Dear Parent of Young Children…

parenting blog

Dear Parent of Young Children,

You are amazing – an ordinary person taking on an extraordinary role. There’s not much that can adequately prepare you for the change of everything that is thrust on you when a small person enters your world. You find yourself facing scenarios that you could not have imagined pre-kiddo. Like, that time when you went to a friend’s house for dinner and found it difficult to concentrate on conversation, because something distinctly smelt like poo. Everyone was chatting, and all you could do was nod and smile while your head was trying to Sherlock the birthplace of the malodour. You were hoping like heck it wasn’t you. Perhaps it was the dog? Oh, please Jesus, let it be the dog. But it wasn’t the dog. Your very own human puppy had left a schmeer on your pants, and was found happily eating his dinner and depositing his payload on a lovely and expensive, fabric-covered dining chair.

Or that time you woke up from a nap to discover that your five-year old had hacked his coif with a pair of paper-only kid scissors. You were tempted to garb your mini Lloyd Christmas in a shirt that said, “I did this ↑ to myself” but you didn’t because it would’ve been cruel (obvs) and also, future therapy sessions… so you sucked it up, and began to learn the difficult lesson that your tiny humans have an independent will, make their own decisions, and not everything they do is direct reflection on you.

And you most certainly will never forget that ill-fated trip to Fred Meyer two days before Christmas. You dropped your little love at the playland to at least alleviate some of the stress of holiday shopping, and headed off into the mass of humanity to complete your task. That’s until you got to aisle three and your heart sunk as the Christmas music stopped and you heard, “Would the parent of <insert name here> please return to the Playland”. That was bad enough, but on the way to the childcare, your blood positively froze as you began to hear the name of every.single.child subsequently called out for their parents also to return. It transpired that your resourceful wee lad had thought the carpeted corner of the room would make a fine urinal and the whole place had to be shut down for an hour while sanitising measures took place. And as you took the walk of shame with your stinky bundle past the other parents in line, you made a decision about the sort of person you are going to be – not the person giving you daggers because your kid ruined their child-free shopping experience (because clearly you had spent months training your child to find creative and inconvenient places to pee), but the person who gives you a knowing smile, because they know, it’s probably their turn next, and we’re all in this together.

No-one ever tells you that you will scroll through Insta pics of child-free people posting pics of themselves at spendy day spas with captions like, “Taking a much-needed self-care moment.” And it burns, because the only self-care moment you can hope for right now is five minutes in the loo without several knocks on the door and at least one piece of artwork being slid under the door for your critique. But they also never tell you of the restorative powers of a small body leaning in for a cuddle while a tiny arm hooks around your neck.

People will tell you things like, “It’s totally fine changing a nappy when it’s your own kid.” But then you discover, it’s not fine. You discover a deep hate for poo outside the watery confines of the toilet, and your reaction if some gets on your skin is just like you’ve been smeared with Ebola. But then you slowly begin to learn that doing the things you don’t like on a regular basis builds character in the way that nothing else could.

So, fellow comrades in the trenches, take heart. You are not alone on this crazy, exhausting, incredible and humbling journey. I have no doubt that Jesus cheers you on as you undertake this most important of roles. You are loved, you are seen, and you are doing a great job.

Much love,

Deb xx

Confessions of a Recovering Smugaholic

smug 1

I have become aware in recent times of what I can only call an indulgent sense of smugness. Some of it manifests itself in a self-satisfied Cheshire cat-like enjoyment of my nice house, nice family and cosily heated car seats. Some of it manifests itself in the sort of attitude displayed by the old guy that reminds any complainers that he used to have to get up at 3am to walk 20 miles to school, barefoot in the snow through bear-infested woods. It shows itself in the form of my firmly tied tubes smirking at people recounting the torment of sleepless newborn nights. It’s the little piece of me that is in danger of giving out slightly patronising relationship advice from the warmth of my happy marriage.

All-in-all it’s really pretty ugly. I had always put it in the category of pride up until now – and while that still may be a part of it, I have become more convinced that for many of us, smugness is the cushion on which rests the still traumatised parts of a past experience. An emotional and mental barrier between where we’re at and where we once were. An illusion of being protected from ever having to return to that place or those feelings.

You see, when I consider it, I am most prone to smugness in areas where I have come through a significant struggle. The nightmare of having a severely-refluxy newborn that won’t stop screaming, the many years of singleness that were so desperately unwanted, the intense work of dealing through my inner mess – my bitter acquaintance with these things has resulted in an almost ironic mingling of compassion and smugness towards others facing similar issues. Which only goes to show, that there is a measure of brokenness evident.

For me, there are two main reasons to be aware of smugsville. The first of which is that it is terribly unkind to others. You know that feeling when people are patronising, dismissive, or know-it-all about a situation you are facing – it’s the very worst! Our smugness leads us to assumptions about others’ experiences and blocks us from truly being present and compassionate. And secondly, it’s an indicator that there’s likely some part of me that is needing a bit of TLC.

When we encounter a traumatic event (which doesn’t need to be ‘traumatic’ by any objective scale – it’s all in how our minds perceive it), our brains often segregate the traumatised part behind a wall in order to help keep us functional. While this is super handy to keep living life, there comes a time, usually once the trauma is well behind us, when the injured part of us can start to be disruptive to healthy living. In order to experience wholeness, the wounded part of ourselves needs to be integrated back into our lives.

Put it this way, the part of us that has experienced trauma is locked up in a cell so it’s not able to incapacitate us by running rampant through our minds. But, eventually, it will start to make its presence known. At that point, we have a choice. We can smother the tin-cup-on-the-jail-bars noise with a big pillow of smugness and rest our weary bones on top of it. OR, we can undergo the often-painstaking process of integrating our injured cellmate back into the society of our life. How we go about that will differ based on varying factors – including the severity of our trauma, other stuff going on in our lives, and past experience of working through mental and emotional issues. We may simply need awareness and a few moments of reflection or journaling – or we may need to get help from someone qualified to walk the journey with us.

I don’t want to be a smuggerton any more – the only cushion I want others to experience with me is a soft place for them to rest their stories for a bit.

Love you friends,

Deb

She’s Really Let Herself Go…

goldfish jumping out of the water

It was a couple of years ago that I first wrote on the subject of body image, and it’s time for another go-round. It’s been on my mind a lot lately. Since that time, my weight has fluctuated with the different migraine meds I’ve tried. I monitored it weekly or so by dragging my scales out of their not-so-hidden hiding place in the garage, almost guiltily jumping on the scale in a furtive fashion, and dealing with the emotional aftermath of my new number. Until, finally, a couple of months ago I decided I was over it. The scales had a hold of me that I was just done with. So, I bit the bullet and frog-marched them out the wheely bin. Good riddance. Or so I thought…you see, because I know where my parents’-in-law keep their scales…and one of my good friends also has a scale in her bathroom…and there’s one at my local pharmacy… so…

It is for this very reason that I realised I needed to make a more full-scale assault on this sense of needing to fit into society’s ideal of fit, healthy, beautiful, acceptable, or whatever you want to call it. It’s super sneaky. It’s ALWAYS in our faces. Always. So, forgive me if you feel like my words are a wee bit strong here today, I intend NO offense, but I need them to be strong to stave off the onslaught of shame that keeps trying to infiltrate into my world.

You see, once I got rid of my scales, there was a period of time when I was in the middle of transitioning migraine preventatives, and I could tell my body was changing, but because of lack of said scales, I couldn’t actually tell if it was getting bigger or smaller. But my health was much improved and I felt, surely, my body was beginning to reflect this. Until I ferreted out a secret-squirrel scale at someone’s house, and to my horror, I had packed on several kilos in a matter of a couple of weeks. What I experienced at this time was nothing more than a whirlwind of shame and despair. I expected to gain weight during pregnancy, then while breastfeeding, then on different migraine preventatives, but now, while eating gluten and sugar free whole foods, exercising six days a week, and generally in much better health? Nope. But it turns out that my new med, which is doing wonders for my head, is a weight-gain drug for me. Hooray.

I was chatting with one of my friends at this time, and said something to her that unwittingly set me on the warpath against the shame; “The problem is not that I’ve put on a few pounds – the problem is that I live in a society that says that that’s not okay.” Bingo. So I started to find some resources that would give me ammo for the battle. Firstly, I watched Taryn Brumfitt’s excellent doco ‘Embrace’ (on Netflix here in the US, but I don’t think in NZ as of yet…but you should find it somehow!! It’s SO GOOD), and listened to a body positivity podcast featuring Jes Baker, who is an advocate for body liberation, and a super onto-it chick.

What I have learned over this time, is that to simply start to love my body is great, but in essence, it’s simply trying to stretch the rules of acceptability in order to make myself fit. It’s changing the rules of the game so that I still feel okay playing it. It’s a wider (literally 😉) margin for the same old tactic of seeking belonging, approval and validity by external measures. Instead, I’m taking myself out of the race. Those rules can’t apply if you’re not in the game. My body is so useful in getting me around in this life, and for this, I am so grateful. But, it does not represent my value as a person. Not one little bit. So, whether it’s toned and slim and sleek, or a wee bit wobbly around the edges (or a lot wobbly), it makes NO difference to the way God has called me to live.

(As a slight aside here, I know that the old ‘but you’ve got to be healthy’ thing comes into play for a lot of people here. And I agree that health is essential. But I also agree, that it’s none of your business. My health is between me, my doctor and my conscience – which, btw, is totally clear.)

We’ve all heard the completely hideous phrase, “She’s really let herself go!” Well, it’s time to redeem it. I really am learning to let myself go – away from unkind, ungodly, media-perpetuated rules that tell me that how I look is the measure of my worth. I’m letting myself off the hook to spend my limited time, energy and money on things that bring life, love, wholeness and the Kingdom of God into this world.

Will you join me in letting in yourself go?

Love you friends,

Deb

A Chronic Pain in the Ass – Part II

migraine

It’s been a couple of months since I wrote about my battle with chronic migraine, so I thought it time for a wee update…and the news is good!! At the beginning of August I started a two-month free trial for a brand new drug called Aimovig. It’s the only FDA approved drug available that was developed specifically for migraine. Apparently people who suffer from chronic migraine have too much of an amino acid called CGRP (Calcitonin Gene Related Peptide). I stick myself in the stomach with two auto-injectors each month and by some crazy magic, the drug finds it way to my brain and binds to the receptors in the brain that receive CGRP. This means that the peptide cannot land on my brain and it has meant that life has become a whole lot more pleasant!

The first month gave me approximately two week-long stretches of a clear head, but with a couple of MEGA migraines in-between. The second month I have had only one hideous migraine, and a few rough days, but more clear days than the month before. It builds up in your system, kind of like a vaccine, so that over time it should become more effective. It starts wearing off about 5-6 days before my next shot, which is funnily enough quite difficult to handle, both emotionally and physically. I think having a taste of freedom has raised my baseline of what is normal and the return of pain is more unwelcome than I could have guessed.

This drug costs like a million dollars (or $700 per month), and I’m currently having to appeal my insurance company for coverage, but thankfully the company that developed the medicine are giving it away for free for up to 12-months while the insurance process takes place.

Lots of people have asked me if I’m super excited about being so much better – and to be honest, I think I’m working through a bit of PTSD from the past couple of years, so it doesn’t feel safe to get excited. I thought the migraines would end once I got out of the first trimester of my pregnancy, and then once Macie was born, and then when I stopped feeding, and then there have been the four other preventatives that I have tried and been disappointed with. So, I’m wary. Getting my hopes up has proved dangerous in the past, and my battered soul is only just now daring to poke its wee head up above the trenches and check for the all clear. But oh, I am grateful, and so so relieved. I remember being plagued by pain, watching people walking by casually on the street, takeaway coffee in hand, and screaming on the inside, “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW LUCKY YOU ARE???!!” Now I have a taste of how wonderful it is to commit to an event and have a fairly good chance of actually making it; of going on holiday with the family and not having to say ‘no’ to half of the activities because I have to lie in a dark room with an icepack on my head. And it’s so wonderful.

Something else I’m realising is that now life is returning to more of a normal state, my thinking requires attention. I have gotten in the mindset of a sick person, and while I still need to be mindful of resting and being careful as I recover, I also need to remind myself on a daily basis that I am becoming healthy. In fact, in order to re-train my brain I’ve become on of those irritating people that keeps a mantra on the lockscreen of their phone: ‘I am healthy, I have energy, I am patient, I am kind.” (Those last two are mainly in aid of rectifying the grumpy-mum situ that my poor kiddos have had to endure for the past couple of years).

So there you go! All-in-all very, very hopeful! I could not be more grateful for the amazing scientists and researchers that have devoted their God-given smarts to developing this drug – it is making a world of difference to sufferers and their families all over the States. Here’s to many, many more pain-free days ahead!

Love you friends,

Deb xx

A Chronic Pain in the Ass

migraine

It was about this time two years ago that we got the much hoped for news that I was pregnant with little Macie. After three early miscarriages, this was a much celebrated occasion and I was so elated! I had only known I was preggo for about a week when I started to feel really ill. Not just the usual nausea and fatigue, but I just felt really odd and off…like an alien had moved into my body. With this off feeling I also started experiencing daily headaches and lots of migraines. Being that I was pregnant, I couldn’t use my normal migraine treatments, and they become more frequent and more severe. I blamed it on the hormonal supplements I was taking due to the risk of miscarriage, and figured I would feel much better after the first trimester. When, in fact, things got worse in the second trimester, I just had to ride it out, trusting that once the baby was born, all would be well. Now, two years later, I’m still in a daily battle to manage chronic migraine.

Being the googling nerd that I am, I have become somewhat of an expert on migraine. So, let me inform you that chronic migraine is diagnosed for those that suffer over 15 headache days a month (less than that is termed episodic migraine). At the worst point, I was having around 20 migraine days a month, barely one day in four or five was a day I wasn’t in pain…and I pretty much never had a day when my head was clear.

So here are a few of my scattered thoughts about becoming an unwilling member of the community of chronic pain:

It sucks. Plain and simple. It really does. Part of me wants people to understand what it’s like to have to spend energy you don’t have looking after two young boys, and then all your ‘free’ time in a dark room with an ice-pack on your head. But then, the other part of me knows that it would be impossible for anyone to understand what it’s like unless they’ve been there.

It’s lonely. Pain is isolating. Making plans can be tricky and they’re always pencilled in, pending on what my head is doing.

It affects the whole family – especially Caleb. Goodness knows it’s hard enough listening to someone whine when they’ve got the flu, it’s virtually impossible for two whole years. He has to carry the extra weight with the kids and also deal with a wife that’s almost never 100%.

New, often really annoying, buzz words become part of your vocab. I remember one Christmas when I was little someone brought tiramisu for dessert. I had never heard the word before, and all of a sudden it was like the new hot word for the day; everything was ‘tiramisu this’ and ‘tiramisu that’, and ‘this tiramisu is lovely’, and ‘have you tried the tiramisu yet?’ SO annoying. That’s been our house for the past couple of years. Medical terms and drug names are an unwanted part of our lingo now. Some of the particularly irritating ones being  CGRP, trigeminal nerve, prodrome, Aimovig, Topamax and Ondansetron (which also sounds like it could be one of Optimus Prime’s buddies).

It makes you a crazy person. I google treatments ad-nauseum, even to the point where I have taken new treatment plans to the neurologist for his approval (which, thankfully, he’s really open to). I try home remedies (the most successful of which is strict diet control of no gluten or sugar, and drinking fresh steeped ginger root throughout the day). I even feel guilty when a bad migraine hits…I feel like somehow it’s my fault that I’m letting the family down again. It’s horrible.

I always thought that when pain struck, you could just take meds, it’s that simple. But with migraines, it’s not. After a time, abortive medications (pain relievers and migraine specific meds) actually begin to have a rebound effect and give you migraines. So I can only take two lots of meds per week at the most if I want to avoid getting into an awful headache rut that can only be broken with steroids. This means that I will frequently go whole days with a bad head, unable to take meds, only to cave in the evening because it gets too bad. It’s a really hideous situation to be in.

It’s super expensive. The Botox treatments I currently receive cost around $1,500 out of pocket every three months, money which we don’t have, and it’s a tough pill to swallow (metaphorically). The new meds I’m about to try cost around $600 a month, so it’s about same. It feels like a kick in the guts spending every last penny on treatments to make life more bearable, when it desperately feels like a holiday would be an infinitely nicer thing to save for!!

It’s not all doom and gloom though, God has been really kind, and a couple of kind family members have pitched in to help out with finance when they can. Additionally, things really are MUCH better than a year ago…I now usually have to medicate only a couple of times a week when things get bad, and I have a number of helpful tricks in my wee toolbox to manage my head. The Botox has definitely made a difference, but not as much as I had hoped, so I’m going to be trying a brand new preventative drug that has just hit the market; the first ever preventative specifically developed for migraine.

Your prayers would be deeply appreciated. I would LOVE to be able to get back to normal life in time, to be able to make it through the day without needing to nap (sometimes more than once), to have energy to play with my boys, to no longer feel the PTSD sense of dread whenever the pain returns, to hang out with friends, and to get off the meds that make me feel like a walking zombie!

Much love,

Deb xx

The Tree of Life

the-tree-of-life-hd_

I have been aware of a nagging sense of discontent in my soul of late. I think it’s probably been there for ages, but as the fog of chronic illness lifts, I am better able to see it. It’s a longing for my life to be different; more full, more productive, more exciting, more fun. I miss my old life when I was younger, was firmly entrenched in a solid crew of friends, and had more invites to events than I cared to attend. Yet, if I am honest with myself, I remember that there was a nagging (sometimes raging) discontent in those times also; I wanted to be married, to own a house and live in America(!). In fact, if I am even more honest with myself, I will come to the conclusion that what I think I need is the free time, energy, health and social status of my younger years, coupled with the current blessings of marriage, family, our own home and a decent education. I want the very best bits of each stage of my life to converge into the present. I want these things because my heart, mind, soul and brain has been tricked into thinking that that is what they need to be content.

When I am in a grotty patch of migraines, I feel strangely more content; resigned to the fact that I can only just barely keep my head above water trying to live and keep two little dudes alive. When my treatment kicks in, the discontent starts squirming and making its presence known. I know that I won’t just be stumbling from day-to-day, waiting until I can stumble into a dark room with an ice-pack on my head. I am aware that I could attend events, I could work a productive job, I could get fitter, I could become more social, and attractive, and popular, and successful. My health would allow me the chance to chase after the things that I so regularly pursue to provide what I think I need for joy and contentment.

Fill in the blank, my life would be more complete/joyous/full if only __________ (I was married/married to someone else/single, I owned a home/boat/car/full head of hair, I was skinnier/stronger/healthier/smarter/prettier/funnier/more popular, I was understood/appreciated/valued, I had a best friend/10,000 followers on Instagram/naturally long and full eyelashes/the magical ability to eat hot chips without gaining weight, I had kids/did not have kids, I had more responsibility/more adventure and less responsibility…).

Unfortunately, when we chase after any of the above and more to fulfil our lives, it’s like sitting down to a meal of lollipops…immediately gratifying and very appealing, but ultimately leaves you with an emptiness within and a longing for something more. The world around us is endlessly whispering to us and enticing us to find life in a million different ways. We get addicted to the sweetness and instant gratification of receiving life from anything other than God, but we end up chasing the proverbial dangling carrot.

I recently listened to an excellent sermon by Tim Keller on the wounded spirit (you can find it on YouTube). In it, he parallels the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden with the Cross on which Jesus died. He suggests that the Tree of Life, which is cut off to us by deciding to live life on our own terms, becomes fully accessible to us through the sacrifice of Jesus. That is SUCH good news!! Do you know what this meant to me? On the one hand, it is clear that I am going to have to do some work diverting my thoughts away from the ways I habitually seek contentment, but on the other hand, it gives me GREAT joy!! Because it means that the longings I have within do not need to remain going unmet, my discontent can be fulfilled, I can eat from the Tree of Life. Jesus can, and wants to be, my everything. I can give up the exhausting, relentless and ultimately fruitless pursuit of the intangible. Now, that is great hope indeed!

 

Bless you friends,

Deb xx

Parenthood

Rant

My sweet little chilled out Macie has, overnight it seems, turned into a scratching, biting, dirt-eating, roaring, running, scaler-of-all-things-high-and-dangerous. This turn of events, coupled with the sassy-pants attitude of Mr. Four, has pushed stay at home parenthood to a whole. new. level. So here goes my requisite ‘parenting is so hard’ whinge. I figure I’m probably due for one…once a year seems about right.

Before I get into it, I feel the need for a disclaimer. This isn’t going to be one of those ‘find the gold in the hard moments’ posts. Not that we don’t need those, of course, we do. BUT, I read a lot of articles that talk about the trials of parenting and then finish up by talking about how precious our kids are, how cherished this time is, and how fleeting it really is. I read these and initially feel comforted, but somehow end up feeling worse…guilty somehow that in the midst of the chaos I’m not appreciating these years enough. SO…please rest assured, I love my kids to the moon and back, I’m trying to milk the loveliness out of these years, and I understand that one blessed day I shall look back with nostalgia and annoy some harrowed mum by commenting that, “I miss those days!” But today is a vent. Hopefully my venting will let you know that you are not alone in your messy house.

I think the thing that causes me to feel like the breath is being strangled out of me some days is the sheer relentlessness of raising kiddos. On a semi-regular basis, my own version of the Hillsong United song flashes through my head, “This kid is relentless.” Having battled ill-health for a couple of years surely can’t be helping, but I sometimes get to the point where I feel like I’ll explode or just disintegrate if I get asked for one more snack. I have, I kid you not, started sneaking around the house at times, hoping that no-one will notice my presence, quietly going about my business, because I know if I get spotted, Thing 1 or Thing 2 will be inevitably uncontrollably compelled to ask me to do something, or hang on my pants until they start to fall down. I swear they think, ‘Oh look, it’s the lady that does stuff. I must ask her to do more stuff.’

I think one of my main problems is that most days I hunt like a starving stray cat for morsels of the life I used to have. I try and trap moments of time that are uninterrupted and whimsical. I dream of the airy freedom of going about life without having my radar out for a small mountaineer attempting a first ascent. I long for the indulgence of having a grumpy day where I can just shut myself in a dark room and watch Netflix all day. Instead, I am the only introvert in a family of extroverts, and I get approximately 3.5 seconds in the loo before it becomes a shared experience.

Another thing that works against me, is that I am so driven by productivity. There’s nothing that I love more than putting my hand to a worthwhile task, and while I KNOW in my rational self that there could be nothing more worthwhile than raising tiny humans, the productive part of me dismisses the mundanity of daily childrearing as a box I cannot tick at the end of each day. I want to finish a tangible project, email it off to the appropriate parties, and receive constructive feedback and praise on what I have accomplished. Instead I get to scrub the floor, only to have Thing 2 post his newly dismantled banana over the side of his highchair.

I have become scarily adept at spotting the sound of Caleb’s truck arriving home from 14 miles away. Macie runs to the door to greet his D when the workday is done, and I’m about one step behind him. I get almost giddy to have my teammate back at my side. I read an article from a Psychologist recently who mentioned that parents of young children always feel overworked and underappreciated. Never a truer word. But at least the two of us are both clinging on to the same flogged horse together!

So there you go friends, rant over! (For this year). I pray that in this time of our lives God will grant us grace and strength. I also pray that through the continuous squeezing, our characters and personalities become more patient, loving, kind, peaceful, good, gentle, and self-controlled. You are not alone dear parent…and you are doing a great job.

 

Much love,

Deb xx