My New Self

On the eve of returning to work full time, I have so many thoughts. This maternity leave has been hard and amazing, but it really put a light on some areas in my own identity that I needed to work through.

The pandemic and having Walter made me do some self-reflection that I honestly have been avoiding. I have been moving through life just kind of in the zone long before the pandemic hit. I was just getting things done, but not really taking the time to enjoy it. I was anxiously awaiting the next thing or compiling the next to do list. I found myself resentful of others and then feeling guilty all the time.

In December, it kind of came to a head for me. Granted a lot of the emotional turmoil could be attributed to having a baby, but it was really a pivotal moment to realize I needed something. I wanted to be a different mom. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be anymore. I had let my anxiety overrun me.

I needed help, and I needed to put some time in to focus on my needs. So while I had this time at home, I knew that I needed to ask for help not only with the baby but how to navigate this transition so I could come out of this sacred time with a clear head and clear focus.

So in order to truly do the work, I started investing in both a therapist and a personal trainer. I needed to cry some things out and sweat out some other things. Both have been instrumental in my health journey post-partum.

I have not been in counseling since I was in grad school. And through my profession, I knew I needed help analyzing my anxiety and really talking through it instead of just pushing it aside to get everyone to the next thing. My perpetual to-do list was wreaking havoc on my ability to live in the moment. I had this need for perfection that drowned out any opportunity to be vulnerable even with those closest to me. My emotions were in control of my world view. I know I am an emotional person; this is nothing new. Most of the time I can keep them in check in public. But at home, I was losing it. I couldn’t enjoy my family because the only thing I could think about was the fear of not getting things done. I was nit-picky at anything and everything because of the chase to perfection. At home, I had a really hard time just appreciating what my family was doing because I was always on to the next thing. I had become so wound up trying to control it all that it was coming out in expectations I had on my family, which were often unrealistic. My anxiety manifested in all kinds of ways in unexpected situations. Some times it was in fear, some times it was in anger, and some times I just sulked around the house.

I didn’t want this anymore.

It was as though birthing Walter was also a rebirth for me. I wanted to do better, and so I needed some help processing it all. We only are given this one life, and I was just marking things off without really embracing anything. Working with my counselor has been really refreshing. I have been validated, but I have also been challenged. I won’t get into all the things since counseling is a personal journey, but I will say it has been helping me. Here is the thing, I still have a lot of baggage where my anxiety stems from. I still LOVE a to-do list. I still want things to go well. But I am learning more coping skills to keep the panic attacks and overthinking at bay. I am learning to look at the facts instead of imagining all the what-ifs of imperfection.

Often times as moms, we feel that we have to do it all and we often sacrifice our own mental health to take care of all the things. The mental load is taxing. My anxiety made me feel selfish in so many ways which is why I left it unaddressed for so long. Not being perfect really hindered me connecting with my kids because deep down I didn’t feel that I was good enough. Understanding that I wanted better for my kids and to actually enjoy my kids, I have to be a little selfish to take care of my own needs. Having Walter and this pandemic really helped me see that I couldn’t keep living this way for them, nor did I want to for me. I want to experience more in the moment. And while I do always have the to-do list looming over me, I can ask for help and communicate better to build a team around me. It’s also okay to be vulnerable and share how I am feeling even if it is not perfect. I also know that I am enough.

Honestly, what I was looking for was accountability. I needed someone to check in with every once in awhile to talk through my insecurities and walk me through how I can navigate my self talk when I start to spiral. I needed some one to tell me what to do in the gym so I could be stronger. I need the accountability to focus on my self growth so I can be a better wife, mother, friend and colleague.

Coming out of this maternity leave is bittersweet. I know that I will never have time like this at home again. I was able to spend weeks off at the holiday time with my family since I essentially didn’t come back to work after Thanksgiving. I have been able to see George off to school and most days pick him up from school, which is time I have really come to love. I have been able to see Daphne explore her world in a way that I wasn’t privy to before. Obviously spending time with Wally is a dream come true.

But honestly, I am most thankful that I found a new version of myself through this time at home.

I want to be mentally, emotional, and physically strong for the people around me. Having this space has helped me understand that I am not selfish for asking for balance or for help. It has taught me more about my priorities and how to focus on my family. I am learning more on how to vocalize those needs so I can be more available. I am coming back to work with a renewed sense of direction and passion for what I do. I am excited to come back to work for I know that it doesn’t have to be an either/or anymore. I can still crush it at work and crush it as a mom. I also am learning that crushing it in life doesn’t mean that I have to be perfect. It’s ok for me to ask for flexibility so I don’t have to sacrifice one identity over the other.

Nor do I have to sacrifice myself to make it all work.

So all in all, I am so grateful for Walter joining our lives because of the little person he is becoming and will be. He is everything I dreamed of. But I am so eternally grateful that I am becoming me too.

So cheers to the end of my maternity leave and all the emotions I am sure to have!

The Return Story

Photo by Ashland Police Department

I have been attempting to write this post for a long time, but I really want to be intentional about outwardly processing Tom moving back into law enforcement. For one it is not just my experience, and I need to be respectful of Tom’s journey to get to this place. And with being pregnant and having Walt, it has been difficult to have the brain power to find the right words to say.

One of the things I love about blogging though is that it is an opportunity to share stories and perspectives. There are a lot of emotions and opinions around police officers, and I am cognizant of what that means. I am not going to touch on all of it here today, but here is just a part of our story.

To give a little history, when Tom and I had our first date in 2007, he expressed his desire to be a police officer after we graduated college. It has been all that he has ever wanted and worked for ever since I have known him. He has had many road blocks to achieve this and spent many years adding different experiences to his tool belt in order to be welcomed onto a department.

In 2014, Tom left the Army and we moved back to MO for what we thought was his dream job as a police officer. What would transpire in the next three years became a nightmare instead of the dream that he always envisioned.

What he experienced with that police department was the definition of toxicity. He was not supported by other officers, and it was very much a “good ol’ boys” system. He attempted to change the dynamic in the community by building relationships and being out there in the streets but often was chastised by his colleagues for his proactive nature. He didn’t believe in doing things by rank and wanted to impact his town positively but was told repeatedly he was wrong. He would make suggestions for improvements or find trainings to approach things differently, and the negativity and backlash that he faced showed me that this department didn’t actually want to work for their community. This department made him feel like he was on an island because he didn’t fit their definition. He wanted to be better. I am here to tell you that this is the kind of department that many around the country complain about.

But never the less, Tom doesn’t half-ass anything. He was always trying to do good and learn more, and the job became all consuming because he felt he had to prove he was worthy of being there and more than just a rookie. His fellow officers though felt that there was nothing that this new guy could bring to the table and tried many times to break him. He was seeking value from people who could care less about him. There was a lack of respect, and they were constantly trying to beat the drive out of him with very childish and outlandish behavior from those who claim to be professionals with “high moral fibers.” What was happening among his colleagues began to affect our marriage and our home life tremendously.

In 2018, due to the apparent way that this department spit on him when he needed help, Tom made the decision to leave this “dream job” to work as a court Marshall, which was still law enforcement but with 9-5 hours. It was an opportunity for him to still be a cop but focus on our family a little more which was very much needed at the time since Daphne had just joined our family. It was a chance for him to step back and reevaluate what being a cop meant for him.

After working at the courthouse for some time, it was clear that this job was an illusion of law enforcement. Anyone who knows Tom is that he likes to be out where the action is. He likes to move and observe people out in the community. He was slowly losing himself at the courthouse.

But because of the toxic nature of the PD department he left, he was not sure he would be able to get back in to being a street cop. They had basically sullied his name in this area because he asked for help and tried to do things differently.

The reality though was that Tom just wasn’t himself. As a family we made a conscious decision that if he couldn’t be a street cop, he would leave law enforcement entirely to be able to just be a family man and help us to become more financially secure in a different job market. In the end, it was difficult for him to wear a uniform but not actually be able to do the type of police work he felt called to do.

So in 2019, he left law enforcement entirely to work an office job of selling mortgages to veterans. At the beginning, working at VU was really freeing. He finally felt valued, and his hard work was being praised. We had more family time than we had ever had, and we were able to focus on more of our family goals.

However as the months passed, we could all sense that there was something nagging at Tom. Working a desk job started having him miss what could have been as an officer. There was a lot of doubt and anger at what had transpired in his time as an officer. He felt as though he had given up on himself and his dreams. It was like he was reliving every decision that had brought him there over and over, which made for some dark months. Oh the conversations we had about regret, resentment, and such loss…

Then the pandemic hit and the protests happened last spring. These world events coupled with being stuck working in our makeshift basement offices provided a pivotal moment for him. Not having the ability to do something in the midst of what was happening in our world (whether it be due to the pandemic or the social impacts on the protests) really touched him. He was frustrated that he felt helpless and wasn’t contributing to the solution. It made him angry and bitter that he let some old “seasoned” officers force him out of a job that he loves because they were scared of the idea of what Tom brought to the table. He challenged the typical culture, and for that he was blackballed and eventually pushed out of that department.

So why return to a job that did nothing to support Tom?

Again, if you knew Tom in person, being a police officer is just a part of him. For the two years that he wasn’t on the streets, you could tell that there was something missing. There was no doubt that we did have some great moments in these two years having more time as a family. However, something needed to change. He wasn’t fulfilling his purpose. And having gone through a professional crisis myself, I knew that just because our family life was good, we weren’t going to replace that feeling of purpose completely for him. Nor would I want to ask him to because I know that would cause more issues down the road for us all. I didn’t want him to continue to become a shell of himself or worse resent the normalcy that our life had become.

Tom did go to counseling for some time to help process all of this. Honestly, it was like the police department was an abusive relationship that he needed to heal from. There was a lot of shady things that occurred that I will not share here. Even now, two and a half years later, his old department finds ways to interfere with his professional life. At best it’s a bother, and at worst it has bordered on illegal. Before he moved on to a new department, he needed to put himself in a better position to not have those negative feelings of distrust.

Through the growth and self-reflection, and then seeing the events happening in our country, he was itching to get back to law enforcement. He wants to make our communities safe. He wants better for our kids. He wanted more.

Then a God thing happened. A position opened up in our small town, and it was like everything just came together. He was ready, and here was an opportunity for him to return in the town we live in! And the department was everything that the other was not, so we were hopeful for a fresh start for him.

It still was a lot for us to process as a family. Being a police officer’s family isn’t just a simple thing. There are a lot of emotions and things tied up in it for us as well. I still had anxiety from how our marriage was the last time, and here we were newly pregnant with our third kid. We had to be very mindful of how this time would be different for us and our family moving forward.

And the culture currently isn’t just something we could ignore. There is a lot to unpack here as a family who is choosing this life. This is not the post to address all the situations of privilege in depth because I wanted to set the stage of our lived experience. I hope that those reading see that by highlighting Tom’s desire to return to law enforcement, does not mean that we are minimizing how others are impacted by law enforcement. We know that there are not good cops out there. We have seen them first hand. It was the toxic nature that forced Tom out of the job in the first place. We know the way law enforcement is viewed and the impacts of that. We have many conversations about the type of police officer he strives to be. He wants to be part of the change, and we understand the realities and duty that brings us as a family as well. As much as we know that bad cops exist, we very much believe there are good ones, with Tom among those ranks.

Remember, when we first met, all he wanted was to be was a cop. I wanted him to have that again, and I know that he would not be himself if he didn’t at least try to get that back. When you watch a loved one struggle and you know there is an opportunity to fix that, you want to do everything in your power to make it work.

So last May he went after his dream again. After a long interview process, he was sworn in as an officer earlier this fall, and here we are months later.

Tom is different this time around. It is amazing what a difference some self-reflection can do. Couple that with a supportive environment, and it has just been amazing to see the stark contrast of how he comes home and the influence he has. He is surrounded by officers who value his opinion and actually listen to his ideas. While it’s a small department and different than what he had envisioned all those years ago on our first date, this has been the perfect position for him. It turns out that this small department offers many opportunities that a large department would never have done for him. This department hears him out and lets him be his unique self, which is really bringing the best skill set to the table. He is REALLY good at begin a cop, and to see that being noticed and actually respected by his peers makes things drastically different. He gets to be part of the solution, and that has been really cool to witness. I am proud to see it all coming together and that he is able to honor his values while in a position of service to our community.

We may have lost some of our family routines and our meal times together, however we got Tom back. He is much more present when he is home and happier than I have seen him in maybe our entire relationship. And to be honest, we don’t see his time away from law enforcement as a waste. The last couple years has helped put things in perspective of what is valuable for not only his career but how the right department can respect the juxtaposition of being a cop, having a family, and him as a human being. Because he moved to this department, he will have so many opportunities to engage in the community and schools where our kids will grow up. He gets to interact with them in ways we never would have gotten previously. He has goals for his career that are being invested in by his supervisors. He can actually be out there helping the community and getting to know their needs.

At each point, it has not been an easy decision to move and pivot as things happened along his career. One thing that has been important to Tom though is how this has impacted us as a family. We have talked this through every which way at every step: when to go to the Army, when to apply for many PD jobs, when to step back and when to try again. Ultimately for me as his wife, everything came down to what is going to make Tom feel full. It has not been an easy road. The decisions have put us to the test on more than one occasion, and there is a lot on the line. There has been a lot of growth for both of us on how we want to navigate this as a team.

However, I have known from day one that loving him meant I would be a police officer’s wife.

Photo by Ashland Police Department

To 2020

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a mess of a year.

But through all the mess, I have so much to be thankful for.

We experienced virtual school and canceled plans like many others. We missed seeing family and friends and had to re-imagine celebrations that sometimes made us miss “normal” even more. Work this year was one of the hardest years I have experienced professionally due to unprecedented procedures and layoffs and furloughs. I lost my grandpa and wasn’t able to properly mourn with our family. Who even knows what my goals where at the beginning of the year. The achiever in me can’t think about it or else I feel shame and failure even through a pandemic.

However, I can’t completely write off the year or wish it farewell with a vengeance. In some regards it has been a great year for us. Tom got his dream job. We got more time than we could imagine with our kids, and we were pushed to slow down with them. We are healthy and safe.

2020 was anything but normal, however I was able to experience a normal and healthy pregnancy even though most of it was spent at home.

I have to thank 2020 because it brought me the greatest blessing with this sweet baby.

In a year that brought so much bad times it seems, I want to always remember him as the bright spot in the craziest storm.

I have been thinking a lot about how we will portray this year to Walter when he gets older. Everywhere you look you see or hear comments about the dumpster fire that is 2020. But being pregnant and having this little nugget was a humbling reminder that even in our darkest times, there is room for hope and growth.

So while when we look at all that 2020 was for us, I feel so lucky that when I look back at this time, I will be thinking of Walter joining our family. For me this overshadows all the sorrow that I experienced through undoubtedly one of the longest years. He was my reason to keep moving forward.

As we embark on the new year, there are definitely parts of 2020 that I want to leave behind . If we never have to do virtual school again, that would be fine by me. Undeniably, there was a lot of sadness and disappointment throughout this year.

But I am also so grateful for the year that brought my littlest boy.

What were your bright spots during this historic year?

Just a little bit of Normal

This third pregnancy has been so weird, different, and honestly normal.

It has been interesting doing this whole experience during a pandemic and mostly from the comfort of my home.

But the oddest part is going from two high risk pregnancies, to one that is seemingly normal. My doctor walks into every appointment lately singing “How is my most normal pregnant lady?”

It has just taken me three times to get to this state of “normal.”

At this point with George, I was on bedrest. And with Daph, we had scheduled my induction for the following week due to my high blood pressure. I started this third pregnancy as high risk not only because of my past deliveries, but also due to my age. So it is a miracle that this one for lack of better words has been easy. I am not having any of the signs of pre-eclampsia, and surprisingly despite all the stress that the year 2020 has brought, my blood pressure is all normal.

It has been so odd to go from George where I had so many issues from the get go and got an ultrasound every 2-4 weeks, to this baby where I have only had 2 ultrasounds and until recently only heard the heartbeat every 4 weeks.

It’s been easy to not think about the pregnancy all the time since I wasn’t at doctor’s appointments weekly like I was with Daph and George. With the pandemic, there were months where I didn’t see anyone outside of my family so I wasn’t really talking about it as much because no one is watching my belly grow. Even now, I only leave the house a couple days a week. (Honestly, there are folks at work who probably still have no idea I am about to be out for three months.) This pregnancy hasn’t been a focal point of my every day worried that something was wrong because of complications. And because of just how 2020 is going, there is a lot that keeps me busy during the day. Without others pointing out my pregnancy, I could just keep moving through as though everything was normal.

That to me is the interesting part though because I haven’t had regular confirmation that everything was ok. Normally, something like this would push me into a heightened state of anxiety because I didn’t know what was happening. Instead, I have sunk into the normalcy and trusted that everything was ok and wouldn’t let myself think about the unknown.

My doctor and I have talked about “birth” plans, and that I would love to avoid an induction. And honestly, it seems so surreal that this may happen. It is funny that this is my third pregnancy, and I had to talk to my doctor about what I should be watching for with natural labor signs. I have never experienced being normal before so I want to ride that out as long as I can. But it is a little ironic that as a “seasoned” parent, I really have no idea what to expect.

Being normal is such an odd feeling, but I’ll take it!

Who knows how long I actually have left at this point, but I do hope that I can enjoy this experience and just be proud of what my body has endured this third time around. I have learned with my pregnancies to not have any expectations. It is amazing and beautiful when I think about this year and the fact that I am bringing another new life into our world as crazy as it may be. But isn’t a little normal what 2020 needs? This little nugget has been that grounding point for me.

So let’s pray that it continues to be in these remaining weeks (or days). However, whether this pregnancy continues to be textbook normal or I take a turn back into the high risk zone, we are so excited for this little boy to join our family. We are blessed beyond measure to show this child an abnormal amount of love.

Building With Trash

Have you ever seen Toy Story 4? George is Bonnie. I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard at Forky explaining what being trash meant to him, because I could see George having the same monologue. He loves taking our trash and re-purposing it. A week doesn’t go by that he isn’t digging into our cardboard pile or looking for discarded packaging to create some scene he has concocted in his mind.

And he has some grand ideas. Earlier this year, I was sure we were going to live with a cardboard house in our living room for all of time. This thing had a smoke stack, and he had even made furniture for the inside. He wanted to eat all his meals in there; he watched TV in there. He just loves to re-imagine things, and he has a way of looking at things with a whole new appreciation.

So when he came to us this weekend saying he wanted to make an arcade in his room, Tom jumped on board. I clearly had already put all the cardboard in our recycling pile. You can see who is the fun parent here…

Tom’s brain is the same as George with just a little more experience. So it is like they are speaking the same language, and Tom is able to make all of George’s recycling dreams come true.

But I have to say this pinball machine definitely takes the cake.

Who knows how long this thing will actually last, but it makes him so ridiculously happy. He has even created a ticket system for his “arcade.” And while he does love a good TV binge and playing games on our phones, it is refreshing that he wants to use his time this way instead.

With what he comes up with, I could see George being an engineer, designer, or architect someday. I have to remind myself that it is only cardboard, and eventually it will make its way to the trash. But in this moment, this all is so much more to the kids.

Sometimes it is hard for me to let go of the pieces that want the order and less chaos of toys and “trash” strewn every where. However, when I break it down, these are the moments that build him into who he will be someday. By letting him create and dream up these things, we are showing him what his brain is capable of. And by helping him build out what is in his head, we are showing our support and belief in his dreams. It’s helping him problem solve and pushes him to be creative with his solutions. When I start to think about what is happening here, the trash problem seems so insignificant. For every mess I see, George has a whole backstory and reason for it being the way that it is. And as wild and crazy as they seem, when he tells the story, they are always unique and purposeful. I want him to know that his ideas are valued and encourage that creativity.

So sometimes we build really crazy things and let the fun flow from it. And sometimes the inventions do not work, but this shows him to take another look and try again.

Do I let him take all the trash to build something? No I do not. More often than not, George hears that taking that piece of trash is not realistic today. Literally in the middle of writing this post I had to go break the kids up because they were arguing over the best place to put the “pull-up” maze. Yes they had taken all of George’s pull-ups and thrown them around their rooms to create a maze obstacle course…Not ideal.

However, sometimes I need to let loose and let an arcade machine come to life.

These are the moments I hope my kids remember. George with his idea. Tom with his building magic. Gammy helping George “paint” the theme. And Daphne and I digging through my car to find dinosaurs as props. It’s here that some of the real magic of parenting happens.

And I have to admit that without Tom these moments are not possible. I am just not that kind of mom…but that is a post for another day.

I just have to remember that I may not always see the end result, but having faith in my people and supporting their dreams are sometimes our best moments together.