No, not that wall. The Wall. The one you eventually hit when you’re a creator. Or a parent. Or just adulting.
Sometimes you hit it in one part of your life and then it spreads to the others. Then it’s The WALL.
Maybe it’s the phase of the moon, or the season, or one of those seven-year cycles, but recently it feels like I know too many people up against The Wall. Family members who have lost jobs. Friends who have been betrayed by those they love. Creators who haven’t met with the success on which they pegged so many dreams. And at the start of the new school year, so many lovely people who are starting new phases of their lives and are just overwhelmed by the changes, even when many of those changes are good.
I’ll admit it: I’m one of those people.
Last week, I hit my writing Wall.[i] Rejection played a big part: I did okay with the first 20 rejections for my Middle Grade manuscript, but numbers 21 & 22 did me in. I stared at my query letter, unable to tell any longer if it needs more tweaking or just to be set aflame. I thought about whether I needed to rewrite the first chapter, or scrap it entirely. I considered whether I should turn my attention to something else for a while, and realized I didn’t even have the wherewithal to figure out a way forward on the half-dozen or so works-in-progress that linger as perpetually open tabs on my desktop and that physically clutter my office. I tried to go back to my writing goals for the year, to find a way to progress out of my funk only to realize with a distant horror I didn’t want to do any of the things necessary to move forward with any of my goals.
I felt totally, utterly defeated in a way I haven’t since I last took a microeconomics exam.
Anyone else been there? Lately? Then you know how easily it can become cyclical. You feel drained. You want to do nothing. So nothing is what you do. But, as it turns out, nothing doesn’t help.
Cara Martinisi is a writer, advocate, certified grief counselor, and mom to three little boys, one in heaven and two on Earth. She lost her 6-year-old son in a tragic accident in 2014. She blogs about her journey, sharing with others the beauty and wisdom she and her family have found in the pain they experience. Visit her blog at Christian’s Red Balloon and her new foundation Love From Heaven to support grieving families. You can also connect on Twitter at Grief’s Guiding Light @lightofgrief.
Cara, you have a beautiful blog about dealing with the loss of a child, and you’ve published other articles in a variety of blogs (including this one) besides. What is it like trying to capture your experience, your emotions, in words?
Self-expression in words has always come easy to me. In fact many times, I find myself narrating situations in my own head as they are unfolding. The physical act of writing is soothing. I love the way pen and pencil feel on paper. As my emotions leave my body and the pen glides along the page, a certain sense of calm overcomes me.
There are some emotions that are more difficult than others to put into words. When I have trouble finding words that fit my emotions, I turn to meditation. Often this works, but not always.
After Christian passed away, my ability to read was gone. The concentration and focus needed to delve into books had vanished. It pained me. It was over a year before I could pick up a book again. Now I read even more ferociously than before. The more I read, the more I am able to express myself. Reading, all different kinds of texts, has proven to be a wonderful compliment to my writing.
Were you a writer before 2014, or did the need to write arise out of your experiences?
I have always considered myself a writer. English was my favorite subject in high school and my major in college. While many students bemoan paper writing, I enjoyed it. My confidence never paved the way for me to believe that I was good enough to do much more than write school papers. Although I was employed as a Deputy Managing Editor at The Economist, it felt as though it was more my attention to punctuation and detail that landed me my job.
After we lost Christian, writing was my way to carry on his memory. I would post a photograph, accompanied with a blurb about him, each day. At one time photography was a large creative outlet for me. That outlet seems to have dimmed since losing Christian, while writing is taking center stage now.
Grief is a powerful emotion. Does it serve as a motivator or demotivator for you?
Grief is an intensely powerful emotion. Most of the time it serves as a motivator for me. Many blog posts are derived from my own real time emotions surrounding grief. It truly helps me to keep the blog flowing, as emotions are always flowing. Grief will always be a part of me. With time and growth, my relationship to it changes, but it will always be there.
There are days, and sometimes more than one strung together, when grief is a demotivator. When these dark days descend upon me, fewer than in the past thankfully, it is difficult to do anything that brings joy. There are times when focusing is difficult. Eventually the fog lifts and I find myself returning to writing.
What did you hope to achieve when you started the blog, Christian’s Red Balloon?
My goals have always centered around helping others. It is all about healing. The hope has been to help others heal as well as to continue walking my own healing journey. I have received messages from grieving parents, those who have experienced grief in the past, as well as people who have just walked through tough times telling me that my writing is relate-able and helpful. While I am aware that my blog speaks most poignantly to grieving parents, I am also aware that none of us escape the world without running into some trouble.
It has been over a year that I have been writing my blog and it has become abundantly clear that a strong message is hope. Hope for those grieving, hope for those who are sick, hope for those who are experiencing tough times. We cannot control what comes our way in life, only our reactions. We need to move through the pain, the troubles that arise, and find light. For that is the only way to live again after you have been burned by the fire.
I went out on a date with my husband this weekend to a Live/Counting Crows concert. The music was great – I hadn’t been to an outdoor rock concert in almost twenty years. We hired a sitter who we’ve had over before, but not regularly. She’s super competent and the kids love her, so I walked away without batting an eye. As I was chilling at the concert, it occurred to me that I’ve lost that guilt of leaving the kids. And I remembered the time when it was a very stressful, concerned feeling to walk out the door. The time when it felt impossible to have everything ready for the kids and to get myself ready and to actually walk out without someone having a fit. So, I reflected on that time and have some random thoughts below.
I was in MOPS for a long time (Mothers of Preschoolers) and now I’m in MomsNext, which is for moms with kids elementary-aged through high school. Each table had a mentor mom – a women who had kids in college or older. I remember the mentor moms in MOPS encouraging us young moms to get away without our kids. To keep dating our husbands. And I could see their point. Yes, I desperately wanted to wear something that wasn’t stained with markers or boogers. Yes, I wanted to go out and have a conversation with my husband. But how? The logistics of it were exhausting to even think about.
When you have the littles, budgets can be tight and babysitters can be scarce. And no matter how much you want to make plans to get out, you usually just end up falling asleep on the couch surrounded by toys that make too much noise. And then the next day starts it all over again!
Instead of a couple, you and your husband become a team – dividing chores and supervision of the spawn – which is cool. It’s good to work as a team, but there’s always this danger of slipping into co-workers or co-habitants. You can become two people living under the same roof, coordinating schedules and tag-teaming domestic disaster management.
Which can all work really well in the moment, except one day, sooner than you can imagine, the kids are going to grow up and move out and you are going to wake up next to a stranger. And yes, you and said stranger will have achieved this huge accomplishment of raising little people into, hopefully, contributing members of society. But just as becoming parents can feel like a loss of identity as a couple or as a professional, there will be a loss/change of identity when the kids move out. Your lives won’t be defined by doctors’ appointments and team schedules. Grocery shopping for a ravenous teen army will become dinner for two again. And if you haven’t invested in your relationship with each other during the parenting years, you’ll be starting over.
Motherhood—and parenthood in general—is hard. Period. End of story. I know this isn’t rocket science. We have read countless books, articles, blogs, and websites that say this. In this 24-7 unpaid career (I am referring to financial payment, not the payment we get in wet kisses and too tight hugs), we put our families first—first comes our children then our significant others. In last place, we put ourselves; but only if we have enough energy, time, or even willpower.
I have said to my husband regularly, and unfortunately to myself, “I can’t go to the gym because Little One needs dinner.” Or “LO won’t let me out of her sight. How can I go for a manicure/see friends/take a walk around the neighborhood?” Yup, these are common statements for the last two years. Much of it has to do with not trusting my husband with our child (which is my fault); but as parents—and specifically as a mother—it is engrained that we come last to the needs of everyone else.
But I’m here to tell you that taking care of yourself is more important. Without having a healthy you—physically, spiritually and emotionally—you don’t have a healthy family. Period. We all need to make time for ourselves. And believe me, this is so difficult, which is why I’m holding up a mirror as I write this. The fancy-dancy term for this is “recharging your batteries.”
As I have written previously, I live in the United Kingdom due to my spouse’s civilian job with the Department of Defense. The most challenging part of this life is the lack of family, friends or mom’s group to rely on to give me a hand, especially when I need just an hour to myself.
Last summer I was lucky to find that our military base had a daycare spot available for the summer. (As background, children at this daycare are enrolled full time and parents are charged for it. However, if an enrolled child goes on vacation, their spot can be made available for others to rent.) My husband and I jumped at the opportunity.
Before I continue, let me address the elephant in the room. Yes, I am a stay-at-home-mum and yes, my husband and I put our child in daycare for the summer. As a woman who chose to give up her professional career and is part of the United States military life overseas, I am seen as my “husbands’s wife” or “LO’s mother”—nothing more. When our family followed my husband’s career overseas, I gave up my professional identity to being a full-time-mum, a job I love but it is just not all of who I am. There is more to me than being a mum.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had three friends talk with me about caring for their aging parents or in-laws. None of their situations are exactly the same. One friend is trying to help her widowed mom move out of their family home, but her mom seems to be dragging her feet – for about two years. Another friend wants to help her parents make a decision and take action toward downsizing, but her parents can’t make up their minds. And another friend has in-laws in a different stage – they can no longer care for themselves. She and her husband are looking at the prospect of his parents moving in with them and considering what strains that would put on their marriage and family.
Ick. Ugh. Sigh. I felt like I should have cogent advice, but mostly I just empathized. My mother was ill for years with a lengthy list of physical and mental ailments. I spent the summer before she died in my old minivan with my three kids (ages 11, 5, and 3) and unreliable air conditioning. We were either dropping her off at the hospital, picking her up from the hospital, or running to the store to pick up her prescriptions. And we didn’t have one of those drop-down TV’s in the car, so we had to rely on good ol’ fashioned arguing and whining to entertain ourselves.
At the same time I was caring for her, I was getting one son fitted for a hearing aid and trying to figure out how to help a son who I’d eventually learn has sensory processing issues. The youngest had very little concern for his own safety and well-being, so parking lots (when we went to the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions) were like playing a game of Frogger with our lives. The term for this happy place, this place of caring for parents and your own young children at the same time, is the Sandwich Generation and it was coined by Dorothy Miller and Elaine Brody in 1981. You’re the pickle (or salami or whatever lunch meat/topping you prefer) in the middle of two generations. I think of it more as a Sandwich Season since people move in and out of this phase. The term isn’t referring to one particular generation, like Gen X or Boomers. It’s whoever happens to be squished at that moment.
I’m so excited to introduce my friend, the lovely and talented Carolyn Koesters. Carolyn is a journaling pro and she’s written a post about how she uses journaling in her everyday life as a mom, non-profit coordinator, and all-around awesome human being. I think you’ll love it! You can learn more about her professional background on our bios page here, or catch up with her at www.wordcatching.com. She will also be teaching this November at Life is a Verb Camp.
by Carolyn Koesters
We space betweeners, we sure do wear a lot of hats, don’t we? And I’m just thinking about the hats I like wearing- those I’m comfortable with, that explain my relationships to a point, or, that have suited me all along. What are some of the hats I currently juggle in my many-splendored life? I’m so glad you asked. Proud wife of 20 years; mother of a Hamilton-quoting, teenage percussionist; deeply devoted, but long-distance daughter; running-around-like-a-crazy-person non-profit coordinator; semi-committed meditator; coffee enthusiast; labyrinth aficionado; and most recently- owner of the cutest therapy dog you’ve ever seen. But of all these, there is only one hat I have worn proudly since second grade: journaler. Not a journalist, but someone who writes in a blank book, with some frequency, with the intention of being curious about their inner life (and outer life, too). Let’s break this down a little, shall we?
I write in a journal to keep me sane. Regularly. At least weekly, sometimes daily, and in all manner of styles, settings, speeds, and sizes. Sometimes my journal writing is very formal process, selecting a journal and a pen, an empty table, either at home or out and about, usually with a coffee, and a set aside amount of quiet solitude. However, I have been known to scrawl wildly for 6 minutes in a pocket notebook I’ve stashed in the glovebox of my car, waiting for a train to go by.
The most recent entry I wrote was last night, in a thick, sturdy journal with an image of Alice in Wonderland on the front that says:
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then”.