Let’s allow that to sink in for a bit before I explain that I am from a “blended” family.
I’ll never forget, at 6 years-old, when my teacher asked me to draw a family tree. I looked at her with a blank stare and no idea of where to begin.
How do you explain that you are the illegitimate, love-child of an affair? Of a mother that already had one and a father that had four? How do you draw the two-step siblings you later acquired when you were just three-years old?
It was tough to draw but never tough for me to explain. I always knew my step-dad was my “dad” and my real dad was my “father”.
But not once, not ever, did I know where I belonged.
My childhood was all about trying to find my place.
Where did I fit in?
In elementary school, I attended the meeting for children of divorced parents- but mine had not yet separated.
At home, I found solace in our nucleus of 2+2, until my mom and step-dad divorced when I turned 18 and off to college I went.
My mom sold the house. My step-dad remarried into a family with two new sons and ceased contact with me.
I felt completely lost.
Thanksgiving was no longer spent with the two step-siblings I had called my brother and sister. Christmas with my half-sister was shared with her father. And holidays spent with my father’s four children had never been done.
Where did I belong?
I searched. For many years, I looked for his face, his warmth and the security of his embrace.
And finally, I found him.
And together, we created where I’ve belonged, all along.
Nor did staying-at-home with a newborn, two, four and six year old.
A gallbladder surgery 9 weeks postpartum made a dent, but not a fatal one.
An infant with a multitude of health issues and doctors appointments slowed the gears but not to a stop.
Instead, it took a crippling back injury to force me to sit-the-hell-down.
Like a derby car sustaining repeated blows, I kept going.
Like an elephant attacked by a pride of lions, I kept walking.
Until the day I couldn’t.
Until I sustained an injury that rendered me unable to use the restroom on my own.
I couldn’t believe we were facing yet another hardship when we had already endured so much. How were we supposed to carry on when the leader of the litter was down?
10 days into my forced rest, I realized my body had given up on waiting for me to take care of myself.
It had given me a clue five weeks earlier- a little pinch in my lower back talking to me, reminding me it was there and needed attention. But like everything else, I ignored it in the face of so many other things to do and be for my family.
Forced to sit, I watched and witnessed the circus that is my daily life and finally agreed, it was time to hire some help.
As I explained my “daily schedule” in my job posting for a nanny, I couldn’t believe I had been doing everything on my own for so long.
And I wondered, why do we often live in denial of the help we need?
Why does it take a major setback to ignite a major awakening?
What would our life look like if we made self-care a priority?
I went out kicking and screaming but I am returning, with help, full of gratitude and the hope for a more sustainable life.
For the past few months, I’ve been working with my second daughter on asking for what she needs, rather than stating the problem aloud with the hopes that someone will hear and fix the issue for her.
I’m lucky to raise my daughters during a time when women are encouraged to use their voice. If I don’t teach them early to speak up for what they need, how can I expect them to innately learn this later?
“I wish I got paid more.” becomes “Boss, here are the reasons I deserve a raise.”
“I wish my spouse paid more attention to me.” becomes “We need to talk.”
“I don’t know how to ______ (change a tire, write a resume, etc.) becomes “Will you teach me?”
“I wish I had more time for ____.” becomes “If it’s important enough, I will find a way.”
I am currently treading water during one of the most exhausting times of my life (so far) and when I reached my limit last week, I realized something had to give.
Since passing off the kids wasn’t an option, I considered what else I could shed. And it was there that I found it had nothing to do with what I needed to surrender and everything to do with what I needed to give myself: grace.
In the past 7 years, I have gained and lost 35 pounds FOUR times.
I have carried and nursed four babies for more than 75 months.
I am currently parenting a 5 month, 2, 4 and 6 year-old, while sorting all of that laundry, making meals, potty-training, attending doctor’s appointments, playing taxi for piano, soccer, music class and ballet, exercising, maintaining friendships and working to keep my marriage healthy and strong.
I keep adding more and more and expecting myself to continue keeping on as if nothing has changed.
What was I thinking?
Eventually, something has to give. If not my sanity, then my expectations of myself.
I step outside of this time and look at my life as a whole, recognizing this as one of the most challenging phases.
I pat myself on the back for the monumental accomplishment of growing, birthing and rearing four children.
I congratulate myself for partnering with an involved and fantastic husband and father.
I hug myself as I would a friend enduring a tough time and say,
Drowning. Funneling. Spiraling out of control. Down the tubes I go.
This is something that happens to other people, not me.
I’m highly self-aware. I go to counseling. I write about my feelings. I am immune.
Or am I?
How far down must we go before we reach out for help?
I hit my lowest point a few weeks ago, when at 1 AM, I looked out to the water and wondered what would happen if I just slipped in quietly, and disappeared.
It’s hard to admit, even harder to type, but that thought went through my sleep-deprived brain. Followed immediately by the remaining tiny fragments of my healthy mind reminding me that by doing so, I was only transferring my hurt and pain to my loved ones.
So instead, I wrote. I typed out my deep, dark thoughts on a sticky note in my phone as I entered the fifth hour of non-existent sleep and waited for morning to come and save me.
How far must we go before we set aside our pride and shame and liberate ourselves by calling it what it is?
I’ve suffered in silence but now, I am reaching out. Recognizing I cannot do this alone. Holding the hands of others who suffer and holding onto those who lift me up as I sink.
Making it through breakfast. Making it to lunch. Making it to dinner. Through bedtime. Until Midnight. Repeating until I rise again, from my bed, from this darkness. Reclaiming my stride, my identity and my purpose as a writer, wife and mother.
I can feel it. A change is coming and just like the rain, there’s not much I can do about it.
My eldest will enter her first year of all-day public school next week, guaranteed to create a lasting domino effect in our household.
The dynamics between the inseparable two eldest will shift. My second-born will gravitate towards her younger sister in the absence of her idolized older sister. The eldest will return home, tired and yet frustrated at her replacement. The third sister will resent being dismissed as soon as school is over.
There will be sickness, spread like wildfire. Long, sleepless nights. Trips to the doctor. Boxes upon boxes of tissues.
And then there’s the worry of releasing my 6 year-old to the big, ugly world. The one where bullies exist and feelings get hurt. Out from the shelter of her mother, her home and her little private preschool, she will be vulnerable to the wolves.
I can only hope I’ve taught her well.
To be kind.
To be tough.
To be happy.
It began with that first cut of the umbilical cord. Little by little, I’ve witnessed her venture further from my womb. Becoming less of me and more of her.
We’re on a precipice and there’s no turning back. And the view, albeit daunting, is invigorating.
Realize you are hungry and contemplate what you’d like to eat.
Break up a fight between the 2 & 4 year-old.
Look inside the fridge for your lunch.
Listen to the demands of the 2 & 4 year old who appeared out of nowhere (seriously, there must be an embedded sensor to let them know when the fridge door opens).
Give the blessed children the yogurt already!
Grab the bread to make your fantasized sandwich.
Attend to the crying baby in the back of the house.
Whisper-yell at the two year old to close the ever-loving door while you nurse a, now, distracted baby.
Frantically search for your phone to ascertain whether it is time for you to pick the 6 year-old up from her sleepover. Breathe a sigh of a relief when you read a text announcing they are keeping her until after lunch.
Calm the frustrated 4 year old who can’t figure out how to turn Paw Patrol on.
Return to the kitchen to grab the turkey, hummus and veggies to make your sandwich.
Assist the two year-old who announces she needs to go potty, now!
Nod your head yes that it is, indeed, lunch time. Abandon your sandwich attempt to heat soup, chicken nuggets, cut strawberries and put together a PBJ.
Blow on the soup until you feel dizzy. Curse at yourself for forgetting that 1 minute in the microwave is too long.
Spread the hummus on your bread. Cut your veggies and layer them, alongside the turkey.
Recognize the sound of the ending credits of Paw Patrol and seize your chance to put the two year old down for her nap. After all, it’s the “magic window” and thus, now or never.
Walk the two year old to look out the windows and doors from all sides of the house to reassure her there is indeed, no thunder today.
Change her into a diaper, turn on her noise machine, remind her that if she gets out of bed, you are closing her door and you mean it, today!
Take a bite of that big, beautiful sandwich.
Help the 4 year-old change into jammies because she wants to nap today since her big sister isn’t around to play.
Close her door and open door to now, awake baby.
Completely forget about sandwich.
Pick 6 year-old up from sleepover.
Take girls outside to play.
Give girls a bath.
Look at the clock that says 5 PM and laugh at the stale sandwich.
Let baby cry, toddler pee her pants and skip her nap, and listen to four year old tantrum until you’ve finished eating.
I can feel it. My blood boiling. My muscles tensing. My heart pounding and head spinning. I can’t get her to stop crying. I can’t get them to stop fighting. I find myself screaming, “CALM DOWN!” and then internally chuckle at how ironic I sound.
Ghandi said it best. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I walk away. Take a deep breath. Regroup. Resurface. Kneel down to her eye-level and offer what I could use right now. A hug.
I stay silent and rub her back, allowing her the time and space to release her tension.
We look at one another and crack the hint of a knowing smile.