Thursday, February 28, 2013

From Denying to Defining

As promised, I am breaking away from the mommy posts for a minute. The only thing that has to do with this topic is the situations becoming a mom has put me in, forcing me to take a second look at humility, reliance, and the mirror.

I had a revelation. An epiphany. Or perhaps I just finally admitted something I already knew. I struggle with codependency. Cue: Hello, my name is Jamie, and I am codependent. 

I've always prided myself on being loyal in relationship and friendships. I've gleaned satisfaction from going above and beyond in my jobs. I have happily contributed my talents when the opportunity arose. I have never blinked when carrying out a favor asked by a friend or stranger. And, I relish the chance to be the hostess. 

On the other hand, I let myself become a doormat when relationships and friendships become one-sided or unhealthy. I put too much concern into jobs that neither ask for nor appreciate extra effort. I run myself ragged trying to impress people. I do favor after favor, even for those who don't need/appreciate/reciprocate. And, I am always exhausted after prepping, cleaning, cooking, baking, hosting, and cleaning. So my realization is that I am doing these things not for other people, but for myself to gain approval from other people. 

I would be ashamed to count and admit the number of times I have made excuses for other people's behaviors as though I was personally responsible for their actions or carelessness. I shudder to think of the excuses I have made for others to MYSELF. It's not because I am blind to shortcomings; rather, I somehow feel if I were to accept another person's poor choice and move on, I would be also claiming that lack of judgment. I have been defining myself by others' successes or failures, which explains my need to over-support and under-criticize those in my life. Hello, my name is Jamie, and I am codependent. 

No one ever directly pointed this out to me. At least, not in these words. I have definitely heard the message "you do too much" or "you give them too much credit" or "you're wasting your time". I even have had a few people give me informal book reports on Boundaries (I even received a copy of this one) and Codependent No More. I silently pitied their plight, but be glad they were working to improve their situation. Hello, Pot? This is Kettle.

But no one threw up a banner in my face and held an intervention to let me know what was happening. So I just never stopped to think about what I was doing or who I was. After all, as long as I did what others needed and helped them figure out who they were, I was a good person. See anything wrong with that picture? I am starting to. 

I found this interesting article on defining your own codependency. It's terrifying and freeing. Since acknowledging the problem is always step one, I can start spending my efforts on drawing healthy boundaries for myself (i.e. the line between being kind and being used, the line between listening and getting over-involved) and also learn to accept the generosity of others. I can allow everyone around me to be their very own person without me taking credit or fault in their actions. I realize all of this sounds a bit narcissistic, and perhaps it is, but I do claim all of my thoughts and efforts to be in good heart, just misguided direction. 

Part of the process may change and reshape my life as I know it. I may finally recognize some unhealthy relationships and move on. I may discover a piece of myself that needs more focus and work. I may even read that book on boundaries. I do know I need to address this now. Because I hear kids can really screw with even the most balance, sane personalities. 

After publication note: Right after publishing and sharing, I found this on Donald Miller's blog (great author). So nice to know I'm not alone.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

From "I Understand" to "I've Been There"

Though I do promise that not every post will be dedicated to the drama of motherhood, let's face it. It is my life 24/7. Finding time to be mildly educated about current events is pointless, unless of course someone pinned it on Pinterest. In that case, I'm all over it and have already repinned anything worthwhile. (Insert, "Hi, my name is Jamie, and I am Pin-addict.) So, bear with me for now. Because this post is all about the kiddo.

There is something you don't know about being a parent until you are one. Parenthood is an exclusive club. And the only way to get membership is to be one. Because on the outside, you can certainly sympathize with the plights of a new (or veteran) parent. "I have to cancel because the kids are sick." "I can't come to your dinner party because we don't have a sitter". "I don't have time to talk right now." All understandable. Because everyone knows you have a kid to care for. I was one of those folks. I was more than understanding when one of my parent friends had something come up, but I will now admit that I always felt like I was missing something in the excuse. I was. It's called motherhood.

Only now can I truly understand canceling plans because of kids. I confirmed our home NYE dinner plans with the neighbors (to include the baby) a mere three hours before go time. Literally 20 minutes later, and for the next 2 hours, I was attempting (unsuccessfully) to console a crying screaming child. How was I supposed to know that she had this date marked as the evening to start teething and would suddenly only drink bottles around room temperature? But, she did expect me to know. I'm slow, and it took me 2 very exhausting hours to figure it out. I asked my hubby to cancel the plans I had recently confirmed. An hour before dinner. The friends were very sympathetic. But I can't help thinking that I know what really went through their heads when they got the call. It wasn't empathy. Because they don't have kids.

One of the horrible ironies of being a new mommy is the forced isolation. Sure you can take your kid to a friend's house or out in a store, but you are not ever you-focused. You are always watching the drooly-face for the slightest inkling of an impending meltdown so you can bolt before anything falls apart. Gone are the days of "feeling" conversations. Now it's all about motherly advice, kid questions, and story-swapping. The last time I had a conversation with anyone that didn't at least discuss something about what Hayley was up to or include me using a sing-song voice to talk was...before I got pregnant. And, I've come to accept that it will be that way. As have other parents in my life. But, I do miss the long chats with friends about nothing in particular, and I know they miss being able to talk over a problem that didn't involve spit up or diapers. One of my best friends had a baby a mere six weeks after I did. During the lapse when I was a new mom and she was still pregnant, I felt a bit disconnected because my problems weren't yet relatable to her life. The moment she had her baby, I knew the kinship was restored and stronger than ever. So when it took us her entire maternity leave to match schedules for a Skype call, she completely got it. Because it's her life too. But my other friends have had to adjust to call scheduling, and then cancelling, and then shortened responses from me to their issues and thoughts. Because I almost always have the aroma of partially-digested formula on my clothes and probably some bodily fluid of some sort in my hair to remind me that I'm not alone. And the timer on the call is running. Always. But this doesn't hit home unless you have a kid.

Hayley just had her four month shots. When I mention shot appointments, non-parent friends say "aww poor thing". Which is great, because I do feel so bad for her and how icky she feels. But they mean they are sorry about the pricking. The real misery, as parents know, comes after the appointment. When the rotavirus causes them to explode past the bounds of the diaper and end up with poop in their hair, under their arms, and between toes. When they try to play like any other day and whimper when they find out their legs are sore. The shot is the easiest part. It's the aftermath that will kill you. Only a parent knows. Why didn't I get time to do the dishes today? Because my kid had shots this morning.

So, I don't blame those without kids for not getting it. Because most everyone tries to understand. Some even knock on the clubhouse door. But they never get past the threshold until they have their first baby in their arms. And poop somewhere on their person. It's just the way it is. But I do have hope that someday I'll get a visitor's pass back into the singles' clubhouse. It's fun there. And almost never results in inspecting a rash for unusual color. But, I am a proud cardholder of the mommy clubhouse. And I wouldn't trade it for a clean shirt. Most days. And all I can ask it that those in the other club do their best to understand.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

From One Year to the Next

Well, it's official. I am one year older today. And while every birthday after 25 just serves as a countdown to the next scary number, this year is truly one to celebrate. And it's all thanks to a stick and a roll.

Hard to believe a year ago I found out I was pregnant (see stick above). A year later, my little girl has figured out how to roll from back to tummy. Talk about growth.

Typically, and probably like many of you, I see birthdays as a time to take stock of what I've accomplished with the last year. It never seems like I did enough or achieved something remarkable. But, this year, all that has changed. I will admit, I am the first in line to criticize myself and find the cracks where most people see nothing. So my first instinct was to take that same attitude this year. After all, I am walking away from a job, I am that much more jaded about the working world, I have a few extra pounds this year, I added more debt to my life, I feel like I am constantly paddling in the waves and only being sent back out to sea most days, and I have realized it's time to let some things and people go.

On the other hand, I am going to get to watch my little girl learn new things every day because I'm home, I will take my jaded view and look for ways to create something better, I have a beautiful baby thanks to those extra pounds, I have a master's degree to go along with that debt, I have a wonderful navigator watching over me who sends me just enough rope when I need it, and I appreciate the wonderful people I am keeping in my life all the more. And, I truly do have some amazing people in my life. A mother I can look up to as a role model for my own journey in motherhood; a husband who helps me realize when I'm clinging to the wrong things and rights my path; a few wonderful friends who I can call on anytime, without hesitation, and know they will be there; in-laws that I can honestly say I adore as my own family; a brother who helped shape the person I am today; and a stepfather who never once felt like a step anything. Now I have a daughter who, everyday, shows me new and exciting things about the world and helps me realize little accomplishments must be celebrated. Finding out your fingers can, in fact, grab the toy dangling in front of you. Figuring out how to use those long legs to move in a bouncy toy. Discovering you can make Mom and Dad smile by grinning. And, learning that with effort and cooperation, it is possible to roll from back to front. Every time she figures something out, she erupts into a face-spanning smile. We should all be so proud and excited to relish in our small victories every day. Getting a good parking space. Waking up rested. Drinking a perfect cup of coffee (before it gets cold). Continuing a blog as a promise to yourself. Making it to your next birthday.

One of my favorite shows (maybe of all time) recently had this epiphany of small victories.

Watch the episode here.

Enjoy today.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

From Master's Student to Graduate (or From Undergrad Debt to Master's Debt)

Since I mentioned last year (gulp) that I was completing my master's thesis, I thought I'd put together a summary/update/what-the-heck-ever post to tell you a little more about that experience.

In my head (sometimes a scary place, btw), I envisioned a master's education to feel/look like this:
Engaged classroom participants
Inquisitive Minds of a Graduate Class (such as Harvard Law). 
In reality (a sometimes even scarier place), it felt and looked a bit more like this:
Monkeys Sitting in a Room Four Hours a Week. And Writing Papers. And Discussing Parts of a Sentence.
Sad, but also, sadly, a bit true. By obligation of the mountain of student debt I now posses, I am required to say I am glad I went. And, truly, I am. Because despite the best efforts of a few misguided professors, a chaotic, in-flux school leadership team, a couple of obstinate classmates, Grammarly, Agile systems, and pregnancy brain, I did learn a few things. And because I am generous and like imparting wisdom, I will share some of what I learned with you. Free of charge. That's a $20k value. You are welcome.

Things I now know, courtesy of/because of/in spite of a master's education:

  1. I hate Agile systems.
  2. I also hate Grammarly. And, for the record, Microsoft is not always correct when a program suggests changes in text. Please use common sense.
  3. Common sense has gone the way of dinosaurs. Or maybe, like unicorns, it just never existed. A figment of the collective imagination.
  4. Sometimes you learn far more by talking to and observing those around you than by idly doodling while a professor talks at you. Good and bad, you really can gain knowledge through your surroundings.
  5. Depending on the professor, you may also learn more by playing Words with Friends. Unless you cheat. Don't cheat. It's just a game. A game I must always win (ahem, Niki).
  6. It is possible to conduct research, write, edit, assemble a presentation, and present a thesis in a period of four weeks. It's just not fun. But, procrastinators can rejoice. Later.
  7. Professors aren't perfect. They're people with people flaws. So if a professor doesn't like you because all the young people are stealing their spouse's jobs (and you have been lumped into the young people group)...well, that professor may hold a grudge. Probably nothing to be done about it except try to be better to others than others are to you. And, find out what job was stolen. Maybe it's a good one that you should go after. Hey, it's a dog-eat-dog employment market. Especially for young people. (No dogs were harmed in the composition of this post).
  8. Some professors are good. They will go above and beyond the expectations of the class, the program, the school, and maybe even you. Cherish those professors like the last box of Hostess Twinkies. Unlike Twinkies, they won't be around in 100 years.
  9. You can never count an opportunity to learn, in whatever form that learning comes, as a waste of time. Stop learning and you stop growing. You might even regress to one the monkeys in the classroom pictured above.
  10. I absolutely am grateful for the experience and treasure the connections I made with two fantastic women that I can call role models, leaders, peers, and friends. Hey, we even started a blog. Oops, speaking of said blog, I am pretty sure it's my turn to post. Maybe I could just "repurpose" this post... Unfortunately, I think they may have paid attention to the part of the program about self-plagiarism. 
Ladies of The Take 3
My Take 3 Ladies. We're Wearing Our Most Expensive Outfits.
Bottom Line: Leadership is an under-valued and under-taught skill. I am glad I have a piece of paper that says I attempted to learn more about it and how to do it better. Even if it is the most expensive piece of paper I own. Except, perhaps, my marriage certificate or my daughter's birth certificate.