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,
I was so thirsty. So tired I cried as I trekked through the hot sand that seemed nothing less than an insult at the time. We’d hiked nine miles into the Canyon and had just one mile to go but it felt like another 10.
Worse yet, I could actually *hear* the water. Taunting and teasing me. Letting me know it was right there, just out of reach.
I sobbed and stumbled. He grabbed my hand and walked alongside me, pulling me to the finish line. I was tired. I was done. I didn’t want to do this anymore. But there was no other way than forward and he was right there with me.
So along we trudged, until we caught sight of this. In the desert. In an instant, our skin was saturated with moist air. Our eyes delighted with sight and our ears blaring with the roar of Mother Nature in her rawest beauty.
We’d known it was there all along and yet it still came as a glorious surprise.
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.