Doggie

 

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My daughter Leah has a special stuffed doggie.  I gave it to her for her very first Christmas, when she was just shy of 2 months old.  He is soft and brown, and as soon as she was old enough to show a preference, she started carrying him around.  His name is, of course, “doggie”.  What else would you name him, really?  I chose him just for her because he was cute, and also because he wasn’t pink.  When people know that you are having a baby girl, you get lots of pink frilly things.  I had a boy first, so you would think that I would have been all in with the frilly girly stuff, but I wasn’t.  It was a bit too much for me.  So whenever I bought her something, I sort of shied away from the super girly stuff.  So doggie turned out to be a much loved toy, and still keeps Leah snuggly at night.

One day the kids were playing in the family room. Doggie was there, as he usually is.  We have a rule in our house that “we” don’t jump on the furniture.  Some of us are better at following this rule than others.  I won’t name any names.  Despite this being a rule from the beginning of time, etched onto stone tablets, and enforced with brutality on a regular basis, both kids still jump on the furniture.  Every day.  And on this particular day, I was having a long day.

I am reading a book by Ann Lamott right now, in which she speaks about those moments with your kids where you lose your mind. She says that one of the things that helped her was to realize that we only seem like we are going from 0-60 in a split second. In reality, when we flip out all of a sudden on the ones we love most, it is because we have been slowly simmering, idling at 58-59 all day, and working hard at keeping all of our emotions under control all the time. Then our kid (or our spouse) says or does something and, that’s it. Last straw.  Camel’s back=broken.

So, I guess I had been idling most of that day, because Leah was jumping on the furniture for the 19th time.  And I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I couldn’t even.  So I yelled at her to stop jumping on the furniture, and she gave me her little smirk, for the 19th time that day, and called out a careless, insincere “sorry mommy!”

The smirk, I think that was what put me over the edge.  Who knows.  What I did next, I am not proud of.  But I am going to show you my crazy.  I started yelling something like, “STOP JUMPING ON MY FURNITURE!!  HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF I JUMPED ON YOUR THINGS? I DON’T THINK YOU WOULD LIKE IT IF I TREATED YOUR THINGS THAT WAY!”  Then I grabbed doggie, threw him on the floor, and stomped on his head.  With my foot.  Over, and over, and over again.  That’s right, I did.

I watched Leah’s little smirk crumple into a frown, and then tears.  Then we were both crying.  I felt like a huge jerk, of course.  I picked up doggie and apologized for my angry outburst, and she in turn apologized for her part.

I like to tell this story to people who are having a bad parenting day.   I think it is important for us all to admit that this is what parenting really looks like, at least some of the time.  My friend Keri also likes to tell this story to her friends. We spread it around town so that, one by one, whomever we tell it to feels a little less crazy, and a little less alone.  (“Well, I just lost it at my kids in the middle of Target, but at least I didn’t stomp on a stuffed toy’s head like Tracy.  That would be nuts.  I’m doing OK.”)  You’re welcome, everyone!

When I feel bad about myself, what I really want is for someone to come alongside me in my miserable state of being, and to tell me that they too are a messy, miserable, hopelessly flawed human being. Being a parent, I feel a need for this kind of connection more than ever. But it is so hard to find sometimes. I suspect more people want to participate in these honest, authentic interactions, but everyone is afraid.  Or else all the other parents truly are just very busy with their latest handmade Pinterest crafting project that is educational, good for fine motor skills, and an excellent alternative to screen time for their young children.  I hope not.
In case you are wondering, my children still jump on the furniture.  Every day.  Doggie is still a constant companion.  And no animals, real or stuffed, were permanently harmed for the purposes of this story.

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Running

 

This post is dedicated to my “Saturday Sistas”.

I took up trail running last winter.  It was the middle of February and gloomy as all-get-out, here in Rochester.  From January through March, it feels more like Blah-chester.  My friend Mary is a committed runner and goes out to Mendon Ponds Park every weekend with her sisters and a smattering of friends.  Whenever there is enough snow, they run on snowshoes.  I had heard her talk about it, and one week I asked if I could go along.  She graciously offered to loan me her spare pair of snowshoes, and off we went for a Saturday morning in the park.  I had been cooped up inside for so much of the winter.  Last winter was particularly long, cold, and snowy.  Getting out in the fresh air, running over a frozen pond, I felt like I was conquering winter!  I was sticking it to Mother Nature!  I was hooked right away.  I went out later that week and bought my own (very good quality) snowshoes.  This amused Jeff immensely, who enjoyed giving me a hard time about buying fancy snowshoes after just one run.  Then I reminded him about all the bikes in our garage.  Because you can’t have just one bike, right?  You need a road bike, a mountain bike, a winter bike, a “beater bike”, a spare bike, one for your trainer….anyhow, I think he figured it wise to lay off at that point!  The snow ended up lasting through the end of March, so I got some excellent wear out of my snowshoes.

As winter turned into spring and summer, our group continued to meet to run the trails, and I found running to be a huge outlet for me.  I look forward to it all week and get out of bed early Saturday morning, giddy to meet my friends at the park for our run.  I don’t think I could commit to run as far or as long on my own as I do with my group.  I am pushed on as we run by our conversation and laughter.

We get to be real in the woods.   We get to talk about hard stuff and funny stuff too.  “What happens in the woods stays in the woods.”

The landscape is always changing, so it is never boring.  In the winter we get to see the snow covering the trails and weighing down the tree branches, the sun reflecting so bright it is almost blinding.  In the spring we get to watch as the leaves start to bud and new life springs up everywhere.  In the summer, the woods become dense and shady, protecting us from the sun’s rays.  And in the fall we get to witness as the leaves burst into beautiful colors all around us.  Sometimes I will be on a trail we have run dozens of times and have a moment of panic.  “Where am I?  This doesn’t look familiar.  Have I been this way before?”  Then I will see a familiar landmark, and realize that it is just the changing season making my trail look unfamiliar.  It’s still the same trail.  It is just covered with leaves or snow or, sometimes, horse poop.  Yes, horse poop.  They allow horses on the trails, and part of the “experience” is catapulting over the steaming piles, then yelling a warning to your comrades behind you.

I think trail running is a good metaphor for life too, hopefully you won’t find it too cheesy.  Sometimes I look around and I feel lost or I get confused.  I thought I knew where I was going and how to get there, but then, all of a sudden, things look unfamiliar.  I think we go through different seasons in our lives that make the landscape look different, but the trail is still underneath there, in the same place it was before.  Sometimes you have to dodge horse poop along the way.  Sometimes you get some beautiful colors to look at, or some shade to protect you, and other times it is just really cold and quiet and bare.  It usually helps to have a few friends along to keep you company and help you if you lose your way.

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The (not so) inspiring story of how I became a nurse

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One of the first things we learned in nursing school is that nursing is a vocation.  The English word “vocation” is derived from the Latin word vocatio, which means “a call or a summons”.  Thus, nursing is distinguished from other occupations which may fall into the category of “profession” or “job”.  Knowing that we were pursuing something as noble as a vocation made us nursing students feel quite sophisticated.  Even though in the mid-90’s at my alma mater we had to wear white sneakers and a pinafore for clinical, which, by the way, is the opposite of sophisticated.

People inevitably assume that nurses have selfless, altruistic motives for pursuing their vocation.  Indeed, I have many colleagues who became nurses for such reasons.  Some of them had a positive experience with a nurse who cared for one of their sick family members.  Often nursing spans many generations, leaving a long family legacy of nurses who talk about gory hospital details around the Thanksgiving table.    Obviously, we didn’t go into it for the money (though I will admit that compensation for nurses has improved in recent years).  Job security is a big plus that many speak of.

I think that nursing ended up being a good career choice for me, and makes good use of my personality and my skills.  I have never been a good traditional classroom learner, in the sense that sitting and listening bores me to death, as does any kind of desk job.  The practical side of nursing and the hands-on skills work well for me in that way.  Also, I think that my tendency toward OCD is an asset, rather than a liability, in my chosen profession.  Bonus points when you can make your mental health issues work for you, right?

However, the way that I stumbled into my profession is not at all noble, and, in fact, borders on ridiculous.  I actually like telling this story because it amuses me, so some of my closer friends and family will have to forgive me for the re-telling of it.

I did not enjoy school.  High school was particularly traumatic for me, and I still have recurring dreams about it that make we wake up in a cold sweat.  I was a good student, however, and it was expected that I would go to university ( or “college”, for my American friends).  I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I really had no aspirations at that time.  Wait, I take that back.  Up until the end of 10th grade I wanted to be a dancer!  I was going to go to Julliard and the whole nine.  If you need a visual for what that would look like, let me give you one:

 

 

wait for it….

 

 

 

BAM!!

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OK, now that we have that image burned into our retinas, let’s move along shall we?  Besides being a world famous dancer, what I always knew I wanted was to get married, have children, and raise a family.  But I had to finish my education to get my parents off my back, so….off I went.  Though I grew up and went to high school in Canada, I chose a small Christian liberal arts college in Rochester NY.  There were several things I liked about that school, but the main reason I went was because they allowed me to transfer my “grade 13” (which Ontario had at the time) high school credits into my freshman year, so I could transfer in as a sophomore.  This meant I could complete my Bachelor’s degree in 3 years instead of 4.  Which meant this whole exercise of getting an education would be over quicker–score!!  I thought at the very least I could meet cute boys.  (Too bad I didn’t know at the time that the school had a 2:1 female to male ratio and all the other girls had the same goal!).

I chose to major in social work with a psychology minor.  Since I didn’t have any real career aspirations, what I was looking for in a major was for courses that looked easy.  Like the kind of course that I could show up for class but not have to work too hard.  This is amusing to me now because there is absolutely NOTHING about being a social worker that is easy.  However, those intro courses were pretty simple for me to coast through.  But….I didn’t really like them.  And I figured I should like my major.  So at the end of my first semester (midway through my sophomore year now), I made my way down to student services to consult with one of the career counselors.

I took one of those tests where you fill in the bubbles with a #2 pencil, and then it spits out this report of your strengths and weaknesses, with potential careers that would be a good fit.  The test showed a strong affinity toward the medical field, and the career counselor suggested that I go and talk to the Director of Nursing.  She was this older woman, the not-so-smiley type, you could say.  Uber-serious.  She said my grades were good enough to be accepted into the program, but because I had missed a lot of the prerequisites I would have to take 1-2 semesters to catch up, and would have to graduate with the class of 1998, instead of 1997.  She said that it was possible to try to catch up with my class, but it would be really hard and hectic and I *probably* couldn’t do it.  Oh.  Hell no.  I came to this school to graduate in 3 years, and I was not going to spend a whole extra year catching up!  Also, who did she think she was, telling me I “probably couldn’t do it”?  I could do it if I wanted to!  So there.  Turns out, in addition to being unmotivated and lacking in career aspiration, I was also equal parts stubborn and defiant.  Also good nursing qualities, right my fellow nurses?

So I decided to show that crotchety lady who didn’t believe I could catch up, that I could.  It turned out to be just the push that I needed, and gave me some focus with a clear goal to work toward.  I called my parents after I switched my major to tell them the good news.  I figured my mom, who was an OR nurse for 25 years, would be excited.  “Oh Tracy, don’t go into nursing!”, she said, experienced as she was with the not-so-desirable aspects of her profession.  I’m going to be honest with you and, mom,– I am so, so sorry–but the fact that my parents told me not to do it MADE ME WANT TO DO IT EVEN MORE!  Again, mom and dad, I love you, thanks for putting up with me all these years.  But, then again, your stubborn apple didn’t fall far from the tree–just saying.

I am proud that I am a nurse, and I am thankful that I have a skill set and experience that allows me to be consistently employable and to help others.  Like I said, it has been a good fit for me.  But is this my “calling”?  Was I “summoned” to a life of serving the sick and infirm?  Well, you just heard my story, so obviously, no.  But I do believe that I am in a unique position to “bloom where I have been planted”, so to speak, and use my skills and experience to serve and help others.  However, if tomorrow God decided to summon me to a life of reading books on the couch in my sweat pants, I would not at all grieve the loss of my nursing career!

I personally think that it is a little presuming and self-promoting to call nursing a vocation.  To, in one breath, say that you were called to an altruistic profession, and yet in the next breath, toot your own horn for said altruism.  It implies that being a nurse is somehow more noble and more holy than being a teacher, an engineer, a custodian, an accountant, or a garbage man.  Can God use me as a nurse?  Yes, I believe so.  But it is so interesting to me that in the Bible, God also used the most unusual people to do His work–a prostitute (Rahab), a Samaritan (dude from the wrong side of town), a banished criminal (Moses), a pre-pubescent shepherd boy (David), and a carpenter’s Son.

I would like to leave you with this thought.  Let’s just all take a moment to THANK GOD that he chose to use me–my skills, my gifts, and my life–as a nurse, and not as a dancer.

 

This isn’t as much fun as I thought is was going to be…

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A few years back, I worked the “close” shift every week on Friday evenings at the pediatric office I worked in.  Everyone else would leave between 4:30-5:00 pm, leaving me and another nurse to care for the pre-weekend stragglers needing strep tests, albuterol nebulizers, etc.  There is something about working those off-shifts that really fosters a strong bond between coworkers.  My nurse friend and I used to refer to our Fridays as “therapy night”.  There in the quiet office, after all the sick stragglers had left, we would go through labs, finish up the day’s work, and talk about things that needed to be said, but are hard to say out loud with lots of people around.  We both had small kids at the time, so most of the time we ended up talking about parenting, and the inherent struggles and frustrations that come with having little ones.  It was not uncommon for one of us to get teary during our Friday evenings.  One of the things we used to lament over was how, when your kids are young, people with older kids, teens, or fully grown children will tell you things like, “I would give anything to go back to that stage.  It just gets so much harder as they get older!”, or  “little kids have little problems, big kids have big problems”!  I cannot even begin to tell you how much distress this caused us.  Here we were, two young mothers, feeling stretched to the max, with the people around us telling us it was going to get harder?  Lord, have mercy.

If I look back on parenting then versus now, I wouldn’t say it gets harder.  It just gets different.  It is easier in some ways, but more challenging in other ways. (Let me qualify this by saying I don’t have any teenagers yet!)  For instance, I no longer wake up every 3 hours at night to feed and change a baby–easier!  I never have to potty train the fruit of my loins ever again–easier!  I don’t have to follow a toddler around everywhere to keep him from killing himself on what is normally a totally benign household object–easier!!  I can do all kinds of things now like take a shower (alone), go upstairs (and leave the kids downstairs), and even sometimes pee alone.  However, there are all these new challenges that come up when your kids are older and just navigating life in elementary school– from math homework, to bullies, to drama with friends, to trying to figure out where they fit in.  And something about guiding your kids through it brings up all your old “stuff”.  At least it does for me.

I have another good friend whose daughter, when she was younger, was known for saying, “this isn’t as much fun as I thought it was going to be.”  She apparently would say this often, usually while on an outing of some kind that one of her family members had carefully and lovingly planned.  There they would be, in the middle of bowling or hunting butterflies or what-have-you, and she would make her disappointed declaration.  Gotta hand it to the kid for being honest, at least.

It hasn’t really been that long since our family passed the baby and toddler stage, but already, with my kids at the age of 7 and 9 years, I sometimes find myself looking back at their younger years through rose-colored glasses.  I remember how fuzzy their baby hair was, their fat little hands clapping together, their conversational babble, and all their “firsts”.  I catch myself thinking that their present stage “isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be”.  I forget those Friday nights when my coworker and I would put our heads down on our desks because of how hard it was then, trying to hold everything together.

I think it is hard for us to say these things to each other about parenting, because no one wants to be perceived as being ungrateful for their family.  We all want to be the kind of people who “count our blessings”.  Those of us, such as myself, who had to journey through infertility before having children, feel even more pressure to “be thankful”.  Also, there’s always those one or two people who, when you try to lay it all out there, say something like, “oh, I am just loving each and every stage along the way!”, which of course makes you feel like a total loser.  So let’s be clear.  Just because I think parenting is hard, does not mean that I am not grateful for the experience.  However, at least for me, it is difficult to do something that is hard while pretending it is not hard.  I want to be able to be as authentic as my friend’s daughter, and just be able to say, “this isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be”, and have someone chime in with a “me too!”.

So, those of you who are reading my blog thinking it is about my trip to Haiti are probably wondering how you got suckered in to reading about my parenting insecurities.  Here is how it relates.  For me, my late 20’s and early 30’s was all about my babies–getting pregnant, staying pregnant, raising my little ones, and experiencing all of the joy and pain that goes along with that phase of life.  My life, my time, and my body were not my own, and it was good, it was what I wanted.  I’ve had my head down for a long time, just doing the work that goes along with it.  Now they are older and more independent, and I feel like both my kids and I have moved on to a different developmental stage.  For them, they are becoming more independent and figuring out the world on their terms.  For me, my family is still my primary focus.  However, now that I am sleeping through the night again and not changing diapers anymore, I feel like I can lift up my head and look around me.  Going to Haiti is, in a sense, ushering in this new phase of looking around and seeing how I fit into the world.  For those of you who are in the thick of things with your little ones (or teens, aging parents, marital issues, or other life circumstances), please don’t read this blog and think that you too somehow have to go out into the world and “do something”.   Maybe you need to keep your head down right now.  A time may come later when you can look up again.  Also, let’s not listen to the people who say it “gets harder”.  

 

More about Heartline, and how you can help!

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Today I would like to give you some more deails about the organization in Haiti that I will be visiting, Heartline ministries.  I spoke about how I learned about Heartline ministries in one of my previous posts.  One of their main ministries is their maternity center, which provides Haitian women with medical care during pregnancy and birth.  There are 3 full time midwives, in addition to two Haitian RN’s.  Here in the U.S., we take prenatal care for granted, and forget how many women and babies around the world die due to complications from childbirth or poor prenatal care.   For these women, having a clean, safe place to deliver their baby is a gift not taken for granted.  Heartline also has a women’s program aimed at teaching women life skills and literacy, to help them out of the cycle of poverty.  In addition, Heartline sponsors Haitian children so they can attend school, and provides programs for men to teach them business and life skills.

I am so excited to share this next part with you right now.  The other day as I was perusing the  Heartline website, trying to get to know the organization a little better before my travel date to Haiti, I noticed they have a list of ongoing needs for supplies and medications on their website.  I had a thought–wouldn’t it be great if I could bring an extra suitcase with me, filled with supplies?  Then my friends and family could help in a practical way, be involved with me, like we are doing it together.  You wouldn’t exactly be coming to Haiti with me, but in a way, you would.

As I looked over the list, I thought, what if we had a BABY SHOWER for the maternity center at Heartline?  Then we could gather donations and supplies, AND, maybe we could eat cake!  I mean, if it is a shower, there should be cake, right?    Many of the things they need are so practical, and could be picked up with your grocery order or Target run.  Some of the more specialized medical equipment might be harder to come by, but I am going to probe around. If anyone has any connections on where to find a cervical tennaculum, let me know.  Also, what the heck is that?  Never mind, maybe I don’t want to know!

I would really love to hear some feedback from all of you, whether in the blog comments, on Facebook, or in person, if you would like to be involved.  If I am able to get a big enough haul, I may consider shipping the supplies to Heartline before my trip so I can travel light.  If that is the case, I would accept monetary donations to help cover shipping.  My big dream would be to have enough things collected that we could have a “packing party”, and I think this would be an excellent cake-eating opportunity!  For those of you who don’t like to shop or who perhaps do not live nearby, I could purchase supplies on your behalf if you prefer to send/give money.  Money would also be useful for shipping costs.  Or, if you prefer, see Heartline’s website, as you can always make a direct donation to them via PayPal.

I just think it would be so fun to see how much we could gather, don’t you?  I remember being pregnant and being showered with the love and generosity of my friends and family.  My little babies came into the world with more supplies than a baby could ever need.  My firstborn amassed so many onesies and receiving blankets before he was even born, that I actually had a hormonally- induced breakdown because I didn’t see how I could ever make use of or even find space for everything.  Picture me crying in a rocking chair in my unborn baby’s nursery because he had 58 size 0-3 onesies.  Yes, it really happened.

So…..who’s in?  Please start by spreading the word–“like” and “share” this post, and let me know if you want to be involved!