Minimal Embrace

Catchy title, hey?  I know, I’m a nerd.  Sorrynotsorry.

So today, I’m going to take a minute (or many minutes) to talk about something that has been on my mind an awful lot recently: minimalism.  I know that it’s having a moment, but even for my dislike of trends, I feel that it’s an important movement in North America.  I specify that because minimalism is only (and can only be) a trend on a continent that is as focused on materialism and consumerism as we are here.  In other parts of the world, there isn’t even a word for the way of life that minimalism represents, because it is so fundamental to day-to-day living as to not be worthy of a moniker.

I am not a minimalist.  My husband would laugh long and hard at me calling myself one (or, rather, he’d snort in the sort of mild amusement that all of my fanciful claims about myself are greeted with).  I am, as the french would say, a “slob.”  I love stuff.  And things.  In fact, stuff and things have, for the vast majority of my nearly 32 years, been my favourite.  I shop habitually.  I buy with the sort of impulsivity of a toddler.  There is literally no resistance between my “I want this” thought and the squeezing of my trigger finger.  I know my credit card information by heart, and my Canada Post delivery person by name (shout out to Frank, yo).  In addition to my shopping addiction, I am a hoarder.  I am a firm believer that “one day” this L-shaped wrapping paper cast-off will be the perfect shape for wrapping something, and nearly everything that I own becomes imbued with some sort of emotion that makes letting it go feel impossible.

But having kids has changed things for me.  Or at least, it’s STARTED to change things for me.  You don’t realize, when you bring home a baby, how very much STUFF is going to come along with it.  And then, when you’ve wrapped your head around how much stuff a baby comes with, you hit the toddler years and remember how naive you had been when you thought a BABY came with a lot of stuff.  And, to top it all off, you’re actually HOME to see all of the STUFF all of the time!  In our house, my husband is a natural minimalist.  His design sense is most kindly described as spartan, and he so regularly throws things out that one time, when my daughter couldn’t find her bath toy, she legitimately said to me “mommy, maybe daddy throwed it out?  Should we ask daddy if he put it in the garbage?”  (for those wondering, yes.  Yes.  He throwed it out.)

But what we can’t bring ourselves to throw out finds its way to our undeveloped basement (affectionately referred to around these parts as “Mordor”) where they simply wait, cluttering up our house’s subconscious like Norman Bates’ mommy-issues.

And so, increasingly over the last two years, I have found myself with a growing sense of restless discontent.  I did not, at first, associate it with my cluttered existence, and searched around aimlessly for its root source.  Was I unhappy in my job?  Was it that I was unfit for parenthood?  Did I need a new hobby?  I settled on the fact that our house is too small and too removed from nature and blamed that entirely for how I was feeling.  If, I thought, we only had more square footage, I would be happy.  If we lived near the river valley… or walking distance from shops… I’d be happy.  I expressed these beliefs to my husband, and we began planning to house hunt.  But it was in these conversations that I really started to analyze WHAT was making me unhappy.  What was making me want to move?  Our stuff.  I was trying to escape our STUFF.  I was unhappy because I was living in a world centred on the belief that I would be happy WHEN and IF something happened.  If you know me at all, you know that I am like an introverted bloodhound – a veritable Sherlock Holmes of my own interior landscape – so once I realized this fact, I started the hunt to find the root issue and suss out a possible solution.

When I looked at why I was unhappy and restless, it had a lot to do with the stuff in my life.  My house was too small and not decorated the way I’d like, my closet was full of clothes but I had nothing to wear, I didn’t have enough time and energy for the activities that I love doing, and I always felt stressed about money.  As I reflected, I realized that this had a lot to do with my attachment of happiness to things.  Like that I couldn’t buy myself skinny, but I could buy myself the magic pair of pants that would make me FEEL skinny.  I couldn’t buy myself confidence in my parenting, but I could maybe find the perfect toy for them that would make me FEEL like a good mom.  I had a hole inside of me and I could feel it, but I thought that maybe I could fill it with THINGS and it would go away.  Sadly, all of those things were only making the hole worse.  I didn’t have time to read during the day, because I had mountains of laundry to do.  I couldn’t bake, or paint, because our house was a mess – and cleaning takes forever when every conceivable surface is covered in stuff.  I wanted to put on clothes and feel good about myself, but I’d stare at a closet full of clothes that were just not QUITE right and end up throwing on the same pair of broken in denim and an old sweater and feel like a slob all day.  The stuff I was buying to try to keep myself happy was actually accomplishing the opposite effect: I was more unhappy BECAUSE of my stuff.

I started thinking about my kids.  Do I want to raise them this way?  So that when they are 32, they look at their lives and think, “I could be happy if only I had x and y?”  No.  I don’t want that for them.  I don’t want them to feel the sort of vapid emptiness that I felt when I looked around my life this past fall.  I want for them to know contentment and gratitude.  I want them to know peace, and to accept themselves as they ARE, not as they might be, if only they were to _______________.

I was happy as a child.  Incandescently so.  I was restless, sure, but in the passionately restless way that all children are – before age slows that youthful restlessness of body and spirit into stagnation.  My memories of childhood are sepia-toned and exist in a perpetual summer, where I still harboured the belief that, if I swung hard enough, I could swing all the way around the top bar of the swing set.  My memories aren’t of toys, or things (with a few very notable exceptions); my memories are of time well-spent and well-wasted.  Of times where boredom flourished into imagination, and adventure was always at hand.  Where I had no fear of failure, because every try was a success in and of itself.

I want that back.  I know, though, that I can’t have it again, in the way that it once was… I’m older now, and life is no longer a sepia-toned summer.  But, if I try really hard, maybe I can give my kids those same memories to anchor them and inspire them.  Memories that aren’t bought and paid for in cash, that don’t happen in a bigger house, or in a fancier car; but that are bought and paid for in time and focus.  In attention to the world as it is now, and in a deliberate savouring of these precious moments we have been given.

I need to find that time, that gratitude and focus, that intentionality.  I think it’s here somewhere, buried beneath all my stuff.  I am, as of these past few months, clearing things out to make space for those moments to be found and, at times, I have seen those hidden moments glimmering in the newly empty spaces in my house; I feel the tantalizing hints of fullness in my heart that I have been searching for.

I hope to share more about this in future posts – what I have done so far to live with less and to simplify, and what is to come for this aspiring minimalist and (hopefully) reformed mindless consumer.  Stay tuned.

 

xo,

Mediocre Mom

Bell Let’s Talk Day – Momming with Mental Illness

So I’ve been away for a while.  First, I took some time off for Christmas.  Then, I realized I was online too much, so I wanted to sort out my priorities… and then, my depression acted up.  I like to think of depression as something like arthritis: it’s always there, but sometimes it “acts up.”  In many ways, to me, that’s the most accurate description of depression.  I can still get out of bed.  I can still interact with people, and laugh, and chase my kids.  But it’s harder – almost impossible – on the mornings where my depression is acting up.  It can be affected by the weather: I have a much harder time dealing with depression on cold, dark days than on sunny ones (though this is not always the case).  In addition to the physical similarities, I also see a commonality in the way that people treat depression and arthritis.  If you have arthritis (or any chronic pain condition, like fibromyalgia), you know what I mean when I say this: people don’t want to hear you talk about it.  The first time you are with someone and you are having a flare-up, you tell them about your condition and they are sympathetic.  But if every time you’re with them, you move slower, or you complain (or even mention it), they eventually get tired of hearing about it… or at least it sure feels that way to you.  So you start to pretend that it DOESN’T bother you.  You smile through the winces; you get up and participate, even if all you want to do is sit and cry.

That.  That is depression.  Or at least what it is to me.

I have what is called, in some schools, “high functioning depression” because I can live a “normal” life, even when in the throes of mental illness.  I can camouflage.  I smile, instead of crying.  I play with my kids, and talk to friends, instead of staring at a wall.  I work, instead of sleeping.  I have learned what I look like when I’m “normal” and I emulate those behaviours as closely as possible.  I usually feel like people just don’t want to hear about it (even if that’s simply not true, it’s how I FEEL when I’m there), and that I can’t use it as an excuse for withdrawing from the world, because my friends/coworkers/family deserve better than that, even if it’s what I need for my own well-being.

And this is especially true as a mom.

How do you explain to a 2 year old that you literally can’t talk to her because it is taking every ounce of your energy just to be in clothing?  Or that you can’t walk to the playground today because the struggle to put together more than one-word sentences is simply too overwhelming a task?  My desperate desire for her not to see me having Rochester’s-first-wife-in-the-attic moments is so strong that I power through.  My intense need not to somehow pass this on to her, like some kind of mental flu.  It’s like jr high track and field: you HAVE to participate, even if you’d rather cut your own legs off than race the 800 meter today.  I get in my lane and run the damn race; it’s just that I’m running the race in knee-deep mud, so every stride takes 10 times the effort that it should.  And even when I know it’s not true, it feels like my lane is the only one with this mud in it – like somehow all the other moms got clean lanes.  So I’ll show up.  I’ll race.  I’ll put on my runners, I’ll get in my lane, and I’ll run this damn race like my lane isn’t full of mud.

And the cycle, as vicious as it is, requires that I then recharge from the herculean effort of doing something totally innocuous with copious amounts of sleep.  If you’re a mom, you already know the punchline: sleep is not something easy to come by as a parent.

That’s it.  I don’t have advice.  I don’t think of myself as somehow “better” than other people with depression, just because I can force myself out of bed.  Trust me, there are days when I can’t.  I understand the crushing weight of it.

So, moms out there with depression – I feel you.  A wild, sad, emphatic salute to you in your struggle.  For days when you show up, and days when you can’t.  Days where you smile and laugh and chase and tickle and days when you stare at a blank wall while your baby naps.  For the times you swallow what you want to say and say “I’m fine” and days when you can’t, and you cry when you’re asked if you’re alright.  Stay strong.

This is my annual post for Bell Let’s Talk Day.  I started trying to be more open about my mental illnesses several years ago, starting with a post on Bell Let’s Talk Day on facebook that marked the first time I ever openly anounced my struggles, and I want to end this one the same way I’ve ended them all: if you are struggling, reach out to someone (if you can) and know that you are NOT alone.  If you aren’t struggling, reach out to someone who might be.

A Hundred Excuses

I haven’t posted in a month.  I have a hundred excuses why.  Some are more valid than others, but none of them are the full truth.

Excuse 1: I had family come in for a visit.  They drove from Ontario to visit with us and, as the designated stay-at-home-for-right-now mom, I was more than happy to escort them about the city, showing off the place I love.

Excuse 2: Holidays.  Between thanksgiving and Halloween, a lot has been going on.  G had her first movie experience, we have carved multiple pumpkins.  We have baked and eaten that baking.  I have gained back all of the weight that I had lost… you know what they say: Thanksgiving is the beginning of the end for every weak-willed dieter.

Excuse 3: I am a bridesmaid in a wedding and the bachelorette party was in Canmore last weekend.  A LOT of my focus had to go into that.

Excuse 4: L is in a BAD sleep regression.  G had them when she was a baby, but not like this.  I am getting absolutely no more than 90 minutes of sleep at night and only a few small breaks during the day.  I love him to little bits but I may leave him in a box on the side of the road with a “Free Baby” sign pretty soon.

 

Ok so not 100 excuses, but four.  Again, all of them real reasons why I have been lax in my blog posting duties, but none of them cover all of it.  The real reason was one that I hadn’t been able to recognize until I was at my book club last Thursday.  My book club, which has only had two meetings so far, is made up of women that I’ve never met, all of whom are small business owners or entrepreneurs.  They are incredible.  Beautiful inside and out, these women work their tails off to live their dream and to make their visions reality.  I was overwhelmed, surrounded by them, by how strong and utterly RELENTLESS they are.  Our book for October was “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington and while we all agreed that it was sort of “meh” overall, it had a few interesting points that became deep conversations for us.  One of the key points was hit on the head by one of the other women: we are constantly told to question our own abilities and value.  We have these deep desires and wants in our lives… oftentimes involving dreams we want to pursue.  But we stop ourselves.  We stop because we think of finances.  We think of responsibilities.  We think, most of all, “who am I to do this?”

And that line is what struck me.  “Who am I to do this?”  She was speaking of her own experiences, and yet it was like she was giving voice to the fear that hides in the back of my head: Who am I to think that I am worth hearing?  Who am I to think I can speak to this or that?  Who am I to think anyone wants to hear what I have to say?

For all of the many concrete reasons I had given myself for putting off posting, this was the one that they hid: my deep insecurity that no one should care what I have to say; that it is arrogant for me to think that what I have to say is worth being heard at all.

I recently read a piece by Joan Didion that talks about self-respect and the struggle to find it.  She likened it to a “well-lit back alley” where all of our self-knowledge waits to essentially mug us with the truths behind our masks and self-image and reputation:  here lurk the truths you can hide from everyone but yourself.  I think I LIVE in that back alley.  I am never unaware of my failings, big and small.  I still think about the time I called a kid a bad name in grade 4 and that one time I didn’t stand up for my mom when I should have.  I’m aware of the frustration I feel when I’m with my daughter – the short-tempered cruelties that shame me deeply.  I can’t pretend with myself to be any kind of parenting sage because I know too well the truth of myself, and to write any kind of piece that says otherwise is to be inauthentic.

It’s a funny duality that I have found in motherhood: I jealously remember the times in my life when I was truly seen, now that I am permanently relegated to the background of my children’s lives.  I once was the sun, with everything orbiting around my life, but now I am just one of those planets, orbiting G and L while they shine.  I guard the precious memories of my life BEFORE when I was Danielle and not just mom.  When I had interests and independence.  But the irony is that I think my greatest fear is to be truly seen now.  To be seen in my inglorious moments, my frustrated ones, my shameful ones. It’s one thing to embrace the messiness of parenthood – there is a deeply funny side to the trivial failings of our day-to-day lives: the spilled milk, the spit up accidents, the blow-outs.  There is a black humour to the first time your kid repeats the word “fuck” or accidentally does something inappropriate with total, pure innocence.  But it’s a different beast to look at our real failings as parents and as people.  Those are moments we do not want to be seen… and they are moments that I feel I have had more of since I became a mom.

And yet, I believe there is value in it.  I think that there are those moments where seeing someone else be vulnerable allows us a greater connection to both ourselves and one another.  I believe that we are closer when we see each other as human.  Especially in a time where social media makes it difficult to separate someone’s PROFILE from her LIFE.

So I’m back.  I have to believe that there is a value to what I want to say.  Perhaps it will be uncomfortable – for me, for people who read it – but perhaps there is value in that.  If I want to raise a daughter who sees value in her own thoughts and voice, I have to find that value in my own.

Fingers crossed.

 

xo

Mediocre Mom

Remembering What’s Important

I had started on a post about good/bad baby products for today, but honestly I can’t get through it.  I am having a “down” day, which is code for a day where my depression and anxiety is causing me to struggle with personing.  I have had struggles with depression and anxiety since I was pretty young, and some periods have been worse than others.  Being a mom has, unfortunately, triggered a lot of my mental health issues because of the constant feeling of not-enoughness that pervades a mom’s day to day living.

Yesterday was a bad day.  I looked around my kitchen and couldn’t make myself do dishes.  Which, of course, triggered feelings of failure because I was being “lazy” and couldn’t do what I feel is an expected bare minimum for me when I’m home all day.  I was a miserable ball of grump when I went to a pilates class and found out that it wasn’t pilates but *GASP* *HORROR* a barre class instead (“I didn’t come here expecting to do SQUATS for heaven’s sake” she says to the clearly offended instructor) making me feel like a huge bitch.  I went to school to help with auditions where I knew I would be letting everyone down because I wouldn’t be able to help with the show the way I would have before I had kids.  I was late getting home and didn’t have dinner ready.  I was short tempered with my daughter.  I was irritated with my son (Good Lord don’t you eventually reach a point of exhaustion where you just pass out?  When the hell does that happen for a newborn??  He could seriously keep national secrets safe in the face of sleep-deprivation torture).  I ate poorly because I had no energy and then hated myself for undermining my hard work to eat well for my health and milk supply.  I grumped at my poor mother on the phone.  I felt like a failure across the board.  The voice in my head repeated it to me: all the ways that I had failed all of the people around me.  I wasn’t giving enough to my kids, to my husband, to my family, to my job… and yet I felt like I had nothing else I could give… so clearly, I’m just not ENOUGH.

Yeah.  It was a bad day.  Depression, added in to the relentless erosion of parenthood, can be a beast.

In particular, it was my daughter I felt that I was failing.  I looked at her and someone else had put her hair in a ponytail (some well-meaning daycare working) and she had on dirty clothes with her runny nose and her perpetual daycare cold and I was crushed by the feeling that I was letting her down as a parent.  And even with that knowledge, I couldn’t stay patient with her when we were eating dinner (I spent seven damn minutes grilling this steak and you “no want meat”?!).

I was in tears by bedtime.  Not because of her – she is amazing – but because of me.  She’s TWO, dammit.  She wants to play hide n seek instead of putting on her pajamas; she doesn’t understand that I can’t help open the blue playdough when both of my hands are full, and she can’t help it that she can repeat the same sentence – “mommy help with boo paydough? mommy help with boo paydough? – a thousand times without realizing that she’s going to break me.  I came in to her room for the bedtime routine secure in my knowledge that I am a BAD MOM.

And then

We are lying in her bed, reading her story (“David’s Father” by Robert Munsch right now) and I’m lying next to her, with my head propped up on my hand while daddy reads and she yells out the parts that she knows.  All of a sudden, in one of those purely spontaneous moments that only kids seem capable of, she reaches a chubby little arm out and puts it around my neck.  She pulls my head down onto her tiny chest – I can hear her heartbeat like a butterfly through her fleece puppy pajamas – and she puts her sweet little lips on top of my head and says, entirely unprovoked, “I happy mommy.”

She’s happy.

She’s HAPPY.

 

I am not enough. I never will be.  I will never be enough to deserve the love that my daughter has for me… I will never deserve the way she looks to me when she needs reassurance… the trust she feels looking at me.  That’s a form of grace, you guys.  Undeserved, needed, precious beyond belief.  It makes my not-enoughness enough.

xo

Mediocre Mom