In the aftermath of what seemed like a life-shattering breakup at the time, I would belt out Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” I still have the song on my very eclectic workout playlist, and the other day I found myself shouting the lyrics and building up the tenacity to deal with another man in my life. This one weighs roughly 40 pounds and he’s not breaking my heart, but he breaks plenty of other things: Window blinds, flower pots, wire whisks from the kitchen (he likes to bend anything that is the least bit malleable), big chunks of my hair and his sisters’ hair off the scalp when in the throes of a titanic tantrum, toys, windshields (he did this with his head and was not injured in the least – thank God! Don’t ask. The car was parked in the driveway lest you think he was cruising around without a carseat in the front), etc., etc.
I’m supposed to be working on his birthday letter. Our little bruiser recently turned 3, but I’m spending too much time avoiding unidentifiable flying objects he has hurled in my direction to work on anything productive, and I’m afraid the letter will turn into a collection of grievances against the poor guy. I keep telling myself, “This too shall pass.” This mantra has always helped me get through rough parenting patches, but right about now, I find myself editing the phrase and gritting my teeth while thinking something like this: “This sure as heck better pass soon before I have a nervous breakdown or do something I’ll regret.”
Of course, there are tender moments when my sweet, little man cuddles close, but even his kisses and hugs are fueled with boy-power. I’ve had to remonstrate with him repeatedly to not hang on my neck when he hugs me because he’s pulled so hard, I’ve felt sharp jabs of pain.
We recently went to the beach to see my husband’s grandparents, and Thomas just kept asking, “When are we going to go home? Tomorrow?” He clearly wasn’t digging the change of scenery. He refused to nap, was sweaty with heat and exhaustion, and cried when sand got in his shoes and cried if we took his shoes off. He screamed when he was happy, and he screamed when he was sad. Dealing with his mercurial moods was completely exhausting.
Upon our return, a friend of mine first asked him, “What did you do at the beach, Thomas?”
“I got crabs!” he shouted.
The crustacean kind, of course.
After we all had a good laugh, I told her he had been ready to come home after a day away, so she queried, “Thomas, do you like the beach or home better?”
“Home!” he shouted.
My little boy craves routine and is definitely a homebody. When I take him to library storytime, he’s as still as can be and clings to my lap like a barnacle. But at home, he turns into the Incredible Hulk and plows from room to room leaving destruction or teary, melodramatic sisters in his wake.
My normal discipline strategies aren’t working, probably because I am so exasperated and tired from it all that I am not very consistent. The boy who once fell asleep so easily so long as I was beside him both at bedtime and for naps now pinches my nose and throws books around the room when I try to settle him down. The other day I was desperate for him to nap, so I finally held the door shut while he threw every possible toy at the door and screamed for 30 minutes straight. One day recently I actually did get him to sleep. It only took me two hours of cajoling him and putting him back into his bed. By the time he fell asleep, it was nearly time for me to pick up his sisters, and I was too worn out to get anything done, so I sat on the couch and cried.
It’s a terrible combination: A tired mama and an even more tired toddler.
Yes, this little man in my life is making me cry and cling to Gloria Gaynor’s words: “It took all the strength I had just not to fall apart.”
The saving grace is that he is the difficult one now. Madeline (my almost 10-year-old) is at that golden age where she’s helpful (for the most part, although her room looks like a disaster zone) and loves to be in my company. Rachel (7) and Mary E. (5) are getting along much better than they have in the past. Last year Thomas was easy, but I was having difficulties and stressing out over another child. God really doesn’t give me more than I can handle. Sometimes it just feels like it, but I’ve rarely been in a place where all my children were going through challenging developmental stages.
And I know that it is now – when books like When Your Child Drives You Crazy clutter my nightstand – that the most growth is going to happen within me.
Moms, don’t be (too) weary if you’re traveling down a difficult path right now in your parenting journey. Don’t wonder if you’re the only one who finds a newborn baby, a toddler, a preschooler, a 6-year-old, a tween, a teenager, a young adult, a grown child, a special-needs child, a girl, a boy, whatever difficult to mother. Because you’re not the only one. Wherever you’re at and whatever you’ve been given right now is probably the hardest for you. Maybe that’s the point. What would be easy for you may not be the best for you.
If God is trying to prune us and sanctify us through the vocation of parenthood, then it makes sense that He gives us just the kind of children we need – the kind who will push our buttons and throw us down to our knees and force us to realize that we cannot, absolutely cannot, do this on our own. We need good girlfriends we can vent to. We need spouses or other loved ones to lean on. We need community. We need to take care of ourselves to better take care of those entrusted to us. And we need faith. Faith is what makes our weakness – whether it’s spiritual, physical, or emotional – stronger. We have to have faith that this will pass, that we will survive.
Sometimes we have to simply show up – and to stay put once we’ve arrived even if every part of us is screaming to just go, escape, get the heck out of there before you or your child really loses it.
These are the kind of things I have to tell myself day after day right now as I try to figure out this rambunctious, toddler boy thing out.
I openly admit that I don’t have it all together. I have done things I regret. I haven’t always been gentle and firm. I’ve given up on God many times.
There are moments when I feel like my toddler is winning, but then I remind myself this isn’t a war. This isn’t about who is right or the most stubborn or the most in control. It is about love – the kind that sometimes really, really hurts to give. No, it’s not a war, but there is fighting. I have to keep on fighting to give of myself, to trust that a child who has started to pull our dog’s tail is not destined for juvenile delinquency. I have to fight to forgive myself and my boy when we reveal our raw humanness. At some point or another, we are all scared and tired moms who keep fighting. We are burnt out moms who are overwhelmed by keeping up with laundry and wayward tots or teens all day long, but we keep fighting and giving.
A mother doesn’t have superhero powers or even super patience. A mother is just a person – a woman like you or me – but she does super-amazing things. She is the woman with people in her care whom she loves and sometimes wonders how she loves them because they are driving her absolutely crazy. Yet, she still does love them. She gives, she fights, prays, and works. She shows up day after day for what sometimes can feel like a thankless or even pointless job. And it’s in this showing up minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day that just may make a mother a saint.
It took all the strength I had
not to fall apart
Occasionally, I use a popular fitness app to work out that’s definitely designed more for the younger set. The instructor, for example, sometimes talks about her new nail color for the day (can you imagine having time to change your nail color daily?), and I sheepishly look at my chewed nails and un-manicured toes and want to say to the peppy, chic instructor “Doesn’t she know that au natural is the new ‘color’ of the season? She also mentions things like studying and exams without nary a reference to potty training or sassy kids.
Nevertheless, the reason I keep the app is simple: The workouts are challenging and free (the app is free to download as well), and they also incorporate a lot of Pilates, something myriad health professionals have encouraged me to continue to do as I tirelessly attempt to rehab the injury-that-will-never-go-away*.
The app also comes with recipes, workouts, and a forum. I never paid much attention to the forum component, but a few months ago we were on a longer car trip and I started perusing through the “Before & After” section. I will tell you right now that if you struggle with your body image (or ever have), or you have suffered from an eating disorder in the past, this is probably not the best place for you. I’m not sure it’s a great place for any woman to spend much time, given how it’s so body-centric and gives girls a chance to compare themselves to hundreds of half-dressed women.
To be fair, there were some women who really seemed to be using the before and after photographs as healthy motivation. They have lost the weight and/or toned up in a healthy, balanced manner. The community was also mostly very encouraging. There was one young woman who only posted a “before” picture along with the comment “my body is disgusting, but I’m going to change that.” Someone immediately responded, “Your body is not disgusting. It’s going to be hard to make healthy changes if you don’t love yourself first.” Agreed. There were also girls desperately trying to achieve what seems to be the Holy Grail of Beauty right now – the elusive thigh gap. But for every young woman lusting over one, there were two or three telling her this is an unrealistic goal for most women and is based more on bone structure than fitness.
So the “Before & After” section certainly wasn’t exclusively black hole of negativity. What’s more, taking a before and after photos as you embark on a healthy lifestyle makeover rather than fixating on the number on the scale can be quite beneficial, but I would recommend keeping the photos private. Of course, for some sharing progress with others helps hold them accountable. In fact, the idea of a “social media diet” is growing, thanks to websites and apps like My Fitness Pal and Lose it! to But like so many things in life, you have to know yourself, your temptations, and be vigilant about ensuring what may have healthy potential doesn’t morph into something that leads you to unhealthy comparisons, vanity, and/or obsessiveness.
Personally, while I could recognize some good coming out of this particular social media “Before & After” forum, I also saw a whole lot of bad. Somewhere in the back of mind, I started to look at one young woman’s enviable midsection and wonder why my efforts to strengthen my core were not resulting in that streamlined, muscled look. (Ironically, my “efforts to strengthen my core” have been successful even if you don’t see it based upon how long I can hold a plank these days without earthquake-like body tremors.) If you clicked on the username, you would learn that the “woman” was all but 15. A mom of four inching closer to 40 every day was actually comparing herself to that of a 15-year-old in a moment of absurdity. I wasn’t the only one making unwise comparisons. Many of the girls on the forum were asking questions like, “How did you get your thigh gap?” and “What can I do to have abs like yours?” All of these girls were looking to others for inspiration instead of looking within themselves and asking themselves, What can I – with my own gifts and natural design – do to live the fullest, most healthful life possible?
I don’t like admitting that I was actually on a fitness “Before & After” forum comparing myself to adolescents, but I can bet I’m not alone. Maybe most women don’t go so far as to seek out a forum full of fitness photos, but most of us fall prey to comparing ourselves to someone somewhere. Perhaps it’s someone in the media or on the cover of a magazine you glance at while checking out at the grocery store. Or it’s the fit neighbor who runs by your house every day. Or it’s the beautiful mom who doesn’t look like she just had a baby whom you meet at a playdate. Or it’s the “friend of a friend” on Facebook who posts her smiling, lovely face and her status update: “Soaking up the Mediterranean sun and getting the tan of my life.” Or maybe you’re looking at pictures of you – maybe it’s the “thin” you from that day long ago when you didn’t have varicose veins or maybe it’s the “current” you who’s just a bit too soft – and you’re comparing yourself to what you could be, once was, or should be.
Stop it. Stop it right this very second.
You are more than a paper doll to be dressed up, scrutinized, and criticized.
I wish all those young girls on that app knew this. I almost thought of leaving comments such as these after some of the posts.
I nearly did comment after a post that made me pause. There was a picture of a young girl with a lovely, round face. She wasn’t smiling. Actually, it almost appeared as if she was trying to make herself look as miserable as possible. Beneath her picture, she wrote, “I hate my round face. What can I do to make it thinner?”
I had an answer for her. “Age, my beautiful girl. The aging process will siphon all that collagen from your face, so that one day it’s no longer round and all angles, and you’ll realize your the face of your youth was perfectly fine just as your aging face is lovely as well, and its ’roundness’ was had everything to do with being young and full of life, and your wrinkles now have everything to do with living a full life.”
See, once upon a time I was a chubby girl who got teased and called names like “Miss Piggy.” Then one day some crazy hormones started finally coursing through through her body and – viola! – she slimmed down. She felt like the ugly duckling turned swan. The very boys who teased her started flirting with her; girls asked her what her “secret” was (once again, it was simply aging and hitting puberty later than others). So the swan preened her feathers and flaunted them, believing all she had to offer the world was skin. She embraced a warped view that to be thinner was to be better and even more loved. She started to exercise rain or shine, sick or well. She started to eat shards of lettuce (hold the dressing, please) for her “big” meal of the day. She grew thinner and yet, she felt that her face stubbornly remained round.
If there had been social media in her day, she would have most certainly become obsessed. She would have seen the girls with hip bones jutting out and hollowed-out faces and wonder why she wasn’t as “strong” as them.
This girl was me. I hated my face. I hated how “fat” it looked.
Now I look back on those photos and I see nothing but youth. I used to sift through photos of my “chubby” self (my “before”) and compare them to my “after.” I was mostly pleased with the way my clavicle was a noticeable ridge and one of the first things you noticed when you looked at my photo, but that face of mine never seemed to change. I put so much effort into trying to change the outside of me while the inside atrophied and was consumed by thoughts of what to eat and what not to eat, how to smile in a photo or tilt my head so that plump face of mine wouldn’t look so full, how to get rid of those nasty calories I’d taken in, how to be thinner, and in my twisted mind “better.”
If I could turn myself inside out, what would my internal before and after look like? There would be a girl – a silly girl who loved writing in her journal, reading, drama, and horses – who was shutting out all the beauty that longed to radiate from within by becoming preoccupied with weight and changing a face that would one day change all on its own.
More recently, I was with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in quite awhile, and we started talking about what we were up to. I admitted that I was in a bit of a slump, but that I was learning something very valuable through it all. I noticed her new Garmin watch and complimented it. “I love it,” she said. “I use it all of the time.”
“I used to use mine all of the time, too,” I said just a tad wistfully. Just call me Eeyore.
“But you don’t anymore!” Madeline, the ever-eavesdropper, added.
Nope, I don’t, and for some reason I started to consider all of the time I’ve invested in trying to rehab my tendons and my lopsided pelvis, and I thought of my lackluster soul, how it’s been mired in what feels like an interminable dark night for too long, and in need of some serious rehab as well. I thought about how going to weekly Mass really isn’t enough to nurture a living faith or to resuscitate a flagging soul. I need to enfold myself into a stronger chrysalis to change: prayer, more confession, more hope.
“You know,” I told my friend. “What I’m going to focus on right now is just trying to be a better person. I’ve spent so much of my life achieving and trying to meet goals, but what if I just poured most of my efforts into being a better person? I know it sounds cliche….” I trailed off.
“No, it doesn’t,” she said. “Not at all. It sounds like something we all should do.”
And so I’m working on pursuing a different kind of before and after. Here’s my before: Here’s a woman who God just won’t give up on despite her doubts, her fears, her struggles that are suddenly resurrecting after years of peace and wholeness. Her soul is beautiful, but it’s in need of a makeover. It’s not as radiant and trusting and hopeful as it should be – or as it once was. But that’s okay. There’s no reason to despair or to give up or to compare herself to others who diffuse peace and kindness and unwavering faith.
Because after weeks, months, a lifetime of ups and downs and effort, and grace-seeking and mercy-begging, here’s her after: This soul of hers is resplendent. It can’t stop shining. It is a grateful soul. It has a few blemishes, yes, because this is a soul of a human, but look at the way it sings and shines and gives and joyfully receives and loves.
That’s the “after” I’m going for. Hold me to it.
*I met with a new specialist yesterday and am very hopeful about overcoming this injury and getting back to running, but I am determined to find peace no matter what happens.
The battle lines are drawn. It’s the Wickers versus the insidious stomach bug and finally after much germ warfare, the Wickers are gaining ground and close to a win.
For over a week, I haven been fighting the stomach bug. I’ve been the victim but mostly the medic,
running stumbling to the front lines to provide aid to the fallen. Sleep has been in short-supply. Vomit and diarrhea have not been. My husband was the last to fall victim – right before a weekend where he was scheduled to work 38-hours in three days after working a regular 40-hour work week. Forget the Dr. McDreamy stuff. This is real life. Thankfully, he found coverage for Friday, but he was back at work bright and early Saturday, and I was schlepping the kids to and fro the hospital to bring him plain, hot soup – about the only thing he could stomach for lunch and dinner. I actually kind of liked this duty. I got to see my husband, and I found him looking handsome despite having puked his brains out not too long ago. He glanced back one last time at the minivan before entering the glass doors to his prison for the next two days and smiled, and my heart fluttered the way it always did when we first started dating. I was looking quite fine myself, in an over-sized Notre Dame fleece, black workout pants accented with toddler drool, dog slobber, and unidentifiable smears, no makeup, and hasn’t-been-washed-or-brushed-much-lately hair. No doubt he was filled with feelings of romance as well.
Rachel was our first victim of the virus; it’s been going around the the parish school. She nearly missed hurling on her younger sister who was below her on the bottom bunk. Next up was Madeline. Then a few hours later Mary Elizabeth succumbed. I was exceedingly proud of this little trouper. She came to me just after I’d drifted back to sleep after – brace yourself – extracting big chunks of tilapia studded with rice and veggies from a bathroom sink (poor Madeline couldn’t make it to the toilet in time), and she whispered, “Mommy, I think I have to throw up.” I leapt out of bed with the kind of alacrity only a mom who knows what it’s like to be puked on can do (yes, I once almost got some in my mouth when I scooped up a nauseated, little one) and took her to the toilet. She’s only 4, but Mary was able to make it to the bathroom in time. Later she hurled into the big bowl I’d placed next to her in my bed and didn’t get even a drop of bile stew on the nest of towels I’d surrounded us with. Early the next morning, she woke me up. “I’m hungry,” she said. And she proceeded to eat a normal breakfast. For two days we were all healthy, and I thought to myself, “This is getting easier. The stomach bug isn’t quite as bad when the kids are older and puke doesn’t end up covering every surface area.”
I also figured the rest of us were fine. We’d successfully dodged the germ bullet. Hooray for us. Foolish, foolish woman. At this point, our home was one big Petri dish for germs. Not surprisingly, I woke up Tuesday morning with cramps and was preparing to stoically empty my bowels when my 2-year-old started convulsing beside me in bed. We just so happened to be sick at the exact same time. That’s how bonded I am with my little boy. So my toddler and I tag-teamed it, working hard to expel the demons who had taken control of our innards. I mostly used the toilet. Little Man did better in the bathtub; his aim isn’t as good as mine yet, but he’s getting there after our glorious night together. I got about .5 hours of sleep, and then I woke up the next day and had to take my two oldest to school since my husband had an early meeting, and I was trying to keep him healthy (epic fail, obviously).
As I loaded the kiddos into the van, I first prayed that I wouldn’t get sick in the car and then started to curse myself for deciding not to homeschool again this year since I could have popped in a movie for the kids and stayed in my puke-encrusted PJs all day. Instead, here I was taking my puke-encrusted PJ-wearing-self and driving my kids to school while my 2-year-old screeched at me telling me he was hungry. What the? How do these little people bounce back so quickly? How could he possibly be hungry after a night like that?
When the stomach bug first hit our house, I thought of posting some pity-provoking Facebook update or tweeting something about the puke fest going down in our house, but I decided against it. (I really don’t share every sickness, every flooded basement, or wild animal encounter on social media). The last time the kids ended up blowing chunks (let’s see how many puking euphemisms I can come up with in one post!), we were on a beach vacation. Three out of four kids ended up sick. So did my dad and sister-in-law. She grew so ill she had to go to the ER. Fun stuff. But here’s the thing: It wasn’t fun when it was unfolding, but it was quite funny in the aftermath. Mary Elizabeth still talks about the time she was a mummy at the beach.
Here’s how she spent a day at the beach:
As for why I’m posting about it now is simple. I’m here to say to all the weary, battle worn parents out there: You will survive and you may even find some silver lining in it all – just not in the lining of your intestines. Don’t expect those to be right for a long time. Drink your Kefir. (I am not paid to endorse Kefir, but I should be.)
Yesterday I started being able to eat normally again after my non-intentional Master Cleanse (forget running – the stomach bug will help you fit into your skinny jeans in no time), and I’m already finding humor and glints of gratitude in it all. I think of poor Thomas’s shaking body as I put him in the bathtub and rubbed his back and said to no one in particular, “This is awful,” and he emphatically agreed.
“Yes,” he replied just before he lost his cookies (no cookies had actually been eaten for dinner the night before).
I think of Madeline saying something about how tilapia doesn’t taste very good the second time around and how Mary Elizabeth wanted to be the one to bring her daddy drinks when he was recovering in bed and how she told me I smelled awful the morning after Thomas and I had been in the puke trenches together. I thought of how when Madeline and Rachel came home from school the day I was still recovering and feeling green, they worked together to tidy up the kitchen, make dinner (Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese), and fold towels that had been forgotten in the dryer.
I also found joy in how each child cuddled just a bit closer in the aftermath of their hurling. I found fulfillment in serving my husband. I could not work for him. I could not make his stomach feel better, but I could bring him soup and Kefir as well as a smile. I could joke about the fact that I hadn’t showered in two days and that I was just doing my part to save us money on our utilities. I liked how the kids and I were all holed in together, shut out from the rest of the world and all the distractions and to-dos like bears in hibernation and had nothing but time for games and reading stories.
Life has been kind of crazy lately. We’ve been fighting flooding basements, long work hours for my husband, and the dreaded stomach bug among other stressors; yet, on Friday night I found myself shooting off an email to someone – a stranger no less who is bound to think I’m a wee bit delirious (and perhaps I am after dealing with vomit and diarrhea and skimping on shut-eye for over a week now) – where I made light of the puke-poop fest. And reliving the last week actually me smile. I signed off of my email, kissed a pallid husband whom I love so very much good-night, and felt grateful for the life I’m living even in the midst of all the hazardous waste.