This morning, my nearly 3-year-old huffed out his longest sentence to date. His physical therapist had him building a tower and as he reached to place a block, he looked her in the face and with great caution managed, “This block goes here.”
Recently the pressure of life has been building. You know, that feeling that life is a gigantic tower and you are its foundation, its shaking, unstable, “WHAT AM I EVEN DOING HERE?” foundation. Or maybe the feeling that your brain is so full and so empty all at once. That you have so many things to decide that you can’t finish asking yourself a question before you get distracted by yet another uncertainty. Anxiety is real, and heavy, and sometimes debilitating.
My most recent bout of debilitating anxiety revolves around finances, housing, and our first trip back to Florida. All of these things are related and complicated, unavoidable, and so stressful. The thing about dealing with stress as a person who struggles with anxiety is that there are loud alarms blaring their sirens in your head saying, “OH NO! THERE IS TROUBLE AHEAD!” There is trouble ahead and you don’t know what to do and you can’t decide what to do first and so you should sit and wallow in your trouble. Let the pain of the intense stress literally permeate in your bones because stress is unavoidable, and heavy, and TOO MUCH FOR YOU. That’s what anxiety says, anxiety says don’t even try because it will always be too much. Anxiety says don’t get that thing done because what if it would be better to do the other things first or what if you aren’t ready for the thing that’s coming tomorrow.
This morning, during his physical therapy, my son’s speech therapist walked by and with mild excitement I mentioned that he said his first four word sentence just moments before. “Oh yeah? What was it?” I relayed it back and his therapist took a few more steps down the hall and paused, grinned, and repeated “This block goes here. That’s cool.”
On our long drive home I processed that moment. I never ask a lot of questions of his therapists but I spend an incredible amount of time overanalyzing every word, gesture, and facial expression they make. “That’s cool.” What did that mean? As I spiraled my way down the parking garage I pondered his milestones and where a single 4 word sentence placed on his spectrum of abilities. I literally shook my head and laughed at myself, convinced I needed to redirect my train of thought. “Maybe the words he said were ‘cool’?” I replayed the moment in my head. My youngest is such a peach. I thought about his easy temperament and winning smile. His words came with much hard work. “This block goes here.” When he has something to say he usually concentrates a great deal and pauses between each word and this time was no different. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and what he needed to do to make it happen. He knew that block went there.
Last night, on my way to bed, a photo hanging on the wall of my two oldest children caught my eye. They were only 1 and 3 years old in the photo. In an instant, it brought me to tears. I was already at my maximum stress level at that moment, when I saw it hanging on the wall I remembered where my life was at that point and how I thought then that I had it all figured out. I was settled, life only gets better because people only get better at doing life. Lol, right? That’s why I cried, how silly was I five years ago? Raising humans gets more complicated every single day. When they’re babies you tell yourself, “Oh it’ll be easier once they’re feeding themselves!” or maybe “It’ll be easier once they’re potty trained!” and then later, “I’ll get more done once they’re in school!” No. That isn’t how it works. Babies become toddlers, toddlers become preschoolers and preschoolers become little kids, and little kids become slightly smelly, super opinionated, energetic, overwhelmingly curious, and socially unstable KIDS. Every single stage gets more complicated than the one before it. That is parenting and parenting can sometimes bring you to tears on your way to bed because when the stress of life, housing, finances, and your first trip back to Florida are weighing on you to the point you can’t finish a thought, Rhonda still has to be mom. I still have to parent. I have to wake them, feed them, answer ONE MILLION questions, hug them, referee them, direct them.
The tasks of being mom, of being grown, of being alive are so heavy. Anxiety says I’m going to mess up one thing because I should have been doing the other thing so maybe I should just do nothing. Do you know what kids do? Kids do exactly what they want and almost always immediately. They know they want that block there and so they pick up that block and they put it there.
There are few things I enjoy more than when I can go to bed feeling accomplished. When I can close my eyes and say to myself, “Well done, Rhonda, the things you did and said today were enough!” The trick is finding peace and contentment. There aren’t enough hours in the day to check off the items on my lists. Sometimes the items on my lists aren’t even items that should be on my lists. They’re items I dealt with a week ago but I’m still expecting an imaginary anvil to drop or they’re items I don’t even need to deal with until three months from now but WHAT IF there’s some solution I haven’t thought of because I haven’t paused everything to dwell on it. The thoughts, the troubles, they pile and they pile into an insurmountable list. Every. Single. Day.
When anxiety is sounding it’s alarm between my ears what I need desperately is to pick up a single block and put it where it goes. Any block, a small block, a heavy block, a noisy block, all I have to do is pick it up and put it where it goes. And when I’m done, tell myself that it was good. Whether it looks good or bad, or feels weird or great, picking that block up and picking somewhere for it to go matters. Making my kids’ breakfast is picking up a block and it’s something to find worth and contentment in. I can find peace in picking up the block that is answering the question “How do you spell purple?” for the millionth time. Each and every block is important and valuable and each block is something I can find peace in. Allowing the weight of ten million future blocks to keep me from placing today’s blocks gets us absolutely nowhere.
It isn’t easy, reminding one’s self that today is worthwhile, that there is good in the small efforts that make tiny ripples. This long winded blog post will serve as a reminder to myself to pull things together, hopefully at least a few times and hopefully remind everyone that reads it that it’s okay to admit you’re a total mess, just keep placing blocks, that’s worth something.
One last parting idea! Somewhat recently, I was discussing mental health with a group of friends and someone asked what everyone’s “stabilizers” were. Not medicine, but, things, activities, that each person turned to as a form of self-care when stressed, overwhelmed, sad, etc. Things that help you bring a sense of balance, things that help you clear your mind. People listed things like running, puzzles, baking, etc. I legitimately couldn’t figure out what mine were, it seemed like a helpful thing to be aware of so I was surprised how unprepared I was to answer the question. Well! I’ve figured it out. I urge you to ensure you’re aware of at least a couple of your own. Here are my top 3:
– Hymns! I love them, a lot. Here’s my favorite: It Is Well With My Soul
– Sitting in a parked car all by myself, alone with my thoughts
– Writing 😉
So, for the past 4 years we’ve done the same thing every Memorial Day. We visited Grandpa Walter’s (my husband’s grandfather’s) gravestone in the national cemetery in Bushnell, FL. Walter didn’t die while in the service but at the ripe age of 82. We visited the cemetery on Memorial Day because we knew it was a date we wouldn’t ever forget and let slip by. Walter died the day after our oldest son’s first birthday and so none of my kids knew him but it gives us a chance to talk about how dear he was to us and they, in return, feel connected to the story of how much we cared for him. We would discuss in very little detail the real meaning behind Memorial Day seeing as how our kids are pretty young and sensitive to any conversation about war & violence.
As things go, we obviously were going to need to change up our traditions pretty drastically having moved 3500 miles away from the cemetery that holds Walter’s stone. In the past, we would follow up a visit to the cemetery with a stop at Cracker Barrel, a game of over-sized checkers on the porch and then a way-too-long wait for food as it was one of only two restaurants anywhere near the cemetery. Unfortunately for us, not only were we not within range of Bushnell, FL but the nearest Cracker Barrel was a whopping 6 hour drive. Don’t even doubt for a minute, we considered taking that 6 hour drive.
We landed on a new plan altogether though. A pretty good one, I think. We considered going to the services at the local national cemetery here in Portland but we weren’t sure that our 2.5 year old would be able to maintain a respectful demeanor and I’d worry about disturbing other visitors. With both the cemetery and Cracker Barrel out of the question I was desperate to hang on to some remnants of the traditions we had in place already, be it as simple and seemingly meaningless as they may have been. Amazon saved the day. I ordered an over-sized checker set just like the ones they sold in the ‘Old Country Store’ at Cracker Barrel.
Still desperate to connect the dots and not lose hold of remembering their great grandfather but wanting to get a better grasp on the idea of Memorial Day I skimmed through pictures of years past and found our golden ticket. What a relief!
On Walter’s gravestone the words “Loyal, Faithful, and Generous” can be found, all of these ran deep in him. So, we made a plan. We packed a picnic and set out for a farm on Sauvie Island for some strawberry picking and a nice long chat about character. We talked in great depth about the meaning of each of these traits, where we could find them in our own lives and how we can try to grow in these areas. We talked about how Grandpa Walter lived these words and how it’s really easy to see these traits in the lives of the men and women who fell while serving our country. I so love it when all of the things come together so perfectly. The kids moved on to writing a sentence and drawing pictures to represent which word stood out to them the most. It went better than I could have imagined. Our two-year-old was even happy to scribble beside them.
Next we surprised them with that checkers set and their reaction was better than I could have hoped for. They’re always very grateful when I bring a little bit of their “Florida life” to their present. We rounded out the day with strawberry picking, mostly because berries are red and, hello, photo op. 😉 I’m pretty excited about our day, I feel like we really nailed it and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year. Now, we have some strawberry jam to make…
It was a sweltering hot Saturday. After days of what felt like endless rain we woke that morning to shuffle around town from soccer, to ballet, to errand running and eventually landed at home. On our way in through the neighborhood we passed a house down the street throwing a party with one of those huge inflatable waterslides.
“I wish we were friends with them!”
While I know in the moment you were just after those kids’ waterslide I’m reminded of your love for people. You haven’t quite refined the skill of friend-making. You really love people, you love feeling connected to people, and you thrive when anyone spends time with you one-on-one. Your heart is a little sensitive because you love so hard but in due time you’ll learn to balance your emotions long enough to get through the rough parts of getting to know a person.
“Hey, mom! Do you think we could take our pool out? Maybe skip rest time?”
Let’s pause this day and live in this hour. Your dad and I have a habit of planning away bits of the weekend to spend doing as many tasks around the house as we can manage in the time it takes for you and your sister to watch a movie, nap, or do some other project that isolates you from what we have going on. It feels like maybe we’re doing that wrong. At least too often.
We pulled in the driveway and immediately got to work. Your dad dragged out the pool from the garage while I laid down your baby brother for nap.
“SWIMSUITS AND SUNSCREEN!”
You waited patiently downstairs while Adelaide piddled around with who knows what. You’ve been afraid to be upstairs or downstairs by yourself for some time. You’ll go on your own if you must but you do everything you can to avoid it and so often your sister is happy to oblige, sometimes she even fetches things for you so you don’t have to bother. She loves you so much.
“I found my special sunscreen, mom! Can you help me? I’m so excited!”
This was only the second time in almost a year that you’d be in need of sunscreen. As last summer came to an end you developed such an intense allergy to typical sunscreens, thankfully your doctor found one, a “special” one, that we use just for you. It goes on so thick. I hadn’t noticed it the first time we used it but it seemed much more water-resistant than any typical sunscreen.
I’d notice it later.
Fast forward about an hour, past some splashing and popsicles. You found yourself in time out.
You’d pushed your sister into the pool of water from the top of only three steps toward the slide but rather than pushing her toward the slide you shoved toward the steps and, I’m sure you can hear the ringing of her screams in your memories as she fell awkwardly and painfully back into the pool.
You meant it in jest, as you usually do. It’s hard to remember safety when you’re having a good time. I assume it’s probably hard for most little boys. I know it’s hard for you, the more fun you’re having the wilder your arms fling in the air, the louder your laughter gets, and the harder it must be to hear mom’s pleas for an ounce of tranquility.
So there you are, standing on the front porch, frustrated to find yourself stuck out of the water. I call you over to me to discuss the “why?”. The worst part of time out, the time when I get to talk in circles around what brought us to that point until I sense some sincere connection you’ve made to what I’m saying.
You weren’t listening.
You weren’t even looking at me.
I found myself unusually patient this weekend. I’ve been praying for patience. Patience and grace.
Realizing I haven’t yet started talking and that I don’t seem upset, “That’s the greenest lizard I’ve ever seen,” you spoke quietly. You’re capable of being so gentle. You have a gentleness I yearn for in my own being.
I stared at your face. The water droplets laying so gently on your cheeks caught my eye. How could those water droplets be so lucky? So lucky to sit upon your cheeks, still, in that moment, those droplets so lucky to know your calm. Often times I feel reminded that I know you best. Aside from your creator, no one knows you better than mom. For now, no one quite knows how gently you can love. Those water drops on your cheeks got to see you the way I see you and there they sat frozen on your cheeks. Frozen so as not to disturb your wonder as you lock in on that lizard, the greenest lizard you ever saw. You love color, you love animals, and you love discovering something for the first time.
I ask you if I can take your picture.
“Of course. Whatever you want, mom.”
I return with my camera and quickly snap the photo realizing the water drops, in my mind frozen in awe of you, are really just water drops all the same, dissipating right in their place as water drops would, frozen temporarily by your “special” sunscreen.
“Can I see my picture?”
Of course you can, Noah! I love the way you love pictures.
“Mom. the photos you take remind me of movies I love.”
I’m not sure what that meant, but I know it meant something lovely.
A kiss on the cheek and off you went.
“Be gentle with your sister, Noah!” I hollered after you, remembering that, ironically enough, you seem more capable of gentleness than anyone I know. A secret only I know.
So, I started to blog last spring and got swept up in a whirlwind of events just a few short months later, all which lead to me telling myself I’d get back to this blogging deal…some time. I’m super great at procrastinating until the guilt fades away. Here’s a breakdown on what’s been going on for Rhonda Elm Photography & just plain ol’ Rhonda since March 2012.
- April 2012 – We were SO busy! High school seniors came calling and man did I love it! We were shooting every weekend and I thought, “Man! I’m way too busy to blog!”
- May – We had a houseguest for the entire month, we were STILL going strong with last minute senior sessions, my oldest sister got MARRIED!, and the day before her wedding I found out I wasn’t grumpy/exhausted/constantly nauseous because I was doing too much, it was ’cause I was PREGNANT! Eek! (SURPRISE!) AND THEN! Because that wasn’t enough excitement, we moved just a few towns over to a home with a room I get to call my studio space! ❤
- June thru August – WHY DID NO ONE EVER TELL ME HOW HARD IT IS TO ADJUST TO HAVING KIDS AROUND ALL THE TIME DURING SUMMER VACATION?! I feel like I finally got the hang of things like a week before he went back to school.
- September thru December – This is when some aspects of my life were purposefully slowed down (WORK!) and other aspects went into serious overdrive like the kids’ extracurriculars, violin & ballet! And hordes and hordes of doctors appointments for myself (Someone decided my pregnancy was high risk?! Everything was fine!) And my poor oldest, Noah, was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis. (The coughing never ends!)
AND FINALLY, on December 31st, at 36 weeks, my family welcomed a little brother, Benjamin. He’s been a wonderful addition to our daily lives and (so far) has been a breeze to take care of. While I was pregnant, people often told me that “3 kids is a whole different ball game” but I must say I’d rather have 3 kids than have 2 kids and be pregnant! As my daughter declared only seconds into her first visit with me in the hospital “Now mommy can be normal again!”
Looking forward to getting back into the swing of things very soon! 🙂
First of all, I LOVE Valentine’s Day. LOVE IT. The anticipation, the cards, the air of the day! The FLOWERS!!! L-O-V-E it! Always have. Growing up I was never concerned with having a little boyfriend just because the calendar indicated I should be, I was happy enough seeing everyone being kind to one another. The other realm of love I didn’t bother with until I met my husband and while he made (and still makes) a mighty fine Valentine he’s still not what makes the day for me. I like to think of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love rather than a celebration of lovers.
That said, we’ve made a vow to one another that from this point forward we’d no longer celebrate the day without our children. What?! Crazy! I know. We still need dates. And eventually they’ll find people to love. I get that. My husband and I go on dates on occasion but as our children grow older and wiser we realize that we require less “breaks” from them & they require more of our person. It’s my hope that including our children on our outings will mean they don’t grow up longing for the day someone makes them feel like a special Valentine but rather that they grow up with the knowledge that they’re loved, adored, special, and of great value on their own.
It’s worth noting that my fondest memories of my own father were of the special surprises he’d have in store for Valentine’s. While I come from a broken family, I realize that everyone, at some point, contributed something beautiful to who I am today. Thanks, Mr. Bell, an invaluable lesson I’ll be forever grateful for.
I couldn’t include a post without a single photo so the following are shots of my son’s Valentine & Valentine receiving box for his preschool class. I’m never sure who my husband and I are trying to impress, I think the answer is we’re trying to challenge ourselves and impress each other and our children. I honestly get a little nervous that it may get annoying that I include a photo of my son in most cards & invitations for things he’s involved in but I thought this idea was good enough to go through with. Enjoy!