Nobody could have prepared me for this. Even when a cousin of my husband’s, upon finding out I was pregnant with my fourth child, commented to my husband and me, “You know, you can have sex without getting pregnant.” But even if Mr. Snarky would have tried to lay it all out for me, I would have been unable to comprehend the trajectory of my life with four kids spanning a decade. It would not have made sense to me, nor would it fit neatly in my brain. Because having four children with a large age span is not tidy. It is messy and complicated, exciting and surreal. It forces my brain to expand like a rubber band threatening to snap at any moment.
Let’s check over here,” I motion to my 12-year-old daughter to follow me to the cosmetics isle. This is our fourth trip to Target in the last few weeks for the sole purpose of buying supplies for the new obsession gripping tweens all over the country—SLIME.
The current desired ingredient is a new one. “Baby powder is supposed to make the slime softer and less sticky,” my daughter, now an expert slime chemist, explains to me. She also assures me that she will be able to pay back the money we’ve spent on supplies with the money she collects from her fellow classmates (most of whom are also in the slime manufacturing and sales business) in exchange for her magnificently mastered mixture of shaving cream, glue, contact solution, and now baby powder.
Shampoo, body wash, lotions…I am not seeing the baby powder anywhere. My agitation rises as I curse myself for being sweet talked into this inconvenient trek to Target on a night when my son needs help with an assignment, my husband is at a work dinner, and I have to teach my teen writing class in an hour. I calm myself with the notion that at least this obsession, unlike other bygones like silly bands, does involve a creative process when mixing, measuring, and experimenting to form the germ-collecting balls of goo.
“Hi!” I find myself almost yelling to the young, exhausted-looking woman standing behind the nearby pharmacy counter. “Can you please tell me where the baby powder is?”
Before I even let the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-lady look on her face throw me into a shame pit, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and led her briskly out of the pharmacy area murmuring, “Oh my gosh, never mind.”
We both erupted in giggles as we headed over to the “baby” isle for the elusive “baby” powder.
My internal Target compass paused as we pass the girls section, our usual go-to area. “The baby section is over by electronics, I am pretty sure,” I muttered, still smiling at the irony.
And then it hit me.
The baby aisle had completely fallen off of my radar.
I could not recall the last time I had even gone near the avenue of pacifiers, diaper genies, bottles and diapers. As I walked toward baby land with my baby, disguised as a 12-year-old, I realized that I no longer knew the layout of this section that for decades I was able to navigate with my eyes closed. I didn’t even recognize some of the items on the shelf.
How could this be? This was MY territory! And now, I had forgotten it even existed!
“Mom, here, I found it,” my daughter’s sweet voice lulled me out of my trance. “Let’s go! You’ve got to get to your class,” she reminded me.
I stood motionless, my eyes scanning the baby items stacked neatly on the shelves. “I miss this, “ I said. She tracked my gaze to the shelf full of diapers.
“You miss changing my diapers,” she said coyly with a playful smile on her face.
“No I miss my babies,” I told her with sincerity, ignoring her sarcasm. I miss holding you in my arms, your baby smell, and hugging you and kissing you as much as I want to.”
“Well, I don’t,” she quipped again, her smile growing even bigger. “Ugh!” I groaned and grabbed my belly in reaction to her verbal gut-punch.
Walking to the check out lane, I leaned in to the nostalgia where I saw the baby faces of my four children--their beaming smiles as well as their looks of terror and disappointment. I could hear their shrieks of laughter and their blood curdling cries. I remembered my feelings of joy, agony, exhaustion, uncertainly, and fear that consumed me as a young mom trying to figure out what I was doing. And I remember yearning for the days when I would no longer need anything from the baby isle.
“Beep,” the self-checkout scanner hit the barcode on the bottom of the baby powder cuing me back to the present. My daughter placed the powder in the white plastic bag and started toward the exit.
“Jo, hold up,” I said as I quickly caught up to her and enveloped her in a hug. “You’ve grown up so fast, girl,” I said in earnest. “I love you so much.”
As I prepared for her to immediately shake me off, per usual, instead I felt her body sinking into my hug. “I love you too, mom,” she said softly. “And thanks for taking me to get the baby powder,” she added.
Scurrying through the Minnesota cold toward our car, I felt grateful that our slime mission led me back to the baby isle and for all the memories that I found there. I realized that just like slime, the passage of time often slips through our hands when we are not looking. And without notice, we open our eyes and find ourselves in the next isle at Target.
Driving home, I take in that my youngest child is on the cusp of becoming a teenager but in this moment, she thinks of nothing other than how much baby powder she will add to her slime mixture.
And I am grateful.
Grateful for all of the memories of my children's baby years, and grateful for the fact that there is nowhere I would rather be than right here right now.
Slime and all.
Yes, I am feeling it. The intensity of the holiday season is in the air and it is nearly impossible to escape the droplets of frenetic energy that invisibly dissolve into our pores this time of year.
For me, I notice that my thinking gets more scattered, I have a hard time writing, and a slight heaviness sets in as early darkness shortens our days, and it is so damn cold outside.
But the blessings…oh the blessings. So many of them. It is the deep gratitude I feel for these blessings that help me embrace the intense beauty and fragility of life and the increasing awareness of the passage of time. This week, I enter a new decade of life...
I just finished reading your book The Self-Care Solution generously given to me by your mother-in-law.
You shared with the world the challenges you experienced not just as a mom but as a person trying to be the best you can be in an imperfect world.
Your suggestions for “self care” are reminders of how we can all be better advocates for ourselves and those we love.
As I celebrated turning 49 a few weeks ago and my 2016 resolutions are set and in motion (1: better time management and 2: better cooking), I found it interesting to look at my last year’s birthday post, and reflect on the changes that have occurred. Many of the milestones I talked about in future terms like leaving my oldest son in California for his college freshman year; my oldest daughter turning 21, my husband turning 50, my youngest daughter starting middle school; and attending my 30-year high school reunion, all happened. And I “wrote” a piece about each one—all of the details, how I felt, and what I learned. Some of these made it into my journals, some onto my blog, but most remained in the form of swirling sentences in my head, either because I needed to push those sentences aside to keep my focus on finalizing The Self-Care Solution, or because publishing those stories would infringe on my children’s privacy. But each one of them caused me to pause, reflect, appreciate, and ponder, usually only for brief moments—on my yoga mat, on a walk, or in a conversation with a friend. Because life moves forward, even when we want it to slow down just a bit so we can savor certain moments a little longer. Two notable 2015 moments when I did slow down to reflect and ponder turned into pivotal milestones for me personally and professionally. Lunch with a friend evolved into revealing the details of my teenage battle with an eating disorder on Jordana Green’s radio show, which gave me a small dose of what it feels like to be extremely vulnerable (terrifying) in an effort to try to help others (highly rewarding). These mixed feeling are ones that I will be continually grappling with in 2016 with the release of my book, and so I was grateful to Jordana for her encouragement, and for allowing me to share my story. And I am also grateful for so many amazing people in my life (you--friends, family, blog readers) who were so incredibly positive and supportive of me doing so. Thank you!
Another 2015 lunchtime casual conversation turned game-changer was with my dear friend Nina Badzin. The development and formulation of The Twin Cities Writing Studio has been true highlight. We have been blown away by the incredible women who have gathered around the table with us to write, learn, reflect, support, and inspire one another. It is truly an honor to be doing this work, and Nina and I are excited to introduce some new programs for 2016 that will engage more Twin Citians who want to put pen to paper—aka “writers”—(stay tuned). Thrilled to be starting our winter session this week!
The central 2015 milestone, of course, has been the completion The Self-Care Solution. And while achieving this life-long dream of writing a book feels incredible, what has surprised me the most is the deep sense of responsibility I feel to continue this ever-so-important discussion on motherhood and self-care. In other words, this book is only the beginning! It is essential to me that I help as many mothers as possible understand that self-care is your life-saving and life-enhancing apparatus as you ride the inevitable, unpredictable, beautiful, and agonizing waves of motherhood.
“The only way that a mother can truly be present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with her child is if she is present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with herself. And the only way she can be connected with herself is if she does what she needs to do to care for herself in an honest and meaningful manner. This is the true essence of self-care for mothers.” –The Self-Care Solution
There is a certain irony that the year that book is released is the year that that I (g-d-willing) hit a half century. Life chapters are concluding and new ones are being written, and the pages keep turning. And sometimes I am deeply afraid—afraid of getting older, afraid of losing...youth, loved ones, time on this earth (more on my feelings about aging in another post...). But there is much to look forward to, including moving into a completely unknown territory with the release of my book. I will move from talking about writing and releasing the book to actually having people read it and formulate opinions about it. And this scares me too. But in the words of Brene' Brown, "Daring greatly is being brave and afraid every minute of the day at the exact same time." So, I will dare greatly, commit to staring down my fears, and allow myself to feel excited about what is in store for this monumental year.
A few of the 2016 highlights that are already in motion are: unscriptedmom.com soon will become juliebburton.com; several fun book launch events will happen in the spring (more details to follow and I hope you will come!), and believe it or not, I have already started outlining my next book (gulp).
So yes, rounding the bend from 2015 to 2016 feels like a big turn.
But I continue to draw from my past experiences, and other life changes, challenges, and turning points that I've pushed through and grown from (like hiking the 13,000 feet to reach the top of Pikes Peak in 2009). I continue to find gratitude in all the twists and turns that life has to offer, and to remind myself of Ben Franklin’s simple yet profound message about embracing transitions: "When you're finished changing, you're finished.”
So, here we are 2016—bring on the changes!
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016 filled with lots of self-care and exciting changes! I am grateful to be on this journey with you!
(Ready to make 2016 a year of taking good care of yourself physically, emotionally and relationally? Start by pre-ordering The Self-Care Solution--A Modern Mother's Essential Guide to Health and Well-Being!)
There is a new trend in the blogging world. Blog posts and even books that mark moments or periods of time like, “This is Childhood,” “This is Adolescence,” and “This is (My) 39.” They make time stand still by describing the real, raw aspects of the designated age or stage. As I inch closer to 50, I find myself stepping back and looking at my life, potentially about half-way over, or half way lived, or have way begun, depending on your vantage point. I have grappled with my feelings about getting older and realize that while I get ready to add a 48th candle to my birthday cake, I feel the need to do what all writers do: analyze and reflect. Forty-eight means something different to everyone, but this is what 48 is to me: It is NOSTALGIA. The nostalgia of the days when I could pick up my son, now a man/child, and hold him in my arms and tell him that I can make it all better; the days when all four of my children lived in my house with me. It is the nostalgia of my childhood memories, before husband, before children—the prehistoric days when all of the neighborhood kids played kick the can until dark and my parents didn’t know where I was; when phones were attached to walls, and there were no ipods, ipads, internet, social media, or botox; and there were vinyl records, 8-track and cassette tapes, the Grateful Dead, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Charlie’s Angels, and Starsky and Hutch, and my sister and me fighting for the best TV viewing spot on our green couch.
It is COVER-UP. Watching women around me tighten, plump, nip and tuck and wondering if I should too. It is spending too many dollars on “age-defying” products that are marketed to ME because I am the age that society wants to defy. It is knowing that in trying to cover up the wrinkles and the sagging, I am desperately trying to hang onto something that is slipping away, and no matter how much healthy food, water and vitamins I ingest, how much exercise I do, what clothes I wear or how I color and style my hair, the “something” that is inevitably leaving me is called—YOUTH! And there is no stopping its exit.
It is SEARCHING. Searching for the meaning of life. For the meaning of my life. Searching for my roots, for spirituality, for Judaism. It is studying with an Orthodox rabbi and joining a Reform synagogue. It is grappling with my identity, as a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a Jew, a writer, a reader, a yogi, a volunteer, a teacher and a student.
It is DISORIENTING. With four kids at very different life stages: college, high school, junior high and grade school. Disorienting with the reality that I on a given day, I can be managing a play date for one daughter and listening to details about a sorority date party from the other. Disorienting to have just celebrated one son's Bar Mitzvah and to soon be celebrating my other son's high school graduation. Disorienting to think that my oldest daughter will graduate college within a month of my youngest daughter's Bat Mitzvah, and that I could potentially be a grandma at my youngest child’s high school graduation. Disorienting to be planning for my 30-year high school reunion when I can so easily access vivid details (many of them embarrassing) of those powerful high school years, as if they happened yesterday.
It is UNCERTAINTY. Uncertainty about whether I made the right choice to leave my career and stay home with my kids (I am pretty sure I did). Uncertainty about whether I should go back to work. Uncertainty about who would even hire me now. Uncertainty about decisions, big and small, that I made and make for my kids and myself every day. Uncertainty about why bad things happen to good people, why I have lost friends and family members too soon. Uncertainty about the future; about being empty nester; about getting old, as in really old; uncertainty about death and how I will go down—will my mind go first or will my body fail me, or will I die in a plane crash (um, yes, one of my biggest fears in life...)?
It is PERIMENOPAUSE. It is crazy! It is crying and swearing and not remembering why I walked into the living room or where I was driving to, or why I was even mad at my husband this morning. It is exhausted…for no good reason. It is worry and obsessing, and worrying and obsessing some more. It is Prozac and Lexapro and the allure of taking the “happy pill” to calm the crazies, but opting instead for a weekly writing group, meditation, yoga and an available-when-needed therapist.
It is WORK. My work: writing, teaching yoga, and serving the community, which makes very little money but keeps me somewhat sane. My husband’s work that he does too much of to be able to support all of the kids and me so I that I can make sure that everyone in the family has clean underwear, decent meals, and some structure and fun in their lives, which happens most of the time, but definitely not all of the time.
It is LETTING GO. Letting go of what I think I should have been—an author of six successful books, a renowned public relations guru (my occupation before kids), a psychologist (my "I should have been/wish I would have been" career), and trying, trying, trying to accept who I am. It is letting my kids go, off to junior high, high school, off to drive a car, off to college. Letting go of the idea that I can control the outcome of their lives, and maybe even the outcome of my own life.
It is TRANSITION. Transition from being not yet old but not young either; from being a young parent with my oldest child to an older parent with my youngest. Transition of caring for aging parents. Transition of my own aging process, which blurs my thinking, my vision and my hearing, and yet, has prompted me to become more patient, more intentional, more compassionate and more present, with myself and with others. Transition of walking mindfully through my life, instead of running through or from it.
It is GRATITUDE. Gratitude for my blessed life and the amazing people in it. Gratitude that I stuck it out and continue to stick it out with my husband, in spite of many extremely trying times. Gratitude for my health, and for the health of those I love and care about. Gratitude that after years of sleepless nights, changing diapers, taming tantrums, tween angst and teenage drama, and the pain, panic and exhilaration of sending one off to college, I can now offer my voice of experience for newer moms.
It is ACCEPTANCE. Acceptance of childhood scars, anxiety, depression, addiction, fear and loneliness; being able to stare down my demons and tell them to go to hell, and accepting that sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t; and looking honestly at dysfunction—mine, my family’s, and my friends’, and finding compassion in all of it. Acceptance of my imperfect self that struggles with time management, organization and taking direction from others, but is driven and caring, and loves to give, and loves to love. Acceptance of dreams fulfilled, unfulfilled, and dreams that remain. Acceptance that life is really, really amazing and fun, and really, really hard and painful.
It is FREEDOM. Freedom to invest more energy in people, work and causes that ground, comfort and inspire me. Freedom to exit relationships that drain me. Freedom to be me, to practice self-care and self-compassion, to trust myself and others, to confidently use my voice, written and spoken, to tell my truth, to be vulnerable, and to encourage others to do the same.
It is THE MOMENT. Slowing down enough to understand that it is this moment that really matters, and believing that we are all exactly where we are supposed to be right now. It is taking time on my yoga mat or in meditation to quiet down the mind chatter and focus on the power of now. It is watching my kids, truly watching them, and listening to them, and seeing them for who they really are, with their struggles, with their attitudes, and with their independent, creative minds and their loving hearts. It is no longer rushing to get to the next phase of their lives or mine, but wanting time to stand still. Really. Just to be able to press pause. For a moment. So I can take it all in and cherish it.
It is LOVE. Love for my husband of 23 years, love for each one of my very unique, and very lovable kids, who have taught me more about life and love in the past 20 years of being a mother than I ever imagined possible. Love for my parents and mother-in-law who have shown me what it means to age gracefully, and that love, giving and receiving, is the most important thing in this life; and for my extended family and friends, both old and new, who continue to enrich my life each day, as each day becomes more and more precious.
It is knowing that every single day is a gift.
This is my 48.
Maybe it is because my daughter just turned 20; maybe it is because my second child is a senior in high school and we are knee deep in college applications and college visits trying to figure out where he will head off to next fall (gulp); maybe it is because I am a month away from my youngest son's Bar Mitzvah (gulp again); maybe it is because my husband turns 50 in March (wow); or maybe it is because my youngest daughter is in her final year of lower school and just today got rid of her Barbie Dream House and all of her Barbies (gasp!). But whether it is one or all of these biggies, I know that I have found myself feeling rather nostalgic lately. I wrote about what the aging process feels like for me, and how I am learning to let go of pieces of my youth and embrace the here and now. The waves of nostalgia often catch me off guard, and I feel like I want to reach out and touch the memories; to connect with them in a pinch myself kind of way to validate that the experiences were real, and that they still live somewhere within me. Without warning, this need to go back hit me during a recent writing group when the instructor gave us the prompt, "What is something quirky about you? Something that others may not know."
And my mind looked back and then forward, and my pen on paper took me here:
It started early on, way back then. When I was young, exuberant and carefree. When life felt light and easy. When every step was the beginning of a new adventure, a launching point of sorts. And so it started. The micro-hop—my skip step—that I added to the beginning of my gait. It felt organic, like the way I was supposed to move. And it was how I moved, in my early days as a gymnast when I would jump with excitement each and every time I was ready to launch into my favorite floor exercise sequence—round-off, back handspring, back tuck. Ahhh, how I loved how these movements flowed together like the most perfect wave tumbling toward the shore. I felt this rhythmic flow in my body even when I was nowhere near a gymnasium.
When it was time for me to walk to class, to recess, to practice or even to the bathroom, in spite of some jarring I received from my friends when they noticed my quirk, I always felt the need to add the skip step as I began to propel myself forward. The skip step automatically triggered my mind and muscles to access the incredible feelings of taking flight, which surged through my body and filled me with a timeless, spaceless sense of giddiness, levity and harmony.
But as the years progressed, and I grew into an awkward, agitated teen, I traded in my leotards for Grateful Dead t-shirts. Subsequently, as my life had lost a bit of its bounce and I wobbled on the bridge between youthood and adulthood, my skip step slowly disappeared. But it was a process, a skip step here, a skip step there would provide an occasional shot in the arm to keep me connected with those feelings of being so fully alive and free. Over time, and without recognition of the loss, my skip step all but vanished.
Three decades and four children later and I am in my front yard on a beautiful, sunny Minnesota spring day, watching my 10-year-old niece, a competitive gymnast, turn cartwheels and walk on her hands across the grass. “Hey, Auntie Julie, do you want to see what I just learned,” she asks eagerly, as her whole body visibly filling with the exhilaration that I recognized instantly. “Of course I do, ZZ (my affectionate adaptation of Lindsay)! Show me whatcha got,” I respond trying to contain my excitement.
My heart skips a beat as I watch with anticipation as she begins to launch. My mouth drops open as I see it—the skip step—my skip step—followed by her swift round off and perfectly executed back handspring. My heart is no longer in my body as it has most certainly jumped out.
Without thinking, I stand up. My mind becomes fierce, my body fueled by muscle memory. Nostalgia overruns any kind of logic, any kind of rationale. Before I know it, one barefoot is in front of the other, and there it is, my skip step…and I am running and I am free and I burst open into a powerful round-off and I am flying above the clouds. I am 10 and I love my skip step and my youth and my mobility and my levity. Upon my decent from the air, I power both feet downward to hit the prickly grass at precisely the same time, exactly as I was taught to do by my perpetually mean coach who acerbically screamed at me if one foot came down a millisecond before the other.
At the very moment I celebrated this very small but very large “look-at-me-now-coach” victory, I heard it. The rubber band-snapping, pop gun sounding snap that reverberated through my entire body and rung in my ears. The endorphins that served as a numbing agent swiftly began to lose their power, and the raw, unfiltered raging, burning sensation was unleashed. The pain—the ferocious, radiating, sizzling in my calf caused me to tumble to the ground writhing, moaning, crying, and biting my lip not to swear.
I looked up to see my niece’s terror stricken hazel eyes staring down at me. I tried with every ounce of my being to give her an “I am going to be okay” look, but a blank stare was the best I could muster.
What she couldn’t know, nor did I want her to know, was that behind my blank stare blared two very loud voices at war inside my head, simultaneously exalting and cursing every single skip step I ever took.
“Show it who’s boss. No pain, no gain. Muscle through it. Just do It. Quitters never win” are some of the many messages that the majority of type-A, driven, perfectionistic people like myself tell ourselves on a very regular basis. For better or worse, this is the approach we often take in our jobs, relationships, parenting and often times, in our approach to physical fitness. We want to be strong, to be fit. We want to stay young, vital, mobile and maybe even flexible.
As we get older, many of us, out of habit or necessity, desperately cling onto this forceful drive and continue to fuel it even when it may not always serve us well: “This is what I do, this is what I have always done, and nothing is going to stop me.” Or, quite possibly, it is fear that propels us to keep pushing past our limits—fear of losing our shape, fear of letting go of activities that we have always enjoyed, or fear that we are inching closer to the inevitable time when our body will refuse to do what our minds ask it to do.
Throughout my life, I haven't met many sports or physical activities that I didn’t like: gymnastics, tennis, golf, running, biking, hiking, skiing, basketball and softball. I loved the sense of thrill and accomplishment I felt in completing a marathon, triathalon and biathalon and in summiting Pikes Peak. The desire to share my passion for fitness and movement with others led me to become an aerobics, spinning, pilates and yoga sculpt instructor, and I have loved teaching all of these classes periodically over the past 25 years. Being physically fit and helping others keep their bodies and minds strong have been a big part of my identity. "This is what I do..."
Over the past few years, however, my body has begun to raise some red flags that have signaled to me that, much to my dismay, it is time for me to make some necessary adjustments, physically and mentally.
The above-mentioned, “muscle through it” theory has allowed me to chase many aches and pains away over the years, and even more recently has worked to fake out this 40-something body into thinking it was 20-something. But now, as I am knee deep in discovering the true meaning of self-care for my upcoming book, I find it harder to ignore the sizzling pain that begins in my lower back, shoots down my leg, prevents me from sitting for more than an hour and sometimes keeps me up at night.
It is becoming clear that I must grapple with the following question: What happens to me if I do indeed listen my body’s plea for me to back off?
Who am I if I can’t still jump in the lake on a whim and pop up on a slalom ski? Who am I if I can’t swoosh down the double black runs on the ski mountain? Who am I if I am no longer able to teach my high energy yoga sculpt class or lace up my running shoes and head out for a long run on a beautiful summer day, let alone train for a marathon or a 14,000-foot mountain hike?
My self-critical brain tries to persuade me of this:
I am washed up. A has-been. A former. An “I used to be…”
But then I decide that is pretty harsh so I tone it down a bit:
I am a middle aged, peri-menopausal, color-my-grays, can’t remember where I put my keys (or my cell phone or my readers…) mother of four children, two of whom are almost adults and believe only half of what I told them I’ve done. I am woman of 47 years and a wife of 21, who sometimes yearns for the “what was” and is slightly terrified of the “what’s to come.” I swim in a sea of ambiguity— neither young nor old. But if forced to pick one, I would have to pick old, because it’s tough to categorize inching closer to 50 as young.
I continually remind myself that getting older is definitely better than the alternative (yes!), and that aging is an "I've earned my stripes (in the form of wrinkles and age spots)" privilege, not a curse. "Embrace it,” I say aloud to myself, as I decide to go out for a walk instead of a run.
On my walk, I wrestle with feelings of frustration, nostalgia and fear, and nudge myself to open up to gratitude and compassion. I ask myself the truly important questions—questions about self-love, self-care and self-acceptance. I find answers when I flip some of my initial questions on their sides: Who am I if I do not take care of myself? What will I become if I continue to ignore my body’s signals?
I find answers in the realization that my body is guiding me right now and I am listening—really listening. And by letting go of what was and accepting what is, I am allowing my body to heal, and am creating new, exciting pathways for my body, mind and spirit.
This is my new mountain to climb.