August 21, 2013

Who Would You Choose: Mom or Dad?

I couldn't make that choice.

My parents were arguing in the dining room down the hall. Their voices rose and fell, but always sharp and dripping with hurt. My six-year-old sister and I huddled in our bedroom, scared at the intensity of this fight. They didn't happen often and in my nine years of life, I couldn't remember a fight like this.

My stomach grumbled, prompting me to leave the safety of our room to get a snack. That was what I believed I was going out for, but deep inside I thought my presence would calm their anger.

They didn't notice me as I walked past the dining room and into the kitchen, pulling out a small plate and gently placing it on the counter. I buttered a slice of bread and sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar. I set this on the plate and put it into the microwave. The microwave hummed as I waited for my bread to warm, and when the microwave beeped my parents turned to look at me.

"Ashley, go to your room!" I could tell Mom had been crying.

"But I was just making a snack..." I said, motioning to the now open microwave, my slice of bread inside.

"Now!"

Tears filled my eyes as I slammed the microwave door shut as hard as I could. I ran to my room with balled fists, tears seeping out of my eyes.

I hate them, I thought. Why are they doing this.

Back in our room, I slammed the door shut. My sister was crying on her bed, the lower bunk, huddled up next to the wall. At this point I cried uncontrollably, too. I tried to tell my sister it was OK, even though we both knew it wasn't.

My parents continued to argue, now yelling sharply at each other.

And then the door flew open. My mom quickly ran in, grabbed my sister off the bed and as she hurried to the door called me to follow her. "Ashley, come here."


August 12, 2013

Socializing Our Kids and What We Should Really Worry About

About a month or so ago I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and I felt a burden was lifted off my shoulders. As if my heart opened the window shutters and shouted, "I'm free! I'm free!"

The book told me, and reaffirmed to me, that a) it's ok to be the way I am--highly sensitive and strongly introverted and b) that I'm not the only one.

I grew up believing and internalizing that I was "shy" and "quiet" and that I "didn't participate enough". On the many days I tried to stay in the classroom at recess to read or play on the computer, my teachers would shoo me outside and tell me to "play with my friends". They didn't seem to realize that I had few friends, and what I now know is that they didn't understand that I needed downtime more than most other kids.

On the bus and at lunch I would more often than not sit quietly, alone, with a book. Part of me ached to belong to the group--the cafeteria's popular table in particular--but I subconsciously knew that I needed alone time to balance out the onslaught of all-day peer interaction.

That isn't to say that I didn't play with other kids or that I didn't sit with other kids at lunch. I did; but it was never enough to fit in.

When kids chose teams for kickball in fourth and fifth grade--at my elementary school in Montana--I stood against the fence with everyone else, waiting to hear my name. And even though I was the fastest girl--faster than most of the boys even--I was always chosen last. Sometimes they forgot (or so I thought) to choose me at all, and I would slink away to the back fields, delving into my imaginative stories. Later that year, I made friends with a sensitive, artistic boy named Matt, and the two of us created stories together, acting them out as we went.

I had a unique schooling experience: I spent time in public schools, private school for a year, and homeschooled. It started with homeschool from preschool until second grade, when I was allowed to follow my natural curiosity. My parents let me play educational games on our Socrates system, with the computer-head teacher slightly resembling Wall-E pointing his robot finger at word or math problems and the slow-loading, giant-pixel backgrounds.

In second grade my mom attended college in Wyoming for a year and took my sister and I with her, where I was put into public school for a few days. I remember a merry-go-round on the playground, a lot of loud kids, and not being able to hear in class. My mom promptly switched me to a private school as the teacher moved me to the back of the classroom after my mom told him I had a hard time hearing and needed to sit in the front.

My private school was small, with only 12 students in the second grade. We had regular spelling bees, which I loved, as I was always the last one standing along with my misunderstood friend, Jacob, a sensitive, intelligent boy who couldn't compete when it came to athletics or the "cool-factor" that the other boys had. I didn't play with him every day, but I do remember making "forts" in the bushes with him and a couple other girls at recess. Eventually I got the "cool boys" to like me so I could play with them at recess, too, but even that didn't help me become a "cool girl".

We moved back to Washington state in third grade, where I was put into public school and forced to mesh with a class of kids who had known each other since kindergarten. My ability to befriend kids on the fringe continued through the next few years, as we moved to Montana (where I met my friend Matt, among other kids) in the middle of fourth grade and then back to Washington again in the middle of fifth grade.

Towards the end of fifth grade we visited the nearby middle school as incoming sixth graders. As soon as we walked into the gym and I saw all of the current sixth, seventh and eighth graders, much bigger and louder than me, I panicked. That night, I asked mom if I could homeschool again. She agreed.

Later I heard stories from some of my school-going friends, about boys twisting girls' nipples and other antics, and I realized I had saved myself. Even then, I still did sports with the same kids, so I wasn't immune to the perils of middle school. I was occasionally bullied after practice while waiting to be picked up by my dad, when the coaches weren't around.

My parents also got divorced when I was 12.

I eventually decided, mostly as a result of my friends, that I would go to high school part-time as a freshman. I decided that I wouldn't be "shy" anymore--I would be outgoing and finally be "cool".

It worked for a little while. I acted outgoing and tried to make friends and flirt with the boys. And I kept trying to act through sophomore year--I went to high school full-time then to try to "fit in". It didn't really work, but I made friends who accepted me as I was. Then I left high school to do Running Start and concurrently complete my high school diploma and AA degree.

It took me years to figure out who I really am. I repeatedly acted like the most outgoing person in the room each time I was in a new situation, before anyone could assess my true quiet, introverted nature: when I went to community college as a high school junior, when I moved to Seattle for college and even when I moved to Japan with the JET Program.

Those acting stints lasted a few weeks, until I fell apart, became seriously ill, and needed to withdraw. Then I started hearing about the comments made behind my back--that I was snobby and a b*tch. Assumptions that I looked down on everyone else and didn't hang out with them because of it--no one ever thought that it was really just about me.

So, when it came to learning how to socialize, no amount of being around other kids made being social any easier for me. I've taken part in all these options, and I don't believe going to public school or private school taught me how to "socialize". I learned the right and wrong ways to deal with others through my parents, books, and even TV, though the latter isn't always accurate. I made friends regardless of how I was schooled, and though few, they were friends that I connected with and who were just as quirky as I am. I was an extremely empathetic kid and even in my first year of school I easily befriended the kids who didn't "fit in", like me.

When we think of socializing, we think that people should fit into society without any awkwardness. But how many of us simply can't fit in without being a least a little awkward?

Even celebrities aren't always perfectly cool and collected. Jennifer Lawrence is endearingly true to herself. I love her honesty and humor, and I think a lot of other folks do, too. But she's not someone who says "the right thing at the right time" according to what society deems normal. No doubt sometimes the awkwardness is just a bunch of nerves, but maybe some celebs, like Lawrence, are staying true to themselves and not bowing to the demands society places upon them. If they did they couldn't be artists.

This doesn't mean we like all art or that we even get along with all artists.

But when it comes to our kids and how they're socialized, what if some, like myself, are always or constantly awkward, even though we know the social rules? We know them, feel them and often feel ostracized because of them. Sometimes I feel confident and charismatic and I don't seem like the extreme introvert I am, but most of the time I can't hold it together enough and replay those situations in my head for hours later, coming up with better responses, better actions.

I don't believe homeschooling kids makes them incapable of socializing. As I read Quiet, I saw that some of us were born to be a certain way and that way doesn't always work in a extroverted society.

Teaching your kids to socialize begins with the people they look up to and spend most of their time with. How do you treat others? How do you interact with others? And are we teaching our kids that in order to be socialized they need to be extroverted, even if they aren't?

That they can never act awkward, for fear of being bullied or ostracized?

That they can't spend time alone, without being accused of being a snob/b*tch/jerk?

Perhaps we need to change our definition of "socialize".

Instead of worrying about how this world views our kids, let's teach them empathy instead. Let's show them that loving and accepting others as they are is the best way to be "cool". That kids who say awkward things sometimes or who need to be alone for awhile can be fun, creative, loving and loyal friends, too. That it's ok to not be friends with everyone, but that they can still love and try to understand their peers.

Let's swap a few letters so that "socialize" becomes "empathize".

If only it were that easy, but at least it's a start.


July 15, 2013

How to Know When They're Ready


The day--or night, actually--finally arrived.

Our little girl asked to sleep in her own bed a few weeks ago at 21 months. We don't have a bed for her yet and need the $500 or so to get one, but she has shown us that she's ready.

She started falling asleep by herself at night about a month and a half ago, rather than being nursed or having my husband rock her as she has ALWAYS needed in the past.

Through chronic sleep deprivation, anxiety and tears I kept trying to fight on, letting her nurse at night to give her that reassurance I know she needed.

While I consider my knowledge of childcare to come largely from over a decade of watching little ones and the many child development classes I took in college, my gut has influenced most of my parenting with little A.

Once we realized, through the incessant screaming and crying and exertion of will--more than any other baby I've met--that A is spirited, I knew that most of what we do might not be popular or look remotely "normal" to anyone else.

I'm spirited and I know what did and didn't work for me as my parents brought me up. I still have scars from being misunderstood and treated as such.

My parents did their best, and did many things right, too, but I learned what I wanted to do differently with my own kids and had time to practice some of these changes with all the childcare I've done.

Outside of my upbringing, I've also attempted to sort through all of the parenting info and debates out there when it comes to A.

And there's one that I've wrestled with since the beginning: sleep.



May 31, 2013

Breastfeeding and Sacrifice: Where Do You Draw a Line?


I’m a breastfeeding mama. And I don't like it.

For many women, this whole idea of nursing a baby is supposed to be sweet, nurturing, and give you warm fuzzies inside. You’re supposed to feel connected to this tiny little life, and sigh in contentment as they sleep in your arms, mouth on boob.

For me, those are rare moments. The past 21 months has been more of, “gosh I’m so thirsty and my water is gone and I really have to pee so would you please hurry up and finish?” and teeth marks and accidental biting and then crying when I shout, startled. You’re not supposed to yell, obviously, but what else do you do when tiny daggers dig into one of the most sensitive areas on your body?

Then there’s the sleeping baby who refuses to let go, even if you jam your finger into the side of their mouth, and if you do somehow manage to break their iron-grip latch, they immediately wake, screaming, whilst you guiltily hurry to the toilet to empty your bursting bladder. Sleeping babies don’t get that.



May 26, 2013

Recommended Reads: Freefall to Fly

Ever since returning from Japan, I've been devouring books. Thank God for libraries!

 I find reading soothing to my soul and heart, enlightening, encouraging and inspiring. Not to mention, a respite from the demands of a very determined, spirited 21 month old. As I've been dealing with anxiety and depression, I thought I'd share a review I wrote on Goodreads about Freefall to Fly, which I read in two settings over the past two days. Of course, there are many other excellent books to deal with anxiety and depression (I'm currently working through When Panic Attacks), but in case it's encouraging to anyone, here it is:


  Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of MeaningFreefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning by Rebekah Lyons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lyons takes us on her personal journey through anxiety and depression in search of her life's purpose--more than being a wife, more than being a mother. This book hit home for me and I finished it in just a few short hours, finding myself welling up repeatedly towards the end as Lyons inched closer to being free of the dark side of mental/emotional illness. I feel as though any words I could add in response to her book are those of my own story. I have known for several years my life's purpose, but have found it sidetracked to finally get married, then to related work (but not exactly the work I was passionate about), and then to have a baby. Postpartum anxiety and depression have kept me from pursuing these dreams, and as I'm attempting to move in that direction and also heal from all this, Freefall to Fly was the perfect read for me at the perfect time.

The writing is good overall, although I felt she included some passages, from her past, that weren't really necessary to the book or for us to understand her or finding her meaning. Some other passages were essential, more for her sake than the reader's, but not all. In that sense it could maybe use just a little more editing. But again, she writes well, and the story is powerful.

The book is part memoir and part self-help, as she includes quotes and regular discussion and encouragements, which you'd find in a self-help book, alongside her personal story. I should say that she doesn't discuss much of severe anxiety and depression, and doesn't acknowledge other means of treatment (counseling, medication, etc.) aside from a brief note (her personal view) on anti-depressants. I firmly believe that everyone will have a different healing journey, so I don't think Lyons journey will work for everyone. And while I've experienced the transformative power of God in my own life, I feel Lyons perhaps should have made clear that God doesn't work in the same way for everyone. He will, and does help us if we let Him, and ask Him, but it might not look how we want it to look. That's part of trust and faith.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to any woman seeking her purpose in life, or any woman who knows what she's meant to do but has set it aside for other reasons. This book doesn't provide all the answers, so I'd also say to keep reading and learning. If you've struggled with anxiety or depression, you might find a glimmer of hope in this book. It gave me hope to read of someone else who struggled with panic attacks but eventually moved past them. We can hold on to hope that maybe, just maybe, the darkness doesn't last forever, and that light, however dim, still shines.



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