for now

I have this little thing that is known, affectionately, as “roller coaster emotions.” You know when you’re on a roller coaster, tick-tick-ticking up to the highest point? And once you reach the peak, you pause for a second before plummeting down? That’s a pretty solid metaphor for my feels. Life is ticking along, getting more and more exciting by the day. Then, suddenly — the top! Everything’s amazing! I can conquer the world, the laundry, the social outings, all of it! That three second pause at the top of the hill is what I live for. And every single time I reach it, I forget that the ride doesn’t stop there. Once I’m comfortable, once I’m convinced nothing will ever, ever knock me off my top spot, we start to fall. We don’t tick-tick down, like we did on the way up. We just drop. And sometimes the fast descent feels impossibly longer than the slow climb.

My loving husband often tries to remind me about these swings when I’m on the good side of things. When I’ve got a little mania glittering in my eyeballs and I’m cheerfully on my tenth load of laundry for the day. Hey! Thanks for the heads up, man! Is that the thing I say?

No. No, it is not.

I say/scream/wail/sob/dramatically whisper “WHY DON’T YOU WANT ME TO BE HAPPY?”

I’m a delight. I promise.

J&J 2019
These two put up with a lot.

Here’s the thing. I love feeling great. Who doesn’t? I don’t want to lose the great. I know I will, but why would I want to be reminded that it’s coming? When I’m in the thralls of the not-so-great, it already feels like it will never end. Why can’t I just enjoy the goodness while it’s around?

Do you want to know a secret, though? (Of course you do. That’s why you’re here.) I think I know why Jason loves reminding me that my high mountaintop moments don’t last forever. Because the lows don’t last forever, either.

The lows don’t last forever either.

Most of my major life lessons come from musicals, so before I leave, I’m going to quote one of my (raunchy but amazing) favorites: Avenue Q.

Nothing lasts, life goes on
Full of surprises
You’ll be faced with problems of all shapes and sizes
You’re going to have to make a few compromises
For now…

For now we’re healthy
For now we’re employed
For now we’re happy — if not overjoyed
And we’ll accept the things we cannot avoid
For now…

The high-highs don’t last, but the low-lows don’t either. To me, that’s more than comforting. An event, a day, a mood does not define us. As we ride the emotion roller coaster up and down and again and again, I think we can all take a little solace in knowing that the ride doesn’t stop unless we let it. And with friends, with therapy, with medicine, with age, we can start to make the course just slightly more balanced.

Don’t stress – relax – let life roll off your backs
Except for death and paying taxes,
Everything in life is only for now.

 

room for gray

Friends, I’m here with some pretty big news.

You can buy pre-made meals at the grocery store. I know. I KNOW. They’re in the frozen section (or, if you’re fancy, the deli), and ALL YOU HAVE TO DO is heat them up. There is the optional step of anxious thoughts, like it would be so much cheaper and healthier if I made this myself or the sodium in here, my God, has anyone at this food place ever heard of a vegetable? You know what though? I’ve tried this step, and I do not recommend it.

image1
Jonah clearly only cares about the healthiest of foods.

If you’re like me (and the more I meet people the more I realize… at risk of sounding like a feel good ballad, we are more alike than different) — if you’re like me, you set some decent standards for how your day should go. From the moment your eyes open in the morning, you have things to do. Backpacks to fill. People to dress. Food to make. Cars to drive. And again, if you’re like me, you see all of this in black and white. If I get Boone off to the school bus with a full belly, clean teeth, and a backpack containing everything he needs for the day, everything’s white. I did it! On the other hand, if I’m screeching like a pterodactyl about shoes and throwing white bread in his direction as we run to the bus? Black. There’s almost no salvaging the day at this point.

You may not struggle with black and white like I do. You may be able to brush off a rough morning and carry on successfully through your day. But at night, once everyone’s tucked in, there may be a little nagging thought in your mind that says well, you didn’t win today. Even if you never think this (I assume you’re a witch, a good one, like Glinda, but still), pretend with me, won’t you?

“Jennie?” you may ask, “You opened this by talking about pre-made food. How on earth does this relate?”

First of all, thanks so much for asking. It’s much easier than coming up with a witty segue on my own. I’m only one cup of coffee deep, after all. Here’s the backstory: before I was the Mama, I was a choir teacher. I taught private voice lessons to prepare students for auditions. I lived and breathed music and, while all-consuming, it was pretty great. Then I traded it in for full-time parenting. To say parenting is “great” is an understatement. Sometimes also an overstatement. I know you feel me here, parents. All-consuming it remained. Once my kids got a little bit older, I decided to dip my toe back into the water of music through the medium of community theatre. To make a long story short, theatre made a huge section of my life white again. I was more than “just a mom.” I remembered that I was talented, I was unique, I was successful in other ways. That one tiny taste of the stage gave way to more — much more — I’m currently working backstage on a show, and as soon as it’s finished I’ll be diving in to three (THREE) more before the winter returns. And I’m thrilled!

But.

(Come on. You knew there was a “but.”)

My goals, you guys. The ones that determine if my day was black or white? The breakfast, the backpack, the enriching, engaging, age-appropriate activities, the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry (oh LORD, THE LAUNDRY). Before the massive schedule shift began, I was panicked. And my sweet husband said this,

“Hey, why don’t you give yourself a week where you buy like, frozen pizzas and chicken nuggets or something, and just plan on really easy meals.”

image1 (1)
What I basically heard: “Just feed our children giant pancakes for every meal.”

I didn’t even give him the chance to say “just so you can feel really caught up on other aspects of your life without having too much on your plate.”

I didn’t give him the chance because I was too busy squealing something like “I CAN’T LET OUR CHILDREN’S NUTRITION SUFFER BECAUSE I WANT TO DO A THING!!!”

Then I refused to discuss it for three days. I’m very mature that way.

In fact, I didn’t give it any thought at all until I was having a rare solo trip to Target. That’s where I get most of my epiphanies, to be honest. I saw a frozen pizza (Target brand) that had spinach and goat cheese on it. I’m going to be honest, that sounds great. Sodium be damned. So I bought it. And a Margherita pizza for the kids. And some mac and cheese, some whole wheat crusted chicken nuggets, frozen veggies, and apples and bananas, because my kids can eat their weight in those. And I realized that, should I send my children to therapy as a result of me one day, “my mom made me eat frozen foods for a week” will simply not be on their list of grievances.

But, I’ll be honest with you — it feels black. If someone were to come over at dinner time and ask what we were having, I’d feel incredibly compelled to offer an excuse. “It’s frozen pizza, we’ve just been so crazy LOL.” (In my nervousness, I’d probably just say “LOL” out loud; roll with it.)

So this brings us back to the big news. And it isn’t actually pre-made grocery store meals. It’s gray. GRAY. Black doesn’t have to mean failure. White doesn’t have to mean unattainable success. I always say I’m striving for balance, but that’s exactly what gray is: balance. Moderation. Something in the middle. When you’re gray, you aren’t setting standards that are occasionally possible to reach but usually easy to miss. When you’re gray, you realize not everything has to follow a rigid schedule to be measured as success. Black and white is easy. It’s clear. Gray is muddy, and harder to see. But if you look for it? It’s there. So this week, I’m heating up frozen foods and making room for gray.

focus, part 2

This is the second part of a two part series. If you haven’t read part one yet, you can read that here.

 

IMG_5411

Once we had Boone’s diagnosis and medication in hand, he and I sat down to chat. He had complained to me about having to do school work before, so I started with that. Our conversation went something like this:

“Hey Boone, you know how  you have trouble getting your work done at school?”
“Yep.”
“It turns out you have something called ADHD. Your brain has a difficult time focusing on things. So even though you know how to do your work, it’s harder for you than other kids to actually sit down and do it.”

Boone was quiet for a little bit after this. I didn’t know if it was just his trademark stoicism, but I didn’t want to let this conversation die. So I turned the tables and spoke about me.

“Boone, did you know I take medicine because I have something called Depression that makes my brain think I’m extra sad sometimes?”
He nodded.
“So it’s almost the same — you’ll take some medicine to help your brain focus, just like I take some to help my brain not be sad. Does that make sense?”
He nodded again, and since he looked like he was digesting this information, I gave him a minute. And then —

“Hey mom?”
I was sure we were about to have a hugely deep moment here. He’d ask tough questions, I’d give clear answers, we’d bond, we’d relate, we’d really share a moment–

“Hey mom, do any of those mosquitoes live in Michigan?”
OK, this is not what I expected. “Um.. what?”
“Those mosquitoes. YOU KNOW. THOSE MOSQUITOES.”
“Um, honey, I don’t know. There are mosquitoes here, but–”
“NO. MOM. The mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that make babies sick if they’re in their mom’s tummy.”

OK our conversation about ADHD somehow turned into one about Zika? What is even happening here?

“No, buddy, we don’t have those mosquitoes here.”
“So one didn’t bite you when I was in your tummy?”
“What? Honey, no.”
“So the mosquito didn’t make my focus not work?”

A part of me wishes I could say I fictionalized this conversation for the purposes of this blog, but I didn’t. My heart broke that he thought this diagnosis meant something was just plain wrong with him.

I told him ADHD doesn’t mean your body made some sort of mistake. It’s just means you’ll have to learn and do things differently than other people, but we’re all different in some way. This is one of the things that sets him apart. It’s not good or bad, it’s just different.

In the end, he agreed to try the medication, which I gave him the very next morning. Here’s where I’ll include that the week we tried the meds, he was in an afternoon camp at a nearby zoo. The first two days of the camp, before we’d started the Concerta, I’d said “Hey! What’d you do today?!” when I picked him up and he would, characteristically, mumble “I dunno.” But on this day, the third day of camp, the day he took medicine in the morning, he answered:

“Oh! It was great! I finished an art project I started yesterday, it’s SO cool, I can’t wait for you to see it. It’s drying. And we played a game called ‘Poison Dart Frog’ which was so fun, I want to teach Jonah how to play it. Except we probably need more people, so the next time we have all of our friends over for a bonfire, I’ll teach it to them. And we fed the budgies! It was a great day.”

And it was my turn to mumble a response.

The rest of the car ride was comfortably quiet, one of us asking or answering questions every now and again.

Since the start of this medication, for us, I’ve seen nothing but improvement. In addition to the medication, however, we have also implemented new methods for his continued success. He has very clear chores expected of him each day, he has a quiet space to work on homework, and for the most part, he stays on a very regular schedule. This is much easier to do in the school year, but that’s where we are, so we are sailing smoothly.

Before I go any further — we are a fortunate case. I have friends who have personally trialed several different medications and have yet to find the sweet spot. Our only negative side effect is that Boone occasionally has a hard time calming down for bedtime. This is still nothing compared to the hard bedtimes we had before medication, but it is noticed. That said, I have seen other kids have emotional breakdowns when they begin medications such as this. What works for one won’t always work for another — all I can share is what we have experienced.

Boone’s biggest accomplishment so far came in an email from his teacher. She wrote, in an email, that Boone was keeping up with his work at school. He brought home papers that were not only legible, they were completed far beyond the bare minimum. Just yesterday, he brought home his snack saying he didn’t want to stop what he was working on to take a break and eat it. THIS IS A BIG DEAL. However, I’m happy to report that he is also still bringing home his fair share of silly comics and drawings. He is still trying to play songs from The Legend of Zelda by ear in between piano practices. He is still our creative, inquisitive, intelligent boy, just with a little extra medicated help.

This makes me reflect on how I, as someone who has taken an antidepressant for three years, am calmer and more at peace in general, but can still unleash a lot of emotions at, say, a church worship set, or a particularly striking Hallmark commercial.

When used correctly, medicine can help us be our best self. It isn’t a crutch, or an “easy pill” — it is simply the missing puzzle piece. 

We are just at the start of this journey. I can’t speak to how middle school, high school, or even upper elementary will look. But right now, for at least a little while, I can see how second grade looks. And I like it.

If you or someone you love can identify with Boone (or me, for that matter), please speak to your doctor and see if there’s something that could help you. It might be exactly as simple as it was with Boone. It might be a heck of a lot harder to find something that works. But if you can have a similar payoff — if you can see this person that you love live their best life — it’s worth it. It’s very, very worth it.

Come back NEXT WEEK to hear from the resident Premeditated Pediatrician (I call him “husband”) who will give you the official doctor-y rundown on ADHD and what it means from the medical side. In TWO WEEKS you’ll find tips and tricks from parents JUST LIKE YOU. We’re all in this together. Share this post and grow our village!

all the things i do not know

I like knowing stuff.

And based on how many questions my kids ask me each day, I mean, it’s a good thing. Like any modern day mom, I answer what I can and google what I can’t. And this little arrangement has made me the smartest person in our family — according to our kids, anyway. On most days. Unless daddy bought donuts – or took the boys to a park – or, generally, is home.

Either way, if the kids have questions, I have answers. It’s a good arrangement that only makes me want to lock myself in a closet with headphones to get a break from the constant “hey mom?”s some of the time. And that’s pretty good!

And then I was putting Boone to bed one night…

“Hey mom?”

Here we go…

“Where do people go when they die?”

“Oh, um, Heaven, if they believe in Jesus.”

“What if they don’t?”
“Um, Hell, I think.”
“OK well do they go straight to Hell? Because I have heard people say that. Do they meet Jesus first and then Jesus sends them there? What if Jesus forgets I believe in Jesus and accidentally sends me there? Will you be in Heaven when I get there?”

We have now reached the point in the conversation where I basically look like this:

I am a believer. I believe that Jesus died so I could spend eternity in Heaven. I believe John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but have eternal life.” But I don’t have answers for like… any of Boone’s questions there. I haven’t died. I haven’t personally met someone who took a death vacation and gave me the slide show presentation of afterlife pics. But Boone looked at me so expectantly. So hungry for knowledge. And these are good questions! I didn’t want to dismiss them. So I sent up a quick help me prayer, and I responded.

“Buddy, I don’t know.”

“Um… what? You always know things.”

I told him no one has all of the answers. But that I believe in Jesus and I believe I will go to Heaven when I die. I don’t know what Heaven looks like, I don’t know if you and I will be the same people we are now. I believe you will go to Heaven too, if you believe in Jesus, and do not worry, God won’t get your beliefs mixed up. Then I let out the big breath I had been holding in and I asked, “hey Boone, what do you think about all of this?”

Jonah has questions also.

He basically echoed a lot of my sentiments and said his fair share of “I don’t know”s. He ended with, “but you know what? I think I’ll see you there, and we’ll be the same, you and me.”

I grew up with a very black and white view of salvation. Believe in Jesus = Heaven. Don’t believe in Jesus = Hell. End of story. Any lingering questions about Heaven of Hell were answered with “it’s perfect!” or “it’s terrible!” and that was that. It wasn’t until I was much older that I started to really own the questions I had about my faith. Until I wrestled with these thoughts, I don’t think I really had the same understanding about my faith. It wasn’t personal.

I want my children to believe everything I believe. It’s true. They’re my little human copies, right? I want us to be on the same page about everything. But I know that won’t happen. If my father’s deep love of olives on pizza (double olives on pizza – WHAT) is any indication, kids just don’t always follow in their parents footsteps. And if kids did just blindly follow, would my dad like that I ate his terrible olive pizza even if I hated it? Maybe, I mean, because he’d probably have been able to order it more, but I think he’d be happier if I ate it because I truly enjoyed the nuance of the rubbery seawater taste of those awful little black and green fruits? Nuts? Fungi? What the heck are olives, anyway?

Back to my point. I want Boone and Jonah to share in my beliefs, but I want them to make it personal. They need to think and hear and choose for themselves. And in order to help this along… I have to say “I don’t know.” I will tell them what I think. But I will be honest about what I know — and what I don’t.

For someone who lives with answers at her fingertips, it’s hard to admit what I don’t know. Especially to the little people I’m raising. But I truly believe to help our children find the answers, we’ll have to admit that we don’t have them.

doing it all and doing it better

At Boone’s school this year, the theme is TRY. Try something new. Try if it’s hard. If at first you don’t succeed… you get it. Boone brought home a “Try” worksheet yesterday that he had to fill out with his own personal “try” goal.

Boone wearing his school “TRY” t-shirt “TRYING” to teach Jonah counting. (This lasted about five minutes.)

“This year, I will TRY…” the paper prompted, and in Boone’s big, loopy, first grade handwriting, he had written “to do everything better”

This broke my heart.
OK. Before we start filming after school specials, I would like to present a theory as to why he wrote he wanted to do everything better: it was easy. This is the same kid who simply answers “God” when asked when he learned about in Sunday School. The same kid who, for his daily journal homework, still doesn’t totally understand why I won’t let him always write “I ate breakfast. I ate lunch. I ate dinner.” (But I DID THOSE THINGS!, he reasons.)
It broke my heart because that would be my “Try” goal too. But I wouldn’t decide on that goal until I had thought about how to add more exercise into my life, how to eat healthier, how to stop loving tortilla chips and beer at the end of a long day, how to organize a closet more efficiently. I would have all of these little improvements overwhelm my brain until I screamed in submission, fine! I’ll just do EVERYTHING BETTER!
I can go to bed at night after a full and wonderful day of healthy choices, productive housework, and important self-care time and still berate myself for not finishing that load of laundry in the dryer. It’s not healthy. It’s not right. And it’s exhausting.
During my social media fast, I found the times when I was most tempted to idly scroll through news feeds and pictures would be when I was overwhelmed with all the little things I just wanted to do better. It was an escape, a way to take the pressure off, if only for a moment. But the point of the fast was to replace something — in my case, social media — with a deeper relationship with God. When the demands of my life (the demands I put on myself, mind you) became overwhelming, I couldn’t just ignore them for a while. So I pulled out my Bible, either hard or digital copy, depending on the day. I pulled out Shauna Niequist’s Savor, or a devotional I was working through on my phone. I spent the time I would have spent mindlessly scrolling in the presence of God, and I realized I don’t have to do it all.

Free Advertisement: Buy this book. And all of Shauna’s books. They’re just… good.

But, God! The dishes!

Will be there tomorrow.

The laundry!

Isn’t overwhelming. And you have clothes enough for now.

Dinner! Bathrooms! Educational fun with Jonah! Social interaction with Jonah! All of Boone’s school work, piano, Cub Scouts, choir —

You need to slow down. Find peace in me, and trust that I will help you do everything you need to do.

I feel like when God says “everything you need to do” He literally means “need” and not “what pinterest and facebook and instagram makes you think you should do.” The little nagging voice of mine doesn’t go away. Especially when laundry isn’t done and the floors are covered in popcorn pieces. But I’m learning to try and replace my angry voice with God’s peaceful one. I may not be able to do everything better — but I’m really, truly learning that I might not have to.

easy

When John was about two, Jay and I got the silly idea that having kids is blissfully easy. A few months later, a digital pregnancy test revealed the word I had been hoping and praying for: pregnant. We told a handful of family members and a few other mom friends, very aware of the stigma of the early announcement. We had officially announced with John when we were close to the end of the first trimester, after his heartbeat had been detected with a doppler. I was nauseous, something that I hadn’t experienced with John, and this was a great comfort. I had already had one drama-free pregnancy; I wasn’t (as) worried about this one.

We went in to my OB office, where the policy is to do an early ultrasound to confirm dates. I figured I was about seven weeks, but the ultrasound said six. We saw our tiny little human, and heard his tiny heartbeat, which wasn’t extremely fast, but the tech told us not to worry. It will speed up soon; it probably just started beating. Either way, we scheduled another ultrasound a week later to confirm her suspicions. I was thrilled! I saw my little baby once, and I would get to see him again. I was not prepared to go into that appointment a week later to find that there was no longer a heartbeat; I was no longer pregnant.

But this post isn’t about that.

This is about a journey that started four months later, when that digital test once again read pregnant. This pregnancy ended with an adorable and healthy Ev, but at the time I did not know that. I was excited, but very guarded. Every time I had an appointment, I went in expecting the worst, something I covered with jokes and shrugs. And every appointment, Ev proved my expectations wrong, occasionally so active he would kick the doppler and squirm away. And then, one morning in May, he burst onto the scene, wrinkly and pink and crying. He was healthy, he was strong. As ready as I was to relax, to enjoy not being pregnant, not having to worry… I couldn’t.

IMG_2941
Hi there, new guy.

I had read about postpartum depression. I was convinced I would experience it when John was born. I made Jay promise to watch for signs and tell me the second he noticed anything, but there were never any issues. I knew the extreme signs of PPD, and I never had any harmful feelings about Ev. I fed him, bathed him, clothed him, took a million pictures of him. I smiled when I talked about him, about how complete our family was.

But I think I regretted him.

I worried the whole time I was pregnant with him that he wouldn’t get here. The whole time he was here, I was worried he’d leave. Why did we get pregnant again? Wasn’t John enough? Why did I tempt fate, bring another child into a world filled with such random, frequent darkness? This isn’t a thought I mention lightly, given current events.

I noticed that, even though Ev was a good sleeper early on, I would never feel rested. I was very aware that every time John said “mama!” my shoulders would tense. I wasn’t sad, but I wasn’t happy. I was in a fog. Jay gently encouraged calling the doctor, but I was stubborn. I was fine. I was adjusting.

I prayed daily to feel better. I prayed that the days wouldn’t be so hard. I prayed and prayed and heard nothing. One morning in July, I turned on Barenaked Ladies’ Born on a Pirate Ship album, and the first song I heard was “This is Where it Ends.” Steven Page, one of the lead singers at the time, has always been open about his struggles with depression. He sang the lines, “I have faith in medication/I believe in the prozac nation,” and I stopped.

I prayed, God?

I very clearly heard it’s time to call the doctor.

Fast forward two or three weeks later, and I was back. I had a prescription for anti-depressants that worked. I happily (or at least not grudgingly) answered John’s many questions. I genuinely fell in love with Ev. The most important discovery, however, is that life could be easy again. It wasn’t a struggle to think, to act. I could be present. I wanted to be present.

If your life is harder than it needs to be, I can’t express enough how much I think you should place a call to your doctor. It might end in a prescription, and it might not. It isn’t something you need to fix on your own. Don’t blame the situation, don’t blame the season, don’t blame yourself. Depression is never a result of personal weakness. Ev will be 18 months in a couple of weeks, and I’ve increased the dosage of my meds once since I started taking them. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again if it ever becomes necessary.

Please realize there are lots of different medications available, and not every one will work for you. Be honest with how you feel. You aren’t a burden to your doctor if you ask for something different. There can be a certain amount of trial and error.

If you are against this kind of medication, I cannot convince you to change your mind with facts and figures. That is not my area of expertise. All I can share are my experiences, and the sweet possibility that life may not have to be so hard after all.