Thursday, January 28, 2010

We represent the lollipop guild...

Sis had a big week. In addition to being sick, she cut two top teeth and will mimic some of our sounds ("ba, ba, ba" brilliant child...). She has also figured out a kinder way to wake me up instead of hollering. She twists in her crib and kicks the mobile attached to the side until she makes contact with the 'on' button and I get to wake up to 'twinkle, twinkle little star'. (Scared me to death the first time).
Her biggest achievement is that she has taught herself to crawl (backwards anyway, she still throws herself forward and face plants into the ground for the moment when attempting 'forward,' which always delights the boys). The bummer is that now I have to keep more than just a square foot radius around her clean when she is sitting. Maybe I can justify a really nice vacuum in honor of my little floor cruiser (give me enough time and I can justify any of my purchases).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Choosing Your Choice

You're invited to come eat off my floors. They have never been so clean. For the first time, in probably the history of my adult life, my floors are all clean AT THE SAME TIME!!! Same goes for the rest of my house (sort of, the kids got ahold of it today and all I know is that it is clean underneath). Corners previously unvisited for years have been ruthlessly attacked and cleared of all dust and detritus. Carpets are shampooed, cupboards are cleaned and oiled, twenty thousand loads of laundry folded, yucky space behind the toilet sanitized, closets straightened, sofa steam cleaned, kids clothes organized and outgrown clothes folded and packed into the basement. It only took me 10 hours (with a short jaunt to Arctic Circle to get the kids off my back to "do something fun").

The occasion?

I faced J in a courtroom this morning and I have been dreading it for weeks. Obsessively cleaning my house felt like a way to try to put some order in a life of things I have not gotten to control for a long time. I wasn't that surprised when I didn't actually feel better. I have not filed for divorce. I'm letting him have keep particular honor since I feel like my soul has already been crushed enough and I haven't been able to bring myself to tear down the rest of this marriage foundation regardless of how little he is acting like a husband. Although I do reserve the right change my feelings on that point at any time. Why should he be the only one who gets to make selfish, devastating decisions for this family?

Wow...sorry. I should delete that since my goal was never to make this a snarky, husband bashing forum. I'm going to leave it though so we are clear on just how crummy this morning was. I'm not feeling nice or kind or charitable today. Like I said, we were in court this morning (temporary separation agreement) and I struggled. All I could think about was our wedding day and how in the world we got to this point. All I could remember was how nervous I was kneeling across from him at the altar in the sealing room wondering if I really had made the best decision for my life.

While J was still here, he told me he remembered lying in bed the night before our wedding also in some amount of conflict about getting married in the morning. 70 miles away, I was doing the same thing. I want to make it clear right now that I don't believe that either of us made a wrong decision to get married. I knew I loved him, we were best friends and had been for years, I taken the matter to prayer and knew it had potential to be a good path and lead to great things. The issue wasn't whether or not it was fundamentally right or wrong. The love was definitely there (even if he has now convinced himself otherwise). The thing is, in this culture, marriage is not just a life commitment. It's also an eternal one. My feelings as I lay in bed the night before and held his hands across the altar were not about whether I had picked the right person. It was about whether I had the faith and devotion I needed to continue to "choose my choice" and whether he did as well. I have no doubt that this also was the crux of the feelings that he now attaches such sinister significance to, even if that is not how he chooses to recognize it. I don't think many people do. I haven't talked to a single person that also did not lie awake the night before eternally committing themselves to someone without some conflicted feelings about the ultimate implications of such a huge choice. It's no small thing to have chosen someone worthy to be the other parent to your children. No small thing to chose one person to grow old with and to meet the challenges life throws. It's no small thing to hope that that someone is going to always choose you and the best thing for your family. Romantic or not, everyone knows in their soul that marriages have the potential to go bad even if you don't think it will happen to you. Divorce rates don't lie.

The last few months have killed the romantic in me. I know now that 'Love' is not something you fall into. It is a result of an attraction coupled with a conscious choice. Choosing someone involves sacrifice and putting the other person first. I believe love can be a gorgeous thing, but it is not something that comes for free. Those who take enough of the right steps go on to get married and those who don't, break up. Those who continue to chose their partner continually build their relationship and die still "in love." Those who marry but choose to not stay committed "fall out of love" and find themselves years down the road regretfully telling their spouse "I love you but I am not IN love with you" or "we aren't compatible" and chalking it up to that magical something never having been there in the first place. After all, once you fall in love, don't you stay there?

It's not a bottomless hole, people! It's steps, and you have to keep taking that next one.

The other thing I remember about my wedding day? Looking in his eyes, thinking about how much I loved him ( and oh boy, did I love that man) and consciously making the choice to be loyal in every capacity when I said "I do." I did not look back or have a doubt my decision since that moment even though he gave me more than one reason in the duration of our marriage to "fall out of love" with him too. I never forgot my choice and choosing him sometimes took more effort than I thought I would ever have to make with the "love of my life." I see now that constantly renewing my commitment caused me to love him more even when my heart hurt. I guess I assumed that on the deepest level, he would continue to choose me too. Sucks to be wrong.

In the earliest years of our marriage (pre-kids) we were giddy with our new life and each other. "I am so lucky I get to have you forever" was a common theme in our notes and letters and love talk. We would have baffled conversations about why other couples were struggling. "It's so easy!" we said. "All you have to do is continually see to the other person's comfort, right? Everyone gets their needs met" (yes, we were young, but the logic is still sound. Also, that theory is endorsed by Pres. Hinckley...) I chose him every day and through every bad patch even while I know I wasn't perfect. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in good times and in bad. That portion of the traditional marriage vows are not just suggestions, but guidelines. They suggest that you need to recalibrate your level of commitment through everything life throws at you, and decide to do it together. My friend has a framed quote on her wall that says "Choose thy love, love thy choice." I think that sentence is so wise, I am considering petitioning the first presidency to incorporate tattooing that on the back of the couple's hands as part of the wedding ceremony. Apparently we all need constant reminders.

Somewhere along the line J stopped choosing me and living with that knowledge every day makes me feel like I would rather physically remove my heart with my bare hands than have it hurt like this (dramatic you say? I mean every word...). I will be the first to say I was not a perfect wife, but I feel like I tried hard. I can probably list my faults better than he can even while I don't believe anything I did ultimately caused what he did. True love isn't something you "fall into." It's a reward for consistently choosing each other. For whatever reason, he gave up on that and I don't think he is likely to find it where he is looking now. I sometimes wonder if all my devotion was wasted in the long run. I don't get to have the "true love" anymore. "A perfectly attentive wife" is the best description I got from him when once it was "you are the last thing I think about before going to sleep and the first thing I think about when I wake up." What did all that "choosing" get me except the basic knowledge that I did the right thing? Will it make it that much harder for me to feel like committing to someone else is ultimately a crap-shoot? Maybe I'll get lucky next time? There is always this tricky little factor called agency and I have been more than schooled in the effects it can have on others when someone chooses selfishly. As loyal and forgiving as I could be, it just doesn't feel right now like it did me any good. I don't have lots of guilt on my soul, but I don't have a companion either. Righteous indignation, no matter how justified, is poor company in this quiet house. Being so loyal has definitely made un-committing to him that much harder as well. Nothing he did during our marriage haunts me nearly as much as his final choice not to choose his family. I can't imagine a time when my soul won't be raw from that knowledge.

As with so many things, I am mostly trying to take the advice to stay in the present and focus on the now rather than the "maybe's." It's hard to do when you are a planner like me. I always kind of want to know what is going on. Having such an unsure future and a unhappy present is hard to deal with. It makes me feel like nothing will change now. I guess I know I wouldn't do anything differently if I had to do it all over. That is some comfort.

Can I give some unsolicited advice? Make your choices count. Choose your love and keep choosing them. Falling in or out of love is in your control and the recipe for success or failure is very simple. Don't assume that because you made the decision to get married that you are bullet proof. Agency. Choice. Your level of love is up to you. In a healthy relationship, both partners will reciprocate, but even if he/she is not, do it anyway. Don't let the fact that things are easy at first fool you. Loving someone isn't hard. Staying in love takes more effort and that is the way it should be. Nothing that is that worth it should be without effort. The hardest things are often the most rewarding.

This morning, I felt like a failure. It doesn't matter that I didn't choose to end my marriage. I get to share in the failure of it forever. I have to take on faith that the loyalty I exhibited for so many years will someday not be the cross I am carrying every day. I hear it gets better than this?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Let's get this party started...

Bubba didn't want to get to close. Junior staged the shot by "being scared" Convincing, no?

We trekked south to ‘P town' (provo) this weekend to start the celebrations for Junior and (cousin) Will, whose birthdays are only 3 days apart in February. I say 'start' because (at least in our home) I don't think my kids have ever had fewer than 2 parties between family celebrations and now friend parties (and now we can toss in that Junior will also be celebrating with dad at some point as well). We should just designate a birth month instead of a birth day because that is about how long it lasts around here. The kids aren't complaining though (and actually, neither am I. Who complains about partying? Not to mention the kick I get out of creating parties in general) Also, if there was ever a year that my kids have earned a little extra attention...

This year Grandpa and Grandma treated the grandkids to an evening at Pirate Island Pizza and we will definitely be back. The place was like Pirates of the Caribbean without the ride and it was really pretty awesome. Especially if you have a little pirate fan like my Bubba (who has not. stopped. talking. about. it!)

I have a fun family and as we get bigger, we don't get together nearly often enough. There is not a place to hold us all when we are together anymore. We have graduated to having family functions at the church or the school where mom teaches.

Here is some of the fun (we missed you Jeff, Kate and Bek's families...)

Bubba (genuinely) kicked my trash at air hockey. It's all he wanted to play. Britny, we will be over to spend some quality time with your air hockey table soon...

Wren and Bubba - Frenemies forever!

Junior and his best friend/cousin Lily. These two have been best buds for years.

Sis celebrated cutting her two top teeth and feeling much better in general by helping finish off Junior's birthday ice cream. Seven months old and already a devastatingly beautiful heartbreaker! She's going to be trouble in about sixteen years. (By the way, all major tests came back negative. She tested positive for a virus that was harmless enough as long as her fever broke and stayed gone, which it did!)

Sarah and Grandma

Mak and Dave (who grew a pirate beard just for the occasion.)

Abby and Jen

Junior got a balloon parrot from the balloon guy. This is his pirate face (In case you couldn't tell). Good grief, I love this boy!

Of course Bubba's choice was a sword. I stoppped him from some serious playing to get this picture. This is the look I get when he is humoring me. I see this look a lot!

Aunt Mak always comes through with good looking birthday cakes/cupcakes.

Junior has been asking for a jack-in-the-box for over a year now, but mean old mom couldn't bring herself to pay $25 for a new "vintage" one at the store. Grandpa finally found one for $1 at the Thrift Store and it was even a monkey for our 'monkey man.' It was a genuine hit with all the grandkids (to our surprise. I thought for sure it would be one of those things that he thinks he wants until he gets his hands on one - kind of like the $60 Wowee Baby Lion he got for Christmas a year or so ago which he dreamed about for weeks before promptly abandoning it forever mere hours after it was opened). Before you think it is strange that my almost 6 year old wanted a jack-in-the-box, please note that his other request was a lava lamp (request indulged by Grandma, of course). Some boys want transformers....)

This is how we spent the afternoon. The boys wouldn't budge from the counter until the lava lamp started bubbling (3+ hours!) and no other activity I suggesting was anywhere near as enticing. When that first bubble broke, they definitely felt like it was worth the wait (I'm too cynical, I guess. I thought it was a little anti-climactic for how long it took to heat up. My attitude probably also has something to do with amount of fights I had to break up during the wait. They entertained themselves by bugging each other.)

Happy first party Junior and Will (wasn't it just a year or so ago that we were celebrating Will turning 2 and I was days away from having Junior? Now Will is about to be baptized and Junior is old enough to want 70's style bedroom decor) Sunrise, sunset...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

my mother heart

I just recently started taking sleep aids. Insomnia has never been much of an issue for me since I have been awesome at sleeping at any time of the day since High School. People have recommended them often over the last seven months although I resisted since I have been dealing with all this since bringing my newborn home and it just felt more exhausting than anything to deal with a baby in the night through the fog of misery and sleeping pills. Lately, Sis has been sleeping a little more and I have settled gratefully into the Ambien habit. It has been nice to have one thing that is not such a struggle. I have to be careful to stay busy until I take it though, so I can let it hit me and then crash. If I let myself lay there and think about things I start to cry and crying just works me up. Crying always leads to prayer and a plea for calm and peace and I am generally blessed with enough to stop the tears. Not quite enough to stop thinking entirely and sleep though and it is ultimately hours before I can drift off. Fortunately these nights have been rare. If I am diligent, I can usually avoid them.

Last night was one of those nights. I thought I was fairly okay but I had the chance yesterday to meet someone who has very recently stepped into the same shoes I have been walking in for awhile. I recognized the shock on her face and the things she was saying were so familiar (as was her husband's "story"). I have been trying to formulate my thoughts to be able to tell her the things that helped me most early on. There is a process to what you want to hear and when, and during that first initial shock it is hard to remember later what anyone said to you. I let a few memories of my own in while I was at it and before I knew it, I started to shake and the tears just came (again). I am so sad and so mad and so sorry for all of us women who are dealing with this. I cried for us all because it is so unfair.

I've been privileged to meet some similarly challenged new friends through the last few months and I am so touched by those of you who have come out and told me that any of these posts were helpful to you, or a friend or a sister. etc... I'm humbled that anything I have said gave anyone comfort. Thank you for all the nice things you have said and thank you for coming out to say them.

In a way, I hate that so many women sympathize with my words even while I am humbled to know anyone has been comforted, because I know how rare that is right now. There are far too many of us. Too many women are hearing the exact same story from their husbands and the exact same excuses (i.e. "I love you, but I'm not IN love with you" is still my favorite). Too many of us were blindsided by spouses who walked out with a lot of 'reasons' but without really trying to fix anything. Too many of us are crying ourselves to sleep wondering what was so wrong with us that our spouses could justify so much hurt? Too many of us are struggling to keep ourselves together, while trying to keep our children and home together as well. Too many of us are hurt, bewildered and left behind. Too many of your stories sound like mine and it makes me angry.

I get that a father-heart is different than a mother-heart. We women are generally designed to want to nurture and be near our children. A father can usually be away from the kids more easily than the mother can, and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. What I do find something wrong with is a father that can justify not raising his own children. I find something very wrong with the fact that when men tell their wives "you will find someone else" they are essentially shuffling off not just the role of husband and partner, but the role of father of their children. They are expecting another father to step up to the plate and be a man where they refuse to. I find something wrong with the lack of protectiveness toward their offspring. I know that my mother-heart tells me I would have to be a lot more miserable than I even am now to ever walk away from my children and voluntarily let someone else raise them or be without me. I know a healthy father-heart doesn't think that way. What bothers me is that there are so many unhealthy ones who have told themselves that they can have their way and everyone will ultimately be fine. Giving a child half your DNA doesn't make you a parent. You have to earn that through sacrifice and just physically being there to raise them. In their home. With their mother.

Shame on the men who let themselves get so far.

The common denominator is not that we all are women who were unlovable or "didn't connect" with our spouse anymore, or any of the other excuses that these men are using to help them feel better about walking away from their greatest asset and responsibility. It is a selfish "me-first" attitude that is so detrimental to being both a good parent and a good person much less a good partner. I don't care if each one of us wives smacked our men with a frying pan every day when he came home. There is no excuse, NO EXCUSE for giving up on your family and it is even worse when you force your spouse to walk away from you to protect your children. I have seen both of these scenarios with others recently. It's heart rending. Forgiveness can be had, problems can be mended, addictions can be beat, but not if you have the attitude that it is easier to cash it all in and start again. No matter what choices are made, your family is never a mistake. Starting over is never going to be what you think it is.

I'm grateful to have a mother-heart. It involves more than just being a mom. It means that I would fight for my children. It means that I love them beyond reason and my own comfort. It's why I get up in the morning to take care of them. It's why I am learning to find it within me to know I can them everything they should be getting from their father as well. It's what gives me more patience than I have ever possessed. It's what gave me the strength to hold my baby yesterday during the hard tests without ever once wishing that her father could help me share that load (I have always been a coward before when it came to my children's pain and often "shared" that responsibility with him.) It occurred to me to keep him updated but not to want him there. My heart is absolutely broken, but my mother-heart is stronger than ever because I refuse to let my children be failed by both of their parents. I'm counting on my mother-heart to prop up my broken one until it can stand on it's own again. The strong beat of this heart is how I know I will survive and how I know that every woman I have met and heard about in the last few months will ultimately survive too.

I have no doubt that I will have nights when I will cry for hours again. I have no doubt that more and more blows will knock me over and that I will question my ability to keep hanging on for one more day, one more night. My broken heart wants me to sink away forever and it is so hard not to feel like a vital part of me has been killed. But I am more than just my husband's wife. I'm more than the sum of my hurts. I need to always remember that. I need to remind myself why I will keep getting up when I don't want to tomorrow and the next day and the next. I know I won't run away from those who need me. My family can't afford to have my mother-heart be broken too. Still beating...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You shouldn't sleep in instead of showering when you have to take your baby for an early morning well child check because... just never know when you are going to be stuck there until mid-afternoon feeling grungy.

What started out as a regular well child check for Sis ended up as a marathon waiting session while she endured several tests to try to pin down why she had a high fever for the last 24 hours. 6+ hours later, she had gone through a urinalysis from a catheter, a blood draw (as well as one or two "less conventional" temperature taking episodes) and finally a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) and antibiotic shot when the first few tests proved inconclusive. Her doctor wanted to rule out meningitis since she protested anytime her neck was manipulated and there seemed to be no other clear reason for her high fever. Poor baby!

You should have seen the dirty looks she gave me after each procedure. It was hard to sit back and let it all happen even though I knew it was ultimately for her good (and yes, I do see the parallel in that even if I haven't gracefully accepted it on my own behalf yet.)

The meningitis test turned out to be negative (whew!) but we get to troop back in tomorrow to get her checked out again and go over any final results from her many tests. I'm so glad my sister was able to rescue Junior after Kindergarten and the boys were thrilled to spend the afternoon at her place (without a doubt, both boys would trade me straight across for Aunt Jen.) I was thrilled that Jen has a key to my house and made sure I came home to a clean place. Sis was thrilled to be done being a pin cushion and crashed for most of the afternoon. Now she is wide awake and ready to stay that way until further notice.

Can you believe after the day she had (and several rough face plants onto the floor from her sitting position), she still has a smile? I know I don't :-) Right now I am just begging the universe for a favor and hoping that my kids will all suddenly get tired and go to sleep. Junior violently and uncharacteristically protested bedtime tonight and once again has placed me on the bottom of his list of people to love (his father, ironically always being at the very top *sigh). Bubba won't stop calling out for things (water, a book, a new band aid, more light, Junior talked to me, etc. etc.) I'd love to be able to eat my dinner, which I made hours ago, but have not yet been allowed to ingest. Nothing managed to keep me from my diet coke, though. I'm addicted and I'm ok owning that. Recent caffeine critics should keep in mind that I would probably rather be swigging something more numbing like vodka. My self control is more awesome than you know...

Sis has learned that after the camera is pointed at her, a bright and startling flash often follows. This is the face I get the minute she sees it, long before I have pressed any buttons.

Nice drool...

Junior wants to be jumped on (notice Sis's "camera face"). Six year old boys are wierd (and if this picture doesn't convince you, wait until I post Junior's very own recurring cartoon series "Log and the Rock." It's all about a log...and a rock...)

Today, I was able to appreciate how hard it must be for parents with chronically ill children to have to stand by while they are poked and prodded for their own good. It reminded me that I would far rather endure pain to myself than to any of my kids. I had been thinking of Sis as my medically difficult baby since in her seven months she has had a hospital stay at one month, trips to Primary Children's kidney ultrasounds and one or two more to come as she grows a little as well as needing PT for her refusal to bear weight on her heels. In addition to the debacle today, I learned she needs another x-ray on her hips since she was a breech baby and sometimes things don't grow right. Neither of my boys needed this much medical attention, but when I think about it, it really isn't much. She is healthy in the ways that count and after today, I am newly grateful for that and in awe of parents who have to do this kind of thing on a regular basis. I'll take the running her around for x-rays and PT any day.

Now, I'm going to make a solid attempt to eat my dinner while holding the baby, while keeping her from grabbing it off the plate. And then I'm going to see if she is a 24 fan. Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Learning to Listen

I have never been a great listener and am just now realizing it. I hear people, and I care a whole lot, but my actual listening talents are often buried under my enthusiasm for helping people solve whatever problem they are talking about. I'm really working on this. One of the things I am learning through my life now is that sometimes I just want a sympathetic ear, not a problem solver (although don't get me wrong. I have also received amazing advice and insight. Don't stop...). I used to feel like throwing out my ideas and "fixing" things was how I showed I cared. I get now that effective listening is often just being there and asking questions and allowing the talker to work through something on their own as well as recognizing that they know their situation and themselves best and can ultimately handle it unless they specifically want input. My intentions were always good but may have come across incorrectly. I'm learning and I am grateful that I am doing so before my kids are of an age to want to discuss more with me than detailed Spongebob Squarepants plots (which, if I am being honest, I don't really want to listen to!) I think I have a few years yet to practice.

I am also learning to listen in other ways. I'm sorry to say that I am one of those who has been compelled to be humble. I was a fairly lukewarm church member for most of my life. I didn't really have a problem with my amount of faith but definitely did with my dedication. It's amazing how much a crisis can bring you to your knees in more ways than one. I am grateful though. Although I am far from loving my current situation or the one that got me here in the first place, I am grateful to know that I am heard. I'm grateful to know that when it all just gets too heavy (and it frequently feels that way) I can ask for the burden to be shared and it is. It doesn't mean it isn't lonely. It doesn't mean that I magically have accepted my new life and it doesn't mean that getting out of bed is not still a challenge. It just means that I am given the extra strength through whatever means God can use to help me square my shoulders, get up and keep going after the daily stumbles and falls. I have felt strength come from nowhere when I didn't think I could take one more step and I have felt peace when I could have sworn it was not possible. Before this happened to me, I didn't know you could feel this level of emotional agony and still live without going crazy. I hope no one else reading this ever has to empathize with that statement (just take my word for it). But I also didn't realize what the Atonement can do for the sufferer as well as the sinner. I stand all amazed.

In return, I am trying to listen to promptings I get. I am always chagrined when I ignore something that turns out later to have been a clear prompting. The more I listen, the more I am rewarded by getting the things I need. For instance, I came very close to talking myself out of going to church yesterday. This last weekend, the kids were at J's. In theory, I should have felt rested, but in so many ways it is more emotionally exhausting not to have them than it is to physically have them here and have to run around meeting needs. By the time they come home to me, I feel like I have gone my fifteen rounds. J dropped them off in time for church and I thought I was ready to dive into getting us all ready to go. Somehow, I forgot about 'behavior boot camp' and the extra time I need to get them back on an even keel after a party weekend with dad. Junior came in the door immediately announcing he was sick (he wasn't, but the little stinker has learned early on that it gets him out of things. He doesn't know that his mother was a master at that particular trick). Bubba was so wired that he couldn't even keep still enough to get his pants on. Sis woke up a little early from her morning nap and was starving to death (according to the volume of her howls). I ran around combing hair, finding shoes, shooing boys toward their coats, packing a diaper bag, breaking up fights, etc. all the while thinking that we should just skip Sacrament meeting because we were running so late. No big deal. The boys were protesting having to get dressed up and I hate to walk in late with three kids. This wouldn't be the first time I have given in to this voice and I was so close to doing it again. I probably would have if not for certain resolves I made on Sunday the week before as well as an insistent whisper that there was something I needed to be there for. Remember how I am doing hard things now? I decided to listen. I braved the late walk in (and of course, the only seat available was up near the front). We hurried in, heads down, and after I got the kids situated, I realized the Stake Presidency was there to speak. I absolutely love those men! J and I were in their office every week this summer as we tried to untangle what was going on in our marriage. They saw Sis from the time she was just two weeks old (she came with us every week) and every week sat down to chat with me (without being bothered that I was constantly in tears no matter what we talked about) as I waited for J to finish his turn with the Stake President. Despite the constant flow of people in and out of that office, they always remembered my name and my childrens and I was constantly touched by the love, compassion and hope they had for the survival of our family. Hearing them speak made me curse my last minute decision not to throw tissues in the diaper bag as well as the necessity of sitting up front where anyone could see me sniff (tissue-less) and surreptitiously wipe away tears. I don't know that I have ever spent a Sacrament meeting affected that way. I was touched when they all went out of their way after the meeting to come and say hello to us. I needed to hear what they spoke about and I was glad I had chosen to listen to a prompting that helped give me strength for the day especially since the day in question turned out to be a difficult one.

I have learned that listening, like faith, takes practice and obedience. Each time I know I was right to listen to a prompting, it gives me faith to follow the next one. Lately, it has been giving me the courage to listen to the ones I would rather not. There are still many hard days ahead. I know this, and the thought often makes me want to go right back to bed. The last seven months have made me feel at least 100 years old but I am learning to rely on the fact that I have "back up" to help me function. I'm glad to know there is someone on my side who knows me and knows what I need (and also knows how much I can handle, even when I question it myself). In many ways, I am grateful to have had to define what I believe and just how much. I'm grateful to know that I can ultimately get the answers I need.

If I just remember to listen.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Just in time...

Hold on a little longer

Monday, January 4, 2010

Do Hard Things

"I hate you and I want to go live with Dad!!"

This was screamed at me by my almost six year old tonight in retaliation for a time-out (he smacked his brother). From the minute J walked out the door, I expected to hear those words from at least one of my children at some point, but to be honest, I thought I had at least ten years before having that discussion. Ouch!

I sent Junior up to his room to cool off but was very troubled. I know he is reacting as many kids would, but the request hit too close to home in terms of an attitude I most definitely don't want him to adopt. One of the problems with having one parent elsewhere is that kids feel they have an "escape route" if life starts to be hard where they are. And it doesn't really help that J's isn't really a home for them. They have a room and it's where Dad is, but every weekend so far has been non-stop fun. I know this because after every "dad weekend" we have some serious behavior bootcamp around here as they have to come back to reality. I can guarantee that their lives are going to be hard sometimes living with me. They will have chores and they will have to attend church and they will have rules and consequences. They are less likely to notice the love and the sacrifice and acts of service until much later. I don't want my kids to grow up with the notion that if they don't like where they are, they can bail for what feels easier rather than do the work to fix their situation. That attitude has already broken our family. I know Junior is too young to have any real meaning attached to what he said, but given that he has started that line of thought so young I feel like I need to be proactive.

A year or so ago, J came home with a story about an acquaintance whose father would tell them when they left the house each day to "do hard things." Not "I love you," not "be careful," not "be good" although I think each of those was implied in the suggestion to "do hard things." We loved it at the time and now that I remember it, I am going to adopt it. Some families come up with a theme for the year. I want this to be my family's theme for life. If there is nothing else I can teach or show as a mother, it would be to always tackle the hard things. I know that this will require a lot of teaching by example on my part and it will definitely be a challenge. Especially now. Sometimes, doing what is hard is a choice that you know will benefit you, like dieting or exercising or walking away from that wild party or a bad situation. Other times, hard things are going to come your way because of factors that are out of your control, and in that case, you should practice meeting those things head on with grace, doing the best you can. If you think about it, most things that are difficult to do are things that will build you in some way. If you are ever in doubt which road to take, there is a good chance that the harder one is the one that is best for you. It is human nature to want to have things be easy and to want to take the easier way and I am no hypocrite. I don't think a day has gone by that I haven't wished that this cup would pass from me. But at the same time, I am aware of how this experience is changing me. I hope for a day where I can be grateful for my trials. Right now, I will settle for understanding that they are strengthening even while they are excruciating. It isn't called "the refiner's fire" for nothing and as my last post demonstrates all too clearly, I am not always on top of meeting my challenges head on. I am trying though.

After awhile, I went upstairs to talk to Junior and had the first of what I imagine will be a million disussions about how quitting something is not an option. About how hurtful it is when you tell people you want to leave them. About how it is important to stand your ground and fix the situation rather than running away. About accepting when you have done wrong and try to fix it. At no point did I mention his dad's decision and that will never be part of the speech. I also realize that most of that lecture probably went right over his head, but maybe if I start at six, by the time he is 18 he will understand what is and is not acceptable for him to be a good man. My kids may not listen, but I am going to tell them anyway "Do Hard Things." It is very likely that it is something they will make fun of behind my back as they grow (crazy old won't stop me though :-)

As for me, I am going to start practicing doing the (little) hard things everyday. Try it! Take the time to get to bed earlier like you keep promising yourself. Read the scriptures, go to the gym rather than let yourself be talked out of it, visit that neighbor you have been meaning to drop in on, get your homework done early, go on that diet you have been promising yourself. Do whatever it takes to seek that faith or that testimony, carve out time to practice that hobby, go for that job you have been dreaming about, have that conversation you have been dreading, give that forgiveness you have been withholding. Take the harder road in your life. God knows that our experience here is not easy. It isn't supposed to be. "Adam fell that men might be, and men are, that they might have joy." Nothing was easy in the Garden of Eden because nothing was hard. A vacation isn't relaxing unless you have been working hard. A rest does you no good unless you are tired. We are blessed when we do the things that can strengthen us as people both physically and spiritually. Consider your soul and your resolve as you would a muscle and work it out regularly. Don't let it atrophy. Doing hard things brings humility and humility is essential to growth. If we are compelled to be humble, we are blessed for enduring it well. If we gain humility on our own, we are blessed for our obedience. Nobody ever got anywhere by sitting back and wishing that things were different or that their life would change. Maybe the idea is that the more you practice, what seemed "hard" before will eventually no longer phase you. If I could wish one concept for my kids to really understand before something in life breaks them down, it would be this motto. It applies to both the big and the little things.

Now excuse me, I am going for a run since I have been trying to talk myself out of it all night :-)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Nadir

The word 'Nadir' came back to me Christmas night as I sat on the floor of my daughter's room at 5 a.m. stripping the vomit soaked pajamas off the baby for the fifth time in as many hours. It basically means "the lowest point" and is one of those random facts I retained from my college education that is so very useful to me now. In a way, being up with a vomiting baby all night long was the perfect end to what had been a truly horrific day for me. On the surface, everything went well. The boys were adorable with their new toys and no tears were openly shed, but it all started on Christmas Eve when we returned home from our dinner out and began the Christmas Eve festivities. No Dad. It was hugely noticeable and I had to try really hard not to think about how optimistic I had been last year on Christmas Eve and even harder not to wonder where he was and what he was doing that night. I finished wrapping presents and filled stockings in silence wondering how many years it will have to be this way. I finally fell into bed at 1 a.m. and lay awake until 4 a.m.

Christmas morning could have been filmed for a feel good Christmas movie because the boys were so excited and cute and full of what we have been referring to as "Christmas magic" for the last few weeks. Junior swore he saw Santa and waved out the window to him the night before. Bubba just couldn't believe that the reindeer had been on his house. Sis couldn't believe how much wrapping paper there was on the ground to eat and not one person was stopping her! I couldn't believe that their father wasn't there to share in the "christmas magic" and never will again. I believe people are supposed to be in twos to share that kind of stuff. It feels hollow to enjoy it alone and know that when I am old, no one will share those memories in the same way. It took everything I had, plus several promises to friends that I would not text J and tell him to come over for Christmas morning. He has made his choice and I need to start as we mean to go on.

He did come over for the afternoon to play with the kids and see their toys. That was a whole different kind of hell. It felt so normal to have his presence and hear his voice in the house. Every time I remembered that he chose to leave us, and was only there for a few hours, it hurt all over again. When he left that afternoon, I had a shrewd idea where he was going and I fought tears all evening. I am glad the boys were so engaged with their toys they didn't notice. I would have hated to stress them out on what had been a great day for them. So, to have Sis start puking around midnight felt like a fitting end to the day and by 5 a.m. I felt like I had hit my lowest point yet. My nadir.

I am not foolish enough to think that I do not have further to fall. Earlier on in this process, I kept wondering when I would start to feel better and that I couldn't possibly feel worse. My advice to you is to not test the universe like that :-) As I sat there on the floor with a sad, sick baby, holding back tears of exhaustion and frustration, feeling like I couldn't get any lower, I finally gave myself permission to be angry at being left with all this work of parenting along with the emotional blow I have taken ( I know, I know..). There have been plenty of other things to be angry about and this is not my first brush with the emotion, but anger at being left with the exhaustion of raising three kids five and under has been buried under the grief of losing the one person I want to share the joys of them with. As I searched for a blanket that did not have puke on it, I pictured him peacefully asleep in his apartment across town. I knew he would roll out of bed whenever he wanted (while I had yet to sleep and anticipated more puke) and knew the boys would be up and requiring help with their toys in a few short hours.

We made the decision together about when to have our children. With each decision was the implication that parenting was a joint venture for us. How did he make it okay in his own conscience to do such damage to me emotionally as well as leave me the enormous load of mothering every day alone? Parenting is a joy I would never give up, but it. is. hard!!! The times that he does have the kids is a frantic game of catch up on work and laundry and house cleaning and errands and all those things I used to do when he got home every night but can't seem to get done without another adult around to help divide and conquer. I'm beat, I am emotionally broken and now I am angry. Him being "available as possible to meet the needs of our kids" doesn't help me with sick kids in the night. Or when dinner needs cooked and the baby needs fed and the boys need attention. It doesn't help me when I need one thing at the store and have to take all three kids. It doesn't help me when I can't shower or get dressed or leave Sis's line of vision when she is sick and cranky or teething. Sis is an extremely good baby, but is starting to scoot, which ends life as we know it. I am lucky that J still wants to be involved with the kids, but I don't know how he banishes the guilt for making my life so much harder on every single level, especially when he once assured me in a letter a few years ago "I always want you to be happy because you make me happy." I believed him then and now I feel like a fool. When he was still here, I always tried to acknowledge when he needed time "off" and he did a good job of doing the same. In fact, when my world ended, I was at the point of taking on extra work to earn up money to send him on a fishing trip to Alaska because he had been working so hard for the last year. He was always good about jumping in to help when he got home each day and in return I tried to be aware of the extra tired days and would send him upstairs for a break before taking on the kids. I was happy to do it then. Now I begrudge every break he gets. I begrudge every time he gets home from a hard day at work and is able to put his feet up and watch TV, when I don't get any version of a break until the kids are in bed and even then there is stuff to do. I begrudge any time he gets to go out to a movie without having to get a babysitter. I begrudge every time he can make a quick trip to the video or grocery store without loading up three children. I begrudge every early morning that I am up with the kids while he gets up when he wants. I begrudge every cranky day the kids have and every fight I have to mediate. I feel like these are all things he has taken from me because we were supposed to parent as a team and he changed the rules on me to suit himself. I know he knows what is involved in running this house and caring for these kids. He is willing to help with what he can, but in that case, I have to also take on the humiliation of having to ask for help from someone who has so completely defeated me and brought me lower than any other human in this world had power to do. I would rather struggle on alone.

There are too many good men and priesthood bearers leaving their families for reasons unworthy of the way they were raised and the covenants they made, both official and unofficial. I am sickened by the number of stories just like mine. How do these men do this? Even those who are willing to still pay the bills are falling far short of the greatest role they will ever have. Men know it is their role to provide for the family. Is it easier for them to leave because they think that although they are hurting everyone, they are still providing for them thus fulfilling their main duty? (don't even get me started on the men who actively try to NOT provide for the families they leave behind). Is it time to redefine what fathers need to be in the home? To re-stress what kind of influence they have on their children? I don't care what kind of success J has in this life and what kind of example he tries to be for our kids or how much he loves them. I feel strongly that anything good he does is largely going to be overshadowed by this one great failure to stand up to his measure as a man and a father and to make the effort to be there to raise them. Losing respect for him is heartbreaking for me. I have always been so proud of him and who he was. So much that I insisted that Junior be named after him. At the time, I wanted him to be just like his dad. I haven't given up hope that he will someday be worthy of the name his oldest son now bears.

My current Nadir feels very low. It has been seven months and I am tired. Tired of crying, tired of wishing I could disappear, tired of being strong, tired of wondering what was so wrong with me, tired of being baffled, tired of feeling like there is a shadow over everything in my life, tired of being humiliated, tired of dreading the future, tired of the trigger days I know are coming up in the next year, tired of being so disillusioned, tired of being tortured by memories, tired of missing him, tired of being so completely and indescribably lonely. Tired of being tired. Any Pollyanna tendencies I had are all used up for the moment. This Christmas season has been brutal, although made bearable by so many kind and loving friends and family. I don't mean to seem ungrateful. It's just...

I know I will bounce back enough. I will pick myself up and dust myself off because I have no choice and my kids need a stronger mom than this. I have goals for the year and I am looking forward to focusing on some things that are positive. I am not starting 2010 like I thought I would and I have a lot of work to do. I'm grateful for everyones help and prayers so far.

By the way, one of my "goals" for the year is a cruise. Who's with me??...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Family Christmas Ornament for 2009

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my traditions is to collect an ornament from everywhere I travel as well as get one for each child that best represents their year. I also always got one for me and J so we would still have memories on our tree even when our little birds had flown and taken their ornaments to grace their own trees. This year I assumed I would take a break. I have had very little hope and less joy for much of this year and if it were not for the arrival of my angel girl, I would be happy to write 2009 off the books forever and never think back on it again.

I might have written off this ornament as cheesy in any other year, but as representation goes, I can't think of a phrase that better describes what has gone on in our family. We have had tremendous sorrow this year but there is no doubt in the world that we have been watched over. By family. By friends. By neighbors. By strangers. By angels both seen and unseen and most definitely by God.

2009 will be represented after all on every Christmas tree in my future. Because there are some things I don't ever want to forget.