She called me Mom, and she meant it.

Jacen and Arielle have recently sparked an interest in Anime. They watch an English-dubbed show called ‘My Hero Academia.’ I really, really try to be as interested as they are- but it just isn’t for me. There’s a really cool phenomenon with anime, where it becomes more than just a show- it’s a culture.

Part of nurturing their interest in anime meant welcoming that culture into our home. They’ve learned a TON about Japan and have asked to try new foods and traditions from the show. They’re getting an educational experience without realizing it. They’ve also gained an obsession with drawing an animation. I never thought I’d see the day, but they’ve even VOLUNTARILY left their tablets at home and brought the sketch books instead. Mom-mind blown.

Jacen and Arielle asked to go to Comic-Con as their “one big outing” of summer vacation. (Just as a side note, Comic-con was WAYYYY cheaper than King Richard’s Faire- their pick from last year. That place costs more than Disney!) I was happy to take them.

Our bonding started weeks before the day of the convention. I asked the kids to introduce me to their favorite characters. I followed r/BokuNoHeroAcademia on Reddit to connect with other fans of the show. I used pinterest for costume inspiration, and asked the kids a million questions. They loved it. Their faces would light up at a chance to bring me into their world. Even when they lost me in the explanation, it was never a wasted question. Sometimes you get your answer in the way they respond, and not the words they use. 

We crafted the costumes together. Arielle was in awe of my new cricut machine, and Jacen had the time of his life dying his hair crazy colors. We had so many laughs, and talked about so many things. They were such precious hours. 

When they day of Comic-con arrived, the kids had trouble containing their excitement. Even Anna, who had no idea what was going on, fed off the older kids’ energy. She giggled and squealed all the way into Boston, trying to be heard over Jacen and Arielle’s increasingly loud banter.

I don’t know if I will ever see Arielle so excited to get dressed ever again. Honestly, it may have topped prom AND her wedding. She treated each part with such delicate fingers, respecting and appreciating every component. She was still adjusting the last few pieces when a car slowed down next to us. A boy leaned out the window and said, “Great Cosplay, Tsu!” She beamed ear to ear, “They recognized me! They know who I am supposed to be!” I’m pretty sure her soul momentarily left her body, did a joyous back flip, then returned with a surge of positivity.” She was absolutely elated. 

Both Jacen and Arielle walked around the convention with confidence and swagger. They were recognized time after time, and had several photos taken. Everyone was incredibly kind to them. My kids found “their people.” They were glowing. Everything was exciting and interesting. I didn’t want the night to end.

Even as we held on to our time at Con as long as we could, eventually the crowd started to die down. Vendors closed up, Anna got cranky, and my pregnant feet were swelling beyond the confines of my sneakers. Sadly, it was time to go.

Jacen and Arielle treated the walk out like a farewell on the red carpet. They beamed the biggest smiles and held their heads high. A teenage girl walked up to us and asked Arielle where she got her costume, as it was one of the better quality Froppy cosplay she had seen. That soul of hers did a second little backflip again as she grabbed my hand and said, “my mom made it for me!”

My soul started with the backflips. Several, huge backflips.. And maybe a tear or two in my eye. 

Sometimes Arielle gets confused. She almost always calls me Kate, but when the world is spinning “mom” just slips out. This was not one of those times. This was intentional and meaningful.

Anime, for me, is not super interesting. Some parts of the process were confusing, and maybe even boring for a moment or two. Tickets were a little pricey, the convention was crowded and hectic. Still, I would not change anything. She called me Mom, and she meant it. 

-Kate and the Kids

Managing Child Anxiety Through Mindfulness

My ten year old has a lot going on these days. She lives between two homes, (mom’s house and our house) she goes to school, participates in activities and has (finally) made some good friends! Her world is bigger than it used to be, and she’s got the mental exhaustion to prove it.

This past week was even wilder than usual. My husband took a vacation from work, and we decided to end our summer break with a bang! We took a few little day trips and spent a night at Great Wolf Lodge. There were a ton of moving parts, things to remember, and stress. At some point we all had to just let go of the reigns and go with the flow- especially Arielle. 

When Arielle has a lot on her mind it doesn’t come out as, “I’m stressed out.” She can’t always describe or communicate her feelings. Sometimes she’s even so overwhelmed that she can’t say anything at all. In our younger parenting days we would have gotten angry at these moments- wondered why she couldn’t just behave and enjoy our expensive week. We would match her frustration, angry that she wasn’t appreciating our hard work and planning. It only made things worse. 

You see, parents can not control the way their child behaves. They can only control their OWN behavior in response to their child’s actions. We try to teach them, we try to shape them into model citizens. What we really need to do is HELP them.

Our kids have responded very well with the coping mechanisms and mental health awareness I have shared with them lately.  When I noticed Arielle was being mentally spread thin, I decided to introduce mindfulness. She needed to gather herself, to do one thing well instead of a million things at low power. 

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment. Don’t worry about the past, don’t stress about the future. Focus on the moment you are in, and let the rest go.

We were at the indoor water park when Arielle had a moment of anxiety. She couldn’t remember if she had brought her phone charger from her mom’s house. This problem was completely irrelevant to the moment- there was no one she needed to call at that time, and water is the last thing her phone needed. She was still stuck on it. “I know it doesn’t matter, I just can’t remember and it’s driving me crazy.” I tried to calm her fears by telling her that we had many micro USB chargers, and even if she did forget it she would be able to use an alternate. She nodded in understanding but I could see in her lack of eye contact that she was still racking her brain for the answer. 

This is where I reached my parenting ‘fork in the road.” Path A was to get annoyed. We had spent a TON of money to come to Great Wolf. It had been a ton of energy to pack and haul all three kids around. It would have been easy to get mad and call her ungrateful. Path B was to help her. Yes, I mean help her relax and maybe even help her focus, but most of all, I wanted to help her enjoy herself. 

I asked her if she knew what mindfulness was and she just kind of nodded. In a dazed voice she said, “kind of, they told us what it was in health class once.” I could tell she was still thinking about the charger. I sat down to bring us closer to eye-to-eye level. Just the change in position seemed to snap her back to the present. All of a sudden I had her full attention.

I told her that this was a great moment to be mindful. We didn’t have to think about what was going on at her mom’s house, or even ours. We didn’t have to think about tomorrow or what we were going to do after lunch. In this exact moment, all we had to worry about was choosing our favorite waterslide. She laughed, and I knew she was back “in the now.” We moved on to fun activities, and didn’t give that charger another thought. 

Later that night Arielle came to find me. We were getting settled into our hotel room and changed into comfy pajamas. “Hey Kate, I found my phone charger. I had it that whole time.” I smiled and told her how awesome that was. After a little moment of quiet she asked, “So, how did that mindfulness thing work? I was so worried about my charger and you made me completely forget about it. How did you do that?” I was excited she wanted to know.

Sticking with the water theme, I told her our brains were like a water hose. When we are thinking about the past, it pokes a hole for water to escape. Another hole for the future, and another for what was going on at Mom’s house. The more we thought about, the more holes in our hose. The problem with that is we want the water to come out of the end, into the present. If there are holes everywhere, all of the water will escape before reaching the end. We have barely any “water” or energy to use in this moment. If we plug up all the holes, water pressure returns. We have the full strength or water to use right now. We have all of the enjoyment. 

I’m not saying mindfulness is foolproof, especially for a ten-year old. I’m not even saying its easy, for anyone. It’s a tool, and it’s work- but they payoff is huge. What holes can you plug this evening? Stop losing water from yesterday, tomorrow, or work problems. Use all of your water pressure for tonight. Tuck your kids in, tell them you love them. Bond with your spouse. Focus, enjoy, be mindful. 

Wishing you all the water pressure,

Kate and the Kids.

I’m Back, Baby!

Yesterday was a really tough day. Anna has started her terrible two’s early, and she was mid tantrum at the register in Target when a familiar voice called my name. I was already falling apart when this poor woman unknowingly hit a nerve by asking about my blog. I struggled to keep my chin up, and told her we were just busy with other things. That statement was definitely a half-truth. We are always busy, but I used to find time to blog. There’s a big reason I wasn’t, and time had nothing to do with it.

The things I write about are extremely personal. Sharing the details about my mental health leaves me quite vulnerable. Unfortunately someone has recently taken advantage of that vulnerability to hurt my family. I was faced with two options; to fearlessly continue to write, or to go radio silent and stop feeding them ammunition. I looked at my kids, and realized there was nothing more important to me than them.. not even my blog.

We’ve spent the summer rebuilding what was broken, and getting stronger as a family. The time we’ve had together has been so valuable. We are better than ever, even with ALL of the hurdles life has thrown at us. We are a unit. We are a team. Not even the most vicious of attacks could break us apart.

On the way home from Target, Arielle broke the silence and asked, “so, why DID you stop the blog?” I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. I had never intended on a full stop, more of a hiatus. I told her that when I was a kid, my dad used to tell me that ‘your enemy’s best weapons are what you give them.’ In this case, when people wanted to hurt me they were using the ugly parts of my mental health journey. Things I had willingly shared with them. Things I had given them. I had stopped writing in hopes the battle would fizzle out on its own. Arielle listen quietly as I tried to explain. After a brief moment of thought she said, “I just don’t think we should stop. It’s something I loved about us, and if mean people are being mean that’s their fault. Not ours.”

So, here we are. I’d be lying if I said I wrote this without hesitation. Maybe I am a little scared to bare our faults again, but at the same time I’m excited to continue healing- not just our household family, but our blog family too. We have a TON of awesome stuff we’ve been waiting to share with you, and we just can’t wait to move forward together. Our family, your family, blog family.

With healthy hearts,

Kate and the Kids.

Antepartum Depression is Real, and Anyone is at Risk.

In case you haven’t heard- WE’RE PREGNANT! Our family will be growing by 10 little mistletoe-s this Christmas, and we are all very excited!


It took us four years to conceive Anna, so we weren’t expecting to get pregnant so soon. I had my Nexplanon implant removed on March 8th, and just three weeks later on March 31st we got our positive home test! Ultrasound confirms, we got pregnant THE DAY my birth control was removed. Holy guacamole, my head has been spinning!

Things have progressed very quickly, and more than once I’ve begged time to slow down. I’m still trying to bond with baby Nora, who is now just over 2 months old and already SOOO big. Anna, (at 20 months) is giving me a run for my money- showing signs she is ready for potty training, and has become a clothing escape artist. It seems every time I turn my back she’s gotten completely naked, diaper included. The older kids have entered their last month of school, which means we’ve been bombarded with field days, fundraisers, concerts, plays, performances, theme days, award nights, field trips, and everything else you can think of. Things have been crazy, and I could certainly use a few extra hours in each day to get it all done.

I’m lucky to say that every dose of the craziness has been balanced with a reason to be happy. There have been so many blessings, laughs, and good times. We have so much to look forward to, and so much to be excited for. I think that’s why I find my debilitating depression so confusing.

Given my history of mental illness and the role it has played in previous pregnancies, I’ve been extra careful to be proactive in getting help this time around. I see my therapist religiously, practice mindfulness and meditation, stick to my medication routine, and see the behavioral health clinic at one of the most prestigious hospitals in my area. Even with all of this, the darkness has managed to creep in. I’m battling every single day to keep it under control.

Anna was all over the place in this little living room- trying to crawl out the window, jumping off the ottoman, even unplugging the TV at one point. This all happened in a room full of adults, all helping to reel her in. She was just high-energy and overwhelming.

At first, I just felt a little heaviness. I had a ton of reasons to be happy, and yet something was holding me back from enjoying them at the full 100%. It then progressed to a ball and chain, where the depression made it hard for me to move forward. I started to struggle with the thought of socialization. Preparing for our Memorial Day gatherings became painful. I literally felt slow, like I was hauling an anvil with every step. When Anna became a little restless at one of our cookouts, I had a major breakdown. I snapped at Mike out of anxiety, and choked back tears. We had to leave. I could feel myself losing control.

At this point, I tried to slam on my emotional breaks. I knew where my depression was heading, and I didn’t want it to get worse. My therapist saw me on Monday, even though it was Memorial Day. On Tuesday, I saw the behavioral health clinic for medication management. I tried to focus on the good, but it was too late. When I got home from the clinic on Tuesday, I laid down for a nap on the couch. While I slept, my ball and chain turned to an anchor. I haven’t been able to get that anchor to move, not even one inch.

From my spot on the couch, I’ve watched the clutter pile up on every surface in the house. The trash is overflowing, the dirty laundry can not longer be contained into a basket. There’s a layer of dust accumulating on the equipment in my home gym. Last night, a shivering Jacen had to holler from the shower because we were out of clean towels. I’m ashamed to confess that Anna has been watching an insane amount of Sesame Street, and I’ve skipped our regularly scheduled reading times. I doze off and on throughout the day, then struggle to sleep at night. I’m always looking forward to the escape of sleep, and chase it like an addict looking for their next fix. I haven’t left the house since my appointment on Tuesday morning. I haven’t seen the shower in days. I haven’t even checked my voicemails, messages or texts. I see the kids and Mike, and that’s about it for socialization.

Trust me, I know that this behavior isn’t okay. I’m trying my hardest to chip away at this anchor; trying to make it lighter. I’m honest with Mike about my dark thoughts and feelings, and I’m in contact with my mental health team. I’m open to help, and I’m still setting goals. I’m looking forward to the weekend, and hoping Arielle will kick my butt into getting out of the house.

I didn’t want to write this post for pity. I wanted to share that depression can happen to anyone, even to those with the most to be happy about. I have a beautiful family. They motivate me to be the healthiest *ME* that I can be. I’m overjoyed to be pregnant, and excited to grow our family – but that doesn’t erase my wacky hormones. I have everything I’ve asked for in life, and yet I’m still chasing the escape of sleep instead of spending my time enjoying myself. When things are dark like this, it makes asking for help seem like I’m a burden. Some days I feel more like a dependant, or an additional child to my husband. The days when I want to avoid help are actually the days I need it most. I’m very lucky to have an incredible support system. My husband is very in-tune with my emotional needs, and helps me stay on track. His patience alone is a gift from God. My sister is good at getting me out of the house, changing my environment and trying to spark a change in my mood. My kids don’t always understand what’s going on in my mind, but they just keep telling me they love me.

If you’re feeling the darkness with me, please know that you are worthy of help. You don’t have to do this alone, and receiving love is not burdensome.

If you’re the support person, please know that you are nothing short of an angel. The smallest actions, the quiet kind words, the hugs, the company, the “I love you”s- they mean the world. They help us dig out little by little. They give us light in the dark.

Depression can sneak in at anytime. It doesn’t mean that we are any less deserving of our blessings. This will pass for me, especially when I accept the help of friends, family, and my medical team. I’m looking forward to taking my body off of auto-pilot. I want to be present. I want to enjoy Nora being little, before she isn’t little anymore. I want to foster Anna’s growth by helping her potty train. I want to be an active parent, celebrating with Jacen and Arielle through all of their special end-of-the-year days. I want to be healthy and happy as I bake my little bun in the oven. I want to feel like ME again- and I’m working for it. We’re working for it, as a family.

Kate and the Kids.

And Mike.

And Nora.

And Jean-Marie.

And My Mom.

And all of the incredible people supporting me.

Getting Help for my Child with Anxiety

When I made the decision to start blogging, I had every intention of sharing the aspects of wellness that applied to my whole family- including my children. As time goes by, I find myself saving posts about the kids as drafts, unable to publish them. We all have our fair share of obstacles. We are working individually and as a family to be our best version of ourselves, and most of the time I think sharing our stories would help the masses. On the other hand, my children ARE children. They are learning every day, but also make mistakes every day. It’s hard to balance respecting their privacy while sharing their progress. When something is posted on the internet, it’s there forever. Even if it’s taken down or deleted, someone, somewhere, is able to find the deeply hidden shadow of the original post. The last thing I want to do is embarrass them or write something that I later regret sharing. In the current age of cyber bullying there is a risk that their classmates and peers may get a hold of my posts, and use them as ammunition to torture the kids. With that being said, our family is finally ready to move forward and be more open. We plan to choose our words carefully, and all be active in the writing process. Don’t be surprised if we blog about things that have happened long ago. I’m going to give the kids as much time as they need to re-read, and reprocess. We are a family and a team. We are in this together, and I’m not posting anything without their approval.

As a parent, it can be extremely difficult to identify issues or struggles in your child. It’s even more difficult to accept help. For a long time, I wore my rose colored glasses and chalked issues up to “kids being kids.” Going way back to 2013, Jacen first started showing signs that something was ‘off.’ He was melting down on a regular basis, afraid to go new places or try new things. We once took him to the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, and missed half of the park because he refused to walk into one of the dimly lit buildings. We tried to explain that it was only dark by the door, and would get lighter inside. No dice. He absolutely refused, even lying on the floor and clawing at the carpet. If we tried to carry him in, he would grab on to anything he could- walls, door frames, other people- anything to get traction and stop us. We tried to get him to talk to us about how he was feeling, or what was scaring him, but all he could muster was a frustrated, “I don’t know!” Finally it got to the point where I could see that this was no longer normal fear of a three year old child. There was absolute, extreme terror in his eyes. It was interfering with his life and social progress. My heart broke for him. I just wanted to make things better. I wanted him to be able to participate in more, and be open to new experiences. I just didn’t know where to start.

We tried to handle this behavior on our own for far too long. We tried exposure therapy, bringing him new places on a regular basis to try and get him to be more comfortable with new experiences. He started dreading things ahead of time, making the days even longer and more painful. We tried just picking him up, and carrying him into scary places to “bite the bullet.” We hoped that once he got through the worst part, he would calm down and enjoy himself. He started questioning his trust and safety with us. Sometimes we got angry. I’m embarrassed to admit that more than once I had yelled at him to “get over it” or exploded over the money I had wasted on admission, only to not enjoy our experience. My anger made him feel ashamed of his own emotions, and he started turning to other people for comfort. My husband and I were failing him, and he ran to Nana or Auntie whenever he could.

I’m so lucky that Jacen has people in his life that love him. He will always have a special relationship with his Auntie.

My heart broke. He was the most important person to me, and he felt like he couldn’t trust me. I wasn’t able to comfort him or make him feel safe. I was failing him as a mother. The old “buck up and be a man” method was not working, and I could see the emotional toll it was taking on him. I desperately wanted to fix our relationship. I knew I needed to be his rock, and moving forward relied on BOTH of us getting some professional guidance. I wanted to be close to my son again, and finally welcomed help.

I reluctantly reached out to a therapist. I was still holding back, not wanting to admit how much I had failed my child. It was tough to let an outsider in, but I was definitely interested in having him evaluated. I wanted a professional opinion about what was going on. Were these feelings organic, something chemical like my own mental health? Or, were these issues something I created by my own parenting? Maybe these things were completely age appropriate and normal- maybe they would just tell me he didn’t need intervention, that he would grow out of it. I sucked up my pride, and let the therapist in. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for Jacen.

At first, he passed his evaluation with flying colors. He was friendly, outgoing, and very intelligent for his age. At just four years old, he was asking very grown up questions. He would ask how your day was going, or about things you were looking forward to. He knew how to ask open-ended questions and engage in conversation. They were about to close out his file and send us on our way when his therapist asked to try just one more, unorthodox eval method. The therapist had one of his trusted, vetted interns come by the house. She was a college student on the younger side, and a new person to Jacen. When she first showed up to the house, he was his typical, friendly self. She asked to take him outside to blow bubbles in the yard and he enthusiastically agreed. He was even okay walking up and down the street with her. In familiar places he was welcoming and happy, even borderline flirting with her. He had zero issue with new people. She asked if we could all go to her favorite playground, one Jacen had never been to. The three of us were planning to drive there in her car. Even though I was there with him, he started to get nervous about being in a new car. She didn’t want to push it, so we ended up driving separately. It was the first time his nervousness was seen or documented.

She got to the park before us, and was waiting in the parking lot to greet us when we pulled in. Immediately, Jacen started frantically looking around, clutching his seat belt to his chest. She opened his door, and used a playful, excited voice to try and coax him out of the car. He blocked the safety belt release, and would not let her unbuckle him. His cheeks were bright red and hot. His eyes were darting quickly between the open car door, me, and his seat belt button. He started breathing in quick and shallow, holding the air in his chest without releasing. She tried to back off, to give him space and time to calm down. It was too late. As soon as she stepped back from the car, he fought to pull the door closed. The tears flowed, the yelling started. There was no reasoning with him, and he refused to listen to anything we had to say. We had to turn back and go home, but his anxiety attack was finally documented. It was painful to watch, but also an important step in getting a diagnosis.

The first thing they worked on with Jacen was identifying the way a panic attack felt. I liked that they didn’t put words in his mouth. They asked him to describe what he felt in those moments. He didn’t use the words anxious or panicked. In four year old terminology, he described feeling “nervous” and “scared.” Those became our go-to words to identify his attacks, and his care felt personal and tailored to Jacen. They asked him to describe how his nervousness physically felt in his body. He described it as “a storm in my belly” and “a balloon in my chest.” We were finally getting some information on where to start, and the break through felt amazing.

Jacen often hyperventilated when he was feeling nervous, sucking in air but not breathing back out. His body tricked his mind into thinking he couldn’t breathe, so he would take in as much oxygen as he could, then try to save it as a reserve in his chest. He needed to learn deep-breathing exercises and self regulation, but those are not easy tools to teach a four year old. Coping techniques have to be learned when the patient is not currently suffering an anxiety attack. The skills are practiced and perfected while calm, so they can be applied correctly in times of panic. It was hard for Jacen to hold interest in learning, or to connect the skills with his ‘nervous feelings’ when he wasn’t currently experiencing them. It felt like he was deflecting therapy, and not absorbing the help.

I was starting to feel frustrated again. The adults were working hard, so why wasn’t he getting better? At the time I didn’t have the insight that I do now. After all of the work my family has put into mental health, the most important thing I have learned is that if therapy is not working, it’s not the right type of therapy for the patient. We had to change it up. If we couldn’t make Jacen fit into the textbook, we had to change the textbook to accommodate Jacen.

He had a habit of rushing through his deep breathing. He didn’t breathe deep enough or slow enough for it to be used as a coping mechanism, and we were not seeing a difference in the hyperventilating. We started making the deep breathing into a game. He held up four fingers (for four years old) and pretended they were birthday candles. He would take as deep of a breath as he could, “blowing out the flame.” When his breath was completely out, he put his finger down and moved to the next candle. At first he thought it was silly, but then began looking forward to it. He even asked if he could make a wish every time all the candles were blown out. It ended up being an unforeseen benefit. The candles were a success, even during the worst panic attacks. After four breaths, he was usually even calm enough to speak. If I asked him what his wish was, he often replied something to the effect of, “I wish it wasn’t so dark in here,” “I wish we could leave,” “I wish I knew what that loud, scary noise was coming from.” His wishes helped us identify the sources of his anxiety, and improved his care. We started being able to zero in on his triggers, working through what we could. He spent about 9 months in therapy. They discharged him in hopes that his new breathing tools and communication skills would be enough to help him grow. They made it clear that the office was always there if we needed to come back, and I could even just call with any questions or concerns. By discharging him, they returned the comfort and coping skills back to us, (as parents) and Jacen started to realize that we were there to help him. Our relationship has strengthened every single day, and we have grown together.

Jacen has witnessed my own anxiety attacks. He now knows how to identify them, and even tries to help me. Just hearing him say, “Mom, try blowing out some candles” can be enough to pull me out of dark thoughts. He will stop and breathe with me. He watches my effort and progress, and I watch his. We motivate each other to work through issues, and have bonded over new therapies. He loves trying different calming methods with me, like Yoga and meditation. We talk about mindfulness, and have rebuilt our trust in each other. We have seen rapid success in his anxiety recovery, and his willingness to try new things. He now knows that I would never put him in danger, and I will always keep him safe. He still loves his Nana and Auntie, but Mama is back to being his number one.

Mental illness can be isolating. It’s easy to feel like no one understands, and hard to forget when your symptom create frustration in the people you love. It can make you feel like a burden. I’ve felt this way myself, and it’s terrible. I never want Jacen to have these thoughts again. I never want him to feel alone. Reaching out and getting help was everything. If we had continued down the path we were on, we may never have recovered from our trust issues. Asking an outsider to intervene can feel like you’re giving up control of the situation to a stranger. In reality, it’s REGAINING control of the situation. It’s recovering in a way that will allow you to move forward. Parenting is fucking hard. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing from time to time. It’s  not okay to ignore problems and let them grow. When you can get help, you can get better. You can all get better, as a family.

Don’t fear intervention. Welcome it, embrace it. We all want the best for our children, so utilize every resource you can to make that happen. Let’s grow together- as a household, as a family, as a community, as a whole. All of us, together.

With healthy hearts,

Kate, AND the Kids! (Finally!)

Seeing Progress with EMDR- Family Vacations

My husband never gets time off from work- I mean ever. A few years ago we had even booked a cruise, deposit included, with my sister’s wedding party. Even as a financial and wedding obligation his job rejected his vacation request. I ended up going on the cruise with the wedding party, but had to room alone. He’s missed birthdays, events, and milestones. This made last weekend even more exciting when he surprised us with a full week off of work!

Anna’s love for Elmo/Sesame Street has really taken off this year!

Mike’s birthday is May 4th, and we hardly ever get to celebrate it. In previous years it was just a grocery store cake after a long shift at work. You’d think after years of this, he would enjoy his time off by taking a day for himself. Not Michael. Instead, he planned a trip to Pennsylvania so Anna could see Elmo at Sesame Place. He’s a great dad, and I’m a lucky woman.

Initially Mike had planned to surprise me at the very last moment with the trip. He wised up as the weekend got closer, and remembered how triggering deviation from our routine can be for me. He let me know a few days in advance, and it was perfect. It was enough time for me to feel organized, but still surprised.

I think the biggest change I noticed was in my obsessive compulsions to over-plan, and over-indulge. In the past I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself (and the family) to REALLY enjoy our vacations. This inevitably ends in disaster when the stress pushes everyone to the limit, and we all fall apart.  For our trip to Disney, I had made multiple outfits for the kids ahead of time. It’d cost a small fortune, and I had no confidence in my work. Some of the costumes were uncomfortable for the kids, and refusal to wear them broke my heart. There was high tension and high pressure, and everyone had to walk on eggshells around me. This trip I still handmade celebratory apparel, but I was able to focus on one thing. Scaling back kept the cost much lower, and meant that I could put a lot of focus and effort into what I was doing. We were all much more comfortable in cute little sweatshirts than in head to toe costumes. I had much more pride in my work, and the confidence really helped my mood. It changed the entire dynamic of the day.

Jacen’s special treat sparked some serious cupcake envy from Anna.

I was also able to let go of a rigid schedule. I still downloaded the map of the park a few days before, and I looked at the restaurant menus ahead of time. I sincerely feel like this was necessary, as I eat such a strict diet and they don’t allow outside food into the park. I was, however, able to skip making reservations, or pre-planning the kids orders. I’m so glad I did because part of the fun was watching the kids choose elaborately decorated cupcakes and Elmo-shaped food. They would have missed out if I’d micromanaged their meals.

I usually obsess about getting pictures with all of the characters. I keep a pre-written schedule of where they are, and at what times. Then I drag the whole family across the park several times, only to end up with miserable faces in the photos. Talk about an emotional break down. The disappointment haunts me, and I ruin the day for everyone. This time I was able to let go, relax, and follow the kids’ cues. I let them go on the rides they wanted, and when we passed a character we popped in. The only exception I made was Elmo, and they were more than willing to compromise for my one request. I got awesome pictures, and (more importantly) a TON of awesome memories.

These are obviously huge changes for me, and they had an incredible pay off. We have not had a relaxing vacation in many years, and we were able to come home feeling refreshed instead of defeated. I accomplished these changes by participating in EMDR for the last year. In therapy I have processed trips of years past- how going over the top and stretching myself thin impacted my family. By reprocessing these memories I was able to learn from them, and let go of them. I no longer feel the need to top past vacations, or redeem myself for failed costumes. Redeem. Let me tell you how much that word weighs on me! I constantly beat myself up over the past, and feel the need to “do it better” this time. It compels me to obsess over the details, and I end up missing the big picture. EMDR changes this for me. I no longer compare myself to the old Kate. I can leave her in the past. I have a fresh start every day, and I can let go of my processed memories. I am able to be mindful, enjoying today. It has changed my life.

At the end of our trip, the kids were still laughing and smiling. We were able to do everything we wanted, even without the schedule. Going with the flow let them REALLY enjoy themselves, stress- free. I work every day at making myself a healthier, better mom. These are the things that keep me on track, that keep me motivated. My children will always be my driving force, and I will never stop wanting to do better for them. I’m so glad I got to see some progress in myself, and our whole family dynamic. I’m looking forward to checking in with my therapist, and to continue processing the old stuff!

My small steps and changes yielded an incredible pay off. What steps are you taking today to better yourself?

Kate and the Kids.