Navigating an emotional weekend

Navigating an emotional weekend

I procrastinated on this blog all week. I had an idea weeks ago. Wrote a draft. Re-wrote it and then, just now, deleted it entirely. Truth be told, I needed the last couple days to decompress from the weekend before I could figure out what I wanted to say. My emotions were a bit jumbled and I was mad at myself for that. It had been months since I felt this way.

Once I got through Thanksgiving, escaped to be with my family in Ireland for Christmas and made that monumental decision in early January to quit my full-time job to pursue my passion, I was feeling pretty good. Very, very happy honestly. The happiest I had been in a very long time. Cue I Can See Clearly Now (the Jimmy Cliff version from the Cool Runnings Soundtrack, of course).  People have noticed and commented and that has made me feel even better. But this weekend, I slipped back into a bit of a funk. And I was mad at myself for that.

Only today, was it finally pointed out to me, that what I was feeling was valid. I must stop being so hard on myself. Saturday was my birthday. Sunday was Mother’s Day. For someone like me, given what I have been through, experiencing the losses I’ve experienced; this was a very emotionally charged weekend. That is my reality. I am not being selfish for feeling this way. It is what it is. It’s not something I have that much control over.

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Me, my daughter, and my mom. Birthday/Mother’s Day Weekend. May 2000.

But I tried. I filled my weekend with lots of activities and I am grateful for friends who invited me out both Friday and Saturday night. When I woke up Saturday morning, it was raining. Hard. It was also pretty chilly for May. The alarm was set for six because I had to be at the start of our town’s 5k race. This race was the graduation race for both my Let Me Run boys (which I wrote about) and my running club’s beginner to finisher program. Not a great day for a 5k.

I was planning to run with a few of the boys who had set a goal of finishing in under 30 minutes. I knew from our training runs and what they reported from their mile time trials at school last week that this was a realistic goal. I gave them explicit directions: “We’re going to go out together. We are going to take the first mile slowly. Stick with me even if you feel like we’re going too slow. In the second mile we are going to pick up the pace a little. Once we hit the 2-mile marker and have only a little more than a mile to go, I’m letting you lose to run as strong as you can to the finish.” They followed directions!

Everything went according to plan. Two of the boys finished in 27 minutes. I was still running and pacing a boy from the younger group in that last mile. He was running so strong! I kept encouraging him. I wanted this for him so badly. When the finish line and the clock came into view he saw that not only was he going to break 30, he might break 28! He took off! I was so happy for him, happier than I might have been if it was my own personal record.  His official time was 27:59. Mine was 28:01. I finished 4th in my age group. No medal for that. Not my fastest race. But it will be remembered as one of the most special moments in all of my 21 years of running. I walked back to my car in the rain. Smiling. I had forgotten for the moment that it was my birthday.

Mother’s Day started with a 10k race (hey, I had 6 miles on my training schedule anyway) and then my daughter talked me into a road trip to the Philadelphia Zoo. Driving for two hours after running a 10k might not sound like fun for mom, but the prospect of at least 4 hours round-trip in the car with my teenager would mean some good quality conversation – which we had. Plus her suggestion of the Philadelphia Zoo spoke to my soul. As a college student in Philly, the Zoo was a place I frequently went on my own to decompress. In Philadelphia on Sunday, it was warm and sunny. And the Zoo was even better than I had remembered it.

So, on paper, I had a really nice weekend.

Still there were the unspoken emotions ever present as I navigated days that were once shared with people no longer there. That is my reality. I have to remember that and be kind to myself. I have come a very long way, but there are still triggers. There are still – occasionally – difficult days.  No matter how much I think I’ve prepared, they still sneak up on me. Now I know to make self-care paramount.  Run. Meditate. Take the dog for a long walk. Make one of those “as needed” appointments with my therapist. Maybe go to the Zoo.

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The Philadelphia Zoo. Mother’s Day. May 2017.

 

Put your oxygen mask on first

Put your oxygen mask on first

This is a bit of a follow-up to last week’s post. That post, shared on our town’s Moms FaceBook page garnered the most views for anything I’ve posted for this blog. I am grateful for that. Thank you for sharing. When I started writing about mental health about a year after my husband’s death, it was my desire to help open more eyes and ears to something that deserves so much more attention.

Another post in the last week on that moms page which got a lot of attention got me thinking about how the standards to which we hold ourselves and each other can be quite harmful to our mental health. The post (for those of you not following along) was from a mom of younger – I assumed elementary school-age children – who was fed-up with the speed at which one particular teenager was driving down her residential street.  This of course would be a concern to any mom whether coming from the perspective of a parent of small children whose safety was in jeopardy or the parent of the teenager who may be speeding. Had that post stated the issue and then maybe something along the lines of if any knows who this is, please tell them to slow down, the safety of all our children is at stake! the response probably would have been all positive. Instead the post was addressed to “the parents of the teen” and concluded with the line Get your kid under control!!!!

The blame evoked in that post got under my skin. And instead of leaving well-enough alone I responded; I believe, as diplomatically as possible.  I said something like, I understand your concern, no one should be speeding on any street in our town, but to hold the parents of  a “child” of driving age responsible is wrong. There comes a time when young adults need to take responsibility for their own actions and at that age, parents have little control over what their teens do. To this she called me a failure as a parent. And I told her we should plan to chat again when her children were teenagers. The thread continued with many other moms weighing in. I can’t tell you anything that was said exactly because the original post and long thread of comments that followed has since been removed. Yes, it got that bad.

Let’s first talk about the expectation we – mothers – set for ourselves. We want to do everything right for our kids and if we perceive that they are falling short somewhere along the way, we often take the blame. We put enormous pressure on ourselves.  At the same time we are trying to raise our children to become successful adults, we are also trying to have satisfying marriages, running a household, managing the care of aging parents, and maybe even trying to balance a successful career. That’s a lot. And when a number of those areas aren’t working out quite as well as we planned. It gets frustrating. And depressing. Our mental health is in jeopardy. We need to give ourselves – and each other – a break and stop blaming, criticizing, and judging, or allowing ourselves to be.

That’s why I couldn’t leave well enough alone and not respond to that post. I was thinking about moms who were dealing with things far worse than speeding, and not wanting them to feel that in anyway they were to blame, As the parent of a 17-year-old, I now conclude that how our children turn out has as much to do with luck as great parenting. Like we can only take so much credit for the success of our children, we can only accept so much of the blame. 

I didn’t always see it that way though. I remember how not long ago I was that mom – the mom of a 11 year-old with good grades and perfect attendance, who loved school, was interested in attending Princeton or Yale, and was a finalist in the DARE essay contest. I was certain I knew how to raise a child; thought I’d have those teenage years covered and my kid – through my example and exemplary parenting skills – would be perfect.  I secretly judged other parents who were struggling, and imagined what they must be doing wrong. But before my husband and I could finish patting ourselves on the back, life quickly changed.  Seventh grade happened. And I began to learn that 1) these kids have free will, 2) we only have so much control, and 3) we can’t protect them from everything. And that’s okay.

As our children grow up, our perspective as parents change. Everything I experienced as a cancer survivor and losing my husband to suicide changed my perspective too. I don’t judge the way I used to. I now understand that everyone is dealing with challenges in their own homes and in their own bodies and in their own minds that the rest of us know nothing about. And sometimes we are simply ignorant, unable to see beyond our own perspective at that moment. I have learned as a coach that we are all – our children included – naturally creative, resourceful and whole. We’ll figure this out.

But let’s take care of ourselves – our own mental health – first. It’s like they say during the flight safety demonstration, ” If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.” Especially as parents, we are no good to our children if we don’t first take care of ourselves – eat right, exercise, de-stress as much as possible. That way we have as much energy and as much mental capacity to deal with everything the kids are going to throw at us. Sometimes even still, that’s a tall order. 

We’ve heard it a million times, parenting is the most difficult job we will ever have — and we often have to do it while we deal with our own insecurities, limited perspective, other stressors coming at us from several different directions. All while under the watchful gaze of other parents who think they can do it better. Have you ever looked through a bookstore for a parenting book? Have you seen the number of often contradictory subjects? Do you know why this is? Because we are all unique. Every parent. Every child. There is no one size fits all solution that will work for everyone. We have to find what works best for us.

Remember in my last post when I said, “as if parenting wasn’t a gray hair creating, anxiety producing fiasco that constantly left me in a state of self-doubt already”? Well, I (we all!) don’t need other parents adding to that self-doubt. We need to support one another. We need to approach our relationships with other parents from the perspective of a coach – that everyone is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. Sure we need to look out for each others kids, and talk amongst ourselves to solve problems and discover solutions when there are issues facing our community or our children. But we must work together. Blame, criticism, judgement, and unsolicited advice doesn’t help anyone. 

Most importantly, take care of yourself. We all have the strength we need within ourselves. To find the answers that are right for you and your family, look no further than yourself. Stop listening to everyone else. Trust your instincts, your intuition, yourself. And a journey of self-discovery starts with a clear head. When you’re feeling the heat; get out of the kitchen. Walk away. Get off FaceBook. Meditate. Go for a run. Walk in the woods. Make an appointment with a therapist. Hire a coach. Practice the self-care that works for you. Solving the mental health crisis that I spoke about last week starts with us.

IMG_6338Ramapo Valley County Reservation. Mahwah, New Jersey. April 2017

Refections from the road

Refections from the road

I’m sitting in a hotel room outside Boston, trying to think of a way to work in an 8-mile run today. I woke up too late for starters. Didn’t wake up until my 16-year old was demanding breakfast. So we ate at the hotel’s buffet. Now I’m too full to run and she’s got a day of sightseeing planned before we have to get back on the road for (what should be) a 4 hour drive back to New Jersey. It doesn’t matter. I’m enjoying a weekend road trip with my girl and I can run another time.

I love road trips. And road trip songs (My daughter’s favorite from the Cars Soundtrack: Life is a Highway; mine: Radar Love)…and road trip movies (my favorites: Easy Rider, Thelma & Louise)…and road trip books (On the Road is on top of both our lists). Since I was a kid, I always loved seeing everything along the way. Flying is certainly more practical, but there are times when the road is so much more fun. Of course I grew up as an only child so there were no backseat sibling squabbles. Now I just love the time in the car with my girl. We always seem to have our best conversations in the car. Plus we are creating memories that will last a lifetime…which is more important than ever now since this weekend’s road trip was for our first official college visit.

 “Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

I have road trip memories with my daughter dating back before she can even remember. There was the trip to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee just after she turned one. I was so overwhelmed as a young mother that I left all her clothes in a hotel room in North Carolina (they shipped them to me at no charge). I wish she could remember the Smoky Mountains or the ferry ride between Maryland and Cape May.

When she was three we went to Folly Beach, South Carolina. And when she was 7 we did the road trip every family should do – once – to Disney World and the obligatory stop at “South of the Border” since she didn’t remember it from the South Carolina trip. Honestly, never need to do that again. Actually, I’d be okay with avoiding I-95 – forever. On my bucket list however is a road trip out west. She mentioned this weekend that we should do a cross country road trip (I’m 90% sure she said WE). So although my girl is growing up maybe there is still hope that she’ll still want to do another big adventure with her mom after the college-visit trips have run their course.

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

The University of Maine was this weekend’s destination. On the way back we took this side trip to Boston. I told her it was kind of like a trip her dad and I took over 20 years earlier. On that trip we detoured by Lowell, Massachusetts to pay our respects at the grave of Jack Kerouac. She asked where that was and I said it was off this exit coming up. She said, “lets go!” and we did. I know that would have made her father smile. He once told me I was the only girl he knew that actually liked On the Road, and a few years ago he gave his daughter his copy when she went to him looking for a book to read that would impress her English teacher.

The best part of the trip is sometimes the detours. The unexpected twists and turns.

“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

The road is always calling. The journey. An experience. Sometimes it’s on foot and sometimes it’s by car. Today it will be by car. Tomorrow I will run. Yes, Jack, the road is life.

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IMG_4853Edson Cemetery. Lowell, Massachusetts. August 2016