On being (and having) a safe space…

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Photo by Laura Kasper

As mothers, we’re often told that our children give us their worst behavior because they feel safest with us. Largely, that is true. Our kids should feel the most safe when they are with their parents. It’s one of the greatest responsibilities we have to them. The world, while fun and exciting, can be a scary and dangerous place. Protecting my daughters, as much as I can, is probably the biggest responsibility I have to them. Their safety is my primary concern, especially while they’re so young.

So yes, I am and want to be their safe space. I want them to feel okay about falling apart in front of me. I want them to know it’s okay to have crappy days and to deal with hard emotions. I want to be a sounding board for them. I want to hear about their struggles and frustrations. My daughters are full-blown humans with full-blown human emotions. Despite the fact they don’t really know how to appropriately regulate those emotions most of the time, their emotions are real…very real. Especially to them.

But here’s the thing: I am a full-blown human with full-blown human emotions, too. And sometimes, my kids’ shitty behavior and crummy attitudes really hurt my feelings. I get tired of creating delicious dinners for tiny tyrants to claim not to like something they’ve never tried. It hurts when my daughter gets off the bus and without even a smile or a hello, immediately bitches at me for not bringing her bike . It makes me want to cry when they constantly scream at me for not buying the right snack (despite the fact I bought snacks at all). I get angry when I take them out for dinner or adventures and they tantrum about having to drive somewhere.

So I’ve started telling my kids when they hurt my feelings. I tell them when I’m sad. I let them know when I’m overwhelmed because their dad is gone again and I have no help cleaning the house and I have work I need to do and showers I wish I could take and I’d so much rather be playing with them or riding bikes or reading to them, but someone has to do the dishes and they’re not really that helpful around the house yet.

Because as important as it is for them to see me happy and know when something makes me smile or laugh, it’s equally important for them to know when I’m sad. And it’s important for them to know when they do something that makes me happy or sad.  I think it’s a critical piece in the puzzle of raising empathetic humans. I love that I’m a safe space for my children. I love that they feel safe enough to come completely unhinged in front of me (I love it; I do not always like it). But I want them to be my safe space, too. I want them to know that their actions can affect people, including me.

They need to know they have the capacity to hurt people…and they have the ability to heal them, too.

 

On transient motherhood…

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“Little town, it’s a quiet village!”

I’m what some people would call a “millenial mom”. Not because of my age (god, no. I’m much too old to be a true Millenial), but because of the age of my children. Many of my daughters’ friends have parents that are ten or more years younger than me, which means many of my own friends are that much younger than me. It’s sometimes a very strange place to be. I’m nearing forty years old and most of my friends have barely scratched the surface of their thirties. I often forget how much older I am than them. I guess that’s probably a good thing. My kids keep me young, but my friends make me actually feel young sometimes. It’s nice.

Something that “millenial motherhood” has taught me is the idea of The Village or The Tribe. In many ways, this is the first modern generation of mothers that have truly embraced the idea that we cannot do this mothering thing alone and, more importantly, we WILL not do it alone. We seek out our people and when we find them, it’s a huge weight off our ever-sagging shoulders (and breasts). It’s incredibly hard to find your people when you’re a mother. It’s not just finding people you click with. It’s finding people who support you and listen to you, people who understand and respect your parenting style, people who challenge your notions and appreciate all your differences, people who get along with you and with your children. It’s a process, one that takes a long time and requires a lot of effort. But man, when you find those people, the payoff is incredible!

But there’s a brand of mother that doesn’t often have the luxury of time: The Military Mother.

Of which I am one.

I got pregnant with my first baby a mere eight months after I married my military husband. By that time, I’d already moved twice and was still very new to the military life and all it required of me.

I got very lucky in the friendship department, I think. My first real friend was also a military wife and we were due with our first babies at the same time. She overheard me make a comment during a church event, messaged me on Facebook, and the next thing we knew, we were having conversations in the car about any number of topics reserved for only the closest of friends.

See, military spouses, we don’t waste time. We can’t. We dig in deep and we dig in fast. We ask questions and make statements and have (or attempt to have) conversations that most people don’t have without significant time under their friendship belts. And more often than not, the people we’re attempting to connect with are not military spouses.

They are locals. They grew up in or have significant roots in the towns we move to. It’s something a lot of us are envious of. Whatever roots we may have had in our own hometowns, we ripped those out when we married our service member. It’s not that we ache for our own roots. It’s that, when we become mothers, we ache for the roots our children won’t have…not for a long time, in most cases.

And that’s why we make our first priorty that of building our Village. We need to find our people, and fast! We need play dates for our children and coffee outings with grown ups. It can be incredibly challenging, for us – the military spouse – and you – the local.

The life we married into requires both of us to be very vulnerable. We may have chosen to marry into this, but we don’t come and go from city to city or country to country on purpose. We don’t leave without leaving pieces of our hearts in every place we live. We get married in your churches. We have our first baby in your hospitals. We buy our first houses in your neighborhoods. We sometimes have to bury our pets in unmarked graves in your open spaces. Where you have roots, we leave pieces of our souls.

The Military Mom you know…she fell in love with your towns and your parks and your churches. I did and do all those things. One of my dearest friends is a local from my husband’s last duty station. Knowing her the way I do now, she took a huge risk on me when she opened herself to our friendship. But then she opened herself to my Village. That, for her, is a whole different level of trust and depth. I know what it took for her to do that. Children have a way of making us very selective about our friends. She’s now over 7,000 miles away from me. That’s put an epic strain on our friendship. We’re in exact opposite time zones so the things we could share before (specifically, award shows season [I apologize for nothing]) are a near impossiblity. She’s dealing with bedtime shenanigans while I’m trying to clean up lunch hurricanes. But we make it work. Because SHE IS MY PEOPLE. When I think about my mothering journey, there isn’t a chance in hell I can imagine doing it without her.

In fact, my entire Village from that duty station is that way. Those women were my first foray into motherhood. A few are locals, a few are transplants, and a few – like me – are transients. It’s a beautiful mess of women with whom I have loved, laughed, and cried.

And it’s a beautiful mess of women that I’ve had to leave behind.

I fell in love…with some of my dearest friends, with their towns, their parks, their churches, their food, their lives. And then I left.

It was as hard for me to leave as it was for them to let me go. It was inevitable. It was never a secret that I was going to leave. When you befriend a military spouse, you have to be okay with knowing we’re going to leave. But we won’t forget you…and we desperately hope you won’t forget us. You are the link we have – the only real link – back to the places we left pieces of our hearts. We need you.

On getting ahead of myself…

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It’s bedtime on the evening of November 1st. Officially the first day of the Thanksgiving season.

Normally, I’m the person that gets wildly bent out of shape when stores start selling their Christmas wares before Halloween. Every holiday deserves it’s own moment. ALL HOLIDAYS MATTER, DAMMIT! The fall and winter holidays are set up especially well. Each of the majors has roughly a month to itself. That’s plenty of time to set up, enjoy, and tear down each holiday without feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated in doing so.

Well, not this year!

Last night, I took my babies out to scam candy from all our neighbors and after they went to bed, I pilfered my “mom tax” from them (all the MilkDuds are mine. YOU WILL NEVER KNOW THE TASTE OF A MILKDUD, SUCKERS!). It was a lovely night, made all the more delightful because it was Mothra’s first true trick-or-treating experience and once she got the hang of it, there was no stopping her! As an added bonus, because we live on a base overseas, a lot of locals were “sponsored” by Americans to come join the shenanigans. And in keeping with Japanese mores, many of them came with candies of their own to trade for our peanut butter cups and Snickers.

But this morning, after I dropped Godzilla at the bus stop (and sucked back the remainder of my cold coffee), I dismantled and dismembered Halloween from my house in a manner suitable for any horror movie. I was ruthless. I have never been more excited to trash the dollar store spider webs and box up all the chotchkes I’ve collected over the years.

And with all the gusto I could, I hauled out all our Christmas decor from the storage closet out back. See, here’s the thing. I’m normally a stickler for keeping Christmas at bay until after Thanksgiving. My family has always adhered to this rule and I love it. But last year, my husband was deployed until just a few weeks before Christmas and by the time he got home, we were in the throes of packing up our lives (for the THIRD TIME IN A YEAR) to move to the south of Japan. We arrived on our new base about two weeks ahead of Christmas and our household goods shipment arrived on Christmas Day. Many many things went awry last Christmas season, but not being able to give Mothra a truly magical first Christmas is among one of the hardest to come to grips with. So I said, “To hell with holiday rules!” this year and decided to set up Christmas early. We got totally screwed out of Christmas last year so I’m taking it out on Thanksgiving this year and I’m doing it giddily and unapologetically. Because watching Mothra’s eyes light up when she saw our Christmas tree lit up for the first time was everything. EVERYTHING.

Wait until she sees it with ornaments and a star!

 

On developing an addiction…

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I haven’t written for months, I think.

I keep wanting to write. I keep having ideas of things to write about. And then when it comes down to actually doing the writing? I just…can’t.

I wonder if writing is like a habit. Like, if you just do it x-number of times, it starts to come more naturally and just happens? Maybe so. Maybe that just means I need to write more often.

I call myself a writer, but if I don’t write, can I really even say that anymore?

When I think about things that excite me, reading and writing almost always come up. In fact, they always come up. So why can’t I ever muster the time of energy to do either of them? I don’t get excited to binge watch Netflix, but I do it pretty regularly. I don’t really get excited about sleeping or napping, but I do it anyway (to be clear, I enjoy sleeping when I actually get to do it, but I’d rather be awake and accomplishing things). I love cleaning and I do that pretty much nonstop. So yeah…I wonder if I’d just take the time to read or write more often, I’d be as addicted to it as I am to Netflix or yoga (yoga is actually something that excites me though I don’t always do it because I lived in a constant state of exhausted… #deploymentsucks).

So really this is just me venting to myself about myself.

I think I’m going to go read now.

On living my truth….

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Ever since we moved to southern Japan earlier this year, I’ve taken my yoga practice much more seriously.

I started practicing in earnest back in 2013. I was going through some really intense personal things, both good and bad, and yoga was a way for me to invest in me and wrestle through those things in a productive way. And I’ve chosen to keep wrestling through life via yoga.

A few months ago was Chinese New Year, which is when new prayer flags are traditionally hung. My first yoga instructor gifted a small set to me the summer of 2013 and it took me until this year to finally find a space worthy of them. When you hang new flags, you’re supposed to hang them where they’ll flutter in the breeze. This is because you’re also supposed to offer a prayer, a hope, a wish for the world when you hang them. And the breeze carries the prayers on its invisible tides. This year, my daughter and I hung the flags with the prayer of “strength of heart and flexibility of mind”.

And, boy, has my mind been flexing. Since moving, I’ve discovered passions in my soul that I never thought would arise. I’ve followed those passions with a fair amount of intensity and I feel good, really good, about that. Yoga is something I’ve developed, um, feelings for. I thought I was “in” to yoga before, but then I moved to Japan, to a new base, into a new house with space for me to s-t-r-e-t-c-h and everything started to feel really really  peaceful and natural.

I used to be really selfish with my yoga practice. I was very intentional about not letting anything onto my mat – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – that a) didn’t serve me and b) wasn’t 100% about me. Yoga is an intensely personal thing, I’ve always believed that. But this year, I learned that just because it’s personal doesn’t mean it has to feel selfish. I started to recognize my whole person.

For the first time, I think, I’m really embracing the “mother” part of me. I’ve spent the last nearly four years trying so hard not to get lost in motherhood that I’ve pretty masterfully failed at allowing myself to really feel what motherhood can be. So I’m flexing my spirit by being more open with my daughters about my yoga practice. I leave my mat laying out more often than I put it away. I let them run and play on it. It gets dirty (and I clean it with a homemade mat cleaner that smells like summer and happiness). But I allow them on my mat because they are me. They are part of me. They are often the best part of me. I don’t let just anyone run amok on my mat. In fact, I don’t let a single other person set their feet on my mat. Just me and my girls. I can be kind of bitchy about my mat when it comes to anyone else. I’ve spent over three years cultivating the smells and feelings and thoughts and hopes that are rolled up in that mat. I don’t want anyone stomping all over any of that.

So now my heart feels more open and my mind feels more flexible. By stretching new muscles in my body, I’m finding ways to stretch myself wholly and completely.

Namaste, y’all. Namaste.

On wanting what I have….

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I wanted to write yesterday, but never got around to it. My family took me for a long brunch after church (where the mimosa tureen never got refilled and, for that, I will never forgive the staff) then we came home and I nursed my youngest down for a nap before running to the grocery store in the rain and then returning in time to make my family dinner. Yep. I made my own dinner on Mother’s Day. It was a surprisingly perfect day, despite the 0600 wake up call (thanks, daughters), the lack of nap, and my least favorite weather of all time.

I didn’t get a massage. I didn’t get a nap. I didn’t get to go “fun” shopping. I didn’t get breakfast in bed (though, to be fair, my family did that for me on Saturday to celebrate my birthday so…I can’t complain). My girls woke up way too early and made copious messes (per the uszh). I drank cold coffee…twice. I was as exhausted as usual by the time bedtime rolled around.

And the whole day was perfect.

Sometimes, what I think I want and what I actually want are so diametrically opposed that when I finally realize what it is I actually want, I’m already in the thick of it, loving every second of it.

As a mom who was “born” in the 2010s, I’m sort of conditioned to bitch about life as a mother, about motherhood, about my children. And, if I’m honest, I do that. A lot. I think it’s healthy. I don’t like to sugarcoat my life. I don’t have a Pinterest-worthy life. I regularly take trips on the Hot Mess Express. I’m incredibly open about my struggles with Post Partum Depression and how hard being a mother has been for me. If I’m also honest, I can be pretty funny (albeit caustic) about my life and all its charms and tortures.

But more often than not, I love being climbed on and wrestled with and demanded “UP!” from. My youngest is nearly 15 months old and I still love nursing her to sleep for every nap and every bedtime. I love being asked to read, but “not that way! Do it the right way!” (What does that even mean?)

Being a mother is hard. Probably the hardest thing I’ll ever do. But I waited and hoped for these days for a really long time. So even when I complain about how hard it is, I wouldn’t trade it for a second. Not one single second.

On remembering the “me” I forgot….

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Around this time of year, I always spend a pretty decent amount of time thinking about how I’d like the new year to go for me. I’m a fan of resolutions. It helps me think about ways my life could be better or how I could better myself. This year is no exception.

I’m taking a lot more time for myself this year. I’m choosing to worry less about the state of my kitchen and more about the state of my mind. Admittedly, I’m attempting all this while my husband is home. He’ll deploy again this year and when he leaves, this all may very well fall apart. But for now, I’m focusing on the present…a skill that’s long eluded me.

I’m the person that’s always planning for the future. So much so that I have a budget planned out for our family for the next 3-5 years at any given time. I look around our house and while we’re unpacking for the next two years, I’m already trying to downsize and organize to make our next pack-and-move that much more smooth.

But all this thinking about and planning for the future has done me a great disservice. I haven’t ever been fully present in the…present.

My present isn’t anything I ever imagine it to be. I never thought I’d be a stay-at-home mother. I never dreamed I’d live in another country. I only fleetingly thought I’d be married to the military. And yet, here I am…hair constantly unwashed and in a ponytail, wardrobe consisting of cozy leggings and unworn stilettos, chasing after a toddler and an infant while we run all to hell and gone to activities and lessons.

I get to spend my days with my friends and do yoga and read and meditate and make delicious meals for my family and volunteer with the military. To be honest, I always knew I wanted to be a mother. I just never expected it would be my “job”. Ever since I got pregnant with our first baby, I always said, “I will not be ‘just a mom.’ I am not only a mother. It is just one facet of the whole person I am!” And it seems I’ve spent so much time trying not to be “just a mom” that I’ve forgotten to actually be a mom. I mean, yeah, I’m active and engaged with my children. I love them dearly and am constantly in awe of them. I just think I’ve failed to give myself the chance to really dive headlong into motherhood for fear of losing myself in it.

But what if that’s where my passions really lie? What if I’m spending so much time trying not to get lost in motherhood that I’m not ever really experiencing it?

So that’s what part of my new year’s resolution involves. Allowing myself the freedom to become immersed in the newest (and most challenging) facet of my whole person. Allowing myself to not feel regret or shame for being passionate about breastfeeding and babywearing and cloth diapering and holistic healing practices. Allowing myself to learn more about the things that really light fires deep inside my soul and my body.

I’m choosing, with the help and prodding of my husband, to see if those passions can develop into a professional realm. If they do, YAY! If not, at least I’ll know I tried…and learned new, cool stuff along the way

This year, I resolve to embrace the mother in me.