Friday, January 17, 2020

A Language of Love

Do you know your love language?

Mine is words of affirmation. Kind, loving words go very far with me, and hurtful words sting more than almost anything else can.

Presents are okay, and I enjoy a good hug, but tell me I'm doing a good job, I'm capable, or I offer something of value to the world, and I will put my chin up and persevere even in the toughest of circumstances. I will stand tall for you or for whoever else needs it.

I've been going through a lot, feeling over-tired and overdrawn. Uncreative, unhealthy, and unproductive in the world. I find myself wondering if I'll ever settle into a groove for 2019, but then I discover it's 2020, so the answer is likely no. Sleep eludes me with a mashup of menopause, preschool parenting, and middle of the night worries about how my daughter is adjusting to college.

I wonder why I never bothered to set any goals, personally or professionally, and just coasted until somehow waking up at 50 feeling like life has been a series of reactions versus actions. I ponder if I only have 30 or 20 or 2 years left, whether I'll be satisfied that most days all I looked forward to was a big bowl of popcorn and a Netflix binge. Is this my offering to the world, during this one life? Morning comes too soon or not soon enough.

Andrew is in a stage where he wants all of me, all the time.

At my age, I never would have imagined being needed in this intense way again, and the adjustment has been steep. He is adamantly opposed to all things Tim right now, through no fault of Tim's. He is just taking the whole Oedipus thing about as far as a 3 year old possibly can. The other night he told me he hoped there were two heavens, so he and I could go to one, and Daddy could go to the other. Harsh. It seems this little guy wants to go to great lengths to let me know I'm his number one. I tell him he can love both Daddy and me. That there is enough love to go around. There's enough of all of us to go around.

Although it doesn't always feel like that way, because we are spent.

As winter darkness sets in early, making it feel much later, it's easy to just gather up some of the parenting pieces that have been Tim's terrain, such as the final tuck-in, or reading the last book, if it means a happy boy not getting all worked up right at bedtime. After all, we know this is a phase to ride out; we've been down these roads before. Just as Tim didn't have to sleep on the floor next to Margaret's bed forever like he did when she was two, this too shall pass. In fact, I know that was time well spent, because even at age 18, home from college, she'll still sometimes climb onto his lap. He's a stiff person, and she's a prickly one, but they still connect in this way.

So instead of Tim doing the tuck-in, I started doing it. Then we moved to having me sit in the big blue recliner after tuck-in just so he'd know I was near. Then it morphed into extended snuggle-time in bed. It helps him fall asleep more quickly, and it yields sweet conversation. But, oh, how I resisted because I knew he'd be back in our bed again in just a few hours, and wasn't this a lot of rigamarole to go through for just about 4 hours of separation? With the clock ticking on my precious hours of alone time?

I decided to try to reframe this when I saw a friend with four kids had put a small sticker on her car that read, "I get to do this." She uses it to remind herself that the hours upon hours in the car being present with her kids is special time-- away from screens and homework. A lot of good connecting happens then, even though it's not easy.

This connecting time been good for Andrew and me too, because it is a sinking into togetherness, rather than my pulling away, hiding in the bathroom with my phone and a piece of chocolate while he clambers to find me.

He feels it and I feel it.

But back to love languages. Tim has rarely been one to lift me up through words. Remember during premarital counseling when we wrote down our needs and I wrote, "I want to be told I'm pretty sometimes"? Even more than 25 years ago, I knew we had a disconnect on this issue. His view was that if we were getting married, I could assume he thought I was kind of neat, so what was the big deal? Even in the eyes of young love, which is blind to so many mismatches, I wanted to articulate a need, which went well beyond my looks and was more about affirming me as a person worthy of notice.

Over the years there have been a few stilted, "You. look. very. nice. in. that dress"  or "good job" comments, but not many. Yes, I knew I could have married someone who grabbed my butt and said, "Hey, Hot Mama!" but that's not the guy I fell in love with. I knew it going in. But to hit 50, with a butt that is far less grab-able or remarkable than ever before, and cosmic questions about your place in the world, it's possible to yearn to know that you take up space and are seen. Perhaps because I am a writer and a speaker, words help do that for me.

Margaret has long been more likely to speak to me with criticism than love or affection, even though I know she loves me. My role as a safe spot to land since Jack's death has meant my putting on protective layers so the harsh stuff can slide off.

Stiff and Prickly, remember?

Jack was the one who would tilt his head to the side say with a wry smile, "Aww... I love you!" It was usually after I'd said something clever, or vulnerable or goofy, and it made me feel close to him. Like he got a kick out of me, and as if there was a whole lot of LIKE wrapped in with the LOVE.

I've missed those words that poured out unbidden. Unstrained. Not trying to check a box on Anna's wants and needs list. I know Jack still loves me as I do him. Our love never had a chance to get to the stage where perhaps it would have been uncool to tell your mom how much you loved her. I know if I quiet myself, I can still hear him whisper "I love you" into my soul. I can see his love in the two bluejays at my feeder right now, and in the sweet but hazy memories that come to me in flashes, every single day.

But what does any of this have to do with Andrew, and sleep, and snuggling? Once I began to reframe this new nighttime routine, realizing that it is a sweet and temporary privilege, I've been able to not only sink into his twin bed giving him something he craves, but also sink into the love he gives me freely. "I love you SO SO much!" he beams, touching my face. "Oh, I just LOVE you!" "I love you and want to keep you forever!" These words affirm and fill me up after a long day at a challenging time of life.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think our kids are here to meet our needs. Nope. That is far too much to put on a child. It isn't healthy and it isn't fair.

But I do think that God knows that my soul has been parched for affirmation. That my world has grown smaller the past few years as career and accomplishments and even maintaining friendships have been overshadowed by the ever-present need of caring for a small child again.

He surely knows that the middle of the night doubts about what I've offered the world, and whether I'll have the stamina to do what's before me, can somehow be soothed by having a child, this child, who tells me, again and again, that I am beloved.

And I'm grateful.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Not Color-Blind

Today our dog Charlie barked to go out, and when I opened the slider, he took off across our narrow back yard. I looked up and saw in the yard behind us a young man in a hoodie, likely mid-20's, hand money to another in his late teens, wearing baggy clothes and hoodie. They were in plain view of the windows where Andrew and I were hanging out, but they stood awkwardly behind the garage of the other house, where there were no windows or doors. The second young man, son of a caregiver of my elderly neighbor, counted the money, pocketed it, and turned to go back into the house.

My immediate thought was they were up to no good. Was it a drug deal? I felt concern that I'd have to tell his mother and that would be an uncomfortable conversation. Of course, I had no proof that it was a drug deal, just concern that they were standing in a weird place in the yard beyond prying eyes-- except for my own, of course.

Then, both young men looked up and saw me. Our eyes met, and something shifted. I felt something that went beyond the previous awkwardness and discomfort. Fear? Yes, it felt like fear. In less than a second, I'd switched from maternal concern for the second young man to fear.

I am sharing this with you as I explore my own feelings and reactions. It is not flattering to me, but it's real. You see, both young men were Latino.

Had I witnessed a drug deal? Was the older guy in some Central American gang? I was safe inside my house, but the fear sprang up from thinking I'd put my family in the middle of something dangerous when they looked at me.

What flashed through my mind stemmed from what I see on tv and read online and assumptions and prejudices I didn't even know I had.



This is why when someone says, "I don't see color" or "I don't see race" I don't believe it. We all see color. We all see race, whether we admit it or not. What we see may sends different messages to each of us, based what we read and hear and experience, but we see it for sure.

My other neighbor across the street has sons the same age as the young man/boy next door (Wow,  how much more likely am I to say "boy" when it comes to the neighbor I know better and "man" when it comes to the one I don't???) If I saw my neighbor Luke receive money off to the side of his house in a similar fashion, I'd probably text his mom about it, not worried I'd somehow get caught up in some MS-13 situation. Never once thinking I'd possibly be in personal danger.

This entire scene transpired in a matter of seconds. And it brought into shocking relief my own bias. It helped me better understand how dangerous it is for brown and black sons in our country to be out doing normal things because of visceral, knee-jerk reactions from people like me. Knee-jerk reactions from law enforcement.

Normal things like hanging out with their friends. Eating in restaurants. Applying for jobs. Driving.

And yes, selling the family trampoline.

I watched the first young man head to his car, get a ladder and tools, and start to disassemble the trampoline he'd just purchased for his family.

I got to spend the next two hours looking out my back windows, thinking about race and my own assumptions. And thinking about how when people of color tell me what what it is like to face racism, it is my job to listen and believe. Not to try to make excuses. Not to deny or diminish their experiences because I want to paint a picture of the world I want to live in, not the world as it is. Not to claim to not see color, but to admit that we live in a world that DOES see color. To admit that I make mistakes, and that those mistakes are painful to those I hurt, even if they never even find out about it.

The trampoline is gone now, but I will not forget today.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Happy Holidays!

We celebrated early this year because we will be traveling for the next week (follow me on Instagram @annawhistondonaldson for trip pics!)

It is fun to put out cookies for Santa again and see it all through the eyes of a child, although I must admit it has been a while since I've had a kid who thinks Santa does EVERYTHING. I'm like, "Hello, where's the Mom-credit? That toy is from Santa, but that game, hat and book are from moi!" Nope, according to Andrew, it's all Santa.

My favorite part was having an indoor snowball fight with all of us, including my grown nephew who was visiting, and spending the majority of the day in pj's. My days are all mixed up now, because "Fake Christmas on the 22nd" really felt like Christmas! An unexpected benefit of Fake Christmas was being able to find a Mexican restaurant that was open when we got a hankering for queso.

Here are some photos from the past few days.

Sending you love and light this week, whether your holidays are full of joy, sadness, or a mixture of both.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Love Never Dies

Last night when many of my dear friends were lighting candles on Worldwide Candlelighting Day in honor of their precious children who ran ahead to heaven, I was sitting in the Michaels parking lot bracing myself for the crowds inside. Andrew loved the red, gold and silver jumbo ornaments I bought last week to hang in our Dogwood tree, but he was hoping for some green ones, so back to the store I went. When I realized I had missed lighting a candle, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled, because I know that we cannot disappoint our loved ones in Heaven. Their response to us is Love, pure LOVE. 

My candle is lit now, as I type and look at the winter rain outside my window. 

Lighting a candle is a beautiful way to slow down and honor them and to say, "You are loved, you are missed, you are never forgotten." Braving the crowds at Michaels is a way of saying, "I'm still standing, I'm still trying, your little brother really loves Christmas." Both are valid, and both are beautiful. Isn't it wonderful to know our loved ones are cheering us on in the quiet, reflective moments and the hectic ones too?

Love never dies.

Fabletics Offer! 2 Pairs of Leggings for $24

Last-minute shopping hint:

Here's the offer for 2 pairs of leggings for $24 that I just talked about on Facebook!

If you are looking for gorgeous, high-quality leggings and athletic wear that does not break the bank like certain brands, I highly recommend Fabletics. My daughter Margaret signed up as a VIP member and got 5 pairs of great leggings for less than one pair of the pricey ones she used to wear.

She is SO PICKY, but she is THRILLED with these leggings.

This is a limited time offer for new VIP customers only: 2 Pairs of Leggings for just $24! You can cancel your VIP membership right away after you get your first order (easy 24 hour phone number to cancel anytime), or you can choose to have them send you more leggings. If you don't want leggings a certain month, you just tell them to skip it.

Margaret ordered hers in September and has skipped each month since. She won't order again until sometime in the spring, but she will still be able to get the great VIP member prices.

If you decide to order, please use my link so that I will receive referral credit to help fund Margaret's clothing habit this website's hosting fees.


Thursday, November 21, 2019

Children's Grief Awareness Day: How to Help a Grieving Child

Here are ways to help support a grieving child in your life: 

1. Take them out for a fun activity to give them a break from the home. This works best if you are ALREADY close to the child, so they feel safe and trust you. Help the child know that having fun is ok, and all feelings are welcome!

2. Help them memorialize the one they love by doing a craft together: making a photo album, a stepping stone, or a pillow with significant symbols, words, etc.

3. Bring up their loved one, again and again, even when it seems as if everyone has gone back to normal. Share memories and photos you have of their loved one.

4. Give a meaningful gift such as a bracelet, necklace, or pocket token that can be an everyday reminder of the one they love. You can get it personalized with a name, photo, birthstone, or even handwriting.

5. Buy a book or journal. A Hug from Heaven (Mascot Books, Amazon, Barnes and NobleTarget online and Walmart online) is a love letter from the point of view of the person who died. There is space in the back for photos or journaling. The Invisible String is not a grief book, but it gently shows we are always connected!

6.  Provide resources to the child’s caregivers. Rather than asking, “Is Sophia in counseling?” which can seem overwhelming and even judgy, try: “I’ve asked around and found 3 grief counselors in your area. If you are interested, I’m happy to call and make an appointment for you, and if Sophia is comfortable with me, I’m happy to take her.” “I’ve researched grief camps and am happy to help register Sophia for you if you are interested. This is an open-ended offer, so I’m happy to follow-up with you later if you think that would be better, or never bring it up again.”

7.  Remember significant dates and reach out: birthdays, death days, and major (and minor) holidays: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween. If you are not in the nuclear family, ask if the child and family would like to be included in your family’s traditions. 

8. Meet physical needs such as back to school shopping, and taking the child to church, if the primary caregivers are having trouble doing it. Ask first.

9. Be a shining light. If you experienced early loss, show them by example there is hope for a great life ahead. 

10. Answer questions honestly, using age appropriate language. Ask if the child has any questions about the loved one’s death. 
💙No matter what you choose to do, you will help the child know he or she is important! 💙

I’m sure there are many other suggestions! Please add yours in the comments.

This post may contain affiliate links 

Monday, November 18, 2019

College Students and Depression: Resources and IMPORTANT SURVEY FOR YOU

This is a sponsored post.

Sending a child off to college for the first time has been a learning experience! Sure we miss her, but it has been great to be more hands-off and to start developing an adult relationship with our daughter. I am so proud of her for everything she has figured out on her own so far. We got to see her one Sunday to go apple picking and we'll see her again soon for the holidays. 

I can't think of another life-stage with as much rapid-fire change as the beginning of college, from deciding where and when to eat, navigating a campus, living with strangers, doing schoolwork without your parents breathing down your neck, deciding how much partying is too much, making friends, and managing one's time. It's startling, really. And with all of the happy posts on social media, you can get the impression that you are the only one experiencing any struggles adjusting. Ugh. That's just one more reason to be glad there wasn't social media when I was in college! 

You may remember that I teamed up with Med-IQ to help generate awareness and education around teen depression and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals. 

Like our daughter, other college students are figuring out how to "Adult" for the first time in their lives, and parents are figuring out how to be supportive without micromanaging. It sure is nice not to know how much (or how little) sleep she's getting or how much Netflix she watches, but being several hours away and communicating only through text and the occasional FaceTime, means we can't really know how she's doing like we would if she were home. Like other parents, I've found myself wondering: is what I'm hearing discomfort at starting something new, is it homesickness, or could it be more serious?

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, and winter break shortly thereafter, NOW is an excellent time for parents of college students to check-in and see how your student is coping emotionally. 

If your college student's campus is anything like my daughter's, there has likely been tons of illness and germs going around-- kind of like the preschool petri dish all over again! Talking about staying well on campus could lead easily into asking if your student knows what the campus offers for mental health wellness, and how your student has been feeling about his or her mental health. 

If you're still having trouble broaching mental health with your teen, remember there are great online tools that can spark conversation.

I shared a quick mental health assessment tool with Margaret and her friends before school started, shared it on this blog earlier, and even took it myself several weeks ago when I wanted to know if the MAJOR FUNK I found myself in as I stared down a milestone birthday close on the heels of the most eternally long, infernally hot summer on record was something to worry about. It's great to share with your student as a way to check-in. 

Other online tools such as this excellent College Guide put out by the National Alliance of Mental Illness can spark dialogue between you and your teen. 

The holidays also provide an excellent time to discuss what an "every day problem" is versus a mental health issue. Just the nature of starting something new means there are many problems to navigate! In discussing the problems they've faced first semester, you can help your student label something an everyday problem (such as a roommate struggle) versus a mental health issue. This is not to diminish the problems these kids face, but rather to help give them tools to evaluate them so they will know if they are in a crisis

Statistics tell us that depression and anxiety are rampant on college campuses, and that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for this age group. It's disheartening and can be scary. For them. For us. 

The promising news is that I've heard from several friends whose children, in the first month of college, sought guidance and help from their respective college counseling centers! That is a huge WIN because that means that kids really are getting the message that mental health is as important as physical health. They know where the student health centers are, so why not the counseling centers? Many of our kids already see the value of getting a "check-up from the neck up!" Let's not shy away from bringing up the topic of mental health with all college kids this Thanksgiving and winter break. 

Information is power. We know that talking about depression and suicide does not cause depression and suicide. 

Let's not lose heart. Let's stay tuned in. Let's keep learning. Let's keep talking. 

Important:Med-IQ is conducting an anonymous survey and would appreciate your input. The survey, which includes additional education on this topic, will take less than 15 minutes (more like 5!) to complete. Survey responses are shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about your experiences with depression and mental health in your college-age child which will help us develop future educational initiatives. Please take the SURVEY HERE.

Once you’ve completed the survey you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 10 $100 Visa cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will not be sold, kept, or stored; email addresses are used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize. 

I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc and Lundbeck to write about depression in college-aged students. All opinions are my own.

Links to external sites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice, nor are they endorsements of any organization. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of any external site. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.