One of the most basic points that my counselor helped me understand and learn to be okay with was that it's okay/possible and even normal to be happy and sad at the same time. It's pretty basic and elementary really, but wow it took some time (and still takes reminders).
"My husband has a good job," I'd say. "He loves me. I don't have to work. We have a nice place to live. I have happy, healthy kids. I have no reason to be sad."
My counselor would respond with good insight that I only half listened to because I was ready for my next round.
"My friend just lost another baby and I've never struggled with that. I don't have a right to be sad that I'm so sick this pregnancy."
"Another friend has a baby with cystic fibrosis. I don't have a right to be sad that mine has to wear a helmet for 3 months."
"I just met someone who's mom lives in Australia. I can't be sad that mine seems so far away in Utah."
I had so many reasons why I was failing at happiness that my counselor had to really dumb it down for me.
"Say we each have one of our kids in a car and we get in a car accident. My kid breaks his back and has to have surgery and lots of physical therapy. Your kid breaks his arm and needs a cast. Do you not have the right to be sad because my kid's injury is worse than your kids?"
I'd gave the wrong answer and he'd get mad at me. "You have every right to grieve and be sad!" He did several scenarios before I finally started to say that it was okay to feel sad even if I 'should' feel happy. We talked about death. We talked about getting old. We talked about losing babies. We talked about losing spouses. We talked about happy things that have sad parts. We talked about sad things that have happy parts. We talked about doing things that make us happy while we work through things that make us sad. We talked about things that make us happy and sad at the same time. "I'm happy that I get a vacation with Paul. But I'm sad about the vacation because I'll miss my kids." The exact same thing making me happy AND sad. Really basic stuff folks. But there was an intense emotional battle going on in my brain and I needed help. And I got help.
I'm so happy to report that baby number three came with very little postpartum depression. I'm so thankful for that because the chances were good. And my paper work of medical history at the hospital had a whole team of social workers checking up on me often before they let me take Charlie home. I was scared for a while. Wondering every morning for the first couple of months if 'this was the day I'd crash.' We even joined a service and interviewed several nannies and contacted night nurses for information and pricing when Charlie was just a couple weeks old, just so that if I needed it, we'd be ready with options to hire help. I had days here and there where I was ready to hire full-time help, but here we are 6 months later and I'm feeling really confident and happy as a mom.
Two weeks ago, about a week into preschool, I overheard a conversation between Garrett and Addie at the coffee table while I was cleaning the kitchen. They were talking about preschool, just before we were leaving to drop Garrett off.
(conversation translation: my kids often say 'from' instead of 'because')
I typed this out in my phone as I was listening because it kind of made my jaw drop.
A: Do you like preschool Garrett?
G: I love preschool.
A: I love preschool too.
G: You don't go to preschool.
A: No, I love YOUR preschool but I'm going to miss you.
G: I love it too but I'm sad from I'm going to miss you.
A: That's okay. I'm sad from I love you and I'm happy from you love preschool.
G: I'm happy too and I'm gonna hug you and mom and Charlie at preschool from I'm sad.
A: That's okay.
I started to cry as I listened, and I cried just now as I read it again and typed it. Not even three and four years old yet, and they were teaching, and understanding that it's okay to be happy and sad.
Addie is my "That's okay" kid. If you don't have one, you should train one. She calmly, happily, and matter-of-factly says, "That's okay" to just about every stressful or frustrating situation.
"Oh Addieeeeee, you peed in your underwear!" --That's okay, I can get another one underwear...with Nemo on it this time.
"DANG IT! I forgot to grab the bench from our bedroom for our pictures." --That's okay, maybe Bapa and Gaga have a tiny bench we can use.
"No guys, I didn't want all the markers, chalk, and crayons dumped on the carpet." --That's okay, we can just use them and pick them up.
And guess what? We are at 100% success rate that everything she said was okay, ended up being okay.
Garrett's picked up on it too, so I get a lot of reminders that "That's okay" even when, in the moment, I act like it might not be. He even did it in reverse once with me and it was a good reminder that I need to do better at letting them know that it's okay to mess up. Charlie got a hold of some of Garrett's flashcards and I was too exhausted to take them away. Garrett found the three soggy ones a few minutes later and said, "oh no mom, what happened to my cards??" "Umm, Charlie accidentally ate them, sorry pal, I'll buy you some more." "That's okay" he said, without skipping a beat, "I have some more."
I've always heard parents and teachers talk about how much adults learn from kids. It's still amazing to me how young they are, how often I learn, and how important the lessons they teach me really are.
(Full disclosure: This was written a couple weeks ago and Garrett's feelings about loving preschool have changed a bit this week. But that's life I guess. Always something new to work on.)