Thursday, September 10, 2015

It's Not You; It's Me: Confessions of an Introvert...Unable to be an Introvert

As a little girl, I was shy. By shy, I mean so shy, my parents held me back from starting kindergarten because I spent a whole year in Pre-K refusing to talk to anyone or participate in any group activities.

Years and years of playing basketball sort of changed that for me. By high school, I was an active part of drama club and LOVED getting on stage to perform funny skits in front of the whole school. I enjoyed playing in front of a big crowd. I liked being around people. In fact, sometimes I needed to be around people. But I still loved to shut myself up in my room with a good book or my journal from time to time. I would have identified myself as an extrovert with occasional introvert tendencies.

Fast forward to today. I am raising and homeschooling four children in a 3 bedroom, 850 sq ft home, and I am more convinced than ever, that I am as true an introvert as they come. And I am never alone. Y'all, they never leave.

For a few years we only had 2 children. Close in age, they always napped together, and I had some much needed time for myself. When we had a third child, and Elijah and Chastity outgrew naps, they would spend a quiet time in their room, playing creatively while Isaac napped. Then number 4 arrived, rooms have been switched around, and now Isaac and Charlotte take naps in two different rooms, sometimes at different times, and Elijah and Chastity are always here. Up until about a week ago, at the very least, I would have a few uninterrupted moments to myself in the morning. After my husband would get up to get ready for work, and the kids were still sleeping, I would stay in bed, in the silence. Sometimes I would read a little. Sometimes I would pray. Sometimes, I wouldn't do anything at all, but lie there, quiet but awake. Then, this week, Charlotte, my 6 month old, decided to start waking up anytime between 6:30 and 7:30 am. She's still sleeping all night, and I'm thankful for that, but that missing 1 to 2 hours in my mornings isn't about sleep for me. I get up with her, and the one perk to getting up earlier than usual with the baby is the *almost* alone time. I can sit in silence to nurse her, and be downstairs by myself for a bit. That time rejuvenates me, and helps me mentally prepare for the day. Except that I can't. Because she wakes up early enough to be early, but late enough to make the other 3 believe they should be up too. So, by the time I get comfy in my chair with my hungry baby, 3 other heads are peaking down the stairs at me. And it angers me inside. It takes every ounce of strength I have to say "Good morning," with a half smile, rather than snarl.

It used to upset me to hear mothers complaining during the summer about their kids. Wanting them gone, away from them, and in school all day was a strange desire to me. Now, I totally get it. I am never alone, and the slightest noise that is above average volume, emitted from my children causes a tightening in my chest and a whisper screamed "SHUSH!" which hurts my throat.

My time spent with them just consists of making them food, cleaning up messes, and trying to get necessary things done amidst the hundreds of daily interruptions. It is purely quantity, not quality.

And so, in the middle of all this chaos, when someone...anyone suggests that we get together, especially with their kids and mine or as whole families, I can feel my breathing becoming strained. I make jokes folks, but the struggle is real. It actually doesn't sound fun to me. On a normal day, my interruptions have interruptions, but now you're asking me to function in a day (or several) where my interruptions have whole families of interruptions of their own. I have days, weeks even, where I intentionally avoid phone calls from some of my favorite people. Let's face it, if there is a single moment in this house where no one is talking to me, I'd like to keep it that way. We have local family (if you're reading this, know I love you!), which, including us, consists of 10 adults and 10 children. There are birthdays and holidays constantly. Every occasion for adults and kids alike are cause for celebration, and we can't even fit all these people into our home comfortably. Meanwhile, I'm over here all like, "I'll spend my birthday alone, with some yarn...and a book, thanks!" Under normal circumstances, for normal people, this is a great blessing. And I know this. And I truly love all my friends and family. But it's like taking a person who is already suffocating; having difficulty breathing, into a sauna with the expectation that it will be relaxing and rejuvenating for them. It sounds good in theory, but it only exacerbates the already existing problem.

I think (I hope) I hide this well, because, the truth is, I don't want to avoid the people I love and alienate them. Contrary to what this may lead you to believe, they are important to me! I want to want to get together, and I will continue to do my best to suck it up because I love all the people in my life. But this is my public apology to all of my friends and family who might be under the mistaken impression that I don't like them, I merely tolerate them, or I don't enjoy talking with them.

This is a season. A season in which someone is almost always yelling, screaming, or fussing at me, always talking, always asking questions...the same ones...repeatedly, always interrupting me, or always touching me, stepping on me, tripping me, pinching me, hitting me, or scratching me; a season in which my interruptions have interruptions, cooking up interruptions, stewing in a pot of interruptions and I nurse a headache daily, unable to complete a full thought; a season in which my patience wears thin and my anger stirs with every. single. noise; a season in which I want to smack someone for trying to tell me "enjoy every second, because it goes by too fast!" You don't think I know this? You don't think I hate myself for being so miserable on days when I just need to be alone? I love my kids. I even like my kids. They are pretty great. And I miss them on the rare occasion that we are apart. But while I'm in this season of zero time to myself, for myself, or by myself, and the only time away I get is to get groceries, or see a doctor for a problem that's been going on for years, I don't want to feel guilty for having zero interest in being around people. Maybe this is a disorder. Maybe this requires therapy. It certainly feels dysfunctional. But maybe, just maybe, this is normal, and some other moms out there might be able to read this, relate, feel normal for the first time in a long time, and stop hating themselves for needing space and time to themselves to feel like themselves.

This is a season. A season in which it takes days and determination to complete a blog I need to write out for my own sanity.

Please know that I love you, even if the thought of getting together with you causes me physical pain and nausea.

It's not you; it's me.

No, really.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Top Ten Things I Think When You Tell Me You Would Never Let a Baby Cry (For Shame!)

I am so tired of all the mommy shaming...

the daily sharing of posts to make every mom in the world feel badly about a choice that they made, in a desperate moment, to get their kids to sleep. The fact is, we sit around judging the decisions of other parents without ever having been there to witness that decision making process.

It's as though that business about walking in someone else's shoes doesn't apply to moms. "Don't judge, until you've walked a mile in their shoes, dear; unless it's about parenting, and then anyone who does things differently is wrong." 

I could write a whole book about all the mommy shaming and judging; how we all judge each other to feel better about our own decisions which others are making us feel guilty for. It's a vicious cycle. But I'll try to keep this topic more condensed. Let's talk about crying.

Here is a list I have compiled, of the top 10 things I think, when you tell me you have never let your child cry.

10. You have never put them in the car for any extended period of time.

This could mean any trip outside your home town or city; any trip from, say, 30 minutes to 14 hours or more.  Charlotte screamed the whole way home from the hospital at 3 days old. It happens. She had just been fed and changed, and it was bitter cold. We weren't stopping. The goal was getting home. We recently took a trip to North Carolina with our 4 children, one of which was only 5 months old at the time. We saved our money all year for this trip, but we still didn't have enough money to turn it into a 3 day, 2 hotel stays, trip. We had no idea how Charlotte might respond to the trip either. Isaac made it to Tennessee and back at about 6 months, with very little problem. Charlotte, however, got to the point where she screamed the second we placed her back in the car seat, no matter how long we stopped for. So we carried on, through her screams, because, well, we couldn't just stay in West Virginia forever.

9. You've never vacuumed. 

All of my children eventually reached an age when they were terrified of the vacuum, and no longer slept through it. Tough break. I'd rather they screamed during my once or twice (not nearly enough) a week vacuuming, than roll around in filth, collecting dog hair in their mouths. 

8. You have never made dinner.

Not every night is a disaster, but, as you must know, infants are unpredictable, as are their nap times. I can start dinner while she's napping, and be elbow deep in raw meat 10 minutes later when she decides nap is over. I have other people in this house who need to eat, and if I catered to every single cry, we'd all starve. Also, baby wearing has not been a viable option for me (so don't even suggest it), for a long time. I have back problems which become so much worse, to the point of not being able to move at all, if I strap her on me to go about my day. So, I do what absolutely needs to get done before grabbing her, and sometimes, she goes back to sleep before I get there.

7. You've never had a child claw, kick, scream, and hit you during one of their overtired fits.

Maybe your children are perfect angels and never fight sleep and only cry when they have a real need for your snuggles, or more. I have not always been that lucky. My oldest daughter became mobile at an early age and refused to even nurse beyond 10 months because it was too restricting. It would be 11 pm and I would go to her night after night because I couldn't stand the thought of letting her cry. Every single time, I'd try to nurse her, she'd twist her head away from me so hard, I would hurt her if I'd continued to try. I'd try to rock her, and she'd kick, scream, and claw to get away from me. I'd put her on the floor, and she'd play happily as though all was right in the world, while continuing to rub her overtired eyes. I'm sorry, but I'm not in the business of allowing my children (especially my 9/10 month old) stay up all night, just because they want to play. Maybe other moms and dads are ok with this. We were not. She was trying to manipulate the situation to get what she wanted, though she was clearly tired and fighting sleep, and she needed to learn that it was BEDTIME.

6. You've never cleaned their nose or face, clipped their nails, changed their diaper, or done anything good for their overall health, that they didn't particularly like. 

Maybe you view these as separate and completely different things, but I do not. I've done a lot of things that are good for my children, that they didn't like, and guess what? I'm sure to do more. No, I don't sit there listening to them scream when they are clearly in need of something from me, even if it is just snuggles. Believe me when I tell you that, because most people refuse to hear that, too outraged by my apparent heartlessness. As stated in the above, that was not always the case. I am happy to cuddle my babies, and rock them to sleep, but they are not always going to go to sleep willingly, no matter how long I try to rock them. And, believe it or not, sleep (and lots of it) is an important part of our little ones' health, growth, and brain development. They may not always want it, but they need it, and when I hear a whiny, fussy child, even well beyond infancy, I hear a child who's likely not getting enough sleep. We remedy that quickly here.

5. You've never disciplined your child, in any way, shape, or form.

This isn't a debate about spanking. It could be spanking, sending them to their room, or just a firm yelling, but the hard truth is that children don't like to hear, "No!" They don't like being told what to do or what not to do. They also don't like disappointing their parents. These upsetting things can lead them to cry, and depending on the situation, the fit that's thrown, or the point you're trying to make with them, sometimes, you have to let it run it's course.

4. You don't have any other children.

Maybe you don't, and that's not a judgment on that, choice or not. But I too was able to cater to every cry out of my first born child. It's been down hill from there. When you have other children with needs, other children who need to be fed, and can't be ignored, sometimes, the baby needs to cry a little longer than you might like. I have had the occasional week here where my older children would never get lunch until 3 or 4 if I stopped everything for those midday infant melt downs. If it was bad enough (and believe me, a mother knows when it's serious or not), we did have a later lunch, and we figured things out. But many days, things needed to get done, they got done, and my baby survived and got plenty of cuddles during the parts of the day when I wasn't providing sustenance to my other offspring.

3. You have never left your child with a babysitter, caretaker, childcare provider, or school.

That may sting, and I don't mean for it to. The point is, our children will always cry for us, even when (or especially when) we are doing something that we need to do for them or the sake of our families. My babies and children have cried even when leaving them with family they know and love, because they want us. They desire to be with us, and they don't like being left behind for anything. But sometimes it is for their own good, the good of your mental, physical, spiritual, or emotional health, the good of your family, or the health of your marriage. These things are all important things, and though they may not like it, you are doing what is best by your family.

2. You don't actually have children.

Because...well...they cry. And sometimes, even holding them, doesn't stop it.

1. You just enjoy thinking you're right about everything and judging others. 

This sounds harsher than I intended, but it's still true. Some people become so blindly passionate about particular topics, that they cannot find a gray area. It's black or white, and if you're not with them, you are wrong! That is really too bad, because we moms could find a lot of common ground in the gray area.

The point is this, I would never judge a working mom for dropping her crying baby off at daycare, or a parent for rightly disciplining their child, any more than I would judge the mom or dad who had tried absolutely everything else, before making that heartbreaking, last ditch effort to get her child to sleep. Just stop it. You don't know how they arrived at that decision. Contrary to what you might assume, it is not because they are lazy or neglectful or selfish. So stop trying to make them feel that way.

There is no such thing as a parenting expert.

No one has the proper credentials.