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This is cross-posted from my professional blog, The Other Side of the Couch. I’m interested in what you all have to say, too!

I’m thinking of planning a retreat. I know, I’m probably nuts, but I figure if I need it, a lot of other people do as well. With my values being what they are, I’d love to make it free of cost, but reality dictates that I probably should charge to cover rental space, materials, food, speaker/teacher fees, etc. So, I have some questions for you all: If I were going to do this, what are the kinds of things you’d like to see? I have some ideas, too – I’d like to blend creative expression in some form with self-esteem, empowerment, relaxation, and healthy interactions.

I’m envisioning a day to start with people being able to choose/sign up for 4-5 one hour “experiences”. I would probably do a group breakfast, all together with fruit, pastries, tea/coffee, juice, along with a keynote/introductory address. Then, have people split up to do their “classes” with a 1/2 hour break in between for mingling and sharing experiences, and then wrap up with a brief talk about taking it home and living it in your life.

Here are the topics I’d like to see – PLEASE feel free to add your own! If I do this, I’d want it to appeal to as many people as possible, and would consider anything you suggest. Here’s my list:

Welcome, Introductions, and Orientation:

Workshops:
1) Setting Boundaries
2) Affirmations and Individualizing: How to honor and love yourself, and how to move away from letting others define who you are
3) Healing through Spiritual Practices: Meditation, Creative Visualizations, Ritualizing/Making the Sacred
4) Creating Balance in an Unbalanced World: Nurturing and caring for yourself while also meeting work and family obligations, realizing the importance of caring for and nurturing yourself and building it into your daily routine
5) Empowerment – Identifying and using your strengths
6) Writing Your Own Path – identifying archetypes that speak to you, and writing your own myth with you as the hero/ine.

Lunch – boxed lunches, catered; juice, water, iced tea

7) Finding Your Inner Artist – Finger painting and intuitive painting
8 ) Body Work – Intuitive Free Dancing to a variety of music
9) Body and Self-Acceptance – Learning how to “love the skin that you’re in”
10) Barriers to Achieving What You Want to Do With Your Life: Identifying what you want to do, and what the barriers to doing it are, collectively brainstorm steps to take to being overcoming these
11) Becoming the Person You Want to be: Taking stock of where you are in your life, and discovering who you want to be; celebrating the parts of you where you have reached this goal, and creating a plan to help you get to who you want to be – All Together

Wrap-Up, Thank-you’s to speakers/presenters, Evaluations and Suggestions.

I also envision having some vendors there making available relevant and inspiring products – humorous items, journals, inspirational works of art, gift baskets…I’d love to be able to offer a gift basket as a door prize/raffle/auction item. Another idea would be to have participants bring in creative pieces for a silent auction to benefit a local cause. What else can you all think of?

How does this sound to you all? Please let me know your suggestions – I’d love and would really appreciate what you’ve got to say. Thanks, so much! ūüôā

There are some bright spots today – Aidan, my little 5-year old boy who is autistic, has decided that he wants to wear big-boy pants!!!! Hallelujah, he may not go to school in pull-ups. I’ve been changing his diapers for 5 1/2 years, and I am SO ready to be done with that. I think he got jealous of his 3-year old sister, which is FINE by me. ūüôā That, and the “tooth fairy” left a note for him telling him he had to be a big boy and wear big boy pants, because he’s growing up. ;p

The other bright spot comes from my daughter Rebecca – I’ve never seen a child narrate her life to music the way this little girl does. Everything is something to sing about – “I going to water, water plants…” to “I go to the pot-tay, pot-tay, pot-tay…” to (at the top of her little lungs) “Mommy’s driving, Mommy’s driving cossetrate!” Seeing her sing reminds me of myself at her age…I loved to sing. My mother used to tell me “Laura, you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” Well, Becca doesn’t either…and I LOVE to hear her singing. It’s the most beautiful sound in the world to me, next to hearing my kidlets laugh – it shows she’s so happy with her world, that she just breaks out in song.

How much better does it get? ūüôā

Aidan and Becca playing "hide from Mommy" at the park - June 2009

My son, Aidan, is autistic. We began to suspect that something was wrong when Aidan didn’t start to walk on time, like other kids. He eventually did walk, at 16 months, and our doctors told us, “Don’t worry, he’s fine.” Now to any other parent, that might sound reassuring – but to me it was extremely frustrating, because I KNEW something wasn’t right. I have the advantage of doctoral training in counseling psychology; one of the many things we learn is how to recognize, assess, and treat developmental disorders in children. And yes, autism is one of those disorders. So, I had an “in” when I started recognizing symptoms.

Aidan is a little different in that he never really regressed, as many children with autism do. Aidan simply stopped. At about 18 months, he had tubes put in his ears for chronic ear infections – we had hoped that he would start catching up when he stopped being sick so much of the time. His second birthday came and went, and he was still delayed. He had trouble eating independently, and didn’t like to be hugged as much as I would have liked to hug him…so, although there were some “red flags,” they weren’t flying high enough to really warrant a lot of attention. Still, at his checkups, I brought up the possibility of autism with our family doctor. Her advice was to “wait and see.”

One thing I should tell you is that I have a really, REALLY good working relationship with my family doctor. She is an incredible, amazing woman that I trust. More importantly, she listened to me and considered my concerns. Again, though – I had an “in” because of my training, and I’m sure that helped.

Aidan’s sister was born a few months after his second birthday, and Aidan didn’t react to her at all in the way you’d expect a toddler to react to a new intruder. He simply didn’t care and actually acted as though she simply didn’t exist. Unlike most toddlers, he wasn’t curious and he wasn’t jealous. He simply…was. Again, I was concerned – after all, I knew what to look for.

Aidan’s 3rd birthday came and went, and he was pretty clearly not meeting the developmental milestones. I’d been keeping track of these since I’d first noticed difficulties early on – and, as I mentioned earlier, he simply “stopped.” He wa stuck at about 2 to 2 1/2 years old. Our doctor listened to my concerns, and again we give it a few more months just to wait and see. Ok…so we did.

At three and half years, she saw him again – she’d wanted to assess his development specificially withing the few months between visits to see if there were any changes. There weren’t…he as still “stuck” in the two year old phase.

Now if any you know, have been around, or have children at this age, you KNOW what fun I’m talking about. Learning the power of “no” is huge at this age – now imagine getting stuck there, and dealing with it for over two and half years. Potty training – the same. Stuck at early two.

After this visit, our doctor decided that it would be a good thing to run a complete evaluation – ironically enough, she recommended my training clinic as the best place to do this. I KNEW what the outcome of the evaluation would be – after all, I’d been tracking symptoms and such for 2 1/2 years. So, off we went to CSU for the evaluation. I remember telling therapist (who again ironically enough was in the same exact position I’d been in three years before) that I thought Aidan had autism and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD; essentially disobeying for the sheer idea of disobeying and argumentation.) She said, “Well, let’s do the tests and we’ll see.”

Guess what? Amazingly enough…he was diagnosed with mild-moderate autism and oppositional defiance disorder. Here’s the thing – even when you’re prepared, even when you know what’s coming – hearing it is a shock. No parent ever wants to hear that there is something wrong with their child. I’d been through this before when my oldest was diagnosed with ADHD. I thought I was prepared.

And on the way home, with Aidan babbling in the back seat of the care, I cried. Partially out of relief – here was the evidence for what I’d known for years – and partially out of a profound grief. There was something very wrong with my baby.

From this point, we entered the world of “services” and “therapy.” I have to say that I’m eternally grateful to the local hospital and therapists – their work in speech and occupational therapy worked wonders. It’s expensive and I’m also glad we had insurance that covered it. AND, I thought about what life would be like if we didn’t have these advantages.

Today, Aidan speaks relatively close to his age group – he’s about 1 year behind. His motor coordination is better, and he interacts with people much more often and appropriately. I thank God every day for that. He has improved immensely, also in part due to the wonderful Head Start program – he had a wonderful classroom staff and was thrilled to be a “big kid” and go to school. He hugs, kisses, shows affection, interacts and even initiates play with other kids – all of these are miracles I’ll never take for granted again.

There are things about Aidan, though, that are noticeably different. He tends to speak in a monotone that sounds intense or pressured – there isn’t much emotion or inflection in his words. He looks a little different too – there is just something about him that seems a little “off.” He’s fascinated with things no other child I know of has ever even noticed: power poles and lines, “red balls,” train tracks (not the trains – the tracks) and signs. One more thing –¬†heaven help me…I’m STILL changing diapers. (Changing poopy diapers for a 5¬†1/2 year old is NOT fun, either!)

His little sister speaks more clearly and in a more complex manner than he does, and she’s potty-trained now. She’s teaching him some things with language, interacting, and normal pre-school stuff that he needs and can really only get by interacting. He’ll be in a regular kindergarten next year, and I’m worried for him.

We all know how kids treat other kids who are different and how early it starts. My prayer for the other children and for Aidan is that, somehow, they can overcome the differences and help each other.

1. I have an artist’s book, limited edition, that was bought and exhibited in the University of Washington’s library – special collections. I also know how to set type and run a printing press!

2. I have a 16 year age difference between my oldest and youngest children – and I have the oldest and youngest of the 14 grandkids on my side of the family. And I have only three kids!!

3. I definitely have a wild side – something not many people know about , something I keep mostly hidden. ¬†Ask me and I’ll tell you more – maybe.

4. When I was a kid, I “mummified” one of my Barbie dolls – I wanted to be an archaeologist and decided that Barbie would make a great mummy. I wrapped Barbie in torn up strips of old cotton diapers, and put little “treasures” (Barbie’s jewelry) into the wrappings. I built her a “tomb” out of a shoebox and lined it with aluminum foil. Yes, I WAS a weird kid! (It was a 6th grade research project – I got the highest grade in the class.)

5. I still dance in my living room to music when no one is looking or can see, except my little kids. I sing to the radio too, when my¬†Aidan lets me (“Don’t sing, Mommy! My ears hurt!” <sigh> ). Someday, I want to dance and sing with them on the beach! I also like the very sappy, slow love songs and am a total mush and romantic.

6. Although I am pretty shy and quiet in real life, online I’m a chatterbox and am very outgoing. This is sometimes weird for me, because I still see myself as being the wallflower that no one wants to talk to, and I’m always surprised when someone tells me how outgoing I am.

So…in spite of my attempt to not show my face to my friends on SL, I did take that¬†risk and showed myself. Most of my pictures are not very good, as I’m not very photogenic, but there are a few – mainly when I make a concerted effort to look good. I struggle with body image a lot, especially lately, because I know that in real life, a pretty face and body get you pretty far. Conversely, not looking like the ideal has consequences, both personal and professonal, as I’ve discussed before.

Psychological research has shown that both women and men who are overweight are judged more harshly and more negatively than their thin competitors. Those without attractive faces fare even worse. So, generally I get a double whammy. One of my most embarrassing moments occurred when I was in my undergraduate research methods class. We all had to get into teams and replicate a psychological study, and one group decided to test the attractiveness theory. They asked me to model, and I found out later that they used me as the “unattractive” model. I had a hard time showing my face in class after that – but I got revenge – I earned the top grade in the class. It felt like a very small, pyrrhic victory.

This week, I showed my face to¬†two of my friends on SL¬†for the first time. I found out that one had already viewed a picture of me, one that was less than flattering, but I knew this was a possibility as I had given him the¬†ability to find me. The thing is, I learned a lesson from this incident¬†– personality does count for something. Not only was I not rejected, but felt even more valued for myself as a person. That was surprising to me. I was pleased to see that there are people out there who really don’t judge a book by its cover, but the contents inside.

Ironically enough, both of these friends I found through SL, where everybody wears a mask of one sort or another. I’m as guilty as the next person, but over time I’ve found myself peeling away the mask and revealing who I am. When I do, I feel as if I’m risking rejection – even though my friends have assured me otherwise. I think that revealing your inner self, whether or not you have a pretty face, makes you vulnerable. I’m losing the mask I use to hide myself, my insecurities, and my vulnerability. And it’s scary.

In fact, sometimes I think that having a pretty face may make it even harder – you might never know if people really like you for who you are and not what you look like. I’m lucky: I’ve made good friends, who value a person for who he/she is, not only for what s/he looks like. Not everyone can say that. I’m lucky enough to have some good “real life” friends like that, too. However, as sassy as I can be, I feel insecure at times. I fight it, and I’m reminded of the Crhistina Aguilera song, “Beautiful”:”

“Don’t look at me
Every day is so wonderful
And suddenly, i saw debris
Now and then, I get insecure
From all the pain, I’m so ashamed

I am beautiful no matter what they say
Words can’t bring me down
I am beautiful in every single way
Yes, words can’t bring me down
So don’t you bring me down today ”

I’m also reminded that the way I see myself is not necessarily the way others see me. The other day I commented to my husband how beautiful our daughter, Rebecca, is. He replied, “Of course -she looks like her mother” to which I said, “wow…I feel sorry for her.” He looked at me and said, “You know, when you say that, you’re saying that she is ugly, too. That hurts me, because I love both of you and think you’re both beautiful.”

This was a lesson to me: A) keep my mouth shut, and even more importantly, B) beauty is more than one ideal, and truly is in the eye of the beholder. Lastly, C) maybe I am too hard on myself.

So, my point here is, no matter what masks we wear (whether in real life or not), there is a part of our real selves that shines through. Anonymity may hide the physical aspects of who we are, but the truth of¬†who we are¬†always manages to break through, somehow. Over time, it’s hard to hide our personalities and our selves, try though we may. And I’m very, VERY lucky to have people in my life, both real life and second life, who realize this and value people – including me – for who we are and not necessarily what we look like. So…when I started this blog, I decided to bare my face and be who I am – warts and all. ¬†That said, I did want to find a picture that looks attractive.

So, I wore a dress today for the first time since….well, I don’t remember when. I even wore it to church, which was pretty amazing considering that I’m in the nursery with a bunch of rowdy toddlers. But…I wanted to feel pretty, and I haven’t felt that way in a long, LONG time. It’s hard to feel that way when you look like I do – society doesn’t reward women who don’t fit the ideal. Instead, we (all of us – even I fall prey to it now and then) tell women that they’re flawed, ugly, undesirable, etc. because they’re not 6 feet talll and 110 pounds with looks like Kate Moss or Giselle Bunchen. So, I wore it, and I did feel pretty. Several people told me the dress looked good on me, and that I looked good – I haven’t heard that in a LONG time.

It’s getting to be summer here – at least weather wise, and feeling pretty in a pretty dress while standing in the sunshine and smelling the lilacs was like receiving a little gift from above. And then…back to the real world, when I looked in the mirror.

It’s funny, though, because in Second Life, nearly everyone is drop dead gorgeous. I have to admit that I created my avatar to be that way as well…I could make her look like me in real life, but if I can control appearance and size why would I want to? I talk about self-acceptance, but I’m not happy with the way I look. I’ve been exercising for about a year now, with no substantial weight loss, so I saw my doctor this last week – I am now on what amounts to a starvation diet – 1000 calories per day with one hour of aerobic exercise every day. I am losing weight, but I wonder if I’m losing my sanity along with weight – is it worth the sacrifice? I want to look good, and feel good about myself. I generally have good self-esteem nowadays – until I look in a mirror. I want to be accepted – and yet I still have trouble accepting myself.

What prompted the change was the way people reacted to my avatar in Second LIfe (SL). I will NEVER look like my avatar – no matter how much I work, because there is no way to make a 42-year old woman who has birthed and nursed three babies look like a twenty year old who has never had children and looks like she eats less than Lindsey Lohan. However, I also think there are steps I can take to look and feel better. When I am on SL as my avatar, I feel pretty. I know that it is a virtual mock-up of a fantasy, but my personality reflects the difference. I’m flirty, active and fun…and I feel attractive. In the mundane world of real life, I’m a flabby, tired mother who spends a great deal of time chasing kids, changing diapers, and cleaning up messes – it’s hard to feel attractive when you smell like diapers and have spots of smushed peas and carrots on your clothes and in your hair.

So what’s the point? A friend of mine on SL and I were chatting about how easy it is to get sucked into this virtual world. It’s easy to want to escape real life, because real life is not always fun. It’s messy, dirty and you can’t always hide between an attractive exterior. It’s also more intense. I think in part that’s because it’s overwhelming at first to find yourself in this beautiful “world” where the normal inhibitions of everyday living are absent – in it’s own way, it’s addictive.

And therein lies the trouble…Am I my avatar, or is she me? I think it’s a little bit of both, and people continue to be people, whether in virtual reality or not. He told me of people who have exacted revenge by destroying the virtual property of people that have jilted them, and of others who have been hurt by the actions of people they thought of as friends. Even though it’s “play” for many, for others, the lure of social contact and an end to loneliness seems like a lifeline.¬† When the two collide, people get hurt.

Ironically enough, it seems easier to trust people online¬†-we think we are anonymous when on SL, but in reality, there are probably ways to find out to whom we’re speaking. Psychological research has found that people tend to be more open and¬†less inhibited¬†when they think they are anonymous; this is as true on SL as in any research study. The possibility of real life hurt and damage is very much present, and we (myself included) act as though we have blinders on. We’d like to think that the people we trust with our identities and our secrets are trustworthy, but that’s not always the case.

So, back to the issue at hand – for a long time, I wouldn’t let my online friends see pictures of me, because I¬†was afraid that after seeing what I really look like, they¬†would see the real me instead of the attractive avatar. Dishonest? Probably…but also grounded in real-life experience. There’s nothing like getting to know someone, only to see a look of disgust or shock in their eyes when they see the real you for the first time. I’ve found, through experience, that no matter how great your personality is, some people will always judge you by how you look. And I want to keep feeling pretty.

Saga of the energy vampire…AKA, the H-bomb in a kid suit
Current mood: Beyond pooped

Have you ever noticed that, when you are at your most exhausted, your kids are at their most hyper-active? Honestly…

Let me preface this by saying that I love my kids with all my heart and would give my life for them in a heartbeat. That said, *ay carumba*!!! Aidan was a small H-bomb in a kid suit today! He likes to start his day by waking up his little sister, usually by bouncing on her bed (and her, if he can get away with it) until she wakes up – today was no exception.

The difference today was that Becky-buns seems to be coming down with the crud that’s going around and was sleeping with Mama. So, I became the trampoline. Now, if you have trouble waking up in the morning (like I do), there is nothing like having 40 lbs. of jumping preschooler land right on your soft belly to wake you up out a peaceful dream. And I was dreaming that I had won a shopping spree! Sigh…

His next adventure was to climb over the baby gate blocking the main floor bathroom – I’m feeding the baby (who is busily spitting carrots on her hands and then running them through her hair in an attempt to look like a miniature Lucille Ball) when I hear a suspicious splash-flush-splash… “Aidan, get your cup out of the toilet – NOW!” (Followed by more splash-flush-splashes)…Sigh…Fish screaming preschooler out of bathroom, clean him up and cover his hands with sanitizing gel, put on gloves and fish floating sippy cup out of toilet, immerse sippy in pot of boiling water before deciding to throw it away,¬†haul wailing and now VERY WET preschooler out of the bathroom AGAIN, put gate 6 inches higher, and turn off water in sink.¬†¬†Return to find more carrots ON baby than IN baby, note that baby managed to untie bib and cover clothes. Bathtime…

Okay, so I wipe off¬†as much of the carrots off as possible, strip the baby and cover¬†the NEW dress in Shout, Clorox-2, and detergent…¬† I turn around to hear a mysterious banging…”Aidan, don’t climb in the dryer – you could get hurt and that would make Mama really sad…” (Long pause as impatient and wiggly baby kicks Mama in stomach – put baby in crib to check on preschooler – yell to be heard over baby’s LOUD protests) “Aidan – out of the dryer NOW!” ¬†

So now I’m getting the bath started…get the baby in, wash out the carrots, start soaping…” What the HE**?!? Aidan, turn off that shower now! That water’s cold!!”¬†¬†Aidan has just discovered that he can pull down the showerhead (a Waterpik with a nice long bendable cord), turn on the water and spray his unsuspecting mother…with ice cold water, of course.¬†

Next up –¬†find clean changes of clothes for everyone and hope there is something clean for me outside of Laundry Mountain (which is beginning to resemble a whole mountain range…Sigh…)¬†

Other quotes of the day: “Aidan, get off of the oven!” (climbing on the opened oven door trying¬†reach the cabinet above the stove where the treats are stored –¬† is this kid half monkey?? Sigh…run out to store, find and intall oven lock – on oven AND refrigerator).¬†I’ve TRIED to kid-proof the house – honestly. We’ve got cabinet locks, outlet plugs, baby gates, door-knob covers, you name it, we’ve got it. And it looks like we’ll have to get more. This kid is ingenious when it comes to climbing – he’s tried things I’ve never even thought of. Now if he can just channel that ingenuity and energy…”

Becca, you need a bath again?”¬†(after a diaper blowout of truly epic proportions), “Aidan, we do NOT hit sister on the head with toys.” “Aidan, sister is NOT target practice.” And so on and on and on…

The most important moments were not like these, though.¬†They went more like,¬†“Aidan, I love you so much. I’m so glad you come to cuddle with me. Big hug!”¬†(during sister’s nap – we both sit and cuddle on the recliner and watch a Sesame Street video). “Aidan, thank you for getting Becca’s binky. You are such a good helper!”

There are times when I look at him, and just want to squeeze the stuffing out of that kid – he can be so darn cute!! And Becca – watching her learn¬†walking, talking, everything about her world: “Wow – you went across the room all by yourself! What a strong girl!! I’m so proud of you!” followed by Aidan’s “Sister good job? Aidan good job!” and a big hug with both of them. And now, he’s next to me in bed, snoring away and looking for all the world like a little angel (of course, as I type this, he lets loose with a sound from his nether regions that would rival a Harley “Hog” in heat…) Man, I love this little kid…

And the big kid¬†has his own dramas, too –¬†Captain Obvious¬†has a date for prom! (Am I really old enough to have a kid old enough for prom? YIKES!¬†¬†Where did the time go – I remember changing HIS diapers.) I remember him as a¬†toddler – the classic moment being in the grocery store. He loved to have me blow raspberries on his belly – so we’re in line at the grocery store, he lifts his shirt and yells at the top of his little lungs, “Blow me, Mommy!” Every head around me turns and stares at me – I wanted to sink through the floor, but tried to explain – “Raspberries on his tummy – see? (Picture me in line, demonstrating blowing raspberries on his tummy and managing to look like a COMPLETE idiot…) Ah, those were the days…

Will I look back on these days with Aidan and Becca with as much, uh…”mirth”? Actually, I know I will. I’ll smile and miss their little smiles, hugs, and boundless energy.

Yikes…ever notice how busy-ness can creep up on you? I’ve just finished two weeks of having *something* going on every night, and I’m exhausted. I mean, tired to the bone, walking-and-waking-dead pooped. And the fatigue is not just physical – it’s emotional and cognitive. Busy-ness, although marginally productive in the traditional sense, sucks the life out of me. I’ve figured out that I’m the kind of person who needs “me time” – alone, with no kids, no husband, no friends. It’s not that I don’t want to be around these people – they are the most important people in my life, and I love and care for them. However,¬†after data collection/research, peer counseling training, nursery work, meetings, running kids everywhere, there’s just not much left to give. So…

Tonight I’m on strike. I’ve been invited to a scrapbooking event, which I’d normally enjoy for the social contact and the creativity boost, even though I don’t “scrapbook” in a traditional sense – too cutesy for me. I said “no.” It was hard for me to do, as I’m not the most assertive person in the world, especially when it comes to taking care of me. In our last peer counseling class, we covered assertiveness, and I kept thinking, “I need to do more of this – with everyone.” So, I told my friends that I appreciated the invite, but that I was very tired and would not be able to make it. I feel kind of bad, because I missed the last one, too – my in-laws came into town that night – but I need to care for me.

So, why is it that I feel bad/selfish for doing so? Well…”selfish” was the label of choice my mother slung at me whenver I insisted on caring for myself. If I didn’t do what she wanted when she wanted and how she wanted it, I was “selfish” and “bad.” Unfortunately, I’ve internalized that and now think it every time I insist on caring for myself. I figure that I at least recognize it now and can counter the message with some positive thinking. (Thank you, cognitive-behavioral therapy!) So now, I tell myself, “You are human, too. You have needs and desires, just like any other human being, and it’s NOT wrong to consider yourself. It’s not wrong to value yourself, or think that you’re worthy of care.”

Women in general seem to suffer from the burden of busy-ness in our society. If we’re not huge successes in business, we feel pressured to be the perfect stay-at-home mother, with immaculate houses, perfectly clean and dressed children, with several clever crafts on hand to keep them busy while we make dinner, bake bread, sew their adorable, fashionable, little clothes, and plan the PTA bake sale. All this while managing the local girl/boy scout troop, carpooling the little darlings to soccer/baseball/gymnastics/cheerleading, and reading up on developmental milestones and how to help your children be better than anyone else’s. BLECH! ¬†All this emphasis on being the perfect professional woman, perfect employee, perfect mother, perfect wife/partner…it’s busy-ness in another form and is life-draining, not life-sustaining. Sustainable living should take into account, in my not-so-humble-opinion, emotional and mental elements as well as physical.

I confess – my house is a mess. In fact, I’m lucky it hasn’t been condemned. Laundry Mountain continues to grow, even while I excavate small loads. I’ll have to strip-mine it soon. Iron? That’s a vitamin, right? (Oh yeah…there is that appliance-thingy gathering dust in the closet.) Dinners come from the microwave (except when the in-laws visit – that’s when I really feel the pressure to be perfect and actually cook.) My kids sometimes wear the same clothes two days in a row…and yeah, they come from Wal-mart. (No, not Children’s Place, Baby Gap, or Macy’s.) So do mine – I don’t make money staying with the little kidlets. There is no homemade baked bread (at least not on a regular basis – I make it when I have time, feel like it and want it.) Developmentally-geared and cutesy crafts? Forget it…more like a coloring book and crayons (at least those that haven’t¬† been eaten or stomped to smithereens…)¬†

But you know what? Perfection is no longer any of my “busy-ness.” I’m not perfect, and I never will be. Yet, somehow my children are happy – and they are generally clean (at least as clean as a toddler and pre-schooler can be.) Aidan and I played “Balloon Catch” today – he was all smiles and giggles. Rebecca got in on it, and we played “Monkey in the Middle.” They are growing, they get fed (even if it isn’t homemade,organic, and fresh-grown/picked/juiced) and they seem happy. They come up to cuddle with me, they ask for Mama and they give me hugs and kisses. And, I’m happy – generally. When I let busy-ness take over, that’s when I’m not happy. And including “me-time” is not just respectful to myself, it’s necessary for my to function.

So, what’s the point of yet another rant? Ladies, we don’t have to be perfect. In the business world…we do our best, but we can’t do our best if we’re killing ourselves in the process. At home…we do our best, and somehow our families survive. I’d much rather have a happy, well-adjusted me and a happy, well-adjusted family than a perfect house, etc.¬† Taking time for ourselves is not only good, it’s necessary. Even if we veg out watching “Desperate Housewives”¬†or “Lost”¬†while eating Ben & Jerry’s (or, my favorite:¬†a bowl of ice-cold melon, mandarin oranges and grapes – YUM), taking time to decompress is necessary to maintain our sanity. We are so good at helping others, at succeeding, at living up to everyone else’s expectations – isn’t time we develop our own?

For what it’s worth, I’m not talking about the hundreds of self-help/self-improvement “programs” or books – read/use them if they nurture and help you. But if you find yourself feeling a load of shoulds descending on you, ask yourself, “Is this really helping me? Is this really going to help me BE me?”¬† (Think of Albert Ellis’s comment, “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.” ) Someone else’s idea of what is good may or may not fit – use your sense of what you need to help you out here. In therapy with my clients, I tell them to listen to their inner therapists – the part of you inside that wants you to be happy, fulfilled, and has your best interests at heart. Even that part of you has been called bad, selfish, unworthy, or anything else negative – it’s part of who you are. Now if I can just take my own advice…

Some¬†of my favorite website¬†resources: (These may or may not inspire you; I don’t leave these sites feeling like I’ve got a case of the “shoulds.”)

Jennifer Louden’s “Comfort Queen” material (http://www.comfortqueen.com/),

SARK’s material (http://www.planetsark.com/) – she has an excellent piece this month on treasuring girls

Small Steps to Health – the source of those commercials where people find “lost” body parts, such as double chins, “love handles,” “spare tires,” etc: (http://www.smallstep.gov/index.html)

The Foundation for a Better Life – inspiring source of billboards, posters, and other public messages that are life-affirming: (http://www.forbetterlife.org/)

For the Little Ones Inside – an affirming site: (http://www.forthelittleonesinside.com/)

The Spiral Muse – for women’s well-being: (http://www.spiralmuse.org/)

Creativity for Life – to help get you inspired, fired-up, and ready to live life: (http://www.creativityforlife.com/index.php)

Another Girl At Play – Women artists’ biographies and links: (http://another.girlatplay.com/)

So…play, enjoy, let go of perfection, just be. It’s okay – it really is. (or so I keep telling myself. )

Letters from the “Desperate Tubbywives”…

Does anyone know how little kids seem to KNOW when their parents are the most exhausted? They pick THAT time to stay up late, get hyperactive and into everything… What I would give for a good, long, restful night’s sleep. And a day without those frakkin’ Teletubbies! I think I need a vacation; I’m imagining all sorts of weird/naughty Teletubby movies/shows: Teletubbies do Dallas, or Nightmare on Tubby Street, or even Law & Order: Tubbyland. How about Tubbystar Galactica? Or Cops: Live in Tubbyland? I wish…And honestly…how may times can one person watch “Tinkerbell” and NOT explode??? At least with the Baby Einstein DVDs the music is good.

Early summer has come to Colorado. We are officially out of the drought now, and we’ve had temperatures in the 60’s for the last week, and the air smells fresh, new, and full of sunshine. (At least when it’s not raining and thundering and smelling of the dairy farm down the road!) It’s so nice to see grass, new green leaves, and even some brave lilies birthing their way through the heavy, wet soil and blossoming in the sun. The sun is hot already, foreshadowing a broiling summer, but for now, it feels wonderful. The little people have been itching to get outside and play, and I think they feel the change in their blood and bones. Aidan in particular seems to know that spring is here. “Mama, I want to go outside NOW!” He lives for being in the sunshine, and loves the world outside our walls. Becca sees how excited her brother gets – and, in her mind, if he wants it or has it, she should too. And she wants to be out in the sunshine playing too.

I was looking back over old pictures and found some from when Becca took her first steps; it’s funny how quickly you forget how tenuous and shaky those first steps into the unknown are. May your steps always be sure, and the ground firm under your feet, little princess. She runs and climbs now, and has such a look of triumph and pride on her little face, as well as sheer joy every time she tries and does something new. I feel so privileged to share in these moments.

Matthew (Capt. Obvious) is done with school for the summer…boy, is he in for a shock coming up. He thinks that he and his girlfriend and another couple they know are all going to move out to Greeley and live together. Problem is, he has no job, no car, no driver’s license, no money, etc. He says he going to transfer from CSU to UNC, but has not done anything to start that process. He sits and watches TV shows and movies on his computer all day…I think he’s in for a pretty big surprise when his friends expect him to pay rent, contribute to the housekeeping, and pay his way in other areas. As much as I hate to say this, I think (given his attitude and level of stubborness on this) that this is a time when I have to exercise “tough love” and let him sink or swim. And, of course, be able to come back to dry land (home) if it doesn’t work.

I’m itching to be outside and moving, too…I want to take my sketchbook and watercolors and try to catch a little of the world as it explodes into and Becca, and I love to see them express themselves creatively. They both are such incredible inspirations – full of life and love, likes and dislikes, piss and vinegar, too…I want to go play with them! I want to swing and slide and run and jump like I used to when I was a little girl. I want that little girl inside to finally feel safe and protected enough to let loose and just…well, play.

On that note, is there anything more fun that brand-new art supplies? I’m sure there are lots of things that are, but opening and using new watercolors, brushes, pastels, etc. is one of the most enjoyable things I can do. A while ago, while Aidan and Becca played in our small courtyard, I sat on the porch and drew/painted one of my neighbor’s townhouses. I’m still figuring out the color mixes in this new set of watercolors, but that was one of the most satisfying afternoons I’ve spent in a while. My drawing isn’t wonderful, but I was happy. If I can get my scanner working with the new computer, I may upload it to my page…we’ll see if my ego can take it.

Last spring and summer, I spent some time going around our neighborhood photographing the flowers and parks. I’m hoping to draw and paint from my photos and get some time in the sun, sketching and painting from life as well. At some time, I’d like to take some art classes too…just for the fun of it. It’s kinda like being a kid again, with a little more freedom. I’d love to take Aidan and Becca out with their crayons and paper too, and see if they’d spend some time drawing with me. (Matthew’s “too cool” to do this kind of stuff anymore with his mom…)

Another thing I’d to get into is digital art, especially combined with collage and book art. I spent a year and a half in book arts class while at my undergrad college, and I really miss it. Space is a consideration, as are materials, though these are obstacles that can be overcome. I dream of having real studio space…

My big dream would be to open a wellness center that includes massage therapy, traditional psychotherapy, art classes (especially but not necessarily tied in with art therapy), dance and music. I’d love to have an emphasis on growth and enjoying life and relationships. I’d love to have meditation groups, women’s groups, spirituality groups, as well as more traditional therapy groups such as DBT skills training, process groups, and stress management/coping. In this era of managed care, though, it’s hard to get funding for these type of endeavors, and there aren’t too many people willing to pay out of pocket for services like these. Still, it’s fun to dream…

I honestly don’t remember being able to simply play freely all that often when I was kid. The best times I remember were when I could escape my family and go off on my own…I would sit under this huge old oak tree in our back yard, and pretend that there were elves that lived in the tree…there was a door in the trunk with a spiral staircase that led up to the top and down to the underground home below, and if I looked hard enough, I would find it. I never did, but I also never stopped trying. There was also a willow tree further back, that had a perfect spread of branches for sitting, hiding, and reading. It was one of my favorite, most peaceful spots in the world.

When my sisters and I went back to Ohio when my father was dying, we went by our old house, and asked the current owners if we could look around. They had cut down the oak, saying that it was waving in the heavy winds (which it did) and they were afraid it would fall on the house. I think I grieved the loss of that tree almost as much as the loss of my father…it was 200 years old, and at least 150 feet high. I remember listening to the branches creaking and swaying in the wind, and though it was a comforting sound. I guess we each interpret our worlds in different ways, based on our experiences and lives to that point. I wish I could find a spot/tree/place like that out here. Colorado is beautiful, but has never felt like home. Walla Walla, WA did, but I doubt I’ll ever get back there.

It’s funny…of all the places I’ve lived, very few have felt like “home,” and none of them were places where I could stay permanently. The places where I’ve ended up settling (Boise, ID and Loveland, CO) don’t feel like home to me. I think that probably says more about me, than it does about the places I’ve lived. If I could live anywhere, it would be near the ocean. Barring that, someplace with history, and trees. Places where you can lose yourself in the beauty, wildness, and growth. Maybe someday…

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror