Fasting week one

I’m finally learning some major lessons in life: patience, self-control, and discipline.

I am borrowing a custom of my Muslim friends and fasting during Ramadan, which means for almost a month I don’t eat between sunrise and sunset, and spend the time reflecting on spiritual things and attempting to do good deeds. I eat a meal before sunrise, and another meal after sunset.

In only a matter of days, the quality of my life and my children’s lives are so much better. I stopped being so self centered, cleared all of the drama out of my life, and as a result, am much easier to be around. My kids stopped complaining that they want to live with their dad, and my son even gave me an award for being a good mom. The award was his deodorant, which I still find funny and cute.

I’ve also completely overcome my battle with food and emotional eating. This is so empowering in and of itself. In the past when I had attempted a fast, it would last for a matter of hours, during which time some amazing things happened spiritually, but most of my thoughts centered on food. Then I would be anxious about what would happen if I continued the fast, such as headaches, dizziness and death, to name a few, but none of these have happened. I don’t even miss food.

I am able to be much more patient with people, and even let them finish their sentences before I formulate a witty response. To be honest, the first couple of days it was because I lacked the energy to interrupt anyone, but now it has become a habit. I am even able to stay calm and centered when the kids start fighting. That has never happened!! On the rare occasions when I begin to get frustrated with my kids, the two year old will tell me, ‘calm your face mommy, calm the face’ then I just start laughing. The insomnia has almost gone away as well.

So, week one has been a success so far. The lessons I’m finally learning may revolve around food (or lack thereof) but they radiate into every area of my life.

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Patience really is a virtue

I just had an amazing moment of clarity and realized that all of my problems in life are and were caused by a lack of patience. For example:

A lack of patience with life’s circumstances led me to leave college a semester away from a degree, to join the Navy in a career field that I despised and was horribly inadequate in.

A lack of patience with my job in the Navy led me to marry the first person who seemed to want me, even while realizing that we were not meant to be together. I mean really, who locks their new husband out of the car in the rain. On their wedding day. And laughs.

A lack of patience and acceptance between my stepmom, my dad and myself led to all kinds of messes including my joining the military, the falling out between all of us, and ultimately led to my being cut out of all of the family pictures at my dad’s funeral, and being cast out of that family.

A lack of patience with my brother and sister when younger has led to me never being close to them like a family should be. My children have modeled for me how things should have been for me as a kid. They are so forgiving and very close to one another.

A lack of patience with my own children has led to me losing my temper, yelling and hurting their feelings. Luckily they are still young enough that I get a second chance to do this right. I’ve been much better recently, consciously keeping my voice soft and calm when speaking to them. With great results so far. When I am patient with them, I am able to be more empathetic to their feelings.

All of these things were shown to me today as I spent most of the day fasting and begging for divine guidance and inspiration. Well, I was also finally patient enough to sit down and read the book on patience that I bought recently. That probably helped too.

Turns out patience really is a virtue. Now time to fast some more and pray and beg for the strength to develop the patience needed to be a blessing to myself and others.

Fire breathing dragon

The power that words can have over us is amazing. For example, yesterday my kids were in an argumentative tattling mood, trading snide remarks back and forth, until 7 year old Jessica informed me that her 8 year old brother has been telling everyone that he ‘doesn’t like me’ and ‘wants to live with dad’. Then proceeded to repeat the insult at least 10 more times. I was shocked into silence, then realized I shouldn’t be shocked. After all, he had just written a story that featured me as a fire breathing dragon.

I was very quiet for a while (pouting, yes I’ll admit it) until my two year old started rubbing my arm and generously asked if I needed to borrow her blankie again. Then I decided to act like an adult, but only after making a tearful phone call to my mother. Wow I can really be such a child sometimes.

I did some soul searching and realized that the fire breathing dragon portrayal was actually fairly accurate. In all honesty I didn’t really like living with myself either. I have been short tempered and impatient, mainly due to extra stress but children don’t understand that. So, out came the parenting books. Again.

At one point I was reading ‘siblings without rivalry’ downstairs while the 8&7 year olds were having a shouting match upstairs. Oh, the irony.

‘Never expect in the child a degree of perfection which one rarely finds even in a grown person’-Nikki Gemmell is the brilliant lady who wrote that. That really hit home at 3am as I sat wide awake analyzing where I went wrong. I have always been such a perfectionist, very hard on myself. And apparently my kids as well.

So today I made sure to keep my voice calm, and use a respectful tone.  I’m making myself keep track of any times where I raise my voice. I am trying not to nag them constantly about cleaning up their messes or taking care of their dishes, etc. Also, I have been making myself say three positive comments to make up for one negative one. At first I thought I was going to have to give out I.O.U’s. for positive remarks but it definitely makes me think before I speak.

And I did notice a difference. We were all much happier and the kids got along better. Well, for the most part anyways but at least I didn’t overreact and make their arguments worse. Baby steps to overcoming perfectionism. And maybe in my son’s next story I will be featured as the beautiful princess instead of the dragon.

Aftermath

Today I feel as if I’ve been hit by a truck. Possibly due to spending over two hours at the zoo yesterday constantly lifting my 30 pound toddler high in the air so she could see all of the animals. On a day when it was over 90 degrees outside. I’m feeling the aftermath of our awesome day yesterday.

After experiencing the emotional highs of leaving my comfort zone yesterday, I must admit that today is a little bit of a let down. Let’s face it, a day filled with cleaning, cooking, laundry, raising 3 children, more cooking, more cleaning, more laundry, isn’t super thrilling.

Well, it does have its moments. Like when I finally found all of Grace’s lost socks. In the basement. In a box of winter gloves. Where one or all children had hidden them. Or when I finally figured out what the weird smell in my son’s room was. (We don’t even want to go there).

But not every day can be a mountain top experience. I have found that the days where I experience emotional highs are often followed by days where I have emotional lows.  So I have been striving to keep balanced. Otherwise it is exhausting.

Welcome back

Finally, traces of the old me are starting to break through. I missed her. The person who was fearless enough to drive from Virginia to Texas alone, (didn’t matter at all that I have never had a sense of direction while driving), without worrying about what could happen along the way. For example, flat tires, not being able to figure out gas pumps at gas stations, credit card malfunctioning, etc. These are the kinds of thoughts that come to mind now.

This is the kind of thinking that has kept me basically housebound for the last few years. Oh sure, I have seen glimpses of a shadow of my old self occasionally. For example, when I was finally brave enough to walk out, pregnant, of a horribly stressful living situation, taking nothing except my children and some clothes with me. (Furniture was provided later by kind neighbors). This was despite being brainwashed to believe that I couldn’t make it on my own and that no one cared about me.

I wasn’t a complete hermit, as I went to work every day, grocery stores, church, library but that was about it. And even doing that much was exhausting to me.

So today I took all 3 of my children to the zoo and had so much fun that I decided to be brave and take them all to a movie. My youngest child is almost 3 years old, and until today had never even been near a movie theater. All because of my worst case scenario thinking. Thoughts such as, what if she won’t be still, what if they all need to take turns in the restroom throughout the movie, what if they won’t be quiet thereby incurring the wrath of all the other movie goers. I’m happy to report that, as usual, none of my fears came true.  It was a fun, awesome, empowering day.

And now I can be the kind of mom that I’ve always wanted to be, but has been buried under layers of insecurity, fear, emptiness and exhaustion. We are even making plans to venture even further out of my comfort zone, by going to museums, aquariums and wherever else we feel like going.

The worst case scenario thinking hasn’t completely disappeared. For example, I’m going out of the state for a long weekend in about 6 weeks, and am already intermittently plagued by fears of how I haven’t been on an airplane in over a decade, what happens if my bags are lost, and a whole lot of other ridiculous thoughts.

But living outside of my comfort zone is proving to be a wonderful thing. Welcome back to the old me, who  with all of the experiences of the past five years, is a much stronger person who I finally respect, admire and am content to be.

My dad

It’s 3:30 in the morning and I am wide awake (and sad) thanks to a very real dream. Dreamed that I was opening mail, wondering why I hadn’t heard from my dad since I moved 4 months ago. I was in the middle of writing a letter to him (in the dream) when I realized he has been dead for 5 years now (in real life). The dream me was so depressed that I called people crying and no one cared. Well not so much people, as it was just my ex-husband. But still. Very depressing.

Maybe the box of letters from him that my mom recently sent me, from the good part of our relationship, is bothering my subconscious, as he and I later had a falling out, didn’t speak for a few years, then he got cancer and died.

There is some comforting divine intervention in the story though. I was prompted to send him a letter apologizing for my side of the argument and subsequent silent treatment and letting him know I forgave him for his side of things. We were better at written communication than verbal at that point.

We established a truce of sorts, but the relationship was never the same. Shortly thereafter my dad, who ate healthy and ran three miles a day, became ill with cancer. He lived in Texas, and I was raising two babies in Virginia. So we spoke on the phone sporadically, but it was hard to really know what to say.
One conversation stands out to me because it was towards the end, and he knew how ill he really was. My dad, who I had never seen or heard cry in my entire life, started crying on the phone, because being so close to death made him realize his regrets in life, namely what happened between us. We had always been very close, had similar personalities and he was the only person to truly understand me. And vice versa. And we ruined that closeness with a selfish argument that neither one of us had the skill at the time to resolve.

Soon after the tearful conversation, I received a call from a former co-worker in Texas letting me know that it was probably the end, and that I needed to come. So I woke up my small children and put them in the car, and together with my then husband, began the drive.

Near the Carolinas my husband was talking on the phone to my dad, letting him know we were hurrying as fast as we could. They were disconnected, and when my husband called back, a nurse answered and told him that my dad had been in a coma, and was very surprised to hear that he had answered his room phone and held a conversation. A short period of time later, I received a call on my cell phone from my stepmom who I had not been on good terms with for years. I didn’t know she even had my number. She put the phone to my dad’s ear, as she thought he had been in a coma the whole time too, and must have been out of the room earlier.

He wasn’t able to speak to me, but I was able to finally tell him how truly sorry I was about everything, and that I was sorry he’d never met his grandchildren, but that I understood if it was time for him to go, and wanted him to be out of pain finally. I was crying so hard that I could barely speak by that point, but my stepmom told me to keep talking, because it was the first response she’d seen from him in a long time. Finally, I knew there was nothing more for me to say, so I told him I love him and hung up. Less than 10 minutes later he died.

It’s been five years since that day, and talking about it is still so painful that it feels like it happened yesterday. But it’s a story that needs to be told. There’s a lot of forgiveness there, both human and divine, but also a painful reminder to be careful with the words I use, and how I treat people, as they could be the last words I ever get to speak with that person. I am still trying to convince myself that he did truly forgive me, and forgiving myself continues to be a work in progress.

Breakthrough?

Well, so much for the health food phase. As I write this, I have just finished a dinner of pizza, jellybeans and chocolate. And for dessert at lunch I ate a cookie that was about the same size as my head.

I simply can’t do this whole self-improvement thing in one fell swoop. I am working on being a kinder, better, quieter, more responsive and relaxed person but right about the time when I started having actual chest and stomach pains from trying not to tell some idiot how stupid they were being, I needed some junk food.

I really need to learn from my middle child, who is able to play a game of ‘go fish’ with her two year old sister and patiently listen to her asking, ‘do you have any nines?’ over and over and over for about half an hour. Without screaming, pulling her hair out, or having chest pains. She also patiently and lovingly taught Grace (the two year old) how to play ‘mad libs’, telling her what adjectives, nouns and verbs are. Oh and speaking of that game, we were playing last night and I had to provide a verb ending in ‘ing’. I said ‘yelling’ and the kids instantly responded ‘oh, what mom does a lot’  ugh. The truth hurts. So from then on I was careful to use a calm, quiet voice.

Well, except for when my 7 year old hit me in the head with a kitchen cabinet. Hard. Or when the same kid whacked me with the refrigerator door. I’m starting to wonder if that was really an accident. At least no more toothbrushes behind the toilet.

So, I guess I’m going to try to just eat healthy but allow myself to indulge (just a little) when I’m about to develop an ulcer or start having chest pains again.

But on a positive note, I feel that I am making progress in not being so crazy or needy. I had quite the breakthrough as I was scrubbing kids toothpaste out of the sink. I really have no idea why so much of my life involves toothpaste right now. But anyways, I had an epiphany that until recently I had always relied on only one person to meet all of my emotional needs. Never the same person for long though. I simply couldn’t fathom why none of my ‘relationships’ lasted longer than two weeks. I was like the crazy but loveable redhead in the movie ‘how to lose a guy in 10 days’ who is sobbing that all of her relationships go well for about a week and a half but then they all end and she is mystified. Her life would completely revolve around that one man for that time. And at the end of each brief relationship she would be devastated. Yup, that was me. And let’s not even discuss how upset I would be if I didn’t have a man in my life. I would feel like I wasn’t even a person, as my entire identity would be based on the man of the moment. I’m not just speaking of romantic love either. I didn’t know I was even capable of having more than one friend at a time until recently.

No one person can be fully responsible for another person’s happiness and emotional well being. That is just too much pressure. Not to mention that we’re all flawed human beings. My perfectionism still rears its ugly head from time to time but I’m trying to realize that I’m only human and will make mistakes, but at least mistakes mean that I’m trying.

I realized that by having more than one friend at a time I am more balanced and less clingy and/or crazy. And at least my days don’t revolve around whether that one person has communicated with me. I have enough self-awareness and self-respect now to realize how pathetic and desperate most of my life has been, and I’m trying to learn from it.  And I’m usually even ok with the prospect of being alone.Hey, maybe this is how normal people are able to have relationships lasting longer than two weeks.