real talk

This is real talk here today. I’m admitting some ungraceful moments, but I’m just going to pour it here so that it doesn’t fester inside.

I decided to take my kids to The Compassion Experience this year as I’d heard so many positive things about it before. I thought it could be a good antidote to holiday greed and give us a space to think and talk with a new perspective.

I chose a Sunday night just after the kids got home from their father’s which was the WORST possible idea in hindsight. They are always complete lunatics and erupt in predictable tears and tantrums in the three hours that exist between the 5pm drop-off and bedtime. I read everywhere that this is completely normal and expected as kids return to their primary custodial parent, and I know that it illustrates their comfort level with me and their feeling of safety. Any therapist will echo that. But it is hard in the moment, I admit. They save all of their tears for me, it seems. Monday morning we are back to normal, but Sunday nights following a weekend away are rough.

Anyhow, I selected Sunday because I didn’t want to do this amidst the weeknight rush, and I was pleasantly surprised as we walked through the rooms of the exhibit. Both kids were listening closely, asking questions, looking curiously.

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There is such a disconnect though – between our reality and the reality in front of us as we walked through. Our warm beds and clean water and award-winning schools, their communities full of poverty that bring concerns we never think about. I can bridge this disconnect with empathy and compassion, and for a brief moment, my kids can, too. But it is all so far away from us in the land of excess.

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I’ve been wanting to sponsor a child for a long time, and I know from my experience growing up that reading their letters and hearing their stories can be so fulfilling and enlightening for kids here at home. It feels like a personal commitment and a friend. And almost anyone can manage $38 a month. So at the end of our time there on Sunday, we were glancing at the cards and deciding on a child to sponsor, and I made the terrible mistake of explaining our sponsorship in terms my own kids could understand. (“We can send her pictures and letters, and it’s just the cost of one toy, and it helps her go to school and see a doctor and eat healthy food.”) And my normally mellow, sweet, kind-hearted kindergartner had a full-on tantrum of the worst kind. Put that picture back! I want toys! I don’t want to send her our money! at a volume that assured it to be my most humiliating parenting moment ever. Hands down.

I was so shocked that I stood there stunned for a minute and tried to reason with him, but nothing worked. He was out of it (expected 7 pm meltdown after a weekend away), and I asked my mom (thank God she was with me) to guide him out while Norah and I finished the sponsorship process. When we got home, he was still not himself and not exactly understanding the significance of why I was so bothered by his behavior. But eventually, before bed, he came around a bit. He wrote me an apology note on his own accord – complete with kindergarten spelling. (Really, this kid!) And I found him crying in the bathtub which opened the door for us to talk about a lot of things.

This makes the third time he’s come home on a Sunday night for me to find him crying in a room alone, and it leaves me so broken. Growing pains are hard for all of us right now. I’m grateful he feels comfortable talking to me, but the things he says are enough to break my heart.

Add this to my car accident on Saturday night, and this past few days have felt heavy. I didn’t work that into my last post because I wasn’t really ready to talk about it yet. But a driver took an illegal left turn and plowed into me on Saturday night. I emerged fine, but a few feet’s difference, and the impact would have been on my driver’s side door. And you can’t help but think of the what if scenarios that leave you terrified.

The kindest woman stopped as a witness, and I am forever grateful for her. She hugged and offered water and spoke to the police and told me what to do as I was still a little shell-shocked. My brother came to pick me up, and the hassle of insurance and such will consume most of my week, but I’m okay. Which is obviously what matters.

But sometimes it just feels like so much. It’s moments like this that I realize I’m alone in a way I have never been in all of my adult life. And it’s such an unfathomable thing for me that the first person I would have called to help for the past 15 years of my life is the absolute last person I could call and expect to help in my roadside moment on Saturday. It’s weird not having a person, you know? Or it is for me when I’ve spent all my life having someone. These are lessons so many people spend their twenties learning, but my timing is not the standard path, and I’m just learning them now.

Despite these moments when solitude feels so vast and heavy, the universe is sending me constant messages I am not alone; I know this. There are so many friends who would have been willing to come and get me as I was stranded on Saturday; my family who was there to help me in a moment’s notice; the kind witness who stopped and stayed with me until help arrived. There are miracles that exist everyday in my life if I have eyes to see them… One of which is that I escaped without harm on Saturday night. I see this and I know this, and I prayed these prayers of gratitude all weekend.

But it’s so easy to get caught up in our own little worlds, our own little problems. I got so frustrated with Jude for doing this on Sunday with his insistence that his toy box not suffer for us to send someone else food and schooling. But here I am doing the same thing as I have so much to be grateful for, and I still get overwhelmed with the relentless, gritty mess that life leaves sometimes – the broken car, the piles of laundry, the unexpected bills, the stinging comments of someone who doesn’t have any care or empathy for me now and likely never will.

It really is up to us, isn’t it? To choose how we will perceive the world around us. To choose what we will focus on and what mark we will leave. 2015 has brought so much to me, some incredibly hard times and some almost unbearably good moments, too. In these last few weeks of the year, I’m trying to hold a space of gratitude for all of it. For all it’s shown me.

It was midnight by the time my brother dropped me off on Saturday night at home. The kids were gone and the house was quiet, and I turned down the sheets in my big empty bed. I’m sometimes alone in what feels like a vast, empty world that is spinning faster than I can keep up. But I’m in my own living and breathing body. I’m safe and cared for and alive in both new and old ways, and I recognize that all of it is a miracle.

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12 thoughts on “real talk

  1. Hi Katie, my name is Xochi and I read your essay in Sweatpants and Coffee. It led me here to your site. I had to read more of your musings so I signed up to receive email notifications when you posted something new and I’m so glad that I did. Your writing is beautiful, thoughtful, and elicits serious emotions for me. I feel a little strange commenting because you don’t know me and it feels a little like I’m reading your diary, but I want you to know that I’m so glad you’re okay. I’m so glad your children are okay and that you’re doing such a good job of raising and loving them. Reading about your time with them is incredibly inspiring. I just had my first baby, Eddie, a little over seven months ago. I feel like he cries more with me than anyone else and I constantly have to remind myself it’s because he trusts me enough to melt down. It’s hard putting out so much energy caring for another person, let alone two, but I never knew how absolutely worth it it would be. Thank you for sharing the good and the bad. We’re all a mix of both no matter what social media would try and make us believe and it’s refreshing to read an honest account of your life. Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Xochi. And for your kind comments. ❤ The baby months are intense in the best way. It just prepares you for the rest of it, I think. (Or that's what I am feeling so far in all of this.) The highs and the lows and all the in betweens. Is that your Etsy shop as your url? Such beautiful things. Thanks again for reading, and I wish you and baby Eddie well.

      1. I’ve been told the baby phase is the most physically draining and it slowly changes to become more mentally demanding as they get older- they’re more self-sufficient but still developing that prefrontal cortex. 😉 That is my Etsy store, thank you! I’m hoping to turn it into my full-time business and quit working outside of the home soon. Etsy has been a true life changer for a lot of folks, and I’m one of them. 😉

  2. Katie, first of all, I am thankful you have survived your car accident. I had the same kind, illegal left turn in front of me, slammed into my front driver’s side inches from my taking out my legs and who knows what, and my car wrapped around a fire hydrant like a crushed soda can.

    Secondly, upon picking him up from his bus stop this afternoon, I excitedly surprised my 6YO with a treat for ice cream or slushy, his choice, after he announced he got 100% on his spelling test. He immediately, said, “ooh, can I get a toy instead?” When I said no, the typical tantrum set in and I had to threaten forgoing the treat completely. When he finally settled into the treat, he argued with the 3YO over where to go and settled on Bruster’s. We arrive at Bruster’s and he spends 10 minutes deciding and sampling, all the while, kicking a soccer ball around the sidewalk and storefront. (As we were the only one’s there, I allowed him to bring the ball.) Finally I tell him to decide already. I let him get 2 scoops and add a Dino cookie (afterall, it WAS a celebration!), and he reluctantly chooses Oreo b/c “they don’t have the flavor I want!” He sits and eats his ice cream, happily digging the best, most Oreo-filled bites out and showing them to me, and commenting on how cool the Dino cookie is. I start to feel calmer and happy again about the situation. When it is time to go, we get back in the car and I joyfully announce “well that was fun! What a great treat! Wasn’t that a good time?” to which he immediately replies in a totally nonchalant, unenthusiastic voice, “well, I guess so.” I. Lost. It. The next 4 minutes of the car ride were miserable. I tried to explain about being grateful for what we have, and he just kept arguing, and then his sister kept mimicking him, which drives me absolutely nuts, and finally, I demanded a “silent car.” But no. That wasn’t enough for him. He decides to chant over and over “not silent, not silent, not silent.” If I could have reached back while driving and…well, you get the idea. We arrived at our next destination with both kids crying, and I wanted to just leave them in the car…but I didn’t, of course. I waited patiently for them both to calm down, and I took many deep breaths, and I said if you guys can be behave in the pet store you will earn your stories back. And you know what??? They did. this time.

    My point of this story is really just to say you are not alone, which you already know anyway! I try every day to teach my kids about being compassionate and grateful and to give to others and not be so greedy…deep inside their little bodies are BIG, full and thankful hearts, and I KNOW that about them, but they don’t quite know how to apply that part of their character make-up just yet. It will come in time…I’m sure of it. In the meantime, I will just keep doing my best and probably losing my cool more often than not.

    As always, I love your writing, and I admire you in countless ways. Much love to you. Jude and Norah…
    Brooke McQ

    1. Thanks for sharing, Brooke. It is HARD, isn’t it? I feel like I don’t know how they are getting these messages, but they are. Then again, I look at how much they are given and how often kids are treated – not just by parents but grandparents and friends and lots of people. I was reading the other day about how empathy is truly a learned trait, and it takes time to process that, even in the adult brain. So when we hear something awful on the news and change the channel, for instance, it doesn’t reach us. Psychologists say it takes actual time and pause and stillness to get to empathy. I think it’s the same with kids. It takes years and years of reinforcement to “unlearn” the human way of selfishness. It’s hard though… feels like an uphill battle.

  3. Mrs. Corbett

    As your English teacher I only get to take the tiniest bit of credit for your talent. But as your English teacher I get to feel all the pride and joy for the woman, mother, writer, teacher that I’ve been blessed to observe you becoming. Sending yiu much love this early morning.

  4. Joanna

    Hi Katie,
    Your writing resonates with me. It seems we are on a similar path. Pre-divorce I joke that I was a “mingle” (a married single), as my ex travelled often and, as he later revealed, had many affairs. I am just coming off two weeks of solitude, and I am learning to open up spaces to the highs and lows of life. The times when I yearn for “the first person I would have called to help for the past…years of my life is the absolute last person I could call and expect to help” are now diminishing. I too am now content to relish in the quiet of my home when my boys are with their dad. I am better than year one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your difficult journey. You are not alone.
    Joanna

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Joanna. The one year marker is huge isn’t it? I am entering year two now, and it does feel lighter. Less strange and foreign. Strength to you on your own path. ❤

  5. HH

    I know it’s so hard in the moment but it’s really wonderful that your children can feel like they can cry and freak out after a weekend away. I remember that antsy, teary, crazy feeling as a kid all to well coming back to my mom’s house and I also knew that my mom could not handle me crying about the situation so I stuffed it all down and helped my brother do the same. Crying is a lot healthier!

  6. Pingback: April Insanity | Mama the Reader

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