The Impossible Sticker Chart

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Bikram yoga is pretty well known for their 30 day challenges (go 30 times in 30 days), but that is simply unreasonable for me to attempt with a job, toddler, husband, unless they offered like 5am classes and that would be ridiculous anyway. But this summer my studio is offering a 30 day summer challenge, from June 21-August 31. I felt that it was going to be a reasonable, but still not cakewalk challenge, and so I happily placed my name on the 30 Day Summer Challenge sticker chart in the lobby, and stepped into my first (challenge) class. 

At first nothing felt different, but then June clicked by, and most of July, and I realized that there had been some days that I had mentally prepped to go in advance, but things like being on-call, or doing random training, got in the way. And I saw the people around me with their stickers mounting, and I started to feel defeated. How had I felt so good about going 2-3 times a week before suddenly feel so…inadequate? Mid July came and I only had 9 stickers on my chart, and I felt like giving up. Because hello anxiety and perfectionism and those all-or-nothing-thinking of ‘welp, if I can’t do it perfectly, I might just not do it at all! And while I’m at it, lemme just gain 50lbs and eat chocolate on the couch!’ Doesn’t help that there’s this super  annoying  extroverted girl wrote “wins!” on the chart because she finished the 30 days already. And she brags about how she’s really doing a 60 day challenge, on the back of a 30 day challenge she just completed, and that up next she’s doing a 90 day challenge, and that she has endometriosis and is married to an ex professional athlete. Seriously, that chick drops some really personal stuff all in one braggy breath. 

I know I’m not alone in this struggle, but it feels weird to admit, that as an adult, I am struggling with a damn sticker chart. I am having flashbacks to childhood when I wanted to zoom through sticker charts as fast as I could, which I look back on I can’t help but wonder if it was more for the reprieve in between the sticker charts than the actual completion of the case in general. I want to kick the whole thing to the curb, and yet the Italian dinner I’ve promised myself at the end of it is still luring me. Leaving a chart half finished is so not my style, anyway, though I might be causing myself undue stress in the meantime. 

But the lovely side effect of this whole sticker chart debacle, is this immense compassion I am having toward children. As a summertime crisis counselor I meet with a lot of families, and one of the things I find rolling off my tongue with children is behavior modification and sticker charts as a way to motivate kids. And I know it works for some, but I wonder if, for others, it causes undue stress on poor little undeveloped brains. Like I must be good in order to be loved, in order to earn a sticker. 

Boof doesn’t understand. He says, “just stop if it’s stressing you out,” but keeping on is the less stressful option than failing at this challenge. And my brain would just keep tracking anyway, so stopping charting is not going to do shit. Because I’m a perfectionist. And I have an anxiety disorder. And I’m a Bikram yogi who’s gonna finish this damn summer challenge if it’s the last thing I do.

And then after the last thing, I’m gonna eat some badass Italian food with Mari, and drink an entire bottle of wine. Yeah. 

 

 

Embrace the Rain

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Okay, maybe I was a little hard on other moms in the whole bathing suit post I wrote earlier. Like maybe my point was lost, that it’s not so much about wearing a bathing suit (that was supposed to be my metaphor), it’s more about GETTING INVOLVED with your kid’s lives. It’s being in front of the camera so your kids will know that you weren’t just the photographer/bystander/witness of their life, that you were there both physically, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Yesterday it rained. I don’t mean a normal Seattle rain, where it drizzles and the ground is moist (ugh, I hate that word), but it was a DOWNPOUR. I had so much paperwork to do from my on-call day, that I kept Potamus home from daycare and we snuggled in bed until 9:45 and then he watched Wild Kratts and I did my mental health assessments for the crazy crisis counseling day I’d had the day before. It was a perfect day to stay inside, curled up on the couch watching cartoons and working from home. Even the dog was mellowed by the downpour outside.

And then, when Potamus came up for air from his Wild Kratts binge, he noticed the rain. And we were off. Puddle jumping outside in his bare feet (I barely convinced him he at least needed a coat). This kid is so his mama’s boy it’s not funny. I remember the squishy feeling of puddle jumping in bare feet…in college (yes, I went a year without shoes ya’ll), that I risked the judgment from my neighbors and let him be a little barefoot hippie rainy Seattle baby.

I wasn’t wearing a bathing suit, though Potamus probably wanted his swim trunks on. Because it wasn’t about wearing a bathing suit, it was about getting involved. Being present. Puddle jumping with my toddler, whereas a week ago I was swimming in a pool with him, because these moments count. They are the things that we grow up to remember. Like the memory of jumping fearlessly into my daddy’s arms in the swimming pool as a kid, and how on the ride home we’d sing The Muffin Man.

Wear the goddamn bathing suit. Wear the rain jacket. Or take off your shoes and jump in puddles with your barefoot hippie kid. It’s that simple. Really. The dishes will wait. The pounds may never be shed. It’s okay.

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Hey moms, put on your goddamn bathing suit already…

Mari and I fucking rocking our bikinis, ya'll!

Mari and I fucking rocking our bikinis, ya’ll!

It’s a million 90 degrees in Seattle, which is miserably hot because we are simply not equipped for such heatwaves. And so I’ve been spending a shit-ton (real unit of measurement) in my polka dot bikini that I FREAKING LOVE. But with this heat wave, I have also noticed an uptick in stories online about moms and bathing suits and not taking pictures of themselves with their kids because body shame. Literally Google bikini and mom and you will get news stories (don’t get me started on what constitutes NEWS anymore) about women who went in public in bathing suits and literally nothing happened. Yeah, they didn’t implode. Nobody threw eggs on them. Wow, maybe even their kids had a good time with mom for once instead of begging her to leave the lounge chair hidden in the back corner of the pool deck.

I don’t get it. I mean, as a therapist I get it, right, conditioning and stories we tell ourselves and upbringing and a culture of shame. But, in my opinion, if we just strut confidently in the direction we want to go then we will eventually get there. If I overanalyzed every step I took, worrying that my thighs touched too much and that I don’t look like I did in 10th grade pre-babies, I would be a nervous wreck. And my kid would probably drown in the pool because I wasn’t paying attention to teaching him to swim instead of picking apart every little thing that could possibly be wrong with my body.

Just a few weeks ago I was the ONLY mom in Lake Washington with Potamus. All the other self conscious or ill prepared moms were rolling up their jeans and trying to wade around in the mucky water with their toddlers who were filled with GLEE that they were in WATER! And dads. There were dads in the water with their kids, wearing awkward basketball shorts to drag their kid around on an inner tube. And one mom told me, “you’re so brave,” and I was basically flabbergasted because, “huh?” It’s fucking hot lady, why are you wearing jeans in the lake? It’s fucking hot, so put on your goddamn bathing suit and get outside and play in the sprinkler, mmkay? Once you’ve done that, then take it one step further and go to the pool or the lake or the beach and get in the water with them. I promise you’ll be the envy of those hiding in the shadows.

Of Grammies & Buppas

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Potamus is obsessed with the older generation. Where I feel angsty in my relation to members of my family, I fully realize that it’s because I think through all the scenarios, overanalyze motives and past experiences, and think about how I relate to everything around me. Potamus, on the other hand, is just a ball of feeling. He gravitates toward love and the ease in which grandparents can navigate the world of relating to children. They get to provide a 5th scoop of ice cream (ugh, thanks mom for THAT precedent) or sneak him another slice of chocolate cake simply because, “well, he asked for more” (ugh, thanks dad for THAT precedent!). Grandparents get to live in a world of joyful moments without the stress of having to put them down to bed every night or deciding just what warrants discipline. Every time with grandkids can be a ‘treat,’ even if the babysitting duties stretch on for a few hours or the weekend. I’m not going to come home and be annoyed that all the kid ate is popcorn all weekend, because as long as he’s alive, we’re golden.

And Potamus is obsessed with his Grammies and buppas. Literally follows them around and when he sees them he runs across the courtyard or driveway to give them a big hug. It’s very sweet. His experience of my parents, or my in-laws, will be different than my experience, and that’s okay. I loved seeing him take my dad by the hand to a quiet place to play with trains and read stories this weekend when he was overwhelmed interacting with all 25+ family members milling about in my parent’s house. I loved hearing him say, “bye buppa! bye buppa!” all the way down the driveway when we’re leaving either set of them. Grandparents are a special experience of love for our little guy.

Recipe for a long-lasting marriage?

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This past weekend we left the hot side of the state and headed over the mountains to the HOT! side of the state for a little family reunion of sorts. Normally these family reunions are held in campground in Wenatchee, where my cousins spent every summer as kids, but this year it was a different occasion, so we held it at my parent’s/grandparent’s house, which happen to be next door to each other. We were celebrating my grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary, which should be a carefree time of celebration, but instead, emotions and tensions ran high…at least in my own mind and heart.

My relationship to my family is complicated for sure, but the thing that is hardest for me is the very black/white nature of their discussions on things, which is heavily influenced by their brand of evangelical Christianity. And I am not the kind of person that believes things I’m told without putting up a pretty good fight. I might be considered skeptical at best, cynical at worst. And I have the mouth of  a sailor and runaway facial expressions that let people know just exactly how much they’re annoying me without me even having to open my mouth. Maybe I sound like I’m bragging, but it’s not something I’m proud of, really. My sister’s laid back go-with-the-flow personality is one that I covet.

At any rate, this lovely celebration to highlight the fact that my grandparent’s have stayed married for 60 years was quite triggering for me. Not because I don’t think they’ve done an amazing job of staying married, but because in the daily life my family members seem to idolize this couple as the BE ALL END ALL of how relationships should be. And truthfully, on the actually 60th wedding anniversary day, I think it’s great to highlight the beautiful, the good, the inspiring. It’s in all the moments before and after that I wish my family could live in a little more of the grey. Because…honestly…my grandparents aren’t saints.

So when my aunt is giving her speech about how wonderful they are, I can’t help but sputter in my mind” BUT MY GRANDPA BEAT MY MOM WHEN SHE WAS A KID! BUT MY GRANDPA STRANGLED ME WHEN I WAS A KID AND MY DAD HAD TO PULL HIM OFF MY 3 YEAR OLD BODY! HE IS NOT A SAINT!” Of course I didn’t shout that out at the dinner table. But I wanted to. Because I think the celebration of 60 years should show that 60 years is not some fairytale. That it’s two very human people who hurt others, hurt themselves, loved others, made mistakes, tried hard, cried a lot, burned a lot of toast, spent a lot of time feeling depressed, maybe had some benign neglect, worked too hard, didn’t work hard enough…the list could go on and on and on (probably for 60 years, ya know?). They are not perfect. They are examples of a value of sticking with it when maybe they could have (or should have?) broken up years ago. I can celebrate with them that they have made it, that they chose a life and have lived in it, but I can’t pretend that their choice, that their personalities and struggles, have not also negatively affected people, you know? My grandma did pipe up with some of the more difficult things, saying stuff like “it was really hard for many years,” and that they are more softer now, more in love than ever before, so it was nice to have some acknowledgment of the imperfections on her part, but I wish that the others could really acknowledge that, too.

But the kicker was, my other aunt giving a speech, that said, “the only marriages that last 60 years are ones that are built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.” and I stopped listening at that point. Because, really? REALLY? I can give my aunt that my grandparent’s marriage is ‘built on Christ,’ because I have seen them actively use prayer and Bible study and going to church to inform their values and ways of relating to each other. But to dismiss the couples ALL AROUND THE WORLD who stay married for years and years and years and Jesus Christ has nothing to do with it.

Sigh.

I kept all of this mostly to myself, though I did make some snide remarks to my sister and her boyfriend under my breath. And spent a few hours late into the night processing my emotions with Boof about the whole thing. Because maybe I’m feeling unconsciously judged by their rules for how to make a marriage last. Certainly it has worked for my grandparents, but my marriage with Boof feels incredibly strong, even though the way we are operating within the context of what is even defined as marriage is so different than my grandparents. And even, maybe, our definition of what a good marriage is, does not include 60 years, if it is going to hurt one or the other or cause more conflict than splitting up. But here were are, only a mere 6 years into the whole matrimony thing, and I feel like we can make it to 60 without trampling on other people in the process. Openness. Acceptance. Encouragement of the individual. Playfulness. Protection. Listening. Sharing. Working through Jealousy. Celebrating the differences. Laughter.

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Thoughts dear bloggy readers: what is your recipe for a long lasting marriage?

No Poo? No Problem

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Aproximately 100 years ago, The Laotian Commotion wrote about her foray into the no (sham)poo lifestyle and how it had changed her life. I know that some friends of mine had done something similar, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I visited Ruth in Portland that I saw how not washing her curly hair as much had really made a big impact. And I read through The Curl Girl book (even buying my own copy) and for the past few weeks have adopted a very minimal shampoo regimen, from shampooing every day, to maybe once or twice a week at most (and with a tiny tiny dab of shampoo just around the hairline).

Maybe I’m delusional, but holy crap I think my hair is curlier now. I mean, my hair is really wavy that can be coaxed to curl (just like a cat can be coaxed to come to you, for the right price) if I am careful. But I saw a curl, a real one, the boing-boing kind I envied from the Ramona books. Yes, it’s there. And by massaging my scalp in small circles in the shower every day, my hair does NOT feel gross or look greasy. Whoa! I put it up in a bun at night and then the next morning I spray a homemade lavender water spray on my hair to refresh it and voila, curls (okay, okay, waves, but still).

 

Water Loving Genes

When I was a young kid, I was OBSESSED with the water. I mean, obsessed. Like, I wanted to be in the water so badly that my mom gave up trying to control this urge, and let me plunge fully into any body of water over 2 inches deep…in my dresses. Because I was also a super girly tomboy who climbed trees and wore dresses EVERY DAY until I was in 4th grade. 

One of my favorite memories was going to a park with some friends, and normally this wading pool (shaped like an Orca) was dried up (because it wasn’t summertime), but this one time it was FULL OF WATER and I went full on swimming, in a pale yellow dress with puffy sleeves. Pretty sure parenting me was like trying to  stop a rushing river. 

At any rate, I’ve noticed a similar trend with Potamus. He shouts “water!” whenever he sees a body of water, and the other day I had to drag him away from running headlong into Lake Washington. And we had plans that didn’t involve soggy clothes, so I had to say ‘no,’ which resulted in a meltdown of epic proportions. 

It makes me wonder if a preference for swimming, or being around water, is a genetic preference, or just a being-a-kid thing. Because he’s seriously obsessed. Except with showers. He’s not a fan of showers. 

Independence Day for Mama

popsicles for Independence Day @ school

popsicles for Independence Day @ school

In the past 2.5 years, Potamus has slept through the night only a handful of times (with the caveat that he ALWAYS sleeps through the night when he’s co-sleeping in our bed, which has resulted in us just co-sleeping every night for the past I-don’t-know-how-long). It’s hard being the kind of authentic mom I want to be, making choices like co-sleeping that feel good but are also draining on me as an introvert. I want a full night’s sleep. Okay, I’d settle for not getting up 5 times a night (like I did the other night).

People around me have helpful* advice like having him cry it out over a period of 3 days (to 3 weeks!) in order to ‘break’ him of his co-sleeping habit. I cringe at the thought. While this has clearly worked for other people’s kids, and they don’t seem worse for the wear, I just don’t want to go that route. So here I am, like last year’s “I AM SO DONE WITH BREASTFEEDING!” post (where I stuck it out for another 6 months until he weaned on his own) wanting my little guy to freaking sleep on his own for more than 30 minutes-2 hours. Ya know?

So last weekend we went and spent a few nights at my parent’s house in Eastern Washington. And one of the nights he slept shittily. And the next night I woke up at 7 and puttered out of the bedroom with Potamus still snuggled in. And he slept for a good 2.5 hours more. And when he woke up I played to his current obsession with praise, and told a little white parenting lie, by exclaiming proudly:

“YOU DID IT! Buddy you slept all by yourself, I am so proud of you! You’re such a big boy!”

He had a big smile on his face, when he said “I did it!” I wish I had taken a picture of his smile paired with his little blonde bedhead. So freaking adorable.

This week, since that, has been up and down. But I am proud to say, that he has slept through the night TWICE! When he cries out for ‘mama’ in the middle of the night, I go in, and snuggle down with him until he falls back asleep. Every day he’s made it until about 6 am. And last night he slept from 8:30-6 am, and then came into our bed and slept until 8:30. He gets so excited that he “did it!” all by himself, that I’m hoping we’re on a trend toward more independence as a mom. While I cherish the snuggles, like this morning, I also loved sleeping a few hours in a row in a bed all by myself.

Happy Independence Day ya’ll! Stay safe!

This is what two looks like

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This is also what mom feels on the inside being the parent of a two year old. Sometimes I just want to sit on the sidewalk and throw a tantrum, too.

Ugh.

A little less Hillary Swank, and a little more Khloe Kardashian

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notice the pearls…

I teach a community college class for 16-20 year old students who have dropped out of high school. This quarter my students comprised of:

A 17 year old recovering heroin addict.
A 19 year old who checked themself into the psych hospital for three days mid-quarter for suicidal thoughts that they hadn’t had since they were young and their dad hanged himself.
A 16 year old celebrating the year of life anniversary after recovering from an Oxy overdose in a suicide attempt.
A married girl who’s pregnant with her first child.
A few homeless students.
A student who was drugged and date raped at a party midquarter.
A student who narrowly escaped a juvy-life (until they are 21…so 4 years from now) sentence for a crime.

The list goes on, and on, and on. Each student with their own story. Their own life. Their own path to success and happiness.

And I got to witness it all.

In this line of work I come across people who have the mistaken impression that I am somehow saintly for doing “that kind of work,” with “those kind of students.” I’m no saint, believe me. And I think they have it wrong. Because, I don’t really teach these students. My goal, as an educator, is to provide a safe place where community and authenticity can happen. The students teach themselves. They inspire each other. They say, on our final presentation day, things like “before this I didn’t talk to peers, because highschool drama was just so intense, but you guys…you guys have become my family.”

Every quarter there are students who say they wish I could teach their classes forever. And I say that I don’t get funnier or better looking the next 10 weeks, and that they will be glad to move on. And I will be glad, in the first few weeks of the next quarter, to have them visit my class to let me know how they’re doing. They will fly on their own wings toward their own definition of success.

So what does this have to do with Hillary Swank? Or, if we want to go even more old-school, Michelle Pfieffer? These movies were ones I watched in school and thought, “I’m glad there are people who do that kind of work, but what are uppitty white women doing going into that kind of environment thinking they’re going to save the world?” I had ambitions to be an AP English teacher at a high school level. Graduate to the community college level. Then on to a prestigious university, perhaps, immersed in academia.

Maybe I left my pearl necklace at home on the first day of class JUST BECAUSE of watching Freedom Writers in college. Or maybe, somewhere along the way I got in touch with myself and that’s what my students can see. Maybe they notice the confused teenager longing for connection and understanding and a path toward success that lived inside me and informs my everyday actions with them. Maybe they notice that I don’t have to have it all figured out.

I have so far to go. But today one of my students, in her shoutout slide in her final presentation, said “Monk-Monk, I just want to let you know…I think you’re just like Khloe Kardashian.”

She meant it as a high compliment. And in reference to me saying that as an introvert I often come home and drink a glass of wine and watch The Kardashians on TV. I am their teacher, and Khloe Kardashian would play me in a movie. I kinda dig it.

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I wish you could all meet my students. Maybe someday you will. When they reach their goals of tattoo artist, trauma nurse, civil rights lawyer, software engineer, animal trainer, makeup artist. Their future shines so bright I’m gonna need shades to watch them soar into the sun.

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