Friday, August 28, 2015

I Stand With Cherish

You never think it'll be you---until it is.

You never think the police are going to show up on your doorstep or that you'll make a mistake that causes others to hate and ridicule you---until those very things happen.

Cherish and I were never super close but we hung out in the same groups. I've known her since junior high. I couldn't tell you a single bad thing about her.
And today, as I was scrolling through Facebook to procrastinate getting ready for work, her face popped up in a news article that read "Mom who forgot her baby in shopping cart tells her story".
And just like that, my heart sunk.

In that moment, I had one hope---that her baby was ok. I didn't judge her or think that her mistake should cause her to lose her parental rights. I didn't even consider the ridicule she must be facing until I started listening to her interview.

There were flashbacks and fears that crept in as I listened because although I haven't been in her shoes, I've been in similarly imperfect ones. I've witnessed what mistakes can do. And I've also witnessed the beauty surrounding those ugly mistakes.
I've cried tears of worry, embarrassment, and sorrow. I've wondered if anyone would ever understand or be able to love me the same. I wondered if my choices would dictate how others look at me.

It's a scary, and usually lonely, place to be. But as I've gone about my day today, I've been filled with hope. I've seen people rally around the Peterson's and tell their own stories of their own imperfections.

When you go through something so IN-YOUR-FACE scary, you find out who your real friends are. You are able to see who is going to be there through the messes.
It's hard.
And it's beautiful.

The truth is that this could've been any of us. Didn't I JUST say that in a blog post a month ago? Maybe these stories hit me so hard because I feel like I'm right there but each and every time I read these, my heart aches for the mothers and fathers who love their children so dearly and are raising their children in a safe environment---and yet they now have to fear their children being taken away.

I've been there. Exactly there. And it isn't fair for Cherish. It isn't fair to the others whom this has happened to.
And the most unfair part is how social media users have treated her.
My favorite part of the raw video interview was when Cherish's husband said that he was surprised to realize how many perfect people there are in the world.

Because clearly, those people judging this family or my family or your family have never made mistakes before. Clearly.

Clearly, those people who chose to steer into a panic room at the thought of no charges being filed against Cherish have never done ANYTHING that other people could label "imperfect".

And if you have? If you can read this blog post or listen to Cherish's interview and still tell me no incident from your own life came to mind that could ever be considered imperfect, I'd advise you to hold off casting that first stone---because it still could've been you.

It could've been any of us.

Tomorrow, you might find yourself in an abnormal routine and you might make a mistake. You might forget your wallet---or your child. And although one is obviously WAY more important than the other, it is just as possible to forget one as it is the other.

Really, people, let's consider how much we all LOVE our smart phones (except for me because I still have a dumb phone). Let's consider the amount of time we spend on our phones.

Have you ever left your phone at home or somewhere else on accident?

Chances are, you have. And chances are, you feel a sense of security when you have your phone and it is pretty important to you.

Maybe not as important as your child (Gosh, I hope not) but still...important. And you've left it somewhere before.

When we make these incomprehensible mistakes that cause the police to get involved or CPS to tour our homes, it can be the scariest thing in the entire world. If you haven't experienced this, you can surely take my word for it.
And the worst part isn't the haters. The worst part isn't the other imperfect human beings claiming they would never be in that same situation.
The worst part is how much we beat ourselves up. The worst part comes from within.

Forgiving ourselves for these types of mistakes is the hardest part. It is the hardest, most painful part. It doesn't come easily. It takes time and energy and a lot of support. It takes trust and oh my goodness, it takes God.

It takes God.

So stand with me or walk away but I stand with Cherish. There isn't a thing being said about her that wouldn't be said about hundred of other parents who've made mistakes that WEREN'T on the news---and that includes me.

So stand with us---or be quiet. Keep your judgmental thoughts inside your brain and process them on your own.

Because if/when you are in a similar situation as this one and the police come knocking on your door, you might just be praying that if others aren't going to stand by you, that at least they will stay quiet.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Two Years Later

August 23rd, 2013:
I lived a seemingly normal life as a stay-at-home mother. I had been married for 6.5 years. I was happy.

I had no idea.

No idea.

And although I tell myself I wish I would have had an idea of what was coming, the truth is that I don't.
Because if God had come and told me what I would go through over the next two years, I would've given up. I seriously would've thrown in the towel and said, "I can't handle those hard things. I'm already drowning from this infertility mess and trying to figure out my marriage."

I would've told Him I can't do this hard thing He knew I was going to do.

But because I didn't know, I didn't give up.

On August 24th, 2013, I woke up on a seemingly cheery Saturday and spent the morning with my children. I awaited my husband's arrival from work at lunch time. And when he didn't come home, I knew.

I knew.

And there were no signs other than the Spirit telling me.
I think that's why, although I've wanted to many times over the past two years, I haven't given up on God. I can never discount His presence because He is real. I don't doubt that He is real.

I've broken down about this anniversary twice this weekend, each time with different people. My therapist would say that's a healthy thing---crying in front of people and letting my feelings out---and I think I agree with her. I feel like the vulnerability of sharing this anniversary with others is healing for me. It's not something I do because I am living in the past but because this is a part of me. It always will be. It shapes an essential part of who I am and why I treat others the way that I do.

As I was speaking with my friend, she asked me where I am in the healing process and I realized I could honestly answer that divorce does not run my life. I am healing. I fight my eating disorder. I feel empathy for myself. I feel empathy for my ex-husband.

It isn't perfection. I am not great at being an ex-wife. It's hard work, friends. It really is. But it works out each and every time.

I lost myself as I was going through divorce. I lost faith in myself, love for myself, and I was not nice to myself.
As I was gaining compassion for others, I didn't leave any for myself.

I was breathing but I wasn't living. And there are still days that I don't fully live. There are still hard days where I look at the clock and two hours has gone by and I'm on the couch eating chips and watching television.

I thought I had found my eternity but I hadn't. And although there is nothing I can do about that decision that I did not make, there are still times where it really hurts, where my healing seems back at the beginning.

But I guess the way that I can tell I am healing is that I stand up for myself more now. I fight against the lies in my own head that tell me I'm not good enough. I fight for my children and my friendships and my family. I know the kind of person I want to be and I try my damndest to be her.
I am starting to remember who I was when I was a little girl, long before the world told me who I should be. I am starting to remember how much compassion and love God gave me before I even knew what compassion meant.

And I love her. I love that little girl.

I am her.

This is hard stuff. It has been an extremely emotional weekend because I'm crazy and my mind says, "Two years ago, at this particular time, you were spending time with your husband on a Friday night." "Two years ago, tomorrow, he told you he didn't love you." "Two years ago, you had no idea what was coming and you shattered."

Two years ago, I was left to tell my children why their dad wasn't home yet---and they were angry at me. They were so angry because they didn't understand.

Two years ago, they changed. They had to grow up faster than they should have and it wasn't fair.
It wasn't fair that I had to tell them alone or that they had to split their parenting time. None of it was fair.

But it happened and I am so proud to be the mama of those strong warriors who lifted me up when my world crashed. I am so proud to have seen the ugliest times and the most beautiful times with them these past two years. They have worked hard to heal and they are amazing children.

We stick together. These kids are my buddies and they always will be. My children are the most important thing in the world to me.

Two years sounds like a long time. Sometimes it feels like it's been longer and sometimes it hits me like it was yesterday.

I am proud of where we are as a family. I am proud of who I am.

Although I still struggle and life feels so scary most of the time, I am not giving up. I am not going to let the ugliness of the past two years become me---because there has been beauty too. So. Much. Beauty. So many nights where my kids are snuggled up in my bed and I wonder how God could've given me such amazing children. So many days where my children speak with love and understanding for the heartache of their friends or family members. So many times where Andersen opens my car door or rubs my back "because that is what gentlemens do for their ladies".

They are wise beyond their years and I often stare at them and wonder how they got that way---and then I realize that I am that way.
I am compassionate and loving. I am empathetic. I would find a way to help a struggling friend on the busiest days of my life.
I would.

And it is in these times of realization that I am more fully aware of the love my God has for me because I am His daughter. I am His and He won't ever leave me.

I am lovely not because of the clothes I wear or the make up on my face but for the way that I act and the person that I am on the inside.

These aren't easy things to say. They aren't things I always believe. These are certainly things my eating disorder tells me are lies.
But they are truths.

I am worthy and good and lovely.

And on this day where I painfully remember the trauma that started two years ago, I am reminded that I am a warrior and I have done so many hard things. Among the negativity, love has still won.
Love will always win.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Washington DC: Part 3

I know it's been over a month now but I'm finally on to post # 3 from our trip! Go me! ;)

I think one of the main highlights of our trip for the kids was any time they were able to stand up on the Metro.
Ninja would beg every time we would get on and most of the time, I wouldn't let him but there were a few times where I let him stand.

We started this particular day by going to the Air and Space Museum.
 The kids had fun but honestly, it was a little crowded and I hate crowded places so I didn't enjoy it as much as I should have.
 Ninja loved seeing all of the space shuttles and airplanes.

 And of course, Amelia Earhart's airplane. I'm not sure if it's sad or just funny that a lot of things in DC that were relevant for us can be attributed to the movie Night at the Museum.
 Princess and Lo---seriously, haven't I already mentioned how much this boy loved his older cousin?! He lit up every time she walked in a room.
Future astronauts? I guess we shall see...

Next was the Native American Museum.
 I really thought this museum would bore the heck outta my kids. In fact, I was kind of sure I would be bored. But I really loved it and Ninja didn't want to leave! He found a tv that was playing different narrations of Indian folk tales and didn't move from that area until he had watched every single one of them, which took a while. He was enthralled and kept telling me how cool it was that stars can turn into people or people can turn into wolves, etc. He loved those stories so much.
 Princess was with my mom for most of the museums and I hardly got any pictures of her or got a chance to see what things she enjoyed the most. But I'm gonna just assume she loved it too.
 As we were walking back to the Metro, we came across the above---seriously? Keepin' it real classy, DC.

The next day was the 4th of July!!! We were so excited to wake up and get started.
 We rode the Metro and then had to wait for a bus to take us to Mount Vernon. The kids were such good sports about all of the waiting and picture taking.
 I loved the outfits I had bought my kids for this year. Ninja's shirt says, "Are these people really my relatives?" I found that appropriate for our vacation with our huge family.
 Princess and Nelly, posing for my camera. These girls are hilarious together.

 It was sprinkling when we got on the bus and by the time we got to Mount Vernon, it was pouring rain. We were all drenched and I felt bad that my kids were in flip flops. Oops!

By the time we finished the tour of George Washington's house, the rain had stopped and we were able to stay dry.
 The back of George Washington's house faces the Potomac River and has such a gorgeous view.
 Right behind us is the back porch of the Washington house.
 And this is the front of the house. It was fun to take a tour through it and see all of the different rooms and get a sense of how George Washington and his family lived.
 They had these guards out reenacting some really cool things for us to watch throughout the day.
 We got to walk around the acres and see animals. This is Princess showing off the sheep.

And the kids loved being so close to the cattle.
 Then we headed back to the Washington's back porch to hear George Washington and his wife speak about Independence Day. I had chills and loved listening to his speech.
 Princess had been asked 6 or 7 times by strangers if they could take her picture because of her outfit. Can you tell she was done with pictures by the end of the day?
It was a memorable 4th of July and the best part was spending it with every member of my family.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Kindergarten: Round Two

 If there's one thing I've learned it's that divorce has made me a more protective mother.

Because I was there in the middle of the night, stroking the hair of a crying child who missed their dad. I was there when the confidence level shifted and there was worrying about stability and abandonment.

I watched it all.

And I have to tell you, over these past few years, my children have been some of the most incredible warriors I've ever seen. They've taught me so much about bravery.
I mean, I'm the adult and I haven't handled the past few years as eloquently as I could have but these kids? They've been amazing, all things considered.

Tonight I want to focus on my little man. I've had thoughts of this post in my head for about a month now but I wasn't sure if I could explain it or get through it without crying or breaking down---because my little man is so amazing. So so amazing.

From the time he was young, I knew he was sent here for a reason. I know, I know, we could each say that about each individual child but there was something different when Ninja was born.

I was protective of this boy. I remembering breaking down when he was a week old because we had visitors over and I hadn't held my boy in over 20 minutes. As I cried and the visitor kindly handed him back, I kept thinking, "What the heck is wrong with me? How could I miss a baby that was sitting right next to me in someone else's arms?"

I seriously thought I was crazy.

It's a little funny to me that I am so attached to this boy. He gives me a run for my money. He was our poop painter, our permanent marker wall artist, and he has a hard time not getting too aggressive with other kids when he's playing.
His listening skills aren't great---they're almost non-existent---but we've always been close.

When his dad left, I was so scared for this kid. I was afraid of what divorce would do to his little heart. He was only 3 when we separated.

And over the past two years, I've watched some significant changes in him and some of them have been messy.

I was scared about Kindergarten. I was seriously so so so so scared. I don't want my son to be labeled a 'problem' because he can't sit still or because sometimes he still has daytime accidents. I was worried about him because he isn't a big fan of academic work and he would much rather watch tv or play video games---both of which I try to limit in our home.

Leading up to the first day of Kindergarten, I was worried about whether his teacher would care about him and be able to help him in the best possible way---and I wasn't sure.
I wasn't sure because I don't believe anyone can be the kind of mother that I am for Ninja.

Sidenote: The irony?

Many times over the past year, I have argued with my therapist that I'm not an outstanding mother and that many women could do a better job than me. Each and every time, she would shake her head and disagree---firmly. And leading up to the start of Kindergarten, somehow I can see it now.

I can see how I am the best mother for this boy. It isn't a perfect job but it is what Ninja needs from me right now.

I was still worried on the first day of school. He looked so adorable and our morning was so positive so I made sure to keep my worries to myself so they wouldn't show. As I dropped him off, I felt ok about leaving him with his teacher and I smiled as I got in my car and started my drive to work.

But when I got on the freeway, I was a mess. Tears started to stream down my face and I realized these tears weren't about my fears for Kindergarten but somehow, I hadn't even thought about the fact that it is HARD to accept that my BABY is in school full day.

Because in my perfect world, I would be a stay-at-home mom right now with two or three more children running around this house. In a perfect world, I didn't plan on Ninja being my baby and I certainly didn't plan on ALL of my children being in school full time this soon.

I called my mom and she talked to me the whole way to work. I'm grateful she answered her phone that morning because I needed her to tell me this is all going to be ok.

You'd think this was the end, that our "Starting Kindergarten" story is over but it isn't quite wrapped up yet.

I had picked Ninja's particular school for two reasons: the full day schedule and the curriculum. The bus came and picked him up right at our neighborhood school and it seemed perfect.

And it was perfect---until he got home from school at 4:30 on the first day. Or when he got home at 4:45 on the fourth day.

I started to panic a few days ago when I realized this schedule wasn't working. I didn't want him gone so late and he wasn't doing well in the evenings after sitting on a hot bus for an hour after school every day.

So yesterday, I made the decision to switch him over to our neighborhood school. I called them, set it all up, and went in to sign him up this morning.

He even went with me to take a peek at his new-new school.
I am hoping that tomorrow goes well and that Ninja has another great first day of Kindergarten.
He is excited and I can tell he's a little nervous but I feel so much peace when I think about him being so much closer to me and to our home.

I'm still worried---I don't think that'll ever end---but at least I feel much more at ease.

Parenting is hard. Parenting school-aged children is hard. Parenting children of divorce seems extra hard. But we can do hard things.

In fact, we do hard things. Every single day.

I'm proud of this brave warrior that I get to call my son. He is so special and I feel so lucky to be able to raise him and watch him grow.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Our Very Best

This morning, I was supposed to be doing homework---which seems to always be the story of my life.
The kids were enjoying a "movie morning" with my little brother and I was here, sitting at this very computer, when an article caught my eye.

It was entitled, "The day I left my son in the car", and although I've read a hundred articles of children dying in hot cars, for some reason, I knew that this article wasn't going to be about that. I had this weird gut feeling that this would be a story that I'd find myself feeling rage and empathy and sadness for.

And I was right. 

As she bravely told her story of the day she made a split decision to allow her son to stay in the car while she ran in the store to buy something, I was hoping the outcome would be different than what I expected.

It wasn't. 

The quiet lady who recorded the whole thing and called the police as this mother drove away with her son. The lawyers and court dates and criminal charges. The labels of neglect and unfit parenting.

This could've been you or I. It could've been someone we look up to as a parent. It could've been anyone.

Maybe we wouldn't have allowed our child to stay in the car and play on the iPad for a few extra minutes but more than likely, there would be something that an outsider would believe to be "unsafe parenting" that we could be written up for.

This story brought back an immense amount of anxiety because I've witnessed this before. In fact, I've had personal experiences where my parenting flaws have been viewed as neglectful and even malicious.

And as I've experienced this firsthand, I've struggled with whether my belief in my own parenting style is just a false sense of security I've built. I've wondered if I'm just lazy and incompetent and overconfident in how I parent.

Am I a good mother? 

For a while, I struggled with the thought that there are people who don't believe I'm a good mother. But I've come to the conclusion that there are also people who think you're a bad parent---there will always be those people. 
Whether they judge because they don't know the full story or they judge because they just don't have the same views, it's ok that they think you're a bad parent. It's ok that they think I'm a bad parent.

It's not ok for our different beliefs to turn us against each other. 

I believe a lot of us are "helicopter parents" because of the stories we've heard. We hover over our children because we don't want to be the next mother in the news who let her children walk to the store alone and got her children taken away because of her choice. We are afraid of what others will do to us if they see our parenting flaws.

Even as I type, I can't bring myself to give you examples of decisions I've made regarding my children that others may not deem safe or age appropriate---because what if I write them down and someone turns me in because they don't agree with my views?

It's a valid fear. It's valid because it has happened to the people we love. It is valid because we've seen parents get their children taken away for exact split decisions we have made with our own children.
The only difference is that there wasn't an on-looker who deemed our choices neglectful and we didn't get written up.

But the mother in this article did. And it has happened many times before.

One decision can change you're entire life. We've all heard this statement but what happens when this statement becomes you're parenting nightmare? What happens when you're faced with the fear that your children might not be in their own beds tonight because a court system found you unworthy of raising your children?

This thought gives me anxiety but it also makes me angry.

So many of us are trying to do our best to raise our children to be successful on their own someday.
I know, for me, that is one of my main parenting goals. I have one child who is incredibly responsible but fearful of leaving my side. I have another child who isn't as responsible but would be totally fine leaving my side.

With each of these children, I want them to learn how to grow up and be responsible for themselves. I don't want them to fear life or be afraid that something bad will happen to them.

I'll admit, I've had visions of my children being snatched up by a stranger or getting lost in a crowd. I fear their safety even while they are at school. I am a paranoid mother.
But I try so hard not to let my paranoia deter my children from learning and growing.

It scares me to think of them riding their bikes around our neighborhood without me right next to them. It scares me to think about them going to the movies on their own or staying home without myself or a babysitter. But someday, these things are going to happen.

Someday they are going to be able to make grown up decisions on their own.

And shouldn't I, as their mother, be able to make the decision of when they're ready for that responsibility?

We can try and protect them the best that we can but our children are still going to get hurt. They are still going to make mistakes.

And my goodness, we are going to make mistakes too. We are going to do everything we can to make the right parenting decision and one of these days, it will bite us in the butt because someone might not agree or our children might get hurt.

But we teach them the best that we can. We try our damndest to keep them safe when we can.

Our best might not be good enough in the eyes of others but it is all we can do.