Category: Phoenix

Spin the Wheel

It’s been a hot minute since I posted, and it’s not been for lack of inspiration. I have a note on my phone with seven different posts I want to write! But, life has been crazy. I’m fairly certain that life will be crazy for the foreseeable future. 

Life with five kids is a lot. For me, going from two to three was a challenging transition, and then going from three to four was just the gradual process of becoming a parental figure to my stepdaughter, Penny. She’s our oldest, so it wasn’t exactly the same as adding a new baby to the family. 

With Finley, I really feel the five. FIVE. It’s grueling, to be honest. 

You would think that co-parenting with four parents would be easier in a way. We only have four of our kids about 50% of the time, because the other 50% they are with their other parents. And in some ways, it is pretty awesome. We get to have some quiet nights with just Finley, and some nights with just Finley and Penny, and some nights with the Westys (that’s what we call my three kiddos from my previous marriage) and Finley, which is a different dynamic than when we have all five. 

Having times without all of the kids gives me and RJ the ability to decompress a bit and recharge for the next time we have them. When we have all of them, we call it “Kid Chaos,” and the name is fitting. It can feel a tad chaotic when you’re holding a baby, two kids are crying at once, and the other two are asking you for things. Oh, and there’s poop, too. Where? Just everywhere. In diapers, unflushed in toilets, in the dog’s crate, possibly on me somewhere. It’s par for the course. 

So the days when we have fewer kids are really helpful for our sanity—or what’s left of it.

But, in other ways, our co-parenting lifestyle is more challenging. The scheduling alone could be an Olympic sport. Even as someone who enjoys organization and lists and calendars and schedules, I can’t always keep track of who’s supposed to be where and when. I absolutely hate being the one who dropped the ball in the parenting game. 

The hardest part, though, is the emotional side of things. 

My mental state is drastically affected by which kids are with me on any given day. When it’s Kid Chaos, I automatically go into Mom Boss mode. I summon the patience and energy to keep things running (mostly) smoothly. I pull out some of my best parenting tactics and often find myself satisfied with my work at the end of the day. 

But, if Kid Chaos goes on too long, I run out of steam. I sometimes describe stress to my kids like air in a balloon. If you’re blowing up a balloon, and you keep adding more and more air, eventually it’s going to burst. If you stop adding air, and maybe even let some out, then you will be able to fill it up again later without it bursting. All the things in life that cause stress are like air that you’re adding to your balloon. Taking time to release some of that pressure—to pause, rest, and recharge—is important to prevent a blowup, AKA an emotional meltdown. 

So, needless to say, when Kid Chaos goes on longer than my personal balloon can handle, it doesn’t end well. Those are the days that I consider “bad parenting” days. Am I too hard on myself? Possibly. But in any case, yelling at my kids is not something I want to do, ever. So when I fail at keeping myself regulated and end up adding to the chaos with my own out-of-control emotions, I consider that a parenting fail.

When it’s time to bring the Westys to their dad, I usually have a complex tangle of emotions to process. I feel relief, because I can finally let some air out of my balloon. Even if my balloon didn’t survive, well, at least I have time to acquire a new one. (Metaphorically speaking…) When I get a break, I have a chance to mentally recover from any bad moments I had with the kids. That brings a sense of relief, because God only knows I need those breaks. 

But the feeling of relief is very quickly followed by guilt. Mom-guilt is a powerful force, and I have loads of it. There’s guilt over feeling relieved that I get a break from my kids. There’s guilt over needing a break at all. There’s guilt that I’m only half of a parent to the Westys, because I’m only with them half of the time—I know that this isn’t true, but it’s what that little voice in my head tells me. 

There’s guilt in knowing that our divorce has caused and continues to cause pain to my children, because they are sometimes upset during the transitions and often miss the parent who they aren’t with. There’s guilt in hearing my kids tell me that they wish we all lived together. There’s guilt in every meltdown, misbehavior, and moment of conflict, because what if it was caused by the trauma of our divorce? 

Guilt is heavy, indeed. 

Plain and simple sadness is also entangled in the ball of emotions. I’m sad that I’m not with my kids. I’m sad and nostalgic about the simplicity of our lives when we were a nuclear family. I’m sad knowing in my heart that Cory and I were not meant for each other forever, and nothing that I did or he did would have changed that. I’m sad knowing that the first part of my adult life was spent with Cory instead of RJ, and that the first part of RJ’s adult life was spent with Amber instead of me, and knowing that I still wouldn’t change a single thing because it brought me my kids exactly as they are. 

I’m sad that out of all our kids, only one will know what it’s like to have an intact family. I’m sad that I’ve done to my kids the one thing I never, ever wanted to do to them—and vowed never to do!—because I didn’t want them to experience the pain that I experienced as a child. I’m sad because I know that life just isn’t as simple as I once believed, and we can only do our best, and nothing is guaranteed, and things change in ways we can’t predict. 

I often find that when I’m with my kids, I feel stressed and overwhelmed, and yet somehow also energized and motivated. But when I’m not with all of them, I feel relieved, and yet also sad and anxious and depressed. It becomes this paradox where “I can’t live with them, and can’t live without them,” as they say. I’m unhappy in both situations, just in different ways. 

It can feel like each day I’m just spinning a wheel to see what it lands on. Chaos? Stress? Guilt? Sadness? Depression? Anxiety? 

Which will it be today? 

Of course, those aren’t the only things I feel. I feel joy and excitement, amusement, contentedness, satisfaction, and so many more positive things when I’m with my kids. They make me laugh, delight me with their adorableness, and warm my heart with their sweetness. Above all, when I’m with my kids, I feel love.

There is no love like a parent’s love for their child. I would do anything—anything—for my kids, and my highest priority in life is to take care of them. But also, there is no love like a child’s love for their parent. To your child, you are a hero. You are the one human in the world (or one of a very select few) that they need and love more than any other. You are the world to them. Even when they say they hate you, or that you’re mean, or any other angry and thoughtless thing that kids can sometimes spew at us parents, we still know that they love us and will forgive us. We can mess up again and again and again, but as long as we do our best and try, our kids will still think we hung the moon. That is such a privilege. 

To love and be loved as a mother is the most priceless gift. Despite the immense challenges that come with parenthood, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. My kids are my biggest source of both pain and joy in my daily life. They are everything.

So, onward I march. I’ll continue to take my days as they come, one at a time. I’ll continue to spin the wheel. Or maybe the wheel is spinning me? At this point, I don’t think it really matters. I’m just along for the ride. 

Finley’s Birth Story

Finley represents many things for me that are unique to him, out of all of my children. He is my bonus baby, my surprise blessing, the brother Cody never thought he’d have… not to mention the (biological) son RJ never thought he would have. Finley is like a bridge between two families—Westropps and Gentrys. He’s the final piece of the puzzle that has completed our beautiful, complex, chaotic blended family. He’s also the child that, just by coming into existence, made me eat my words once again. Because I said I was done! And the truth is, I was utterly done with having babies after my last one, Amelia—but then my whole life changed. 

When I met RJ and fell in love, everything changed. Pretty early on I knew I wanted to have a baby with him someday. Still, when Finley was conceived, it was a big surprise! It wasn’t the timing we’d planned, and I wasn’t exactly eager to go through pregnancy and birth again. But I believe that God’s plan and timing are perfect, and while I may not have planned for Finley at the time he was conceived, God did. RJ and I quickly moved from shock to excitement—and we were even more thrilled to find out we were having a boy. Three girls and two boys is a pretty amazing balance, and it felt so right for us. 

While this pregnancy and birth were exceedingly uncomfortable, we are overjoyed to have our son with us now. As always, this precious baby was worth every moment. And despite knowing that nobody really believes me anymore, I do mean it when I say I am now retired from making tiny humans.

Finley James Gentry was born on Monday, June 19th, 2023 at 9:22 AM. He was born at home, completely unmedicated, in about 10 hours from start to finish. He was 20 inches long and weighed 7 lbs 4 oz. Here’s how it all happened.

From the beginning of my pregnancy, I knew that I was likely in for a rough ride. My pregnancy with Cody wasn’t terribly uncomfortable—I had nausea for a little past the first trimester, and that was it. But with each pregnancy after that, it got worse. I was sick longer with Abigail, and with Amelia I didn’t have relief from pregnancy sickness until after she was born! I also had worse heartburn with each subsequent pregnancy, which further limited the kinds of foods I could eat. 

With Finley, I was once again nauseous and experienced moderate heartburn throughout my pregnancy. My mental health, which has been a struggle for most of my life, has often been worsened by the challenges of pregnancy and the postpartum period. This time was no exception, and feeling literally sick and tired for nine months, while navigating some pretty huge life changes and parenting four other children, took a heavy toll on me. 

In the final weeks of my pregnancy, I struggled with a lot of anxiety and depression around the waiting. It felt endless, but I also felt like even when Finley was born, I wasn’t sure that I would feel better about life in general. Life is hard, and I haven’t chosen the easiest path over the past couple of years. At times, I can get overwhelmed by it. So, in the days leading up to Finley’s birth, I was spending a lot of time by myself just trying to rest and cope. RJ has been taking care of so much so that I could make it through this time, and I am so thankful for such a caring, supportive partner. 

Even though I knew that statistically, I wasn’t likely to begin my birthing time until after reaching my guess date (40 weeks of pregnancy), I still was hoping that I would get lucky and have him a little early. After reaching term at 37 weeks, I desperately wanted to get to the finish line! But, of course, birth is unpredictable and pretty much out of anyone’s control—so nothing I did seemed to have any effect on getting things started. It was disheartening, and every day seemed to drag on endlessly. 

At 38 weeks, I had a prenatal appointment and asked for a cervical check and membrane sweep if possible. This is a fairly common method of encouraging birthing to begin, but it requires at least 1-2 CM of dilation. Most prenatal care providers don’t offer this induction technique until 39 to 40 weeks of pregnancy, and my midwife doesn’t typically do them until after 40 weeks. However, she also respects my informed decision making process and was willing to do it at 38 weeks; unfortunately, I wasn’t dilated at all so it couldn’t be done. 

At my next appointment at 39 weeks, we tried again and were able to do the sweep. She successfully encouraged my cervix to dilate from 1 CM to 2 CM, and that was encouraging. Membrane sweeping has been found to encourage birthing time to begin within 48 hours, so I was hopeful that it would do the trick. 

Every day after the sweep, I waited for my birthing time to start. RJ was able to do a sweep for me each night, after being given instructions and precautions by the midwife. (Ultimately, I suspect that the repeated sweeps are what triggered my birthing time to begin before my guess date!) But at the time, I didn’t know if it was having any effect. Occasionally I noticed more pressure waves that could have been my early birthing time, but they didn’t progress. It took four days until I did go into my active birthing time on Sunday, June 18th around 10:30 PM. 

I wasn’t sure if it was actually the real deal at first—as usual, since I can never tell for sure until I’m much further into my birthing time. But I had some bleeding earlier in the night, and then my pressure waves were forming a fairly consistent pattern, coming about every 5-15 minutes and lasting about 45-60 seconds. For me, that is about as good of a pattern as I usually get until I’m in transition (the final stage of dilation), so I was optimistic. But the most promising sign that my birthing time was for sure in progress was the intensity of the waves. When I feel the need to use my hypnosis to stay comfortable, and when I start feeling like vocalizing during my waves, that’s when I usually know the time has come. And, by 1:30 AM, I was doing both. Still, I was anxious about calling my midwife too soon and wasting everybody’s time, let alone getting my own hopes up. So I pushed myself to wait until 2 AM to wake up RJ and have him call the midwife, Christy. 

At that point, I was as sure as I could be, so we got things rolling. RJ called Christy, who then started getting her things together to head over to us. Then he set up the birthing pool, made the bed, and made other necessary preparations while we waited for her. I continued to work through my waves, and was feeling good at that point. All of the kids were with us that night, but they were fast asleep throughout the beginning of my birthing time.

When Christy arrived, she set up all of the birth supplies and then checked my dilation, something we’d previously discussed. While I believe that there are pros and cons to cervical checks during birthing time, I decided to request them periodically because in the past they’ve given me encouragement about my progress. Unfortunately, for this birth, they were the opposite of encouraging! I don’t think that the checks caused me not to progress, but learning that I wasn’t progressing as fast as I’d hoped was discouraging, nevertheless. 

At my first check, I’d been in active birthing time for about four hours. I was expecting this birth to be at least as fast as my last one (which was only six hours), so I was hoping to be close to full dilation already. But, I was only at 3-4 CM! I was discouraged to hear that, considering that I was already about 4 CM when RJ had done my sweep earlier that night. Still, I had enough energy to feel optimistic that things could progress quickly from there. Soon after that, my midwife’s assistant Ana arrived. The cool story with Ana is that she was part of my prenatal care team throughout my pregnancy with Amelia—with a completely different midwife, in a different county! It felt like a crazy coincidence to find out that she is one of Christy’s assistant’s now (and is now a fully licensed midwife, rather than a student). And, since she didn’t end up attending Amelia’s birth, it was really cool to have her here for Finley’s. With her arrival, we were all ready for baby to come. We also called my mother-in-law, Marsha, to come over and take care of the kids later, around 6:30 AM.

As the hours passed by and my pressure waves began to increase in intensity, my energy level started to fade. I’d had no sleep whatsoever that night, and the waves were powerful. My hypnosis was not keeping me as comfortable as I would have hoped. So, a few hours after my first cervical check, I asked for another one and found I was about 6-7 CM. That felt like insanely slow progress to me, and that was the point where I began to feel I was close to reaching my limit. 

This process repeated, with another couple of hours of very intense waves followed by another desperate cervical check. I was still at about 7-8 CM, and at that point I knew I couldn’t go on. I needed to be fully dilated and start pushing, but I wasn’t there yet. Christy offered to break my water, but I wasn’t confident in that plan because typically when the water breaks, the waves become even more intense. If that happens when fully dilated, then great, because you can start pushing baby out! But, my fear was that having more intense waves at that point, before being fully dilated, would be more than I could take. I was already at my breaking point. 

I started asking seriously about transferring to the hospital. At that point, I was ready for help. I fantasized about having an epidural and Pitocin and finally getting Finley out—just like I had ended up doing for my first birth, with Cody. For me, it wasn’t the end of the world, and I knew it would be okay. I just wanted to be done.  

At first, RJ encouraged me to fight the impulse to go to the hospital. He knew that having a home birth was my preference, and he wanted to make sure that I wasn’t just in my “I can’t go on” stage of birth, which I had warned him would happen. But we continued to discuss it and I was adamant that this was what I needed at that point. I could tell he was anxious about the change of plans, but he supported me. The midwife started making preparations to begin the transfer, and was about to call the hospital when I suddenly felt a pop. It was a sensation I had felt before and I announced that my water had just broken. 

Everybody asked what I wanted to do then and I said I had “no fucking idea,” with an exasperated laugh. It was a ridiculous situation. There was a chance I would be able to get to the hospital in time for an epidural to help me through any more waves, in the case of continuing active birthing waves for possibly hours longer. However, in my past births, after the water broke I was always pushing soon after. Pushing waves and the pushing process were much more manageable for me, and I knew it wouldn’t be worth it to have an epidural just for that. I decided to have yet another cervical check to confirm my water was broken, since there wasn’t a lot of liquid on the pad I’d been sitting on despite the popping sensation.

Christy checked me and said she could still feel the bag of waters, and that I was still at about 7-8 CM. I said something like, “oh, okay so that was just some bullshit then,” and reaffirmed that I wanted to go to the hospital. But, as I was laying on the bed moments later working through another agonizing wave, I felt an even bigger pop and a huge gush of water. Ana could see the water rushing out, and we knew then for sure that my water actually had broken that time. 

We all laughed at the situation, and I was asked yet again if I still wanted to go to the hospital. At that point, I knew I needed to see what the next wave felt like, but it was highly unlikely we were going anywhere. Within a few minutes, the pushing wave I felt confirmed it. “We’re not going to make it, he’s coming here,” I announced. 

I’d already decided to push him out on the bed, instead of in the pool, since the pool had stopped helping with my comfort level hours before. I moved to my hands and knees and started pushing with my waves. I could feel him moving down, and RJ and Christy could see the beginning of his head. These waves were much more manageable, as I expected, and the feeling of moving him down and closer to birth was so much more productive and encouraging, which gave me the energy to keep going. A couple of times, I pushed him further down in between waves, which I suspect sped up the process further.

After about 20 minutes of pushing, he went from partway down my birth canal to crowning to head out within a single wave. As with one of my previous births (Abigail), his head came out but the rest of him was a little stuck. This time, I was prepared and knew exactly what to do—Christy had even discussed with us the plan we would follow ahead of time, in this situation. She unwrapped his cord from around his neck, quickly assessed his position, had me put one leg up in a runner’s lunge, and hooked his shoulder to assist me pushing him out. It only took a minute, and he was born. I scooped him up into my arms and sat back to rest and savor the reward of my labor. He was out! It felt like a miracle. 

After that, recovery was pretty straightforward. I had a proactive shot of Pitocin, as requested ahead of time, which helped quickly to deliver the placenta and control my bleeding. I didn’t need a single stitch this time, which was great to hear. The midwives cleaned us up and cleaned up the room, and then we did the newborn exam and settled in to rest and recover.

Of course, we had to introduce all of the kids to their new baby brother! They all came in and took turns admiring him. After we cut the umbilical cord, they took turns holding him. Penny’s mom, Amber, had arrived by then to take Penny for the rest of the day and she was kind enough to cook us a meal and take her turn admiring the baby. Although Cory couldn’t be there because he was out of town, I felt a lot of healing vibes for our blended family that day. To have Cory’s mom and Penny’s mom there supporting us was a powerful moment for me, and it meant a lot. We may be unconventional, but we are all part of this extended family now and I love it. 

Since Finley’s birth, we’ve both been doing great. Recovery has been easy and comfortable so far (other than some very uncomfortable afterpains, which fortunately are getting less and less each day). Finley is a professional nurser, and has had no problems getting plenty of milk around the clock. His siblings all adore him, and we are settling in nicely as a family. 

As always, God was a huge source of comfort for me throughout my pregnancy and birth. While my relationship with God has changed a lot over the past couple of years, I know that the core of who God is, and who God is for me, is still the same. They are the source of my hope when everything else seems dark, and the light that guides me ahead into my future. As I venture into this next chapter of balancing a wild amount of things all at once, and the ups and downs that come with that, I know that I want to seek God more and more as a source of strength, joy, hope, and purpose in my life. I believe that They are the reason I will not only survive, but thrive in the challenging yet beautiful months and years ahead. 

I am thankful for my amazing and wonderful partner, RJ, who will soon be my husband. He is loving, supportive, capable, and the best life partner I could ask for to do all of this with. I am thankful for my four biological children (four! Four humans have come out of me! How crazy is that!) and also for my awesome bonus daughter. Penelope, Cody, Abigail, Amelia, and Finley—you are my purpose in life, and having the privilege of loving and caring for you is something I will always be thankful for. And, I am also very thankful for the support network I have been blessed with in this life. Finley has come into my life at a time when I have so much to be thankful for, and I am so happy to bring him into the world under these circumstances. 

As always, pregnancy and birth were an absolute beast. But, I survived! And, also as always, this baby was worth every moment. 

Welcome to the world, Finley James. You are so very loved.

The Male Maturity Continuum

In this day and age, the bar has been raised for men when it comes to maturity. I don’t mean maturity in terms of outdated gender-stereotyped characteristics. Men of today are beginning to be held to a higher standard, and judged when they don’t meet it. Being “manly” no longer means acting tough, masking vulnerability, making displays of strength, or being catered to by others (especially women). Instead, men today are expected to be emotionally intelligent, competent at household chores, capable caregivers, responsible, and kind.

The changing expectations of men are revealing more and more of a creature popularly known as the “man-child.” Because we now expect more of men, it seems we are discovering that many men are in fact not fully grown to maturity in a number of ways. They are, sadly, stuck in a child-like stage of development. 

My theory is that there are in fact three general stages of male maturity, and the man-child is unfortunately not the worst of them. While grown-ass men are the gold standard of what we can hope for, there are still a frighteningly large number of men who fall far below that standard. Sometimes, man-child is not accurate—enter, the man-baby. 

Man-baby, man-child, and grown-ass man have several very important distinctions. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Areas of comparison will include emotional maturity, contribution to the home and childcare when applicable, conflict resolution skills, and overall competence in life. 

Man-baby is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to all of these areas. First of all, he doesn’t understand feelings. He either thinks they are silly and beneath him, pretending to have none whatsoever, or he believes that his feelings are of the utmost importance above the feelings of all others. When man-baby is upset, he throws tantrums. Sometimes, these tantrums can be silent, but don’t be mistaken. Refusing to communicate feelings is man-baby behavior, and giving the silent treatment is arguably no better than a full blown tantrum with shouting, crying, making threats, using unkind words, and maybe even throwing things. 

Man-child is more mature with his feelings than man-baby, but he still hasn’t reached his full potential. He may have smaller tantrums, or shorter-lived periods of giving the silent treatment. But man-child is different, because he catches himself in these moments of weakness (which most of us have from time to time—nobody is perfect!), and he course-corrects. Man-child is working on himself, and learning to be better.

Grown-ass man isn’t perfect either, of course. But he is emotionally mature and self-aware enough that he doesn’t fall into child-like behaviors during times of emotional stress. He uses healthy coping strategies and good communication, and he genuinely considers and cares about the feelings of others. 

Contribution to household chores and childcare, when applicable, is possibly the easiest area to spot the differences between the man-baby, man-child, and grown-ass man. Man-baby does not do chores—it is as simple as that. If asked to do a chore, in fact, he will be offended and liable to throw a tantrum. He will mansplain why he shouldn’t be expected to cook or clean or manage the home in any way, because he works outside of the home. He doesn’t understand that work inside the home is just as taxing, and often requires more time and energy. If he has a partner who works outside the home as well, he seems to disregard that and insist that household chores are “women’s work.” He is entitled, spoiled, and often ungrateful for his partner’s contributions. 

When it comes to childcare, man-baby is of no use. He is a baby himself, so he could not and should not be expected to care for children with any level of competence. Not only would he be unwilling to do so, but even if he were, it would not be a safe situation for the child. He would likely get distracted by video games, decide to take a nap, or otherwise neglect to care for the basic needs and safety of any child in his care. 

Man-child is a big improvement over man-baby when it comes to sharing a home. He doesn’t do chores on his own; that would require taking independent and equal responsibility for home management, which he still doesn’t do. But, when asked, man-child will usually help. He may at times have a bit of an attitude about it; he may complain that he’s tired, or sigh and groan, or simply “forget” to do what he’s been asked. Still, he is willing to help out, and that is better than nothing. 

He also is willing to help out with the children when necessary. He will babysit, step in to discipline at times, and be a present and significant part of special family moments. He doesn’t usually complain about these duties, because he knows that he chose to become a father and that these tasks come with the territory. Like all parents, of course, he does get worn out and understands that parenting is often times exhausting—but his understanding of this exhaustion is nowhere near as deep as his partner’s, since they are still the one handling the brunt of the childcare duties. 

Grown-ass man is once again the higher standard here. He doesn’t wait for his partner to ask him to “help” with chores. He doesn’t see it as “helping” at all, because he knows that he is equally responsibly for household chores. He is simply doing his part, and he doesn’t need to be managed by his partner like a child needs to be managed by their parent. Grown-ass man takes an enormous burden from his partner—not just the burden of doing endless chores, but the mental burden of single-handedly managing a home.

As a father, grown-ass man is an equal partner. He may or may not be the primary caregiver during the workday, depending on whether his partner works and what their family dynamic is, but in any case he is still a primary caregiver to his children because he is a fully invested parent. If he works outside of the home (figuratively or literally), he doesn’t finish work and then expect a “break” before assuming childcare duties. He knows that parenting is a full-time job, and he jumps right in. He is equally competent with his partner at all parenting responsibilities. He changes diapers without a second thought, kisses boo-boos, and talks about feelings with his kids. Grown-ass man is not just a glorified sperm donor like man-baby, or a babysitter like man-child. Grown-ass man is Dad. 

In conflict resolution, man-baby is pathetic. He doesn’t listen to other’s points of view or give them any consideration. He doesn’t communicate clearly, or sometimes at all. He believes it should be his way or the highway. Nobody wants to be stuck in a relationship with man-baby. 

Man-child is an improvement. He can still be often unreasonable and insensitive, and his communication skills are frequently lacking. But, he is once again learning. He realizes his mistakes (with help, sometimes), and he is capable of apologizing and trying to do better next time. When he has a problem that he would like his partner to address, he is able to bring it up in a way that is sensitive and constructive—eventually. His first attempts might be less than ideal.

Grown-ass man is a great communicator, empathetic, and open-minded. He doesn’t insist on his own way with things, and he truly cares more about his relationships than his process. He apologizes when he makes mistakes, and he advocates for himself in ways that are both assertive and kind. When his partner has a concern, he fully invests himself into his role of supporting them in whatever way is needed. 

Lastly, we can compare the men on this continuum in terms of their general competence in life. 

It comes as no surprise that man-baby is severely incompetent. Not only is he unwilling to contribute to the care of others, but he is incapable of even caring for himself. He expects others to do everything for him, and he doesn’t know the first thing about basic life skills. 

Of course, man-child isn’t as far from the mark as that. He possesses some life skills, especially in areas where he has been taught by others. Any skills that have been required of him for his job or basic functioning in life are present and in good working order. Skills that he hasn’t been required to learn, however, are lacking. He doesn’t take initiative to learn new things, or improve himself. And, even in areas where he is competent, he would rather let others do things for him when possible. 

Grown-ass man goes out of his way to learn new things, improve his competence, and become a more well-rounded person. He is good at many things, and not just things perceived as “masculine” activities. He knows how to handle himself in life, from his career to his finances to his relationships and beyond. He is a fully-functional adult. 

Now, while these stages of development are fairly easy to distinguish between, it is important to note that most men don’t fall into only one stage. Men can have times where they regress to man-baby and times when they act like the grown-ass men they biologically are. They can also have some areas in which they are total man-babies, but other areas where they are remarkably grown-ass.

And, to be fair, this spectrum of maturity is not limited to men. Women and non-binary people all have varying levels of maturity in various areas of their lives. It’s just fun to point out these challenges in men because, well, in our highly patriarchal society, men have so many unfair advantages and are often given so much more slack than women are that it can be therapeutic in a way to take them down a peg. Basically, as a woman, I am expected to be fully-grown as a general rule—yet men are often not treated this same way. It’s time to call out the man-babies and man-children. It’s time to ask for better. 

If you are a grown-ass man, then I know you know that you don’t deserve a gold medal for this. But even so, I do want to thank you. Because you are exhibiting a new, higher standard for men everywhere, and the more of you that are out there, the less we will have to put up with the men who aren’t meeting that standard. So thanks, and keep up the good work!  

If you are a man-baby, I don’t think you will have read this. You may not even know how to read. And if you do, I suspect, you find it to be a boring or unmanly activity. But if by some miracle you have read this, I know it is highly likely you are now extremely offended and probably defensive. But the truth is, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Just stop being a man-baby and act your age, alright? You’ll do a lot better in life that way.

Lastly, if you are a man-child, I want to congratulate you on progressing past infancy, and encourage you to continue your journey into maturity. Keep improving. It’s time to finish growing up! You can do it. 

Things I Thought I Knew

In 2020, I was pregnant with my daughter Amelia. It was my fourth pregnancy, but my third baby (my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage). Cory and I had our doubts about whether we should even get pregnant again, because we already had a son and a daughter, and our family felt like it could be complete at that. But, some part of me didn’t feel done, and we ultimately decided to go ahead and have a third kiddo. We’re both so glad that we did, because life is better with Mia in it! 

Throughout that pregnancy, though, as I suffered through my typical pregnancy sickness and heartburn and general discomfort, I vowed many times that it would be my last pregnancy. I felt very confident and at peace with that decision, and so did Cory. During Amelia’s birth, I vowed “never again.” After she was born, I started seriously considering adoption, which I saw as our only path to adding another child to our family one day. Cory and I weren’t sure if that’s what we even wanted, but we did know that getting pregnant again was not on the table for us.

So many times, I said that that pregnancy was my last. And I really meant it. So then how is it that I find myself here, three years later, pregnant with my fourth child? 

Well, as it turns out, there are the plans we make and then there are the plans that God makes for us. Or, if you prefer, there are more potential futures for us than we can ever really know. Sometimes our path in life changes dramatically in ways we could never have imagined or foreseen. That’s basically what happened to me. 

Now obviously, it wasn’t all just “fate.” I made choices, and those choices are what led to me being pregnant right now. I don’t regret it—I am thrilled to be having another baby, and this time, another boy! Finley is very much wanted. 

But looking back, it’s funny to see all the things I wrote and truly believed at the time. 

By the time Amelia turned one, my life was already beginning to change dramatically. Cory and I had opened our marriage to polyamory, and I had fallen in love with a new partner, RJ. Only a few months later, Cory and I decided to end our marriage. 

Divorce was always something that I believed wholeheartedly would never happen to me. I was determined to make my marriage last. It was practically my biggest life goal since I was a little girl—and yet, here I am now, divorced. So how did that happen?

Well basically, I realized that I wasn’t in love anymore. And while I always believed that love was a choice, and I could have continued to love Cory as my husband if I was determined to, the change was that I was no longer determined to. I realized that there was more available to me—more passion, excitement, and romance. I realized that sex didn’t have to feel like an obligation or something that made me feel icky. I realized that I could choose whatever I wanted to in life, and I could change my mind about things (even big things), and that it was okay to do that. I realized that divorce didn’t have to be a negative thing. For me and Cory, it wasn’t. 

Really, giving myself the freedom to choose and change all started with my religious deconstruction. Because my beliefs about God and the Bible and church were my bedrock. Yet, I was able to change those! If I could change those, then what else couldn’t I change? Everything was a possibility at that point. 

And so it happened like a chain reaction. I deconstructed my faith. That allowed me to become polyamorous, something that I feel was always a dormant part of me. Being poly allowed me to understand how I really felt about Cory, and it introduced me to RJ. Being with RJ changed how I felt about having another baby. Which has led to me here and now: unchurched, spiritually questioning, divorced, and pregnant again. If someone had told me a few years ago that this is where I’d be, I wouldn’t have believed them.

So, what do I believe now? The truth is, I’m still trying to figure that out. 

I still believe in God. I don’t believe that God is a male—how ridiculous of us to put God in a box so small as gender! I believe God is our creator (through scientific means, not magic). I believe God is good, and present to those who seek, and powerful, and mysterious. I believe God is everywhere and in everything good, and that God goes by many names. 

I was taught to believe that the God of the Bible is the only true God, and that he can only be known through believing in Jesus. Yet, I found myself unable to believe that a good and loving God could refuse to be in a relationship with anybody who didn’t guess correctly out of a vast number of options for religious and spiritual “truth.” 

I was raised as a Christian, but what if I had been raised Hindu, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Atheist? How could I be reasonably expected to believe that Christianity was the truth while my own religious foundation was made up? Even more ridiculous to me was the idea that one had to be the right type of Christian to find salvation—Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah’s witnesses were out, and even some types of Protestants weren’t quite on the right track to be certain of their eternal fate (according to my Evangelical background, that is). 

I began to ask myself, could it really be true that a good and loving God would condemn people who believe differently to an eternity in Hell? There is so much context behind what a person believes or doesn’t believe. And why, in the first place, is it even necessary for us to be saved by Jesus? Simply because we’re not perfect? Being perfect is impossible! How can we be punished for not doing the impossible? For me, it was equally impossible to make sense of all of that.

Beyond my theological concerns, there were my objections to the teachings and practices of the church as a whole. The sexism, homophobia, ableism, and nationalism that are taught and encouraged within the church; and the ignorant and irresponsible responses to huge social issues like COVID, gun violence, racism, and sexual assault were all huge problems for me. The weight of these social issues and the church’s role in them became too heavy, and I had to leave. 

I have spent over a year now not being a part of any church, and not having really any spiritual practices in my life at all. I guess I needed a break to sort everything out. But now, I am at the end of my deconstruction period and beginning to feel ready to rebuild something spiritual in my life. I may even start going to church again—but if I do, it will be a church that is progressive and therefore in line with my own moral compass, rather than aggressively opposing it. 

Anyway. My point with all of this is that there are things that I thought I knew, and as it turns out, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. If anything, the past couple of years have taught me that nothing in life is certain or permanent. Things change, and we change, and that’s just life. We can all only do our best with what we know at any given time. 

My life has changed so much, and truthfully there are times when I still mourn for my previous life. I had a good thing going. Everything felt certain and settled and neat. I didn’t feel adrift in a sea of unknowns, wondering how I got there and where the hell I was going.

But I know that I can never go back to that life. For better or worse, I am on a different path now. I am doing my best to live a life that has purpose, love, and joy woven throughout it. Does it always feel that way? No. Especially not when I’m in the middle of an ongoing depression and an uncomfortable pregnancy. Nevertheless, that is my goal and I am doing my best, which is all any of us can do. 

A Look Back at 2022

Last year brought more unexpected changes to my life than any year I can remember. My family, my pets, my home, my location, my future plans—they all changed drastically this past year. It’s been a lot. And for me, the queen of change, that is really saying something. 

Let’s dive in. 

In January, I was still, technically, polyamorous. I was married to Cory and living at home with him and the kids, while dating RJ. But RJ and I were making plans for a more serious future together. We were seeing each other about every other day, despite the hour and a half commute between us. What our future together looked like was very much up in the air, but I knew that I wanted to live with him and I was hoping that Cory would be amenable to having him move in with us. 

Meanwhile, Cory and I were still trying to figure out ourselves and what we wanted our marriage to be. And unfortunately, he wasn’t ready to invite RJ into our family and didn’t know if he ever would be. Because of this, along with many other factors, Cory and I officially decided to end our romantic relationship. 

Soon after, RJ asked me to be his nesting partner—even though he wasn’t ready to make that a reality, yet, he knew he wanted that someday. His marriage was ending, and the future he saw was one with me as his life partner. But his separation and divorce process was much more tumultuous than mine, and he hadn’t yet made any official moves to get that started.  

For me, watching the toxic environment of his home life was painful. At the same time, I felt a need to gain more independence in my own life and I felt it was time for me to move out. I could only do so financially if RJ moved in with me, but I knew I could scrape together the money to live on my own for a couple of months while RJ got things situated on his end. More than anything, I wanted to give him a safe and happy place to live, and I acted with my typical speed on that goal. By the end of the month, I was in my new apartment and hoping that RJ would join me there soon. 

Not living with my children was a huge transition for me, but I was determined to stay positive. I chose an apartment only 10 minutes away from the house, and began setting it up so that the kids could stay the night there with me a few nights each week. I also designed my schedule so that I spent a lot of time at the house. I wanted the kids to feel that we were still a family, and I didn’t want the changes to make them sad or feel stressed. 

Looking back on those months, it is honestly hard to write about. At the time, I was focused on finding a life for myself that was happy, while still trying to ensure that my kids were happy too. But a year later, I find myself worrying about what I have taken away from my kids, and how it will affect them for the rest of their lives—that’s something that is hard to live with. 

One thing I do know is that at the time, I was doing the best I could. And, on a happier note, January is when I met and adopted my dog, Pepper. She quickly became my close companion and emotional support animal.

In February, I was briefly employed as a social media poster on a small startup platform, which I very much enjoyed. Unfortunately, the job was temporary and didn’t lead to a longer-term position. I spent most of that month setting up my apartment and settling into my new routines, as well as continuing to drive back and forth to see RJ several times each week. 

That month, Cory and I also decided to dog-swap with my parents. As weird as that sounds, it was the right decision for us! Our puppy Moosey was too much for us to handle, and their older dog Buddy was no longer a great fit for their more active, traveling lifestyle. We happily took Buddy and gave them Moosey, which has been a positive change for everyone. Buddy is wonderful, and probably the most gentle, patient dog with the kids that I’ve ever known. Even though he isn’t mine—he technically belongs to Cory now—I still love and care for him very much. And Moosey is also very happy in his new home!

Sometime early in the year, Cory also got a roommate when he started renting out the spare room to a friend of my brother’s named Dean. He has a daughter who is a year younger than Abi, named Odessa, and they both became a part of our extended family throughout the past year. My kids have loved having Odessa around and playing with her just like they would a younger sister. 

In March, RJ moved in with me—but the defining moment of this was actually quite murky. He started spending more and more nights at the apartment and bringing more and more of his stuff there, but there wasn’t one day where he officially moved in. He started contributing to rent that month, so that’s when I consider him “moved in.” In March, we also got our second cockatiel, Eevee. Pikachu was very happy to have a new friend!

In April, nothing much was going on with me from an outside perspective. But emotionally it was a very challenging time for me. RJ and I were going through the beginnings of a very rocky stage in our relationship, and I was suffering from severe depression. I decided to start therapy (again), and for the first time I also started taking antidepressants. Their effectiveness, for me, wasn’t exactly obvious—but they didn’t not help, so I continued on them until I became pregnant and decided that the potential risks didn’t outweigh the benefits for me. For the first time in my life, though, I found a therapist who I can confidently say is helping me. I have continued to see her, and am very thankful for her. 

In May, RJ and I went on a trip to Las Vegas. We wanted to do something special and romantic to celebrate our commitment to each other, but since we weren’t divorced yet, we settled on a wedding-like commitment ceremony. We kept it just between us, but it was very meaningful even so. That month, RJ and I also took all the kids camping one weekend, and Cory joined us. That was significant to me because it was the beginning of our family truly blending together.

In June, I brought home my first foster kittens, who I named Gremlin and Scout. Gremlin was ugly and hairless, but very sweet. Within a few weeks, she started growing her hair back, and then within a few months she became a beautiful gray cat with a lovely coat of long, soft fur. We changed her name to Remi, and adopted both her and her brother. They are very sweet, well-mannered kitties.

In July, RJ’s daughter Penny turned 9. I also celebrated my birthday that month, and after turning 30 years old, I made a poor life decision and brought home a litter of four more foster kittens—who I was determined, at first, not to adopt. But alas, each kitten was claimed by one of our children as their own. And, after bottle-feeding them and nurturing them back to health for several weeks, we were all attached. I admitted defeat and we adopted those four, as well. Their names our Peanut, Milo, Dusty, and Stormy. Because of them, I have six cats. (For the record, Leo is also still around! He belongs to Cory now, though.) They are very friendly and sweet—but they are also extremely mischievous, and it can be quite stressful managing them at times. 

July was a particularly difficult month for my relationship with RJ. After spending most of our relationship up to that point being monogamous, we decided to revisit the possibility of being polyamorous again. After all, to me, being poly was a big part of my identity and something I wasn’t ready to give up. Unfortunately, since meeting me, RJ no longer felt that being poly was a part of his identity. For him, monogamy had become non-negotiable. We struggled with the issue for weeks, and our relationship barely survived. Ultimately, I chose to stay with RJ and give up poly, but the damage to our partnership was severe and we spent the next several months in couple’s therapy working through that as well as other issues that came up throughout the rest of the year. 

In August, Cody and Abi started school for the first time. Cody went into second grade, after being homeschooled up until then, and Abigail started Transitional Kindergarten (TK). They have thrived throughout this school year, and it has been a very positive change for them—and for me! Having the pressure of homeschooling taken off of me has been a big relief. In August, RJ and I also took a trip to visit my parents and he met them for the first time, which went well. At the end of the month, Cory turned 30. 

In September, Abi turned five and RJ turned 29, and we unknowingly conceived our baby, Finley. Also sometime around that month, Cory’s roommate Dean started dating a woman named Kendall, who has a toddler-aged son named Kaiser. They started to spend time in the house a lot, and it was always fun to have them around. Our blended-extended family was growing!

October was a big month. I found out I was pregnant, which (as already stated) was unplanned, but not unwelcome. It was shocking to me since I’ve never gotten pregnant unintentionally before. It was also well before our planned timeline for having a baby (which we did want to do, eventually). Nevertheless, we were still happy about the news. We decided on the name Finley right away. In October, we celebrated more birthdays as Cody turned 8 and Mia turned 2.

Much less happy events also happened in October, unfortunately. My dog Macy started attacking Buddy, unprovoked—and she caused serious damage to both him and Cory when he intervened. The first attack actually happened in July, but we thought it was a one-time thing until it happened two more times in October. That was the point at which we decided we had no choice but to put Macy down. We’d already attempted to rehome her, searching for over a month with no takers. After that, we put her in a board-and-train program for aggression rehabilitation, and the results seemed promising—until the next attack happened. 

We knew that it was likely that any future home would be unprepared for her aggressive behavior, even if we warned them, because she was so incredibly sweet most of the time towards both people and other dogs. Her attacks were unpredictable and vicious. We knew that the safest thing for her and everybody else was to end her life in the most peaceful and humane way possible. It was a horrible decision to have to make, and a horrible thing to have to do. I miss her very much.

The silver lining is that Buddy has made a full recovery from his injuries and is much happier and carefree now. He will be able to live out the rest of his years in peace and safety. Cory has unfortunately suffered permanent damage to his hand from being bitten, and Cody experienced emotional trauma from witnessing the attack and losing a pet he loved very much for a tragic reason. So I couldn’t say that the events were all for the best, not by a long shot. All I can say, confidently, is that I believe we did the right thing. And it wasn’t Macy’s fault. She didn’t deserve to die. It was simply the only safe choice for everyone involved. Part of me believes that she may have had a neurological problem that we could not detect, because her aggression was completely out of the blue when it happened. But whatever the reason, she was still a good dog and I will always love her. 

In November, RJ and Cory and I took all of the kids on a road trip to the snow. We had a great time! Then we came home and had Thanksgiving, which was also lots of fun. We were able to enjoy our delicious feast this year as a blended family, including our extended-roommate-family—six kids in all! It was a special Thanksgiving this year, which I will always cherish. 

In December, RJ and I, as well as Cory and the kids, all moved back to Orange County. It was a decision we’d all made together months before—Cory’s idea, and RJ’s eager request after I told him about it. Being able to live near his daughter again has been a dream come true for RJ. Moving over an hour away from her was extremely difficult for him, and I know that both him and Penny are much happier now. Cory is also very happy to be able to spend more time with his parents and brother, as well as have a stronger support network as a single dad. 

For me, the move was emotionally and physically challenging. Since about five weeks into my pregnancy, my nausea has been in effect in full force. Handling a move while managing pregnancy sickness was no easy task. In addition, the city that I left was the city that I chose and loved for the past 10+ years. Leaving it was hard for me, and I will probably always miss it. It felt like home.

Nevertheless, I knew that moving was the right choice for everybody else, and the importance of me being in the city I prefer pales in comparison to the importance of RJ being close to Penny and Cory being close to his family. I will adjust to being back in the place where I grew up, and I’m sure I will learn to love it. It may not feel like home yet, exactly, but at least it’s familiar. 

On Christmas Day, RJ finally (officially) asked me to marry him. While we were already planning on getting married, and have discussed it in detail many times as well as picked out our rings, I was still waiting for the “formal” proposal. He asked, and I said yes, and we exchanged rings. So now I can call him my fiancé—yay!   

Last but not least, to end the year with a bang, I had to make one final questionable life decision; get a puppy! RJ and I brought home a tiny 1 ½ pound Chihuahua puppy and named him Nugget. He has been a joy, and I am so glad we decided to get him. (Despite the fact that I already felt at-capacity with pets… I got that puppy fever and gave into it. Fortunately, he’s been a positive addition to our family.)

We closed the year with a party, which was also our first time spending intentional time with RJ’s ex-wife and her girlfriend. The relationship between RJ and Amber (and myself) has been difficult over the past year, but I think we all want to build something more harmonious for the future. And we started that off at a perfect time—celebrating the New Year together, and hopefully, the beginning of a new, more positive year ahead. 

Honestly, 2022 was a hard year for me. I experienced a depth of depression that I haven’t been to since I was a teenager, and it’s something I’m still wading through and trying to pull myself out of. My relationship with RJ has been anything but easy, and many of the changes in my life recently have been stressful and emotionally difficult. 

This was a year in which I made a lot of big decisions, doing my best to make sure they were the right ones. And yet, so many times I’ve looked back and felt that somehow, they were all wrong. Worse, it has felt like any decision would have been wrong. I’ve felt trapped, confused, broken, and stupid. I’ve felt that I have ruined everything. It is a good time for a new year, for me—clearly, I need a fresh start. 

But you know, that’s the thing about the New Year. The date on the calendar changes, yes… but it isn’t magic. Everything is still the same as it was before the clock struck midnight. So while, for some people, celebrating New Year’s fills them with a sense of hope and optimism, for me there is also a sense of defeat. If every choice I make is wrong, what good is a new year? It’s just one more thing for me to fuck up. 

On the other hand, I’m still here. I’m alive, and I have a lot to stay that way for. All I can do is my best, and keep moving forward. And so in that spirit, I have set some goals for the year. My focus is on bringing Finley into the world, taking care of my family, and hopefully, finding some peace for myself. (And maybe, just maybe, trying to avoid making any more changes or big decisions for a good long while.) I am hoping that 2023 is a better year than the last.  

Welcome to IDoNowWhat-Gram

I’ve recently decided to get off of social media. One of the big reasons is that social media has a toxic culture, in my opinion, of comparison and competition. Seeing how everyone else’s life looks from the outside (which is not a realistic representation of everyday life anyway,) can cause one’s own life to look a little less shiny in comparison. While I didn’t necessarily see this happening to me, I could see how subconsciously it might affect me negatively without me realizing it.

The main reason I decided to ditch Facebook and Instagram, though, is that I’ve made so many drastic changes in my life over the past year, and to be honest, I don’t really feel like explaining all of those changes to people who aren’t genuinely part of my life outside of social media.

Over the past year, I deconstructed my faith and left the Evangelical Christian Church. Cory and I opened our marriage, and ultimately decided to separate when we discovered that we weren’t romantically attracted to each other anymore. I’ve moved out, and Cory and I have transitioned to a friendly, supportive, and loving co-parenting relationship.

I also met and fell in love with someone else. RJ is someone who came into my life like a wrecking ball (in the best way). It was fireworks and a deep connection from the start, and he immediately became an extremely important part of my life. He is now my boyfriend and nesting partner, and we are making plans for our future together.

So to be genuine about who I am now and what my life is like would be a big shock to many people on my social media accounts—yet those people aren’t truly part of my life enough for me to take the time to tell them about what’s been going on with me in a more personal way. The people who are in my life know about these things already, so what’s the point?

I decided that it would be easier to just walk away from those platforms. But now, I’m finding myself with the urge to still post my favorite pictures and memories of my day-to-day life and special moments, and I have nowhere to do that. So, even though only a few people ever read this, I’m going to start doing that here. I like to be able to look back at the things I wrote—and now the pictures I’ll post here. Every month, I’ll do a photo dump and maybe write a little bit about the things I’ve been up to.

For this first post, since it’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to post on Instagram, I will do a photo dump from the past several months. 🙂 Enjoy!

Brain Thoughts and Things

You can learn a lot from the internet, you know. It may sound funny, but I’ve actually learned a lot of very interesting, helpful, and insightful things from videos on TikTok. It’s become my favorite social media app.

One of the topics that comes up often in my TikTok feed is mental illness. ADHD is a very popular subject within this genre right now, and I think that’s really awesome because it’s bringing awareness to the different ways that ADHD can manifest in adults, and women especially. It’s no longer just a “kid’s” issue—and although there are negative aspects to ADHD, there are also ways that it can be seen in a positive light. Some people prefer to use the term neurodivergent nowadays to describe many mental differences, including people with ADHD and those on the autism spectrum.

The word neurodivergent is great because it reflects the reality that people with mental differences aren’t somehow broken—rather, they are simply different. And being neurodivergent gives those people special strengths, as well as challenges. The challenges are mostly due to the way that society is structured to work best for neurotypical individuals, anyway. That’s one reason why neurodivergents often need to seek professional help and/or medication to help them cope with their challenges.

Anyhow, that went down a rabbit hole. My point with this post was to talk about hyperfixation. This is something that is most commonly attributed to ADHD. What it means is that people can get super-focused on something (or someone) and that thing (or person) can take over the majority of their thoughts and attention for a period of time. There are also food-related hyperfixations, in which people might want to eat a particular meal every day for a period of time. A common hyperfixation can be on a hobby or interest, a TV show, or a book.

I have given a lot of thought to whether I have ADHD or not, because there are a few ways that I definitely relate to the “symptoms.” One of those things is how I will start doing one task, but then get distracted by another task that needs to be done and start doing that task, and so on until I’ve started several tasks but not completed any. This, however, I mostly attribute to my lifestyle. Being a mom, and homemaker, and pet owner, and partner… well, it leads to many people (or animals) needing things from you, often at the same time, along with a lot of chores that continuously need to be done.

Ultimately, I have landed on “no”—I do not believe that I have ADHD. I do suffer from depression and occasionally anxiety, and I have recently realized that I do tend to hyperfixate at times. But the interesting thing about this is that I just learned that hyperfixation is not only attributed to ADHD, but to depression and anxiety as well. So that makes a lot of sense for me, and I feel weirdly excited about finally having a word and an explanation for some of my behaviors.

My hyperfixations in the past have often been pet-related. I will decide that I want a certain pet and then hyperfixate on that—including figuring out what I need to buy for the pet, what care the pet needs, setting up the living area for the pet, and adding the pet’s expenses to the budget. Then of course I get the pet and enjoy it for a while… but eventually, the hyperfixation ends and then I’m left with more responsibility than I needed on my plate. And so, I’ve rehomed a lot of pets in my lifetime. While this isn’t ideal, I also am very diligent about finding good homes for them—and as I’m learning this about myself, I am also trying to end the cycle.

Other hyperfixations have been on hobbies, exercise regimes, daily schedules, meal-planning, home organization projects, budgeting, homeschooling, potential career paths I could follow, and even people (specifically, romantic partners).

For me, hyperfixations aren’t extreme. I don’t spend every waking minute thinking about or doing the thing that I’m fixated on. But I do spend a good amount of time on it, in between my mandatory tasks such as taking care of my children, home, pets, and occasionally myself (haha, joke…).

From what I read, and it totally makes sense, hyperfixations are a way of diverting negative emotions, like those stemming from depression and anxiety, into something more positive. They can become a problem if they interfere with living a healthy and balanced life, but they can also be a suitable coping mechanism at times.

My current hyperfixation is karaoke, of all things. I went to an arcade with karaoke rooms the other night, and had some fun singing there with my boyfriend and brother. As it turns out, my singing in the car doesn’t translate perfectly to good singing into a microphone in front of other people! And even though I had fun, it was definitely humbling. Instead of saying “well, never doing that again!” I decided to practice until I get better, so that next time, I can sing confidently in front of more people. And as it turns out, it’s pretty fun to practice singing with the goal of getting better. And this has been a source of stress-relief for me that is very needed.

Right now, there’s a lot of stress in my life. I have a busy co-parenting schedule with Cory, which means a lot of kid-swapping and time alone with the kids, as well as time to myself. It’s a really good balance, but it does take a lot of mental energy to keep up with. I also have my boyfriend’s schedule and time with his daughter to consider, not to mention keeping up with chores and pet care. My dogs Buddy and Macy and my cat Leo live with Cory, and he takes care of them. I have my dog Pepper, my boyfriend’s dog Dezi, and our cockatiels Pikachu and Eevee living with us at our apartment, and we share the responsibility for taking care of them. Since homemaking and being a stay-at-home mom is what I consider my job, I do most of the chores at the apartment as well. Cory has taken over the vast majority of chores at the house, though I help him with some things still. All in all, I have a lot on my plate, but it’s still a manageable amount of things to take care of.

My stress also comes from challenges with building a relationship with my boyfriend, in the midst of both of us getting divorced and both struggling with mental illness. I’m used to being the one with the “issues,” and now I have to learn a new skill of supporting a partner through these things as well. We have had some incredibly painful experiences as a couple while figuring out these new dynamics together, and even though we’ve made a lot of progress, it’s still not easy.

I love RJ beyond words, and I am committed to being with him forever, just as he is committed to being with me. But that doesn’t make our relationship easy. We have challenges and things that we need to fight through and work hard on. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve been in that position, because things were honestly always so easy with Cory. And that fact alone has its own weight, which can add to my insecurities and stress over this relationship!

What it comes down to is that right now, my stress levels are high and my depression and anxiety are a daily struggle. But if singing “Let It Go” a dozen times in a day makes me feel a little better, then that’s what I’m going to do!

I love learning new things about myself and discovering that other people do similar things—it makes me feel less alone, and more “normal.” So, this is my reminder to go ahead and use hyperfixation as a coping mechanism, even when it feels silly. Because it’s okay to be a little weird and silly! It’s all just part of being human. 🙂

The B Spectrum

I’ve realized something interesting about myself recently. I guess I already knew this on some level, but I never really defined it before. What I realized is that there’s a sort of “goldilocks zone” for my happiness, which I have named the B Spectrum.

On one end of the B Spectrum is Boredom. When I don’t have enough to keep me occupied—physically, mentally, and emotionally—I get bored. And when I’m bored, my anxiety is often triggered. This will lead me to try to make changes in my life to add some excitement, such as a new pet or a move or a new project or goal.

Being a stay-at-home mom keeps me busy in a lot of ways, but they’re not always the right ways. This job—and yes, it is a job—has the unique properties of being utterly exhausting while simultaneously being mind-numbingly dull. Keeping kids safe, fed, and otherwise well-cared-for requires the presence of a responsible, mature, and capable person—but it doesn’t require a whole lot of thinking, or interesting problem-solving, or any sort of mental stimulation, really. Yet it is still completely exhausting to deal with constant requests for menial labor, ridiculous bickering, emotional outbursts, and never-ending (and often disgusting) messes.

So, simply put, I get bored! And then I get antsy and anxious.

On the other end of the B Spectrum is Burnout. When I feel like I have too much on my plate, I get overwhelmed and stressed out. This usually triggers a depression. And then I might react by trying to simplify my life, such as by quitting a project or rehoming a pet. (This might sound terrible to some, but I always make sure that any pets I rehome go to a loving family that will take just as good care of them as I would, if not better. And for the record, I never set out to adopt a pet only to re-home them down the road, this is just a pattern that I’ve noticed, and I’m trying to break it.)

Again, being a stay-at-home mom is exhausting, and frequently does lead to burnout for me. What it comes down to is that I’m doing a job that is very demanding, despite being often unengaging.

Please understand, though—I love being a stay-at-home mom. Yes, it is hard. But I adore my children and it makes me very happy to know that I get to be the one home with them day in and day out during these early years of their lives. I feel very blessed to be able to do this, because I know that not everyone can.

Nevertheless, it honestly isn’t the best job for my mental health, because it triggers both sides of the B Spectrum simultaneously, which exacerbates my anxiety and depression. I can and will continue to find ways to cope with these challenges, because I believe it is worth it. But I also truthfully look forward to my kiddos being in school so that I can have other projects to work on that that challenge and excite me.

In the middle of the B Spectrum is Balance. When I can manage to find Balance between doing too much and not having enough to do, that’s when I feel the best. Right now, with the shifting dynamics happening in my family, I am finding more and more balance.

In some ways, I’m busier than ever. My life is essentially controlled chaos at the moment. I have schedules in place with Cory for who has the kids and when (on evenings and weekends). This means that I finally have regular time that isn’t with the kids, and so does Cory. Both of us are able to do things that we want to do as individuals, and that has been wonderful! That alone has gone a long way towards giving me some more balance between mom-ing and me-ing.

For the most part, boredom is not a problem lately. There’s still depression spells, probably from the stress, but keeping busy is helpful for keeping those at bay. The more pressing issue is making sure that I don’t get burned out, and so far, it feels like I’m staying in that golden zone of Balance for the most part.

I don’t know exactly what my life will look like in the coming months and years, but I feel like I’m moving toward something positive. Some days are better than others, but for right now at least, I’m feeling good. 🙂

Stredepranxiety

My stress, depression, and anxiety have now merged to form a new and exciting phenomenon: Stredepranxiety. (Yes, I did take longer than probably necessary to come up with that word. Thanks for noticing!)

What is stredepranxiety, you ask?

It’s when stress builds up to such a degree as to trigger a depressive episode, which is also sprinkled with periods of anxiety. Sometimes, the anxiety is about the stress and depression. Sometimes, the stress is about the anxiety and depression. And sometimes, the depression is about the stress and anxiety. Wahoo! It’s a non-stop fun-fest that just keeps on self-perpetuating. Welcome to the party.

While mental health is no joke, sometimes I just need to joke about it anyway.

The truth is, it’s been a pretty rough… oh, I don’t know, two years for me?—emotionally speaking. I struggled with antepartum and postpartum depression, and then just regular depression (which has been pretty consistently part of my life since I was a teenager, but I’m more aware of it and able to label it these days). Anxiety has been a struggle on and off as well. As a teenager and young adult, it was social anxiety. Now as an adult, it’s been more of a general anxiety, and it’s not severe but it is nagging and annoying.  

Stress is just a part of life, and mom-life is no exception. Kids need a lot, and it can be stressful and exhausting to meet all of those needs day-in and day-out, often with little to no breaks. The auditory overstimulation alone is enough to make me want to scream into a pillow most days.

Recently, my stress has also been through the roof because of huge life changes that I’m going through. Mainly, separating from my husband and figuring out what our new lives look like both individually and as a family. But also, being by my boyfriend’s side as he goes through a much more emotionally volatile divorce of his own. Watching the person you love be verbally and emotionally abused and being able to do nothing to stop it is extremely stressful and painful.

Being in a new relationship with RJ and experiencing all of the ups and downs of falling in love and learning each other is stressful enough (even if most if it is good stress), but doing that while simultaneously navigating the ends of both of our marriages has been a lot. Doing all of that while also living an hour and a half apart and managing our children and other responsibilities—well, it’s taken its toll for sure. I’m stressed, no way around that.

When stress overwhelms me, I get depressed. And usually when I’m depressed, I alternate between mostly feeling down, sad, tired, and hopeless—typical “depressed” feelings—and feeling anxious.

When I feel anxious, I tend to find things or tasks to fixate on, and get extremely irritable when I’m interrupted from those tasks. I do a lot of “problem-solving,” organizing, and scheming in my anxiety. Which doesn’t sound too bad, to be honest, but the problem is that those things don’t really take away the anxious feelings. I need constant distraction, and when I’ve run out of problems to solve and things to organize and schemes to plan, then I end up watching TikTok for hours or trying to find some other meaningless thing to do. Which of course, still doesn’t help. I feel restless and that something is wrong or I’m forgetting something. I don’t feel at peace.  

The worst thing right now is that my depression is consistently reaching levels that I’ve only felt a few times before in my life, prior to the last year and a half. It used to be rare that I had “not interested in continuing living” feelings, but now it’s a pretty frequent occurrence.  

To be clear, there is a big difference between “not interested in continuing living” and “planning to discontinue living.” I am zero percent planning to discontinue living. I have kiddos and parents and a boyfriend and husband (weird sentence) who all need me to stay living. So.

But anyway, the feelings are there and they suck.

There’s a lot of reasons I could give for feeling this way. Such as, my life has taken a completely different path than originally planned and that’s scary and makes me question what’s the point of anything. Yeah, it’s a bit of a spiral that doesn’t really make much sense, but there you have it.

There’s also a big fear I have of “never being happy.” Whatever that means! Basically, I sometimes question whether I can be consistently happy on a big picture level. I don’t mean that every day has to be great, but just that the average day is more happy than not. It’s absolutely not quantifiable, which makes it a fantastic measuring stick for the valuable-ness of my life. *sarcasm*

I have days where I feel content and happy. I have moments in my days where I feel sparks of joy and excitement and positive things like that. But I also feel that many of my days currently are more characterized by feeling worn out, listless, and unexcited about life. Worse are the days when I feel those dull waves of sadness or sharp spikes of despair throughout the day. There are still pockets of happiness throughout my days and weeks, but it’s hard for me to tell if they outweigh the sadness.

One thing that scares me the most is the thought that I’ve tried so many different things to find happiness, and I always just end up back at depression station. A narrative I have in my head right now is that I just blew up my entire life for the sake of trying to find happiness, and I’m now worse off than before. I was content in my life, but now everything is a mess and I’ve ruined everything.

Is this narrative based in reality? No. Is it still in my head? Yup.

The reality check I need to give myself is this:

I didn’t blow up my life. I have made changes in the pursuit of living more genuinely as myself, and those changes have been successful. I am on the right path. I was living a good life, but it wasn’t a full life. I am in a season of challenges as I navigate these changes, but overall I am in a better place in terms of my life trajectory and potential for happiness than I was a year ago. I haven’t ruined anything. My kids are happy and healthy, my relationship with Cory is positive, I’m in a good spot financially, and I have a bright future. I’m madly in love with RJ. We’re extremely happy when we’re together. We’re planning a beautiful life and future together, and what we found with each other is worth all of the difficulties and stress that we are currently facing. There is more peace and joy and a life very much worth living on the other side of this, and we are going to get there together.

Until then, I’ll just be here, slogging through my stredepranxiety one day at a time.

All About RJ

*Note: I previously used the pseudonym “Jay” for RJ. So if you see the name Jay anywhere, don’t let it confuse you. It’s the same guy. 😉

I’ve been requested to write a post introducing my readers to my boyfriend, RJ, so here it is!

But before I get into that, I wanted to reiterate some things. If you read my last post, you know that Cory and I have decided to permanently separate. What this means for us is that we’re still best friends and life partners, and even “nesting partners” in many ways, but I also have my own apartment now and we are no longer a couple in a romantic way.

To be clear, this decision to separate has nothing to do with Jay. Well, technically it has something to do with him, because he was basically a catalyst for me to realize that my feelings for Cory are purely platonic. But I’m not leaving Cory for Jay—because I could have continued both relationships and everybody would have been happy and fine with that! We were/are polyamorous, after all.

But anyway. I know that this is a surprising thing to realize after 10 years of marriage and 14 years as a couple, that my feelings are not romantic like I thought they were all this time. But the thing is, people change and grow. Sometimes they can change and grow together as Cory and I have for many years, but sometimes they also grow in ways that are no longer compatible. Whether I have always felt platonic love for Cory, or whether it changed somewhere along the way is something I’m still analyzing, but ultimately the result is the same. We are not in love in a romantic sense, and we still love each other and care for each other deeply, but we no longer fit together as a couple.

This change isn’t a tragedy to us. We don’t see it as a sad thing or a failed marriage, but a beautiful chapter that has ended. We can celebrate it for what it was, while still moving forward onto other chapters in both of our lives.

For our family, this means I still spend my days at the house taking care of the kids, and then after Cory finishes work for the day we have a rotating schedule of some nights where he has the kids, some where I have them, and some where we spend the evening together as a family. I always go back to my apartment after the kids are in bed, where I can have time to myself, and on the weekends we both have time with the kids as well as time to ourselves. Our priority is making this change non-traumatic and comfortable for the kids, and so far, we’ve been successful at that.

Now, more about RJ!

So I met RJ while I was doing the poly dating thing, and he was guy #8 I went out with, out of ten. There were also other guys I talked to but never went out with. It was a very busy six weeks from when I decided to be poly to when I met RJ!

The two guys I went out with after him didn’t turn into anything serious, so he’s the last man standing in that sense. And since I met him, I truly haven’t wanted anybody else anyway, so it works out. We have now essentially become monogamous with each other by choice.

We met the way I met all of my other dating partners, through online dating and specifically OkCupid. He sent me an intro message, and the funny thing about this is that he doesn’t usually do that. He said that when he saw my profile he just knew he had to meet me.

The other funny thing about that is I didn’t always look at my intro messages. I got a lot of messages from matches alone, and intro messages are from people who you haven’t matched with yet. The way that the intro messages work is that you can only see one at a time, so you don’t get to move on to the next one until you either accept or decline the current one. The fact that I just so happened to decide to look at my intro messages that day, and that I just so happened to decline a few of them in order to get to RJ’s message, still feels like such a fateful series of events. It could have so easily happened that we never connected online, but thankfully, we did.

Not only that, but RJ decided to go big or go home on his intro message, and that’s the main reason I decided to respond to it.

In my profile, I had a sentence asking people to please mention manatees if they send me a message, so that I could know that they actually read my profile. That helped a lot to weed out guys who weren’t even willing to put in the two minutes to learn about me before sending me a message!

So RJ’s first message to me went something like this:

“When I see your face, it makes me want to write you love letters until you fall in love with me, and then we’ll go searching for manatees together.”

It was so silly and over the top that I just had to respond!

As soon as we started talking, we hit it off. We talked about everything from “what’s better, coffee or tea?” to “what are you looking for in a relationship right now?” We were both polyamorous, married, and parents. Our connection was instant and amazing!

We planned a date for the very next night, and by the time we met in person, we’d already been talking nonstop (well, other than pausing to sleep!) for more than 24 hours. We’ve talked every day since then, never going longer than a couple of hours between messages.

Our first date was on September 14th at Lazy Dog. We chose a location halfway in between us, since we live about an hour and a half apart. We met pretty late at night, and got snacks and talked for a long time. Then we made out in my car, as was my custom on dates. 😉

The first time we kissed will always be a powerful memory in my mind. It was magical, and it started a fire of love and passion that we’ve only continued to grow since then.  

Our second date was simply me inviting him to my house, which was the next night. He met Cory, and we played board games, then of course we had alone time and were able to get to know each other on a much more intimate level. That night also will always be a very powerful memory for me. It’s the night I really fell in love with him!

Of course, even though I felt what I felt, I was hesitant to truly admit it, even to myself, at that point because it was so fast. I’d known him for less than 36 hours, and I didn’t know him well enough at that point to fully trust that he was genuine with his intentions. I wanted to trust him, but I was still scared because I’d been hurt a few times already by guys I’d dated at that point.

Needless to say, things have only progressed since those first dates. We both fell in love very quickly, and we said those words to each other a week and a half after meeting.

There are so many things to love about RJ. He’s a hopeless romantic, like me. He’s an amazing partner—very considerate, affectionate, supportive, and loving. He’s fun to be around because he’s super silly and also adventurous. He’s emotionally intelligent, and also just intelligent in general. He’s ambitious and capable. He’s a wonderful dad, and loves animals.

We enjoy a lot of things in common, too. He likes writing, watching TV and movies, eating yummy food, camping, going on walks with his dog, and listening to music. Of course, there are also ways that we’re very different. I’m very neat and organized, and I’m big on planning. He’s a bit messy, and he’s more of a dreamer than a planner. He also loves coffee, while I was more of a tea person before I met him—but he’s brought me over to his side of things in that regard! He also brought me over to the dark side when I went from being a stubborn Android user to a happy user of Apple products, because of his influence. 😉

RJ works in IT, and he does a lot of different things within that industry. Some of what he does is coding, and some of what he does is more project management, and then there are other things he does that I just don’t fully understand how to label. So I just simply say that he works in IT, and he does really well for himself and his family.

On that note, he’s currently also in the middle of separating from his wife. This, also, isn’t because of me, although I did act as a catalyst for him just as he did for me. For him, it’s been years in the making and there are more problematic dynamics at play in his marriage. Nevertheless, he hopes to have a good, friendly and caring relationship with his soon-to-be-ex-wife in the future.

His daughter is the most important factor to him in all of this, as she should be. He is doing everything he can to ensure that she is as happy and well-cared for as possible, and that he continues to be heavily involved in her life.

As a couple, RJ and I are I it for the long haul. We have plans to live together soon, and we can both see a future of loving each other for the rest of our lives. He is my life partner, lover, boyfriend, and soul mate. (I still consider Cory my life partner and platonic soul mate as well!)

So that’s pretty much everything about RJ and how my life looks with him in it. We’ve been together for over four months now, and we see each other about every other day. Every day our love grows more mature. I can’t imagine my life without him now, and I hope I never have to.

P.S. Would you look at how cute he is? Just look! *heart eyes*