What Life Brings Us

It’s the middle of the day, and I’m sitting on the toilet in my bathroom reading a book while my son takes a bath. He’s 7, and under most circumstances would be in school right now, or at least on the school bus heading home from school. Instead, he’s playing with Ninja Turtle toys, relics from my childhood, given to him by my brother.

Sometimes I worry that homeschooling my kids in this relaxed way will give them a false perception of how life works, allowing them to believe they can do as they please whenever. But then I remind myself that life doesn’t have to be a regimented 9-5 existence. Life can be however you choose it to be. We’re just so damn indoctrinated into thinking otherwise. I remember, too, that my kids do have some structure to their days. They have meals to help prepare and clean up after; they have chores that need to get done; they have a bedtime routine and time. They’re not completely feral after all.

This morning we talked about our goals for the summer: the books we want to read; the places we want to explore; the things we want to learn and discover; and, how we’re going to accomplish these goals. Did we sit down with a workbook? Nope, not today. Will we tomorrow? Nope, we have our field day celebration at the Co-op we belong to. What about the next day? Not likely. We’re going to investigate the beach and see what critters and wild edibles we can find. How about the next day? Eh, we’ll see. We’ll see what life brings our way.

Until then, I’ve got to get back to listening to my son build one hell of a sea battle narrative with his toys. 😊

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Lucky Number 7!

Sometimes I don’t know how to start these birthday reflections. How do you sum up a year of your child’s life? So much happens, and so much goes unnoticed as well. But I do my best. I always re-read what I wrote the year before to help get my thoughts going. But this year, it just didn’t spark anything. So I looked back at the last photo album I made for him on Facebook, and scrolled through all the Ollie-centric photos. And it hit me. I know where to go from here.

While Ollie has changed immensely in his 7 years (HOW the fuck is it 7 already??!), a few things have remained the same. A few core qualities that makes him ever my boy. My little heart. And he really is. He’s my heart.

I have the unique benefit of having only two kids, and one of each gender. So in my mind, I can have a favorite daughter and a favorite son. 🙂 And while I truly don’t have a favorite child, I do favor each of them for different reasons. Lily is my sidekick. She’s the sassy, fierce, outspoken other half of my brain. She is so much like her father that I also can’t help but adore her as much as I do him. And of course, she’s my first-born. She will always hold a special place for making me a mother.

But Ollie…Ollie is my sweetheart. He’s my cuddles, and smiles, and soft heart. He’s my sensitive soul. If I’m upset over an injustice or worried about an animal, chances are he is too. And we take solace in each other for that. He’s so much my soul that I can’t help but love him a little differently for it. He’s my baby. My last-born. And just like his sister, he is held in different esteem in my mind for that.

And if you look back throughout his photos, you will find very few photos where he isn’t smiling. Where he isn’t just radiating love and joyfulness. You’d think the kid was a libra with the way he likes to keep the balance, and how he’s always worried about everyone being treated fairly. He’ll offer you the last of everything, and practically force it on you because he wants you to be happy. He’ll willingly share anything of his that he has with you. He has to be reminded a lot that it’s ok for him to have his own things. That it’s ok to not give everything to everyone sometimes. He’s just that giving.

And his loving, light-hearted manner goes even beyond just that. Because he likes to see others happy, he goes out of his way to make us all laugh daily. Now, sometimes it’s because he’s so completely oblivious and goofy about things. Sometimes he really is an airhead, and that gives us lots of chuckles. But it’s usually because he just loves to see us laughing. He takes great pride in being our funny man. He makes up jokes, puppet shows, songs, crazy scenarios with his toys, and dance routines meant simply for our entertainment. Truthfully, he’s happiest when everyone he loves is happy too.

And speaking of songs and dances, he is still, 7 years later, the biggest music lover in our family, other than maybe Joshua. He has always loved hearing music, even as a baby. And he’d always naturally swayed to the music or busted some goofy moves. But now, he requests songs, or when a song comes on that he likes, will loudly proclaim, “This is my jam!” And he’s got quite the mix of preferences. From a babyhood and toddlerhood spent listening to metal and hard rock with Dad to later years spent listening to more booty-shaking music with Mom, he likes it all. And if it’s just us around, he isn’t afraid to shake his tail feathers. My favorite is when Josh and/or I are making dinner while playing music through the speaker in the kitchen, and he comes dancing through the dining room. He doesn’t give two shits if his moves are “cool” or even coordinated for that matter. This kid just feels the music and moves. His unrestrained joy in dancing makes me so damn happy. I wish he’d take dance lessons, but he’s still a little too shy to dance around others. Perhaps in the future he’ll realize it’s all good, but until then, I encourage him to dance whenever and wherever his heart tells him to.

And because the yearly reflection wouldn’t be complete if not totally honest, I will mention this past year has been a little trying in some ways. Some behaviors that I’m not fond of have crept up, just as they did with Lily around this age. We joke that we’ll like him again in a few years when he’s matured some more.

He hates hearing “no”, and will sometimes get overly upset or angry when he’s told he can’t do something. Sometimes that anger turns to hitting his sister, which is something we’re working on. His emotions, good and bad, aren’t always in check. And his disregard for our requests to keep his room and playroom clean have caused more than a fair share of disagreements and punishments. And holy hell, his lack of focus and ants in the pants can be trying on my best days when trying to teach him. Sometimes I just want to pick him up and shake him or put horse blinders on him.

But you know what, at the end of the day, he will never fail to apologize. Because, ultimately, he doesn’t want to cause stress or strife. And the thought of anyone being upset with him is too much for him to bear. I think it truly hurts his soul. So, while I may grow tired of hearing, “I’m sorry” and still experiencing the same situations and behavior, I do appreciate how caring and concerned he is. You can’t be mad at that little face when, with tears welling in his eyes, he tells you how much he’s sorry, doesn’t mean x, y, or z, and do you still love him. And the smile he gives you when you reassure him for the umpteenth time that you could never not love him, is pure perfection. And to know it’s meant just for you…well, I feel like the luckiest damn mom in the world.

And so, My baby boy–no matter how old and big you get, my dear, you will ALWAYS be my baby boy–I wish you the very best of birthdays. I hope your Cheez-its for breakfast and Moe’s for dinner fill your belly with empty calories and happiness. You give all of your family so much love and happiness each day of the year that we hope we can give you a sliver of that tomorrow. So, you be silly, and absent-minded and downright loud and obnoxious if you want. I wish I could freeze time and see your smile with that missing front tooth gap when you open your gifts forever. I wish I could keep you small and in a hug forever. I wish I could swaddle you back up and watch you sleep on my chest. But I can’t. You’re forever in full momentum forward. What I can hold onto is the fact that you are you. Have always been you. And so far, life hasn’t had any effect on changing you. I hope tomorrow is just another day of happiness, laughing, and dancing to whatever music makes you happy, my love. It’s your lucky number 7 year, and i hope this next year will bring you nothing but the most amazing things. Happiest of birthdays, sweet boy of mine. I love you more than you know.

Yoga Is Not Pornography

Last night I went to bed feeling frustrated, and I had a really difficult time turning my brain off enough to fall asleep. And when this happens, I usually pick up my phone, and jot down a few thoughts in the note section, and then once I exorcise what’s bothering me, I can finally relax and fall asleep.  But not last night.

I posted several pictures of myself doing yoga in the nude, edited, of course, to make it Instagram appropriate. And I did it because yesterday was the first day of a challenge that is called #BraveStrongandBeautful. So, in the spirit of the challenge, I decided to do all photos for the challenge sans any clothes. And for me, that’s not too far off from my usual attire since I’m usually just in my underwear and bra. But there’s just something so different, apparently, to people who come across nude photos. The responses I got just last night really struck a chord with me. And my only way to process through it all is to write. So, in a sort of stream of consciousness style, I bring you my thoughts on nude yoga in the public eye.

 

I get it: sex sells. But do you know why it sells? Because those in control (which if we’re being honest are wealthy white men) have decided they are going to use whatever methods they most enjoy. And these men have been objectifying women for so long now that it’s been ingrained into our consciousness. We’ve been normalized to it to such an extent that we almost agree with it and go along with it. So, to see breasts or ass or long, beautiful legs in an advertisement is not at all strange or apparently inappropriate. But a woman’s breast out to feed her child is something to hide and shame. A woman who wants to wear a bikini, but doesn’t have a supermodel’s body is disgusting. A woman who wants to remove her shirt for any number of reasons is advertising that she wants sexual attention or is looking for trouble. Fuck. That. Shit.

People are not objects, even if you try your best to objectify them. We have brains, and hearts, and have feelings and fears and hopes, and opinions, and are complicated and unique and multidimensional. Let me repeat something so it really hits home: no one—not you, not me, not even the person who claims to be ok with being objectified—should be treated as though they are existing for someone else’s amusement or pleasure. Ever. No buts. No excuses. Just no.

My body—as is everyone’s—is mine to do with as I please. To show off however I see fit on any given day. Don’t tell me it’s too much or that it’s soooo sexy or that I need to change it. In fact, don’t tell me anything about it at all. Because I am my body and my body is me. We’re not separate entities. I am everything including but not exclusively limited to my body. Tell me what you think of me as a person, or about the pose I shared, or about yourself. But don’t treat me like I’m not attached to my body, like I’m supposed to be ok with you saying whatever springs into your head. Trust me, you wouldn’t want me to do the same. I can be vicious if provoked.

And while I understand that I’m putting myself out there for the whole word to see, that doesn’t mean that I release ownership of myself. That doesn’t mean that I won’t respond if someone says something to me that they shouldn’t have. I ignore a lot. But I will not ignore something that is blatantly disrespectful to me or to women in general.

I understand that we are all coming from different walks of life, with different experiences and values. And I may not have always been good about being mindful about that in the past, but I’m evolving, and I do my best to take this into consideration now. I try to think before I respond rather than just firing off in the moment. But sometimes people don’t or can’t show this same consideration when they make comments. And it’s then that I think it’s my place to educate, unless one of my IG followers steps in and does it for me first. Side note: thank you so much to those of you who have had my back and spoke up on my behalf. You’re amazing humans, and I love and appreciate you.

Take this seemingly innocent comment: “I like your pics, but this is too much.” This was in response to a picture I posted of me in tiger pose, nude. I obviously edited it so that my nipples weren’t showing (Oh no, not the nipples!!), and the way I was posed and photographed, you couldn’t see anything else. But apparently this was too much. Because, you know, I’m a woman, and I have breasts. A man posing in the exact same way would be fine, I imagine, because his nipples are perfectly acceptable. And why? Why is it that my body is so damn offensive? Why is my body seen sexually when a man’s body is seen as just a body? How have we become so desensitized to this inequality? Why have we become so accustomed to slut shaming that we think it’s ok to tell another woman that she’s doing something wrong when she’s just being. And yes, I know for a fact that sometimes men’s pictures on IG get reported as well. But it’s usually because a part of their penis might be visible. And I have no intention of ever having my vagina on display in public, so I get it, keep the genitalia put away in certain situations. But my breasts? Why do they have to be any damn different? Yeah, I get it, they have been sexualized, and yeah, they are sexual in some situations. I know my husband very much appreciates them. But I also know men who enjoy their nipples being pinched, licked, sucked on, etc. And for very sexual reasons. But it’s still ok for theirs to be out there?

And why, as women, are we perpetuating this slut-shaming? Why are we telling other women to cover up instead of supporting them in their decisions? And why can’t we be the force that steps up and says, no, this isn’t pornography, this is yoga. Or this is figure modeling. This is just a person. Women need to step up and support other women. We have it hard enough as it is without creating more strife for each other.

And men need to realize that they don’t have the right to do and say as they please. I think there are some very small, cowardly men who hide behind their keyboards. But it’s this proliferation of treating women as sexual objects, and honestly thinking we should feel honored by this, that emboldens other, more dangerous men into action. We can think that words are just words, and that actions are really the problem. But that’s not true. Words are the start. Words may be the first step in someone testing the waters and seeing what they can get away with.  If we ignore someone posting drooling emojis with comments about my body, that’s the equivalent of telling them to do it more. And even if they never take their behavior beyond the internet, it just continues perpetuating the idea that it’s perfectly ok to treat others as though they weren’t real people. And I’m just not ok with it.

So, while I know I can’t control people’s thoughts, I can ask respectfully that you keep them to yourselves. Not just on my posts, but on everyone’s posts that you feel sexually attracted to. I will only ask respectfully once.

I guess this all comes with the territory. The more followers you get, the greater the chances you’ll start getting comments and messages that you find offensive or hurtful. And while I have thick skin, I’m only one of probably millions of women enduring this on a daily basis. And for some, it’s too much. So, I’m not really speaking out completely on my behalf, but on others’ behalves. Consider the fact that you’re not the only human on this planet, and it’ll make a world of difference in how you approach others.

It’s taken me until this last bit to come to a decision on how I’m going to move forward with my yoga photos. I really wanted to continue my nude photos for this challenge because I feel like it means something to be able to stand in the face of intolerance and tell it to sit the fuck down. I am strong. And brave. And beautiful. And I’m going to continue being me because if I let others’ perceptions of me or their comments about me affect how I live, then I’m not being authentically me. And If I’m not living genuinely, then what’s the point?

Just so you know 

I just spent the last ten minutes writing and deleting attempts at a witty intro, but they were all crap. So I’m just going to cut to the chase today. 

I’m depressed. 

Wait, weren’t you already? 

Yeah. 

But aren’t you on meds to stop that? 

Yes and no. 

Huh?? 

Yeah, I’m on antidepressants. No, it doesn’t make it all go away. If there was such a pill, you can bet your butt I’d be popping those little suckers by the handful. 

The joy of clinical depression is that it’s never really gone. Yeah, meds can help. So can therapy. So can exercise, diet, and other more holistic treatments. But it’ll never be gone completely. 

Think of it this way, a person with diabetes likely takes some sort of medication to help control it, right? But if they eat a shit-ton of sugar, that little pill isn’t going to keep them from going into a diabetic coma. They’re still going to feel the effects of their illness. They can still have relapses. 

Same here. 

The tricky thing about depression is that there aren’t always triggers. It would make sense that if something traumatic happened in the life of a person with depression, they’d be more likely to have a depressive episode. Just like anyone would, but perhaps to a greater degree. But what about the times when everything is essentially honkey dory? Why then? 

No fucking clue. 

Take me for example, right now. Nothing is particularly stressful or awful in my life. I’ve been exercising and meditating more. I’ve been eliminating more damaging foods from my diet. For all intents and purposes, I should be doing well. 

Only I’m not. I’m in bed right now, forcing myself to write this. Because do you know what the alternative is? Staring at the wall. That’s my favorite coping mechanism. Shut down, stare off, wait it out. 

Just like every person and every illness is different, every coping strategy is different, too. Whenever I’m in the deep end of an episode, just barely bobbing above water, I find it easiest to just detach from the world. Go deep into my head, and ignore everything. Just let go and feel nothing. 

And just to be clear, it’s not that I like being like this or managing this way it’s that I have to. My brain tells me to do it, and I’m powerless to question it. 

Think about a nine-months-pregnant woman. She drops something on the floor, and bends over at the waist to pick it up. Do you think she’s going to reach it? Yeah, definitely not. It’s not that she doesn’t want to, it’s that her body is making it so that she just can’t. 

It’s the sane thing for me. I don’t want to feel void of emotion. I don’t want to ignore everyone and tune out the world. It’s that my brain just won’t have it any other way. And all I can do is ride those waves until I reach shore. It won’t last forever, but when I’m wrapped up in it, all I can do is hang on. 

And I know it’s probably hard for others to understand this, to believe that seemingly normal, happy people might be walking around feeling like this, but it’s true. We’re so good at pretending. We can put the smile on our faces, nod our heads in agreement, feign interest and attentiveness, all awhile feeling nothing. 

I think one of the misconceptions about depression is that if you’re not stuck in bed in the dark for days at a time, you’re not depressed. That if you can still wake up in the morning, you’re really quite fine. But that’s a fallacy. 

I have what’s called high functioning depression. So I look like everyone else even when I don’t feel like everyone else. I can get up in the morning, rally, get the kids ready for the day, even spend the whole day playing super mom, only to crash later. 

I look like any other tired mom out there. But really, inside, my brain is alternating between numbness and screaming for it all to stop. I’m exhausted, but to the point where emotions would cost me a breakdown by how much energy I feel they suck out of me. My joints ache (Yes, depression has physical symptoms as well). Light is too bright. I’m nauseated. My head hurts. My muscles are constantly tensed. I’m restless and can’t sleep, even though I desperately want to. And at the slightest provocation, I will lose my shit entirely because dealing with all of these things at once is just too much. 

And I keep all of this inside, compartmentalized. And I wait for it all to blow over. Because it will. That’s the good thing about my illness: it rarely overstays its welcome. And yes, the meds help with that. 

So if there’s someone in your life that you know lives with mental illness, even if it’s someone who seemingly has it all under control, ask them how they’re doing. Ask them if there’s anything you can do for them. They will likely tell you no, they’re fine, they’ve got it under control. And maybe they do. That’s fine. It’s just nice to let us know that we’re seen. That you know. That you understand. That you’re there just in case. 

Yoga in My Undies

For the last two months, I’ve been participating in Instagram yoga challenges. For those who don’t know what they are, it comes down to this: some yogi on IG hosts a challenge–that is, they post a flyer detailing the concept behind joining (heart openers, body positivity, using blocks and straps, etc), what poses will be the focus of each day, how many days in the challenge, who the other hosts and sponsors are, and what prizes there will be. Then, they send it out to the IG world, and other yogis or people wanting to dabble in yoga will repost it, follow the hosts, and post their pics of the poses each day with perhaps a caption with their reflection. And then others who are following or searching for yoga will see your posts, like them, comment on them, reach out to you, whatever.

I recognize that this all sounds very self-centered. Like you’re just looking for a way to exercise your vanity under the guise of exercising your body. And sure, for some, it may very well be. And to be honest, a little vanity is ok. And feeling good about other people appreciating you is perfectly normal and healthy.

But for most of the participants, I’ll wager, the biggest draw is the yoga. The feeling of accomplishment. The sense of community. The support in your endeavor. The feeling of growth. The belief that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. Something important.

And I recognize that in our current societal climate, there is so much to think about and worry about that I imagine some who will read this will find it very silly or arrogant of me to say that doing yoga is important. That posting pictures of oneself online is important. And I respect their opinion. But I also think they’re dead wrong.

And here’s why:

Everyone is living their own life, full of hopes, fears, worries, issues, joys, frailties, and strengths. You never really know what anyone else is going through or feeling. You never know what personal hell they may be living in. We can see them from the outside, and possibly judge them, thinking we know how easy or hard their life might be just by how they carry themselves externally. But that’s such a falsehood, and a dangerous practice, judging others.

And trust me, this is coming from someone who is guilty of doing this many times. And guilty of it even up to very recently.

I’m not going to spend time and words explaining myself or apologizing for it. It is what it is. And I’m sure I will again cast judgement at some point. I’m not infallible, even if my intentions are true.

I will explain, however, how participating in these challenges have helped me see how wrong it was of me to judge myself and others, and that I was really judging others because of how I felt about myself. They say that bullies tear others down because of how they feel about themselves. I can absolutely agree because I know that because I found myself coming up short in so many ways, I projected my feelings onto others.

I used to look at other people, people with bodies that the mainstream would consider not just healthy, but ideal–thin, tall, beautiful–and automatically assume they were workout addicts, or starved themselves, or were too concerned with their appearance. I would see mothers who wore no evidence of having carried a child in their perfectly toned abdomens and think that they must have had tiny babies, or gone right back to crunches right after they gave birth.

I was jealous. I was hurt. I lashed out at them in my mind because I felt they were better than me. And not that they did anything to make me think that. I forced those feelings onto myself. They did nothing wrong by being who they were. And it made me feel like utter shit.

These feelings continued even into my beginning yoga challenges on IG. To anyone who knows anything about yoga or the yoga community (mostly in the U.S), will likely agree that it’s a very homogeneous group of people who are often the face of modern yoga practice. They’re young, white, thin, super fit, and female. They’re basically supermodels in yoga pants and downward dog. And these are the images I was at first inundated with as I began my IG yoga journey. So, at first I really struggled to feel included.

And as I struggled with feeling out of place, and that I didn’t belong in this exclusive club, I found myself having an internal struggle every day about whether or not to do my daily poses or just give up. For anyone who knows me, I struggle with self-doubt and perfectionism (as the icing on my mental illness cake), and so it was very natural and easy for me to convince myself that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t participate one day, or if I gave up on a challenge before it was over. It took a lot for me to keep going.

But as I kept going, something truly magical happened. I found myself actually a part of the thing I first felt shunned me. When I was sick in bed for three days and couldn’t do yoga, not only did my mind crave for my body to be up moving, flowing through the poses; but, so many people left me comments wishing me well, and telling me they hoped to see me back at it, posting pictures soon.

Me, someone who is relatively a newbie to yoga even though I’ve been practicing on and off for 7 years. I’ve never made it more than a couple months at a time consistently. I’ve always started hard and fizzled out. These people who I didn’t even actually know were not just holding me accountable, but were holding out their hands to me, propping me up, and encouraging me to keep going.

And sure, they were just words. And there’s so much in our word that needs actions, not just more words. But for someone who knows that the power of words can sometimes be stronger than any force out there, I knew that what these literal strangers were offering me was more meaningful than what it appeared as on the surface. And it was then that I swore to give back to this community that was helping to heal me.

Which leads me to a very specific IG yoga challenge. It was a challenge that promotes body positivity and respect for yourself and others. It also happened to be one that challenged its participants to capture and post their yoga poses while they were in their undies.

It was so worrisome for me at first. I was absolutely terrified that I was going to get a string of comments telling me to put my chubby self back in my clothes and never show off my nearly nude body to the public again. I thought people would ask me how I dared to think others wanted to see that. That I had no business baring myself until/if I was so much thinner and fitter.

But I didn’t. Not one single comment. Honest.

I did, however, receive many many positives remarks on how strong I was, how flexible, how balanced. How I rocked the shit out of a pose. Or that I was an inspiration for putting myself out there when someone else was too afraid. Me! A fucking inspiration! Knocked the wind out of me in a good way. Because I just saw me as some chick fumbling her way through learning new poses, building strength, and trying to find peace within herself. But the direct messages and comments kept coming through that others were willing to try yoga for the first time or yoga in their undies because I did. Because they saw something in me. Something I still couldn’t see, of course. But something that spoke to them, and moved them. And I’d be lying if I said their words didn’t make me so fucking proud of myself.

Because, you know what, I know what it’s like to not find yourself represented in mass culture. And trust me, being white, I know that there are plenty of people who find themselves far more underrepresented than I am. But being 5’2” and over 150 lbs., with DD boobs, thick thighs, and a pretty sizable rear end, no one was going to be walking down runways looking like me. And most women who are my size and shape are trying to do something about it.

So to have so many people say that because my body wasn’t “perfect” and I  was still willing to show it anyway and now they’re going to do the same, I really felt honored. Because I felt what I was doing was nothing extraordinary. But to someone else, someone who may be having an even harder time than me with body image or fear, I WAS doing something extraordinary. And if it was the catalyst they needed to jump off that metaphorical cliff into sharing themselves with the world, I am so happy to have been a part of that.

So that brings me to now. I am participating in 8 challenges right now, with more to start up in the next couple days (some ending during in that time as well). I spend easily an hour or more practicing, photographing, posting, commenting, reaching out, responding. It’s become a pretty serious hobby for me. But in the maybe 20-30 minutes of practice I’ve done every day, I am feeling so many changes in myself. Obviously the change in my physical self. I’m toning up, tightening up, though not really losing weight. But I also need to do my yoga. I need to move. I need to push my body. Te feel like I’m doing something for myself. And also, shockingly for this introvert, I’m really enjoying “meeting” all these new people, and connecting to others. It’s really been helping with my mental health as well.

Because of the overwhelming positive response of my yoga in my undies, I’ve been doing nothing but yoga in my undies. Though this may change in the winter because I’m cold enough as it is in my clothes. For now, I post nothing but me, my poses, and my skivvies. And I will continue to do so for as long as it seems valuable and helpful to others with plans to reach even more people some day by hosting my own challenge.

I’m beginning to see that some cellulite or stomach rolls aren’t the end of the world, they aren’t the deciding factor of my worth. And if my lack of shame continues to inspire others to push themselves outside of their place of self-hate or insecurities or fear, I think it’s just as important as anything else people are doing for others. Because doing something for mental health is truly one of the most worthy causes there is, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Namaste

 

A Whole Fucking Decade

My baby is ten.

Let me repeat that. My baby, my first-born, my little chubby-cheeked, sassy-pants little girl is TEN.

Fucking double digits. Ten. A decade.

No longer very chubby-cheeked. More beautiful and grown up than I could imagine. Definitely still sassy, but also moving into puberty-fueled moodiness with spontaneous ups and downs.

I have been a parent for an entire decade. Which, I realize to all of the parents out there who have been-there-doing-that for much longer than I have probably scoff and think to themselves that ten ain’t nothing. But for me, it’s definitely a big deal. As so many people my age are just having babies now or have toddlers, having a child tiptoeing the precipice to teenage-hood is remarkable, and marvelous, and fucking terrifying, and rewarding. It seems like this past year, more than any other, she has morphed into someone so like us and so apart from us. And I realize I likely say this every year, so please allow me this redundancy. Because I got to see her each day before my eyes, all day, growing, changing, learning. I got to see her unraveling this puzzle that is her place in life. It has been nothing short of spectacular, and I’m so thankful to be there with her so closely to guide her and just be there for her when her emotions were just too much for her. I hadn’t gotten such a front row seat since she was a baby.

And honestly, that time is so far gone now that I only really have bits and pieces of those memories still in an easily accessible place in my brain.

Time is so damn cruel, how it takes what it wants and leaves whatever it pleases. Like, even ten years later, I can still remember feeling anticipation of her being born. I used to sit in her room, rock in the rocking chair we’d bought, rub my belly, tight and smooth from stretching, and just look at her baby clothes and diapers so neatly folded and stacked. And I would just think about holding her. How it would be to finally have her out of me and in the world. I swear, I can feel her rolling around in me even now. I can close my eyes, and I can be back there. So acutely, so otherworldly. But I can’t remember all of the little things she’d say funny as she was learning to speak. And I can’t remember what her favorite dinner was when she was 5. And I can’t remember what made her scared or automatically giggle when she was 3. I can’t remember it all.

I can remember what her face looked like when she slept. She looks exactly the same even now. The way she stretches and pouts out her lips and squinches her eyes shut. It’s uncanny how she looks like she’s 1 again.

I can remember what she smelled like when I rocked her to sleep when she was 3, having to guess what animal she was every night before she’d let me put her in her bed. I don’t know if there’s something scientific behind it, but I think every person has a distinctive scent because her head still smells the same.

I can remember how her whole self loved me more than anything. How she would sweet talk her way into making me stay in her room with her while she fell asleep. Or how she would convince me to let her out of bed to have a snack and a snuggle just because she wanted to be near me.

And I’m thankful that I can remember those things because there have been many moments in the last year when I swore my daughter couldn’t stand to be near me. When she’d get so mad at me that she couldn’t even look at me. When it would break my heart to send her to her room or take away privileges. And she would look at me with such contempt. And I had to tap into those memories until she would calm down, and then snuggle up to me like nothing had ever happened.

Yes, I know there’s so much more of this (and worse) to come. Please, spare this mom that reminder. I’m already struggling enough to get through this acceptance of her no longer being a little kid. My eyes are spilling over with tears enough while writing this.

But don’t you write these every year? Yes.

And don’t you cry every year? Yes.

I cry because I’m naturally very sentimental and sensitive. But this year I’m crying because I realize just how important these reflections have become to me. I started out writing them for my kids. So that when they’re adults, they can see snapshots of who they were as kids, and how much they were adored. But now I realize that they’re becoming time capsules for me. Because I can’t always hold on to every little memory on my own. My brain has no choice but to file some things in the back where they’re not easy to get to. But when I read these reflections, it’s almost like I can go back in time and be there at any of their ages.

And now that Lily is 10, and spending less time snuggling up to me and more time doing her own thing, I really need these reminders that underneath it all, she’s still my little girl.

And don’t get me wrong, I love how she’s growing up and don’t want to stifle her. I love how she’s taken her illustrations from the paper to art apps on the IPad all on her own. She draws and writes her own comic books. She is clever and witty, and can hold her own when coming up with puns and jokes. She’s become much more aware of her self-image, loving accessories and playing with makeup and trying to look like a little lady. All awhile still loving to be goofy, using Snapchat to make her face into a bee or using the IPad to make her face distorted with the fish eye lens.

She’s still such a kid. She still plays with her Beanie Boos, sometimes recording them and splicing the videos together, adding sound effects and transitions. She plays in our giant sandbox, creating prisons and adventures for Ollie’s G.I. Joes. She snuggles her stuffed animals at night; needs to sniff her pink blanket sometimes; doesn’t want to do chores; hates taking a shower and needs to be reminded to wear deodorant or comb her hair (other kids do need those reminders too, right?). She’s obsessed with Pokemon, Star Wars, and Pusheen cats. She’ll yell at her brother and tell him to leave her alone one minute, and then be on the couch snuggled up with him watching Netflix the next. You know, average kid stuff.

Which I think balances out all of the times when she has conversations with me about topics that should be beyond her age, like politics or human rights. Or when she so astutely observes adults being hypocrites. Or when she calls me or Josh out on something, effectively putting us in our places. Because while she may only be ten, she’s already ten. She’s silly, and talkative, while still being mature and pensive. And that girl reads like nobody’s business. So when she asks to read our National Geographic magazines and then wants to talk about gender roles or female genital mutilation, and she does so in such a respectful, wise-beyond-her-years ways, I sit in awe of her. Because my daughter, who has been on this earth just a fraction of the time as some, can see without any doubt or hesitation, things that others still fight against or refuse to acknowledge. And that makes me so fucking proud to be her “mom-mom”.

So, ultimately, I guess we’re really a part of two worlds with her now. One in which she still comes to my room to get me if she has a bad dream (or if she’s sleepwalking and wants to tell me something weird while still unconscious), and the other in which she chooses her own clothes and is only 4 inches shorter than me. And though she’s almost as tall as me, that crazy girl still tries to get me to pick her up and hold her at least once a day. I told you, she’s silly. 🙂

So, Lily-Boo, a very happy and momentous double-digit birthday to you. I am so proud of who you’ve become, and honestly look forward to each coming day straddling these two worlds with you, even the bad ones when you can’t stand to be in the same room as me. Because even when you’re mad, your pouty face reminds me of your toddler years when I thought those fights were bad. And no matter how mad we may get at each other, there is love there that nothing can break. You’re who made me a mother and who continues to challenge me into being a better mother, and I’m eternally grateful for you in my life. Because without you, I wouldn’t be constantly striving to be a better, more patient, and considerate human. You mean so much more to me than you can possibly realize.

Happy birthday, Pookie. I hope it’s everything you’ve been counting down on your calendar for and more. You’re an amazing, unique, beautiful soul, and you deserve the world. I love you.

The Birds Saved Me

Two years this May is my anniversary, if you will, of being diagnosed with major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression. At the time, I hadn’t realized it was mental health awareness month and how fitting it was that I was finally going to see someone about this problem I’d had, hid, and endured for far too long. And even in going to see my primary care health professional, I had gone in with the mindset that it must have been just stress and anxiety that was plaguing me. But after spewing my guts out to her, and sobbing for a good half an hour, she made me gently realize that no one was supposed to feel as awful as I was for as long as I had been. And thus began my journey into accepting my, and now advocating for mental health awareness.

I can’t speak for every person suffering from some sort of mental health issue. Every person, and every issue is so very different. But I can say with 100% certainty that what I can say for every person dealing with a mental illness is that there isn’t nearly enough information, awareness, and understanding about the struggles so many people with mental illnesses face each day. And I can also say that this needs to end.

And the best way for this to awareness to grow is by those of us living with or loving people with mental illnesses to speak up about their experiences. Because maybe, if one more person can see that they’re not alone in the way they’re feeling, that they’re not broken or hopeless, and that there are people who care about them and will support them, then that’s one more person to get help and then share their experiences so even more can benefit.

While I know I’ve shared bits and pieces of my story before, there’s always more. So, here’s a little bit you perhaps didn’t know before.

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Many people who are close to me know that I love birds. I love having my feeders out and full each day so that I can watch the wild backyard birds in my neighborhood congregate and eat. I know each species that comes frequently, what their calls are, their habits, their mating patterns. I watch for my favorites, and am worried about them when the weather takes a nasty turn. I revel in seeing the babies each spring and summer, and am heartbroken when I find one that has smashed against our dining room window and didn’t make it. I’ve downloaded apps, bought books, joined groups, and researched websites all to learn as much as I possibly can about these amazing animals. And they are. I know this now having studied them for two years. But I didn’t always know this or care at all to learn about them.

If you’ve known me longer than two years, you might wonder when I suddenly became so obsessed with birds. My daughter certainly did, and asked me as such not long ago. “Why are you so into birds all of a sudden?” I think was the exact phrasing. And my answer was this: they saved me.

Two years ago, before I was ready or capable of admitting I was depressed, but was in the deep, dark hole of it, I found myself learning how to mentally check out. I would stare into nowhere, almost like an out of body experience because it was so much nicer than to be present with my feelings. Being numb to everyone and everything was far more desirable than feeling angry, desolate, useless, and out of control. So, I would leave my body where it was, and allow my mind to cozy up into a fuzzy blanket, and ignore the world.

It was during this time, early spring, that when I would check out during meals, I would turn my head and gaze toward the window and stare outside. Well, I imagine you needn’t be a birder to know that many birds start migrating back into our area during this time. And so, as I was trying to check out, a flash of color or a song would catch my eye or ears, and pull me back in. It began happening so frequently that eventually I simply couldn’t ignore it anymore. There they were, flitting here and there, dragging dried grass for their nests, or showing off to attract a mate. And always, always looking for food.

It was at that time as well that my dad put out a couple of simple feeders, and began filling them with seed. And still I would watch. I’d watch and see how different birds preferred different seeds. How some were ground feeders, while others preferred to eat while perched. Some were aggressive, and scared the other birds away, while others waited patiently until most all the other birds flew off, and then picked at the remains.

I watched and watched, and as I watched, I found myself being inside of myself for longer and longer periods of time. And the more I was aware of my emotions, the more I started realizing that I couldn’t continue to live this way. It was either I find help or I lose everything by permanently shutting myself off from everyone else. Everyone I loved. Luckily for me, I was able to recognize that, and did get help.

So, when I say that the birds saved me, it’s not because of some profound realization I had about them, or some meaningful connection I made between us. They saved me because their presence caused me to slowly creep out of the grayness of my mind and thus forced me to recognize that how I was living was unhealthy. I was able to begin a path of recovery, which to be honest, I don’t think will ever end. There is a distinct difference between major depressive disorder and situational depression, and therefore different treatments, which is a topic for another day. But part of the treatment I found was in connecting with something outside of my immediate bubble. And in doing that, finding that perhaps I wasn’t too far gone yet that I couldn’t be brought back. It allowed me to be cognizant enough of my own needs that I was still able to recognize that how I was feeling and how I was acting was not healthy, and so changed all that.

It’s been two migrations and eight seasons since the birds unknowingly filled a void in me that no one knew was there. And they continue to be a salve for me on days when everything still feels wrong.

I love my family. I love my friends. And I cannot express my sincerest gratitude for those who have expressed their care and understanding to me. My love for all of you is immeasurable. But these birds…they are really the ones I owe everything too. Because they don’t even really know I exist, they ask for nothing, they require nothing from me. They don’t want to solve my problems or feel inadequate if their attempts at making me happy fall flat. They simply are. And in their being, I can just be with them. And thankfully, those who love me best know this, and know now to just leave me be with my birds when they see that look in my eyes. Because they know that I’ve found my way of coping. And their love for me respects this therapy of sorts.

Because it is therapy. It may not be exactly conventional or backed in some scientific study, but it’s good for my mind and soul nonetheless. And I firmly believe that whatever it takes, so long as one’s choice of coping or therapy does not inflict further harm on themselves or others, then so be it. We all need different things, and respond different ways. And there’s no right way to live with mental illness.