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Remembering those tired years

But in fact at the time she took those photographs Rebecca had just been tired, tired in that way a woman with a child and a husband and a house and a job and a life gets tired, so that it feels like a mild chronic illness.

from Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

This lady looks better groomed than I did when I was that tired. Look, her hair is even brushed!

This lady looks better groomed than I did when I was that tired. Look, her hair is even brushed! And hoop earrings! Who does that with a toddler around?

I’m enjoying this novel but I really loved this line because it rings so true. I remember being that tired with both of my children (although the first time around I didn’t have a job but I did have a boy who did not sleep through the night for the first three years of his life). I see that tired in my clients, moms with babies or young children or trying to juggle too much.

That level of exhaustion is isolating. It’s hard to get out of the house and it’s hard to be present with friends when you get there. Sometimes, I remember, you feel like you must be doing it wrong to be that tired but that’s just how some stages of parenting are. Other people may wear it better or have golden kids who actually sleep or who are more comfortable with chaos. But that doesn’t make the rest of us — the yawning, forgetting, scatter-brained and exhausted rest of us — inadequate. We’re just tired.

Personally I am not one of those women who love the baby stage. I like them better when they start to talk (and even better when they start to talk back) so the hardest time for me is having a baby in arms or a baby lolling around on the floor while I try to keep my eyes open lying next to them bored out of my mind but ready to smile when they glance to make sure I’m there, ready to coo back, ready to pick them up and turn them around so they can make their way like inchworms away from the bookshelf or towards the squeaky toy.

Both my kids get mobile early — scootching off the baby blanket by four months, cruising by six, first steps before nine months (my daughter) and just after (my son). This meant I was trapped next to them on the floor for most of my days since neither had any tolerance for places you prop babies so a person can do things like run to the bathroom or eat a piece of toast in peace without the baby wailing.

I know I did things like cook, clean, drive the bigger kid elsewhere, and — during my daughter’s infancy — write the things people were paying me to write. But what I remember is feeling caged in by babyness, caged in by that full-blown, heady and drunken exhausted devotion. Short-tempered and love-addled, forgetting where I put down my coffee, forgetting to eat lunch, forgetting to shower because I was so busy attending to the cut-in-half grapes, the tushie wiping, the Raffi songs, the dusty chew toy that somehow rolled under the couch and all the minutiae, the nauseatingly tiny, demanding details of parenting small children. And oh boy, were there days I resented them and felt guilty for my resentment so that everything felt worse and even more exhausting.

When I see that reflected in the faces of my clients I tell them it will get better (because it will) and sometimes they believe me but sometimes  they don’t or they are too exhausted to summon up belief. But parenting does get easier (and harder but not so physically hard, which makes the other parts easier). That time that engulfed me, I realize now, was such a short line on the map of my parenting career. But I’ll never forget it, never stop empathizing with the tired mom pushing a stroller or trying to coax a toddler into a carseat or trying to reign in a bouncing preschooler (or several) while she tries to grocery shop.

Parenting is hard. But it gets easier. Hang in there.


If you want to know what it is to be a kid

My favorite illustrator for Ramona is Louis Darling, who drew this lovely portrait

My favorite illustrator for Ramona is Louis Darling, who drew this

Parenting is infinitely easier if you remember what it was like to be little yourself. If you can remember the frustrations, the fears and the satisfactions of childhood then you will know what it is that your child is experiencing now.

If your memory is foggy or if you had a childhood that doesn’t offer you much in the way of inspiration, you can always turn to Beverly Cleary.

I loved the books when I was a kid and I still love them today because when I read them I am immediately transported to what it is to be a child and to be afraid of ghostly gorillas who might be able to flatten themselves and squeeze through cracks in the walls. Or to feel like a cozy little bunny just by putting on flannel pajamas. Or to worry that my teacher doesn’t like me and to be too anxious about it to tell my mom.

Beverly Cleary takes children very seriously. Her books are funny but never poke fun. Her children are smart but not brilliant and special but absolutely ordinary. They are like the children we were then and the children our kids are today.

Sometimes I ask parents to read them and they actually do (often they don’t because they think I’m kidding — I’m not) and I promise you that they enjoy them. They also learn from them. They remember that being a kid isn’t easy and that sometimes what we don’t understand from an adult point of view makes perfect sense to a child.

I will leave you with an excerpt from Ramona the Brave. I have a lot of favorite scenes in the Ramona books and one of them is this description of Ramona’s game, Brick Factory, that she plays with Howie, the boy down the street. I think it’s such a wonderful and accurate portrayal of child’s play, of how it’s essential and true, how it serves a purpose for the children not recognized by older kids or adults, the concentration and the work of it. Next time you’re asking your child for the third time that night to put down her Legos and come to dinner, think about this passage and remember how very serious and how very absorbing the work of play is for kids. Your understanding won’t make her come to dinner any faster but it might make you a little less frustrated.

Ramona ran out to meet Howie, who was trudging down Klickitat Street pulling his little red wagon full of old bricks, the very best kind for playing Brick Factory, because they were old and broken with the corners crumbled away. “Where did you get them?” asked Ramona, who knew how scarce old bricks were in their neighborhood.

“At my grandmother’s,” said Howie. “A bulldozer was smashing some old houses so somebody could build a shopping center, and the man told me I could pick up the broken bricks.”

“Let’s get started,” said Ramona, running to the garage and returning with two big rocks she and Howie used in playing Brick Factory, a simple but satisfying game. Each grasped a rock in both hands and with it pounded a brick into pieces and the pieces into smithereens. The pounding was hard, tiring work. Pow! Pow! Pow! Then they reduced the smithereens to dust. Crunch, crunch, crunch. They were no longer six-year-olds. They were the strongest people in the world. They were giants.

When the driveway was thick with red dust, Ramona dragged out the hose and pretended that a terrible flood was washing away the Brick Factory in a stream of red mud. “Run, Howie! Run before it gets you!” screamed Ramona. She was mighty Ramona, brave and strong. Howie’s sneakers left red footprints, but he did not really run away. He only ran to the next driveway and back. Then the two began the game all over again. Howie’s short blond hair turned rusty red. Ramona’s brown hair only looked dingy.

Ramona as hipster. Well, she is growing up in Portland.

Ramona as a hipster. Well, she is growing up in Portland.

Ramona, who was usually impatient with Howie because he always took his time and refused to get excited, found him an excellent Brick Factory player. He was strong, and his pounding was hard and steady. They met each day on the Quimby’s driveway to play their game. Their arms and shoulders ached. They had Band-Aids on their blisters, but they pounded on.

Mrs. Quimby decided that when Ramona was playing Brick Factory she was staying out of trouble. However, she did ask several times why the game could not be played on Howie’s driveway once in a while. Howie always explained that his mother had a headache or that his little sister Willa Jean was taking a nap.

“That is the dumbest game in the world,” said [big sister] Beezus, who spent her time playing jacks with Mary Jane when she was not reading. “Why do you call your game Brick Factory? You aren’t making bricks. You’re wrecking them.”

“We just do,” said Ramona, who left rusty footprints on the kitchen floor, rusty fingerprints on the doors, and rusty streaks in the bathtub. Picky-picky spent a lot of time washing brick dust off his paws. Mrs. Quimby had to wash separate loads of Ramona’s clothes in the washing machine to prevent them from staining the rest of the laundry.

Annual Toy Swap: You’re invited!

Ilegos-inside used to have this at my house but now I have an office so I’m going to move it there. You’re all invited!

This is your chance to clean out your cupboards, closets and under the bed and maybe get a head start on your holiday shopping.

Here’s how the Annual Toy Swap works:

  • People arrive with their gently used toys, books and clothes.
  • They drop things off in my waiting room and maybe get themselves a cup of tea
  • They rummage through other people’s things.
  • They laugh with each other, complain about how their kids never even TOUCHED that toy after begging for it for months, pick things out, discard things, hold up dresses to consider sizing and discuss their holiday plans as well as the extended family members with whom they will be forced to deal with in the upcoming weeks.
  • They will leave with new-to-them stuff.
  • OR they will drop their things off and leave without grabbing more, just happy to have an excuse to declutter.
  • Everything left over will get donated to either the Northwest Counseling Help Me Grow program or to the Syntero therapy offices serving kids or to Volunteers of America.

When: Sunday, November 24th, 1pm to 5pm

Where: My offices at 6660 North High Street, Suite 1A (park in back, come in the side doors)

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. Can I come get things if I don’t have anything to share? Absolutely!
  2. Can I drop things off without picking things up? Sure!
  3. Do I have to hang out the whole time? Nope, but you’re welcome to if you’d like.
  4. Can I drop things off beforehand? Yes, just contact me to arrange it.


Let Tomorrow Come Tomorrow

I’m reading a travel book by Alice Steinbach, Without Reservations. It’s a very quiet book and I’m enjoying it because this week my life has not been quiet and I like taking a vacation in a chapter or two. On page 77 she mentions a mantra that she’s adopted for her time in Paris, “Let tomorrow come tomorrow.”

Most of us (myself included) have the bad habit of ruining today by not letting tomorrow come tomorrow. Either we’re trying to control the next day’s outcome with our actions today or we’re so tied up in worrying about the future (or even dreading it) that we forget that we don’t really have to deal with it yet.

It reminds me of the Al-Anon message, “Just for Today.” There’s a whole lot of good stuff in that message but my personal favorite is, “I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.”

I say that one to my clients a lot. (I say it to myself even more.)

When I have a client who’s worried about her ability to not just make change but to hold onto that change, I tell them her that she doesn’t have to hold onto that change forever. I ask her to hold onto it just for today and see how that feels. It makes everything so much easier to tackle.

So let tomorrow come tomorrow. For today, pull a Scarlett O’Hara and don’t worry about what comes next. Change one thing you’ve been meaning to change. Just for today give yourself time to breathe. Just for today go for a brisk walk. Just for today drink as much water as you’ve been meaning to drink. Just for today try not worrying about what comes next. Skip the charts and the promises and the plans. Just for today do this one thing and tomorrow will come tomorrow.

Getting to the other side

I’ve been sick the past couple of weeks. I don’t know if it’s The Flu but I was told it’s a flu, not that I much cared when I was in the middle of it. Several times during the long, lousy, coughing days I’d think, “If only I could find the right over-the-counter magic pill!” But when you’re knee-deep in a nasty virus you may be able to treat the symptoms but you can’t do anything to be well but get through it. Nyquil may have helped me sleep but I still woke up several times a night with scary dreams, a sore throat and coughing my head off.

It reminded me of that “Going on the Bear Hung” song I used to sing with my preschoolers.

“We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re gonna catch a big one,

What a beautiful day! We’re not scared!

Uh-oh, a forest! A big dark forest.

We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it

Oh no, we’ve got to go through it.

Stumble-trip! Stumble-trip! Stumble-trip!”‘

It made me think of how often we want to skip the middle part and get right to the glorious (one hopes) resolution, in life and in therapy. But the middle part is where the magic happens and unfortunately, sometimes the magic is muted by the trudging through tall grass and mucking through sticky mud and climbing over fences and creeping into dark caves. Sometimes the middle part doesn’t look magic; it looks hard and scary. No wonder we want to skip it. But the middle part is where we get well. It’s the part where we heal and we can’t get to the other side without going through the middle. That’s just how it is.

Sometimes in sessions my challenge is getting my clients to get their eyes off of the horizon and onto the work at hand. If you spend too much time wishing yourself to “someday” then it’s hard to keep the necessary focus on the work right here in our laps. Besides “someday” is always off over there, all we have is now. Right now we’re on a bear hunt and we’re facing a big, dark forest but we just have go through it, stumbling and tripping.

At least we don’t have to go through it alone, right? That’s what therapy is all about — someone to go through the big, dark forest with you, someone who has faith to hold you up when yours is draining.

It’s a funny thing. Once I gave up trying to be well when I wasn’t and just settled into being sick, I started to get better. Because I gave up. I quit trying to get work done, I quit trying to keep up with the dishes and I quit trying to cook. I told everyone they could fend for themselves and went back to bed. Amazingly, the kids survived on canned soup and sandwiches and my to-do list held itself over to this week when I’m on the mend. I just had to get through it. You will, too. And if you need help, well, that’s what a therapist is for.

(Here’s a very interesting article about the book this cartoon is based on. I didn’t realize the family is meant to be a group of kids — I always thought it was a mom and dad with their brood.)

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