Breathing in Grumpy Pants

Started the day off strong, with a mind-clearing dog walk and great Peloton ride. But then I must have unknowingly changed into my grumpy pants, because I am back in the same funk I have been fighting for the last few days.

The next three weeks – the last weeks before school starts! – are going to be routine-less. And that’s not how I prefer to roll. Tomorrow kicks off five days of Mama Camp, wherein I aim to create fun, magical days for my children because I want to have quality time with them slash feel guilty spending more money on camps. On Friday we depart for our summer vacation: a little over a week in a little cottage in a little town on a little island in Rhode Island. And then we come home, hopefully relaxed and renewed – is that possible when “vacationing” with two kids and two dogs? – and spend a week gearing up for the start of school.

And, actually, the real school routine won’t be rolling out for a couple of weeks after that due to my son’s preschool, which eases the kids in with teacher home visits and shortened classes and ughhhhhhh…

Breathe.

I love my kids. And someday I will look back and I will miss them being small enough to hold and snuggle. Someday “feehicarole” will be pronounced “vehicle” and that will be a little sad. Ushering these kids into proper childhood from teeter-tottering toddlerdom has been, on balance, an honor and a joy, mostly.

Breathe.

This is the point in the summer when it gets hard. And it’s ok to admit that it’s hard. I’m not the only one who struggles when routine is out the window. It’s hard on the kids too. And when they get exhausted from the relentlessly hot, sticky, and active days, I am the closest and safest target for their crankiness. By this point in the summer I’m basically walking around with one bullseye on my forehead and another on my heart.

Breathe.

I’m taking it too personally, the plentiful attitude and comparative lack of gratitude. My six-year-old, obsessed with fairness, is struggling with being kind when she sees other kids behaving much worse and still getting what they want. My four-year-old wants all of me all the time, underestimating his own capacity for creative play. Nothing I give either of them will ever be enough.

Breathe.

Because that’s parenthood, right? What kid has ever said, thank you, this is enough? I want my kids to be testing limits, experimenting with being kind and being twerps. Because that is how they will learn that the grass is realer on the kind side of the fence. The twerp side? Just turf. It may be green, but it’s fake. And there are more toys and treats on the kind side too, even if they might not be easy to see sometimes.

So where does this leave me? Breathing a little deeper than before I started typing. Feeling a little more empathy for these two little souls who are under my care. It’s tough being a kid, wanting to do and be and play with and create so many things all the time, and being bossed around by grown-ups who may or may not always know what they’re doing.

My husband sent me out of the house this afternoon, to work through and shake off my funk. I started typing this from the pedicure chair. By the time my watermelon toenails and I got home, my husband and kids had cleaned the playroom and started packing for our trip. When I walked in the door my husband was folding a load of laundry and the kids were quietly and calmly looking through cookbooks, picking out recipes they want to make while we’re away. With my husband’s prompting, both kids told me that the theme of this upcoming Mama Camp week is “appreciation.” Tears welled up in my eyes as my son told me that he is going to try to do more on his own and, when he does need help, he will be more polite in asking for it. My daughter said that she will stop stalling at bedtime (a major pet peeve of late) and that she will be more cooperative. In exchange, she’ll be allowed to leave her light on for 15 minutes – because, you know, fairness.

Breathe.

I have a wonderful family. And I hope these next few weeks ultimately serve as a reminder of that. If I start to veer back into my dreaded funk, I’ll come back to this entry and read it and remind myself to breathe some empathy back into my being.

P.S. to Self: Don’t forget how much worse ALL OF THIS would be if you were still drinking. How did you even work through funks when you were a Wine Mom? Oh, you didn’t. Not really. You just poured a glass of wine and sent your woes sinking to the bottom of the bottle. Then you’d finish the bottle, and there your woes would be, right back in your gut. But not anymore. Kudos to you. Keep after it.

Antsy, in Perspective

Today is antsy. I had a very strange and disturbing dream last night, perhaps induced by the cold medicine I took before bed. It was one of those terrible dreams that was so far-fetched yet so real, I had to wake myself out of it. I don’t remember enough of it to describe or attempt to interpret it. But it’s been tough for me to shake today, especially given my groggy state from a non-stop summer week plus fighting off a mild cold. TGIF.

So. Antsy.

I want to know where all of this is going to lead. The not drinking. The exercise. The writing. I want to know if I’m going to quit alcohol completely. I want to know how good I can get at kickboxing. I want to know if writing will be a beloved hobby or a beloved livelihood.

I know this sounds silly. I feel silly typing it out. But I also want to be open and honest about my malaise. Because not every day can be a high. Some days are lows. And many days are in-betweens.

The important thing is that I am living them all. I am feeling my way through them all. The good, the great, the bad, the hangry, the hormonal, the #blessed, the ugh. Without booze in my life I am experiencing all of this in living color, in real time.

So today is antsy. My thoughts are swirling around my Mucinex-clogged brain. “Should I put feta in my chopped salad? Am I crazy for not signing the kids up for any camps next week? Will I ever write a book? I need a voice. What is my voice? Who is my audience? What should we do for dinner tonight? Did I pack deodorant in the swimming bag? What do I even want to say in this book I want to write? When was the last time the dogs peed today?” Ad infinitum. Circling the brain drain.

I want to have a joyous journey but right now I just wish I knew where I was headed. And that – wherever it is – it’s amazing and fulfilling beyond anything I can fathom.

But AF life already is, isn’t it? Watching my daughter play dodge ball in her karate camp today while I kickboxed in an adjacent studio, that huge grin on her beautiful face. Watching my son, the youngest in his tennis camp, throw water balloons with the big kids and then gleefully line up to get the ice bucket dumped on his head.

These summer moments that would have gone unrecognized before. The ordinary that has turned extraordinary because I SEE IT. Joy and beauty and love burst forth from the everyday, every day.

As for the writing. I have committed to writing something every day of One Year Alcohol-Free. And I do. I post to Connect and Instagram every day. I feel in my gut I need to chronicle this journey, so I’m making the time to do it. I told my kids I need some time each day for “my writing.” Sounds so official! But why not try official on for size?

And it is helping people, my writing. I know this. Because it’s helping me. And it’s helping my kids and my husband, too, because it feeds my soul and makes me happy. And I’m a better mom and partner when my soul is full and I am happy. I think I am helping people on Connect and Instagram too. But at the very least, I am helping the four members of my family by doing this writing. And if that’s all my writing ever does, that is worth making the time.

So much was passing me by when my brain and body had to waste their energy thinking about and processing booze. So, so much.

I don’t know where I’m headed. And on days like today, when I’m low-energy and a little sick and groggy, that may bother me. But most of the time it doesn’t. Because I’m too busy delighting in the joy of the journey.

An Unexpected and Most Unwelcome Milestone

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I anticipated sitting down to write a blog post this week about my first solo-and-sober international trip. Alas, the universe had other plans and decided to throw my family a nasty curveball:

A hospital bed.

A heart attack releasing its victim from the claws of cancer.

A newly minted widow reluctantly relieved from her duties as caretaker.

Two grown sons left, in an instant, without a dad.

Last Wednesday, my husband went to work, as usual. My daughter wore an Italian soccer jersey to Team Jersey Day at her camp. My son went to camp and then earned his long-awaited red belt in his Tiny Dragons MMA class. I went to my kickboxing class and pounded the crap out of the heavy bag, cursing cancer for bringing so much pain into so many lives but having no idea how much more painful our lives were about to become.

A normal summer day. And then my father-in-law passes away. And a normal day turns into one of those days when you’ll always remember where you were when you got that phone call. And life as we knew it will never be the same.

He was sick, but it was sudden. It always is.

Tears shed, travel plans cancelled, travel plans made. One suitcase is emptied and another is packed. One anticipated alcohol-free milestone turns into another: grief. My first grown-up experience grieving for a lost loved one without alcohol.

When I was in my early 20s, I lost my stepdad and both of my grandfathers over 18 brutal months. Those were the days when I was single and sharing an apartment with five other girls (and one bathroom, natch) on the Upper West Side. I spent every Monday night knocking back several frozen margaritas at a dive bar with my coworkers, then waking on Tuesday to run six miles around Central Park before work. Because I could do that then. Work not so hard, play hard, run hard. Repeat.

When I went through that horrible hat trick of losses, alcohol was in the picture and I’m sure I used it to cope. But I was also young and my relationship with alcohol was still relatively simple. It didn’t take the physical or emotional toll that I would experience a decade and a half later.

Cut to a decade and a half later.

I am so grateful to not have a choice to drink right now. With booze off the table and out of my brain, I have simply been a better mourner.

Here’s what I mean by that:

I have been present. I have felt the brunt of this loss – really felt it – instead of numbing myself to it. And what I’ve discovered is that yes, it hurts a lot when you really feel it. But it is also easier to find and appreciate the silver lining. He is no longer suffering. My mother-in-law is no longer burdened with his care (though of course she didn’t mind, it took a toll on her own well-being). He passed quickly and painlessly, during a week when many family members were in town visiting and could offer extra support.

I have been able to support my husband with energy reserves that would have been sapped by booze. At a time when I need all the energy I can get, I shudder to fathom how depleted I would have been if I were drinking. Depleted, and moody, and incapable of giving as much as my husband deserves me to give right now.

I have had amazing – sad and difficult but amazing – conversations with my kids about death and the soul and God. There is something beautiful and comforting in talking to kids about death – at least the way we discussed it. Very simple and high-level and just kind of lovely. “Gramps’ soul has left his body and has gone up to God. He has gotten to meet God! How cool is that?!” That kind of stuff. Talking to my kids after my husband told me the news over the phone was deeply sad, yes, but deeply beautiful too. I will never forget it.

I have been more compassionate and authentic with my mother-in-law. Because I am not drinking it is easier to choose curiosity over judgment. To observe in complete clarity how this family mourns – a style very different from my own family – and to innately respect their choices and support them as best I can. My mother-in-law is at the center of all of this and I don’t know if she can feel it, but I certainly feel that our relationship has deepened over the last several days. And I am so grateful for that.

No booze makes me a better mourner. There is beauty to be found in grief, if you can see clearly enough. And I can.

My Daughter, My Role Model

In true Supermom fashion – after spinning at 6am, chauffeuring my two kids to two different camps, making dinner for our neighbors, tossing our own dinner in the crock pot, walking both my dogs and my mom’s dog, helping my mom move into her new apartment half an hour away, and chauffeuring the kids home from camp – I was preparing to take them to the pool yesterday afternoon. My six-year-old daughter asked me if she could not wear a shirt like some of the boys she sees there. When I told her it’s a rule that girls have to wear bathing suit tops, she burst into tears: hot, abundant tears that were one part drama, one part fatigue, and one part genuine and raw frustration.

We sat on the couch and she curled up in my arms, my sweet, strong girl in her basketball shorts, no shirt, and her new shark tooth necklace she bought on her camp field trip to the aquarium. She wept as she asked me why. Why can boys go shirtless and girls can’t? Why do boys get to be free and bare-skinned and girls always have to cover up?

I tried my best to answer her, while feeling wildly unequipped to provide the right sort of counsel to both comfort and satisfy her. Oh, and also not crush her self-confidence or scar her for life as I discussed breasts and breast-feeding and tried to make her appreciate this part of her body that she may or may not use for its intended purpose two or three decades from now. I did my best, folks.

For the past year or so, my daughter has gravitated towards toys and clothes that are made for and marketed to boys. She loves superheroes and Star Wars. She wants her shorts to be knee-length and have pockets (why are most girls’ shorts teeny and pocket-less?!). She wants to play football. She wants to someday be a black belt in mixed martial arts.

Just be being her authentic self, she is challenging the norm every day. She is sometimes teased by peers and often mistaken for a boy by strangers. But her desire to be true to who she is outweighs the discomfort she feels. And so she persists.

She does not get this trait from me. When I was her age, I was a shy people-pleaser whose parents had recently divorced. I wore smocked dresses, played with the girly toys I was given on birthdays and Christmas, and just generally tried not to rock the boat in any way, ever. I fit in.

My kid? She stands out.

And now, so do I.

I am not drinking for a year. This choice makes me stand out, from my friends, from my family, from society. I can’t discuss this choice with my daughter right now. But I know she can sense my boosted confidence and the shift in my energy. She can probably sense more than I can even identify right now.

After yesterday’s conversation, I am starting to realize just how deeply my daughter inspires me. How can I effectively parent and nuture a confident, strong girl whose tastes and interests differ from the status quo? By nurturing the parts of myself that do, too. Because these are the parts that make me ME and not just a reflection of what society is telling me to be.

As for the pool trip, we compromised: I put the sprinkler on in the yard and let both kids run around, topless and gleeful in the glorious afternoon sun.

Fall In

A beautiful quote from my Peloton “Feel Good Ride” this morning with Ally Love. Some days it’s easy to “fall in” to self-love. Other days, like today, it feels impossible to surrender to that empowered ideal. Even though I know in that surrender is the contentment I crave.

Today, I ended up crying through my kids’ swim class after getting a speeding ticket on the way there. It’s not about the ticket, but the mortifying experience of getting pulled over with my kids in the car pushed me over the edge. I am crippled with cognitive dissonance right now. I am stuck in the shift from school year to summer and I’m letting it get the best of me.

One broken mama

Over the last couple of days I’ve tried to resort to old coping mechanisms to ease this tricky transition in our family routine. But junk food and a glass of wine make me feel so much worse. SO much worse. They always did, but I didn’t notice it as much when I was stuck in my wino-life, because I never knew how good I could feel.

But I am not fully equipped to fill the void left by booze and junk either, and that’s what broke me today. Can’t drink, can’t stuff my face with chocolate. What else do I have? Foam rolling. Tea. US Weekly (though that’s fairly toxic too). Writing. Seltzer. Stretching. Breathing…? But I just want a jar of Nutella! Is that so wrong? Yup. F.

I know this is a process. And I know I’m too hard on myself most of the time. I get lost in one bag of tortilla chips and lose sight of the long game, in which I’ve already scored more goals than I ever thought possible.

So let’s zoom out of this pity party for a moment.

This was a tough week. My daughter was crushed to have her kindergarten year come to an end. My husband was out three nights and has been renovating our garage all weekend. I haven’t had enough time or space from my kids to be able to digest the end of the school year. Oh, and I had a heinous case of PMS.

I have a kid who finished kindergarten. This is a big deal to me. A milestone in my motherhood journey. My little girl is vanishing before my eyes, and in her place is an increasingly poised, articulate, compassionate, curious, independent big kid with real feelings and opinions and the ability to express them.

She has also arrived at a point in her life where she will have legit memories. And here are her dad and I, at the helm of our family craft, doing our best to steer both of our kids through what they will hopefully remember as a happy and fun childhood while navigating the tricky waters of adulthood ourselves.

We are all first-timers here. And we are all going to stumble along the way.

After her swim lesson today, my daughter could tell I had been crying – luckily my 4-year-old son was oblivious so I only had to contend with one conversation, which of course turned the waterworks right back on. She looked me directly in the eye and wanted to know exactly why I was so upset and what she could do to help me feel better.

My kid shows compassion beyond her years. And she loves me so damn much.

I need to show her that it’s just as important to love yourself as it is to love those closest to you. I need to give myself a break. I need to show her that when things get out of whack, love brings us back to where we should be.

Oh wait. She already knows. Fall in, Mama.

Monday Malaise

I’m feeling some malaise today. I am quite literally not at ease. It’s not the alcohol, since I haven’t had any for the last 17 days (and 96 out of the last 99 days!) anyway. It’s not even the chocolate mint waffle cone, bagels, cookies, and Chinese food I binged on yesterday – though recovering from that is not helping. It’s just me – unclouded, un-hungover – having a malaise-y Monday.

With the end of the school year upon us, and my son starting kindergarten in another year, I ponder the precipice I approach. I have been a stay-at-home mom for the last six and a half years. And I don’t know what’s next for me. I don’t have a job waiting for me, or a career to which I could make a triumphant return. I am about to emerge from the depths of #SAHMlife and I don’t know what’s out there in a world where I will have SEVEN WHOLE HOURS to myself five days week.

I imagine some of this time will be taken up by a part-time job. But what am I going to do to make money? None of my volunteer commitments have the potential to turn into paying gigs. And lately I’ve lost steam with them anyway. I’ve been too into, well, THIS. Writing. And reading. And Connecting.

I am figuring my shit out, learning to love myself, and finding my voice.

So what do I WANT to do once I am able to usher both my kids onto the same school bus and not be chauffeuring them, cooking for them, cleaning up after them, and wiping their butts all day?

I want to help people like the person I used to be, by which I mean overweight, wine-dependent, unfit, and – most importantly – under-self-loved. But how? There are already so many beautiful women with perfect Instagram accounts and gazillions of followers who are established in the sober/mom/fitness/wellness/you-name-it communities. Books have already been written. Podcasts have already been recorded. Who am I to think I have anything to add to any aspect of any of this?

Especially since I have not fully given up alcohol. And I have not fully conquered my eating issues. And I could always be more fit. And a better mom. Etc.

But I have come so far. I wake every morning now with a body that a year and a half ago I believed was totally unrealistic for me. Before starting Weight Watchers, I had my wedding rings sized up and now they dangle from my fingers on cool days. The thought of drinking the way I used to not only holds zero appeal, it feels like a different life – and yet it was only six-ish months ago that it was MY life. I feel more comfortable in this skin than I have felt in years – maybe ever.

And yet I’m uneasy. I think because I don’t have a clear picture of where I want to go, what I want to be, what I want to do. My opportunity to emerge from #SAHMlife is on the horizon and when I get there I want to be ready to slay.

For now, I am a work in progress. And that is ok. I will never catch up to those amazing ladies who have been pioneers in the alcohol-free movement. And that is ok. I am finding my own voice. And that is ok. I can’t pretend to be anything other than this much-improved version of me. And that is more than ok.

Will I ever give up alcohol completely? I don’t know. Here’s what I do know: I will indulge in a glass of wine the way I indulge in a cup of Cold Stone Peanut Butter Cup Perfection. Very occasionally. I know it’s not good for me. I know it brings no benefit to the body that I have worked so hard to achieve. I know I will feel worse for having consumed it. And yet I am building enough inner trust to know that one cup of ice cream or glass of wine will NOT send me into a spiral anymore. And that is huge for me.

Maybe someday these desires will disappear, and I won’t want to burden my body with booze or sugar. Wouldn’t that be great? I don’t know, actually – and that’s why it’s not my goal right now.

My goal is to spend what little kid-free time I currently have empowering myself with knowledge. Understanding acutely the effect of these chemicals on my body. But I am not going to force myself to fit into the alcohol-free mold before I’m ready, because I don’t want to set myself up for self-sabotage.

The final ascent to the self-actualization apex of Maslow’s Pyramid probably does not include alcohol or sugar, or caffeine for that matter! But everyone’s ascent is different. And I can only follow my own. As long as I’m making my way up that pyramid, no matter how round-about my route, that is the important thing.

I have more than a year until two little butts scurry up the stairs onto the school bus. I have time. I am in learning and discovery mode. And whenever I feel late to the party, with my tiny blog and tiny Instagram following, I have to remind myself that the party has already changed for the better because I am here.

 

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

TGI… OMG I’m So Tired

Oh but it’s so much more than oatmeal, y’all.

Two and a half weeks since I’ve posted here! Feeling so far behind, and with so much to say, and not enough time to actually write it all out. Because, you know, life. Momlife, to be specific. The end of the school year has mercilessly hurtled itself at us at light speed and I was SO NOT READY. I’m never ready, but I felt even less ready this year. But it is happening, so.

So I find myself at Starbucks, still sweaty from my 45-minute kickboxing class and with an hour to spare before I have to release my babysitter and report back to mom duty. I’m taking hold of this precious hour with both hands, trying not to strangle it but holding on to each minute for dear life. This has been a trying week, with my under-the-weather-yet-still-rambunctious (HOW?!!) four-year-old son usurping most of my energy. He is between school and summer camp this week, and I thought it would be easier than past years (four is supposed to be better than three which is supposed to be better than two…) but SURPRISE! Having him with me all week has left me feeling exhausted deep into my bones.

And I feel guilty admitting that. Because he is such a darn good, sweet, fun kid. And I feel like I should be a stronger, more creative, more energized mom. That I should have created a week of magic and quality time and craft projects and museum trips and – how am I still allowing myself to be a victim of mom guilt almost 7 years into parenthood?!

STOP.

Enough. Back to what is real: I feel deeply, utterly pooped. I have been in bed by 8:30 the last two nights, asleep by 9:30, and STILL feel totally wrecked when my alarm jars me awake at six. I’ve been hydrating and eating better than I have in weeks, yet I can’t shake this fatigue and fuzzy brain. (“Did I pay the babysitter on Monday?” “Did I hug my kid goodbye?”) So I’ve started feeling anxious about that, which of course makes everything worse.

I haven’t felt anxiety like this since I was a big ol’ wino. And it is most unwelcome.

Let’s focus on the positive. I’m proud of myself for prioritizing my kickboxing class during a week when routine is out the window. When I got to the ‘bux I had a dozen FitPoints and all my Weeklies at my disposal and I chose to spend nine of these precious points on oatmeal with honey and nuts, plus a 0-point unsweetened iced green tea. The pre-Weight Watchers me would have ordered a sausage sandwich and a venti cold brew with a generous splash of soy milk. But I actually WANTED to make this healthy choice. My eating habits are truly changing for the better! YAY. (I’ll have that cold brew tomorrow though.)

So, I may be at the end of a wonky week and feeling disoriented by fatigue and stuck in an anxiety-fueled cycle of yuck, but I’m proud of myself for building strength and endurance through kickboxing and then refueling in such a healthy way. Sometimes eking out a small victory (or two!) is a huge victory in itself.