Family Traditions

This past Sunday, when I was riding home from church with Andrew and Ella, we passed a house on Main Street that we pass any time we head home from “town.” And on any, and just about every, Sunday afternoon, this house is packed with cars, signaling a family gathering. When you know of the family, you also know that the house is occupied by the family’s grandparents and that the many cars each Sunday belong to the children and grandchildren of the couple, all of whom come to their house for Sunday lunch after church every week. Each time we pass the house with the crowded driveway, I feel a twinge of happiness and nostalgia as I’m reminded of family traditions. This family has this timeless tradition of gathering for a big Sunday meal, no doubt prepared by the head matriarch, after a morning of church services.

As I’m reminded of family traditions, I can share that I don’t have lavish family lunches on Sundays with a large family going to the grandparents’ house. However, I do have the family tradition that was started when Andrew and I were in college (and came home just about every weekend) that after church on Sundays, we likely go to a Mexican restaurant for lunch with his parents. Over the years, the locations have changed, as have the extra guests who go with us, but the constancy of the occasion is still present. It seems like something so simple – to go to lunch with your family on Sunday afternoon – but it’s more than just simple because it’s become a tradition. As I think back over the years of these lunches, I recall lunch friends who have since passed away, and I remember the days when one member didn’t even exist (the pre-Ella days). The years have passed but the tradition has remained, and there’s so much comfort in that.

I’m also reminded of family traditions that existed when I was a child. At the top of the list is the family tradition of celebrating Christmas. It was always with my mom’s family that we celebrated Christmas closest to the actual holiday because my dad’s family lived further away and/or was too spread out. However, Christmas with the Shires family was always a definite event that took place at my grandmother’s house in Clifton Forge, Virginia. I can recall several Christmases as a little girl when Christmas morning was spent with the whole family (Grandma, parents, sister, aunt & uncle, and cousins) piled in the finished basement with the 80s Christmas tree, which was  filled with large colored bulbs and silver string tinsel. The bar area of the basement was transformed into a buffet of holiday treats that we kids were allowed to eat from, regardless of the early hour. I can’t begin to count how many “preacher cookies” I might have eaten in one morning as the gift-opening festivities stretched out. As the steps of the event were laid out, the youngest of the family opened their gifts first, which was me (as the youngest grandchild)! After each child opened gifts, then the gift-opening proceeded to the respective parents and then finally Grandma. In our family, Christmas morning was not a mad rush to tear through gifts as a crazed hoard of children. The occasion and its events were planned out and orchestrated to make the holiday and fellowship more meaningful.  It’s the part of the tradition I cherish most.

Other traditions I can easily recall are family Thanksgivings, which were always at the home of my aunt and uncle when I was a little girl. Thanksgiving Day was spent watching the women cook in the kitchen, but there was always a point when my cousin and I were called into the kitchen to spread cream cheese on stalks of celery, which would be an appetizer. There might have been a time or two that I spent more time licking cream cheese off a stalk of celery than actually putting it on to stay. I also recall night time games of hide and seek outside on Thanksgiving night, my cousins and I bundled in dark clothes to better escape detection from the seekers. It never failed that I climbed the old pine tree and hoped that someone else was found before me.

A summertime tradition I hold very dear were the yearly family reunions with my dad’s side of the family. Most of the time they were held at the home of my aunt and uncle in Parkersburg, West Virginia, but there was one particular reunion that was hosted at our house. Each reunion included a large spread of potluck food made by all the McKnights, but my favorite dish was the cherry cheesecake made by my Aunt Carreen. After a big meal, the oldest McKnight brother (Uncle Rex) got out his guitar and the other McKnights who sang (my dad, Uncle Eddie, and Aunt Carreen) would stand around to accompany. The children of the McKnight siblings, and their children, often orchestrated games of softball in the large field behind my uncle’s house, and it never failed that at least one person pulled a muscle while playing volleyball in the backyard. I’m not sure when that tradition stopped, but I could probably associate it around the same time as the passing of my Aunt Carreen. After that point, it seemed that a reunion was hard to have without one of the McKnight siblings there. Unfortunately since then, our reunions have centered on the passing of two more McKnight siblings, first my Uncle Eddie and then Uncle Rex. Now there are only three brothers left, who are spread apart from each other in North Carolina and West Virginia. With such a widespread family, I enjoy the memories of the moments when we were all together.

As I grew, I learned the lesson that traditions change as families grow and change. None of these traditions from my childhood still happen the way they used to, but as families do, we’ve learned to adapt and create new traditions. The family traditions of my childhood provide me with many sweet memories and a solid foundation of love and a sense of belonging. I have the happiness of family traditions which can now be established and carried on in my own family with Andrew and Ella Grace. I’m thankful that each Sunday afternoon, when I pass the house on Main Street with the large family gathering, I’m reminded of how important family is. I think to myself that as Ella grows up, memories will be created for her no matter what. But as an integral part of her family, I can work to set traditions that live in her memories and make them all the more sweet and cherished.

The Little Things

Almost two weeks ago, I was outside with our dog, Annie, early in the morning before the sun was up. As she was doing her business, I took a minute to study the clear sky and noticed a very bright star low to the horizon when I looked southwest from my house. I was enthralled with how beautiful and bright this object stood out from the other stars in the sky. It was the oddest thing to be mesmerized by something so seemingly insignificant, like a star in the sky, but I was nonetheless. (By the way, I later discovered it wasn’t a star; it was Jupiter!)

A few days later, on a cold day after yet another snow during this crazy winter we’ve been having, I was outside again with our dog and happened to glance into our flowerbeds and spied a newly sprouted daffodil. This daffodil was not planted by us and seems to have randomly occurred at some point in the existence of our property and dwelling, as it is oddly and closely located behind a large shrub. It appears every spring but on this day, nothing about the climate or setting signaled spring and I was surprised at seeing the daffodil coming to life in such harsh conditions. As with Jupiter in the sky, I was mesmerized by the existence of this thing and how it could easily go unnoticed.

After these two separate incidents with noticing the “little things,” I decided I need to be more aware and present of the small, easily unnoticed things that make me happy and bring my heart joy. Here are some other “little things” that make my life so wonderfully sweet:

  • Recently, after her bath time, Ella has requested that I bundle her up in her towel and blanket and cuddle and sing to her. Her sweet little voice asks, “Will you sing ‘Bushel and Peck’?” So I wrap her in my arms and sing, “I love you, a bushel and a peck; a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck. And a barrel and a heap and I’m talkin’ in my sleep about you.” Something about a simple request from your child to sing to her is heart-melting.
  • While our new dog, Annie, is the cause of much frustration and scolding at times, she’s really very sweet and yearning for affection. When she reaches her point at night of calming down and hitting what we call her “sleepy time,” she becomes a total sloth and hardly moves. But the best part is that at night, when it’s time for bed, she lies between Andrew and me and will sometimes position herself right next to me. The weight and warmth I feel with her curled into my back or stomach is totally comforting to me. An added bit of perfection is when the little Shih Tzu, Mollie, makes her way into the bed also and travels under the covers to curl up at my feet. Dogs in the bed might be irritating for some, but for me, it’s a little thing that actually brings me happiness.
  • I’m an anxious driver and car passenger. I don’t usually seek out getting in the car to just drive around for the fun of it. But on a day when I’m driving and hear one of my favorite songs on the radio, I immediately feel a perk in my spirit and I just have to engage in some sit-down dancing behind the wheel.
  • Cooking is not my strength. I didn’t develop an interest in cooking as some people do. However, in the past few years that I’ve used Pinterest and collected recipes, I’ve taken on more cooking ventures. A small joy in a normally undesired experience for me is the moment I taste a bite of a new recipe and actually like it. I get really proud and encouraged to continue trying new culinary feats.
  • I think I’m pretty correct in stating that scientists have found links between the sense of smell and emotions and memories. Well, I don’t actually know that for sure but it sounds about right. I’m one of those people that has positive and happy emotional responses to some scents, some of which are odd. One of my odd little habits is to sniff books and magazines. I love the smell of new books, some old books, and specifically certain types of magazines. College alumni newsletters, or at least those from Appalachian State University, have the best glossy paper smell. Makes me sigh with contentment every time I sniff them. Other smells I enjoy include the smell of air right before it rains (invokes memories of summer showers at my grandmother’s house in the Virginia mountains), the scent of gasoline at a gas station on a cold, winter day (invokes memories of car trips with my parents when I was a child), and maybe the weirdest to express is the instance when I walk past another person and catch a scent of their laundry detergent on their clothes. I get an instant of relaxation when I smell lovely laundry detergent wafting from a person’s clothes. It makes me think of the comforts of home and being taken care of. And strangely, I love the smell of a house in which bacon was cooked earlier in the day. I’m not saying I particularly like the smell of bacon when it’s cooking, but if it was cooked and eaten for breakfast, and then perhaps you leave your house to run some errands after breakfast, coming back into your house and smelling the bacon scent is magical. It reminds me (again) of my grandmother’s house and how it perpetually smelled like cooked bacon when family was visiting because no morning was passed without a big breakfast full of eggs, breakfast meats, and syrupy pancakes or waffles.
  • While I started this list of “little things” with Ella, I’ll end it with my husband, Andrew. He’s a center of happiness and joy for me everyday, but a little thing that still gives me a quick hitch in my breath is when he grabs my hand to hold it. Mushy, right? Well too bad, it’s true. When out in public, he often reaches for my hand as soon as we begin walking from the car to go into a store. One day last week, while we were in the car to run an errand, he reached across the car to hold my hand while he drove. It’s something so little, that could become so insignificant, but it brings me joy every single time he does it.

This list is only a fraction of the little things that give me “warm fuzzies” in my soul, and a lot of the time, most little things go completely unnoticed because I’m so focused on something else happening in life at that second. But because Jupiter and the daffodil brought me some attention to the phenomena of “little things,” I’m making a pledge to myself to pay more attention to the quick and minute occurrences that make me smile or reignite a dulling flame in my heart and soul. I hope you will also take time to recognize and reflect on the little things in your life that have the possibility of bringing you joy and happiness.

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(Aside from the ocean and other colorful twinkling stars pictured in this image, I find this an accurate representation of how I view Jupiter [left side of the picture] when I see it in the dark, early morning sky: a bright and beautiful celestial beacon.)

Let’s Get Real

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hannah-moulton-belec/my-baby-hated-me-on-the-other-side-of-postpartum-depression_b_4874246.html

I shared this link yesterday on my Facebook page but have felt compelled to talk about it more. I’ve had 2 1/2 years to mull over my experience of postpartum emotions and hormones that reared their ugly heads after Ella Grace was born, and I’ve had countless friends who have had their own babies in these 2 1/2 years. With each friend, I wonder if they’ve gone through the same emotions I did. But I’m always left wondering because if any friends did struggle with postpartum depression, it hasn’t been talked about and I don’t know about it, thus feeling like the only mom to have ridden the rollercoaster. Despite the “social norm” to keep things quiet, I’ve been itching to talk about my experience now that I find myself on the sunny side of motherhood.

I had been told to expect a dip in hormones in the days after Ella was born but to not let things “stay bad” after the two week mark. I was told it’s not normal to continue to have raging emotions after two weeks. Well, as I struggled through the first two weeks, I kept waiting for the magic point in which all the crying and babbling (on my part) would go away. However, what the doctors don’t realize is that at the two week mark, that’s likely when your husband will return to work, leaving you home alone, exhausted, with a baby you know very little about. That happened to me when Andrew had to start back to work, and the anxiety and overwhelming feeling started all over again as I faced the task of being at home with Ella on my own. 

I must also say that the majority of accounts of postpartum depression that I’ve read about talk about depression and even suicidal thoughts. I didn’t experience that type of emotional state. I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. I was scared…all the time. I was scared to be alone with Ella. I was scared to breastfeed. I went to bed anxious each night because I was already anticipating the sleepless night, filled with Ella’s fitful nursing and constant crying. I literally cried and cried about going to Ella’s first pediatrician appointment when she was just four days old because the thought of going out in public with her for the first time, even with Andrew, was overwhelming. On the first morning Andrew went to work (at the two week postpartum mark), he reluctantly left me crying on the couch, looking like a zombie and holding a crying infant. And when Ella was four weeks old, I obsessed and melted down over a small road trip to a cousin’s birthday party. Nothing seemed do-able without the frantic thoughts, anxious emotions, racing heart, and uncontrollable crying. I was a mess.

I’ll also confess that I didn’t feel instant love for Ella…or at least what I thought I was supposed to feel. Based on what other mothers had professed as their first thoughts and feelings when they bonded with their newborns, I felt wrong and not in line with what was “supposed” to happen. I became engrossed in simply surviving with a newborn that the bonding and loving and cooing didn’t quite fall into place. Yes, there were moments when I held her while she slept and looked at her beautiful face, and I thought, “Who are you, little creature? How did you even get here?” It was an odd out-of-body period in which I didn’t feel like a mother to this baby. I didn’t know how to take care of her; I didn’t know what to think of her; I was lost.

To add even more layers to this experience, unbeknownst to us at the time, Ella was experiencing reflux and that’s why she screamed and cried if we tried to lay her down too soon after eating. So in the middle of the night, every couple of hours and every feeding, Andrew and I had to stand and “dance” while we held Ella upright on our shoulders. Andrew was wonderful in helping and doing some of the “dancing” during his two weeks at home, but when he started back to work, I assumed all of the nighttime chaos in order to let him sleep and function during the day. I struggled with my recovery from my C-section, and most nights, standing and moving/bouncing with Ella was very painful. Another issue to occur, that extremely battered my minimal level of confidence, was trouble with nursing Ella. She often choked and sputtered while nursing, crying and fussing the whole time. Miserable experience; painful experience. We finally learned that I was blessed with an oversupply of milk and a too-fast letdown during feeding while Ella had a minor swallowing problem and was aspirating while I was basically drowning her. Those issues only compounded the reflux problem. So put all these factors together and it made for the longest several weeks before we got things figured out. I quit nursing after a month (don’t even get me started on the stigma behind that kind of decision), we bottle fed Ella while I pumped, she had a swallow study, started baby Zantac, and under doctor’s orders, we began putting rice cereal in her bottles with the milk. Things began to improve with everyone’s physical needs, but I was already six weeks into a mental and emotional hole.

When I returned to work after eight weeks, I won’t lie – I was relieved. I felt odd for leaving Ella because I’d actually become used to being with her 24/7, but I wanted a sense of my old routine back. I still had the fear and anxiety of how I’d manage the lack of sleep with functioning at work or how I’d figure out a pumping schedule during my work day. But to return to work and be around adults and do my normal things was like a sigh of relief. I humored everyone’s giddy excitement for me and humored their notions that I should be devastated to have left my child to return to work. I put on a fake smile and did my best to act like I thought people expected a new mother to act. I was probably a nice little picture on the outside of keeping it together, and I wanted to be. I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on inside my head or with my emotional state.

Andrew finally encouraged me to contact a professional after months had passed. I had settled into a routine and felt much better about being a mother and loving my child. We interacted and bonded; we shared smiles and did all of the things new moms and babies do together. But even months after Ella was born, I was still having spells of anxiety, crying, and meltdowns. I was finally treated for anxiety when Ella was several months old. With the help of the medical professional, who was like an angel and made me feel less guilty about my situation, I was able to understand that the anxiety and fear was part of the spectrum of postpartum depression. And with anti-anxiety medication, I began to emerge as a calmer and happier person.

So is my journey with postpartum depression over? No. When Andrew and I talk about the possibility of having more children, I mentally freeze up and think, “No, oh no…I don’t want to go through that again. I won’t be able to cope with another baby AND Ella Grace. It’ll be so much worse, and I can’t do that.” I was brave enough to bring up my concerns during my yearly OBGYN check up a year after Ella was born, and my doctor (another angelic medical professional) told me that now that my issues are identified and being treated, I could be “managed” much better with a second pregnancy and postpartum period. It’s a relief to know there’s an open line of communication between me and my doctor for the future…and a potential plan for action…but I still hesitate when I think about the potential for the same kind of situation as before.

My bottom line for sharing this lengthy post is that any time I’ve thought about starting a blog or sharing stories with others, this is the story in my recent history that I think of first. I feel a personal passion towards new mothers and want any mother, new or old, to know my experience, even if she can’t relate to it. But if there’s a mother who can relate to my experience, I’d like to say to that mother that what is happening emotionally needs to be talked about and helped. It can be helped! I’ve felt guilty and ashamed of my experience too often because I feel like no one else has had the same “problems,” but deep down, I know that’s not true. There are mothers out there every day who are struggling, and the worst part about it is that they feel alone in it. I still feel a sense of loneliness when I think about how the first months, and even the first year, of my daughter’s life were played out because of my struggle; therefore, my hope is that someone might read this and not feel the same loneliness. Or maybe someone who reads this will know of a mother he/she suspects to be suffering from postpartum depression and will share this experience to help break the stigma of having to be quiet about being unhappy. There is support out there, but it will never be felt by a hopeless new mother until she feels able to be honest.

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An Introduction

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So everything in the quote isn’t exactly true for me, but I wish most of it was. I wouldn’t call myself particularly strong and I wouldn’t say that I immediately get right back up if I’ve been knocked down in life. Those are qualities to strive for. I would call myself complex and hardly simple, often prone to periods of craziness when I don’t even understand my own thinking or reasoning (or lack thereof). I wish I could call myself unstoppable, but I’m hardly that. There have been things in life that have stopped me from pursuing ventures and aspirations, mainly fear and anxiety of failure and the “what ifs”. Though not a totally timid person, I certainly lack the confidence to go through life with a constant smile on my face because I have everything figured out. Perhaps all of this is totally normal and way more common for others than I perceive it to be. The bottom line is that I’m learning to accept and live with who I am, regardless of what others think or have to say. I love the included quote because it inspires me to better myself while not being afraid of breaking the mold.