“Drama Mama?” – Learning to feel again

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Recently at a Parent-Teacher conference, my youngest son’s Kindergarten teacher requested we help him realize that not everything that happens is a life or death situation.  I laughed (and fought the urge to hide under the table) as he most definitely inherited this trait from his mama.  Exhibit A…

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“How could you take my picture?!”

As a teenager my parents called me “drama queen” and a “Miss Sarah Burnhardt” (um, I still have no idea who that chick is). I lived my life as my own personal Lifetime Movie or After School Special. Like my sweet pea of a son, everything was of life or death importance.  I felt and I felt hard. I sobbed and laughed with equal hysterics.  There was a poetic cadence to my life full of crashing crescendos.

An illustration for you… let’s stroll down memory lane and revisit my teenage self.  One day in drama class (not surprisingly my favorite class), my friend Melinda and I participated in a dramatic exercise.  We were to each conjure up emotions of desperation and sadness via our imaginations and act them out realistically in a scene.  Let’s just say we were a little too skilled at this exercise. By the end of the scene we were completely swallowed up by the fury of emotions we whipped up, and our drama teacher had two hysterical teenage girls on her hands. We were sobbing so hard she couldn’t even send us to our next class.  Oh the good old days… At that point in my life, my emotions were right at the surface and easy to access.

I didn’t stay that way.  Over time I internalized the message that such volatile emotions were unacceptable, weak, and even childishly foolish.  Somewhere along the rubbing up against life’s unforgiving jagged edges and my adult cares and responsibilities, my tender heart calloused. Occasionally there are rips in these callouses and tears or laughter flow; but, more and more as the years pass by, the dramatic ups and downs lead to slow rolling hills and sometimes … a flat line __________ .

What happened to me?  Some would say I just grew up — it’s all part of the maturing process.  Oh how I wish it was that benignly simplistic.  Fatigue, chronic pain, years of undiagnosed chronic illness, a messy marriage, family drama, disappointments, and dreams unrealized – all converged to flatness.  I’ve learned to protect my tender heart and cushion it from the hard peaks and valleys. This even-keeled nature has been a blessing in crisis and hardship.  I’ve needed it to persevere and endure without falling apart.  But in all this guarding, I’ve lost a part of myself.  I miss the part of me that can laugh and cry at the same time.

Thankfully, God is at work.  A thawing is taking place.  Cracks in my armor.  It’s started slowly.  A surprise tear here and there.  After years of soldiering through I am feeling the arrows shot at me pierce through the steal.  It hurts.  But it’s a good hurt.  I’m tired of disconnecting from the pain.  Dissociating from the messy and the carnal.  I need to feel the hurt.  I got so good at tuning out my physical pain, I tuned right out of the emotional pain too.  That pain, the heart hurt, is part of what makes us human.  It’s part of what makes us real.  Authentic.  I crave authenticity.  I crave raw and real and uncensored.  I can’t live like this anymore.

The tears and emotion are coming out at odd times, surprising me and those around me (which at least I find somewhat amusing although I’m not sure my husband would agree).  During Family Movie Night while watching Frozen’s opening song “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” with my family, I LOST IT. And I’m not talking a little tear trickling down my cheek.  I’m talking the hysterical ugly cry. I was uncontrollably sobbing, “Elsa, JUST BUILD THE STUPID SNOWMAN WITH HER! Why won’t she build the snowman?!  They’re so lonely!  Wwwaaaaaaaa!!!!”  Then there was the Dick’s Store dressing room incident when two of my best friends had to play bouncer for impatient women waiting to use one of the only two dressing rooms available. “Oh, I’m sorry, you may not try on your cute little tennis skirt. My friend is in the middle of an existential crisis.  Buh-bye.”

But, with each crying fit, I feel more and more like myself.  Each pool of tears I cry out, it seems to make room for joy.  I find myself surprised by pure happiness where before there was just the ho-hums.  Hmmmm… tears make room for joy.  The Bible was onto something.  “Though crying may last for the night, joy comes in the morning.”

I’ve decided I like it here.  Broken is a holy place.  While I can’t spend all my time blubbering away, I need to consistently revisit this raw, real, and tender place.  I need to make room to feel the hard so I can soar in the happy.  Sobbing and soaring are awfully closely linked.  Nothing like a good sob to bring me out and make me feel light as a feather so that I may fly to my next destination.

It’s Spring in Northern Virginia.  FINALLY.  There is thawing and soaring taking place everywhere I look.  It was a long, dark, snowy, freezing cold winter. (I mean, seriously, this winter was ridiculous.) That makes this thaw so much sweeter.  The birds’ songs so much more joyful.  They are practically giddy with Spring.  The tree flower buds I see out my window fought hard to pop out.  Those bulbs sprouting up around my front tree were crushed by the weight of the frozen ground for months.  I bet they wondered if they’d ever break free.  But there they are.  In all their colorful, delicate, wispy glory.  They broke through the hard, grey, cold blah. And so am I.  So am I.  I embrace the thaw.  It’s time.

Flowers in snow

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you, I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 3:26

A Bad Pain Day: A day in the life of chronic illness

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I’ve got good and news and I’ve got bad news.  The good news? I haven’t felt severe, take my breath away, knock you on your arse pain since early January.  The bad news? I now remember what such pain feels like as I am in the throws of my second day of 6-8 pain (on a scale of 1-10) with a side of nausea, fever and vertigo.  I am incredibly thankful for the good months.  But I am terrified this marks the beginning of another decline.  That’s what chronic illness does – it keeps you guessing.  It keeps you dreading.  It keeps you looking over your shoulder waiting for the next medical misadventure.

Today is a snow day… in March.  March! Screw that stupid groundhog.  It means kids are home and I have to do my best to push through this pain and be a mama.  I’ve been a mediocre mama today but props to me that I wrestled them in and out of their snow clothes a total of four times (and that’s painful on a good day).  I breathed my way through it and tried not to vomit in their boots.  Thankfully, we only had one “oops, I need to go potty” or someone may have died.

What else have I accomplished so far? I fed everyone.  That’s something.  I baked a pie (only because I planned to make it two days ago and the ingredients were about to go bad).  It took me three times as long as it should have as I grit my way through it.  Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to be making my boys something yummy but infinitely frustrated it was so stinkin’ hard. Oh! Let’s not forget the pleasure of continuously emptying spit/mucous bowls from a little boy with bronchitis who’s terrified he’ll choke on the “goopy stuff” he coughs up.  At one point I thought about packing something in a box but just the thought of it made me cry. Did I mention we’re packing up our house to move? (A local move to a bigger house. All very exciting but I am too grumpy right now to bask in such excitement.)  We are dutifully preparing the house for “staging.”  Yeah, I could use a staged life at this moment.  *note sarcasm*  I scoff at this staging concept.  A perfectly neat, uncluttered, peaceful oasis of a home for strangers to walk through and delude themselves into thinking they will keep it looking like that and life will be all “pottery barn” in their cozy new space.

We are far from staged right now.  The house looks like a bomb hit it.  Half packed bins and boxes littered all over.  Half-done homework scattered on the kitchen table I don’t have the strength to battle over.  Dishes strewn over the counter and cooktops.  Crumbs, dirt.  Wet clothes at the front door that need washing and drying.  Baskets full of dirty and clean clothes which need to be moved along in the assembly line.  Pee splattered bathrooms because heaven forbid any of my boys aim.  This is the house I only let a handful of people see.

I planned to make chicken noodle soup today out of the leftover rotisserie chicken I lovingly purchased from Giant pre-cooked, warm and ready for the eating.  I don’t know if I have the ability to make it and do bedtime routine, laundry and prepare the boys for school tomorrow.  It may be another pizza night, which while yummy totally goes against this gluten free diet thing the doc wants me to try.  (And the beer I am sure to guzzle down with it.)  Yes, the reason I am no longer a size 6.  Sigh… I am just too tired and sore to care right now.

There it is again.  “Mmoooomyy!!! Mommyyyyyyy! MOMMY!”  Right now that sound rivals fingernails across a chalkboard.  Isn’t that awful?  I want to love hearing my name called (as it is so many friggin’ times a day). But, instead, I become frustrated and angry because it hurts to move and I just do not want to be needed right now.  I want someone to bring me water and rub my back.  I want someone to make my food, bring me medicine, ask me how I am feeling and listen to me whine.

Wow, I realize I sound bitter.  I’m not actually.  My bitter diatribe is a pitiful attempt at hiding the fact that I am scared and overwhelmed.  Worried how in the world I will accomplish all that is needed when the only position I don’t want to vomit from pain in is curled up in my soft bed.  Maybe tomorrow everything will lift and I will be back to my quasi-improved self. But maybe not.  This is a reality my family struggles with every day.

So there’s your peak into my life when I say “I’m having a bad pain day today.”  This is the funk I get myself into.  Whenever someone remarks on my strength or good attitude, I am a bit ashamed because I think of days like today.  I want to run away to a world where I am not responsible for anything or anyone and I can just curl up into a ball in pain and wait for this round to end.

It’s 5pm.  I have to decide what the next hour will look like.  I have no idea how I will push through the next few hours let alone the next few minutes.  But somehow these days always end.  Somehow the kids are still living and hopefully not too psychologically scarred.  Somehow my marriage survives another day of this craptastic disease.  I don’t want to be happy or positive or anything.  I just want it to be 8pm so I can get flat and quiet and pray – plead – that tomorrow will be a better day.

 

Update: “Tomorrow” was a better day! Pain let up to the point where I feel like I can exhale.  I was out of bed more than I was in bed – I think.  I am so very thankful for a God that provides me just enough strength to place one foot in front of the other.  Without these limitations placed on my body, I’d be foolish enough to think I do this life all on my own.  He provides me with a soft place to land when the days are full of shards and splinters.  He quiets my heart when it longs for something more.  He whispers encouragement to a weary wife and mama who wishes she could be more than she is.  He lets me know that I am created by THE I AM and nothing He creates is wasted even on the hardest of days. Joy comes in the morning.  Even if we have to wait one hundred mornings.  Joy comes.

The Winter Break That Never Ends

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This is the Winter Break that never ends…it just goes on and on my friend! We happily started it not knowing the polar vortexes would come…and if the kids don’t go back to school soon the mamas will be drinking Rum! This is the Winter Break that never ends…

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So today wasn’t pretty.  I lost it.  More than once.  More than twice.  Okay maybe three times. (Or more. I lost count.)  There were times I snuck into my room, threw my face in my pillow and cried out to the Lord Almighty for strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

We have a major case of “post-Christmas/post-travel/post-mama’s recovery from her latest medical adventures” hangover in this house, and it ain’t pretty.  Oh yes, I did just write ain’t.  Screw grammar.  I’m feeling ballsy.  Or maybe just frayed at the edges and wound up so tight I may be dangerous to be around.  Maybe.  On top of it all, my flu shot malfunctioned and I got the flu. Not a good combination.

These children neeeeed to be in school.  Facebook is all lit up with mother’s praying for the polar vortex to get sucked away so the children can continue the fine education Northern Virginia has to offer.

Help me, Jesus, I don’t want to wish these days away as I know they are precious. My boys will be grown men and some pretty young thing will steal them away from me (I’ve said it before – hussy). But there is one thing no one tells you when they hand you that bundle of joy.  The days are loooonnnnggggggggg.  Whether you are trying to get an infant to nap, playing the same game over and over again with your toddler or watching your 7-year-old show you the same magic trick for the 200th time – the days can drag on.  It is so easy to forget how precious these little people are that are giving you the grey hairs and forehead creases from all those raised eyebrow “you did not just do that” looks.  Especially when they have been on Winter Break FOR-EV-ER.

I don’t have answers for you on how to grab onto these days and hang on for dear life except for…well, to do just that.  Grab on tight.  Pray hard.  Lock yourself in the bathroom when needed. Scream into a pillow. Plug in your ears with you earbuds and rock out to the Pandora station that buoys your soul.  Whatever it takes to survive, ladies (and men – I know there are some daddy’s feeling it too).  We are in this together – all of us desperately trying to do what’s right for our children and holding out a million little failures and successes each day.  Today I felt like those failures outnumbered the successes but I have to believe that God really meant it when He said “love covers a multitude of sins”.  Because love these little people we do.

Although, I might love them a little more when they go back to school.

What can I say, I’m a work in progress.

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The War of November 4, 2013

We are so ready for the zombie apocalypse.
Here is our arsenal. We are so ready for the zombie apocalypse.

Here is our arsenal. We are so ready for the zombie apocalypse.

Right now six little boys are running commando through my house.  Wait a second.  Scratch that.  Running around pretending to BE commandos.  Phew.  I was going to get in trouble there.  A special ops battle rages complete with sticks, plastic weapons, more sticks, and the occasional cape (commandos need capes).

How’s the saying go? Boys will be boys.  The longer I mother these wild-child mini-men the more I understand this saying.  The Y chromosome doesn’t excuse bad behavior; but, how I define “bad” behavior is evolving. As these maniacs run through my kitchen armed for mass warfare, the pre-mother me would be putting on her judgey pants right now and mentally lecturing me on the perils of letting little boys play with weapons.  The first-time mom me would be anxiously hovering, cringing at every yell and stomp and boom – convinced that at any moment someone was going to poke an eye out or lacerate a spleen or liver or something else equally vital.  But the today mom me, the mom of two Elementary school boys (Dude, how did that happen?!), is all like “Kids, don’t bleed on the carpet! K?” and saying absurd statements like “Boys – these are your rules of engagement. You are only allowed to kill each other in the living room, basement or outside – okay? And avoid the eyes – you have school tomorrow and need to see.  Other than that – we’re cool. Now go pillage and plunder while I drink my tea.”

I’ve learned that boys need the freedom to be… boys.  They need to have space and time to be loud, rowdy, messy, dirty and stinky (and, oh, this crew is stinky today).  They need adventure.  They need to be heroes and fight bad guys.  Yes, this does mean my perfectionistic self needs to calm the heck down when it comes to a dirty and sometimes (okay, often) chaotic house.  The evidence (carnage) of their battle is all over my house (the one I just cleaned).  And, yes, I will make these warriors clean up the ammo and weapons, but the footprints, sand, leaves and the occasional stick will remain.  Let’s call it acceptable collateral damage.

Why do I put up with such shenanigans?  Why do I allow the neighborhood into my home for their version of WWIII?  For one, I love it (when I don’t have a migraine that is).  I love the funny way they pig pile on top of each other like puppies.  I love the superhero capes that fly by me as they save the world.  And I love to sit back and watch them figure out how to do relationships.  There are fights, hurt feelings, encouragement and teamwork.  If I manage to resist stepping in when they start to fight or when tears come (and, man, do they come – little boys are after all… little), most of the time they figure it out.  And each time they do they are that much closer to being responsible young men.

Before they take on the responsibilities of manhood, I want them to be little boys and feel like superheroes.  Embrace their inner warrior while also learning compassion and cooperation with their fellow brothers in arms.  I sincerely believe these battles are the work of boyhood.  They aren’t just something to tolerate but something to celebrate and enable.

So I will sit here and sip my tea while the war rages on and celebrate this time.  It’s precious time.  It will be over in an instant and soon my mini-men won’t be so mini anymore.  And I will wistfully remember The War of November 4, 2013.

Battle on my little warriors.  Battle on.

Finding Good When Life Messes With Me

First Day of School

I can’t believe it is October! August and September ran away with me and I have no idea how I even got here. There was lots of good and a whole mess that didn’t go my way.  (Obviously, since my last post was the end of July.  Sigh.)  I don’t even remember August, so we are going to skip that month.  It’s just better that way. Then there was September…

Oh September.  I had such high hopes for you!  Really!  I thought you and I were gonna be Besties (that’s what the kids call BFFs these days, right?).  September – the month of high expectations.  Fresh starts.  Shiny shoes.  Sharpened pencils.  Hope that this year, yes this year, will be more organized and less chaotic than the last.  Oh September… couldn’t you have given me a just a few days to bask in my happy-happy, joy-joy, hopeful, planning and dreaming place?  Was that really too much to ask?

It started off so awesome.  I mean, seriously, I did ALL our back to school shopping in ONE TRIP to the mall and no one even whined.  If that isn’t a good sign I don’t know what is.  This is the year that both boys will be in school a full day – one starting Kindergarten and the other First Grade.  Sure, there was a little sadness underneath my skipping around but, mostly, I felt excited for them and for me.  Think of all that can be done between the hours of 8:30 and 3??!!  (Even with the stupid naps my body requires.)  And these boys were so ready to be in school.  Look at them – am I a blessed mama or what?!

Will and Mike First Day of School

Will ran all the way to school and in all his First Grader coolness barely said goodbye to his proud parents (we’re lucky he even posed for this pic).  Michael was quiet and a bit nervous. He picked at his food and had what seemed to be a nervous stomach.  But he’s a toughie and walked to school hand in hand with Josh and I excited for his day.

Michael First Day School

Here is Michael at his desk. Look at that cutie.  In the background are those first-time, helicopter Kindergarten parents hovering over their eldest child.  Josh and I having done this last year were veterans – super cool and collected, nary a tear in sight. Michael was comforting other anxious kids with helpful pats on the arm or a “Hi, I’m Michael. What’s your name?”  Josh and I smiled at each other – man, were we good or what?! We got this.  Michael pulled out a crayon and carefully colored the morning work in front of him.

“Do you want us to go, buddy?” we asked.

He flashed us a determined smile. “Yup. It’s gonna be a good day.”

Wow. That kid is awesome.  And we were pretty much feeling like Parents of the Year. Oh, how far the prideful doth fall…

As I kissed Michael on the forehead I thought he felt a little warm, but it didn’t even register on my mama radar he could be sick on the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.  I should have because Townsends have a knack for getting ill at the worst possible times. But even I didn’t imagine it would get us on Day FrigginOne. One!!!  When I picked him up from school that afternoon (7 hours later), Michael had a raging fever of 103. The poor kid  had no idea he could go to the nurse and she would phone mommy to come pick him up.  He did not even realize a nurse or magical phone to mama even existed. Michael collapsed in my arms and I carried him all the way home feeling guilty that I missed the signs that morning.  He buried his head into my shoulder, obviously relieved to be in mommy’s arms, and whispered into my ear, “It was still a good day.” Bless his feverish heart.

Well, I think Will must have felt upstaged because at 2am I woke up to him vomiting and having exorcist diarrhea. Seriously?! BOTH of them?! On Day ONE?!  Oh, come on!!!  I was sick with disappointment (or the stomach flu, it was hard to tell).  This was not supposed to happen – not now.  Will, however, was handling the situation with undaunted optimism.  As miserable as the kid must have felt, he was happily chatting away in between heaves. “It’s a good thing I’m happy when I’m sick! I must be the happiest sick person alive?!” he giggled as I gagged at the bathroom’s stench, rinsed the puke bowl and asked for a courtesy flush.

Needless to say, neither child returned to school that week.  So much for our perfect start to September.  Instead of school and home projects, we played with Legos, read books, watched movies and snuggled.  (I will spare you a replay of all the bodily fluids I cleaned up as much as it would bring me great joy to totally gross you out.)  I struggled with frustration and discouragement when I should have been enjoying extra quality time. But, not my sweet boys.

Two boys.  Two big days.  Expectations and excitement. Two unexpected turns.  Both chose to respond positively. It’s all GOOD.  “It was still a good day.”  “Good thing I’m happy when I’m sick.”  And in this they taught their mama a lesson about choosing joy when life does not go the way I expect it to.  The way I want it to.  And that was definitely good as September continued to throw me curve-balls.

Over and over again I get to choose how to respond when my day, my week, my month, and, yes, even my year, does not go according to my master plans.  Sometimes I tantrum.  Sometimes I whine.  Sometimes I cry.  But every once and awhile I do it right and choose joy in the middle of the…poop.  Choose to look for the good when things stink.  (And, man do they stink sometimes.)

Right now I can’t get a break from the pain, nausea, vertigo and fatigue related to my CSF leaks and saggy brain.  It’s messin’ with my plans and schedule.  It’s messin’ with my family.  It’s messin’ with my spirit.  I don’t like being messed with!  I am desperately trying to hold onto the lessons of my little boys who chose to look at the good when their first week of school got messed up.

Life is full of all sorts of crazy goodness.  Even though life is messing with me right now, I am so absurdly blessed. My man, my mini-men, my home, my super soft bed, my village (I have the best village) – it’s all so very good.  Why do I focus on the mess more than the good?

Is life messing with you too?  Let’s try to follow the example of two little boys with hearts more often attuned to God than mine.  After all,  the Bible did say “and a Child shall lead them.”  May we all be able to say…

 It was still a good day.