Posts Tagged ‘giving grace’

Back to School Blues

Posted on: July 24th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week I wrote about a new chapter in life for me. I’m so excited to be able to share this with you as it unfolds. I’ve got a lot to unpack, reveal, and share. This week for my blog I want to take a side step into my work and experience as a mama as we all make decisions for the fall.

photo of a child holding luggageThis past week has been a collectively hard week for every mama I know. Across our country schools are announcing what they are choosing to do in the midst of COVID. Emotions are high for a variety of reasons. No emotion is invalid and yet for the space of this blog I want to be clear on one thing. If you are in an emotional space where your fear is expressed by lashing out at others this blog is not a space for you today. Unfortunately, I’ve been on too many Mom Groups who have behaved unkindly to each other and teachers because they are operating in fear. We are all afraid at some level. These are new times. I’m asking that my readers take a collective deep breath and hold space for each other’s fears and don’t take those fears out on each other.

Okay. Whew, now that we’ve cleared that up, I’m ready to write. As I’ve said this past week has been a rough one. A lot of what I’m seeing is defeat and despair. We’ve all been collectively navigating COVID since March and I think the true wish is that we would be farther along. I know a lot of people are wishing that all the efforts made during Shelter in Place would have taken us back to a reality closer to pre-COVID. Our truth today is we are not going back, and neither are our children any time soon. That in itself is such a hard pill to swallow.

Now there are a great many valid things to be frustrated about as to why rates of COVID are not contained in the United States. I honor those deeply. However, I don’t believe me listing them will help anyone personally. My reality is, alongside many, that Americans collectively could be making some better choices and those who do not have the ability to make their own choices (think shut in’s in assisted living facilities or our children) could benefit from our better choices. Until we’re able to get to a spot where we are collectively dealing with the virus, we’re left to individually navigate a world with new limitations. It’s scary and sucks plain and simple.

A large part of what I see weighing on the hearts of so many parents is what to do in regard to school this fall. District by district different choices are being announced. The choices so far that I’ve seen are entire remote learning, partial weeks, or full weeks in school with the option to opt out for remote learning. There are vague statements about face coverings and sanitation procedures. What we all want is certainty and I’m sorry to be the one to write this; I don’t think it’s coming. This year is going to be all about making the best decision possible for our own children or grappling with the reality that the decision is beyond our control.

My simplest advice is give yourself and your friends grace

So, what can you do? What choice can you make for your children in a pandemic? I wish I could tell you the best answer, to give you that certainty but I can’t. I don’t have this for me. I can give you my advice, the best I have today as a mama and educator myself. My simplest advice is give yourself and your friends grace. To realize we are all in this together do the best we can. My next advice, if it’s at all possible for you, is to choose the education plan that creates the least amount of change for your child. I say if this is possible because there are many families who have no choice in this. There are schools that are announcing all e-learning regardless and families who have to send their children to school because they are working. If the choice is beyond your control, then focus on what you can control. And, for the families that will financially suffer through this, I am so sorry. I wish this was not the case for you. I realize I’m incredibly lucky to be able to choose what I want for Dametrius this fall because he’s an older child and I can still work if he does e-learning. I’m also lucky because if he were younger I could afford extra childcare. I know this is my privilege.

Ok, so back to choosing the least amount of change for your child if that’s possible for your family. I believe that in coming out of Shelter in Place what we hoped for was some normalcy following the restrictions. Currently that isn’t happening and so our nervous systems are overloaded with the ever changing information and choices. It’s wreaking havoc on all of us. I literally just told my husband he couldn’t ask me to do things today because I’m overloaded, then I asked him to cook dinner. Martin responded, “so I can’t ask you anything but you can ask me?” I paused, then a deep sigh, “yes that’s exactly what I’m saying & I have therapy at noon.” God love him.

If we chose an education plan for our children that would remain the same regardless of restrictions ever changing, we can eliminate this nervous system overload (hello anxiety) and create some calm. By choosing a schedule that you will least likely have to change for your child you can eliminate some nervous system overload for your whole family.

Keeping children with ASD in mind

I also want to take a moment and speak for children with autism. Because, you see, constant change is harder than it is for neurotypical children. My recommendation to create a stable schedule triples when it comes to children with autism. The ups and downs of every changing schedule is a ton for them to process. If you are a parent of a child with autism I would strongly recommend to rely on therapy schedules and clinic settings as the primary structure for your children. We are ramping up our own programs in Castle Rock, Naperville, and opening up a South Side Chicago location this fall to address this need. These won’t change in the midst of COVID and will provide a wonderful way for your children to continue to have structure, socialization, and make progress. This was true prior to COVID but even more so now I think these clinic structures are important.

Okay, so now we’re gone through the choices. The limited ones we have. You’ve heard my recommendation to limit changes the best you can. Now what? Grace, grace, grace. These are not easy times. Collectively and individually we are all grieving. Downplaying what is individually hard for you does nothing to help us all through 2020. Remember I wrote about this before? Personally I’m incredibly upset that Dametrius won’t be going in person to high school. He is a beautiful person, new to our family, and I want nothing more than for him to make new friends and play football on Friday night. It’s not coming. I’m going to need to grieve this. Henry will not be making new friends, he’s stuck with us. I’m grieving this too. Declan, well, he’s 16 months (today!) and for that I’m thankful.

All individual fear big and small matter. Make the decision best for your family, give your great big heart a hug, and feel those feelings. Then call someone making a choice different than you and let them feel those feelings too.

Xoxo,
Jessie

My Promise to You

Posted on: July 17th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

In closing the last series I felt a sense of peace. Since March, like many of you, I’ve been struggling to sort out what’s happening in my mind and heart as well as process what is going on in the world. In Brene Brown’s podcast she mentioned that anyone who doesn’t answer, “how are you” with, “it’s complicated,” isn’t being honest. We are all collectively living in a time where we are scared, anxious, mourning and the like. Yet through our pain we are also offered the opportunity to heal. At least, I believe this to be true.

Prior to March this year I was still in a place where I believed negative emotions were something to be ashamed of and avoided like the plague. That I should just, “be happy.” While I was honest with honoring my own story, I wasn’t seeing pain as my messenger. I was just trying to make sure it didn’t happen again. I don’t know if this is true for other survivors but it is true for me. I’m very hypervigilant and can get overwhelmed by a lot of stress or noise in my environment. Each time I have a bad day I sit in my own head and wonder how I could do better and from that not experience negative emotions. I think we’re all taught this to an extent. If you don’t feel “happy,” the pharmaceutical giants are more than eager to write you a prescription. Now please don’t get me wrong, medication can be a wonderful thing for people who need it. I needed it during my postpartum depression. What I’m saying is that the messaging to be happy is very loud in our society.

One night during April I crashed. I sat in a bath crying to the sky. I couldn’t think my way into a happier day and declared, “what do you want from me?!” to who I believe to be God our Mother. Relief immediately set in. I felt so deeply that what was wanted was for me to feel. Feelings are meant to be felt. They are messengers telling us what is and isn’t Ok with us and our world. They aren’t meant to be silenced or problem solved away. I got it. No more planning to be happy, plan to live fully.

After realizing that my emotions were meant to be felt I’ve shifted into a very raw space. I’m being honest with you because I’m honored you log in every week and read what’s in my heart. I hope it serves you the way it serves me. From my rawness I’ve pretty well sat in vulnerability daily. It feels like being a walking bruise, no kidding. I’ve decided to give kindness to each wave of negative emotions, celebrate joy, and to live authentically from here on out. I know I’ve got a lot to learn about who I am, what I have to give, and what I want to share. I also know I’ve never been this excited or humbled in my life. I’m making every decision from my guide within.

In listening always to my inner guide I don’t know who I will find. Who will you find if you do the same? To me there is a lot of environmental conditioning and years of learning how to be in our society. I want to find my truth without that noise and in the same way I want you to find yours. I feel that if all of us took the time to lean in and find out who we were before the world told us who to be, our existence would change overnight. We could find our joy. We could listen to the pain of the world, hear it’s story, and provide guidance. I don’t know about you but I can’t hear when I’m not me.

Forging Ahead

Here is my promise to you. I promise to dig in and find me. To share my story as I undercover the conditioning that made me and the strength I hold beneath it all. From my strength I want to change the experience of children with autism. I want to eradicate gender norms. To be the badass woman in business I am. Just publicly now. I want to live largely and freely. In sharing my story I want to shine a light on your strength too. Who are you? What do you want? What’s holding you back?

I’m changing the narrative. I’m going to begin writing for those who are on a path to healing. For those who know pain. For our children. For the lost. For those who are willing to show up with an open or curious heart. So that all of us know we are enough, can raise our children to know their worth, and live freely. Because collectively, if we do this, we can change the world.

Yes baby, you are enough. I’m oh so glad you’re here.

Xoxo,
Jessie

The Release of Perfect Parenting

Posted on: July 9th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Over the course of the last month and a half I’ve written to you all about imperfect parenting. Honestly COVID-19 has been a do or die for me. Prior to COVID-19 I was spending too much time on the seesaw of authenticity and perfection. It was exhausting. Since I’ve been home I’ve written to you about lying and stealing, putting down busy and picking up peace, understanding anger, and daddys. Yep, that’s it. That explains my COVID experience in a nutshell. Blog done. Just kidding. Today I want to end the series with a small essay on embracing authenticity.

Parenting Memos Are Shifting

photo of outdoor garden and flowers

Photo credit: Rochelle Mast

Currently I’m reading “Untamed,” by Glennon Doyle. She says everything better than I’m going to but please let me try (also please read this book)! One of her chapters writes about parenting memo’s. In the 1950’s the memo was birth your baby then make sure they are seen and not heard. In the 1980’s the memo was birth your baby and continue on with wine spritzers and cigarettes. Fast forward and today our memo is birth your baby, then engross yourself with their every waking moment, and even in doing that you’re failing.

It’s a rat race. We are all losing. I remember when I had Henry I felt overwhelmed by him. Now a big piece of that was my own postpartum depression but another piece of that was feeling that I had all the scholarly knowledge in the world and could not keep up with the Joneses. There was/still-is so much societal pressure to be a perfect mama. But who are they? That stupid Jones family? Why the hell are we all trying to keep up? Personally I’m done.

In being home with my children since mid-March I was given gifts I will always be grateful for. The first gift is that by stepping into Shelter-in-Place I could not keep up my pace as perfect mama and authentic mama simultaneously. That struggle had to stop. The second gift was I was able to step away from the noise of society to think about what I truly wanted for my children and myself. My new reality was surrender. And when I thought I’d surrendered, I surrendered more. Through not having a society to keep up with or standards to measure myself against I was able to show up. Truly show up.

Here’s what I learned

The day-to-day decisions and rules I made for myself and the children didn’t matter. Really. How many grams of sugar consumed, screens seen, or books read did not make or break my children. Furthermore the “social” environments (music class, swim class, story time, etc) that I was beginning to run them around to also did not matter. Also, for me, social standards don’t really matter either. I’ve got some really wonderful core friendships and if I never see a cocktail party again I’m good. Really. In sheltering without my own “rules,” I found my children have natural interests. I knew this prior to sheltering, but only honored it when I wasn’t trying to be a perfect mama. This looked like observing them on a prairie path vs. structured art time. Sheltering took me into observation mode daily as I surrendered. My children know what they want to do and what they are curious about every minute of every day. I don’t need to create this for them.

In our home what matters is being seen and loved for who we are; my children, my husband, and myself. It’s my job now to honor who I am and be a model for showing up as myself. Not showing up as I’m told to be. By doing this I’m allowing my children to show up for who they are supposed to be.

I do not know what this looks like yet beyond messy. I know we’ll have to say, “no,” to a lot of old, “yeses.” I know I’ll continue the good fight to raise my children closer to nature than technology. I know that before I discipline I’ll seek to understand. And I know that I’m here to listen to my own soul so my children can listen to theirs. What we find on the other side of this journey is unknown. But us Topalov’s? We’re going to live fully.

My hope is that you and your family live fully too. Collectively, that we can all say goodbye to the rules that tamed us and show up for our authentic lives. That through this authenticity we can in fact bring healing, joy and a new future to our children and thus the world.

New birth memo: birth your baby, love them with your whole heart, let them fly and let them fall, while flying freely yourself.

Xoxo,
Jessie

The Rumble; The Challenges of Anger

Posted on: June 25th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week I wrote about my own journey during COVID-19 as an over functioner in my imperfect parenting series. If you missed it check it out. It’s good stuff. This week what I’d like to expand on how anger shows up as I’ve written a lot about anxiety.

Anger is no stranger to me. It’s also the emotion that I experience that I feel a ton of shame over. In the moments that I’m angry I feel pretty much like the scum of the earth. I go into a cycle of feeling like a horrible person and mom. Over the past year with two young children I’ve had a good amount of these shame spirals.

photo woman sitting in forest

Dealing with anger

Dealing with anger is personally very hard for me; I’ve had a long journey with anger. As a survivor of domestic violence I see an outburst of anger as a warning sign. I either feel like a person around me is becoming a threat or am fearful I will become a threat. In my early years and through young adulthood I used anger to protect myself (get bigger so I wouldn’t be hit) and to express the internal hurt I was feeling. Through my 20s as I stepped away from violence I healed my wounds and told myself, “never again.” In my 30s a new form of anger has come into my life as a wife and mama of young children. That is where shame popped up big time for me. While I have never hurt my children physically and never will I have experienced anger with my children and it kills me. I tell you this because I had forgotten until recently that anger tells a story that needs to be seen.

I know as a practitioner that anger is a secondary emotion. This means that anger is present when there is something else going on emotionally. Tara Brach did a recent podcast on anger and she reminded me of this. While in my head I knew this to be true for some reason it didn’t stop my own shame cycle as anger popped up for me these last three months at home. It wasn’t until a fight with my own dad in Ohio that I realized why I hold anger and what to do with it.

One afternoon he took our boys to a spot I couldn’t see them. I asked next time he gave me a heads up. He blew up, feeling I didn’t trust him and I got about as big as I could verbally until he walked away. It hurt like no other. It was the first explosion in 15 years I’d seen. But this time I did something different. I walked away and held myself in my heart for about 20 minutes. This looked like breathing through my belly and washing light into my body with visualization. Then I walked to my dad and asked him what hurt. That’s when I found out my dad was having an awful time adjusting to us because he too had been alone for three months and was over functioning prior to our visit. Through this interaction I was able to honor my own trauma story.

I had realized as a trauma survivor that when anyone (including my kids) screams or hits I felt like I needed anger to make myself big and protect myself. While it doesn’t seem logical that a screaming, hitting toddler would trigger me, my limbic system doesn’t know the difference. In seeing my story clearly I have melted the shame and know personally self care (walking away) is absolutely necessary for me when I’m overwhelmed. It feels silly to say I can’t see the difference between Henry kicking me hard and being physically beaten. But feeling silly and shameful does nothing to serve my soul.

My story may be your story

This is the story of anger. It holds on to each of us until we can find the core. What is your story with anger? When do you explode? What do you say to yourself? I believe wholeheartedly that anger is a messenger. Only when you listen to the message and provide yourself radical love will anger melt away. From the exhausted parent going about it in a way that brings shame, to a nation crying for change, anger is speaking to us all.

So what can you do? What can we all do? I don’t think everyone will have the same privilege I had to confront my dad and my own anger together. While it hurt immensely the night it was incredibly healing. I do think each and every person can ask their anger, “Why are you here? What do you need to say to me?” This can look like journaling, walking in silence, and reading wonderful books (try Harriet Lerner “The Dance of Anger”). Most important is to get curious while you are compassionate with yourself. Through your curiosity and kindness anger will speak and then melt away. When you learn the lesson anger leaves.

My darling ones, we can all fly free.

Xoxo,
Jessie

A Juggling Act; Putting Down Busy & Picking up Peace

Posted on: June 17th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written in my imperfect parenting series. The world has been hurting and it turns out so was I. I’m grateful for my own personal struggles and awakening this past week but man it was hard. I’m going to put down perfect (remember I promised I would?) and tell you my real deal.

Sheltering in Place 2.0

photo of woman sitting on large porch relaxingA week ago Saturday we were all packed and ready to head to Ohio where my family is. After almost three months at home we decided we could shelter with family verses sheltering by ourselves. In the days prior to the trip I had run a marathon. I’m sure it sounds familiar to a lot of moms. I ordered groceries for the car, a Target pick up, met the dog boarder for Simon, took Simon to the dog boarder, laundry for everyone, bags for everyone but Martin, car activities, iPad charged, extra sunscreen, and a stack of books for me. We got in the car at 7:00 am and I was exhausted. My husband turns to me and goes, “thank you (I pause ready for praise!) for remembering to get gas,” in utter sarcasm. My heart sank as it usually does in these scenarios. I grabbed my laptop and buried myself in our family budget.

Our first stop was my uncle’s Lake House on Lake Erie. Sounds like a dream after 3 months at home. We got to the house and I did potty, diapers, lunches, sunscreen, and swimsuits. I’m already exhausted, remember? The kids get packed up again and we’re off to a secluded section of the beach where my uncle has jet skis. We’re unpacking three kids and one dog (Teddy is too old to board). Henry and Declan are like flies to the light once they see the water. Martin? Jumps on a jet ski and rides away. For a god damn hour and a half. Luckily my cousins were there and saw my panic with my children and the water. They jumped in to help supervise. Me? I was livid. Here I was exhausted after three months feeling like the primary caregiver with the addition of prepping for traveling and my husband was nowhere to be found. I’ve also successfully ran a company and prepared it for some awesome growth forward to serve more people. I wasn’t just physically exhausted on that Saturday, I was mentally done.

Now don’t get me wrong. I understand my husband needed to chill out. He’s also been trapped for 3 months in our home. I’m sure enough women have been through this scenario enough times that it’s easy to blame my husband for his inaction on getting ready for the trip then riding away. Leaving me with the burden of responsibility is equally our responsibility. Let’s dig in.

I’ve often referenced Brene Brown and her amazing work. I hope I’m lucky enough to someday say thank you in person to her; she’s changed my life more times that I can count. Her latest work is a new podcast, “Unlocking Us.” After moving through the tough emotion of feeling very alone about the responsibility I bear at home I needed this. I plugged in “Brene on Anxiety, Calm + Overfunctioning.” For the next 40 minutes I listened to Brene call my bullshit while giving compassion to the anxiety I held during COVID.

COVID-19 and Self-Care

I’ve written to you all many times about self care during COVID. I also personally wrote about over functioning and underfunctioning. I took surface steps (like a bath at night) to calm down my over functioning just to jump out and start my cycle all over again. I was writing these words to you while calling myself awful names (bossy, controlling) and feeling helpless stopping the process of managing our home. It took me actually stepping outside of our home and getting a break with the kids (this came later at my parents house) to see what I was up to.

Going into and during Sheltering in Place I turned on over functioning to volume 100. I was so scared of the virus coming into our home and grieving the life we had before the virus. I was worried about Henry, Declan, and especially Dametrius being new to us. Martin and I were also on a journey to a healthier marriage. And I was also deeply worried prior to the PPA Loan about my employees.

In my work I was and am the luckiest woman in the world; truly. My team honors my heart and leadership. They bring these amazing skill sets and systems to support my vision. Instructional ABA Consultants is a space I no longer over function. God bless my team. Home? No one calls my bullshit and I went to town running this house like a navy ship. My husband is a classic under functioner and slinked away.

When I’m not in a stressful place in life I still struggle with over functioning at home. Like I mentioned before Martin and I are still figuring out what our partnership means to both of us including how that plays out day to day. It’s a journey. A piece of that is that when I get anxious I immediately move to control every outcome and Martin prefers to hide when he’s anxious. We’re a perfect storm. In listening to Brene I saw myself and my husband so clearly. These three months and the visualization of the jet ski’s incident was the message I needed to hear.

Originally when I was going to write about the juggling act I’m guessing I was going to write about putting down your home projects that don’t serve you and find time to be present. On the surface that’s great but if underneath you’re still screaming it won’t serve you (or me). Here’s what I suggest to everyone. Rest. No really, rest. There is no way to come out of over functioning or under functioning if you’re exhausted. Or to even identify if you were doing it to begin with. Very personally I was able to do this through our trip and am now working to call my own bullshit because Martin’s not there yet. In the same sense he can work on saying when he’s overwhelmed versus hiding in the Iphone. We both have work to do but through it we can pick up peace.

The world is hurting right now. Me too. I’m guessing you too. If we can collectively reset and be kind to our body & minds peace is on the way.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Imperfect Parenting: Lies, Stealing, and Other Survival Methods

Posted on: May 27th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week, I wrote that I’m going to a mini-series on imperfect parenting. Remember when I told you that while toilet training Henry I told him pants were a privilege? This week I’m pretty stoked to share all the immoral things I do to survive mommyhood. Just kidding, I mean, it’s not that immoral.

Photo of woman smilingIn becoming a mama, I, like anyone else, had this grand idea of what it would look like and who I would be. I spent 6 months building the perfect nursery off my Pinterest ideas, deciding what outfits were Henry’s “style,” and buying things off my baby spreadsheet. That happened. All of it. It’s hysterical to write now.

When Declan was just about due (3 weeks to delivery) I had turned him from breach and was on rest. I sat around my home and realized I had bought nothing, I’m serious, nothing for him. You know why? Because I co-sleep my babies, breastfeed them, and use cloth diapers. He didn’t need anything. I tell you this because in my dreams of having a baby I thought it came with all this stuff. Once I had a baby I realized it wasn’t the stuff or the picture I created. Being a mom is just like that.

Creating Your Own Mom Values

In being a mom, I, of course, have a list of values, ideas, and dreams that I want for my children. On my best day I’m able to be present and implement small pieces of this. This can look like being super present, playing, reading, cooking, and talking to listen with my children. In my head, every day looks like this. In reality, moments of each day look like this–the rest is up for grabs.

I’m going to tell you some things I do to survive. Don’t judge, we all do them! The first and most important lesson I have learned as a mama is to lie hard. This little lesson came to me when I was teaching Henry to stay in his big boy bed. I would lay him down, he would cry for me to stay and I would gently whisper, “It’s okay mama needs to go potty she’ll be back in 5 minutes.” Henry would feel assured and fall asleep. I never came back, ever. Martin would sit on our stairs and shake his head. What’s worse is I’ve now taught Dametrius and his babysitters to simply tell Henry they are going potty when they lay him down. We are all lying and it’s working.

I also lie almost every morning to Henry. It looks like this; Henry watches a show while I get ready for work (go back and read my post about technology prior to COVID for other parenting fails). I set a timer for 30 minutes and when the TV goes off Henry needs to get dressed. He asks me “Mama can I watch Daniel Tiger downstairs?” I say, “Sure baby, let’s get dressed and brush our teeth.” Henry always pops up and does his routine. We get downstairs and he asks again. You know what I say, “Maybe later.” I also tell Dametrius to do this when he gets Henry ready.

Do you know why I lie to Henry? Because it’s easier, plain and simple. If I told him TV is all done he’s gonna scream and I don’t want to deal with this. Neither does anyone else in our home. I know it’s wrong, I know I should just take a deep breath and say, “No,” but I don’t want to. I want to get my little man dressed without feeling like I’m wrestling an alligator. I won’t lie about the important stuff, promise. But as long as my kids don’t have long term memories I’m using this one.

I suggest using the line “maybe later,” instead of, “No,” I swear it works wonders. “Can I have a popsicle, ice cream, pizza, watch TV, see Grandpa…” The list goes on and on. “Maybe” avoids tears in our home.

Surviving as a Mom

OK, so now you know I lie to survive. I also steal! I told you about a piece of this last week. That in toileting training Henry I would take his prizes every night and put them back in the prize bin. What I didn’t tell you is that in the middle of COVID I realized I was spending my entire day picking up toys.

One item on my pre-baby Pinterest board was wooden toys organized in bins. Almost 3 years later and we are overflowing with plastic toys. After a few glasses of wine one Friday night, I announced to my husband I was becoming a minimalist again. I was one before a husband and kids. Well, more of an imperfect minimalist. Our Amazon delivery driver disagrees but I digress.

On this particular Friday, I told my husband that we never wanted our kids to have so many toys because they don’t appreciate them. So why are we living this way? During naps on Saturday, just like the Grinch, I packed up their toys. Like 75% of them. I put them all in the basement and set a timer for a month. If no one noticed they were gone I was going to donate them. It’s been a month, no one noticed, so those toys are long gone!

There was one tiny T-Rex that I hated and kept putting in the garage donation box that Henry kept rescuing so I finally gave in and stopped stealing that. It actually felt so good to downsize. Now I have to remind myself not to downsize on a daily basis. We picked the toys they have and we now have a one in one out rule again. But man, getting rid of the stuff not only freed up my time it also helped me get realigned with my own values on materialism. On a side note, I’m also doing the 33 challenge and loving it.

A Few More Parenting Tips

I think lying and stealing are the biggies at our home to survive parenting. To give you some smaller ones that I think are helpful I’ll list a few. Bribing is always lovely. If you’d like your child to do something, like come inside without chasing them, I recommend it. We give a lot of chocolate for coming inside vs. chasing. Passing the problem to your partner is a good one. For example, Henry wants a toy to do something very specific, I can’t figure it out, and say “Daddy knows how!” I also recommend making it a pattern to have your partner doing things you don’t want to. Henry likes someone to lay with him after books, so I told him “only daddies do that.” It’s almost a year later and you know who Henry asks to put him to bed every night? Daddy. But hey, maybe that’s because I lied. Who knows?

Parenting is hard work and raising small humans means every day is going to be different. At some point, you just have to do you. If what you choose to do causes no lasting harm to your children sometimes you just have to do what works for you.

I hope reading this brings some joy to all the imperfect parents out there. I’m not perfect, but being naughty can also be a blast (even for parents).

Xoxo,
Jessie

PS

As I write this, Henry is sitting behind me with an empty flask. Don’t worry, we’ve never actually used it… we don’t have anywhere to go!

Imperfect Parenting

Posted on: May 13th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Over the last month, I’ve written about my own personal journey during COVID to shine a light on fear. This week, in honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to write about parenting during COVID. Personally, I’ve gone through highs and lows. Some days, I’m so grateful and proud. Other days it’s a completely different story. Through all of it, I’m learning to love myself and my boys in the midst of imperfection.

Intentional Parenting

Prior to COVID, I liked to think of myself as an intentional mama. I made a lot of calculated decisions about how I wanted to raise my boys and had some pretty high expectations of myself. I’ve shared before that when I had Henry I suffered from postpartum depression. As a trauma survivor, I had an added layer of not wanting to do anything to harm my child. Not harming my children in a physical way, I don’t worry about that, but in not wanting to make a mistake. From there I spent the better part of 18 months being 100% attentive to Henry when he was with me.

I mean, I was that Mom we all hate. Calculated floor time, zero TV, homemade meals every night, cloth diapers, no electronic toys. I was perfectly happy doing all of this but I didn’t do anything except this. I gained being a mama in my heart and at the cost of myself (a bit). Enter Declan (my second boy) and keeping up at this pace was just not achievable at the same rate. I went through an angry phase, being angry at myself for not being able to keep it up. Then I realized while I could love all the different ways I could parent my children, the most important was having a full heart. That I needed to find time for Jessie and not just the mama in me. I’ve quoted it many times but truly, “How Not to Lose Your Shit with Your Kid,” changed me.

Changing Your Parenting Style

After I realized I couldn’t keep up the same pace of my “perfect parenting,” and with two children under 2, I gave myself a hell of a lot of grace. I let myself fail, break my own rules, and most importantly spent time taking care of myself too. I was able to keep the things that were important to me for Henry and Declan. This looked like eating whole foods, limited TV time (none for Declan he was not yet 1), being present when I was with them, and allowing myself some alone time when we were home together. This felt good. Really good. Enter Shelter in Place. Without my village, it all fell down.

I had gotten into this groove with my children because I allowed myself access to support. I made sure I didn’t expect myself to be with my children 110% of the time. My children went to who I consider their second mom’s house (Dana!) three days a week. Martin and I were rocking date nights at least every other week. I was going to the gym. I was regularly cooking at home (while still appreciating occasional restaurants). I was balanced. I was happy with myself, my parenting, and so grateful for our new son Dametrius finally coming home. Then, overnight, it was just our family and our responsibilities increased as a family increased exponentially.

I’m pretty lucky in the sense I had already laid the foundation with myself that it was OK not to be perfect as a parent. That to be a mama didn’t mean to be on point every second of the day. But a big piece of this was letting myself have some alone time. With sheltering in place, alone time is SO much harder to achieve. My husband works 40 hours a week from home with little relief from his work to help with childcare. Owning my own company means I have to be the flexible one with fitting my work schedule around the kids. It also meant I’m with our boys way more than my husband. I’m learning how to teach our new 8th grader. Dametrius just moved into his new home, so I had no idea what he knew academically.

Add my own hippie heart of loving organic foods (but not able to go to the store), limited technology, and being present to everything else and you’ll realize this was a tall order!

So I did something radical. I’m serious, this was big for me. I threw away my script. Seriously! I decided that the most important thing was something I already knew after healing from postpartum depression and parenting two very young children. It’s love. That’s it. Love is all my children need to grow and thrive.

Realizing What’s Important as a Parent

Don’t get me wrong. There are still things that are very important to me as a woman and mama. But if I kept up with my pre-COVID rulebook I was going to crash and burn. Honestly, looking back, I don’t know how I wasn’t crashing and burning anyways! Sure, I had help, but my expectations were sky-high. So now I expect failure from myself and my kids on a daily basis. We fail, we cry, we kiss, and we move on.

I still want my children to eat well but, honest to God, cooked my first boxed mac and cheese for them ever. I still want them to play in the dirt more than behind a screen but we have movie night every night. I still want to be present with my kids but I allow myself to check emails on my phone while drinking coffee each morning. Some days we have free days. This means jammies all day, movie mornings, coffee, and picking up a toy or something small in a pickup order. I’m resting for myself, eating as well as I can, and moving or getting any exercise when I have a few minutes for self-care. When I can’t do these things I give my heart a big hug.

Mostly, I’ve realized that while my village made my pace possible it wasn’t what my heart wanted. Being home with my children for this amount of time has taught me to follow their needs and my own together. I’m not the mama I was before COVID. I’m messier, louder, and I cry a little more. But you know what? In accepting imperfection I’m happier too. I hope through reading this that perhaps you can love your imperfections in parenting too. And hey, maybe you’ll become a bit closer to your authentic self.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Behind the Fears During COVID-19

Posted on: April 22nd, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week in my blog I wrote about compassion and grace. I hope it served you. After identifying my own fears, I realized that so much more was going on behind them. It took guts to accept this followed by a bit of hard work to find what was really behind them.

Let me backtrack for a minute. There is nothing wrong with fear itself. Fear is a very useful instinct and absolutely necessary to survive. Fear tells us when we are in danger(remember, the amazing Tara Brach teaches about this). Fear told us over 10 thousand years ago how to survive; it’s instinctual. The problem with modern-day fear is it often becomes a story we’re making up versus a true danger. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both. So when we go behind our fears we have to sort them. Is the fear real, a story, or a mix? How do you know what type of fear you’re dealing with and what do you do with the fear once it’s named?

Recognizing Fear

photo of a woman in a park reflecting on lifeLet’s start with the types of fear we deal with as humans. The first is physical fear within our control. This is a lion charging at you, a car that ran the red light, and anything else that could cause you physical pain or death. Our limbic system kicks in when we are dealing with these kinds of fears. Fight, flight, freeze. Our body ramps up to tell us how to respond and protect ourselves. If we have the right resources in that moment of fear (ex: brake pedal for the car coming at you) we can protect ourselves from the threat. This fear is super helpful and protective. However, our other fears like to dress up like physical fear and, in this guise, tell us they too are helpful. Let’s talk about them.

The next type of fear is fear beyond our control. This fear is a threat that comes into our lives that we cannot control. There is no brake pedal for this metaphorical speeding car coming full speed at you. These fears are almost always medical or life-altering in nature. These fears are a cancer diagnosis, heart disease, a baby born too early, divorce, being fired, a house burning down, etc.

These fears present themselves to let us know they are there. We usually have some options available to us to address them, but fears we can’t control often have outcomes we can’t control. When you or a loved one receives a cancer diagnosis, you/they can choose the treatment course with medical guidance. But what we can’t control is how the body will respond.

If you are fired from a job you cannot control working there again, but you can find new options for employment. These fears hurt. They just do. We see them, do what we can, given the resources available, but the outcomes are almost always beyond us. Not being able to control an outcome when a threat is present is hard. COVID-19 falls right into this category.

Rejecting Irrational Fear

This leads to the last type of fear; make-believe fear. This is the sticky, icky fear that we, as humans, create to try and cope with physical fear and fears beyond our control. It’s the story we’re making up and it causes anxiety. Make-believe fear tells us it’s helpful while driving us absolutely crazy at the same time.

As an example, let’s look at sanitizing per COVID-19. The truth is there are good sanitizing measures we can all take to reduce our exposure to COVID-19. A story you may be making up is that you need to sanitize your high touch areas 10 times a day and that if you don’t everyone in your family is going to contract COVID-19. Let’s look at another one. If you are afraid of how you’re parenting during COVID-19 you might tell yourself you are failing terribly. In response to this, you either step it up or scale it back to validate the fear. In both cases, you’re exhausting yourself mentally and putting yourself down. The reality is you can’t control kids being home 24/7 but you can just show up and do the best you can.

Is this making sense? Let’s keep it simple. Each fear we hold that is a story we’ve made up is not helpful or kind. This type of fear convinces us that if we behave a certain way that the fear will magically disappear. But it’s not gone–it’s amplified! The fear is driving the car. To put this fear down for good we have to name it, shine a light on it, and stop engaging in the behaviors associated with this fear. When we stop engaging in the behaviors associated with the fear it always hurts. That hurt sucks but is far kinder than tearing ourselves up in behaviors to avoid outcomes we cannot control. And in that hurt is a truth about what we really, truly need.

Using Fear to Stay Safe

Each story we’re making up is unique to all of us but as humans, it’s usually along the lines of needing love and belonging. To be seen. To be accepted. To be safe. Here’s the thing. We can be safe by identifying real fears versus stories. We can be seen by others once we see and know our authentic selves. Being accepted. That lives in your own heart, not anyone else’s. But when you love and accept yourself you can honor what you need from others.

This is my ask beautiful ones. Take this week to find some of the stories you are making up. Then put down the behaviors surrounding those stories and pick up some behaviors that show yourself some major love. Find a way to take care of yourself and through this, I promise you’ll be able to care for those you love too.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Compassion and Grace

Posted on: April 14th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

In starting this blog, I wanted to create a space for parents to come to know they are not alone. In the midst of COVID-19, I think this space is super important. On any given day we are all experiencing the ups and downs of isolation as well as a variety of fears related to the virus. I’m struggling with this just as much as anyone. When people ask me how I’m doing my honest response is, “no two days are the same emotionally.” They just aren’t. I think this is true for a lot of us. But I think what is also true for a lot of us is that it’s hard to honor the struggle.

photo of a woman sitting on log at forest preserveWhen a physical threat is around us it’s so natural for our fears to take over. Just look at the toilet paper crisis. We’ve all got this fabulous limbic system I wrote about in reference to toddler years deep inside us. Fight/flight/freeze is an over 10,000-year-old response. Just search, plug in and listen to one of my soul sisters, Tara Brach, for more on this. Our brains are predisposed to scan for threats to our physical bodies and respond. Tara calls it our “our caveman brain” and when thinking about toddler tantrums it gives me a little smile. As an adult in our modern world, it’s a response that’s harder to deal with. We, of course, need to know when we are in physical danger. But when it comes to an invisible predator as well as all the fears related to it our brains go into overdrive.

Mentally Dealing with COVID-19

Think about it. COVID-19 came to all of us in waves. First, we heard of the virus as being specific to Wuhan, China. Then we saw it was spreading but not to the United States. Our government turned a blind eye as did many Americans thinking this isn’t “our problem.” Then, as cases started to increase, individuals who were watching the world began to panic. Maybe you were one of them? We saw you stock up before any of us. I saw my husband do this. Finally, in a series of reactions our governments acted and our worlds all halted in almost every aspect.

In each of these waves, we as individuals were trying to navigate the threat from wave to wave. Fight, flight, freeze? There is not a wrong response. How can there be? You and I were just doing the best we could as information came to us. For professional reasons, I’ll leave my views on the government out of this piece.

When we got to the final wave of Shelter in Place, a new series of threats came. We worried about working, childcare, access to food, our loved ones, the virus entering our homes and so much more. As a business owner, I worried about this for myself and my employees. As a woman, I worried about my family, my friends, and our world. I’m still having a hard time sleeping. I am scared, I know you are too. But here’s what I want to hold space for. What I think our community really needs to hear: your fear(s) are no greater or less than my fear(s). This is where we can all use compassion and grace.

Handling COVID-19 with Compassion

I’ve heard countless friends not want to air their frustrations surrounding COVID-19 because their frustrations don’t seem to compare to what other people are struggling with. In reality, a very small percentage of us have someone close to us who is affected. If you are in that small percentage, please know that you are my sisters and brothers. I see you, I feel your pain, and I’m so sorry.

But for those of you who have not lost a loved one, seen someone get sick, or lost essential needs like housing or food, your fears are still real. It’s OK. You can look at them, hold them, and still give compassion to the person suffering more. Honestly, I think this is the only true way this is done.

I learned a little phrase from yoga, “the light in you is the light in me.” I think it is also true that the darkness in me is the darkness in you because we are all human. And as humans, we all feel pain, fear, and have days–even years–where we are not our best selves. But if we push down those fears and mistakes without giving ourselves permission to have them we are not being our best self. We’re making ourselves miserable and unable to see each other. To see the other we first have to see ourselves.

So here’s what I suggest. I suggest everyone taking a collective deep breath and honoring our fears. If we don’t label our fears because we’re afraid they don’t hold a candle to what everyone else is going through, we can’t release them. It’s that simple.

Working Out Your COVID-19 Fears with Grace

Here are some of my fears. I’m afraid to go on walks with my children or grocery shopping for fear of bringing the virus into our home. I’m anxious every time we get a package if brought inside within 24 hours. I’m afraid I’m not cooking enough quality food for my children. I’m upset I can’t get my meat from the farm right now. I’m worried I’m not being a good enough boss, wife, and mother all at the same time. I’m worried about my mom and aunt who have weak lungs. My cousin too. And, of course, I worry about the virus overtaking my children, husband or myself.

If you name your fears and honor them you have then given yourself compassion. You’ve said it’s OK to feel what you feel. If you can give yourself compassion you can give it to another person. Empathy is born from comparing your own feelings to someone else; it teaches you to hold the world in your heart.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about my friend grace (not my adorable niece Grace). Grace is knowing that it is OK to fail. Has anyone else yelled at your kids while pulling up the news lately? Or snap at your husband when he interrupts you trying to do a work email? Yeah, me too. Walking through a time of fear is messy. Learning that honoring your fears isn’t taking away from someone else’s hurt is hard. Giving yourself a mental hug when you lose your shit or walk up the stairs 15 times to see if you can breathe? Absolutely necessary.

It’s Ok. The world is hurting and you are too. But together we can hold ourselves close to our own hearts and by doing so hold the entire world close as well.

Xoxo,
Jessie

When You Think You’ve Surrendered, Surrender More

Posted on: March 18th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Over the course of the last week we as a nation have, and are still, struggling to make the best decisions possible in response to COVID-19. As individuals it began as laughing with friends over the toilet paper crisis to within days social quarantining. Many of us started stocking our freezers and cupboards to create supply. In my home my husband has lived through times without food in Bulgaria, this is no joke to him. We have enough food to feed an army after his trip to Costco, I’ve blanched A LOT of veggies, and he’s still scared. Our government and businesses are rapidly making new decisions each and every day. People are losing work temporarily every day. I’m working around the clock with a beautiful team and trying not to make this my employees reality, all sixty plus of them. It’s a scary time, one none of us have lived through. So how does surrender fit into this scenario?

photo of family walking at forest preserveSurrendering, to be clear, does not mean we are stopping. To surrender means to recognize that no matter how hard we try, sometimes things are out of our control. On a larger note, for my soul sisters and brothers out there, it also means to give an outcome over to the Spirit or Divine. I have used surrender in every darkness I have walked and it has always brought me home to myself and to whom I call God.

As a type 8 on the Enneagram, a Challenger, I can tell you honestly that surrender and I fist fight until I call, “Uncle!” It’s in my nature to fight obstacles, to rethink systems, and to always find a solution for the greater good. To serve the underserved at IABA (and my soon to be third company with fabulous Nicki Worden for postpartum mama’s) is easy as breathing for me. Please don’t roll your eyes, we’re all built differently and I honor you however you are built! Slowing down and realizing that there are actual things outside of my control is an actual process for me.

Going Through the Surrender Process

The process isn’t easy. It typically starts with a healthy dose of anger over the thing I’m trying to control. Just ask anyone how well I take to being sick! In the past it could have been a bad boyfriend, components of my marriage, business outcomes, and hell yea mommyhood. It now also includes COVID-19.

I think about how much I want a different scenario, self evaluate and then work my ass off (in the wrong direction) to change it. It’s the fight after anger. I say it’s the wrong direction because in all these scenarios big and small there are pieces to each of them I cannot control. Once I let my mind finally stop the fight and realize the outcome is either up to the other person or the universe I can surrender. In this surrender I’m honoring a couple of things. The first is that not everything is up to me. The next is that other people need to be given space to be their best self or to fail. It’s not my place to stand in anyone’s way of either. The last is in giving it back to Spirit I know it will be taken care of. By following this process what I’m accepting is that controlling outcomes isn’t accomplishing anything. That there is always a higher way to think about life and any situation in it. That everything is not up to me, really. My job is to be my best self and to show up for the work Spirit puts in front of me; that’s it. And I can tell you every instance of surrender things have worked out. They do not work out how I wanted them to be when I was stuck in fear or control, they turn out better.

So how do you or I surrender in the face of COVID-19? First we can go back to the first lesson of surrender; this is out of our control. COVID-19 is a virus rapidly spreading that none of us have antibodies to fight with a luckily low mortality rate. It just is. We can’t control that. We can control our own actions surrounding the outbreak.

Making Amends With Reality: Putting it into Practice

This means most importantly social distancing. In our social distancing comes another level of fear about our work and interruption of daily lives. Again, this is out of our control. What is in our control is either working with our employers so long as they have resources to employ us or with the state for emergency unemployment. It’s also within our control, for those who have more, to be aware of who has less. If we notice families without it’s our duty to step in and help provide; whatever that looks like. Personally I’ve seen so much love these past five days in my community alone.

In regards to our daily lives being interrupted, again out of our control. We can find peace in simplicity. Meals are less varied and always at home, more time outside, less consumption of goods, more time together. Perhaps instead of paper towels you’re now using wash clothes; mother earth thanks you. No, it’s not our normal lives and I miss what is available just like anyone else. But, in its place now that I’ve surrendered to the fact we’re here I’m finding ways to be grateful each day. That gratitude is building joy in my home.

Work is still unknown for our field. We’re actively working to ensure children with autism continue to receive our care. ABA is medically necessary for a child with autism and I can’t imagine pause in service for so many of our clients. If there is a state or nationwide quarantine, then there is. From there, together we’ll rebuild our therapy sessions but hope it doesn’t come to that. In the meantime my staff are doing a beyond fabulous job supporting each other and their clients through the crisis.

Me? I’m enjoying extra baby snuggles in my home, working my ass off for my company, and praying for the best for all.

Xoxo,
Jessie