Balancing a Blended Family #HappyMothersDay

My daughters and me at Jodi's (first) college graduation

My daughters and me at Jodi’s (first) college graduation

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms and stepmoms out there. I want to send a special shout out to those of you who wear both hats. When my husband asked me to marry him, I knew that it was about so much more than a marriage. It was about becoming a blended family. Take a broken family, add me, and ta-da! Instant family. To make things more complicated, we got pregnant right away. In the beginning, I imagined a storybook situation, where I would be room mother, taking treats to every elementary school party. I imagined that our house would be the cool house, where the kids would have friends over for sleepovers and I’d provide lots of snacks and a sundae bar.

Juggle BallsIn reality, I struggled to juggle it all.

My pregnancy went south and my daughter was born at 28 weeks, had several surgeries and spent months in the hospital. In my imaginary world of being a stepmother, I overlooked the fact that my stepdaughter had a mother. I didn’t think about the fact that holidays would be fraught with stress. My daughter needed physical therapy, occupational therapy, and lots of doctors’ appointments. Life was not as I imagined it, in any way, shape or form.

But we survived. And this Mother’s Day reinforced the fact that I did the best I could, and that I did something right (though Lord knows I did a LOT wrong). My stepdaughter called first thing this morning and wished me a happy Mother’s Day. She came by and we went to brunch. This afternoon, my daughter called and wished me a happy Mother’s Day, then came by to see us after work. I am so proud of both of them. What I wanted for them was to be happy, healthy, independent women. And they are.

So, if you are about to embark on the wild roller coaster ride of motherhood, I have a few tips for you:

  • Sometimes you’ll have to work when you really want to take cupcakes to the school party. Don’t beat yourself up. Not everyone can do that, and the kids won’t remember in 20 years which mom made cupcakes.
  • If you don’t have time to make real treats to take to the school party, it’s no big deal. Buy chips or cookies.
  • When your kids want to have friends over to spend the night, don’t say no because your house is a mess. Big friggin’ deal. Get over it and let them have friends over.
  • Don’t worry about your kids keeping up with everyone else’s kids when it comes to clothes, cell phones and activities. Focus on YOUR kids, what they want and what you can afford.
  • Don’t get a TV for the kids’ rooms. Even if you’re all sitting together in the living room watching TV, you’re doing it together, creating shared memories.
  • Make memories. It’s not about how much you spend, it’s about the time you spend together. Color Easter eggs. Visit Santa Claus. Go to parades. Make green spaghetti for St. Patrick’s Day. Go fishing.

Social Media: Lurking or Living?

Clock fleur de lisSocial media is a time suck. You know it and I know it, yet I can’t quit. It’s kind of addictive. Once I pull that feed up and start reading, I keep reading. Post after post. Meme after meme. I want to know what everyone is thinking and doing.

Last night I asked my 19 year old daughter if she saw something I posted on Facebook recently. She shook her head and said she doesn’t really read her Facebook feed very often. As I laid awake in bed last night, I thought about that.

When you are on social media, do you read obsessively? Do you look to see what everyone is doing and saying? Who likes this, who doesn’t? I catch myself doing that with my posts. Is anyone reading what I write? Does anyone care? My Instagram feed is full of beautiful people in exotic places, or creative types that are running successful businesses (all while looking perfectly put together). I compare myself to them, wish my photos were better, wish my house was neater, wish I had a decorator’s eye. Come on! Get real! That’s like looking through a peep hole, watching people – and seeing only that tiny bit of their lives that they choose to share.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That’s lurking.

 

 

 

Or do you occasionally post an update, fill people in on what’s going on? Is social media a tiny slice of your life? Does it fit in between your activities, here and there, as you have time? Are you DOING things that enrich your life and make you happy?

http://lorilrobinett.com

Katelyn & me at Silver Beach

That’s living.

 

 

 

 

We need to disconnect from social media, lift our heads, open our eyes and look around. What’s around you right now is LIFE.

Get out and live it.

Strong Women: When Your #Baby is a #Preemie

Mom 001You may already know that my youngest has had some health issues. What you may not know is that before she came along, I was weak. I passed out when the nurse pricked my finger when I went in for my first prenatal appointment. I couldn’t stay in the same room when the vet examined my kitten. The thought of going through childbirth terrified me. I worried about everything – the pain, what life would be like, if I could handle being a mom.

Then, on June 22, 1995, I left my doctor’s office, drove myself to the hospital and 15 minutes later, my kiddo was born by emergency C-section. She had her first heart surgery when she was a day old, her first brain surgery when she was three weeks old, and another when she was three months old. Pretty rough stuff for a 2 lb 7 oz infant. I was in pretty rough shape, too. During my stay at the hospital (part of it in ICU myself), I was poked, prodded, and so much blood was drawn, it really didn’t bother me anymore. Our tiny baby spent three months in the NICU. During that time, I discovered that I was so much stronger than I ever dreamed. Suddenly, the little stuff didn’t matter as much. I shifted into survival mode.

But the moment I realized how strong I was was when my kiddo needed surgery at 2 1/2 years old. Her shunt failed. She needed a new valve and catheter into her brain. The surgery went well and she was released the same day. We took our little girl home with a c-shaped scar on her head, thankful for the good docs at the University of Missouri. A week or so later, I sat in the neurosurgeon’s office with her in my lap as the doctor pulled staples out of her head (you know, what he used looked a lot like what I use to pull big staples out at the office . . . ).

If anyone had told me that I’d be able to do that a few years before, I would’ve shaken my head and declared confidently, “No way!”

She needed another surgery when she was 11, and just last month, she needed another. This most recent one was difficult for different reasons. My kiddo is now living on her own, an adult. Yet, it was just as hard to watch them take her away to the O.R. as it was all the other times. I still waited anxiously to see her after it was over. This time she didn’t want me to stay the night with her, she wanted her boyfriend. Though that hurt my feelings, I left them together at the hospital, glad that I’ve raised a daughter who is strong enough to deal with her health issues.

The obstacles that life throws at you make you stronger. I tried to incorporate that in my book, Denim & Diamonds. I wanted Beth to start off unsure of herself, and wanted her to grow throughout the story – to find strength that she didn’t know she had.

Tell me about your strength. When did you discover you are stronger than you thought?

Finding my Zen: Breathe

Those of you who’ve followed my blog for a while know that the past year and a half has been extremely trying for me. At one of my lowest points last summer, I visited a therapist on the advice of my family doctor. The therapist encouraged me to explore Mindfulness, and to consider taking a class.

Although I didn’t take a class, I did explore. Several quotes over the years from my sister-in-law about Buddhism resonated with me, so I began reading. Two sites were especially helpful, Zen Habits and Tiny Buddha. There were days I did not know how I could possibly continue, and that’s when I turned to Zen Habits and started with the basics: a simple post called “Breathe.” That staple helped me get through the rough points. When tears threatened or when I felt the weight of the world upon my shoulders, I could breathe. Couldn’t do much else, sometimes.

I know the holidays are often very difficult for people. There are times it seems that happiness is all around you, and you feel like an island of pain and suffering and doubt. Even in those moments, you can breathe. If you are having a difficult time, take a moment to read that simple blog post and DO it.

Trust me. You are stronger than you think.

 

#Introvert

Decorations

Decorations

Yesterday we hosted a BBQ to celebrate my step-daughter’s graduation from college. I’m so proud of her, and was thrilled to host a party so that everyone could let her know what a big deal this is and how much we all want to support and encourage her. It was wonderful, and I had a good time.

But here’s the funny thing. I dreaded it. The idea of having lots of people here. Wondering if everyone would have a good time. Trying to figure out how much food for how many people. Thinking about drinks. What about alcohol? Good idea? Bad? I didn’t get all the decorations done. It was hot. Would people get too hot? Were there enough chairs? How much tea did I need to make? The house was a mess. I couldn’t clean fast enough. I hauled 2 boxes of stuff to the Salvation Army.

The Grad

The Grad

And now that it’s over, I’m exhausted. Totally and completely exhausted. Drained.

I think it’s because I am an introvert. I’m happiest when I’m alone. Would be perfectly happy as a hermit, most of the time. Some people freak out being alone, wondering what they’ll do, how they’ll survive. I’m the opposite. I need time alone to recharge. And, I have to admit, I’m a bit jealous of my stepdaughter, who is such a happy, delightful person – someone that everyone enjoys being around. She just makes you smile. Proof is in the pic. ;o)

How about you? Introvert? Extrovert? Whichever – how to do you recharge?

Putting On a Happy Face

Recently, I posted something slightly negative on my Facebook page.

Feeling really grouchy & irritable today. You know, more so than usual. Thinkin’ it’s a good day to keep my head down and buried in work.

A friend responded.

Oh, dear – and you seemed so happy yesterday! Hoping it’s a temporary grouchiness and you’re already feeling better. <hugs>

Seeing that post really did help. Those virtual hugs aren’t just data. They’re emotion.

And that emotion that transmits via social media is why I’m generally careful about what I post. There’s research that indicates mood spreads via Facebook (check it out here), and I have no desire to add to the negativity in the world so I put on a happy face. I do the same thing at work, most of the time. I smile. Pretend I’m not hurting. Pretend everything is OK. And I bet others do the same thing. Does that give others a skewed view of our true selves? Probably. Does it serve a purpose to share those darker feelings? Maybe. Probably depends on why you share your darker feelings.

The reality is, my 18 year old daughter ripped my heart out about a year ago, days after she graduated from high school. Recently, I’ve seen pictures on Facebook of prom and posts about senior events and graduation. Those memories will forever be tainted for me, because they feel like a lie (yeah, yeah. I know they weren’t truly a lie. But they FEEL that way). On top of that, we had to have our 13 year old yellow lab put down last month. And now it looks like we’re going to have to have our 14 year old miniature schnauzer put down, likely on Saturday. If, that is, I can bring myself to make the phone call.

So, no, I’ve not been happy. I’m hurting and angry and disappointed and frustrated. But that’s OK. Those feelings are natural, legitimate feelings. We should not be afraid to share them with others, but neither should we let those feelings wrap their tendrils around every aspect of our lives. Do your 500 friends on F/B need to know that you’re feeling a little down today? No. But a quick post to let people know how you’re feeling is OK. Maybe you’ll even get a virtual hug that makes you feel better.

But remember that there is life outside of Facebook.

Acknowledge the feelings.

And then practice a little self-compassion.

 

 

Empty Nest: First Easter

Peeps - Star Trek Style

Peeps – Star Trek Style

This was our first Easter as empty nesters. It seems like I’ve gone through the entire year marking the holidays, marking the firsts, feeling melancholy about the change in our status. Instead of looking backwards, I prefer to look forward. It is a conscious thing. Being happy is a choice. I chose to:

  • Remember the Easter baskets I gave the girls.
  • Remember the time I got the Easter Bunny to visit Jodi at school.
  • Enjoy spending time with my husband.
  • Enjoy the new freedom of being an Empty Nester.

 

Being an Adult

I’m tired and frustrated. I am so tired of seeing and hearing about young people who want to be treated as adults but do not act like adults. I am so frustrated with almost-adults who have no concept of personal responsibility.

In my job, I sometimes work with collections for a university. It is amazing how many parents call wanting to “fix” things for their child. I’m not saying I haven’t tried to fix things for my kids, but I generally encouraged them to fix things on their own or at least tried to talk through options with them.

But here’s the rub – at some point, that child is no longer a child. He/she is signing contracts as an adult and Mommy and Daddy aren’t always going to be able to fix things. That online college application that “Little” Joey clicked through may well have been a signed contract agreeing to do X, Y and Z or pay a penalty.

We’ve all heard of helicopter parents. I get it. The parent doesn’t want the child to face dire consequences, doesn’t want the child to be hurt (physically or <GASP> emotionally). But it’s gone too far. Now there are snowplow parents who bulldoze a clear path for their kids. (sorry – kinda mixed my metaphors there, but you get my drift. Get it? Drift . . . Ha!).

Somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten that children grow into teens and then become adults. At what point do you clip the apron strings? Even worse, how does the child survive if he/she decides to sever those apron strings and launch into the world at 17 or 18? Does the mother who told me she had to pay someone to give her son a job really doing him any favors?

Mother Hen (courtesy of WANACommons)

Mother Hen (courtesy of WANACommons)

And so I offer these tips both for the parents trying to prepare kids to leave the nest, and for the kids who are flapping their wings.

Being an adult means:

  • Living on your own, whether it be an apartment or a dorm. A dorm isn’t totally like living on your own. It’s kind of like a halfway house for probationary adults.
  • Checking your mail. That’s how bills get to you. That’s also how you will receive old-timey communications like greeting cards.
  • Reading what you sign. Contracts and housing contracts aren’t going to be limited to 140 characters and they’ll contain actual words instead of “OMG, U R prolly going 2 B L8 w the rent & B evicted.”
  • Paying your own way. Your parents and student loans aren’t always going to be there to pay for your granite counter tops and flat screen TVs.

Live Today

Live Today

Live Today

Live Today.

Those of you who follow my blog know that 2013 was a very difficult year for me. I began the year on top of the world, excited for my daughter who was about to graduate high school and embark on the excitement of life as a college student. My excitement was cut short when she ran away, moved in with her boyfriend, and decided not to go to college.

What does that have to do with living today?

Everything.

See, my world crashed around me that Thursday night she didn’t come home. I felt as if my heart had been ripped out of my chest. Everything around me seemed surreal. My blood thudded in my ears so loudly I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t stop crying. How could I possibly go on?

THAT is what living today is all about. Learning to survive. Everyone goes through horrible experiences at one time or another. We had already been through bad times, my husband and I, when our baby was born extremely prematurely. We didn’t know if she would make it. We didn’t know how we would go on if she didn’t. But I put one foot in front of the other. I went through the motions – forcing myself out of bed when the alarm went off, driving to work in a daze, eating because I had to. And when she left home, I found myself going through the motions again. My therapist suggested mindfulness training, so I explored and found great comfort in the words of Buddha and various Zen blogs. The one that made the most sense to me was on ZenHabits, simply entitled Breathe. I can do that, I thought. Tiny Buddha also helped a lot.

And I could. I turned my focus inward, pictured the cleansing oxygen coursing through my body, the dark hurt being exhaled with every breath. My world began to open again. My husband and I found ourselves getting to know each other again, learning to live as a couple – and learning to enjoy life and all the blessings that we have.

Stop. Right now – stop. Close your eyes and focus on the act of breathing. Know that in this moment, this brief blip of time, you’re okay.

Live your life to the fullest each and every day. Find something that brings you joy. Let go of the hurt. Release the anger. No regrets. No looking forward. No dreading the future. No waiting for tomorrow. Simply live.

Live today.

Namaste, my friends.

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#TBT – College Graduation

Gate Album: Jodi's college graduation

Gate Album: Jodi’s college graduation

First, I have to apologize for the quality of this pic, but I still thought it’d be fun to share. When my stepdaughter graduated and walked across the stage a few years ago, I was so proud of her (and so was her daddy!). I made a gate album for her using the backs of phone message pads as the base, then bound it using my Zutter Bind-it-all. The album was so much fun to make, and it opens this way and that, with different sized pages and a little bling here and there. It turned out really good, and I kinda hated to give it to her! ;o)

She’s now in her last semester of dental hygiene school, and I can’t wait to see her walk across the stage again. She’s done so well, and I’m proud to be a part of her life.