to ask his son what he hears him say the most.  The dad, expecting his son to say I love you or You are smart or Share!,  is shocked when his kid says the thing he hears his dear old dad-di-o say the most is No.  I re-read this about five time.  Why? Because my stomach had a sick ache.  I was sure my kids would say the same of me.  So sure, in fact, that I never wanted to ask them for fear that they would confirm my worry.  I say no all the time.

Why do I say no so much?  I have no idea.  Because I am lazy:  Will you put chocolate in my milk?  No. Can I paint?  No.  Because I am tired:  Can you chase us?  No.  Can we walk to the playground instead of drive?  No.  And sometimes for no reason.  Now Mamas…  I read back over the above questions and I am ashamed.  But I am being honest.  So please judge me quietly… And then look at all the questions you say no to.  Maybe you’re perfect and always tell your kids yes.  Or maybe you’re like me and say no too much.

Using the Commit to No rule, as I have for the last week, you I can guarantee that you will say yes more.  You will be required to do more, run more, deal with bigger messes and make a shit-load more chocolate milk.  But, your kids will be happier.  And they will do more of the things you ask them to do.  And you will yell less.  Committing to No will enable you to say yes more.  And it’s freeing.

I am definitely more tired at the end of this week.  All this saying yes-shit is exhausting.  But I didn’t yell nearly as frequently as I was at one point.  And my kids are happier.  And they did help me more, beg less, stop whining and… oh hell, they are still whining but I think they are whining a little less.  I think I am going to Commit to No again next week.  I want my kids to remember me saying Yes.

Peace Mamas.

Mama’s Still on the Wagon. Barely.

Well it’s been five days and I am still on the No Yell Wagon.  There have been a couple close calls but somehow I have managed to hold on by my fingernails.  Pressing my buttons the most these days is my youngest.  The tantrums are pushing me over the edge.  Most frequently, melt downs happen when someone does something irreversible like flushes a toilet, throws something away, someone goes through the door first- you get the idea. When something can’t be undone, we have a situation.  The situation usually includes screaming, repetitive sobs of “No, mama.  No, mama.  No, mama.”  Or, “Me do first.  Me do first.  Me do first.”  This can last anywhere from 10 minutes (never less) to 40 minutes (sometimes longer).  The situation also may or may not include rolling, kicking, throwing, hitting or pushing.  Or pulling clothes.  Which for some reason enrages me.  Why?  I have no idea.  When a child pulls on my clothing as I try to walk away or move, I just about lose my shit.  These situations occur 4-5 times per day lately.

I was in Old Navy a few days ago when a situation came about (He wanted to pull clothes off the shelves and I wasn’t really cool with this so he was strapped into the stroller.)  The screaming lasted the entire time I was in the store.  I needed to finish the errand and couldn’t take time to cool down in the car, outside etc.  As I walked through the store, looking for the last fucking pair of size 7 slims they had in inventory, the screaming became so loud that a salesman approached us an produced a golf ball.  He asked if it would make him happy if he held it.  Yeah, sure dude.  I hope you have dental insurance because I am guessing you’ll need it after he hucks that ball at your chops.  Seriously?  My child doesn’t need a fucking ball.  He needs an exorcism.  And a tranquilizer.  Um, I mean, no thank you.  The sobbing continues.  “Mama, out.  Mama, out.  Mama, out.”  In the check out, we waited for the cashier-in-training to reload the register paper.  Would you like to sign up for an Old Navy card, ma’am?  Really?  You read my mind!  That’s exactly what I want to do right now!  Just like I want to chew through my own arm and beat you with it.  Um, I mean no thank you.  We left the store and I swear I heard applause as the door shut behind us.

Getting into the car, I was forced to use the hold-child-secure-with-elbow-technique while buckling the five-point harness that should have come with a muzzle.  “Mama, peas.  Mama, peas.  Mama, peas.”  I kissed his sweaty, snotty cheek and shut the door.  And stood in the parking lot next to the car.  Wanting to cry because that was really hard.  Because I didn’t think I could make it.  Because that was embarrassing and terrible and stressful and awful.  But also proud that I didn’t freak out.  That I made it.  That I didn’t lose my cool.  Breathe.

I put the stroller in the trunk and got in the car.  The crazed animal looked at me from the back seat, quiet now.  He had stopped crying but looked like he could relapse at any minute.  I sat there, looking at him in the mirror.  Hi, he said.  Hi.  And we smiled.  That moment.  The smile.  The relief.  I can do this.  Breathe.  Want to grab a bagel?  Yes.  Hungry.  Let’s go, little buddy.

So I think we are getting there.  Slowly.  Slowly.  It’s not easy.  And it’s not even getting easier.  But I feel a little better each time I don’t yell.  Maybe one of these days it will be easier.  Or maybe we will get sued because someone eats a golf ball.  Ya never know what tomorrow brings.  Peace, Mamas.

Mama Project: Dirt

Today the sun shone.  It felt particularly essential because on this afternoon, my grandparents’ house was sold.  I desperately needed the brightness of the sky to lift me from despair today.  On May 22, 2012, my grandmother, the center of my family died after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.  One year ago today, she was alive.  And I never imagined that the hole she’d leave would seem so deep, so painful, so hallow.  Their home was a gathering point for holidays, meals, visits, family, laughter.  So many of my most fond memories from childhood are in that house or yard.  This morning, I took a long walk in her yard, chased my own children around the sandy, grassy space.  Watched them lean against the fence, look up at the planes overhead just as I had done for the last 31 years of my life.  Both my grandmother and grandfather were given the gift and privilege of passing on within the walls of their home, in the comfort of their bed, with the strength of family around.  It’s hard to think of them anywhere else.  So it’s difficult to fight the abandonment aching in my throat.

I cling to the items she once touched.  Smelling blankets, cradling her coffee mug, running my hand over a piano stool, watering a plant.  All these items, once hers are now all I have left.  There are no words.  Just deep sadness tonight.  An era in my life has ended.  This afternoon, I took the time to watch my children play in our yard.

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These short moments seem all the better today. A little bitter-sweet but better. It sounds cliche to say that this was surreal.  So surreal.  One day, many, many years from now, their children may walk my yard.  And hopefully, the same feeling of comfort will pass over them.  Peace Mamas.

Sunday Reset

Sunday is the day of reflection on the past week.  What worked, what needs tweaking and what was a total failure.

What worked:

Talking things through, approaching things from a resolve-oriented approach, trying to get my children to talk to each other instead of me about what is bothering them, spending more time reading to them, getting more outside time.

What needs tweaking:

My approach to getting them to talk to each other needs to be more involved (suck).  I need to take more time to help them work through things until they get the hang of it.  I was just telling them to talk to each other about the issue but they ended up going in the room yelling and things went to hell from there.  Also requiring tweaking is roping my husband into all this.  Dad loses temper = Mama loses temper.  We need to be better about this- honey, I know you are reading this… right?

Total Failure:

Ignoring the behavior I don’t want to deal with because I am too exhausted to deal with it.  I have got to summon the strength after working a 10 hour day to come home and parent effectively instead of being permissive.  My struggle to have energy translates into their struggle to get my attention.  So many times, I looked at my children over the last week and thought Just leave me alone for two fucking minutes.  Not in a mean way (of course, you can hear me saying this in the sweetest voice, oozing with kindness and love… right?  Right…?) but in a totally exhausted, beaten down, surrender-type of way.  Mama is tired.  Mama needs a break.  Mama needs to suck down this glass of wine to get through the rest of this homework.  And why the hell are they teaching you math like this?!  Maybe Mama needs some meth… Nah.  Mama needs to dig deep.

And dig deep we shall.  My goal for this week is to reset.  When I am feeling the exhaustion set in and the mean, tired Mama come out, I will dig deep to demand from myself, motivation and patience.  My kids deserve better than what I have been giving them.  They are children and sometimes I am fully aware that I expect them to understand far too much.  I ask them to overlook far too many of my shortcomings.  This Mama is feeling a bit defeated but from desperation comes hope and new energy.  I’m going to dig deep.  And it’s going to be a good week.

Peace Mamas.