- Set better boundaries. Part of the beauty of getting away is that you’re automatically excused from certain things. “Sorry, I can’t—we’ll be gone.” Whew, huh? We can’t avoid stressors in life, but I could re-evaluate all the things I think I “have to” do, and someday learn to say no without mental anguish.
- Purge my house. Living with so few possessions makes me realize I could—and I want to--live with less every day. Why am I keeping all those mismatched socks—their mates are never coming back! And the crafty odds and ends and stretched out sweaters I’m sure I’ll use someday… I blame Pinterest.
- Get more sleep. Sleep, much like chocolate and cheese, makes everything better. I can’t help what time my brain nudges me awake to start asking ridiculous “what if” questions, but I can control what time I go to bed. I once read that at the Minirth-Meyer clinics, when a new client first arrives, they schedule no counseling appointments or group therapy for the first few days. They just advise the client to sleep as much as possible. Sometimes that alone is a huge step toward mental health.
- Pay more attention to my relationships. I just spent two solid weeks with nobody but my husband for companionship. (I’m pretty sure he’s the only one I could do that with, and not end up as the perpetrator or victim of a homicide.) It was an interesting couple of weeks. There were times I felt like I had just met up with a guy I used to date. We don’t really have to run away from home to get to know each other outside of our daily routine (although it helps). I could have meaningful conversations with my loved ones without leaving town. I think I’ll try it. (What was that sound? Oh. Just my kids groaning.)
- Put work in perspective. Get a little mental distance between me and the ol’ 9-5. Actually I think I’m pretty good at this one. (Easy for me to say, with my part-time, summers-off job.) But not everyone is. Ahem.
- See the beauty around me. While I’m visiting someone else’s town, someone else is visiting mine. We have a lovely state park seven miles down the road from home—I could actually get away without leaving town. Also, Yard Crashers is not coming to my house. I can quit dreaming, hang some wind chimes next to my lawn chair and enjoy my own space.
- Slow. Down. My vacation is not even over—it feels like I just got into low gear—but as departure approaches I can feel my mind beginning to ratchet up for “real life.” Real life will get here soon enough. Enjoy the slow.
I have WAY more experience staying home than going on vacation, but here are some vacation things I always want to continue when I return home to the state 50% of its residents want to leave.
On a Sunday afternoon in the golden age of the 1970s, the teenage me went to my boyfriend’s home for dinner. I don’t remember if it was Christmas time or my birthday or what, but after dinner we were chatting and watching TV and a commercial came on for the popular perfume, Charlie. In front of his parents, he asked if I liked it. With my normal diplomacy I made a vomit sound and said that it smelled like kerosene. (I bet you can see where this is going.) Minutes later I opened my gift from his parents--a bottle of Charlie. I made a quick mental note to someday take revenge on him* for this trap and did my best to amend my statement by saying that on my friend it smelled like kerosene, but she wore way too much of it, and that on me I was sure I’d like it. There! I put some on! See, I do like it! Whaddya know?!
I’m not sure if this makes that story better or worse, but I’m pretty sure it was a re-gift. His mother was a teacher and I was occasionally the recipient of some of her teacher gift overflow. In case you think that makes the story weirder, I have been known to pull over and pick trash from the side of the road, so I’m ok with re-gifting. Usually.
So anyway, this past Sunday I was sitting in church and the worship leader was reading Psalm 139, which says in part, “God . . . I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking . . . You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence.”
Awww, nice! I almost did a coffee spit-take. God knew I was going to say the Charlie thing and just let me? Years later he knew I was about to laugh while scolding my Jr. High daughter because she started to cry and had so much mascara running down her face she looked like Mini Tammy Faye Bakker? (You had to be there. It was funny. I was trying to lighten the moment. She’s still mad.) He couldn’t have stopped me before I said in a job interview that I lacked compassion? (Fine, the mascara thing bears that out but it was a JOB interview, for crying out loud.) Come on, God, I thought we were friends! We talk!
What was he thinking when he gave riffraff like us free will? If that’s not a gift I’ve abused I don’t know what is. Maybe it’s like this--maybe he knows what we’re about to say and smacks himself on the forehead or pounds his head on his desk, but since we get to call our own shots the stupid/angry/weak/hurtful thing gets said. And he hopes that we will come to our senses and ask for his help next time.
Maybe I need to talk less and listen more. And wait. Maybe I’ll try that and see if I can keep my foot out of my mouth for a couple days.
*I believe I got my revenge by marrying the guy. He’s been paying ever since.
God bless MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), but where was MOTS—Mothers of Teenagers—when I needed them?
When your children are tiny, everybody tells you, "Oh honey, you lay down for a nap when they do. Don't wear yourself out."
"Let the housework go while you read them a story."
"Get your husband to take over when he gets home—they're his kids too." (Yeah, but what's
he coming home from--maybe a 10-hour day?)
"They're babies for such a short time."
Yes, such a short time . . . and then what do they become? Teenagers.
Nobody warns you about that. Oh, you hear the rumors, the complaints from other parents. But you don't believe it. You think you'll do better. You think those whiny parents are just weak and not in control of their monsters. You think if they'd done a better job when their kids were little that they wouldn't have such problem teenagers now. And you look at your little angels and know in your heart that they will never be unmanageable. They love you—they tell you that all the time! Your relationship with your children is so open, so special, that your kids will never turn on you.
Have you ever heard someone say that they like kittens, but the trouble is they grow up to be cats? Well, babies grow up to be teenagers. It all starts innocently enough. You normally sweet Mini-Me sighs when you ask her to let the dog out. You think she's just tired. But you hear the sigh again that night when it's time to do dishes and . . . is there something in her eyes, or is she rolling them at you? Or your compliant one test drives new words that have been forbidden in your house since forever. Suddenly your wardrobe is hideously outdated. "You look pretty, mommy" becomes "Ohmygosh you are not going out in public in that!" Your relationship with your spouse is disgusting and public hand-holding is repulsive. (So much for loving, affectionate parents making a child feel secure—it seemed to make mine nauseated.)
You are the butt of every joke, the reason for every sidelong, see-I-told-you glance between your child and his friends, a nerd beyond words. You're overprotective. You're not bright enough to help with homework. (I didn’t mind owning that one. I started telling them that
when they hit third grade. I did my homework. You do yours.) You are an embarrassment, and you don't know why.
When did it all change? Nothing you say is right, intelligent, funny, insightful or helpful in any way. When did you go from knowing everything to knowing nothing? You catch yourself in the mirror one day and realize you have deep, vertical grooves between your eyebrows. Where did
those come from? You look angry all the time. People start asking you if everything is ok. You thought you had a sense of humor . . . people used to like you. Now you look for what is hidden, listen for what is not said, suspect everything, trust no one. That little friend from down the street seems so nice—but maybe he's just sucking up, and as soon as they're out of the
house he’ll teach your kid how to tell a better lie or sniff Liquid Paper. Sleepover my butt, those girls are over there sneaking boys through the basement window! (See what I mean? I didn't
used to be paranoid!)
You're a giant nerd and dad is an even bigger one because he says stupid stuff like "Why is this light on if nobody's in here," or "Why is your window open when the furnace is on, we're not heating the great outdoors!" He also wants them to put gas in the car when they use it and stop the car and call home if the engine light comes on. Lame.
Now here's where the tide can turn. It's payback time. Yeah, it's petty, but pettiness may be all you have left in your miserable, raggedy, embarrassing life. Remember all the sleepless nights? The colic? The time your 10-year-old ate dozens of Hershey Kisses at a wedding reception and
threw up in his bed? (Chocolate vomit embedded in sheets is Very Special but not as special as cheese popcorn vomit in long hair. Don't ask.) How about when the nice man greeted your two-year-old at church and she said a phrase she must have picked up from some other family
and thank goodness he didn't understand what she said?
It’s time to celebrate a new kind of freedom. If your existence is an embarrassment no matter what you do, do whatever you want! If they don't want you singing along with Aretha Franklin in the car, sing and dance! Car dancing is super fun! (It also makes a good threat for a new driver: “You just ran a stop sign. Chain chain chaaaiiinn . . .”) They don't like you wearing sweatpants to the grocery store? Wear them with slippers! Not allowed to talk to their friends? Girls are never ready to go on time anyway--her last trip to the bathroom with an armload of hair products should give you ample time to bond with even the most monosyllabic teenage boy. Extra credit for throwing in the latest cool phrase you heard her say, whether you know what it means or not. And don't be afraid to ask questions. A kid who will not talk to his/her own parents will talk to you.
We’re not here to be popular or liked. We can learn that the easy way when they're young, or the hard way when they're older. But here's the good news: They outgrow it--the disgust, the critical sneer, the Attitude.
The question is, will you come through the other side with your relationship intact?
It’s summertime, so I’m spending a lot of time on my favorite activities: laying around the house, Facebook stalking, looking at Pinterest, and thinking of things to worry about. I don’t really like to worry, but I hate to waste all the hours I’ve spent practicing and perfecting my technique. My most productive worrying times are just before I fall asleep and 4 a.m. My most productive time for creative thinking is in the shower. This past Wednesday morning those worlds collided. Shower-brain was busy thinking happy thoughts about our upcoming vacation when all of a sudden my brain must have thought it was 4 a.m. and not 9 a.m. because it started sending me lists of what will probably go wrong. There could be another hurricane, like last year. What if everybody hates me for making them go on a hurricane trip or we have to be rescued by Coast Guard chopper or we’re swept away in the hurricane which is now a sure thing (in my mind). What if the car breaks down and we can’t afford to get home (which would actually be fine with me if we could stay at the beach indefinitely). What if everybody bickers and fights (because we’re trapped inside by the hurricane, remember) or the kids get sick or we end up under a rock slide in the Smokies which is apparently so common they have to put up warning signs on the road? Plus, since I’m being honest, I am kind of afraid of the South. It comes off so badly on TV.
I do this a lot. Panic is my jam. Any new outfit gets its start with me standing in front of the mirror wondering what possessed me to buy it. Changing jobs: insanity. New hairdo: ridiculous. Meeting new people: Anybody have a Xanax? Where are my kids? WHERE ARE MY KIDS? I don't care if they're somewhere between the ages of 23 and 32, they better answer that text I just sent! Even posting on this page makes me a little clammy.
Something I do so often needs a name so I named it the Self-Doubt Freak-Out--it sounds like a line dance or an exercise routine, doesn’t it? Which led me to thoughts of my other favorite thing, Pinterest, which is loaded with exercise suggestions (which only look easy because they’re being performed by some woman with a 12-pack and biceps like the knotted rope in gym class. And then I started thinking about how exercise helps your stress level and mental state, which reminded me of being somewhere recently and someone said they forgot their happy pills and ¾ of the other people in the room either offered one of their happy pills or said they missed being on them, so clearly there’s a need . . .
And then it hit me.
The Self-Doubt Freak-Out COULD be an exercise routine! Behold . . .
THE SELF-DOUBT FREAK-OUT
Cure your mind and body in one simple routine!
Do each step for 20 seconds and repeat as necessary throughout the day.
Let my pain be your gain. You’re welcome.
Do you do the Self Doubt Freak Out? What’s your favorite topic?
It has come to my attention, mainly through Facebook and eavesdropping, that many young women these days wish to be the best mothers they can possibly be—even better than their own mothers were. I am currently a member of the generation that today’s young mothers want to be better than. (I’m positive that’s horrible grammar but see how comfortable I am with my imperfections? Hard lesson learned, kids, hard lesson learned.)
Wanting to be a great mother is admirable, girls, but come off it. We all started out wanting to be better mothers than ours were. We all wanted to do things perfectly. We all wanted to instinctively know the difference between our children’s fleeting wants and their potentially
life-changing needs like suede moccasins with fringe that would have been so incredibly cool to wear in Junior High and no I would not have stepped on a rock and hurt my feet but rather would have been the baddest 75 lb. sixth grader in my school.
Fortunately each generation of perfection-seeking new moms has (or should have) someone like me from the preceding generation to help you snap out of it and save yourself. Seriously, if your goal as a parent is to do everything right, you will end up on the newest generation of anti-depressants or SSRIs before your second kid has given up his orthodontically-correct pacifier.
Now. Did you see what I did there? Second kid . . . orthodontically-correct pacifier . . . gotcha! If you want to avoid the Cymbalta, that second kid doesn’t get a fancy pacifier, he gets the plain,
cheap one. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll have a kid who’s happy with the two pacifiers God gave him/her—thumbs! A thumb cannot fall on the floor of the bathroom at WalMart. It cannot be eaten by the dog whose vet bill from the sock-eating episode still isn’t paid. It cannot hide between the crib mattress and the wall causing you to fling blankets and stuffed animals to the four corners of the room searching, crawl under the crib three times with a flashlight whose battery died after the first look and send your husband out for another pacifier at 2 a.m. because IT HAS TO BE SOMEWHERE BUT IT’S NOT ANYWHERE AND PLEASE GOD STOP THE SCREAMING.
Relax. Your kids will survive generic cereal. They’ll survive kissing the dog. They’ll be who they’re going to be in spite of your worst mess-ups and best efforts. And when they grow up they will tell you a story about something awesome you did or said that stuck with them and it will be the lamest thing you think you ever did or said and you’ll think “That’s what you think I did right?”
Follow @the_underachiever on Instagram