I Am Not That Mom….

I sometimes wished I was that mom that baked cookies and completed crafts.  I am not.

I sometimes wished I was that mom that spoke in a soft and calm voice.  I am not.

I sometimes wished I was the mom that planned elaborate parties.  I am not.

I sometimes wished I was that mom that had the entire year organized.  I am not.

I sometimes wished I was the mom that said, “Golly gee kids!”  I am not.

I tried.  I tried for a very long time to be “that mom” that I thought I was supposed to be.  I looked around and saw everyone doing it better than me. How easy it is to get caught up in the comparison game.  It is so exhausting trying to be something you are not.

So I stopped.  It was like the scene in the movie, “Forrest Gump”, where he had been running and running across the country and he just stopped one day and said, “I am pretty tired, I think I will go home now.  And just like that, my running days were over.”

Instead, I said, “I am pretty tired, I think I will be myself.  And just like that, my comparing days were over.”  I can’t begin to tell you how freeing that was for me.  I just became tired.  It took so much energy to be something I was not.  So here I am.

I am the mom that makes mistakes daily, apologizes, and moves on.

I am the mom that offers chocolate during that time of the month.

I am the mom that yells sometimes.

I am the mom that doesn’t hug all the time but when I do, it matters.

I am the mom that gives my kids one trip to school the entire year when they forget something but the rest of the time they owe me in cleaning time if I need to make more.  (I have not made any this year.)

I am the mom that sometimes makes breakfast but most times I throw them a pop tart.

I am the mom that does not iron their clothes anymore.

I am the mom that yells sometimes….okay, more than I thought I ever would.

I am the mom that explains to my kids that many times my moods have nothing to do with them and more to do with me.

I am the mom that curses and allows my kids to at times because we have learned that some words can not even begin to explain the pain that you are feeling.

I am the mom that has dance offs.

I am the mom that accepts the challenge from my fourteen-year-old that wants to “take me down.”

I am the mom that does not give praise often but when I do, they know I mean it.

I am the mom that expects you to do your job and finish your job.  I will not settle for less.

I am the mom that follows through on what I threaten even though it is hard and painful.

I am the mom that has helped each child find their thing even though it is not my thing.

I am the mom that has spanked the wrong kid.

I am the mom that apologized for that one, too.

I am the mom that answers sex questions no matter how intimidating.  I have a National Geographic voice.

I am the mom that is so sarcastic that if a stranger heard our conversations they would be perplexed.

I am the mom that has her own friends, hobbies, and things I like to do.

I am the mom that will say no and calls them out when they are being manipulative.

I am the mom that gives grace when necessary and punishment when needed.

I am the mom that stopped dreaming for my kids and let them make their own dreams for their own lives.

I am the mom that drives them everywhere and love my car time with them.

I am the mom that puts my husband before her kids.

I am the mom that made my kids listen to all kinds of music because all music matters.

I am the mom that models imperfection because I want my kids to accept their imperfections and grow.

I am the mom that is struggling to get through the day.

I am the mom that doesn’t make excuses for myself or my kids.

I am the mom that prays for her kids but knows that they need to discover Jesus on their own.

During our last vacation, I realized my faults and told the girls that I was going to try to be more “June Cleaver” like because my edges can be rough and sharp.  It lasted one hour.  They told me to stop.  In their words, they said, “Mom, we love you.  Just as you are.  We can’t imagine you being anything but you.”

And that is just who I am….the messy mistake making mom that stopped comparing and started living. No apologies.  Just. like. that.

 

 

When You Are Stuck….

Last year, we began letting Grace drive the jet-ski a little bit.  We did this for several reasons, but the main one is that she is a spaz and needs all of the experience possible of handling bigger machinery without the risk of death.  As we changed positions and she took the driver’s seat, I said, “Do you see those birds standing in the water?  Do not go over there…it is too shallow.”  She replied, “Got it Mom!”  Five minutes later, we were in the sand, beside the birds, spitting out sand from the engine….we were stuck.

I love using this incident to convey the illustration of when we get stuck in life.  There are so many emotions that you go through when you are stuck.  Your mind races, you get frustrated, and you may panic.  There are also things that need to happen as you unstick yourself.

Don’t panic, you are not helpless.

When I was stuck on the sandbar with 2 fourteen-year-old girls, I could not panic.  I was the adult.  I had to remain calm, cool and collected while on the inside, I was thinking, “Crap!  What if we die out here?  We are in a freaking swamp and this could end up like Gilligan’s Island with no professor, just 2 teenagers!!!!”  I then looked around at where I was and began to devise a plan.  Also, I MAY have been stuck before and I got myself unstuck with time, patience, and work.

Do something.

“Alright girls.  Get off and start pushing.” I said.

“But….we can’t.  Jellyfish.”

“GET.OFF.AND.PUSH!!!” I demanded with gritted teeth and they did.

Despite their irrational fear of jellyfish, they pushed.

We kept pushing and pushing only to find more sand. Life is like that so many times.  We push and push and we feel like we are not getting anywhere so we give up.  We can’t.  Every push forward no matter how small is progress.

Find your sense of humor….do not lose your sense of humor. Especially when it gets worse before it gets better.

As we pushed in the sandy water that was up to our calves, we suddenly sunk in sand that went up to our armpits.  Screams!  Big Screams and all the curse words in my head…only in my head…because obviously quicksand is a real thing and I was the adult so I had to keep my s**t together.

As we were stuck in the quicksand, the jet ski came into deeper water and it began floating away.   I had two options.  To laugh or cry.  I laughed. (I have a tendency to laugh in the worst situations.)  We laughed as we continued to push emerging from the water like 3 swamp monsters giggling.  And after all the fear and screams, I was the only one that got stung by a jellyfish.  Laughing makes most situations lighter.  It has a tendency to take a load off even if it is temporary.

I know this illustration is superficial compared to the tragedies and incidents of life that can leave us stuck.  Death.  Sickness.  Divorce.  Financial Strain. Family. Kids. Work.  It isn’t always a big event, it can be a slow build-up of many things.  I talk to women often and there are so many times we are paralyzed with fear because we are stuck and we do not want anyone to know.  We cover it up with a smile, a wave, and an “I’m fine.”

No matter how stuck you are, you have to keep moving forward.  Sometimes you are moving really, really slow. So slow, you do not feel that you are getting anywhere.  Small movements add up to big movements.  Small movements make a life and produce growth.  Slowly, not quickly, the glue that has you stuck begins to loosen.  When things loosen, you find yourself in better water where you can navigate again and set yourself back on course.  When you look back on that stuck moment, no matter how much time it took to move through, it makes you stronger not because you didn’t sink but because you were the active part of becoming unstuck.

.

 

 

 

Love. Respect. Work Ethic.

In my first year of being a principal, I learned so much…by making a tremendous amount of mistakes and dealing with a variety of students, parents, and teachers.  As student after student entered my office, parent after parent sat across from my desk, and teacher after teacher came in and out, I realized that most problems with students, parents, and teachers came down to two things.  Respect and Work Ethic.

As parents, our kids know that we love them.  We say it and we show it.  We do not claim to love perfectly.  Actually, our imperfect loving makes us more real than pretending we know it all.  Our girls have grown up with us apologizing for our mistakes, growing in our parenting, and being real and honest.  We hope to have provided them with a place to make mistakes and be who they have been created to be.  But many parents do not think that discipline is a part of love and we believe it is.

There is not an easy formula to parenting.  Parenting is THE HARDEST job that I have ever had.  Teaching is not easy but one of my strengths is taking a goal and breaking it into the smallest steps so that the goal is obtainable.  How could my husband and I raise two very different daughters to be loving, compassionate and independent?  As much as we love them, we want them to be self-sufficient, hardworking, and caring people that can take their place in whatever or wherever they choose to go.

As a mom, I looked at my parenting and decided to keep my expectations fairly simple.  I had been majoring in the minors A LOT…because when stress comes in I like to hold on to control the best that I can.  Since I am constantly evaluating myself in every role, I knew I needed to stop majoring in the minors and be very clear in my expectations with our daughters.

We sat the girls down and basically told them that there were two no- negotiables in our house.   These expectations were communicated with love and an established relationship.  Respect and Work Ethic.  Those two items are our only rules.

Respect Became a Non-Negotiable

We established “first-time obedience” in pre-school.  There was a day that my youngest (the one that we thought we would send to Military Pre-School) refused to hold my hand and ran out in a parking lot ONLY for the car to stop 6 inches from her.  In retrospect, I knew that I needed them to listen the first time I said something.  Not 3 times.  Not twice.  The first time.  Every moment is a teaching moment.  Whether it teaches you or your children.  They needed to learn respect now.  There wasn’t time to wait.  Just like myself, we would work on one or two of these at a time based on their developmental stages.

What it looked like:

  • First-time obedience means I do not repeat myself.
  • No means no. No matter how much you cry or throw yourself on the ground.
  • Take care of your things and appreciate them.
  • Manners matter. Yes ma’am.  No sir.    Thank you.  Always.
  • It is not what you say. It is HOW you say it.
  • Eye rolls and talking back are not allowed. Use your words and tone respectfully to disagree.  If not, I can think of many creative consequences.

Questions I use to get them to think about it:

  • Would you like to rewind and try saying it in a respectful way?
  • Was what you just said respectfully said to your sister? Could you say it again in a more respectful way? Thank you. (And if they couldn’t there would be consequences.)

 

In Caroline’s words:

“My mom and dad have always drawn the line with two things; work ethic and respect. At the same time, they have always expected those two things at all times. Nothing has changed. To me, respect is in a way, a type of appreciation for anyone. For example, in the Bowers household we are taught to use our manners.  We say Yes Ma’am, No Ma’am, Yes Sir, and No Sir.  My parents say it, too.  So far, respect has taken me a pretty long way in life including; in school, in the arts, and at home. One time I had so much going on inside of my head and I had no clue how to say it out loud to my mom. There wasn’t a way that I could’ve done it and she wouldn’t be mad. (So I thought) Finally, I just said it. But it came out with respect, and I just told my mom and she wasn’t angry with me. She was glad that I told her, but not only that, she was glad that I said it to her in a respectful way. From then on, we both have grown to respect each other every day, and yes we are not perfect, yes we don’t always have the best attitude, and yes we mess up sometimes, but at the end of the day, what really matters is our love for each other, our moments that we celebrate when we accomplish something, and what we do for each other.”

Work Ethic Became a Non-Negotiable

I am a mom that knows that she MUST prepare her children for the real world. I have seen so many kids fail at life because they just DO NOT KNOW HOW TO WORK.  Parents tend to their every need and do everything for them.  The key is that we were consistent and followed through every time.  We would also allow natural consequences to take place.

What it looked like:

  • They do their homework.
  • They make their beds.
  • They complete all projects.
  • They finish their job and I would call them back to do it.
  • They do it right or they do it again. (at age appropriate expectations)
  • I taught them how to study for their learning style.
  • Work hard then play hard.
  • They did not get an allowance. Everyone participates in our family. (They get paid when they get jobs outside of our house.)
  • Their responsibilities were not mine. (putting folder in book bag, putting things away, etc.)
  • If they were old enough to do it, they could do it. (draw their own bath, laundry, dishes, packing their own lunch)
  • Complaining about what is expected equals more work to do. You can work with a joyful heart or a mad one but you will still work.

Questions I would ask to get them to think about their work ethic:

  • How could you exceed expectations?
  • Look around, did you finish your job?
  • What do you think needs to be completed first?
  • How much time do you think this should take to be completed?
  • Should we set the timer? (to stay on task)
  • Would you like to rewind and respond differently to what I asked you to do? Thank you.
  • What are YOUR goals? How do you plan to meet those goals?

In Grace’s words:

“Work ethic is a steady trait that remains beneficial throughout all areas of life academically, personally, and athletically. Growing up with the expectation of a solid work ethic pushed me to not make excuses when faced with tough situations, but rather to suck it up and do the things I don’t want to do. Academically a strong work ethic pays off by completing homework and seeking extra help if needed, allowing positive test results. Athletically, a powerful work ethic pushes me to become stronger and better every time I step into the weight room or on the field. A strong work ethic carries you far in life and is easier to learn and apply if learned at a young age.  Developing it in small doses as I grew has helped me pace my work now that I am older.  I take my goals and work on them day by day and that hard work has paid off in school, at home, and on the field.”

Writing this blog has been very fun as we dissected and laughed over motivational moments that have grown and shaped them.  We use questions to get them to think about what and why they are doing something and give them a chance to go back and correct it so they learn to do it well.  Love, respect, and work ethic build upon one another but are so closely related.  We are still in the thick of learning these lessons but the foundation has been laid.  We are now “gradually releasing responsibility” to them…. and that will need to be another blog for later.

 

 

Breaking Out…My Eating Disorder Story

I do not remember being called fat.  I  DO remember hearing women talk about so and so being fat or how much weight so and so put on.  It always seemed to be the topic of conversation when I was a little girl.  I was a dancer and a baton twirler at a young age so maybe that is what people talked about in that circle.  I do remember looking down at my thighs in second grade, spread on the chair, and thought, “My legs are big.”  From then on, I tried to hide them.

I grew fast and quick.  I was 5’3” tall in fifth grade.  I had stretch marks from that growth that I would hate for the longest time.  I was called “big boned” and “broad”.  My mother used to say, “Nikki can’t fit into that…she is just too broad.”  To me, it meant that I was too big.  It seemed that I was too much of a lot of things and not enough of most things.  Too slow.  Not fast.  Too average.  Not smart.  Too goofy.  Not serious.  Too much energy.  Not focused.

In high school, I walked into the weight room one day.  It was empty so my friend and I decided to box squat.  We had seen it done but had never tried.  We kept putting on the weight.  160, 180, 200, and the numbers kept climbing.  260 pounds was starting to get harder.  When the guys walked in they began to joke, “What are you going to do…try out for wrestling?”  Can you imagine if the response was different?  But it wasn’t.  Every girl in the 80’s was expected to look like a twig.

That summer before my senior year of high school I worked as a lifeguard.  One day as I jumped off the diving board, a fellow lifeguard commented on how I looked like a “wrestler”.  That is when I decided…I needed to lose weight.

Nobody begins a diet, drinks alcohol, or experiments with drugs thinking, “I can’t wait to be addicted to this.”  Yet, this is how it happens.  For me, it began as trying to lose 10 pounds.  I changed the way I ate and it came off easily.  Then it was 5 pounds more….then another 5 pounds… People began saying kind things to me that they had never said before.  “Wow!  You look good!”  Even my mom complimented my weight improvement.

The shift began slowly, deep inside my head.  5 more pounds became a challenge and something that I had complete control over.  Every eating disorder patient will tell you of a different high they would get.  My high came from being empty.  The longer I could be empty, the more euphoria I had.  It is when I felt the best.  However when I ate I would learn that I could make myself throw up.  This gave me more options.  I had control.  And control is what I love.  I could be empty whenever I wanted.  This emptiness created a prison that would be ALMOST impossible to escape.

I became a Christian right after graduation.  I was hoping that God would heal me instantly.  Healing like this does not happen from a lightening bolt from the sky.

I thought about it day and night.  Would I eat?  Would I not?  If I did, could I throw it up?  Did I need laxatives?  How many calories?  When would I run?  When my parents needed milk, I would run to the store and run home with the milk.  I ran in the middle of the night if I could not sleep.  I slept with weights buckled around me (my own contraption) hoping it would make my stomach flat.

In 1.5 years of dieting, my body weight was cut in half.  My hair was falling out.  I was addicted to laxatives.  I used a variety of objects to shove down my throat to engage my gag reflex.  And I was not finished losing weight!  I had 5 more pounds to go.  Just 5 more.

I had been too weak to finish playing Fall Ball for softball in collegel. I was lucky to finish exams.  On December 17, 1990, my dad took me to a special eating disorder unit in Baltimore.  I screamed at him not to leave me because I wasn’t finished losing weight.  He looked back with tears in his eyes and left.   It was a place where I would be “fixed”.

I did not return to college and lost the scholarships that I had.  I was the youngest woman on the unit and I finally felt understood.  I didn’t have to explain myself.  I did not have to hide my addiction.  In this unit, you had to gain 1 pound a day.  If you did, you had privileges, if you did not, you had to stay in the common room and could not go back to your room, use the phone, or have visitors.  On Christmas day, my friend Ann and I were the only ones not allowed privileges.  We sat in the common room and watched everyone have Christmas.  I remember thinking, “How could my life get any worse than this?”  Yet, it did.

Nobody from my family showed up for family therapy…..because we did not have any problems.  It was my problem.   My brother was a drug addict and I almost died from my eating disorder but we were all good!  I went to individual therapy where the doctor just stared at me, I talked, nothing was really solved, and time was up. I went to group therapy where we talked about our body image and I was encouraged to “let my feelings out”.  I was given Prozac to help my OCD tendencies.  I was on my way to recovery…or that is what everyone thought.  Actually, the thought was, “If you just eat, you will be fine.”

Being in a hospital where they make your food, watch you eat your food, take your meds, watch you go to the bathroom, talk about your feelings….that is the easy part. You then have to go back to your dysfunctional family that never visited you in the hospital and live it out.  That wasn’t going to be challenging at all.  Not at all.

After 2.5 months in the hospital, I was released to go home.  I really cannot put into words what happened but in one month, I lost 15 pounds again.   In a heated argument with my mother, I told her what I had wanted to tell her since kindergarten. I finally “let my feelings out.”  It was the best feeling in the world.  However, it landed me out of the house with some belongings in a trash bag.  I was kicked out of the house.

That was the moment I realized that getting better was my responsibility.  Recovery was up to me.  I couldn’t blame anyone for where I was at this point (which was pretty low).  I had to make decisions every day to get better.  This was also the time where my friends became my family.  I moved in with my childhood best friend.  Her mom loved on me the way I needed.  She always had dinner and then you were expected to clean up and not throw up.  It was soooo hard.  But slowly I gained some confidence.  I took a year off of school and worked three jobs.  After several months of minimum wage jobs, I decided that getting my degree is what I needed to do.  I did not have any money.  I had my work ethic, my determination, and a glimmer of my sense of humor.  I slowly began to rebuild my life.

Every step forward seemed to push me two steps backward.  It seems that “just eating” doesn’t get rid of the demons that caused the disorder.  There was a lot of work and pain to process. I had to unlearn the bad habits and relearn the healthy habits.  The magic pill of Prozac had to be taken regularly. And I would not do that. That left me suicidal and participating in self-mutilation.   The demons and I battled every day.  Some days I won, some days they won.

From the outside, I looked “fine”.  If you asked me, “I was fine.”  Everyone expected me to be fine.  So to please everyone….I was.  I hid my wounds and became a master of this.  I participated in the life everyone expected me to do but inside I fought a battle every hour to keep myself sane and fed.

When you are a perfectionist and people pleaser this is what you do.  I had food rituals that could not be disturbed and I constantly fought the question, “Do I rent this or own it?”

I filled my life with work and school.  I went to school full time and worked three jobs. This busyness kept me structured.  But it also kept me from eating.

There were pivotal moments in my recovery that made me realize that life was worth fighting for daily.  My dad pleading for me to live made me choose small goals to heal for good.  Getting my first teaching job made me realize that I had to be fueled to keep up with elementary school students.  Meeting my husband that knew all my brokenness and said, “I love you anyway” and encouraged me to lift because my body was so strong made me want to be better.  Becoming pregnant when they did not think it was possible was another milestone.  Having two girls back to back made me want a different childhood and healthier perceptions for them both.  I knew I had to heal so they would have better.

I have learned to give myself grace to not be okay.  I have learned that recovery is not perfect and takes a long time.   Relapse happens but it does not have to be a downward spiral to undo how far you have come.  I have learned that being honest about my struggle helps others.  I have learned that I have wasted so many years obsessing over the expectations that others have for me instead of discovering my own.

It has been 27 years.  I am still trying to figure out so many things.  Life is not fair for anyone.  We are dealt a family and their choices have consequences.  We make choices and every choice has consequences.  There were many days that death looked better than what I was facing.  And every time in that loneliness and despair, God showed up.  From the outside, it would not look miraculous but when I was on my knees pleading for a better way, I would always find the strength to rise.  God would guide me to paint beauty with the ashes.

If someone were to call me a wrestler now, it would be the biggest compliment.  I am a strong woman.  I have muscles.  My body can do amazing things.  My confidence and self-acceptance does not come from people’s admiration.  It comes from me knowing that I have worked my a** off mentally, physically, and emotionally to be standing here today.

I love the life and family we have created.  If someone would have told me that I would be standing here with the confidence and strength I have now I would have never believed it was possible.  Because my brain was hard wired in a certain way and critical elements were not met when I was growing up, I believe that I will always be fighting my demons.  The only difference now is that my winning streak is so much better and my armor is more complex.  The past 40 years have been spent fighting to unlearn and undo things while breaking out of a prison that I created.  The next 40 years?  They will be spent living in the freedom I fought so hard to have.