Dinosaur Mama

Dinosaur Mama

Dinosaur Mama

The marks etched into the desert landscape as viewed from my seat on the plane look as though a mama dinosaur had one too many sibling dino fights; stomping and dragging her foot back toward her body.

“He’s the only reptile brother you’re ever going to have.”

In the wake of her stomp and drag, the shape and roll, the imprint of the Earth forever changed. Like when I am rooting through my closet, on my knees and sweating, looking for my other gray shoe in a sea of shoes that aren’t gray, and I hear one more time…

“Mom?”

I mistake the voice, one brother for the other. I’ve just sent the older one back to bed after he asked me eleven questions about California, airplane safety, earthquakes, tectonic plates, tsunamis, and Disneyland versus Disney World.

I am bone tired; I physically ache after three nights of insomnia brought on by who knows what. I parented alone all day as my husband sat with his grandmother at the hospital while his grandfather had yet another heart cath after what I count as his third heart attack since I joined the family. We launched big news at work that will hopefully help moms for decades to come. I smashed my iPhone to smithereens on the garage floor while running a quick errand. I made tacos for dinner—and didn’t have enough taco shells for myself. I ate a bowl of beans while the boys left half of their taco shells on their plates, slobbered on and uneaten. The dog ate half a Gymbuck I earned buying the boys overpriced Easter clothes the day before because I realized, too late, that I wouldn’t get home until the evening on the day before Easter. When I yelled at the dog, she peed on the floor.

I was tired. So I snapped.

“What? I thought I sent you to bed.” I didn’t even turn around at first.

But I immediately regretted my tone. I get stressed before I travel, but I hate taking that tone at any time for any reason with my sons. It feels gross.

I felt even worse when I turned and saw not our older son who had, yes, gone back to bed, but our younger son, clad in dark green fleece pajamas adorned with sock monkeys. His face crumpled in the way only his face crumples, in the way that breaks everything within you.

“I finished reading and I just wanted to say goodnight.”

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Shit.

This is a truth of my motherhood. My anxiety will creep up and up for whatever reason—work, busy life, fire life, homework, family, travel—and it spills out and over onto these ones I’ve been charged with care. I pulled him into my arms and apologized, asking if he wanted me to tuck him into bed. Again. He nodded. And sniffled.

I shuffled him down the hallway, scooched his butt into his bed, and pulled the covers up to his chin. His face remained crumpled.

“I’m. Going. To. Miss. You. So. Much. You. Never. Leave.” Sobbing. Snot. Tears. Arms around my neck. I held him close, a bit flabbergasted.

“It’s okay, Boo. Amanda will be here for one day and daddy the next two days and then a special day with Nina. We can text and FaceTime a lot.” I brushed his quickly growing hair out of his face, wiping tears that snaked down his soft cheeks.

I haven’t gone anywhere for work in over a year. I’ve been at home, firmly planted in close proximity to them at all times. I made choices that kept me in our shared space for specific reasons, just as I made choices to start a new job that will occasionally take me from my babies for specific reasons.

The boys know I “help mamas,” but they don’t quite understand what I do beyond that general description. They’ve heard me mention mental health, but they don’t get what my work does for others’ mental health. They know I’m on the computer and the phone a lot during the day and that I have more time in the evenings than I used to. They know I seem happier, less prone to bouts of anger or irritation, like the one LittleBrother just witnessed. But they don’t yet have an understanding of the endless work of those within the non-profit sector. They don’t get mental health stigma and the fight we have as a team to get people to take us, to take our suffering moms, seriously. While they know I take medication to make my brain work properly, they don’t understand that without I quite likely wouldn’t be here, with them; alive.

It’s interesting to be here in San Jose for the NTEN Non-Profit Technology Conference. Nearly two years ago I stood on the Grand Ballroom Stage at the San Jose Convention Center and read my Voices of the Year piece to a room full of BlogHer attendees. I stood on that stage and I talked about understanding suicide, about having been on that same proverbial bridge, of being so glad I was far from it. People called me brave for sharing my truth. I didn’t yet know that my mental health was crumbling around me, that within three months, I’d be in the hospital for getting too close to that bridge that really is any freaking bridge. That rock bottom was so very close. I couldn’t see it.

Jenna Hatfield, Voices of the Year 2014

And I didn’t know I’d be walking through the same convention hall, nearly two years later, learning as much as I can so I can help support moms dealing with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders in the best ways possible. I couldn’t see this was coming either. Maybe it would have made rock bottom easier. I’ll never know.

What I do know is that doing important work for moms makes the time spent away from my sons feel tolerable. Maybe instead, the big hole I saw from the sky wasn’t that of a mama dinosaur, tired and fed up with another day of parenting. Maybe the lines in the Earth symbolize the way our little dinosaurs step into our hearts, our lives, our souls and forever change who we are, how we see the world, and the ways in which we want to make it better for their generation.

Either way, I miss those little, loud-footed boys of mine right now. This is working motherhood; this is warrior motherhood.

 

The Land of Nod, design for kids and people that used to be kids

A Brief(ish) Word on my Voices of the Year Reading

You Are Enough

Standing on stage, reading those words, is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done.

My Voices of the Year Piece

Ever.

I mean, I acknowledge it’s a well-written piece, one I am immensely proud of having written, having pressed published, having shared, having submitted for VOTY, having won.

But.

Sending the girl with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and bouts of depression up on stage to talk about suicide seems like a recipe for disaster. Because I would rather talk about anything that suicide. I would rather talk about menstrual cycles and puberty with boys and Calculus and the weird orange mold spores that grew on our back deck than stand in front of a group of my peers and colleagues and talk about the things I struggle with mental health wise. To talk about the times I’ve felt worthless and hopeless. To talk about the times I wanted to die.

On Stage

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But there’s a reason it wasn’t my happy posts that were picked. Not a piece about mothering the heck out of my beloved boys. Not a piece about the grief and loss that come with being a birth mother involved in an open adoption. Not a piece about writing or running or marriage or love or anything in between.

It was this piece.

Because it needs to be read. Out loud. We need to talk about the bridge that is any bridge, the space that is any space, those feelings that we’re told to keep quiet, keep silent, keep hidden. When I arrived at the Grand Ballroom, nearly in tears and having been sick with nerves for an hour and a half prior, Elisa Camahort Page took me aside and told me that my piece, well-written, had been picked because just as people needed to read it, people needed to hear it. Out loud. And then I tried not to cry some more.

And so it is my honor to have stood before you and shared those words with you tonight. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your tweets, your photos, your Facebook statuses. Thank you for coming up to me and saying, “Well done.” But mostly, thank you for sharing your stories. We are not alone in this. We are never alone in this.

With My Piece

It is also my duty to tell you that if you are struggling with suicidal feelings, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone. And, like we’ve seen plastered on our mirrors here this week: YOU ARE ENOUGH.

You Are Enough

 

How to Craft the Best Blog Post Ever

Writing Old School

This morning I clicked through some shared blog links, my feed reader, and the Internet at large. I saw a number of posts dedicated to the topic of blogging itself, which isn’t shocking as BlogHer ’14 kicks off next week. I read these posts with interest, but have my own list of ways to craft the best blog post ever I’d like to share with you.

Like to hear it? Here it goes.

1. Write your heart out.

2. Press publish.

Ta-da! You win!

You can write it sitting down at a computer, standing up on your phone while waiting in line at Starbucks for your latte fix, on the train commuting to your job while balancing your iPad on your lap, dictated through an app on your phone or to your kid who types faster than you. You can even write it on paper, kick it old school with a journal and a pen and a lake and the sunset; type it into your blog later, when you have time, energy, space removed from the immediacy of whatever it was you needed to write right then, in that moment.

Writing Old School

You can put a picture on it. If you do, it can be a fancy pants picture you took with your DSLR, full of shiny bokeh and perfect focus. It could be a snap from your smartphone. It could be filtered within an inch of its life. It could have text on it. Or you could simply not put a photo on your post. The world will not end. Your words don’t matter less if you do not include a photo on your post. “They” say that posts with photos are shared more. I say that good writing is good writing is good writing. True facts.

You could share it. On Twitter or your personal Facebook page or your Facebook Fan page or Google+ or Pinterest or StumbleUpon. Or you could just let people find it, relate to it, and share it at will. Or you could do some combination thereof. Or nothing. It doesn’t matter.

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Because crafting the perfect blog post has less to do with views and shares and potential for going viral and more with writing what you want to write at the time you want to write it. Too often, and more so in recent years as we’ve become hyper-focused on making sure other people want to share our posts instead of simply reading our words and relating, we censor ourselves. Or we forget to tell our story and instead blather on about things that matter very little to us in the end. Or we completely lose track of why we started blogging in the first place. Not to say your reasons can’t change, but our voices have changed over the years and a lot of that can be attributed to people telling us what success in blogging means, what it means to be a “good” blogger, what it means to be listed or not.

Remember when we came to our spaces and blathered and pressed submit and didn’t think twice about if it was retweeted or shared eleventy times? Remember when pressing submit on a post you poured your heart into—the very essence of your soul—left you feeling accomplished and proud of yourself, proud of the work you put into your own virtual space? Remember when telling your story meant something to you?

I’ve been working for the past few years on reclaiming that for myself. Last year at BlogHer, I spoke on a panel with three smart women, talking about brands, branding, success, and what it all means to us. We had different experiences, opinions, and processes. I keep coming back to my statement that pressing publish is enough success for me. I’ve written some hard stuff over the past year. I’ve also written about my running journey and sometimes neglected to share with regularity for fear that others might find it boring or trivial or not in “line with my brand.” Then I remembered that I’m not a brand, that I’m a human being and running is part of my story. So is losing my grandmother, watching these brothers figure out brotherhood together, the way I’ve learned to dress myself and this body of mine over the years, my struggles with anxiety and mental health, and everything else I’ve taken time and heart and energy to tippity-tap type out into this space, press publish, and send out into the world.

I recognize that I say this from a complete place of blogging privilege. I’ll walk across a stage in San Jose on Friday night and read a post* at the 7th Annual Voices and Photos of the Year Community Keynote in front of a room full of people I know and love, people I’ve read, people I’ve never read, people who don’t really like me, people who don’t know I exist. I’ll read a post that ranks as one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written. Pressing publish on that post, putting it out into the greater space and showing that part of myself marked a success in so many ways. Instead of hiding, I pressed publish. Instead of censoring myself and being brand friendly, I pressed publish. Instead of letting someone else tackle it, I pressed publish—because it was my story. I’ll be recognized for the success of pressing publish. I get the privilege I have in saying, “Oh, pressing publish is success enough.”

But if I hadn’t been pressing publish for years and years and years and gotten back to a place where pressing publish was enough for me—more than enough for me—I never, ever would have written that post, shared my truth, and sent it out there for others to read, to relate to, to share. It simply wouldn’t have happened.

And so, keep writing your hard out and keep pressing publish. You are successful every single time you do so. True facts.

 

*=Voices of the Year readers have been instructed not to share which post they are reading on the stage until that night. I will have a post that goes live that night so those who cannot attend BlogHer ’14 can re-read what I wrote. Rumor has it there will eventually be video of the Community Keynote as well. Here’s hoping I don’t biff it in my brand new (epic) shoes.