Tag: Anxiety

7Apr

Open-Source Parenting: Adventure

The weekend before last, spring burst overhead like a cosmic dandelion puff. Sunbeams settled on our noses, songbird gossip tickled our ears, and last year’s snapdragons made a grand re-entry if only to outdo the wild daisies carpeting our town.

It was terrifying.

The first good weather of the year, see, held me accountable to a promise I’d made to Dan: that I would let the girls out to play. As in, by themselves. Without any form of parent nearby. At the little park which is only partially within sight and earshot of my window and which has a second street exit within neither.

I promise you that I have worked hard to curb my paranoid instincts about mothering. My imagination has always been a worst-case scenario handbook with an apocalyptic bent, and each of the girls has toddled at least once within a hairs breadth of tragedy; by all logic, I should be a vigilante-helicopter mutt of a mom. I try not to let the crazy limit my daughters’ development though, which is why I agreed that this would be the spring of going out to play. But oh, friends… the disasters that played out in my mind as soon as the girls left my sight. They were kidnapped at least three times a minute during that first hour.

Playground privileges
(That tiny speck of pink in the park is my heart walking around outside my body, NBD.)

The girls went out to the park every afternoon of the week, and while those accumulating hours of non-tragedy helped bolster my resolve, they still weren’t easy for me. Villains and bullies and natural disasters lurked in my peripheral vision every time I peeked out the window. I kept running a cost-benefit analysis on the girls’ independence; did their healthy development really outweigh the risk of whatever [unlikely] [but unspeakable] evil could befall them out there? Could I live with myself if something happened?

I don’t have any easy answers yet—and probably never will—but a little trip we took yesterday helped put things into perspective for me. The four of us were sitting around the Sunday lunch table feeling worn down and antsy from our week when we decided the only thing for it was to hit the road. Half an hour later, we were merging onto the highway, and half an hour after that, we were winding up to a little town we’d never visited before. No maps, no guidebooks, no agenda whatsoever (aside from gelato, which is my goal in everything).

Trevi

We only stayed an hour, but it was a gorgeous, living-out-loud kind of hour. Downtown Trevi is laid out like some kind of medieval maze, and we took turns choosing which direction to explore. The girls didn’t want to speak Italian—“We’re tourists today!”—so we snapped pictures and skipped and called to each other like the boisterous Americans we still are. I couldn’t stop grinning. Exploring like this might just be my favorite way to experience the world.

The girls exploring Trevi

It always has been, too. The way Natalie and Sophie were running down stone tunnels and peeking into courtyards of olive trees yesterday is exactly how I used to run down creek beds and peek into dogwood thickets as a kid. The neighborhoods I lived in growing up were so much bigger to me than they were to adults, who always let themselves be limited by things like road signs or propriety. I wandered and scouted and burrowed and built and destroyed and imagined and braved. My knees were perpetually scraped. I couldn’t wait to go outside. Knowing that there was a dangerous element to my explorations had only sharpened the experience for me, a sprinkle of chili on my chocolate.

I watched the girls bound up a twisty side path and thought of an article from The Atlantic that my friend Dunny sent me a couple of weeks ago. It’s long but well worth the read if you’re fascinated by this latest generation of overprotective parents (myself included) and how our preoccupation with safety might not be the best thing for our kids. The article features a playground in North Wales that is set up more like a junkyard than anything; old tires, mattresses, and tin drums are at the kids’ disposal, and a playground supervisor only intervenes in the case of actual danger—say, if a kid’s fire gets out of control. Do you know how much I would have loved playing there? Exploration and imagination were always far more thrilling to me than regulation-height swing sets; I suspect they are to most children.

I wrote in a recent post how I owe every joy of my adult life to the high level of independence granted me. This is not an exaggeration. Being able to chart the terrain of my own life from a young age is why I live in Italy today with an entrepreneur husband and two little girls who think anything is possible. Our life is full of unknown turns; we rarely know where the next month will take us, and sometimes our choices feel as helter-skelter as our wanderings through Trevi yesterday.

There is so much joy in a life of adventure though. The reality of risk heightens our senses, keeps our prayers earnest, and reminds us to appreciate. The low times provide contrast for the highs, and we learn as we go. We cultivate grace as a survival skill. We do our best to trust and to keep on trusting that we’re not doing this life alone, that divine love is holding us as surely as the ground beneath our feet. We look forward to new experiences, new places, new reserves of courage on tap.

I don’t want to be painting our lives too glibly here. If I were writing this on a day when our bank account was drip-drying, for instance, or when bureaucracy had us in a stranglehold, I would tell you how I sometimes petition the universe for boredom—just a little predictability, just enough of a nice stable rut for me to catch my breath. I know the truth though: living greatly means risking greatly. And the question I’m left with on this side of our weekend is… Could I live with myself if I didn’t let my girls experience this for themselves?

Unknown archway

Your turn! How do you cultivate a sense of adventure in your children? How much independence do you think is appropriate? Do you have any tips for parents like me who can’t help imagining sinkholes and trolls under the playground slide? The idea behind this Open-Source Parenting series is to share our collective wisdom for the good of all. I’ve learned more from other parents’ stories than I have from expert advice, and I’d wager you have too, so let’s continue the conversation in the comments below or over on Facebook. I’m looking forward to hearing your take!

4Mar

Tracking Heat

 FB Status

The flu is unconcerned with timing, with the fact that you are in an all-out race against a translating deadline or that your husband’s schedule is triple-booked or that your daughter has been looking forward to celebrating her eighth birthday since the day she turned seven. The flu cares not that you are desperate to write again, so desperate that innocuous phrases snag on barbed wire somewhere in your throat and you lash out at loved ones for inching too close to your restlessness. The flu doesn’t mind that you will worry to the point of dizziness over your husband’s blanked-out face and your children’s griddle-hot skin or that you will lose yourself entirely in the tides of disinfectant and chicken soup and acetaminophen rising through the house.

At some point around the two-week mark, you will feel your own head start to close in heavy around you, and you will say Enough. You win. You will stare sickness right in the face, unblinking, as you cancel your classes for the day; though the flu doesn’t care any more than it did before, you do. You will put on your favorite flare-leg jeans with the tattered hems and the superglue splotches and sit down on your daughters’ floor to build a LEGO village with them. You will take their temperature 537 times over the course of the morning and administer Gatorade with a straw and read aloud about dragons and forget to do your makeup. You will not succumb, even though you said you would.

Later, as your children sweat through fevered naptime dreams, you will fling open windows to the afternoon light. You will leave clean socks to await rescue on the laundry line and bread crumbs to be fruitful and multiply on the kitchen floor. You will sit down to reclaim yourself, though at first, the restlessness will act as saboteur. The tea is too hot, the deadline too pressing, that Alicia Keys’ video still making you cry with the satin and the toddlers and the late night bills. The flu doesn’t care about artist-souls on fire, only about blazing skin and resignation. After two weeks of ‘round-the-clock work, it’s hard to imagine anything more.

But you are more. You are more than your actions—the swish of a toilet bowl brush, the clack of foreign keys—and more than your worries. You are more than your body, its molecules spread too thin over a swath of too many days. You are more than this stage of mama-life or its million smaller stages, the illnesses and growing pains that keep you on your toes in every sense of the phrase. You are more than what you do to pay the bills.

So you put on your reading glasses and follow the tremulous glow in your veins that indicates that somewhere, somehow, some part of you is still on fire. You won’t find the flame instantly; your children are due to wake up soon, and you may have to sniff the trail back out by moonlight. Or perhaps the flu will finally catch up with you, and the only heat you’ll comprehend is the viral surge in your belly. There is sure to be something, some inconsiderate upset of life that will leave you doubting again if you are anything more than the on-duty vomit scooper.

But at least until the afternoon light dwindles and responsibility calls, you will focus on the truth that you are more, that losing yourself implies having a self to re-find… and it will be grace enough for the night shift.

17Jan

Lightening

I’m startled by my own weight when the alarm rings and dragging myself up through gravity feels like dueling a rip tide. This isn’t the kind of heaviness that spins the needle on our bathroom scale, though I’m surprised it doesn’t; it feels so tangible, a lead apron clinging to my bones.

I don’t need a scale to tell me I’m off the chart in soul-kilos though. I recognize the heft of each and every piece in this baggage set—

fear of who might be lurking on the other side of a shadow

anxiety over a future that refuses to be planned

disoriented terror that flits from potential disaster to potential catastrophe

every opinion formed about me that I’ve accepted as my identity

every opinion I’ve formed of others that reflects more on myself

dependence on a houseful of breakable, stealable things

my list of wants and the moving target at the end

this worry I carry around like a custom-fitted brick around my heart

stress, stress, stress

and my arch-frenemy, the compulsion to Fit In

They’ve traveled with me into the new year, and here I am, startled by my own weight when I try to lift myself out of bed, up from the table, off the sofa. It’s too much, it’s all too much, and the truth I’m trying to lift my head enough to see is that not a piece in the set is mine to lug around.

I’ve been wrestling with my “one wild and precious life” more than usual lately, and some Big Thoughts are coming to the surface, some surprising twists of perspective that I need to spelunk properly before I share. If I’m a little quieter than usual, that is why; spelunking is a mysterious and silent art, after all. I do know this though—each step back to take in a new angle is a step closer to returning a lighter woman than before.

10Jan

Anti-Anxiety Meditation

This is what we opened our front door to when we arrived home after a family Christmas in Milan.

Our Christmas tree shoved to the floor, the window frame behind it ragged with crowbar marks, and every top drawer in the house pulled open. Our house, along with several others in the neighborhood, had been targeted by burglars while we were away.

After a panicky inventory, we were dumbfounded to discover that the thieves hadn’t taken a single thing from our home, not even Dan’s expensive work computer. (Let me tell you about gratefulness…) However, the post-home-invasion experience isn’t as much about what the intruders take as it is about what they leave: their invisible fingerprints on our underwear, their shadow-selves around each corner when the lights go out, and their harmful intentions toward us lingering in the air.

This is the first house that I’ve felt safe in, ever. I’ve lived in fifteen different homes to date, and this one—this gated, shuttered, dog-guarded, and triple-locked third story refuge—is the only one that never pricked at my fearful imagination. Until we got home from Christmas break, that is. Now, I am noticing the odd creaks and squeaks of our house as I have never noticed them before; the groan of a radiator is an intruder, the rattle of wind against the shutters is an intruder, even the spin cycle of our washing machine is an intruder (brandishing a weed whacker, perhaps?). Everything from our coat rack to my rocking chair catches my peripheral vision at night with an icy splash of fear, and even as I’m checking the locks for the fifth time before bed, I know they offer no assurances. Our safe place no longer promises safety.

My mother-in-law, who’s been through this herself, shared the comforting perspective that the burglars now know we don’t have what they’re after (gold, jewels, cash, anything that would look right on the set of Downton Abbey) and won’t be back. From a rational standpoint, we really don’t have anything to worry about. Yet anxiety doesn’t always see things from a rational standpoint. It sees things more from the standpoint of Oh God it’s dark outside and bad guys could be hiding below our balcony preparing their grappling hooks right now and we’ll probably all die in our beds tonight.

Anxiety is clearly not helping the situation. It offers no constructive advice, only helplessness and an unfocused panic, and I know that my task is not to indulge the anxiety by barricading our house or stocking up on defense weapons or living in suspicion but to counteract it—to refuse to hold onto the shadows and harmful intentions left by our intruders.

In light of this, the girls’ perspective is pretty awesome. I was worried how Natalie and Sophie would react to seeing evidence of thieves in their own bedroom. I’d braced myself for tearful bedtimes and nightmares and wondered how in the world I could assuage their fears when my own were so pronounced. However, I’d underestimated their generous little hearts. “If the thieves come back,” announced Natalie, “we’ll just invite them to stay for breakfast.” “And then give them two euros!” piped up Sophie. Not a trace of fear. In fact, I think they’re sort of hoping the thieves come back.

While I do not share that particular hope, my girls’ idea of repaying harm with kindness is straight out of Jesus’s teaching. I told them that yesterday, and Sophie grinned. “I love Jesus,” she said. “Me too,” I grinned back, getting the first hint of an inkling how perfect love really might be able to cast out fear.

14Sep

Deus ex Machina

The girls started school two days ago, and all week has felt like a series of false starts and double takes, even if we have managed to get them to bed on time every night. (Us parents, not so much.) We’re stumble-adjusting to a new schedule and forgetting some things and vastly overthinking others, and when the water and electricity both went out on Wednesday, I took it as the universe personally heckling us. It’s been a hard summer, and I often just want to hit a pause button on all forward motion and let the days pile up around me until I finally feel there are enough to go around. I’m worn out. You already know this.

But here’s what you probably don’t know—

This week last year, my husband went to his last day of work for an employer who then announced he would not be paying Dan for the previous few months of work and vowed to thwart his freelance venture.

That same day, we received notice from our rental house in the States that our tenant was being evicted for failure to pay.

During the eviction process, a drug lab was discovered out of our basement there. The police got involved, and our resulting legal and house-repair bills were staggering.

The investors for Dan’s new project backed out without explanation and stopped answering their phones.

A very large, very needed check bounced.

And then this happened.

We had no money left, our freelance prospects were uncertain at best, and as I sat in a deserted train station off a deserted country road on the last day of September while our car was being towed away for a month-long rehabilitation, I honestly didn’t see how we were going to make it. I couldn’t tell if God was listening or not, but I sent him an earful of uncensored panic anyway. It was all very Children Of Israel circa Moses, convinced as I was that God had led us to the freelance-desert only to abandon us here.

Looking back at that moment from a whole year ahead produces something in between panic by proxy and mute gratefulness. It’s not that we’ve had the easiest run since then, but the miracles! I once heard someone say that the American ideal of self-sufficiency doesn’t leave much room for experiencing divine provision; we tend to hide our struggles from each other and subdue problems with a credit card, and this immediate stamping-out of neediness can also stamp out miracles in the making. It was a hard concept to get my head around as I tend to see self-sufficiency as next to godliness, but in the year since our sky fell down around us, we’ve seen the truth of it so many times.

Just as the investors were backing out last September, a company Dan had bumped shoulders with over the summer called to offer him contract work in his field. His first business trip after our car broke down paid the exact amount we needed to get it repaired.

Then on Christmas week, the very day we were going to be deported from Italy, we received the last piece of paperwork we needed to renew our visas. This was a bureaucratic impossibility, yet it happened.

On an impulse, we decided to fly out of Munich where, at the check-in desk, we discovered Natalie’s passport had expired; however, because we had never been residents of Germany, they were obligated to let us return to our country of citizenship. Had we tried flying out of Italy, we would have been stranded. (You can read the whole story here: Of Stupidity and Love.)

Two weeks before our January return flight to Italy, a series of unforeseeable “coincidences” allowed Dan to get the special kind of work visa he needed.

Two days before our return flight, our prayers for Disney World were answered.

And ONE DAY before our return flight, my visa was also granted.

We made it back to Italy together, and that in itself would have been marvel enough for the year… but fast forward two months when, the very same day that we were going to lose our house in the States, new tenants singed a year-long lease. The very. same. day.

I couldn’t make this stuff up, and even my diligently skeptical brain can’t construe this last year as a string of coincidences. We are still here, in our beautiful Italian home, with our car and our health and our work and our possibility-filled future, and to write that down is to look a miracle full in the face and say “I see you.”

Lest you think this saintly stoicism is a way of life for me now, you should know that I’ve spent plenty of days this summer panicking in God’s direction. I’ve got the Children of Israel routine down pat—You delivered us from deportation and foreclosure and living under a bridge only to abandon us in the freelance-desert again! Also, this pasta from the sky thing is getting old. This is why it’s so good to have anniversaries, to look back and see former crises as water under the bridge we were never doomed to call home.

Had we not reached such extremes of neediness, we might not have recognized God’s touch for what it was. To be really, uncomfortably honest, I probably wouldn’t have acknowledged any of those miracles above had the situations not been so desperate and the timing so precise. I default to doubt when there’s any wiggle room for interpretation. We ran out of wiggle room last September though, and the resulting provision we experienced was an undiminished gift. Safely ensconced now in a new September, even with its false starts and double takes, I am keenly grateful for the reminder that we’re still in this crazy, wonderful, epic story of ours… and that our writer has a particular affinity for Deux ex Machina.

23Jul

The Gift of Permission

When I told Dan that I only got a cumulative ten minutes of sleep last Wednesday night, he ran it through his Bethany Hyperbole Filter and concluded that I meant seven and a half hours instead of my usual nine. (I need more sleep than any creature I know, newborn sloths included.) The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but the point is that I spent Thursday tired, and even a luxury nap after breakfast didn’t jump-start the kind of energy or inspiration one would hope for on her birthday.

My perceptions of cold, hunger, tiredness, and sadness have always confused themselves with each other, and so I never was quite sure throughout the day if I needed a snack or a blanket or maybe some stand-up comedy. In reality, I probably needed some double espressos with an extra spoonful of grace, but clear thinking is not my forte when I’m running on a sneeze-worth of sleep. Instead, my instinctive drive to do more! accomplish more! amps up in direct proportion to my rising exhaustion—all the more so on “special” days—and I basically turn into my own personal Dementor.

Sucking out my own soul is a habit I’d love to kick in this coming year, so my first instinct was to put that at the top of an extra special birthday edition to-do list:

  1. Stop sucking out own soul.
  2. (But really, accomplish more please.)

Self help clearly isn’t my forte either.

It’s just that I want to feel in every synapse and pore of my being that I’m doing life well—living it deeply, thoughtfully, openly, and significantly. I crave purpose the way our palm trees crave water; that’s my internal design, and it could be a force for good if I could simply ditch the accompanying stress. Search for purpose – guilt-ridden paranoia + a chill pill. (Optional: more wine and/or Rumi.) Sounds pretty perfect, right? To that end, I’m writing a different kind of list for myself this birthday. Instead of lining up the things I hope to do this year (see 2008, 2009, 2010, and a dizzy buzzing noise from 2011), I’m giving myself permission this year to not do. (Feel free to adopt this list for yourself or anyone else in your life who could use a break from self-flagellation.)

  • You have permission not to catch up with friends’ online worlds before getting in touch. It’s okay to call or write a loved one without knowing exactly what she’s been up to the last few weeks (or, ahem, months). If anything, it will give you more to talk about one-on-one, so ditch the guilt, mark all as read, and spend your valuable time enjoying the relational part of your relationships.
  • You have permission not to take other people’s success as indication of your failure. Personal amazingness is not the last piece of pie; there is more than enough to go around in this wide, ever-possible world of ours, and it has no expiration date. You can’t be late to a game that doesn’t exist, so stop worrying that your friend’s book deal was meant to be yours (it wasn’t) or that the scholarship accidentally fell out of destiny’s hands into the wrong person’s (it didn’t) or that each new name worked into a Ben & Jerry’s flavor pun knocks you even further out of the running (Fruit Bassett for 2015, anyone? anyone?).
  • You have permission not to wait until ideas are fully formed and Beowulf-epic before acting on them. Your husband is right in warning you that incubating a project until it’s reached theoretical perfection means never starting that project at all. Wrinkles are best smoothed out with forward motion anyway, so put more energy into your doing than into your thinking, start small, and at least try to befriend imperfection along the way. (He’s so much more interesting to hang out with than perfection; just think of the stories you’ll accrue!)
  • You have permission not to wear all your hats at once. Just one at a time is enough, I think, but not the everything hat. It’s not really a hat at all—just a piece of tinfoil hot-glued with delusions of grandeur—and the only thing you manage to do while wearing it is bump into walls; please, for the love of all that is holy, throw the everything hat away. Also, you know the housecleaning hat is too tight, so limit your time with that one; the mama and friend and writer and teacher hats fit you much better. As long as you don’t wear them all at once.
  • You have permission not to protect the worry. I know you think that someone has to be responsible for worrying, and not just for worrying but for keeping the worry comfortable, well-fed, and safe from harm, and if you don’t do it, who will? I also know that sometimes worry feels like the only constant you can grasp when life is surging around you. But oh honey—the worry doesn’t need a protector. It’s an animal of prey, and you know all too well how it bites the hand that feeds it. You already have plenty to do without this job on top of all; you have my express and hearty permission to resign.

The gift of permission

Bonus: You have permission to slip away to the park for an hour or two and fill yourself to capacity with fresh air. Recommended especially for those with a Dementor habit to break.

 

1Jun

Anti-Humanitarian Effort

Hello there, world.

So. These past two weeks of lifestyle reevaluation have not gone exactly according to plan. The Plan, you see, went something like this: I would wake up early, all self-imposed pressure having evaporated overnight. I would read an inspiring book over coffee and then journal my way to self-actualization. It would take two, three hours tops. After an invigorating run, I’d start the pasta water for lunch and, while waiting for it to boil, whip out a manifesto or two. That afternoon, I would make serious headway into some new, affirming, revelatory project—while having plenty of mental energy left over for my family of course—and I might not even need to sleep that night, so profound would be my invigoration. By dawn the next morning, I would have replied to all the emails I’ve been so delinquent about lately (sorry!), conquered the ironing pile, and come up with a portfolio of new business plans. Who knows? I might have even switched to decaf.

Reality, however, went more like this: Wake up. ANXIETY ANXIETY ANXIETY. Breakfast, with a side of ANXIETY. A lengthy meditation on panic followed by escalating stress. Sprained ankle. (For the record, I no longer recommend jumping up from your computer chair when your leg has fallen asleep. It may look funny, but… well, it is. But still.) No workout. No revelation. Foot turning purple; water-boiling is no longer on list of known abilities. ANXIETY. Can no longer locomote. Can no longer see beyond Cage of Failure. Will never be able to write anything again ever. ANXIETY ANXIETY ANXIETY. Repeat to varying degrees for several days. Ankle mends. Head cold descends. Life ends.

These haven’t been the best of weeks. I’ve been letting everything slide—my writing, my friendships, those five freaking kilometers I’ve worked so hard to be able to run—and I’m feeling the void keenly. I thought that by taking the pressure of my own expectations out of the equation, I would find instant peace and clarity, but it feels more like I accidentally removed myself from the equation. When I’m not nurturing the creative or communal parts of my life, I become a shell… and maybe that’s the real revelation I needed from these weeks of navel-gazing.

Or maybe it’s not so much of a revelation as it is a truth that I discover over and over in different ways. The negative and deprecating voices in my head have been doing a number on me lately, assuring me that I have nothing of value to offer the world, that the world would actually be a better place if I weren’t contributing to it, and that the only respectable course of action for the good of all mankind would be to slink into a quiet corner somewhere and try very, very hard not to be noticed. (Now you understand that my blog is at heart an anti-humanitarian effort.) Going through life as a shell of a person though… Nothing is worth that. Nothing.

I do have some other projects percolating now (should I thank the sprained ankle or the head cold for that?), and I’ve confirmed in the space between my heart and my fingertips that this blog is meant to be sanctuary, not money-maker. The ads are gone now, and coming back to the page now is like opening my front door after sending away guests who had long overstayed their welcome. The air is lighter, the ambiance softer. It feels like home again.

And now that you know I’m not here for you and am actually here in flagrant disregard for your wellbeing, how are you? What have you been up to these past two weeks? Any fellow sprained ankles enjoying their restored dignity?

© Copyright 2015, all rights reserved.
Site powered by Training Lot.
Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.