Life Weary

The other night, the Husband and I were catching up after a long day for both of us.  Work has been particularly hard lately for him and his firm is facing some challenges that make his work life tough.  It will ultimately be a good thing in the end, but the process is painful and exhausting.  He comes home at the end of the week just tired.  His travel schedule still keeps him from home most weeks, and the added stress of these challenges weigh heavily on his mind.  

The kids have had a particularly rough few months, as well.  They've been bombarded with grown up problems that are both complex and unfair.  Life lessons thrown at them, one after the other, without reprieve -- friends, coaches, injuries, loneliness, rejection, disappointment, pain. They've battled their challenges as best they can, but we've all succumbed to tears more frequently than we'd have liked.  

I've had my own share of hard.  Struggles in my marriage.  Problems in the group I serve with at church.  Worry over my children.  Depression and anxiety have slowly crept up on me over the last few years, but became so crippling this summer that I was finally forced to seek medical intervention.  I've carried the weight of our family's struggles, and strived hard to juggle more balls than I could manage at one time.  The unhappiness of my people hurts me to my core, and I've laid awake at night with worry and fear.  

The world on our shoulders has been a strain to hold up, and we've been brought to our knees, trembling, with the weight of it.

Life has just taken its toll.  I'm tired of hard.  I'm tired of struggle.  Things have been taxing for a while, and I'm just over it.  

I am life weary.

I know from the outside looking in, it might seem like we have it all.  Financial security.  A vacation house in the mountains.  Money to travel and buy nice things.  Three healthy children all involved in various activities and sports.  A handsome husband.  A stay-at-home wife.  We do have a lot going for us, blessings I will be eternally grateful for.  But that does not mean our life has been free of heartache, pain, and sorrow.  

There are just things that the smiles on instagram don't tell you.

I know we will get through this current state of hard.  I know we will grow and learn from these trials.  We have chosen to draw closer to each other and our faith, and we will get through them together.  We will not be broken by what's currently weighing us down.

A brilliant young woman I know recently said, "In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shape you."

She's right.

But I still kind of hate the hard.

Time to get busy living

The past few years have kind of kicked my trash, and the past year has nearly buried me.

Four years ago, we moved to Texas, and left behind a support network that felt like family.  I watched my children struggle, feel alone, and come to know a new, damaging kind of loneliness.  The kind that stays with you and leaves a mark.  I, myself, felt empty and adrift, as I tried to plug in to our new life.  It took longer this move than it ever has before, and the melancholy hung in the air like a thick fog.  It felt claustrophobic and exhausting.

My health presented some challenges, as well.  In addition to the Crohn's disease that sometimes can dictate my life for me, I faced new issues that were mentally and physically exhausting.  I had two different types of skin cancer excised, broken ribs, a benign bone tumor, and surgery on my uterus.

In addition to that, my family began to take on a new, unfamiliar shape.  My oldest child graduated from high school and went to college.  After one semester, he then left on a two-year mission trip for our church in Rancagua, Chile.  I only get to speak to him twice a year, and we communicate via email the rest of the time.

His absence affected us all in different ways, and I found myself struggling to help everyone cope, especially given that I was falling apart myself.  I began to feel a sense of panic.  With McKay's departure, I knew that Chase would follow in less than two years, and two years after that, Hannah would go.  I felt these children slipping through my fingers and the despair consumed me.  I was shocked that my entire life's work would have the nerve to just walk out the door and leave me behind.  The unfairness of this prospect left me both depressed and rageful.  I didn't feel ready to be done mothering so soon.  I had sacrificed everything for these three beautiful creatures, and I had never given a single thought to what came after them.  I figured that part of my life would take care of itself.

For an OCD-driven planner, I did a pretty poor job of planning my own future.

Instead, I turned to wallowing in regret.  I found myself wishing for more children.  I bemoaned my foolishness in not having a few more after Hannah went to kindergarten.  I rattled on to mothers of young children that they really ought to have more children than they think they want now.  It was my favorite soapbox, and I felt sure that I could convince others to avoid the mistakes I had made. 

This past weekend, I was at bookclub.  It's a new bookclub, and we're all getting to know one another.  One of the women there, Nancy, is in her 70s and has faced more than her share of challenges.  Life has thrown some pretty tough things her way, and each meeting we've had, I've found myself admiring her toughness and grit.  We were discussing motherhood, its challenges, and joys.  I shared my well-worn mantra and told the women how I regret that I didn't have more kids.  Nancy turned to me and said, "Bullshit.  You need to get over that and find out what the next phase looks like.  Motherhood is wonderful, but it's not your entire life.  Time to get busy and start something new."

The room was silent.  I sat there somewhat dumbfounded, unaccustomed to not being coddled by a fellow mother.  I expected sympathy, and understanding; what I got instead was the best wake up call of my life.  I have not been able to stop thinking about what she said since.  

Nancy's words to me were so simple and logical, and I feel foolish that I didn't see it myself.  I think I have been looking back instead of forward.  I have been so buried in the emotional turmoil that has come as a result of these changes, that I have been unable to look for any solutions.  I have been mourning what I will lose when the nest is empty, instead of finding other ways to fill it.  I have not dared to imagine a world without their daily presence in it because, quite frankly, having them around is pretty effing fantastic.  But that doesn't mean it won't be equally fantastic in different ways when they are gone.  I don't know what the next phase of my life will look like, but it's time to stop wallowing and start planning.

One of my favorite lines from the movie Shawshank Redemption is, "Life comes down to a simple choice:  You're either busy living or busy dying."

Time to get busy living.

Bittersweet

We arrive at the airport with plenty of time - a byproduct of my nervous energy when it comes to travel by air.  I am paranoid and neurotic, and it drives my husband crazy.  He humors me, and as a token of his affection, we are there earlier than he would like.

As we stand in the long line for AeroMexico, I have my boy check for the fifteenth time that he has his passport and wallet in his shoulder bag.  He rolls his eyes, as he often does when it comes to my mothering, smiles, and assures me they are all there.

I look up at this tall young man and see no traces of the boy he used to be.  Gone is the awkward teenage manner and youthful insecurity.  Replaced, overnight it feels, by a mature, confident presence and shoulders that somehow seem more square.  Taller.  He positively glows and I try to drink his essence in.  I study his features and will myself to memorize every line and curve of his face.

I am not ready for this day, and I futilely wish it away.

We make attempts at smalltalk, bantering in our casual, familial way.  No one wants to address the large, explosive elephant sitting amongst us.  So we make jokes and tease instead.

His luggage is checked in far too quickly and we begin a slow walk towards security.  We are there before I know it, and I feel my heart leap into my throat.  I choke back a sob as he turns towards me sheepishly, tears welling up in his blue eyes.

I throw my arms around him and sob uncontrollably.  There is no bravery, no stoicism.  There is only raw, public mourning as I hold him one last time.  I've held this boy in my arms and heart for 18 wonderful years, and the impending separation is more than I can bear.  My mama heart is shattered into a thousand pieces.  I hold him and the tears stream freely down my cheeks.  I tell him how proud I am of him, and how much I love him.  I repeat it over and over, willing my affection to devour the pain I feel.  

I reluctantly let go, then watch in turn as he says goodbye to his sister, brother and dad.  My heartache is mirrored in their teary faces.  It is awful.  This public fracture of our family feels surreal and unfair.  We cannot muster the dignity such an event deserves; we are a sobbing, pathetic mess.  Strangers pass by, unsure of what to make of our tears.  He gives us one last smile, then throws a bag over his shoulder and goes.  He walks out of my life and into his own with such ease that I'm simultaneously proud and devastated.  

I lean into my husband and sob hysterically.  I feel lightheaded and dizzy, the pain so immense that it feels difficult to breathe.  We watch him walk back and forth through the rows that lead toward the security checkpoint.  We stand together crying, arms around each other, as he clears the passport check and loads his bag onto the conveyor belt.  A kindly TSA agent notices the spectacle that is our goodbye and makes a show of putting his arms around my boy, giving me a thumbs-up, promising that he'll be taken care of.  This makes me laugh through my tears, and I feel a small trickle of hope enter my heart.  Surely, there will be others.  People who will watch out for him along the way.  People who will throw their arms around him when I can't.

He turns and gives us one last wave, his smile bright.  Happy.  Ready.

I blow him a kiss.  I offer a prayer for his safety, his well-being, and his happiness.  I ache down to my core.  Two years apart seems insurmountable and unendurable.  

We walk out to our car, empty.  Tears still fall and we take turns sniffling.  No one is joking or teasing now.

Though I knew this day was coming for a long time, I had no idea the toll it would take on my heart.  It is so confusing and powerful -- all of this at once.  Pride, heartache, loneliness, happiness, awe, anger, humility, sorrow, joy.  There isn't room to feel them all, and the excess spills over in salty tears.

A few hours pass, and I track his flight until it's on the ground in Mexico.  It's the last bit of active mothering I can do for a while, and I relish this small piece of control.  I walk past his room and cry some more.  I curl into a ball on the couch and cover myself with a blanket.  My phone buzzes with the texts and calls of concerned friends and family.  It's painful to relive it when the wound feels so fresh and raw, but it makes me feel loved.  We watch movies, nap, and time somehow passes.

We make an attempt at eating dinner together, though no one feels up to the task.  We are a somber, depressed lot.  No one has much of an appetite.

Suddenly, my phone pings and there is an email from our favorite missionary.  It is short -- oh, it is far too short -- but it tells us that he's okay, that he made it, and he's happy.

A warm peace floods my heart and I offer a prayer of thanks for his safety.

And I sigh, rather impatiently, eager for the much longer letter I'm sure to get next week.

I resign myself to this new life now -- a life of waiting, of empty, of emails, and P-Days.  A life more quiet, yet full; lonely and abundant; teary, yet proud.  Oh, so proud.

The bittersweet life of a missionary mama. 

The importance of saying yes

About a month ago, I walked into the garage to find Chase and three of his friends in the middle of a project.  I'd like to say this is an unusual phenomenon at our house, but it's not.  Chase is almost always in the middle of constructing something.  He's built a hover board, a rifle, a go-cart, a knife, several bows and arrows, as well as a variety of other odd projects.  If he can dream it, he can build it.  He's stopped coming to me for permission, and bypasses my authority for that of the Husband's.  

Rightly so.  

I know nothing about power tools and building weapons of mass destruction.  My first instinct is almost always to say no.

They had decided this time to build a boat.  They spent their own money on wood, came up with a design, and started working.

The project took several weeks.  I laughed every time I passed a garage full of sawdust-covered boys sanding the boat with cheerful grins on their faces and music blaring in the corner.  They experimented with waterproof finishes and found a deeply discounted bucket of green paint with which to complete their creation.  They joked and laughed and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the process.

Yesterday was the inaugural launch of their boat.  They took it (all couple hundreds pounds of wood, paint and finish) to a nearby pond and prayed to the gods of the sea for success.  It was no surprise, really, that it worked.  Their little green boat sailed like a champ.

More importantly, however, is the lesson here for mothers everywhere.  When your boys want to build and create - say yes.  Even though it will be messy and probably slightly dangerous.  No doubt it will be inconvenient.  There will be sawdust covering your wood floor and paint dripped into your sink.  There will be loud music playing at all hours, and sweaty boys rummaging through your pantry.  Their project will maybe even occupy the spot in the garage where your car should be.  For weeks at a time.

But there is so much more happening.  There is growth, creativity, knowledge and leadership.  They are problem solving and learning to work as a team.  They are using their imagination and understanding the value of hard work. None of them are on devices or sitting in front of a television.  They are setting a goal, and moving heaven and earth to make it happen.  All by themselves.  They are thinking, dreaming, planning, laboring.

They are not really putting together a boat, after all.  

They are putting together the men they are becoming.

And that is a fantastic, miraculous process at work.

On launching...

I find myself struggling under the weight of change.  My heart is simultaneously so full and yet shattered into a thousand pieces.  I am teary all the time.  There's a heaviness on my shoulders that I'm not sure will ever go away.

My baby is about to leave the nest.

Sure, I know what they say.  I know this is an exciting time.  I know he's better off launching into the world and growing into a responsible adult.  I know I will adapt to him being gone.  I know he's not dying.  I am extremely proud of what he's become and going to be doing.  I know he's healthy, competent, and strong.  I know that I don't want him living in my basement until he's forty.  I know how lucky I am.  I know this.

But I cannot seem make my heart understand what my mind knows.

All the many sleepless nights rocking a newborn in the moonlight of a tiny apartment, I dreamed of what he'd become.  Bleary eyed and exhausted, I soaked it up as best I could.  Then later as I wiped peanut butter off sticky fingers after his lunch every day, I fervently longed for when he'd learn to do it himself.  With each tantrum and missed nap, I'd ache for just a few minutes of alone time.  When I had a baby girl in the shopping cart and felt frazzled as I struggled to herd two wandering little boys, I groaned and fantasized about doing the shopping without them.  A lot of those days, I found myself wishing for time to move faster.  Life with young children was a never-ending glance at the clock on the wall, minutes sometimes ticking by so slowly they felt like hours.  If I could just make it until nap time.  Or bedtime.  Or Friday evening at last.

The dirty trick that no one tells you is that one day, you will spend every minute watching the clock and willing it to stop.  They never tell you that your heart will hurt and swell at the thought of time moving forward.  And move forward it will, at a pace so rapid your head will spin.  You will wish and pray for just a few more months or hours or minutes with these babies.  Nobody ever warns you that you'll look back and wonder if you appreciated it enough, loved them enough, taught them enough.  

I have worked for 18 long years for these exact results, and yet I feel unrealistically angry at my own success. I have achieved the perfectly predictable end to the story I have spent years writing.  I knew this was the outcome of the path I was on, but now that I'm here, I want a different one.  One where I get to have my cake and can eat it, too.  One where he flourishes and grows, yet never leaves my side.  

Is that too much to ask of the universe?

And if I can't have that, then I at least want a do-over.  I want to hold him one more time in the moonlight of that crappy apartment, smell his sweetness, and lose an entire day with him in my arms.  I want to see those sticky fingers grasp at cheerios on a tray and rejoice when he can finally pinch one between them and raise it triumphantly to his lips.  I want to see that toothless kindergarten grin look for me in the crowd of parents during the painful squeaks of the beginner violin concert, and watch his eyes light up when he finds me.  I want it so badly that every cell in my body just aches.

But that's the thing about this story.  We don't get a different ending.  We get this one.  We build our lives around these busy, toddling, energetic, lovable creatures and they walk right out of it.  We are left with a hole in our heart where their daily presence used to be.  An ache that will never be filled because the life we had built with them in it is forever changed.  Stevie Nicks brilliantly said it best when she said:

And can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Oh oh I don't know, oh I don't know
Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older too

I know that I'll be okay and find myself eventually on the other side of this long, lonely bridge.  I know it's not the end.  But it's the end of something; it's the end of something pretty spectacular. 

And I just can't help but wish it wasn't so.

How to lose 37 pounds in 13 months

Let me just start this post by saying that no part of this 13-month journey has been easy.  There is no magic formula or secret that makes you want to stay away from donuts, cookies, fries, and potato chips.

Because if there were?  We'd all already weigh 110 pounds and be walking around in bikinis in the dead of winter struttin' our hot stuff.

Every. Single. Day., I fight the cravings.  I wake up, and I want to run and get a big diet coke and a sugar cookie.  I want to eat In-N-Out burgers.  I salivate at the thought of a Reese's peanut butter cup.  I dream about the crunchy Hostess coconut donuts they sell at the gas station (that are 460 awful, delicious calories for all six of them).  It doesn't go away - at least for me, it hasn't.

There are moments that I'm stronger than others, and I've caved more times than I care to admit.

That being said, I have had success.  So I will share with you what has worked for me.

As I said yesterday, I'm working with a local company here who has a nutritionist monitoring my food diaries.  The accountability piece of that has been HUGE.  She looks at what I enter (or don't enter) every day, and weighs/measures me once a month.  She offers suggestions, encouragement, and course correction.  It's been fantastic.

The food piece is the hard part because I have to go that alone.  I have to monitor and police myself, make the choices that enable me to actually pull off a loss.  My 42-year-old body is different than the one I had 10 or 15 years ago.  I don't lose weight like I once did.  I have to fiercely fight for every pound that I lose.  I used to be able to give myself a cheat day(!) once a week and still easily lose 2 pounds or more in a week.  I can't do that now.  I can't cheat if I want to see a loss.  It's just the sad reality.  I allow myself something indulgent once or twice a month.

I know.  

Depressing, right?

I'm eating between 1250 and 1350 calories every day.  I strive to hit at least 100 grams of protein.  I also shoot to have a good source of carb, protein, and fat at every meal or snack.  I eat three meals a day and one or two snacks.  The only real exercise I get is walking my dogs 3-4 miles every day.

So what am I eating?  

I start my day out with Zipfizz. 

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 It's an energy drink developed for diabetics, so it's no sugar, low carb, high vitamin content stuff.  I mix one Zipfizz with 24-30 ounces of ice water and have two of them in the morning after my walk.  There is a small amount of caffeine, which I honestly think is actually a great appetite suppressant and has really helped me not feel hungry.  I like the flavors (except grape, gag!) and there is a huge vitamin B-12 boost that makes me feel great.

My favorite breakfast is a waffle made from this protein pancake mix.

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It tastes so good!  It's got 14 grams of protein and is only 190 calories for 1/2 cup of the dry mix (which you just add water to).  One-half cup makes two waffles on my small waffle iron, and I eat them both every morning.  I love it.  It feels like a treat.  I buy the mix at Costco.

I top the waffle with a little bit of Walden Farms calorie-free syrup. 

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The concept of something actually tasting delicious and being calorie-free actually frightens me a little bit.  I assume the reason it tastes good is because of chemicals that will probably cause cancer and/or kill me.  So I use it rather sparingly, even though there are no calories to feel guilty for.  It really does taste good.  I order this from Amazon, though you can probably buy from the  company directly online.  I've never seen it in stores.

Lunch is almost always a turkey sandwich on 21-grain bread topped with 1/4 of an avocado and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. 

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It's my go-to lunch and I'm still not tired of it.  The turkey I buy at a local BBQ place - it's simply smoked turkey breast.  It's real meat, not processed (I'm talking to you, Oscar Mayer!), and tastes delicious.  If you don't have a Rudy's (my local BBQ joint) find one of your own BBQ places nearby.  I am sure you could get smoked turkey breast pretty much anywhere.  I love that it's not processed lunch meat and it tastes unbelievably good.  

Super filling lunch.

Afternoon snacks vary.  My favorite is Greek yogurt with raspberries and 1/4 cup of my homemade granola (recipe here).  I also like the Special K protein meal bars if I'm pressed for time or running kids all around.  Great on-the-go-snack.  I chug water all day long, too.  But I find it most critical in the afternoon when I'm more likely to go on a search through the pantry for sugary temptation.

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Dinner varies - but is almost always some version of lean protein, green vegetables, and high fiber carb.  Usually chicken breast, turkey, or pork tenderloin.  I also will add in flat iron steak once in a while, too.  Lots of sweet potatoes and salads in all their varieties.

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I have found these wraps at Costco to be a super food.  I will use them at lunch or dinner, and they taste great.  I also have made flat-bread pizzas out of them, as well.  Really versatile.  And they freeze beautifully.

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The other thing that I use a lot is the yogurt-based salad dressings.  Bolthouse Farms is the only brand I've tried, and I really like them.  They are at my local grocery store, and Target.  They have a ton of different flavors, and are only 40 calories for 2 tablespoons.  They do not taste like the low-fat dressings of olden days.  They are really good.

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The last piece of advice I would give you is to get a good digital scale.  You need one with the "tare" feature, which allows you to put your plate on the scale and then zero it out.  That way, you can add your food on top of the plate, preventing you from having to clean and wipe down the scale every time you use it.  Get one that measures in ounces and grams.  I got ours online at Amazon for pretty cheap.  I think maybe $20 or $30 max.

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It gets tedious to religiously measure and weigh everything, but it really makes a difference.  You think you can eyeball it, but you're really only adding extra calories if you aren't precise.  And why work so effing hard only to not succeed, right?

That's about it, my friends.  That is what I'm doing and how I've been successful.  This fight is the hardest one there is.  Our brains are wired to love sugar, and I spent years allowing myself to feed that need.  I tried and failed several times, and for whatever reason, this time it worked.  It is possible to make healthy choices and still feel happy.  Getting over the first few weeks is the worst.  

Falling off the wagon happens, too.  I pretty much took off from Thanksgiving to New Years.  But I dusted myself off and got right back up come January.  Just do the best you can when you can.

Hang in there if you're struggling.  Don't give up.  Don't give in.

You can do it.