Thank you for visiting my blog; it is an exciting venture for me and I hope this will become a forum for moms and homemakers of all types to share stories, frustrations, and triumphs. There will be recipes, pictures of my latest and greatest soap creations, and anything I think will be interesting to Enthusiastic Homemakers.....

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Simple Kind of Life

Recently, I was washing the dishes (by hand, because I hate dishwashers, or at least our dishwasher) and as I was rinsing the bowl in the picture, I had some thoughts. This plain white mixing bowl is actually very special to me. I've had it for about 16 years. I vividly remember where I got it, it was from a Lilian Vernon catalog, that mail order gift company. I used to love those catalogs! As a SAHM with no car, my days were very long and I often filled my time by poring over magazines and catalogs. I used to love the Lilian Vernon one because the kitchen items were affordable and since we also didn't have much money, I would always dream of what I would buy if I could. 

At this time, we were living in our little two-bedroom apartment in Boise which had blue carpet. I decorated with my hand-me-down furniture and what few knick-knacks we could afford. I remember that I dreamed of a yellow kitchen in those days and one day, realized I could afford to buy a few things. I circled a set of plain white mixing bowls that were on sale and added adorable lemon salt-and-pepper shakers. We didn't have the internet then so I called in the order (on the phone!) and waited excitedly for my purchases to arrive. I don't even remember what happened to the salt-and-pepper-shakers and all the mixing bowls have been broken over the years except this one, but it reminds me so much of the simple days when I watched every penny and was so excited to get a set of cheap, plain white mixing bowls from a mail-order catalog. 

In many ways, my life is just as simple now, by design. I look around my house and see so many well-loved things that I have had since I got married. A cake pan, a pasta strainer, I have always had the attitude that you keep something until it can't be used anymore, there's no need to replace things! Because of that, I have been using a box grater with no handle for probably 17 years! But it works! I still have a casserole dish that I received as a wedding present nearly 19 years ago, cobalt blue and missing a lid. Probably half my kitchen items were wedding gifts, and the other half are Fiestaware that I bought at Goodwill and thrift shops. 
As I closed my business, I made a conscious choice to go back to a simpler existence. These days, if I get my step count on my Fitbit, the kids are happy and not fighting, and dinner is on the table, I consider the day a success. I'm still learning to adapt (again) to a simple kind of life. Most of the time, it feels just fine! 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Going Big and Going Home


Seven years ago this month, a stay-at-home mom of five pressed "submit" on her first Etsy listing. I look back on my then nearly ten years of being what I affectionately referred to as a "housewife" almost as if it were a dream. I was great at it. Really, really, great. My house was orderly and tastefully decorated. My children were in coordinated clothes. I myself never left the house without full makeup and often wore clothes I made myself. Oh, how I loved it. Baking a pie in the afternoon while listening to AM radio. Scrubbing the kitchen floor with a scrub brush and a bucket of soapy water. I was a relic.

And then I went through the looking glass. A twisting, winding path that would lead me to the picture above. On the floor of Nasdaq as confetti rained down. Yes, I was nearly 7 months pregnant at the time and my lower back was killing me, but I had traveled to NYC. I rode the subway! I visited Etsy HQ and sold my soap in Times Square. And if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere (as the saying goes).

But did I make it? I'm still not sure.

This year I closed my shop. It was a painful decision. I had more than 30,000 sales on Etsy by that time. I should be proud, I worked really hard at it for a long time. For a brief shining moment, it was my dream and I imagined myself turning it into an empire. And then it turned into something else. By the end, it stung.

The beginning of the end started just a few months after that moment on the Nasdaq floor. That July, had given birth to my sixth child but something wasn't right with me. I was suffering from postpartum depression that caused crippling anxiety. I could hardly bear to open my emails in the morning. I started to avoid them, going longer and longer before responding to customers. I had handed over the day-to-day operations to my husband and teenage son while I recovered. But when I had imagined going back to handling everything, I found that I wasn't ready. So my husband (who worked full-time) was burning the midnight oil every night making products while I ordered supplies and printed labels and answered emails and our son shipped orders. Things started to slip through the cracks. I remember clearly sitting on my bed with my laptop open to convos, holding the baby, with tears streaming down my face because I was dreading opening my messages. I started to get complaints about the slow response time and the slower shipping time. They were legitimate complaints but I felt powerless to address them. My mental state was not good and I simply couldn't handle being back at work yet. But I felt obligated to stay open because by this time, I had taken out loans for operating expenses and these loans required me to be open, making daily sales. At this point, I was also responsible for making a good portion of our family income. With a new baby and new expenses, I couldn't do anything else but keep plodding along.

Then one day, I opened my shop and realized I had lost my five star rating. I was devastated. It was then that I realized something had to change. I ended up going on vacation mode in order to catch up and started to do that whenever I felt the need. During the times that I was closed to catch my breath, I noticed that I felt happier, freer. I knew that my focus had changed and that my business was no longer bringing me joy. And wasn't that the point in the first place? To make our lives better?

By the beginning of 2016, the seed was planted in my head that my shop had an expiration date. In August 2016, I started college at Northwest Nazarene University as a 36 year old freshmen. It was time to move on to my next stage. I also found out I was pregnant with my seventh child, my only daughter. I felt like the universe was telling me I was making the right choice. But I knew I had to keep my business going until I could wrap it up in an organized fashion and after I had paid off all my loans. I also wanted to get to 30,000 sales just because. After my daughter was born, I had learned my lesson about overextending myself and I took a lengthy maternity leave. No more returning convos from my hospital bed as I had in 2015.

I closed my shop for good in October, after making my final payment to the bank that loaned me operating capital. It was over. For the first time in seven years, I was able to decorate my house for Christmas, set up my Christmas village, bake cookies and watch movies with my kids. As sad as I was (and am) about the end of PuurBody it was 100% the right decision. I am so grateful for every customer that believed in me and took a chance on my business when it was so new. I feel guilty sometimes that I was not able to "go big" but instead chose to "go home" but I know in my heart it was the right step.

I am not sure what I will do about my product formulas, which were all painstakingly developed by me and were hard for me to even share with my husband when he started learning to make products. I have received many emails from former customers who want to order my natural deodorant. I thought of just giving them the formula but I don't feel ready to give up my "babies" and am not sure what I will do with my proprietary information in the future. Sometimes I'm tempted just to whip up a batch of deodorant and gift it to those who have asked but I feel that would start me down the road to another business and I really don't want to go there! I definitely have the entrepreneurial spirit and often think of ideas for other business ventures and have to mentally slap myself to prevent me from doing them.

Now I am a stay-at-home-mom again and a Sophomore in college, pursuing my Master's degree. Life is good. I have come home.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Finding my Joy

Since I wrote last, I have been in homebody mode, in my winter break for college and stuck under a historic winter storm that has dumped unprecedented amounts of snow and meant that we have been hovering around zero degrees farenheit.

I've been thinking a lot about what I want for this year, as people are apt to do after New Year's and I'm finding myself gravitating to many of the same hobbies that I have not had time for in years. Meal planning, couponing and crocheting have all been happening. I have crocheted a soft pink lacy blanket for the expected baby girl and started another. I am anxious to get back to my studies as I find that I really enjoy being a college student. This upcoming semester I will be studying some subjects that I really enjoy, like Literature and Christian Theology.

I dyed my hair platinum blonde with rose quartz ombre in what is left of my bright red hair that I had months ago. I am still feeling unsettled and sometimes like I'm not accomplishing enough but I am thankful that I am adapting well to my new reality. Gone are the coffee-fueled all-nighters and the pressure to meet sales goals. Now I am taking my sales as they come and spending more time working on the things that are truly "Important to Me". I also watched the documentary, "For Joey" about Joey Feek and her cancer battle. It is really hard to feel sorry for oneself when presented with a story like that, and that's a good thing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I used to be a Top Etsy Seller, but I'm not anymore. And why I'm Okay with that (Usually)

They Are Not Long - Ernest Dowson

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses,
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

I came back to my little old blog because this is where it all began. That picture on my blog? It was taken almost exactly 6 years ago, right after I opened my silly little Etsy shop with zero expectations. I feel like I've lived 100 lifetimes since then and become someone I don't even remember becoming.

So allow me to sit on my rocking chair, children, while I tell you a story. How my silly little hobby became a business that at one time provided half my family income. How I went from 0 sales to nearly 30,000 on Etsy and how I ultimately, failed.

Six years ago I was a stay-at-home mom with five children and I was just trying to navigate the economic times, which for us were...bad. My days were spent figuring out how to make it all work. I baked, I sewed, I took care of children. I loved it. But I thought I could help stretch the budget a bit by making soap. Then I thought I could sell a few bars here and there for some extra cash. Oh, poor, sweet, naive 2010 me!

Well, anyway, it ended up exploding more than I could have imagined. On April 16, 2015, I found myself standing on the selling floor at Nasdaq, along with other Etsy sellers, ringing handmade bells as Etsy.com went public. At six months pregnant, I traveled to New York and walked down Broadway. I sold my products at a booth in Times Square. It was amazing and memorable.  In the last 6 years, my business has kept food on the table during the worst of the Great Recession. At one time, it paid for a bi-weekly cleaning service and a part-time employee. I bought my children clothes and books and shoes and gadgets. We went to Disneyland twice. And then I had my son, Felix. From the first night in the hospital, I suffered from extreme PPA which meant I couldn't sleep and sat on my bed crying while worrying over my Etsy reviews, which were suffering. I simply couldn't keep up anymore and my husband and son were taking over most tasks. After I got over the worst of my depression, which took at least 6 months, I no longer had the desire to outsell everybody. All I wanted was...peace.

Yet, how could I continue contributing to my family in the way we had become used to? So I soldiered on. I stopped being able to create new fragrances and products, so I just kept making the same old things. I lost my competitive edge. I didn't keep up with changes, I didn't keep my product line fresh. I phoned it in for a good year. And it showed! This past summer, I found out I was pregnant with my seventh child, a girl after six boys. A child that will likely be my last child ever. I do not want a repeat of July 2015. I need to find joy in my life again and move on to the next step. I don't have the energy to compete with other shops, I'm not good at innovating right now. Basically, I suck. I'm no Estee Lauder. And that's okay.

This fall, I enrolled in Northwest Nazarene University in order to ultimately get my Master's Degree. I have plans for the future again! I'm a full-time student at 36, pregnant with my seventh child! I have a son that will be going off to college himself in 2018. It is a busy and exciting time. I have cried a lot of tears at the prospect of my Etsy shop becoming a footnote in my life, or maybe a sidebar. It certainly will not be the focus of my day-to-day activities as is has for so long. I will still continue making products but likely I will cut my product line down by at least half.

It has been a grieving process realizing that I need to do this, it feels like somebody died. I've cried a lot of tears over this.  But I hope, in time, it will just be a happy memory of what I did from 2010-2016, and I won't feel the embarrassment that I currently feel at having not "made it big" or "created an empire" or whatever if was that I was so hell-bent on doing for so long. I've learned so much in the last six years. Mostly, that where I am truly happy and fulfilled is right here, planning my weekly grocery shopping or baking bread. It was quite a ride, and now that this era is coming to an end, I'm both sad and grateful.

Thank you to everyone that helped me make it happen.

I will be back!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Tired Mama Cooks

I love tuna casserole. It reminds me of being a kid! Unfortunately, my husband does NOT like tuna casserole. Something about texture. Whatever.

He recently told me to stop not making all the things he doesn't like (enough double negatives there?) so I threw together a made-from-scratch tuna casserole while he was at the gym. No sodium laden condensed soup here or weird cracker crumb topping (though I secretly like that). It's so easy and cheap! And it was a win with my kiddos.

Tired Mama Tuna Casserole

  • Large can of light tuna (12 oz) in water
  • Two cups milk (lowfat is fine)
  • 4Tbls olive oil or butter
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1/4 tsp sage
  • 4 TBLS flour
  • 1lb whole wheat penne
  • 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 cup shredded colby-blend cheese
Melt butter in saucepan, add flour, stir into a smooth paste. Add celery salt, sage, and milk. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly and then 1 minute more. Drain tuna, add to sauce. Cook pasta (I do mine in a rice cooker!) to just past al-dente, drain. Grease large casserole dish, add noodles, then sauce, mix gently with a wooden spoon and smooth the top. Add cheese, then seasoned bread crumbs. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

'Twas Brillig. My Fight with Postpartum Anxiety (PPA)

"...Beware the Jabberwok, my son 
the jaws that bite, the claws that catch"

On July 6th, I drove to the hospital to be induced. I was expecting my sixth child. A much wanted, beloved baby boy. I was nervous about the induction but with my history of precipitous labor, it seemed like the best choice, particularly since I was GBS positive and wanted to have time to receive my antibiotics. However, although I was 39 weeks +2, my cervix was very unfavorable, so I knew it would be a long haul. When we arrived at the hospital, my doula was there, and my awesome midwife started the induction. For the first 10 hours, nothing really happened. We walked the halls, ate breakfast and then lunch, napped. It was peaceful and relaxing. At dinnertime, still no change so we decided that we would start some pitocin. I sent my husband James home to be with our other children. My doula and I walked to the lobby and went up and down the stairs and did squats to try to get the baby lower. At 7pm, my water broke! It seemed things were finally happening. I called my husband and my midwife back to the hospital and labor began in earnest. I remember feeling so taken care of and loved throughout the entire experience, which ended up being a 24 hour marathon. At 8:02 AM, 24 hours after arriving at the hospital, Felix Heathrow was finally born. When I saw his face, it was like seeing the faces of all my other children. He was so beautiful, and so healthy. 

It was truly the happiest day of my life. As the mother of six, it seems to me that with each child, the love I feel for them is multiplied by the love I feel for my other children. So by the time Felix arrived, I had so much love, I felt that I could burst. After getting settled in my room, I sent James home again to be with our other children. I wanted to be alone with the baby. We spent a blissful day, him resting on my chest, me breathing him in. But that first night, things started to change. At midnight, a nurse came to get vitals on both of us. I had had an IV for the first 12 hours after his birth and was pretty uncomfortable and by then, had been awake for 36 hours. When she put Felix on the scale and announced his weight, I was horrified. It showed he had lost a pound in 12 hours! How could that be? It turned out to be a scale malfunction, but after that I was on high alert for problems with his weight and feeding. By 3AM, I still hadn't slept and called James and through tears, told him I needed him with me. The night seemed endless. Finally morning came and I was dying to be released from the hospital. I felt that if I could just get home, things would be better. 

"But I'm not sad!"
Postpartum depression can be a very isolating experience for mothers experiencing it, however, there is a lot more information out there than even a decade ago. Newly delivered mothers are often told to be on the lookout for sadness, excessive crying, feeling detached from their babies. I had none of that. I was downright blissful when I snuggled with my perfect little bundle of baby. The whole world receded and I cared about nothing else but caring for him. But I was terrified. Every night, as dusk settled, I became more and more agitated. Nighttime was a nightmare for me. When I slept, which wasn't often, I had terrifying dreams that left me exhausted. I felt like I existed in a horror movie that I couldn't shut off. When I cried, it was tears of terror. I developed an almost violent aversion to my business, the business I had worked so hard on for the past four years. The business I grew from a tiny seedling into an enterprise that provided my family with income. I literally couldn't stand to return emails, or even look at my inbox. I stopped answering my phone, shut off the ringer because every sound from my phone was like impending doom. 

The effort of withstanding the adrenaline in my system made me sick. Every morning I was dry heaving in the bathroom. I shoveled food that was served to me into my mouth without tasting it. I didn't care about my appearance anymore. Through nine months of my pregnancy, I wore winged liquid liner every day. When Felix was born I never touched my makeup bag and cared not. I hadn't been out of the house without makeup since I was 13 years old. Through 5 prior pregnancies and postpartums, I still put effort into how I looked, because it made me feel better. Now I showered and brushed my hair mechanically and didn't so much as look at my myself in the mirror for days on end. My business suffered. I closed my shop for a couple of weeks because I was in no shape to run it, but felt guilty about not having it open and reopened it, leaning on my husband and teenage son to do the bulk of work. I simply couldn't do it. The simplest tasks were overwhelming. I spent hours psyching myself up enough just to look at my orders. I didn't want to put the baby down long enough to make products, holding him even when he slept. 

And then he had his two week checkup. I was terrified he was losing weight and it turned out I was right. He wasn't nursing as well as he seemed to be and was still well below his birth weight. I truly believe that my anxiety was causing my milk supply to suffer as well. I was horrified, guilt ridden. I felt that I had let my baby down, that he was starving and I had not noticed. I visited two lactation consultants and got on a grueling regimen of round-the-clock pumping and nursing. And I knew that I had to treat my anxiety. I called my midwife and explained to her what was happening. As much as I didn't want to be on medication, I felt that it was the best chance of me being functional for my children. When I took my first pill, I cried. I was afraid of the side effects, afraid of it affecting the baby, afraid of everything. But I started to feel better, bit by bit. It wasn't a miraculous recovery, I'm afraid. Recovering from PPA or PPD often takes months. But things started to get better. 

Am I "cured", three months in? Not even a little. I am still more anxious than I would like. It is still hard for me to complete daily tasks, but I am trying. I took back over the reins to my poor beleaguered business that had suffered so much from my neglect. I have always been extremely ambitious but I had to give myself a huge break on this one. I had done the best I could and my business was in the ditch. It was going to take a lot of effort to pull it back out. Now I consider it a success when I answer my emails promptly, when I am productive in making products, when I am attentive to my children, when I make dinner and go to the grocery store. This isn't a story about supermom, I am far from that now. But I think this experience has made me a more compassionate person. I never understood the crushing weight of anxiety and how it makes completing simple tasks a huge victory. I never understood breastfeeding struggles and how much work it takes to get a baby gaining weight again after things weren't going well. I never understood people that didn't push themselves to achieve more and more, and I didn't know the simple joy in struggling so hard to be "normal" and succeeding, at long last. 

I didn't slay the Jabberwocky, he is sitting quite calmly in the corner as I go about my day, subdued. And I can live with that. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Don't Go Breaking My Feelings...

 Today my fourth boy Dorian turns five! I always think that five is a huge milestone, as it's purportedly when many of the brain functions become fully developed. I think of my children as becoming themselves from birth to five and by five, they are THEM.

Five years ago today I was a stay at home mom with one child in school (wow, how times flies!) and two little ones at home. I woke up on April 16, 2008 knowing that it would be Dorian's birthday, but DETERMINED to get a start on making all the meals for the freezer that you're "supposed" to make before having a baby. I had been putting it off because my first three children were all born past their due date, so I expected Dorian to follow suit.

When I woke up with contractions, I told myself it couldn't be, and went about my day. Around noon, I finished making two pans of lasagna and as I straightened up from the refrigerator after putting them in, a contraction almost doubled me over. After two more hours of being in denial, I finally called James to tell him "maybe" make himself available for a quick exit? At 2:30 my midwife convinced me to come in "for a check", well, it was a good thing because Dorian was born at 4:01, an hour to the minute after we arrived at the birth center! Some "check" it turned out to be!

10lbs 4oz, Dorian was finished "cooking" apparently and ready to be born! We came back home just as the sun was setting and even ate my famous labor lasagna for dinner. I boasted that few women give birth and then eat the homecooked meal they made on the very same day,  haha!

Dorian was born an "old soul". He hardly ever cried as a baby and I mean NEVER! However, he is a sensitive little guy and when we do something that makes him sad, he says, "you're breaking my feelings". All my pictures of Dorian are of him being pensive, in Disneyland, at the beach, in the mountains. I tease him I'm going to make an album of Dorian being serious and/or crying in all kinds of fun places.

Even though he is quiet and serious, Dorian loves his brothers. Nothing makes him happier than cuddling with them and his baby quilt that I made him on the couch. I'm always wondering what's going on behind those grey eyes, like the strong silent type, he keeps things to himself. I know that he's going to do great things when he's a big blonde man and I can't wait to see it! Love you Dorian!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I had to Share...

I posted this on my personal facebook page, but then I thought, "what the heck, why not share it with EVERYBODY!"

As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again

Fifteen years ago, I jokingly repeated those words as I embarked on a journey to heal my body and mind from the grips of food obsession. Or not so much food, the food was only a symptom of the emotional pain I felt, along with an intense desire to simply vanish into thin air. 

I had an eating disorder. 

It started out innocently enough when I was about 11, and in the terribly awkward preteen stage. I had started to put on weight that summer, and was concerned that my body, always strong and muscular, was turning into something I couldn't abide- fat. I was raised to be intensely aware of my appearance, and to never look unnattractive. I felt it was my duty, to my family and to others, to appear as attractive as possible, and I remember catty conversations with my female relatives about women who were X pounds and "can you believe she wears a size xx?". I began to see my natural growth and development as something to fear, and so I started counting calories. Except...having no real idea how many calories I SHOULD take in, I thought that aiming for 1000 calories a day was plenty. I memorized food labels and calorie charts, and realized that for a hungry 5ft 3" adolescent girl, it was really HARD to stay under 1000 calories! So I cut out fat, all of it, sugar of course, and meat. 

That left me with dry toast and salad with no dressing. 

I weighed myself 10 times a day and when I didn't see the results I was hoping for, started skipping meals as well. I did this all through my adolescence, until my eating disorder spiraled out of control when I was 17. I had been having problems at home, and my stress caused me to lose 12 lbs in 10 days. My clothes were hanging off me, and I was thrilled! In order to continue this "progress", I decided to stop eating entirely, except for crackers when I felt I must eat, and my latte addition (which is probably all that was keeping me going at that point). I went as long as three days without eating at all, during this time I was supporting myself by working full time and lived in my own apartment. Day after day I trudged home and went straight to bed, with no energy to do the things that a normal 17 year old girl would do. My employer started bringing me breakfast and insisting I eat it in front of him. I did, because I wanted people to think that I was normal and the secrecy in my condition was huge. My hair stopped growing, my muscles, gained from a lifetime of walking everywhere, turned to pasty flab. My skin cracked and peeled. I looked terrible and felt worse. I didn't date, I didn't have the energy and since I looked like death warmed over, no boys asked. I developed narcolepsy, falling dead asleep in the middle of a conversation with my friend who stopped by to watch a movie with me. She let herself out and worried about me. 

Then I started having heart palpatations. This wasn't the "skip a beat" feeling or the fluttering because of having low blood sugar. My heart felt like it would burst out of my chest and I woke up one night from a sound sleep feeling like I was about to die. That sobered me up quick. I had covered my skin problems with makeup the thickness of spackle, but this I couldn't ignore. I got up and went to the kitchen right then and there, opening the unused pantry, where I had a can of tuna, a package of saltines, and a jar of mayonaise that somebody had given me. I was starving, and crammed crackers into my mouth while I prepared a very bland tuna salad (with no salt because of course I didn't cook). I ate half the sleeve of crakers and all the tuna. I knew I had to change. 

I had no resources for counseling, I was on my own and had to work, so I devised a very basic plan. I would teach myself how to eat again. Every day, I went about my non-food day as usual, but came home and started making a meal for myself. I always liked breakfast, so I started there. At first, I chopped up one small potato, and cooked it in a dry pan. Then I fried one egg, with no butter. After I learned to eat that without hating myself, I increased it. After a month or so, I was eating a pretty good meal every day, two eggs, with a tiny sprinkle of cheese, a smidge of olive oil in the pan to make them more palatable, and a good sized potato. Soon I added dry toast. Then I added a pat of butter. By the time summer came around, I was eating 1,000 calories a day again. That was huge for me and I finally felt strong enough to eat other meals as well, yogurt for breakfast, a bagel for lunch (this was the low-fat high carb 90's!). 

I read a study years later that found that girls with eating disorders have changes in their brain that make them literally forget how to be hungry and to eat, and that simply provding scheduled meals reversed those changes. I had stumbled on an effective treatment quite by accident. 

I have not been free of relapses, during periods of stress I have to remind myself not to listen to the inner dialogue that tells me that I don't "deserve" to eat. I have gained a lot of weight from having my babies, but every time I would embark on a weight loss plan, it would trigger me to begin starving myself, and I'd have to abandon the plan. 

But now...

Fifteen years later and I've FINALLY made peace with food. I don't think about it, obsess over it, feel bad about it, crave it, love it, hate it, I just EAT what I need and no more. This healthy plan was motivated by James and we're in a healthy competition to regain our pre-marriage bodies! At the age of 32, after white-knuckling through most of the last fifteen years, I feel like I've turned a corner. 

Yay for that! 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

"Insanity Is....

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" ~ Albert Einstein

This is true. I know this is true, you know this is true; why do we humans keep hanging on to things when we know nothing will ever change?

I came to the decision this week to cut off ties with a close family member, this decision was final, very necessary, long overdue....and very, very painful.

I'm 32 years old, and I have a GREAT life. I have managed, against the odds to have a great, long-lasting marriage (nearly 14 years!), five wonderful children, and a cozy and sweet home. Not to mention great friends (you know who you are!) and a thriving business. I'm lucky, very, very lucky. But I wasn't always so fortunate, and like "All the King's Horses and all the King's Men", I've spent the better part of my adult life trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. I thought that by my sheer determination, I could right the wrongs and make things better. I now know that its not possible, it was never possible, and the only reason I've been trying so hard is because...the alternative was too sad.

The "sad thing" happened a long time ago now, but I'm only just realizing it. I remember watching a movie some years back, where the heroine was talking about how she felt when her parents died. She said, "I don't have anyone to be proud of me now". The reality was, I never had that, and in pursuit of that "proudness", I've only hurt myself. Accepting that I will never have that as long as I live is the hardest part. I told myself when the email that ended my relationship with this family member was sent that I WOULD NOT cry, and I didn't. But in the days since the email went out, I find myself bursting into tears over the silliest things! I know that its normal, expected, healthy to feel this odd type of grief but I wish I had had the strength to take this step years ago, because I'd feel better about it by now.

This isn't something that I took lightly, and you may be thinking, "what on earth could have happened?". I am not angry at this person, I am not vindictive, and this wasn't some kind of rash thing that I can go back on. I made sure that when I made the decision, I took the steps necessary to ensure that my decision, so painfully won, will be upheld. I made a promise to myself that I will never let this person hurt me ever, ever again, and this means that I have already had my last conversation with them in my life. I will not regret it, it is done. I know in my bones that I did everything I could do to carve out a semblance of a relationship and I'm glad because now I can walk away with no shame, only the knowledge that I have finally stood up for myself, and the hope that telling my story can help anyone struggling with a relationship they know is unhealthy, but who lacks the strength to do anything about it, much as I lacked the strength for so long.

I also want to show my boys that some wrongs can never be fixed, and actions have consequences. All I can do now is strive every day to be a positive force in their lives, so that when they are my age, they will not have to be typing on a keyboard at 1 am with tears streaming down their faces :)

Holy. Cow, my last two posts have been serious downers, but I have much sewing to discuss, so once I dry my eyes, I will get right on a post that is chock full of fun fabrics and happy thoughts!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Dark Side of Excellence

Andrew and Elvis at our cabin getaway

This post is a bit more serious and much darker than my usual posts, but it's something close to my heart, so I hope you will bear with me :)

This week we learned the very sad news that a child at Andrew's school had committed suicide, and along with the police investigation at the school; there was some reflection on "what went wrong". Tonight my thoughts are with this dear child's parents; losing their child at such a young age (only 8th grade) and under such circumstances is the greatest pain that a parent can experience.

This tragedy has made me reflect on the unique challenges that "Gifted" children face, although it's not talked about much. The assumption is of course, that gifted children have an advantage in life, a leg up on others, and as such, have no struggles at all save which school to go to, one of the Ivy Leagues, or MIT. This is simply not true. Technically, children who are "outliers" in either direction have a much tougher road that the children that fall effortlessly into the mainstream. Here are my children's stories:

When Andrew was born, we knew almost right away that he was "different". He talked at six months and walked at eight. When he was 9 months old he was walking like he had done it his whole life, saying "hi!" to everyone. As a child who was "gifted" myself, I dreaded him going into school feeling different. Because of that, I specifically and purposely avoided educational material and the flash cards that I was "supposed" to expose him to. At that age (only 19 myself), I thought that maybe if I didn't draw attention to it, nobody would notice Andrew was highly intelligent. When he was 5, I enrolled him in a regular Kindergarten and took a deep breath, hoping he would fit in. Not so! Within a month of school I was informed that he was headed to the Gifted program. But not yet. They didn't have the resources to test/teach children younger than second grade. I had never taught Andrew to read, and he COULDN'T read entering Kindergarten. But somewhere between September and January of Kindergarten, Andrew taught HIMSELF to read, and by the end of  Kindergarten read at high third grade level. Great. The gig was up! We made arrangements for Andrew to go through the rigorous testing that precedes a child entering the gifted program and all the extra help that entailed. I was torn between hoping he would meet the requirements and hoping he wouldn't. He did. He scored in the top 2% nationwide and at the tender age of seven years and one month, was sitting down with a school psychologist to have his IQ tested. I hated that part, and his IQ (which is high) will never be revealed to him as long as I have breath in my body. I didn't want him to be chained to a number for the rest of his life. I actually cried when I got the report; but this was (to me) the best part: When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Andrew; my baby seven year old, answered that he wanted to be a "pizza delivery man like his Daddy" (James worked a second job delivering pizza at the time). That answer is so Andrew! I thought to myself then that this kid was going to be fine.

Going to school as a gifted child marks you. You are expected to be (as one parent said at one of my early meetings with other gifted parents) "the best of the best!", and yet you are not allowed to talk of your accomplishments for fear of "bragging" or making "normal" kids feel bad about themselves. It becomes a whole subculture, with the egos of the parents and the funding of the schools combining into an unholy brew. When I became initiated into this club, as a 26 year old mother, I showed up at the first support group meeting hoping to meet people who could help me guide my son through this process. What I found was that I was by FAR the youngest parent of the group, in fact probably half the parents could have been MY parents. Why are there so many older parents with gifted children? Is older DNA superior? What I found was that among the parents of gifted children in our area, I was a statistically outlier. For Andrew to have been born to teenage, high school educated parents and then end up in the top echelon of children was almost unheard of. Why? As I learned, these were nearly all extremely well educated, highly motivated parents who would not accept any less than the best from their offspring. By sheer force of will and constant work, they were molding their children into being "the best of the best". I have to admit I was more than a little disillusioned and slightly horrified to hear 8-year-olds being discussed in terms of their IQ and future earning potential.

It wasn't just the parents, though. The teachers, gifted facilitators, principals, and school districts all benefited directly and indirectly by these children's high achievement. Not to vilify the parents, nor the administrators, it's human nature to want our children to do well in life; I KNOW that these parents all love their children fiercely, but many get caught up in the achievement hoopla. In the end, I felt nothing in common with the other parents, and my desire to let Andrew be a kid for as long as possible, rather than enrolling him in infinite extracurricular activities has meant that I'm an outsider. I fear for him all the time, knowing that kids in school are often unkind to "nerds" and "brains" and that he and other children like him are subjected to bullying and ridicule. What does the school do about this? Not much; I knew a parent who had the experience of speaking to a school administrator and comparing the plight of gifted children with that of special needs children, in that they are both deviations from the norm, and both conditions should be supported by school officials. The school administrator became visibly angry at this comparison, saying that it's not acceptable to compare highly gifted children (who are often socially awkward) with special needs children, reasoning that "at least gifted children do well in school".  So often, "normal" children are given leeway when they humiliate a "brain" because the school (and parents) must be understanding of the fact that "normal" children might lash out because they feel bad about themselves by comparison. Hogwash! If I could push a button and make my child lose 30 points in IQ so that he would be happy all his life; I'd do it in a heartbeat. Giftedness should NOT be a cross to bear. Our society's collective ridicule of smarts is not acceptable to me as the parent of what turns out to be more than one gifted child.

Yes, that's right. When Bentley came along; he didn't talk like Andrew did, but he did start arranging things in straight lines at the age of nine months. So much so that I consulted with the pediatrician about him possibly being autistic. Since he didn't show any of the other signs, and could actually talk quite well for his age, this was ruled out. When he gained enough fluency to make an answer, I asked him, "Bentley, why don't you ever talk?". His answer? "Because I don't choose to". When Bentley was three he "outlawed" all use of the slang, "ya" instead of yes, and stopped using contractions in his own speech. When anyone slipped up and said, "ya", he'd say, "don't say ya, it is NOT a word, say yes". Again, I sent Bentley to school hoping he'd find his way. What happened was that he didn't thrive in a classroom environment, he simply shut down. I remember going to see his classroom in First Grade, they had put up all the kids' art projects around the room. With other parents milling around, trying to find the masterpiece our child painted, I spotted a painting that was a single red square, right in the center of the page. Nothing else. I knew immediately that it belonged to Bentley! He was, like Andrew, "different". So different in fact, that eventually his teachers were at their wits' end trying to teach a child who had been testing off the charts for reading, but who wouldn't turn in a single piece of homework. I knew I had to take action, I wasn't going to go let him flounder another moment. I had him enrolled in a virtual academy within the week of making my decision, and he's doing great. The school system simply wasn't prepared to teach a child who fell so far outside the norms as Bentley; he didn't fit their mold, as so many children who fall through the cracks. At nine, Bentley is a scientist at heart. He is almost painfully cerebral and would be content to spend all day at his "observations". He will stand in the middle of a flower bed with bees flying around him for hours, until they get used to his presence. Then, he rubs pollen on his hand and allows bees to land on his hand. Eventually, he convinces bees to allow him to touch them, yes, he holds bees IN HIS HAND. He almost never gets stung, when he does, he blames himself for scaring them. He also has become single-mindedly determined to become immune to bee stings, and with a determination that frightens me a bit, has decided to get stung just enough to develop the immunity that many beekeepers have. He loves anatomy, and his prized possession is a copy of Grey's Anatomy, which he consults daily. This led to the unexpected introduction of my small children to the birds and the bees, as Bentley informed his rapt brothers about the secrets of the human reproductive system, which I discovered when my six-year-old started going around saying "vagina". Not a terrible way to learn about sex, right?!

I hope that this tragedy at Andrew's school will make people, both children and adults, think about the way they view "the nerds". There's no way of knowing whether the pervasive bullying that occurs at this school or any school contributed to the tragedy of this child's suicide. But I think that for children like him, and like MY children, excellence and higher intelligence can often turn into a negative force. It's so difficult as a parent to see your child experience all the hardships that often come with a high IQ; to help them navigate through their school years unscathed. I feel for all parents experiencing this and feeling helpless. For my own children, I hope and pray that they will find their way; and that my advocacy on their behalf is actually making a difference. It's been a fight these past several years to make sure both Bentley and Andrew are getting the resources that they need. It would be far easier on them if they were "average" children, and I'm constantly aware of that. My third child, Callan; has more unique challenges. At 6 years old, he CAN read, but has absolutely no interest in it. Every page I give him to complete is filled with drawings. His artistic talent is unusual for a child his age, and I'm keenly aware that his brain works differently than most. When he started Kindergarten, his huge personality as well as his size (he was at least a head taller than the other children) made him stand out. I decided at the end of the year to home school both Bentley and Callan, and will allow Dorian to make his own choice when the time comes. I'm tired of fighting the school system who is set up (rightly so) for children that fall in a wide swath in the middle. And not so great at helping children who are different. With my individual attention to them; I can do better. And I will!