To all my friends sending your babies off to college…you are going to be alright…

To all my friends getting ready to drop your babies off at college, I want you to know it will be alright. Yes, you will cry your eyes out as you drive away and more than likely you will hear every sad country song ever written about babies growing up on your lonely drive back home. You may even torture yourself that first night by digging out old photos and reminiscing about chubby cheeks, first steps and first days of kindergarten. You’ll long for the days when all of your ducklings were safely tucked away in their beds each night under one roof. You will question if you even appreciated those times or did you just take them for granted? How does the saying go? “You don’t know whatcha got until it’s gone”?  And now those times have slipped away and are gone for good. You can’t get any of it back and that is such a sad thought, but you will be alright.

I’m not going to lie, the first couple weeks are hard. Little things like the empty place at the dinner table and walking past their bare bedroom may reduce you to tears. All the arguments over setting that damn table…ugh… and that bedroom, the same room you spent countless hours nagging them to clean, is now so…well, clean. That’s a good thing, right? So why does looking at it make you feel as if an actual piece of your heart is missing? Listen to me, I promise you, you will be alright.

Some of you will have to deal with your child being homesick. Ah, that really sucks. What’s the right way to handle that? Tough love? Just tell them to “Suck it up, kid”?  I mean, how long should you be expected to just sit idle repeating comforting things before finally giving in to your parental instincts and driving out there to rescue your baby? Knowing that your child is struggling will break your heart. Believe me when I tell you it is temporary, and you will both be alright.

Then there will be those little brats who seemingly forget your very existence. Forget about that nightly phone call they promised you. They won’t even answer your texts, let alone call you. Meanwhile, you’re home lying on their bed, in their empty room sobbing into their little stuffed doggie-woggie(the same doggie-woggie that they couldn’t sleep without for the last 17 freaking years btw) imagining them beaten and left for dead in a frat house basement. When they finally get around to replying it will say “k” or “nmhbu” or “good”. You know they always have their phone on them so why can’t they just have the decency to reply in a timely manner with actual words and sentences? This not only hurts but will make you feel furious at times, but you will be alright.

Like everything else, you will get used to all the changes. I promise, you will.  The sting of the transition period will gradually ease up and you will all discover a new “normal”.  Days will turn into weeks and weeks into months. Your baby will come home for breaks and you will begin to see them in a new light. Then one day they will do or say something that will make you realize that they are growing up! MY realization came one day when our oldest daughter was home on a break and we took all 4 of our kids into NYC for the afternoon. With the exception of my hubby, we are NOT city-folk. We have always been content with our quiet suburban life and our quiet neighborhood with open starry night skies and dark backroads connecting us to other quiet neighborhoods. But Taylor went to school in a city and was suddenly able to navigate us around NYC confidently and effortlessly. Yep, my girl was growing up and she was doing it beautifully. We were both alright.

Now, as for you empty nesters, you may need to look for another writer to comfort you. That is a different category entirely.  I still have a full house. Thankfully, my 18 year old has decided on pursuing a 3 year certification at community college and my 10 year old twins are still years away from leaving the nest. So, I can only speak to first timers. Honestly, I will probably need heavy sedation to get me through the empty nest phase. But the one thing I have learned for sure through all that life has thrown at me is that even the darkest nights eventually see the light of day. I’ve always let myself feel the emotions, even the most painful ones,  and I’ve always been alright.

Let’s talk about keeping up with the Joneses…

Let’s talk about keeping up with the Joneses…

No matter how much you have, there will always be someone who has more. And no matter how little you have, there will always be someone who has less. We are living in a society that places so much importance on material belongings that many of us consider our “worth” in only numbers. We try to sustain lifestyles that are beyond our financial means because we think that is where we will find happiness. 

When my husband and I were first married, we started out in a small 2 bedroom apartment. We were an instant family because I already had 2 daughters (who shared a bunk bed in a small bedroom.) I drove a tiny Dodge Neon which we would use to drive around aimlessly exploring our new town, looking at all the houses. We used to fantasize about one day owning our first home together.  I pictured myself washing dishes in a stainless steel kitchen sink with a big window overlooking a grassy backyard, watching the kids play catch with a puppy while my hubby grilled burgers on a full size gas grill (we were only allowed to have a tiny little charcoal grill at the apartment). I imagined cold winter nights cuddled up by a fireplace watching TV and Christmas Eves around a huge dining room table with our entire family singing Christmas carols and baking gingerbread cookies. 

My oldest daughter was in 5th grade and started making friends with “the rich kids” (a.k.a “the kids who lived in actual houses”). They all grew up together in a quiet desirable neighborhood and rode their bikes together to school and had play dates after school. They always invited my kid to THEIR house, which made sense. I mean, why would anyone want to come to our tiny apartment, anyway?  This made me feel as if we were “less” than them. We HAD less than them, therefore we WERE less than them. Right? We decided we NEEDED a house. It was the only way to raise a proper family. Yep, everything would be perfect once we lived in a house.

Well, I don’t think I mentioned that we live in an area that might as well be Beverly Hills. Property taxes alone are almost as much as what it costs to rent an apartment. So, we found the shittiest little house in that quiet desirable neighborhood and we decided we would fix ‘er up. And we did. A few years later, that shitty little house was transformed into a lovely 4 bedroom 2 bathroom updated ranch style home with a big addition and a grassy backyard where we would take turns mowing in the summer and help the kids build snowmen in the winter. We had a minivan and a dog and a guest room. We went for family walks around the block and we hosted holidays. For a while we were on top of the world…

Then the twins came and that 4 bedroom ranch seemed to get smaller by the day. Storage became an issue and the older girls were still spending all their time at other people’s houses because “everyone else” had finished basements and pools and trampolines and cool parents and bigger, better everything.  Once again, we fell short. All we needed was a BIGGER house and everything would finally be perfect.

Onward and Upward! 

*Side Note* I do not recommend putting your house on the market when you have 18 month old twins. Just ride that shit out…

6 months later we moved into a gorgeous center hall colonial with a huge finished basement in THE most desirable neighborhood. I never thought I would live in such a nice house. I loved everything about it. It was so open and spacious with big windows and a grand 2 story family room. In fact, it was so big and nice that all of our furniture suddenly felt too small and too old. This house deserved newer, bigger and better everything. We needed a landscaper and a cleaning lady. And that mini van of ours was sticking out like a sore thumb. Everyone else was driving expensive SUVs. If only we had one of those…

You see where I’m going with this? When is it enough? At what point do we just take pride in what we have and stop comparing everything we have to what everyone else has. Why do we care so much about where the Joneses go on their quarterly 10 day International holidays and if they bring their Swedish live-in Au pair along? Does that make them more important than the Smiths who look forward to their yearly week long stay at the Econo Lodge on Lake George? Is THIS the criteria we use to choose our friends? Is THIS how we are ranked? By our bank accounts? By square footage?

This past weekend we threw a huge party at our home to celebrate our daughter’s high school graduation and 18th birthday. We spent weeks planning and preparing. Even though we wanted the theme to be a chill backyard luau, we still stressed out because our yard is not as big or as perfectly manicured as the yards of some of our guests. We worried that all the younger kids would be bored since we don’t have a pool. We apologized for our patio being a little uneven and a little dark because it doesn’t get much sunlight. We basically appeared to be embarrassed of our home. The same home that was like a dream come true when we first moved in. The home we pour our hearts and souls into daily. The home we are raising our family in. SMDH. I’m ashamed of myself for feeling anything but pride for what we have. 

And guess what? EVERYONE HAD A BLAST! 80 people! Friends and family and neighbors all gathered at our house to celebrate our daughter. They ate and drank. They brought gifts and sang happy birthday. They played corn hole and sat around the fire pit my husband built with his own hands well into the night, laughing and making memories with us. The little boys explored the woods around our property while the girls sidewalk chalked my entire walkway and then ran in and out of the house, leaving their chalky little footprints on the floors. It was one of the most memorable days of my life and it really was an eye opener. 

None of these people give a rats ass about our bank account or square footage, and we don’t care about theirs. Depending on what you’re talking about, some have more than us and some have less. Some may have more money but less family. Others might have less debt but more heartache. And if someone only wants to be my friend because of the size of my house or doesn’t want to be my friend because I don’t dress the part, then, to be blunt, they can go shit in a hat. The end.

Let’s talk about “the pause”…

Let’s talk about “the pause”…

“Practice the pause. Pause before judging. Pause before assuming. Pause before accusing. Pause whenever you’re about to react harshly and you’ll avoid doing and saying things you’ll later regret.” – Lori Deschene

I stumbled upon this life changing quote a few years ago and not only have I been practicing it ever since, but I have been repeating it and suggesting it to anyone who will listen. It has become my life mantra. Make no mistake, it is a practice indeed. It requires mindfulness, patience, strength, the humility to admit failure, the willingness to try again, and the ability to remove yourself from a situation BEFORE you react. SO FREAKING HARD!

Pause before judging… Example: Look, some people just naturally have RBF. It does not necessarily mean they are nasty miserable people. Intimidating and unapproachable, maybe. But I know a handful of gals who could easily advance to the RBF semi-finals without even realizing they were participating in a competition. BUT, every single one of them has a heart of pure gold and would be there for me in a heartbeat if I needed them.  I always think of a new acquaintance with RBF as somewhat of a challenge. It doesn’t take long to uncover what’s hiding behind that tough exterior if you take the time to get to know them. Of course not every case of RBF is just an unfortunate involuntary facial expression, some people really are just plain rude, bitter, emotionally detached bitches. I’m not suggesting you try to push your way in and attempt to change these types. The difference is usually obvious from early on. The RBF cases I’m talking about are mostly people using a defense mechanism because they are either insecure or have been burned by previous relationships. Just don’t refuse yourself a potentially amazing friendship because of a little RBF. Give them a chance to show you what’s hiding inside.  

Pause before assuming…You know what happens when you assume… And trust me,  I have wasted countless hours of my life assuming and jumping to conclusions. 

This bump looks a lot like that flesh eating skin bacteria I saw on the news (it was an allergic reaction to an insect bite). 

She’s not returning my texts so she must be upset with me *spends hours obsessing* (she was dealing with her own stuff that had absolutely nothing to do with me). 

She’s so confident with all these gym posts and skimpy outfits- (she has been struggling with an eating disorder since the age of 12 and actually hates herself).

She is so lucky to be able to stay at home with her perfect family in her perfect home- (her husband is a workaholic prick who is never actually home and most days she just feels stuck. Keeping up the act is her full time job). 

Becky’s vague passive aggressive facebook post is probably about me (well, actually I’m still pretty sure it was).

I’ve come a long way with this one, but there is still much work to do. I’m realizing that MOST of the assumptions my mind naturally jumps to are wrong. So now I use my pause to gather more facts (if it is important enough) or to let it go (if it isn’t).

Pause before accusing

Oh geez. This one. Very similar to the previous one but especially difficult for me when friends ask me for advice. Between my gut feelings as a neutral third party (which are RARELY wrong btw) and my big mouth, I find myself actually biting my tongue and silently reminding myself to “practice the pause” in my head. When a friend is asking for advice about a partner, friendship or child it is so very hard not to say “Girl, open your eyes, he is totally banging that coworker” or “she’s obviously blowing you off for better plans” or “yeah, your 16 year old daughter is definitely having sex or at the very least considering it. I don’t believe for one minute that she actually wants to go on the pill to regulate her period, and neither do you, but I’ll play along”. 

As outspoken and intuitive as I am, practicing my pause has taught me to spend more time listening and less time spewing accusations. There is much to be said, however, about those raw gut feelings. Intuition is a powerful gift. Don’t dismiss it. Just try not to act on it before equipping yourself properly. 

Pause whenever you’re about to react harshly and you’ll avoid doing and saying things you’ll later regret

Y’all, the political posts on social media might be the death of my pause. I think it’s where I almost cave the most. But then I have to remind myself before I hit “comment” that A) I’m really not willing to jeopardize friendships over politics and B) these mofos are cray cray and nothing I say is going to change anybody’s mind. Just keep scrolling. Just. Keep. Scrolling.

It’s painfully embarrassing for me to think back on all the times I wish I had practiced my pause. The knee jerk reactions to text messages and facebook posts.  The “harmless” gossiping. The harsh judgements and unfair accusations. The heated conversations which inevitably led to dissolving friendships. So much acting and REacting without so much as a second to think it through. All the lost hours of sleep wasted assuming the worst. The sarcastic comments that seemed pretty hilarious to me but were not fully thought through and received as hurtful. 

I try not to hold myself prisoner to these regrets as I have learned invaluable lessons from them. Moving forward I will do my very best to pause before reacting, which sounds so easy to do, until emotions are involved. But I’m slowly learning to control my response to emotional triggers. At the very least I will pause and wait a few minutes before flying off the handle. 

Baby steps, I suppose… Just keep practicing.

-Dee

Let’s talk about perception vs. reality

Let’s talk about perception vs. reality…

I posted a series of pictures last week taken immediately after my daughter graduated from high school. I knew the minute I posted them I was going to write this piece. It is a perfect example of perception vs. reality. Obviously I am over the moon proud of her and it was an emotional evening for me to watch my second born walk across the stage and complete her chapter as a  high school student. It was my honor to witness that moment.

But the reality of the photoshoot did not quite match up with how the photos will be perceived.

The pictures all show my husband and me beaming on either side of our graduate who is wearing her perfected gorgeous smile and our twin 10 year olds happily at our sides looking angelic and sweet. I knew I was going to get a record number of “likes” and “loves” on that post. We are pretty good at portraying a perfect little family celebrating another milestone. *eyeroll*

What people don’t know is that following the two hour outdoor (and windy AF) ceremony, after the caps were tossed and the processional complete, it was a motha freaking free for all. Thousands of people swarming around looking for their kids, yelling names over the crowd and bumping into each other.  So. Many. People. By the time we found her, our graduate was stressed out and a little bit of an asshole, the hubby was hangry, one kid was freezing and starving, the other kid was bored and complaining and I was completely windblown and overwhelmed (and a little bit of an asshole myself).

We managed to get it together for long enough to take some family pictures but it was not without hushed threats through clenched teeth and flared nostrils. At one point my husband made the mistake of suggesting that our beautiful graduate wear her cap and gown for the pictures and was given THE LOOK. This look could send Satan himself cowering into a corner begging God for forgiveness. I mean fire actually shot from her eyes.  But the person taking the pictures was ready, so “everyone smile!”. CHEESE! (the pics came out lovely btw).

By the time we made it back to the safety of our car we were all miserable and deflated. We ended up at the McDonalds drive thru, which none of us even wanted, but it was the quickest way to the finish line. We all just needed the night to be over.

My point is, everything is not always what it seems. This is a very important thing to remember especially while scrolling through your social media feeds. How many posts do you see that say:

“Here is a pic of our graduate just moments after she wished us dead. We are now drowning our sorrows with big macs and mcflurries. I hope project graduation sucks for her tonight”

or

“sometimes I feel like I’m failing at everything in my life. My marriage is falling apart and my kids are more trouble than they’re worth”

or

“My husband and I are living beyond our means and we can not actually afford this vacation, but enjoy the pics!”

Nope, that’s just not the stuff people want other people to see. AND THAT IS OK. I love seeing all the highlight reels. I’m just saying that EVERYONE (read: EV-ER-Y-ONE) has stress and drama and behind the scenes bullshit that they don’t share. We are ALL a little bit broken. If you aren’t able to recognize that and you find yourself feeling resentful and jealous of everyone because they seem to have it all, then maybe you should not be on social media.

Everything is not always what it seems. Do yourself a favor and just keep that in mind.

-Dee

Let’s talk about parenting…

My most rewarding role in this life, without a doubt, is being a mom to my 4 daughters. I’ve been a mom since I was 17 years old, so I literally don’t know how to NOT be one. I can’t imagine what it will be like when all of my babies are grown and flown (one already is). I try not to think about it too much, but the reality is that time flies by faster and faster with each passing year and my time as a “mommy” to little kids is precious and running out. I want to cherish every moment.

But let’s be real here…being a parent is so freaking hard. Every stage. The pressure, expectations, and conflicting opinions are exhausting. Should you let a screaming infant cry it out to learn to self soothe or is that going to make them emotionally detached and unable to make connections later in life? Is putting a misbehaving toddler in “time out” going to teach them how to calm down and be reasonable before acting out or will it make them feel isolated and lead to teenage depression? Should you step in when your child is having a problem with a classmate so they know you are always in their corner or do you let them work it out on their own and learn valuable life lessons? Should we be parents first and set clear rules, boundaries and consequences for our teenagers or do we try to be “friends first” so they will be less likely to hide things they are struggling with?

SO MANY ways to screw your kids up, so little time.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I was a baby myself. I know people had a lot to say (behind my back of course) and assumed I was going to completely screw up our lives, that we would be living off the system and that she would eventually become a statistic and find her teenage self in the same situation. I may not have known a single thing about HOW to parent, but I was certain that I was not going to set her up for a shitty life just because she was not brought into the world under ideal circumstances . I made many parenting mistakes along the way, but I worked hard to provide for her. She had a happy childhood. We always had a nice place to live. She went to good schools and always had lots of friends. When she was little I moved her around more than I would have liked but it ultimately resulted in meeting my husband and settling into a better life with better opportunities.  She excelled in high school and continued on to her top choice university and then graduate school. She is now a well educated 24 year old productive member of society with a master’s degree, so all those judgy MFers can SUCK IT.

But, I digress…

Anyway, life took its twists and turns and I now have four children and a wonderful husband and a beautiful home and two dogs and two cars and I work a flexible part time job which allows me to be home for the kids. I have almost 25 years of parenting experience under my belt now, but truth be told, I still don’t know WTF I’m doing most of the time. I’ve never been consistent with discipline, actually I am the worst at discipline. I failed miserably at letting my babies cry it out and to this day I co-sleep with a restless 10 year old. Also, I hated breastfeeding. I make at least 4 parenting mistakes per day and there are days where I would like to just run away and hide from these little humans that keep calling me “mom”.

My point is, there really isn’t a clear right or wrong way to raise your children and we all need to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else. Our family situations and lifestyles and beliefs are all very different. Just because Becky lives in a pristine mansion in the most desirable neighborhood  and breastfed each of her perfectly behaved 2.5 children until they were 2 (and loved every minute of it), had them all potty trained by 18 months, reading by 4 and manages to be on time and showered for every single event does not mean that she is a better mommy than me or that her children will grow up to be happier or more successful than mine. It just means that Becky is obviously an image obsessed control freak with unrealistic expectations and is setting herself up for major disappointment when her children develop minds of their own. Kidding, Becky, kidding…kind of.

I’m not saying I’ll be receiving any awards for my parenting any time soon. Lord knows it’s a circus act gone bad most days around here. I’m somewhat confident, however, that I have lived up to the standards I set for myself a while back. I wholeheartedly believe that if we have provided our children with the basic necessities, a good sense of right and wrong and (most importantly) a safe and loving place to call home, then we have done parenting right.

We need to give ourselves a break. This shit is hard and we are doing the best we can.

-Dee