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How a Trip to Vegas Helped Me Find Myself

In February 2012, I spent a girl’s weekend away in Las Vegas with my two best friends to celebrate the fact that we were each turning 30 that year. Stated like that, it sounds a lot more risqué than it actually was. In reality, one of these two friends was living in neighboring Henderson, NV while attending med school and we went to visit her.

But we did have fun. Three friends together again, catching up, sharing stories and making new memories. The last time the three of us had been together for such a length of time with no kids or no husbands or boyfriends was 11 years ago. It was time. It had been so long since my only job was to make decisions for myself. We got ready to go places in a quarter of the time it usually takes with kids. Except, of course, for when we actually decided to blow dry our hair and put make up on which case it took us twice as long as usual than our everyday mom routine. The weekend was everything I hoped it would be.

But it was a conversation I had on the flight with my friend that rocked my world.

My friend has two boys that are about the same spread in age that my three kids are. So she gets it. She understands the 4 p.m. meltdowns and grocery store temper tantrums. We laughed and marveled at the moms raising the seemingly well-behaved gentle boys. We didn’t get those boys. We got the boys that jump from couches and run laps around our houses.

And then she said it.

“Yes, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I don’t miss working. I love being home with them.”

Hmmm.

Really?

She’s a stay at home mom, with her kids all day long, and there is no place she’d rather be? I love my kids. I absolutely love them with all of my heart and soul, but I also love being at work. I sometimes refer to work as my “day off”. I love the adrenaline I feel when I’m working on a new project. I love sitting in a meeting and brainstorming a new concept. I love spending my day with adults. And when I come home I love being with my kids. But sometimes when I’m home there is somewhere I’d rather be; sometimes I’d rather be at work.

As a mother, thinking that phrase in my head, I was mortified.

How could I possibly believe that? Why couldn’t I just be like my friend? We are alike in so many ways. Why couldn’t we just be alike in this area as well. But we weren’t. No matter how hard I tried to convince myself, I couldn’t agree with her statement.

So when I returned from Vegas I knew I needed to wrestle with that statement more. The conversation with my husband went something like this:

Me: “Hey honey, can we talk a little later?”

Him: “Umm, sure. What’s this about?”

Me: [Bursting into tears] “I don’t really want to talk about it in front of the kids.”

In hindsight, this really wasn’t the best way to open a conversation after returning home from a girls weekend in Vegas. I spent the rest of dinner cryptically assuring my husband that the conversation was not going to be about some breach in my fidelity or my desire to run off to Vegas but instead was about my career goals and motherhood.

There were a lot of tears that night as I tried to explain the thoughts flying through my head. The truth was, I didn’t really know what I was thinking. For three years I struggled and worked really hard to get the hang of the stay at home part of motherhood, but I never could get it to click. I never felt like I fully fit in to that world. And as I tried to explain this to my husband I realized that I still wasn’t sure what I was saying. Did I really want to work full-time? How would we manage everything? We could barely manage household life with me working part-time, how did we expect to manage it with me out of the house for 15 more hours a week? Was I just over reacting to a nice girl’s weekend? Maybe I just needed more weekends like that.

Needless to say I was a mess.

For awhile.

We spent the next few months having hard conversations about new goals and new plans for our family’s future. As I came to settle on the fact that I wanted to work full-time, we wondered if I’d be able to keep my current job or if I’d have to find a new job. Or, if my current job couldn’t accommodate a full-time position, would I be okay staying at a part-time position until they could. There was lots of praying. Lots of asking for strength.

And then things started falling into place.

I talked to my boss and after a bit of working on the budget and staffing structure they were able to accommodate my request to go full-time. In a little over a month, I will make that transition and I can honestly say I can’t wait. Of course it will be a transition for our entire house, but we have all talked about it and there isn’t a single person in this house that I don’t think can handle it.

Last weekend, I returned to Vegas to see my same friend graduate medical school. In addition to celebrating her big day, this trip back was significant for me as well. It was the end of a 15-month journey that lead me along a path to resolve the tension inside of me. I was very excited to go. My husband was terrified. Worried that I might come back with an entirely new perspective and want to become a stay-at-home mom, he reminded me several times before the trip that the decision had been made for me to go full-time and there was little we could do to change that at this point. The good news for him was that I came home with no second wave of a quarter-life crisis.

But on this plane ride I was able to reflect on what I did during those 15-months that changed my trajectory so much.

Speak up.
That first Monday night could have gone very differently. I could have very easily stayed quiet. I could have bottled my emotions and convinced myself that they didn’t matter. I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t. It wasn’t always easy. I was scared and I said things that didn’t always come out the way that I meant for them to come out but if I had never voiced my concerns I could still be where I was 15 months ago, which was not the best place.

Connect with Friends.
Life became busy when the twins were born. The amount of laundry doubled, the dishes tripled and the number of toys, well, I can’t count that high. Between spending time with family and keeping up with household minutia, I had nothing left. By 7 p.m., I was exhausted. When my husband and I did go out, we went out alone for date nights. We lost track of our friends. That’s not to say we stopped all contact entirely, but as most parents can relate, we just didn’t go out as much after we had kids because going out meant finding a babysitter, paying a babysitter and, perhaps most important, losing cherished sleep time. But losing those connections meant losing the relationships that round out your sanity. Your spouse is great, but of course he/she is going to relate to your parenting struggles, he/she has he same kids! I find no greater joy than going to a friend’s house and watching her son have a meltdown in front of me. It sounds horrible, I know, but it assures me that my kid isn’t a lost cause. If her seemingly okay kid can have a meltdown because the fruit snacks are Phineas and Ferb themed and not Batman themed then my kid crying over wearing no underwear with her bathing suit doesn’t seem so bad. The first weekend in Vegas reminded me how much I missed my friends. In the 15-months that have followed that trip, both my husband and I have been blessed to reconnect with old and new friends that help us feel like maybe we aren’t the worst parents in the world.

Ask for Help.
My husband is a great person to talk to. He should be; he’s a pastor. I also have friends that are amazing listeners. As wonderful as the people in my life are, I needed more help than they could give me. There were things I needed help with that went beyond that duties of husband or friend. Things that I needed to be able to work out for myself and not worry about how others would perceive me. For me, I find that it can be easier to talk to a complete stranger than to someone who knows me to the center of my soul. If you have never been to professional counseling, it’s incredible. It’s like going for coffee with someone where you get to talk about yourself for the entire time. Except that you are paying the person to have coffee with you. Or in my case, my insurance company was paying the person to have coffee with me. I know there is a stigma around counseling and I think that’s ridiculous. I know it sounds weird to say “I go to counseling because I struggle with the balance between motherhood and my career goals.” But here is the thing. I do. And before I started going to counseling, I was unhappy. And I didn’t know why. Counseling helped my figure out a lot of things. I think I’m a better mom now. I also think I’m better at my job now. So you can judge me because I couldn’t figure these things out on my own, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I needed help.

So those are my three life lessons from the past 15 months. I won’t lie, I cried a lot of tears this past year. But I also smiled. A lot. I learned how to look for joy again. I discovered I am a lot stronger than I ever thought I was. I connected with friends who helped my crazy days feel not so bad. I also came to know that when my husband stood in a church 8 years ago and made a promise to love and cherish me through good times and hard times he meant it. He has listened to me and supported me and encouraged me every step along the way. I could not have done this without him.

And to every one else who provided love and encouragement, whether you knew what was going on behind the curtain or not, thank you.

 

Seeing the Beauty

My daughter is beautiful.

She has these gorgeous big blue eyes that are the size of sand dollars. Her hair flows like golden thread down her back. When she smiles, the sun shines a little brighter.

When I look at her I see a beautiful princess. There is not a single thing wrong with her. She is perfect.

I take a lot of pictures of her. Mostly because I find her doing adorable things at random moments throughout the day. I often share her adorable moments on Instagram and Facebook. One thing that always catches me off guard are the comments about how much she looks like me. When I look at my daughter, I do not see a little version of me. This is a person I have seen almost every day of her life. When I look at her, I see the girl who once was my baby who is quickly growing into a big girl. I see a few similarities, but I would not say she is a clone of me. I think this is pretty common among parents. I hardly ever talk to a parent who can see the similarities between their children and themselves. Most are like me, they see some traits, but not all of them.

Regardless of what I think, people still tell me that she looks exactly like me all the time. Which means that she hears that she looks like me all the time.

So no matter what I tell her she looks like, she is going to take cues on the value of her appearance based on my opinion of myself. Do you see how confusing that can be for her? I can tell her she is beautiful, but if she hears me degrading my looks, what is she supposed to think? Do I really believe that my critical words about myself will not affect her?

Most mornings, she is standing right next to me, in the bathroom, mirroring my actions as I get ready for work. There we are, the two of us, staring into the mirror getting ready together. Right now, she is four and she wants to be just like me. Sure, she sometimes puts eye shadow on her checks instead of her eyelids, but she is trying her best to be like her mom.

Now imagine, if every morning, as we are getting ready, I am voicing an external dialogue of self-criticism. Or, in an attempt to make sure she knows how beautiful she is, I make remarks about her beautiful hair and my awful hair.

As if only one of us can be beautiful.

This habit of self-criticism teaches my daughter two things. First, it teaches her to look for the negative. Find the flaws. Instead of teaching her to focus on the things about herself that make her beautiful, self-criticism teaches her to focus on what’s wrong with herself. When I tell her how beautiful she is at the expense of my beauty, I am teaching her how to compare her looks to those around her. I’m giving her the words to build sentences like “I wish my stomach was as flat as your stomach” or “Your skin is so much clearer than mine!”

This is not uncommon in girl world. She is bound to come across it, but she is not going to learn it from me. For the rest of her life she’s going to hear “You look just like your mom” when she is around my friends. She might be like me and find that hard to believe (in her teenage years I’m sure I’m the last person she’ll aspire to be like), but at some point she might begin to see the truth behind that statement. She might look into the mirror and see glimpses of me looking back at her. When she find those pieces of me, I hope she will see the beauty in the mirror. I hope she will smile when she sees my smile. I hope her eyes will sparkle when she sees my eyes.

I do not think I am perfect. You will not find me on the cover of a magazine anytime soon; okay let us be honest, ever.

But I believe the best gift I can give my daughter is the ability to look into the mirror, ignore the flaws, and see a beautiful face looking back at her.